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Psalm 21 Meaning

Turn to Psalm 21.

Just to remind us of why we’re turning to Psalm 21, before our series in Jeremiah which started in January 2016, we studied the first 20 psalms. Then we actually skipped forward to study Psalm 22 for an evening service one time. And so now, here we are, going back to Psalm 21.

Now, Psalm 21 is a praise psalm. And like every praise psalm in the book of Psalms, this psalm features three ingredients. You have 1) an introductory call to praise, 2) then a list of reasons to praise God, and 3) a final resolve to praise the Lord.

And through these three ingredients, the author of Psalm 21 – whom we may assume is King David, based on the psalm’s superscription – is expressing this thought. He is Rejoicing in God’s Powerful Salvation. And we’ll see that message unfold as we study through this psalm.

Superscription (v 1a)

We begin with the psalm’s superscription – literally, the “writing above”.

1 (To the [chief Musician/Music Director], A Psalm of David.)

So, we are given from this statement two assertions.

Nature of the Psalm – Musical

One is that this text was meant to be set to music. It’s written to the chief musician. And it would have been played and spoken in the context of worshipping the Lord in the Temple in Jerusalem. So, God’s people have been singing and/or reciting the text of this song for perhaps 3,000 years to this very day. And so, as we study this psalm, we enter into the rejoicing that God’s people have expressed – whether by means of the bare spoken-word or as set to music – for thousands of years concerning God’s powerful salvation. That’s the first assertion of this superscription. It’s musical.

Author of the Psalm – David

The second assertion that this superscription makes is that David wrote this psalm.

Now, some people think that the phrase that we see in so many of the superscriptions in the psalms that goes “A Psalm of David” doesn’t mean that David necessarily wrote the psalm. One reason that these people give to doubt whether David actually wrote these psalms is that we can’t easily find a situation in the life of David that corresponds to some of the realities he speaks of in these psalms.

But I am of the opinion that we should assume that David wrote these “Psalms of David” unless there’s no other way to interpret them. We need to remember two things when it comes to trying to place events in David’s life to what he writes in the Psalms. First, we don’t have recorded for us in Scripture David’s entire life. There are surely a number of events in David’s life that the Lord simply did not see fit to record for us. The second thing to remember is that David – like any other artist – could be writing about realities in the world that he has not personally experienced. So, I will assume that these psalms are indeed written by King David – and especially in Psalm 21 there’s really no reason to even seek some other author.

Call to Praise (v 1b)

With the superscription understood, we’ll turn to the first ingredient of this praise psalm – which is the call to praise in the rest of verse 1.

The king [shall joy/rejoices] in [thy strength/the strength you give], O LORD;
and in [thy salvation/the deliverance you provide] [how greatly shall he rejoice/he takes great delight]!

O LORD in thy strength the king shall joy
and in thy salvation he shall rejoice how greatly

Let’s note four elements that are introduced in this call to praise.

Rejoicing

The first element is the concept of rejoicing. David states that “the king shall joy” and “how greatly shall he rejoice.” Here we see two different Hebrew words that are basically synonymous and mean just what they say here – joy, rejoicing, gladness.

Alright, so when you see this kind of things in the call to praise you can expect that this is going to be a joyful psalm that lifts our hearts to be rejoicing.

Strong Salvation

Then we see the reason for rejoicing, which is God’s strong salvation. David says that he will rejoice “in thy strength” and “in thy salvation”.

These two concepts – strength and salvation – are parallel in this verse. In other words, the strength in which David “joys” is the same thing as the salvation in which David “abundantly rejoices.”

So, we’re talking about a strong salvation or a powerful salvation that God provides for David that causes him to rejoice.

The King

Next, we should note the person doing the rejoicing in this psalm, which is the king. This is king David, God’s chosen king who ruled his people Israel. David knew about God’s strong salvation. That’s obvious from both this psalm as well as the history we have of this monarch from the Old Testament books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.

And the nature of the salvation which David experienced takes on two forms.

