George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 20

1. Structure

The people’s prayer on behalf of the king
The king’s response
The people’s acclaim of their king

2. Historical setting

Most details in this psalm suggest that it is David’s coronation psalm, when he came to be acknowledged (in Hebron or in Jerusalem?) as God’s appointed ruler over all the twelve tribes.

There is, however, a certain inappropriateness to such an occasion in vv. 7,8. So it is not out of question that the last three verses, with v. 6 spoken by the king himself, is actually a Hezekiah addition.

The verbs of petition (cp. 72:15b) are most impressive: hear.... defend....send help....strengthen....remember....accept....grant.... fulfil. The king cannot succeed unless he have his people solidly behind him, with the same spiritual intensity.
The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble. Such a day, when he needs both wisdom and defense, comes to most kings at some time or other. 2 Sam. 8-10 and Psa. 60 give a picture of such crises in the early part of David’s reign.

The name of the God of Jacob defend thee = “Set thee on a high place” (69:29; 91:14), i.e. the elevated mount Zion (cp. 2:1-6).
And strengthen thee out of Zion. Possibly a reference to divine guidance through the high priest with Urim and Thummim: cp. 60:5,6.
This is one of the places where Selah is quite unmistakably linked with the offering of sacrifice at the altar-rock in Zion (see Introduction, Chapter 7).
In the name of our God we will set up our banners: 60:4 again. But note the italics. Should not this read thy (i.e. God’s) banners? The Hebrew dagal means “standards” — banners for an army (Song 5:10, mg.; 6:4,10).
He will hear him from his holy heaven. Compare v. 2: “out of Zion”. Passages like 2 Chron. 30:27; 1 Kings 8:27,30 and 8:32,33 (Psa. 11:4; 18:6; 26:8; Zech. 2:13?) seem to suggest that the Holy of Holies was thought of as “heaven” because it was the dwelling place of the visible presence of God. The Shekinah Glory in the earthly temple was a symbol of the perfect and absolute reality in heaven itself.
Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God. They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright. These verses are difficult, not being particularly relevant to a coronation ode (unless the past tenses speak with the assurance of faith about what is confidently anticipated). But reference to the Assyrian invasion in Hezekiah’s reign comes easily. Chariots (2 Sam. 8:4; 10:18; Isa. 37:24) and horses (Job 39:18; Jer. 4:13; Joel 2:4) bespeak human might, but God is more powerful (Psa. 33:16,17; 68:17; 76:6; 1 Sam. 17:45-47; Prov. 21:31; Isa. 31:1; Matt. 26:53). Therefore the kings of Israel had no need to multiply horses (Deut. 17:16). And they needed no chariots, for one inspired prophet of the Lord was worth more than many chariots (2 Kings 2:12; 13:14).

3. Messianic reference

As might be anticipated, this presents little difficulty.

The day of trouble. An initial reference to Jacob’s troubles, in which he was defended by God (Gen. 32:24,28; 33:9-12; 35:3; Jer. 30:7). The prayer of King Jesus on behalf of his people will be answered forthwith in the day when they put confidence in his power to bring heavenly help, and not before.
Thy offerings = the voluntary, or peace offerings (Heb. minchah): Lev. 2:1.

And accept thy burnt offering, i.e. save those who believe in him, by the merits of his own personal sacrifice.
We will rejoice in thy salvation. They, his faithful ones, his New Israel, share his triumph over adversity and the salvation that he brings.

And in the name of our God we will set up our banners, as a token of victory over all adversaries: Exod. 17:15. The king sets over his beloved a banner of love (Song 2:4, degel — a related word). The Son of Man lifted up, in loving sacrifice, is the banner of the Lord (Num. 21:1-9; Isa. 11:10; John 3:14,15; 12:32).

The Lord fulfil all thy petitions. Compare Psa. 21:2,4 — especially his prayers as a King-Priest on behalf of his own.
The Lord saveth (and also in v. 9) echo the name Isaiah.

Saveth his anointed is, virtually, the name Jesus Christ: cp. 28:8; 18:50 (Heb.).
We will remember the name of the Lord our God. This is an excel-lent example of how the Covenant Name of God is often associated, especially in the Psalms, with the words “remember” and “memorial”. The concordance reveals plenty of such examples. Note Deut. 17:16; and contrast 1 Kings 4:26. Instead, the Messiah relies on the cherubim chariots of the Lord, as in Psa. 18.
We are risen. This can now be read as resurrection, not just recovery from misfortune.

And stand upright, as in Dan. 12:13; Luke 21:36.

Save, Lord; let the King hear us when we call. The words surely imply that the King acts with God’s full authority. Or, the verse could read: O Lord, save the king. He (the King) will answer us when we call (cp. RSV mg.).

4. Other details

Accept is literally “turn to ashes” (AV mg.). God accepted the offering by sending forth His consuming fire from the Most Holy to consume it completely (Lev. 9:24; 1 Chron. 21:26; 2 Chron. 3:1; 7:1,3; Judg. 6:21; 13:19,20; 1 Kings 18:24,38; Gen. 3:24 — cp. with Gen. 4:4; 15:17). For the New Testament equivalent of absolute dedication, see Rom. 12:1,2; Heb. 13:15,16; 1 Pet. 2:5.
Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel. As Eli blessed Hannah following her prayer: 1 Sam. 1:17.
But we will remember (“boast” or “take pride” in) the Name of the Lord our God. This is a point Paul takes up in 1 Cor. 1:31 (Jer. 923,24); 2 Cor. 10:17: “He that glorieth, let him glory (boast) in the Lord.”
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