Psalm 20 Meaning

Let’s consider Psalm 20 meaning. Psalm 20 is a very positive, upbeat kind of psalm – even though it shares some characteristics with lament psalms. And typically – as you know – lament psalms aren’t really upbeat. But this one is.

Psalm 20 Meaning
My Experience

In fact, I can recall a time when I was living on a sheep farm and was having all sorts of struggles. The owners of the farm were expecting more work out of me than I was able to give them – so they weren’t very happy with me. My fiance at the time – who’s now my wife – was experiencing some pretty perplexing health issues – which required more guidance than I really could give at the time. Those health issues brought about dynamics that quite honestly threatened the continuation of our engagement. I felt alone. I felt directionless. I was very discouraged.

And then I went to my room and sat down and opened my Bible. And Psalm 20 was next on my Bible reading schedule. And as I read, this sense of encouragement came over me. I mean – look at what was there to greet me – this nameless chorus of voices saying things like this:

  • The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble!
  • The name of the God of Jacob defend thee!
  • Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion!
  • Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice!
  • Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel!
  • We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners!
  • The LORD fulfil all thy petitions!

Now, obviously, this chorus of voices wasn’t addressing me directly. I mean, this psalm wasn’t written for me – Paul Donald Weir living in the early 21st century. But it did encourage me. And my experience with this psalm helps me to know how the original recipient of this psalm might have felt when he heard these words.

Psalm 20 Meaning
A Prayer for the King

You see, this psalm was something of a prayer to God on behalf of the Davidic king of Israel. The people of Israel apparently would sing this song as a prayer to God to deliver their king – maybe right before a battle. Their fate was wrapped up with their king’s. If he won, they won. If he lost, they lost. It was in their best interest for the king to win. So, they pray to God for him.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Protected in the Battle

And so, here’s one way you could summarize the prayer of the people in this psalm. They’re praying for their king to be Protected in the Battle.

In Psalm 20:1-4 we see a prayer to God for the protection of the king.

The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble;
the name of the God of Jacob defend thee;
2 Send thee help from the sanctuary,
and strengthen thee out of Zion;
3 Remember all thy offerings,
and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah.
4 Grant thee according to thine own heart,
and fulfill all thy counsel.

So, here in Psalm 20:1-4 we see the people’s prayer to God. They’re praying for their king to be delivered or saved or – as I prefer, protected. Now, you wouldn’t know necessarily that it’s the king that this unidentified group of people is praying for.

Psalm 20 Meaning
A Prayer

But you do get the sense that they are praying, first of all. They say — The Lord hear. The Name defend. Send. Strengthen. Remember. Accept. Grant. And Fulfill. All these verbs – and the way they’re stated – alert us to the fact that they’re being spoken as a prayer. They’re requests. And they’re being directed to – Psalm 20:1 – the Lord and the name of the God of Jacob. Those two descriptors point to the same exact being – the only living and true God. So, these people are uttering a request – well, many requests actually. And those requests are being directed to God. So, yes, it’s prayer.

Psalm 20 Meaning
A Prayer for a King

Now, on whose behalf are these people praying and making these requests? Look at the pronouns being used. Thee – 4 times in Psalm 20:1-2. Thy – twice in Psalm 20:3. And thee, thine, and thy in Psalm 20:4. The requests are being made on behalf of someone. Not multiple someones. Just one someone. I’ve already let the cat out of the bag and told you that the prayers are being offered for the king of Israel. But this becomes very clear in the next few verses that we’ll turn to shortly.

And, so – though there are multiple requests being made here – there’s really only one underlying burden of these people. It’s that their king be protected.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 1

In Psalm 20:1, the people ask God to hear or answer their king in the day of trouble. This phrase “day of trouble” or “day of distress” appears over a dozen times in the Old Testament. And in several of those instances, it’s speaking of the invasion of a foreign army. And I think that’s the point here. The king is going into some military skirmish – weather to aggressively attack the enemy and gain ground or to defend his nation from an invading enemy. And the people are asking God to answer him as he leads the army in battle.

