As with many of the psalms, David intends himself in the description, but under the inspiration of the Spirit, the language transcends David’s situation, and finds its fullest fulfillment in the triumph and victory of the Lord Jesus. “The king shall joy in thy strength, O LORD; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! Thou hast given him his heart’s desire, and hast not withholden the request of his lips. Selah (Ps. 21: 1-13).
This psalm can be divided into two major sections. The first (vv. 1-6) consists of a thanksgiving for victory. The second (vv. 7-13) is a display of confidence that God will continue to grant such success. The king rejoices in the strength and salvation of God (v. 1). His requests and desires have all been granted (v. 2). God went before him in order to do good to him, bless him, and set a crown on his head (v. 3). The king asked for life, and he was given eternal life, forever and ever (v. 4). Glory, honor and majesty have all been placed upon him in the salvation of God (v. 5). God has blessed him forever, and with His countenance He has made the king exceedingly glad (v. 6).
In the second section, the psalmist turns to the future. The king trusts God, and will not be moved (v. 7). God’s hand will find out both the king’s enemies and His own (v. 8). God will then devour them in a consuming fire (v. 9). God will remove their legacy from the earth, including their descendants (v. 10). God judges evil intent, even unsuccessful evil intent (v. 11). The original suggests that God sets the wicked up for target practice; He strings His bow and sets the arrow to it (v. 12). This doctrine of judgment is not one that embarrasses us—we sing and praise the exalted power of God (v. 13).
We need to remember the joy of Jesus Christ. We are accustomed to think of Jesus during His earthly ministry, as He prepared to go to Jerusalem in order to suffer and die. And surely He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief. But this just tells half the story—there was death and grief, but also resurrection and joy. Hebrews tells us that Jesus, for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross and despised the shame (Heb. 12:2). But Christ is risen, and has ascended into great joy. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore; fullness of joy is there (Ps. 16: 11). The faithful servant is invited to enter into his Lord’s joy (Matt. 25: 21, 23). There is joy in the presence of the angels over a sinner who repents (Luke 15: 7, 10).
Heaven is a joyful place. The King of heaven is filled and overflowing with joy. Is that the place where we are preparing to go? We have the same thing here in our psalm. The Lord Jesus has joy in the strength of God (v. 1). Upon Christ’s triumph over sin and death, God has made Him exceedingly glad (v. 6). Now let us meditate on this. The joy of the Lord is our strength (Neh. 8:10). “The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing“ (Zep. 3:17).
We also reflect on the certainty of judgment. What has God resolved to do? Those who hate Him will be judged, and they will be placed in a fiery oven (v. 9). Now is this a figure of speech? Certainly, but the figure is necessarily less than the reality. Those who deny the certainty of everlasting judgment by appealing to figures of speech are actually saying that such things are poor figures of speech—that everlasting fire is a symbol of annihilation, for example.
But God will judge them for their evil plots and plans, even those which never came to fruition. God sets them up for target practice—think for a moment about the horror of this. What would it be like to be in the crosshairs of Almighty God? There are many who are intent upon finding out. Both within the covenant and outside it, men say, “God does not know. God does not see.“ But He does, and He will string His bow. He will reach for His quiver.
We have often spoken of the antithesis, and we see it very clearly here. There many who want to say they believe the Bible, but they see (or more to the point, feel) a fundamental contradiction between everlasting joy in Heaven and everlasting damnation in Hell. But pure justice is a reality, and those on whom it falls do not have the authority or power to blackmail the saints. The saints, when they have come to maturity, know that the Judge of the whole earth will do right, and they can rejoice fully in all His works. Our unwillingness to see this as the biblical balance is one of the central reasons why modern Christians have lost their joy, and with losing that joy, they have also lost their strength.