Now if you would please take your copies of God’s Word, the Bible, in your hand and turn with me to the book of Psalms, to Psalm 20. You’ll find that on page 456 in the church Bibles. Psalm 20; page 456. As I was thinking about what to preach for tonight’s message, I found myself drawn to Psalm 20 for three reasons. Let me share them with you very quickly!
First, as I began to look for resources on Psalm 20 in my preparation, I quickly discovered how overlooked this psalm actually is. One commentator, I read calls it, “an underappreciated little psalm.” And he’s right! When I went to our church’s website, for example, I found expositions of every one of the one-hundred-fifty psalms except for Psalm 20. When I went to The Gospel Coalition website that aggregates thousands of sermons on every book of the Bible from all over the evangelical church, I found scores of messages on almost every psalm. You know how many I found for Psalm 20? Just one! It really is a tragedy that so magnificent a psalm as this should be so neglected and underserved. And so that’s the first reason we’re going to think about its message together tonight.
A second reason has to do with its contents. A casual glance at the psalm will immediately reveal strong notes of confidence and assurance that ring throughout this psalm of David’s. It resounds with faith and hope in the mighty provision of God for His anointed King and His chosen people. In our cynical and impatient age, that’s a message we need to hear. Don’t you agree? Here’s a note of hope while we wait on God; a note of confidence in His sure provision amidst daily challenges. Psalm 20 bolsters faith and encourages our hearts.
But then in the third place, I was drawn to Psalm 20 because I found it to be particularly useful in helping us learn how to read the Bible well. Unless we pass the message of Psalm 20 through the prism of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we will misunderstand and misapply its message. Psalm 20 is especially useful as a study in reading the Old Testament in light of the New so that we learn, by using Psalm 20 in considering its message together, we learn how to do whole-Bible theology and become whole-Bible Christians.
Now one important key to interpreting Psalm 20 correctly is to notice the subject of the psalm. Who is Psalm 20 about? Who is being addressed in verse 1? Look at verse 1; verses 1 to 5, actually. “May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble!” the psalm begins; makes the congregation sing. Well, who is the “you” there? Verse 6 says it is the Lord’s anointed! And verse 9 tells us that the people are speaking to the king himself. The “you” there, “May the Lord answer you,” the “you” there is not the people, but the king. The people are praying for the king, that the Lord may answer the king. Written by King David, possibly for use in a worship service prior to some great battle in which he would go out to lead his people into war, the focal point of Psalm 20 is not directly on God’s blessing for every believer, but, rather on God’s blessing upon His anointed king who leads them.
There’s actually an ancient rabbinic tradition, Jewish tradition, of interpreting this Psalm specifically as a reference, as a prophecy of a coming Messiah. The great King descended from David whom David prefigured. Verse 6 can even legitimately be translated, “Now I know that the Lord saves his Messiah.” Anointed one is, “Messiah.” The Lord saves His Messiah! Psalm 20, you see, is not just a song by David about David; it’s a song for a future King. A song of God’s Old Testament people looking forward to the coming of Christ, their Messiah, praying for God’s blessing upon Him in the day of His trouble.
Another key to interpreting the psalm is to notice the structure – how it’s put together. Look at it again with me! Imagine a great worship service in the temple on the eve of battle. The people are gathered and they’re praying with urgency and concern. In verses 1 to 5, they sing out their prayer-wish for the king in the day of trouble. Notice that the “we,” the people, are praying for “you,” the king, to “Him,” the Lord. But then in verse 6, look at verse 6 – all the pronouns change. Don’t they? You see that in verse 6? Previously, “we” are the speakers, the congregation. But now in verse 6, “I,” singular; there’s one singular speaker responding, one voice – possibly a priest; maybe even the king himself – singing a response that is filled with faith and confidence. Perhaps at this point, the sacrifices and offerings that are mentioned in verse 3 have been laid upon the altar and as the smoke ascends, this singular voice, this priest or the king says, “In light of the sacrifice made, now we have confidence that God will hear and answer.” And so the in the last part of the psalm verses 7 to 9, the plurals, the first person plurals, all kick back in. The congregation takes up the song once again, but they do so now joining that single voice, not with words of urgent prayer, longing for God to answer, but now with words that resound with that same confidence and assurance, we find in verse 6.
So do you see the structure? It begins with the congregation praying for the king. Then there’s this one verse in the middle that acts as a kind of pivot, verse 6, where a singular voice break in expressing assurance in God’s victory for the king. And after that, everything changes. The tone shifts on this axis. Now, as the congregation takes up the song once again, they join that voice in words of robust confidence in God all their own. And as you take all of that in, you may perhaps have already begun to see the principle on the basis of which Psalm 20 is operating? Here’s what the people understood who first sang Psalm 20. Here’s what David understood who wrote Psalm 20. Here’s the principle; what happens to the King, happens to the people! What happens to the King, happens to the people! It is for the success and victory of the king in the day of trouble that they are praying because they know that his victory will mean their victory; his success will mean their success. His salvation will mean their salvation.