First, David often experienced physical deliverance. In fact, toward the end of the book of 2 Samuel we have recorded for us a song that David wrote. The occasion was when he was delivered from king Saul’s murderous plans for himself. And so, at the end of that song, in 2 Samuel 22:51, David states “He [The LORD] is the tower of salvation for his king.” The Lord delivered king David from his enemies. And so, the Lord was like a strong tower that provided salvation – physical deliverance – for king David.

So, king David knew what it was like to experience physical deliverance from the Lord. But he also experienced a deliverance that was other-than-physical. It was not natural – it was supernatural. It didn’t involve enemies of the body, but rather enemies of the soul and spirit of a man.

In Psalm 32:1-2 we read David saying the following: “Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. 2 Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity…”

David knew what it was like to have his sin forgiven, covered, and not imputed to him.

And it’s this kind of strong salvation that we as Christians tend to think of most when we come to a passage like Psalm 21 that’s speaking so much of God’s powerful salvation. We think of salvation from sin. And that’s appropriate.

But we do also need to recognize that much of what David is praising God for here in this psalm is the first kind of salvation that we spoke of – the salvation and deliverance from physical material threats and dangers.

But as Christians we can recognize that we do have enemies. And the worst of these enemies are not human. They’re not flesh and blood. They’re invisible. They’re spiritual. But they’re no less real than the enemies David focuses on here in this psalm. And God is no less able to deliver us from our unseen enemies as he was able to do for David with his visible enemies. And so with David we too can and should rejoice in God’s powerful salvation today.

The Lord

And of course, we can’t neglect to recognize in this psalm the one who provides this salvation. It’s not horses, it’s not chariots, it’s not human rulers who provide the kind of powerful salvation that we all need and that David was rejoicing over. No, it’s the Lord. The God of Israel. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He’s the one – the only one – who provides strong salvation for his people. And therefore, in him alone we rejoice.

Reasons to Praise God (vv 2-12)

Now, with the content of this psalm’s call to praise in our minds and hearts, we turn to the lengthy catalog consisting of multiple reasons to rejoice in God’s powerful salvation. This section runs from verse 2 to verse 12.

2 Thou hast given him [the king…] his heart’s desire,
and hast not withholden the request of his lips.

Selah.

Thou hast given him his heart’s desire
and hast not withholden the request of his lips Selah

So, positively, David – speaking in the third person – rejoices that God has given him what he asked of the Lord. And negatively, God has not denied David’s request.

But what is David’s desire and what is his request? In the context it must be that God would powerfully save him from his enemies. David is rejoicing in God’s powerful salvation. And so it would seem that what David was seeking and what the Lord gave him was salvation from his enemies.

This God that David worshiped is of course our God as well. And he still grants the desires of his people’s hearts, according to his will. And wherever he has done that for you this week, rejoice in and praise him.

Moving on in this catalog of reasons to praise the Lord to verse 3, we read…

3 For thou [preventest/bring] him [with the blessings of goodness/rich blessings]:
thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.

For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness
thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head

So, stated in two different ways, the Lord’s granting David powerful salvation from his enemies is referred to as blessings of goodness and it’s also pictured as setting a crown of pure gold on his head.

Now, that last statement could be David simply stating that God was highly honoring him – and then using the picture of being crowned with a priceless gold crown to express the inestimable value that he sees in God providing him with this powerful salvation.

But it’s actually at this point where I start to wonder if David’s life situation that he speaks of in this psalm is perhaps when he was finally delivered from the persecution of King Saul and himself made king. If that’s the case, then David at this point in his life – after experiencing God’s powerful salvation in the form of King Saul’s death – is literally having a crown of gold placed on his head.

And there’s actually one other possible life situation that may lie behind this psalm. In 2 Samuel 12 and 1 Chronicles 20 we’re told of a situation that occurred right after the death of David’s first child that Bathsheba bore him. And then after that Solomon was born. And then after his birth David went and attacked the city of Rabbah in Ammon. The Lord – despite David’s previous grievous sin – gave David victory over the Ammonites. And David even retrieved a gold crown for himself from the Ammonite king in Rabbah that the people put on his head.

Of course, there could be other situations in David’s life that he’s reflecting on here. But if David is speaking literally concerning this crown of gold, then maybe one of these two situations is what he has in mind. Otherwise, he’s simply communicating the precious value of God’s powerful salvation.

