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Bible Commentaries

Coffman Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 21

Verse 1



Before commenting on this psalm, this writer believes the following comment from Arno C. Gaebelein is an appropriate consideration.

"This Psalm is Messianic. The Targum (The Chaldean paraphrase of the Old Testament) and the Talmud teach that the king mentioned in this Psalm is the Messiah. The great Talmudic scholar, Rabbi Solomon Isaaci, known by the name of Rashi (born in 1040 A.D.), while endorsing this interpretation, suggested that it should be given up on account of Christians making use of this Psalm as an evidence that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah.

"If Rashi were living today, he would not need to make such a suggestion as far as modernistic Christendom is concerned. The Destructive Criticism has, by its rationalistic inventions, disposed of the many Messianic prophecies in the Psalms and has made, in this respect, common cause with infidel Judaism, known as reformed Judaism."[1]

That God's promised Messiah was identified for a thousand years as "The Son of David," thus automatically establishing David, the king of Israel, as a legitimate type of the Messiah cannot intelligently be denied. Many of the things in David's life were prophetic of the life of the Messiah; and that fact alone underlies the tireless efforts of unbelievers to deny the Davidic authorship of many of the Psalms. In this commentary, we shall treat such efforts with the contempt which they deserve.

"The Davidic kingship was consciously acknowledged from early times as a figure of the true ... and the Messianic expectation is rightly found here."[2]

Furthermore, there is a great deal of the language in this Psalm which cannot in the wildest employment of the imagination be ascribed to anyone else except the Messiah.

Structurally, there are three divisions of the Psalm: (1) Psalms 21:1-7; (2) Psalms 21:8-12; and (3) a concluding prayer (Psalms 21:13).

Regarding the occasion when the Psalm was written, Leupold concluded that it should be identified with the event narrated in 2 Samuel 7, "Where David is apprised of the fact that God will bless him in such a measure that his kingdom shall be an everlasting kingdom, to be ruled by One of the line of David who shall reign eternally ... Psalms 21:4,6 emphasize in particular the eternal character of the blessings God had just bestowed on David."[3]

Rawlinson also agreed that there is a reflection here of the promise God made to David through Nathan in 2 Samuel 7, adding that, "In the full sense, the promise was, of course, Messianic, being fulfilled only in Christ, the God-man, who alone of David's posterity `liveth forever.'"[4]

Any ascription of such eternal continuity to any mortal whomsoever would be extremely foolish. "This Psalm in a true sense is Messianic, for it ascribes to the ideal king attributes which no king of Judah exhibited."[5]

Psalms 21:1-2

"The king shall joy in thy strength, O Jehovah; And in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice! Thou has given him his heart's desire, And thou hast not witholden the request of his lips, (Selah)"

The king spoken of here cannot be identified with any earthly monarch. The "king" here is the Messiah.

He is not merely a king, but The King; king over minds and hearts, reigning with a dominion of love before which all other rule is merely brute force. He was proclaimed King even upon the Cross, for there indeed in the eyes of faith, He reigned as on a throne, blessing with far more than imperial munificence the needy sons of earth.[6]

Verse 3

"For thou meetest him with the blessings of goodness:

Thou settest a crown of fine gold on his head.

He asked life of thee, thou gavest it him,

Even length of days forever and ever."

"A crown of fine gold" (Psalms 21:3). This indeed applies to David; but such a crown merely symbolized the golden crown of Revelation 14:14 and the many crowns of Revelation 19:12.

"Even length of days forever and ever" (Psalms 21:4). As Barnes noted, David had merely asked for life, but God gave him far more than he requested. "It is by no means an uncommon thing that God gives us more than we ask in our prayers."[7]

"Forever and ever" (Psalms 21:4). It is distressing to us that even some of our brethren are willing to view these words merely as the equivalent of a common expression in that period of time, such as "O, King live forever." "There is considerable probability that the words from this Psalm, as well as in Proverbs 12:28, mean eternal life."[8] Furthermore, although Maclaren freely admitted such expressions as, "O King live forever," are in a sense parallel to what is said here, "The great emphasis of expression here and its repetition in Psalms 21:6 (immediately following) can scarcely be disposed of as mere hyperbole." Also, as both Maclaren and Dahood pointed out Divine attributes are also ascribed to "the King" of this passage in Psalms 21:6, thus clearly distinguishing the earthly king David from the glorious "Son of David" introduced in the first verse of the New Testament.

Verse 5

"His glory is great in thy salvation;

Honor and majesty dost thou lay upon him.

For thou makest him most blessed forever:

Thou makest him glad with joy in thy presence."

These verses abundantly confirm the interpretation of "eternal life" which we understand to be the meaning of Psalms 21:4, above.

"Honor and majesty dost thou lay upon him" (Psalms 21:5). What is indicated here according to Dahood (in The Anchor Bible) is, "A characteristic attribute of the (pagan) gods, consisting of a dazzling aureole or nimbus which surrounds divinity."[9]

This connotation of the terminology here fully confirms the view that the person spoken of here must be identified with divinity.

"It is from the salvation arising out of David's relationship to the coming Messiah that it is said here that, `Honor and majesty dost thou lay upon him.'"[10]

"For thou makest him most blessed forever" (Psalms 21:6). The literal meaning of the Hebrew text here is, "For thou settest him to be blessings forever."[11] This means exactly what God meant when he promised Abraham that in him and in his seed all the families of men would be blessed (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18). "Just as all mankind were blessed in Abraham, so were they all blessed in David's seed."[12] This thought is fully confirmed in Matthew 1:1. Note especially that "forever" here has no reference whatever to "long live the king," but means perpetually and eternally. This reiteration of the thought in Psalms 21:4 makes it mandatory to view "forever" in that passage as also having the meaning of "eternal life."