And if that is true on an earthly, military plane of King David, how much more is it true of great David’s greater Son, our great King, the Lord Jesus Christ, on a spiritual and eternal plane? His victory is our victory! His salvation our salvation! Not from the attack of political enemies or earthly oppressors, but from sin and death and hell. Isn’t that so? Praise God that that is so! What happens to the King, happens to us. His victory becomes our victory. So, Psalm 20, do you see, is designed to help us found our confidence and our assurance not in ourselves or in one another, not in the church, not in worship, not in prayers and cries to God, not in our goodness and kindness and philanthropic effort. No, our only hope, in life and in death, lies in the success of God’s anointed King alone, that is, the success of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s the big idea of Psalm 20.
And as we turn our attention to it in just a few moments, I want to consider its message with you under two simple headings. First in verses 1 to 5, we’re going to see the Savior that we need. The Savior that we need. And then in verses 6 to 9, the confidence we can have. The Savior we need and the confidence we can have. Before we consider the psalm in some detail, however, would you bow your heads with me first as we pray together? Let’s pray!
O Lord, we are weak, fragile, sinful people. It doesn’t take much to lead us astray or to cause our resistance to sin to crumble. It doesn’t take much to blind us to the truth or to distort its message. It doesn’t take much to shake our confidence and assail our peace. And so as we come to Psalm 20 now, we ask, O Lord, that You would wield its message by the power of the Holy Spirit in every one of our hearts to give us that unassailable confidence that is founded not in ourselves but in the victory of Christ who has done all for us. In Jesus’ name, amen.
Do direct your attention please to Psalm 20. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“To the choirmaster. A psalm of David.
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion! May he remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!
May he grant you your heart's desire and fulfill all your plans! May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.
O Lord, save the king! May he answer us when we call.” Amen.
The Savior That We Need
First of all, think with me about the Savior that we need. The story goes that one day the great 18th century, nonconformist preacher and hymn-writer, Augustus Toplady, was traveling along the gorge of Burrington Combe in the Mendip Hills near the village of Blagdon in England where he had been preaching when he was suddenly caught in a terrible storm. And as the wind and the rain raged around him, he looked for shelter and he found a gap in the gorge. And there, he quickly took shelter. And it was there, the legend says, in the midst of the storm, that Toplady scribbled down the first line of his great hymn, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me. Let me hide myself in Thee.” It’s a hymn, if you know it, it’s a hymn full of Gospel confidence, that in Jesus Christ alone, who is our sheltering Rock amidst the storm, we can find lasting refuge. Jesus is our King, the Rock of Ages, who was cleft for us so that we may cry to Him for refuge, “Let me hide myself in Thee!” Jesus is our safe, secure hiding place.
May the God of Jacob Protect You!
And that is the message of Psalm 20 – Jesus, our King, is our security and our deliverance. That’s the cry of the heart that Psalm 20 aims to provoke in us as we consider its message together. It aims to have us all resting, hiding securely, in Christ our King. Let’s look at it together! We don’t know the precise occasion that prompted David to write it. The opening line does help us somewhat. It speaks about “the day of trouble.” Do you see that in verse 1? The word “trouble” means “straight or narrowness.” David is about to enter a time of pressure. David, we might say, is in a tight spot. And so, the people are praying for him on this terrible day. Look at the next line of verse 1. They pray, “May the name of the God of Jacob protect you?” The Hebrew scholars tell us that that phrase, “May the God of Jacob protect you,” is actually, “May the God of Jacob set you on high,” and it has military overtones. In other words, the context is David is about to enter the fray of combat and the people are praying that the Lord would set him on high; defend and protect him and deliver him from and in the midst of the battle.
And in the face of this awful coming conflict, this dark day of trouble, the people know their king is praying for the assistance and the help of the Lord. He is about to descend into the fearful valley of affliction and opposition and there he must do battle on behalf of his people. And so their desire is clear, isn’t it? They want God to answer their king’s prayers. “May the LORD answer you,” they pray in verse 1. “May he remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices,” verse 3. “May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans,” verse 4. “May the Lord fulfill all your petitions,” verse 5. Their king is pleading with God for success. He’s offering sacrifices. He’s pouring out his petitions and he’s committing his battle plans and his strategies into the Lord’s hands.
The People’s Representative
And the people know that their salvation from the oppression of their enemies is entirely bound up with God’s answering the cries of their king. When he goes out to war, if God will not answer and give him his heart’s desire, if God will not give him success, well then we are lost. And so they add their prayers to his. “O Lord,” they are praying, “hear him as he prays for our deliverance. Hear and answer him as he seeks You for the strength and the wisdom and the skill to face down the enemy and triumph!” And so they ask that God would send him help from the sanctuary and give him support from Zion – verse 2. They want the supply of the presence and the power of Almighty God to clothe him and equip him and enable him. They see the king as God’s anointed; His ordained and appointed instrument for their good. He acts for them as their representative.