Next in verse 4 David reveals that he had asked the Lord for something…

4 He asked [for preservation of his…] life of thee,
and thou gavest it him,

even length of days
for ever and ever.

He asked life of thee
and thou gavest it him

 

length of days
for ever and ever

So, David asked God to preserve his life. And that’s just what David got. Apparently then, David thought his life was in danger. And of course, that’s not hard to imagine in David’s life. He was hunted by king Saul for years, he had numerous foreign enemies he was constantly fighting, then of course his own son turned on him and attacked him with an army. David’s life was filled with war and threats to his life.

But how did David die? Not in battle. He died a peaceful death. He was – as God even admits – a man of bloodshed – not at all like his peaceful son Solomon would be. And yet, even though David’s life seems to have been in constant danger, the Lord did give him life. He delivered David from all his enemies.

And there’s some hint here that David was looking beyond his own physical life and thinking rather of the eternal life that he would have in the presence of his God. God didn’t simply give him life on this earth. But David here I believe is testifying to the fact that he believed that he would experience length of days with God for ever and ever.

5 [His glory is great in thy salvation/Your deliverance brings him great honor]:
[honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him/You give him majestic splendor].

His glory is great in thy salvation
honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him

So, David is saying that the fact that God would see fit to answer his prayer and save him from his enemies brings him great glory and honor.

And if David’s deliverance was from either King Saul or from his own son Absalom then the second line of this verse makes a lot of sense. Honour and majesty – which befit a king – God laid upon David when he saved him from his enemies. Because of course, both of those men would have taken that royal honour and majesty away from David.

But God delivered David from these threats and every other threat to his royal reign.

And so David continues rejoicing in verse 6.

6 For thou hast [made/appointed] him [most blessed for ever/lasting blessings]:
thou hast made him [exceeding glad/joyful with happiness] [with thy countenance/by allowing him into your presence (to see your face)].

For thou hast made him most blessed for ever
thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance

Here again, David seems to go beyond the realm of the temporal. David is looking beyond the here-and-now and beyond the deliverance from physical enemies – and he’s reflecting on the eternal nature of his relationship with the Lord.

He feels most blessed and exceeding glad.

How long will that blessing last, in David’s mind? For ever.

What makes David so exceeding glad? The promise of God’s presence – God’s countenance.

David in Psalm 16 claims that in God’s presence is fullness of joy. That was his firm belief. In the temple, that’s what he experienced as much as a man can this side of eternity. And David knew that based on God’s temporal salvation from his enemies, David looked forward to everlasting gladness in God’s presence.

Well, what ensures that a man experiences gladness in God’s presence for ever? Here’s what David knew – verse 7.

7 For the king trusteth in the LORD,
and through the [mercy/chesed/loyal love] of the most High he shall not be [moved/shaken].

For the king trusteth in the Lord
and he shall not be moved through the mercy of the most High

David would be glad for ever in God’s presence – not because he was sinless or because he earned that blessing – but because he trusted in the Lord.

And there’s a reciprocity involved here. David trusted. And God poured out on David his mercy. That’s the Hebrew word chesed. His steadfast loyal love.

And having a God who is steadfast allows us – as it allowed David here – to not be moved. When you have a God whose love for you cannot be changed or moved then what an encouragement that is for us to not be moved in the difficult situations of our lives.

David worshiped that God. And his God is the same one we who know Christ worship.

So, let’s recap what we’ve seen so far. In verses 2 through 7 we’ve had a section where David reflects on his relationship with the Lord. And he’s given several reasons why the Lord is worthy of praise.

And now from verse 8 through verse 12 we see David really focusing on the reality that lied behind this powerful salvation that he was rejoicing in. The reality was that God would destroy his enemies.

8 Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies:
thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee.

Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies
thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee

And let’s just remind ourselves of what David could have said here. He could have addressed God and told him that God was going to destroy all of David’s enemies. But what does he say instead? David focuses on God’s enemies. David’s fights were not over his own personal matters – at least not in this psalm.

