Psalm 20 is one of my favorites of the Psalms. In fact, one of our beloved worship songs here at Shema is based on this psalm. But it wasn’t until I began preparing this message, that I realized why I like it so much. It’s because it has such a victorious theme, and it’s jam-packed with good things. In just 9 verses there is intercession, the centrality of Zion, answered prayer, military victory, celebration, and complete trust in Adonai. What’s not to like?
Psalm 20 is different from most of the other Psalms. In terms of category, it is considered a Royal Psalm – having to do with kingship and majesty. What makes it stand out as unique is the voicing. With the exception of one verse, it isn’t the king speaking, but rather the people speaking to him! In fact, much more than speaking to the king, they are actually cheering him on when he had to go to war.
Isn’t it a great feeling when you have people pulling for you, hoping you succeed? For example, it’s a tremendous advantage for a sports team whenever the game is played in their home stadium, to the hometown crowd, instead of on the road. Just this month, the Detroit Tigers have played seven games against the Cleveland Indians (sorry… Cleveland ‘Guardians’). The Tigers won all four games played here at Comerica Park, and lost all three games played in Cleveland.
On the rare occasions that Alexandra has come to one of my softball games, I have made some of my best defensive plays, and had some of my best at-bats. It sounds simplistic, but the fact is, I wanted to impress her. She even saw a few plays, when she wasn’t kibbitzing with the other wives…
So let’s think of Psalm 20 as King David hearkening back to a time when he had to go to war, and knew the nation was rallying around him, and praying for him, and how God gave Israel the victory, and it became a song of praise to Adonai.
לַמְנַצֵּחַ, מִזְמוֹר לְדָוִד
For the Director/Eminent one; a song of David
The word לַמְנַצֵּחַ derives from the word natzach, translated ‘eminence’ or having high position or authority. Most Bible translations take לַמְנַצֵּחַ to mean ‘To the Choir Director’ because מִזְמוֹר means a melody. King David is the author of this Psalm, reflecting on a time of great trouble: having to go to war, and how Adonai came through, and the gratitude he felt, both to God and to his countrymen.
יַעַנְךָ יְהוָה, בְּיוֹם צָרָה
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high!
The ‘day of trouble’ for King David was war. Too often, I think, we read of the battles David fought against the Philistines and others, and while we rejoice in the knowledge of his victories, somehow we imagine those battles bloodless. Not so! People die violently and painfully in war. It’s one thing to tell someone you know that you hope their difficult situation works out okay. What about when lives are on the line? This was the people of Israel praying fervently for God to deliver David, and by extension the armies of Israel, from death and defeat. To be set securely on high is to be delivered, and to be victorious. And as we are frequently reminded in Scripture, the battle belongs to Adonai. Unless God goes out with our armies, we will suffer defeat.
Will there be a day of trouble for you? Count on it. What do you do when that day comes? Panic? Kvetch? Look for someone/something to blame? Here’s a better idea: call on your prayer warrior friends, and together call on the name of the Lord. Even now, my prayer for each of you is, May the name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high!
יִשְׁלַח-עֶזְרְךָ מִקֹּדֶשׁ וּמִצִּיּוֹן, יִסְעָדֶךָּ
May He send you help from the sanctuary and support you from Zion!
In the time frame of this Psalm, ‘the Sanctuary’ would have been understood to refer to the Tabernacle (the Temple wouldn’t be built until the days of Solomon), and ‘Zion’ referred to… Zion – Jerusalem. If it seems a bit unnecessary to point this out, I do so because far too many Bible teachers, having a certain disdain for Israel and the Jews, ignore or trivialize the historical setting of Scripture, and go directly to modern application.
There is another possible way to interpret this. Perhaps by ‘sanctuary’ David was referring to God’s Sanctuary in Heaven, so that ‘the sanctuary’ and ‘Zion’ refer to help coming through both heavenly and earthly sources; God from His throne, and God through His people. But let’s not get lost in details; the point is that the people of Israel are interceding intently for David. He was anything but alone in all this.