In fact, in 2 Samuel chapter 21 at verse 17, there is an incident where David’s army actually refuses to allow him to go out to fight with them anymore. He had had a close call, it seems, leading his troops into combat. And so they refuse to allow him to risk his life anymore. And listen to their reasoning. Listen to how they speak about him. “You shall no longer go out with us to battle,” they say, “lest you quench the lamp of Israel.” That’s how they thought of King David! He’s the lamp of Israel! “If your light is extinguished, then we’re all in darkness! The lamp of Israel must burn brightly. What happens to you will happen to us, you see.” What happens to the king happens to the people.
Their Joy Linked to The King’s Success
And so once again, here’s the basic principle that informs all their prayers in these opening verses – As goes the king, so goes the people! If the lamp of Israel is quenched, all hope is lost. But, if God would set His anointed king on high in the day of trouble and send him support from Zion, well, then they too will be saved. And so they link their joy to His success. Do you see that in verse 5? Look at verse 5. “May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banner!” Isn’t that a curious way to pray? “May we shout for joy over your salvation. Our joy and your salvation are bound together. If God would save you, we will rejoice because your salvation is our salvation. You are the lamp of Israel. In your light, we see light.”
Now that principle is a vital one for us even now because we too have a King and He has gone to war for us. He has entered the fray and faced down the enemy on our behalf. And all our hope and all our hope rests on His acting for us. I don’t hesitate to say to you that the very essence and heart of true Christianity lies here. It’s not that I can do it. It’s not that I have the strength in my own arm or the wit in my own brain or the competence or the experience or the willpower. It’s not that I can find the joy of my salvation by the right combination of religious activities and the proper application of reason. You can do all of that and still be lost. The enemy will still take you in the day of trouble.
I heard last week of a man who came to visit an imminent pastor in the United Kingdom asking him to be baptized. Now, this pastor had never clapped eyes on the fellow before, and so you can imagine he had a few questions before he was ready to proceed with any sort of baptism. And as he probed, the story, the sad story began to emerge. He had gotten his girlfriend pregnant and they decided together that she ought to have an abortion. And, so, she did. And, now, here he was! He knew next to nothing of the Christian faith, but his conscience condemned him terribly. And as he wrestled in his desperation with what to do with his guilt and his shame, it came to him, “If only there was some religious ritual I might perform or have performed upon me that could wash all my guilt away, that would certainly make the difference!” Then it came to him. “I’ll get baptized!” And, so here he was, asking this pastor to baptize him. But it wasn’t baptism that he needed, was it? The pastor patiently explained, “Baptism is an outward sign of an inner spiritual reality, and it’s the inner cleansing that you need! Baptism won’t help you! You need Jesus Christ to break in and make you clean.” He needed his sins washed away and his guilt atoned for.
But isn’t that how we all, so often, still find our hearts responding, even mature Christians among us sometimes? We think there must be something we must do, some penance we must perform before we can be forgiven. We think we need to feel really miserable before we are allowed to feel the joy of salvation. We think we need to turn over a new leaf before we may dare make an approach to God seeking His mercy. We want to do! Don’t we? We want to act. We want to take matters into our own hands. Don’t do it! Don’t do it! Listen to Psalm 20 and remember that the joy of salvation is not the fruit of your doing but the fruit of your trusting your King to do for you. We will shout for joy over your salvation. Our joy, our peace, our assurance of right-standing before God is not the fruit of our activity, our religious performance, our penance, our self-flagellation. It is rather the fruit of our dependence upon our King who has entered the combat zone on our behalf and won the victory for us. The Savior that we need.
The Confidence We Can Have
Then look down at verses 6 to 9. Here’s the confidence we can have in light of the Savior that has been provided. Now everything changes in the psalm at verse 6, doesn’t it? In 1 to 5, the people are praying and there are fervency and urgency. “The enemy is coming! O God, protect the king! Give him success in the day of trouble!” But then starting in verse 6, the mood is quite different. Do you see that? Now there’s this robust confidence and assurance. Look at verse 6 again. Just one single speaker addresses the praying congregation. Look at what he says. “Now I know the Lord saves his anointed, his Messiah. He will answer from his holy heaven with a saving might of his right hand.” “I know,” he says – two words every Christian hopes always to be able to say – “I know. I know. I am not ashamed,” as Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 1:12, “I am not ashamed for I know whom I have believed and am convinced that he is able. Not that I am able, but that He is. I know.” Do you know? Is your confidence in yourself shaken? You ought never to rest it there in the first place! Rest it on the only sure foundation. Rest it upon your King whom the Lord has already vindicated. It’s this kind of assurance that rings in verse 6 that the speaker declares to the congregation.