Well, what do you suppose a godly king who’s going into a battle would request from the Lord at that moment? Certainly whatever he would request would include the concept found in the next line of Psalm 20:1.

So what will the king likely be asking for in the battle? The second line or statement of Psalm 20:1 asks the Lord to defend the king. In the battle to come, that king will certainly himself be asking the Lord for defense. And the word there for “defense” has the idea of setting something in a high place. The idea is security. So, the picture is that he’d be out of the way of danger.

Now, this is metaphorical and poetic. The people and the king himself wouldn’t ask for him to be able to find a high mountain so that he could avoid danger during the battle. Sometimes those kings would be in the battle themselves. No, this is figurative and asking that the king would be protected from danger – as if he were set securely on high – away from all threat of harm.

And it’s interesting that the description “the name of the God of Jacob” is in parallel to “the Lord”. When the people use this word, “name” – it might be a little confusing to us, because we wouldn’t say something like this. This is definitely idiomatic. The word “name” in Hebrew expressed a concept that’s just lost on us when it comes over into English as “name”. In English, a “name” is something someone is known by. It identifies a person. “Oh, that person over there? Oh, her name is Sue.” And I can’t really think of any other way we use that word “name”.

But in Hebrew, “name” could also communicate the character of someone. So, whatever it was in the Lord that would make these people think that he would defend the king – that’s what they were calling on to defend their king. And, now, what was in the character of the Lord that would cause him to defend his Davidic king? How about the fact that God had promised to keep a Davidic king on the throne forever. How about the fact that God keeps his promises. I think those kinds of thoughts are what the people had in mind as they made the requests of Psalm 20:1 to the Lord. Protect our king by answering and defending him in the battle to come. That’s the idea.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 2

Next, in Psalm 20:2 the people are still asking God to protect their king. But this time they’re focusing on the location from which God will protect the king. They ask that God send help to the king from his sanctuary. Literally, from his “holy”. Like a holy place. And that’s why “sanctuary” makes sense here.

And this sanctuary is – next statement of Psalm 20:2 – in Zion. In Jerusalem. And so, it’s obvious that the people are picturing God as helping the king from his base in the Temple in Jerusalem. It’s as if the Temple is God’s command center, from which he will send help and strengthen his king. And so in a real sense, the king is leading the army – but the Lord himself is the one sending reinforcements and seeing to it that the battle is won by the good guys.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 3

Next, in Psalm 20:3 – the people ask that the king’s religious devotion to the Lord would be accepted. That the Lord would remember and accept all the times when the king had offered an offering according to God’s rules.

Now, I admit that sometimes the thought of God answering someone because of what that person does can be uncomfortable. I mean, we’re rightly taught that salvation is by grace through faith. It’s not because of what we do. It doesn’t happen through our works.

But we’re not talking about salvation here – spiritual salvation, that is. We’re talking about the Lord physically protecting the king of Israel in a battle and giving him victory.

And we need to keep in mind that the Lord actually has answered the prayers of people – apparently based on their deeds. I’m just going to reference one. You have Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20. Remember – he was sick and Isaiah the prophet came to him and told him that he would die. Do you how Hezekiah responded? He turned to the wall and prayed to the Lord. And he said this “I beseech thee, O LORD, remember now how I have walked before thee in truth and with a perfect heart, and have done that which is good in thy sight.” And the Lord heard him and healed him. Hezekiah pointed the Lord to his good deeds and his following the Lord in order to appeal to him to answer his prayers. So, I just point this out to say that – while you can’t point to your works in order to appeal to the Lord to save you – the people in this psalm have some precedent to beseech the Lord to protect their king – in part because of his acts of genuine devotion to the Lord.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 4

And lastly, in Psalm 20:4, the people are praying that God would give the king anything he desired and that God would bring all his plans to pass. Now, in context I’d have to imagine that they’re asking specifically for the king’s battle plans to succeed.