May He remember all your meal offerings and find your burnt offerings acceptable! Selah…
This prayer includes asking Adonai to remember all of David’s faithfulness. Have you ever prayed for a godly, faithful friend, and asked the Lord to remember how this person has been a generous, kind, steadfast saint – a true, blue believer? Not that the Infinitely holy and all-knowing Creator needs things pointed out to Him, but the Scriptures are replete with people’s righteous acts being recounted, and God being pleaded with to take those things to heart.
But there’s a caution here. Far too many people, including religious people, tell themselves they’ll be okay with God when they die, because they’ve been a ‘good person’. Maybe by ‘good’ they mean they haven’t murdered anyone, or committed adultery, or they’ve given money occasionally to charity. This is the warning: apart from loyally embracing God’s Son, Messiah Yeshua, all your charitable giving, your good deeds – none of it will be found acceptable by Him. Not all religious activity meets with Adonai’s approval.
The bottom line is that this is a prayer for David to be in good standing with God, so that He will be inclined to answer favorably. We need to be in good standing with the Lord if we hope to have His favor, and to experience deliverance.
May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your counsel!
Naturally, David desired victory over Israel’s enemies. That victory comes in good measure from having wise counselors, and by taking their advice. But wise counsel isn’t something you can just assume you’ll have. Wise counsel is a gift from God.
This also presumes your heart’s desire isn’t to have your neighbor’s wife, or to have your neighbor’s car. It presumes your heart’s desire lines up with God’s will and desire. To the extent that your heart’s desire is for those you know and love (and maybe for those you don’t especially love) to experience true repentance and to come to know Messiah Yeshua, I think it’s safe to say that your will is lining up with His will.
May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your counsel! This is a really good prayer to be able to pray for and with someone.
We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
This is not only the central verse of the nine verses of Psalm 20, but thematically it is the heart of the song. It is the people declaring their complete confidence that Adonai will give victory to David and the armies of Israel. Before the battle is even engaged, they can say confidently that they anticipate David’s victorious return from war, with the tribes welcoming him with their glorious, unfurled banners. What a sight that must have been!
While we cannot treat this as a formulaic guarantee, the truth we should take away from it is that trust in Adonai leads to answered prayer, answered prayer leads to a successful outcome, and a successful outcome leads to our assembling together to rejoice in what this great God has done.
And what could be more victorious and cause for our rejoicing than that Israel’s Greater King, the Son of David, Yeshua the Messiah, has risen from the dead, triumphed over the grave, ascended to Heaven, and will soon return to take His rightful throne in Jerusalem? This is precisely why we should, even now, be in the practice of coming together to sing and to rejoice! It’s a dress rehearsal for that great Day that is rapidly approaching. Ditch the fear, ditch the apathy, and clothe yourself spiritually and emotionally with courage and joyful expectation!
Just imagine that Day! We, Jesus’ people from all over the world, gathered together with our banners unfurled. Imagine the colors, the pageantry, the songs of praise, the inexpressible joy. Or you can stay home and wring your hands and moan and lament the sorry state of the world. It’s your call. One thing is for sure: less screen time = less consternation, and more time spent plumbing the depths of the Word of God and joining our voices together = more joy and delight.
עַתָּה יָדַעְתִּי כִּי הוֹשִׁיעַ יְהוָה, מְשִׁיחוֹ
Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand.
This is the one verse where King David himself speaks. It is his antiphonal response. He is confident in the Lord that he will, indeed, return victoriously from that war. He believes firmly that the prayers of the people on his behalf will be answered. He trusts in God to fight that battle on Israel’s behalf. And that is exactly what happened. God gave the victory. Had He not, there would be no Psalm 20. For that matter, we would be missing 73 of the 150 Psalms that are in our Bibles. So meditate on this phrase as often as you need to, until it’s firmly etched in your heart: the battle belongs to the Lord.