And that’s how our lives ought to be as well. If we have battles to face, let’s make sure they’re not based on our own selfish desires. Let’s make sure we’re not fighting for our own pride’s sake or reputation or personal desires. Let’s make sure that what we’re willing to battle for is truly the Lord’s battles.

That’s David’s focus. It should be ours as well.

9 Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger:
the LORD shall swallow them up in his wrath,
and the fire shall devour them.

Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger
the LORD shall swallow them up in his wrath
and the fire shall devour them

And we do well to remind ourselves that our God – who is so merciful and patient and kind to us – is also a God who does not leave the guilty unpunished. Those who remain his enemies and refuse his mercy do make themselves the objects of his burning wrath.

And David here is likely focused on the destruction that was to come to God’s enemies in this life. And yet with the two references to fire in this passage, the Christian finds it difficult to not think of what the Scripture – and especially the New Testament – reveals about the eternal fate of God’s enemies. The fate for all who reject God’s powerful salvation in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ is eternal fire.

But David returns to the temporal dimension of God’s punishment of his enemies in verse 10.

10 Their [fruit/offspring] shalt thou destroy from the earth,
and their [seed/descendants] from among the [children of men/sons of Adam].

Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth
and their seed from among the children of men

And this is a truth that we see played out in the Old Testament especially – where the children of wicked men are punished. There are some exceptions. God once allowed the child of a wicked king in the Old Testament to die because the Scripture says that God loved that child. But often God’s punishment of the wicked in the Old Testament in particular included punishing their children.

And I think that it’s right for us to remind ourselves from this reality that what we do affects our family. The actions we take and the words we say and the heart we have toward God will impact our kids. Our kids and those who look up to us need a parent like David in this psalm who trusts in God and who is not moved because of God’s chesed – his loyal unshakeable love.

Well, David continues to rejoice in God’s powerful salvation in verse 11.

11 For they intended evil against thee:
they imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform.

For they intended evil against thee
they imagined a mischievous device
they are not able to perform

Again, look at David’s selflessness. He’s concerned that the enemies were intending evil – not against David himself – but against the Lord.

And yet, they were unable to perform the evil that they planned against him.

And so, it seems that God was going to use David to execute judgement on these enemies of his according to verse 12.

12 Therefore shalt thou make them [turn their back/“a shoulder”],
when thou shalt [make ready/“aim”thine arrows [upon/with] thy strings [against/at] the face of them.

Therefore thou shalt make turn them their back
thou shalt make ready against the face of them upon thy strings

It’s as if God was drawing the bow string against these enemies even as he used the literal bow strings of David and his army against these wicked men. That’s if this situation was remembering Absalom’s attack.

If this is referencing King Saul’s demise then it was actually the Philistines’ bow strings that God would have worked through.

Resolve to Praise (v 13)

And with those reasons to praise God and rejoice in his powerful salvation, David ends this psalm in verse 13 with a resolve to praise the Lord.

13 [Be thou exalted/Rise up], LORD, in thine own strength:
so will we sing and praise thy power.

Be thou exalted LORD in thine own strength
will we sing and praise thy power

Again, notice the emphasis on God’s strength and power. This is the power we’ve seen in this psalm that was demonstrated in salvation or deliverance from enemies.

And notice as well David’s singing and praise and exalting the Lord. In other words, rejoicing because of God’s powerful salvation.

And on this Lord’s Day, I would encourage us all to take some time to rejoice in the deliverance that God has provided you this week. It’s maybe less likely than in David’s time, but was there a time this week when you were delivered in any way from a literal flesh-and-blood enemy? There may be a person or two in here and that your experience.

But I know that for all of us who have trusted Christ, we can rejoice in the powerful salvation spoken of by the Apostle Paul in Romans 1:16 where he says, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth.” Seeing that sin is our greatest enemy, we who have drawn near to God through Christ can rejoice in the greatest and most powerful salvation that God has to offer in the Gospel.

Let’s rejoice today in God’s powerful salvation.

1 reply on “Psalm 21 Meaning”

Hi there I’ve recently started reading the book of Psalms and there are lots I don’t understand. I’d like to get a better understanding of the verses in the bible please. Thank you and regards,
Mayleen Ferley

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