# 95 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 20 & 21. The weary repetitions of man’s history.

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What do we do with all this talk of enemies and battle and wrath and destroy in the latter verses of Psalm 21 as follows:

 

Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes.
When you appear for battle,
you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
and his fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
their posterity from mankind.
11 Though they plot evil against you
and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.
12 You will make them turn their backs
when you aim at them with drawn bow.

13 Be exalted in your strength, Lord;
we will sing and praise your might.

 

Don’t we have enough of this distressing stuff on the 7 o’clock news without having to deal with it in the Psalms? Or maybe, for some of you reading this, it is not just about images on TV, but it actually exists outside your front door? Every day you can hear it, see it, smell it! Your life is never free of the terrible consequences of ‘the weary repetitions of man’s history’ (as Blaiklock puts it).

 

But even if you don’t live in a war zone literally, then certainly spiritually we all do. As those of who trust in the Name of the Lord God Almighty, we daily face some sort of opposition to our faith and the truths that God has revealed to us in His Word, the Bible. As I quoted last time from Longman, “It is in the context of spiritual warfare that Psalm 20 [and 21] retains its relevance in the life of God’s people today.” (see references # 30)

 

I am presently reading “Gunning for God – Why the New Atheists are Missing the Target” by John C Lennox (Lion Books 2011) and he says:

 

“The New Atheists…are more aggressive…they are no longer content simply to deny God’s existence. For instance, Christopher Hitchens says: ‘I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist…I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief is positively harmful…I think religion should be treated with ridicule, hatred, and contempt, and I claim that right’… The agenda of the New Atheists has widened, therefore, to include attack on the existence of belief itself…Sam Harris’s intention is ‘to destroy the intellectual and moral pretensions of Christianity in its most committed forms.’” (pages 16-17)

 

Remember that the initial context of these two psalms was when Israel was surrounded by enemies such as the Philistines and others and the usual reason the king had to lead his armies out to battle was (though not always) because of the nature of an aggressive enemy. As Blaiklock says, responding to the tough language of verses 7-13:

 

“Victory won is a token and foretaste of triumphs yet to be. The words take flame in envisaging victory, aggressors driven like chaff and treachery recoiling on its inventors (verse 11)…It is hot language, from which a war-ridden world [like today’s] may shrink, but see it in the context of an embattled land, with enemies…[with] an appalling tradition of evil…[and so] verse 10 must be read in that context of ever-breeding agony…[and] a beleaguered people’s fears…”  (see references # 37)

 

I have not lived under oppressive regimes of infamous people such as Adolf Hitler or Joseph Stalin (who by the way, were driven by an atheistic philosophy!), but I have read their history of atrocities against Jews, Gypsies, the disabled, their own people who stood against them and many others and wondered how would I pray, how would I react.

 

 

But, in our day, I personally don’t have any trouble understanding, to a degree, the language of this psalm and other Imprecatory Psalms (such as Psalm 109) known for calling out to God for justice against those who act out their evil schemes upon the vulnerable, the poor, children, widows and others. Those who act as if there is no God!  Especially when one considers atrocities that occur in our world today such as human trafficking and slavery, abduction of children and young people to be sold as sex-slaves or child soldiers, terrorism such as the very recent senseless killings of innocent victims in the UK and in Australia, even the corporate greed of some organizations, and the list sadly goes on and on. Surely we all desire for such perpetrators of these crimes against humanity to repent, turn from their evil ways and discover the grace and love that is in Jesus, but if not, to at the very least be stopped and called to account for their evil activities, one way or another.

 

Paul in Galatians 6:7-8 reminds us:

 

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

 

So Father, I pray concerning those who in our day seem to love sin and injustice for their own profit, with little consideration, it seems, for the terrible impact it all has upon their victims and ignoring the truth that one day there will be a judgement day.  In your mercy, bring them to repentance. May Your hand lay hold on all such enemies of yours; may your right hand seize your foes. When they plot evil against you and devise wicked schemes against vulnerable people, may they not succeed. And Father, deliver those who are the victims of such wicked activities. May they experience freedom in Jesus, the One who came to seek and to save the lost, to proclaim freedom for the prisoners, to set the oppressed free.  Be exalted in your strength, Lord and we will sing and praise your might. Amen. 