Not only are these the words of David, but they could easily be the words of the Son of David, the ultimate Anointed One – Messiah. God the Father raised up Messiah (מְשִׁיחוֹ means ‘His anointed one’). And now, the Anointed One, the Messiah, saves us with the saving strength of His right hand.
In fact, that expression ‘His right hand’ may be an oblique reference to the Messiah, who is Himself the arm of the Lord, the One at the Father’s right side; the One who has triumphed and now has all authority in Heaven and on Earth.
אֵלֶּה בָרֶכֶב וְאֵלֶּה בַסּוּסִים
Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
וַאֲנַחְנוּ, בְּשֵׁם-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵינוּ נַזְכִּיר
but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God.
The chariot was, in the world of David’s time, the one weapon that gave significant tactical advantage to the nation that had them. Horses were mighty, intimidating creatures of war. When horses and chariots advanced toward a line of soldiers, the earth shook, and even the most battle-hardened soldier would fear.
Some of the enemy nations surrounding Israel possessed chariots. They boasted of their military superiority. But where are the Philistines today? Where are the Amorites today? Where is mighty Assyria or Babylon today? The answer comes to us in verse eight.
הֵמָּה, כָּרְעוּ וְנָפָלוּ
They have bowed down and fallen,
וַאֲנַחְנוּ קַּמְנוּ, וַנִּתְעוֹדָד
but we have risen and stood upright.
Those once-mighty nations, boasting of their might and power, are no more. Swallowed up in the dust of history. And yet, here we are, three thousand years later, and God has preserved the Jewish people despite repeated attempts at our annihilation. Three thousand years later, and the nation of Israel is reborn, and is flourishing in many ways, despite constant threat from enemies all around. I guess our enemies haven’t yet learned the lesson of history and of sacred Scripture.
So now, let’s all say it in unison; let’s declare it together, as the people of God, one phrase at a time:
Some boast in chariots,
and some in horses,
but we will boast in the name of the Lord our God.
Save, O Lord;
הַמֶּלֶךְ, יַעֲנֵנוּ בְיוֹם-קָרְאֵנוּ
may the King answer us in the day we call.
Certainly King David gets props for his enduring faith, and the people were faithful to pray for him. But there is no earthly king to whom we can look with certainty for salvation and deliverance from enemies. Or, perhaps I should say, “There is not yet an earthly king to whom we can look…” But that day is coming. When Jesus returns to Earth, He is returning as the King of kings and Lord of Lords, with all power and might and authority, and He will rule the world in righteousness. And He will answer us – those who love Him; those who are steadfastly loyal to Him – in the day we call.
Meanwhile, how do we put the truth of Psalm 20 into action today, and in the context of our own little Shema community? Let me suggest a couple of ways:
- Be the kind of congregation member who will cheer for and rally to the help of your spiritual leaders. As the people of Israel prayed for God’s choice blessings and victory for David, so today you can pray for God’s choice blessings and victory for Rabbi Loren and me and Rabbi Jerry, and the Elders. You have no idea how much encouragement we get from that occasional email or card expressing appreciation, and letting us know you are praying for us.
- You may not be summoned to war, but it is a given that you will face adversity and hostility in your life. How will you respond to it? This Psalm gives us a great example of how to approach the hardships and obstacles that come our way. First of all, don’t try to go it alone. You have brothers and sisters who can and will rally to you, and intercede with God for you. Don’t isolate yourself. Be an active part of your Shema community.
- Remember this Psalm the next time you are tempted to despair, and feel like throwing in the towel. Victory, Vindication and jubilant celebration are ahead for the people of God. Are things bad? Yes. Will they get worse? Yes. Will they get better – YES! And the ‘better’ when Messiah Yeshua returns is beyond anything you can possibly imagine. Amen? Come, Lord Yeshua! Save your people!