"Thou makest him glad with joy in thy presence" (Psalms 21:5). The weakest comment we have encountered on this is that of Addis who thought that the king mentioned here was enjoying the presence of God in the sense that, "The king lived hard by the temple,"[13] where God's presence was manifested. Such a notion is impossible of acceptance, because God's presence was not "hard by the temple" at some location separated from the temple, but within the very "Holy of Holies" inside the temple. If this passage meant no more than living near the Jerusalem temple, it would have been equally applicable to every person living in Jerusalem.

Kidner has a much more discerning comment, indicating that, "The true meaning of `in thy presence' is explained by Hebrews 12:2."[14] That passage states that, "Jesus, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." There indeed is the real presence of God, which in fact is not actually anywhere else.

Verse 7

"For the king trusteth in Jehovah;

And through the loving-kindness of the Most High he shall not be moved."

"The Most High" (Psalms 21:7). This is the God who was worshipped by Melchizedek, and also by Abraham who identified the Most High as identical in every way with Jehovah (Genesis 14:22). This title for Almighty God, "Signifies supreme dignity, unhampered power, and universal sway."[15]

"The worship of Yahweh as `God Most High' is widely evidenced in the Psalms (Psalms 9:2; 46:4; and Psalms 92:1)."[16] This might very well have resulted from David's capture of Salem (Jerusalem). the city of Melchizedek, associated with the title, `God Most High' in Genesis 14.

Verse 8

"Thy hand will find out all thine enemies;

Thy right hand will find out those that hate thee.

Thou wilt make them as a fiery furnace in the time of thine anger.

Jehovah will swallow them up in his wrath,

And the fire shall devour them.

Their fruit wilt thou destroy from the earth

And their seed from among the children of men."

"All thine enemies" (Psalms 21:9). Barnes' summary of these enemies is: "All that in any way are opposed to God and his reign, all worshippers of idols, all enemies of truth, all rejecters of revelation, all workers of iniquity, all infidels and scoffers. These shall be subdued, either by being made to yield to the claims of truth, or by being cut off and punished."[17]

The apostle Paul added the following to the list of God's enemies: "Them that know not God, and them that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:8).

"As a fiery furnace" (Psalms 21:9). The enemies of God are here compared, not to a furnace, but to the fuel in the fiery furnace. What does this mean? Spurgeon properly identified what is here foretold as exactly what Christ promised when he said, "They shall be cast into a furnace of fire; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth."[18]

One hardly needs to be told that the judgments against God's enemies here foretold are not those capable of being executed by any king. The sudden outcropping of the word "Jehovah" in Psalms 21:9b dramatically indicates that the passage cannot pertain to the earthly David, but to David's Greater Son, the Messiah. Kidner expressed it thus: "This passage outruns the power of any king, as the word `Jehovah' in Psalms 21:9b acknowledges; and the scale of events calls once more for the Messiah."[19]

"In the time of thine anger" (Psalms 21:9). The literal meaning of the Hebrew text here is, "in the time of thy face, thy presence, or thy countenance."[20] (Also, see American Standard Version margin). This indicates that the time when such terrible judgments upon the wicked shall be executed is that of the final judgment of mankind associated with the Second Advent of Jesus Christ. The thought of this passage is dramatically repeated in 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10, especially in the words, "Who shall suffer punishment, even eternal destruction from the face (or presence) of the Lord and the glory of his might." The apostle Paul also revealed in that passage exactly when such terrifying judgments shall come: "When he (the Christ) shall come (in the Second Advent) to be glorified in his saints."

Verse 11

"For they intended evil against thee;

They conceived a device which they are not able to perform.

For thou wilt make them turn their back;

Thou wilt make ready with thy bowstrings against their face."

There is another side to the character of the Holy Messiah which preachers of the current era have apparently never learned. Our Holy Saviour, the Messiah, is Love Incarnate; he is gentle, loving, patient, long-suffering, and unwilling that any mortal should perish; but he is also the Terrible One, who, upon the occasion of the Second Advent will strike unspeakable terror into the hearts of the wicked. The mightiest sinners on earth will scream for the rocks and the mountains to fall upon them and hide them from the wrath of Him that sitteth upon the throne and from the Lamb (Revelation 6:14ff).

The Bible teaches that God has appointed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness by that One whom he raised from the dead; and there is absolutely nothing in the Holy Scriptures that should enable anyone to view that cataclysmic occasion with any emotion except that of fear and apprehension.

The KJV here supplies some extra words: "When thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy bowstrings against the face of them." "By supplying `when' and `thine arrows,' the KJV expresses what the psalmist has left to the intelligence of the reader."[21]

Verse 13

"Be thou exalted, O Jehovah, in thy strength:

So will we sing and praise thy power."

As the psalm began, so it ends, in the praise of God. The very purpose for which God created men was that they might exalt and glorify God. There can be no higher activity on the part of mankind than that of worshipping and praising the Creator. "To fear God and keep his commandments is the whole duty of man" (Ecclesiastes 12:13). As a matter of fact the word `duty' in that verse is not in the text which reads, "the whole of man," instead of "the whole duty of man." Nothing that mortal men can do could be as important as that of acquiring and maintaining a relationship with the Creator, attended by the utmost praise and adoration.

Copyright Statement
Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.
Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 21". "Coffman Commentaries on the Bible". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.