 

 

# 94 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 20 & 21. The desires of your heart.

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Using his imagination, Blaiklock moves from Psalm 20 to 21 as follows:

 

Psalm 20 – “The king is about to go to battle…the people invoke God’s blessing…The royal leader has drawn strength from the loyalty and loving regard of those who have prayed for him…The people round off…in a loud cry of affirmation. An anthem closes the prayer, ‘God save the king’…

 

The place of worship empties, and…the army marches out of Jerusalem. Will the weary repetitions of man’s history never cease? Darkness fell and the long wait began. In small homes hearts were heavy, women lonely and children large-eyed with apprehension.”

 

Psalm 21 – “Was it weeks, was it months, before the army marched back? It seemed years to some, but they came back, those who came back, with victory, and those who still could sing were gathered to render thanks for vast deliverance…the king [has] returned in triumph, the nation [is] saved [from the enemy], prayer [has been] answered [and] the outcome is ascribed to God.”   (see references # 37)

 

They knew it in their minds, they proclaimed it with their mouths, that Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God, but now it is confirmed again in their hearts! Their faith was not displaced, it was not just ‘wishful optimism but realistic faith’. It was real because God is real and powerful and faithful to his people, as promised in His Word.
Note the connection again between these two psalms:

 

May he [God] give you [king] the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.                (Psalm 20:4)

 

You [God] have granted him [king] his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.     (Psalm 21:2)

 

And so, the follow up psalm is composed and recited with great joy:

 

Psalm 21

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

The king rejoices in your strength, Lord.
How great is his joy in the victories you give!

You have granted him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips.
You came to greet him with rich blessings
and placed a crown of pure gold on his head.
He asked you for life, and you gave it to him—
length of days, for ever and ever.
Through the victories you gave, his glory is great;
you have bestowed on him splendour and majesty.
Surely you have granted him unending blessings
and made him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord;
through the unfailing love of the Most High
he will not be shaken.

 

What a delight it is to work under leadership that has some of the qualities of this king described here. Listen again to the description given:

 

  • The king rejoices in your strength, Lord. How great is his joy in the victories you give! (verse 1)
  • [you] made him glad with the joy of your presence (verse 6)
  • the king trusts in the Lord, through the unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken. (verse 7)

 

What a difference it would make to our churches, ministries, countries to first of all just pray regularly for our leaders and then to pray for these qualities (and more) in our leaders – our pastors, ministry leaders, politicians and others.

 

So, Father, I pray right now for pastors that they will rejoice in the strength that you give them and find joy in the good things that you accomplish through them. Make them glad with the joy of your presence day by day. May they continue to put their trust in you, no matter what comes their way, being aware daily of your unfailing love towards them, enabling them to stand firm. And, knowing their love for you, grant them the desires of their hearts as they seek to glorify you and serve others with the good news of Jesus.  Amen

 

# 93 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 20 & 21. Prayer: Not wishful optimism but realistic faith.

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Blaiklock calls psalm 20 “a fine, rich hymn, full of courage, but courage born of faith.” (see references # 37)

 Psalm 20

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.[b]
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

 

Psalm 20 is an unusual psalm as compared to most others in the Psalter. It is called a Royal Psalm and is basically a prayer for the king (possibly just before he is going out to battle against an enemy).

 

A prayer that the Lord would:

  • answer the King’s prayers, particularly in a crisis and protect him when in danger (verse 1)
  • send help/support from heaven when he needs it (verse 2)
  • find the King’s sacrifices and offerings acceptable (verse 3)
  • give to him the desires of his heart and enable him to be successful (verse 4)
  • in granting all the Kings requests, cause his people to shout for joy at answered prayer (verse 5)

 

The praying one then changes course in his prayer. He turns from petition for the King to a prayer of affirmation (“now this I know”) that his God does answer prayer (verse 6b) and is the One who gives the ultimate victory (verse 6a).

 

Then that great verse (7) we considered last time about those who trust in “the weapons of the world”, unlike the people of God who “have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4), And that divine power is “in the name of the Lord our God”.

 

He continues, (in verse 8) to inform us of the fate of those who “trust in chariots” as compared to the one who trusts in God – “they are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm”.

 

And in summary he again addresses God and simply prays: “Lord, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call” Amen!

 

Who says prayer needs to be complicated?

 

Along time after this psalm was written and this prayer was prayed for the first time, the Apostle Paul wrote to his young disciple the following instructions:

 

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people— for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:1-4)

 

This still applies to us today and Psalm 20 may be a useful prayer to adapt for the leader(s) of your nation, particularly asking that his/her faith will be in God, that his/her dependence will be on God and that his/her wisdom will come from God.