And as they hear it, they take up the song with a similar refrain, filled with confidence before God. Do you see that in verses 7 to 9? “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we, we trust in the name of the Lord our God. They collapse and fall.” No wonder the ground they stand on is quicksand; it’s sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand! We rise and stand upright because our feet stand on a solid Rock, immovable and steadfast. We stand on the victory of our King. Some trust in military might, they say, some in superior skill. Or we might say some trust in their tradition, some in their culture. Some trust in morality, some in their generosity. But not us. No, we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
Our King Doesn’t Stand in Need of Our Prayers
Now understand their position in history at this moment! They are looking forward, aren’t they, to what God would yet do, but had not yet accomplished through their king? They were looking for something at this point in Psalm 20, something that is still future to them. We are not in their position, are we? We don’t pray the words of Psalm 20:1-5 anymore. For our King does not stand in need of our prayers. His victory is not in any doubt. His salvation is not in any question. You remember how, like David in Psalm 20, on the eve of battle, our King, the Lord Jesus, He also cried to God, didn’t He? He cried out in Gethsemane and the Lord sustained Him and upheld Him and supported Him even through the nightmare of Golgotha. He went down into the day of trouble and He waged His warfare against Satan and He crushed the serpent’s head, though it cost Him His life. He vanquished death! The Scripture says it was impossible that death should hold Him. And so on the third day, He rose again to life in triumph and victory. “Up from the grave, He arose! With a mighty triumph over His foes! He arose a victor over the dark domain and He lives forever with His saints to reign!”
Seated At The Right Hand Of Almighty God
And, there now, He sits at the right hand of God with “the name that is above every name, the name Jesus, that at His name every knee must bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.” Our King does not stand on the brink of a battle unfought. Our King is seated at the right hand of Almighty God, having already won the victory. And so our position is not the same as those who first sang Psalm 20. Our position looks back to victory already achieved so we can sing, with a confidence the singers of verses 7 to 9 could only glimpse and imagine, we can sing with an assurance they could not yet fully penetrate into, we can sing, “Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; some trust themselves, some trust the world. Some trust their wisdom, some trust their reason; some trust in logic, some trust in vague, ill-defined spirituality. Some trust the strength of their own armor their own perceived and imagined goodness. But not us. We know the truth about ourselves – our weakness, our guilt, our sin, our frailty. We have no confidence in ourselves. Our confidence rests entirely on Christ and we are sure that He is able, He is able because He has already triumphed and His victory is not in any doubt.”
I was on the plane this past week, and to pass the time I was skimming through one of those in-flight magazines; they’re dreadful things. You know what I’m talking about. There was a brief interview with James Corden, the TV host of The Late Late Show. I don’t ever watch The Late Late Show, but I read the interview. And the interviewer asked about his philosophy of life. Here’s how he responded. Here’s how Corden replied. “The only thing that ever exists is this right now,” he said. “Everything behind you is gone. Everything in front of you is unknown. So if you can try to just be the best version of yourself at all times, whether that’s being the best husband, boyfriend, fiancée, host, interviewer, interviewee, if you’re just trying your best the moment that you’re in, your life will be utter fulfillment.”
What a tragic, tragic testimony. That is the tragic philosophy of our world so often; too often the tragic testimony of our own hearts. Did you hear it? “If you can try to be the best version of yourself at all times, then your life will be utter fulfillment. Try to be. Try harder. Do do, do!” “No!” says Psalm 20, “No!” Some trust in chariots, some trust in horses. We will trust the name of the Lord. We will trust our King. We will trust Jesus. He has done it all. It is finished! There is nothing to do. “I heard the Savior say, ‘Thy strength indeed is small; Child of weakness, watch and pray, find in Me thine all in all.’ Jesus paid it all!” Do you believe that? “Jesus paid it all! All to Him I owe. Sin had left a crimson stain and He washed it white as snow.” That is the confidence you can have right now if you will give up trying to make it all work on your own and in your own strength. What a futile, foolish errand! You’re not able. He is able! Trust in Him. Let’s pray together!
Our Father, we confess to You that we do try to be strong enough, wise enough, good enough. Sometimes we deceive ourselves that we have managed it and we take the glory, or the lie that is, more often than not though we see the truth and how short we have fallen. In those moments, despair, discouragement is overwhelming. Would You help us to lift our eyes to see where our help comes from? That our safety comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. That our salvation is founded not in our work, our wisdom, our strength, but in the work of our King who has gone to battle for us – the greater than David, the Lord Jesus Christ – and in His victory we are saved. Help us to rest there, find our hope, our confidence, our assurance there, upon that unshakable solid Rock. For we ask this in His name, amen.
© 2017 First Presbyterian Church.
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