As we have noted before, the psalms provide us with direction and encouragement in every conceivable human situation. Just as in the next psalm (21), we have thanksgiving in the aftermath of victory in battle, so in this psalm we have a cry of faith prior to the battle. And of course, battle and danger must be understood on various levels. “The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee . . .” (Psalm 20:1-9).
The psalm can be divided into three portions, with the first two sections containing an antiphonal response between the people and the king. While there is some debate on this, this understanding accounts for the shifts in grammatical person.
The first strophe or section is found in vv. 1-5. The people are speaking for the majority of this section (vv. 1-4). The king then speaks (v. 5a) where he says “we will rejoice . . .” The second strophe begins with the people expressing their desire that God would grant the king’s petition (v. 5b). The king answers this in v. 6. “Now know I that the Lord saveth his anointed . . .” The third section should be thought of as a general chorus (vv. 7-9), using the language of triumph and exultation in the grace of God.
We do not know what period in David’s life this psalm refers to, but given the nature of the psalm and the course of David’s life, it could fit anywhere. The people intercede to God for their king, and their petition is that God will hear the king’s prayer (v. 1). This prayer would be offered in time of trouble. The people pray further that David would be defended by the name of the God of Jacob. This is important, as we will see later. They continue by asking that God would send help from the sanctuary, and strengthen the king out of Zion (v. 2).
What are the presuppositions? The prayers of the people continue. They ask that God would remember all David’s offerings, all his ascension offerings (v. 3). The passage here is literally asking that God would have made David’s ascension (burnt) offerings “fat.” This presupposes that David has been offering them.
Another presupposition is seen in the next request. The people ask that God would grant victory according to David’s heart, and fulfill all David’s counsel (v. 4). This presupposes that David is indeed a man after God’s own heart. Seek first the kingdom and all the rest is added (Matt. 6:33). Delight yourself in the Lord and He will grant the desires of your heart (Ps. 37:4).
The king then responds. The king addresses God, and promises to rejoice in His deliverance, His salvation (v. 5a). What is the ground of His confidence? The answer is that the battle ensigns are raised in the name of our God. The race is not to the swift, or the battle to the strong (Ecc. 9:11). Time and chance happen to them all, and the God of heaven holds time and chance in the palm of His hand.
In the next exchange, the people respond to the king’s faithfulness, and ask God to fulfill all the petitions offered up to Him (v. 5b). Because the king set up his banners in the Lord’s name, therefore it is right and proper that the people beseech God for victory.
The king answers yet again. Now he knows that God saves His own anointed (v. 6). God hears prayers from His holy heaven (v. 6). He hears and His right hand fights valiantly (v. 7).
The most natural tendency (however idolatrous) is to trust in what you can see. Before battle, the carnal heart rests naturally in chariots, horses, and every form of armor and weaponry manufactured by man. David has weapons, but he doesn’t trust in them. He trusts in the name of the Lord our God (v. 7). What is the result of such trust? The answer is simple-victory. The foe is brought low, but those who trusted in God are made to stand upright after the battle (v. 8). The psalm ends with a final cry for salvation and deliverance (v. 9).
As with so much of Scripture, applications are not hard to come by. This psalm was written for God’s people on the verge of war, and we as a nation are now involved in war. As we continue the war in Iraq, what can we learn from this psalm? The first and most obvious thing is that we as a people are in no position to pray this way, with this kind of confidence. As we sing this psalm, it must be mingled with prayers for repentance. We do not lift our banners in the name of our God, we have not called for the God of Jacob to defend us, we are among those who trust in chariots and horses-and not in the name of the Lord our God. It is useless to answer that we are a faithful people, because we are not. We have insisted on invoking a nameless god-one whose prowess in battle is non-existent.
What is the relationship between politics and the prophetic voice of the Church? The pulpit of a Christian church is no place for partisan politics or electioneering. The worship of the most high God is not a time when men should seek to advance their own careers. But whether or not the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ is the only true God is not a partisan issue. It is long past time for the church of Jesus Christ to resume functioning in her prophetic office. We must pray that thousands of churches across the nation turn back to the simple declaration that Jesus is Lord, and there is no other.
And while there are obvious applications to earthly kingdoms in all of this, we must never forget the dangers faced by the kingdom of God as the gospel makes its way through the world, eventually converting all the kingdoms of men.