 

In summary, Kidner suggests that “the fact that the time of trouble has been made the time of prayer makes the buoyant spirit of verses 6-8 a matter not of wishful optimism but of realistic faith.”  (see references # 29)

 

And Longman says:

 

“The battlefield was the original setting for this psalm which confidently asks God for victory in the face of an enemy. Today, the people of God are a spiritual entity (the church), not a nation state with armies and physical enemies that attack it with swords, spears and other physical weapons. Even so, the church and individual Christians are in a battle, ‘not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’ (Ephesians 6:12). Against these enemies, ‘the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world’, but rather we need ‘divine power to demolish strongholds’ (1 Corinthians 10:4). It is in the context of spiritual warfare that Psalm 20 retains its relevance in the life of God’s people today.” (see references # 30)

 

Thank you, Father, that in your powerful Name we have victory and protection. We are reminded of David when, on that memorable occasion he faced Goliath on the battle field and he said to the Philistine, “You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. (1 Samuel 17:45) And of the writer of Proverbs 18:10 who declared that “The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe”. Amen

# 92 A journey through the Psalms. Psalms 20 & 21. “Some trust in Chariots”

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A key verse in Psalm 20 is:

 

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

 

 This verse became well known amongst Christians in the early 1970s when a book was published called, Chariots of the Gods? Unsolved Mysteries of the Past, Memories of the Future:, authored by Erich von Däniken. “It involved the hypothesis that the technologies and religions of many ancient civilizations were given to them by ancient astronauts [i.e extra-terrestrial beings] who were welcomed as gods.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chariots_of_the_Gods%3F)

 

This was followed up and refuted by author, Barry B. Thiering,  who published a book called, Some Trust In Chariots: Sixteen Views On Erich Von Däniken’s Chariots Of The Gods?  And also by Clifford Wilson, when he wrote Crash Go The Chariots: An Alternative To “Chariots Of The Gods”?

As one reads these books, it seems to be that if trusting in the God of the Bible is not acceptable for some people, then even the strangest of alternatives will do!

But this was not true for the psalmist who wrote Psalms 20 and 21. His trust was “in the name of the Lord” and there was, for him and his people, no other alternative.  And why not? As the writer of Proverbs declares: The name of the Lord is a fortified tower; the righteous run to it and are safe.  (Proverbs 18:10)

So, we now turn to some quite different psalms than what we have  recently been studying. They are known as Royal Psalms, and the reason for this will soon be obvious as we read them.

According to most commentators Psalms 20 and 21 go together, as Phil Moore suggests: “Psalm 20 is traditionally viewed as the marching anthem which the Israelite army sang before a battle, and Psalm 21…as the marching anthem on the way home after winning. We can see this in the symmetry between the two psalms. Israel’s troops bless their king before battle by praying in 20:4-5 ‘May he [God] give you [the King] the desire of your heart…May the Lord grant all your requests’, and they bless the Lord on the way home by singing 21:2, You [God] have granted him [the King] his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips’…his army sang these two psalms because the Lord is the all-powerful victor…” and it was Him in whom they put their trust.” (see references # 36)

Trust in God alone has often been challenged by those who don’t possess such faith, and the book mentioned earlier by Erich von Däniken reveals just how many people “clutch at straws” (i.e. seek solutions, ideas, or hopes that are insubstantial) to find an alternative to trusting in God. Believe it or not, “Chariots of the Gods’ was on “The New York Times bestseller list and has sold 70 million copies as of January 2017.” (Wikipedia).

Incredible, considering, also according to Wikipedia, that “Many scientists and historians have rejected his ideas, claiming that the book’s conclusions were based on faulty, pseudoscientific evidence, some of which was later demonstrated to be fraudulent or fabricated, and under illogical premises.” It continues that he was also “accused of stealing the ideas of [a] French author…[and] plagiarized many of the book’s concepts from [other authors].”

But such is the way of the world!  Paul explains why it is so in  2 Corinthians 4:4

The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Sad but true!

Earlier in this chapter Paul also says,

[But] we do not lose heart. Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.

Jesus said “I am the truth” and He alone is the answer to the world’s “clutching at straws”, and in his wisdom and mercy, God has called us to proclaim the wonderful news of the gospel. As Paul also says,

 

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

Some, sadly, may trust in their “chariots”, but in the end it will be revealed that only those who “trust in the name of the Lord” will be saved.

 

Now this I know:     The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary     with the victorious power of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses,     but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Father, I pray that the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ will be revealed to my friends, families and others who at this time in their lives trust in “chariots”. May they know that you, Jesus, are the only “way, truth and life” and so put their trust in you, and you alone. Amen.