And so, that’s the people’s prayer to God for the protection of their king.

In Psalm 20:5-6 we have the realization of the people’s prayers for their king. They picture their king being protected by God. And that causes them to rejoice.

5 We will rejoice in thy salvation,
and in the name of our God we will set up our banners:
the LORD fulfill all thy petitions.
6 Now know I that the LORD saveth his anointed;
he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.

Notice the words “salvation” or “saveth” or “saving”. One of those words is used 3 separate times in these two verses. This is where we get the idea that the people are asking for the salvation or deliverance or protection of their king. In the first four verses of the psalm, we saw individual requests. And they all – taken together – amounted to this repeated concept here of “salvation” or protection.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 5

In Psalm 20:5, the people state their plan to rejoice when the Lord protects their king. They’ll shout for joy when it happens.

They go on to state in Psalm 20:5 that they planned to set up banners – just like an army does. An army has banners. These people – then – are likely even involved in the military effort for which they’re praying. Really, maybe the army itself is the group that would sing this song before a battle. But whatever the case, these people will set up these banners in the name of their God. That name which they prayed in Psalm 20:1 would defend their king, who’s leading them into battle.

And then it’s as if these people are just overflowing with good desires for their king and his leading them into victory – and they end Psalm 20:5 with just one more request to the Lord for their king. They want the Lord to fulfill all the king’s desires.

You just can’t help but notice this sense that the people are 100% behind their leader. They want the absolute best for him. There’s no hint of the ever-present rebellion that’s just been kind of codified into our collective national conscience. It’s like – as an American – there’s something wrong with you if you’re not constantly agitating against authority. Sometimes that’s the sense you get from reading the news and seeing society at-large – anarchy is great, that’s the message! But that’s not how the people reciting this psalm felt. They were totally behind their leader. They knew that their success was wrapped up in his. And so they prayed accordingly.

And I don’t want to go too far afield, but I’ll just remind us all that it’s a Christian practice to pray for those in authority – whether you voted for them or not. Whether you think their main goal in life is to destroy this country or not. In fact, this is a practice – according to 1 Timothy – that the men in the church ought to be doing as we come together for worship. We should be praying for our authorities. And that without wrath or dissension. We should be agreed on this, in other words.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 6

Now, when we enter into Psalm 20:6 it’s as if we’ve turned a new page. The people have been praying for their king to be protected. And now in Psalm 20:6 it’s as if the deliverance has been granted. The king has been protected and all is well. And the crowd of praying people has now been reduced to one. The speaker says “now I”. It’s just him now. And this single individual has come to learn something. Now he knows that God saves his anointed. His Messiah. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament – it’s his Christ.

Now, let me explain that a little bit. When that term is used in the Old Testament, it’s not necessarily speaking of Jesus the Messiah. I think that in Psalm 20, this reference to God’s anointed is directly speaking of the Davidic king who’s going out to battle the enemy. So, that’s the Messiah in this case – the Davidic King for whose deliverance the people are praying. And yet, the Jews were encouraged to believe that there would be some day THE Messiah. The Ultimate Davidic King – who would rule from Jerusalem and restore the fortunes of Jacob. And yet, that Messiah isn’t the one in view here. Right now in Psalm 20, the Messiah or anointed one is simply the Davidic king leading his army into battle.

Alright, now this individual speaker in Psalm 20:6 confirms in the second statement of the verse that God will hear his king. This “hear” is the same word used in Psalm 20:1. It was the very first prayer uttered for the king. That the Lord would hear and answer him. Now this individual is convinced that the Lord will answer their prayers and hear their king.

Further, this individual is convinced that the Lord will do this hearing and answering from his holy heaven. The word “holy” there appeared in Psalm 20:2. There, it was translated “sanctuary”. So, while the people prayed that God would send help to their king from his sanctuary on earth, this individual recognizes that God’s deliverance will come from some place even higher and loftier than that. It will come ultimately from his sanctuary in heaven.

So, we had the prayer of the people for the protection of their king. Then, we just saw their rejoicing in and realizing the answer to their prayers for protection. And now in Psalm 20:7-8, we have some contrasts. Namely…

7 Some trust in chariots, and some in horses:
but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.
8 They are brought down and fallen:
but we are risen, and stand upright.

There are two main contrasts in these two verses.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 7

The first contrast is between the things that a person trusts in. That’s Psalm 20:7. And once again, the individual has given way to the group of people – see the term “we”? And now the people are stating this, literally, “These in chariots, and these in horses, But WE the name of the Lord our God will invoke”.

In other words, there are some who call upon – as it were – their chariots and horses in the battle. And after all, that makes sense on a certain level. I mean, in ancient Israel, you do battle with chariots and with horses. Those are the materials available to you. But even if it might make some sense, it’s totally wrong. And the people of the king know it.

They will certainly use chariots and horses to great profit. But they don’t call upon those things. They don’t invoke them. They don’t put their trust in them. The king’s people – in contrast to the enemy – will invoke the name of the Lord. The name that we’ve seen in Psalm 20:1 defending the king. The name by which the people in Psalm 20:5 were setting up their banners. That name – that’s the one that the people call upon.

So, that’s the first contrast – the one to whom you call when you’re in distress – pragmatic, practical things like horses and chariots. Or the Lord. The king’s people chose the Lord. Was that choice justified?

Psalm 20 Meaning
Verse 8

Well, that’s where we get to the second contrast in these two verses. Psalm 20:8 is the contrasting results of choosing the Lord for protection or choosing any other means.

What happened to the enemy of Israel in the battle? Psalm 20:8 – they were brought down and they fell. Not what you want to have happen in a battle. But in contrast – “but we” – the king’s people proclaim – we are risen and stand upright. Praise the Lord.

Psalm 20:9 serves as the concluding prayer for God to protect the king.

9 Save, LORD: let the king
hear us when we call.

Now, I’m going to suggest that the way Psalm 20:9 is translated can be improved. The last phrase “hear us when we call” is correct. It’s a request from the people for the Lord to again hear them and the prayers they’ve offered for their king.

Everything before that phrase – though – is what I think we need help with. You can translate that first part like this – “Lord, save the king”. And that would be a perfectly good way to translate the Hebrew there. And doesn’t that go along with the entirety of the psalm as we’ve seen it this morning? That’s all we’ve been hearing about for this whole psalm – that God would deliver his king. So, yes, I think this is a better way to take the Hebrew here.

Plus, this helps us avoid the awkwardness of the people all of a sudden — in the very last verse of the psalm — introducing this idea that they want the king to hear them when they call. But, throughout the whole psalm, they’ve been calling to the Lord – not the king. They’ve been wanting the Lord to hear – not really the king to hear. And now at the very end of the psalm, the people change their approach and start asking the king to answer them? No, I think the people are still calling to the Lord to save their king – even in this last verse of the psalm.

Psalm 20 Meaning
Applying Psalm 20

So, that’s Psalm 20. Protected in the Battle. That’s what the people are praying for their king. It’s what they rejoice in and what they come to see actually happen. It’s what they experience — while the enemy gets cut down because they’re looking to something else for protection.

And ultimately it’s what we need – we need protection in the battle. And most of our battles are not literal and physical. They’re spiritual in nature. But they’re just as real and just as deadly. We have an enemy who is unseen. He has forces that are more powerful than we are. And he’s constantly influencing wicked people to oppose us. But we need to remember that the true battle isn’t against those people. It’s against the animating force behind them – the Adversary. This is why we pray, “Lord deliver us from evil” and the evil one. And this is why it’s so crucial to put on the whole armor of God. We don’t stand a chance otherwise against our unseen enemy.

So, may the Lord hear thee. May he defend thee. And we will rejoice in thy salvation when he does.

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