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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 20

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch


Prayer for the King in Time of War

To Psalms 19:1-14 is closely attached Psalms 20:1-9, because its commencement is as it were the echo of the prayer with which the former closes; and to Psalms 20:1-9 is closely attached Psalms 21:1-13, because both Psalms refer to the same event relatively, as prayer and thanksgiving. Psalms 20:1-9 is an intercessory psalm of the nation, and Psalms 21:1-13 a thanksgiving psalm of the nation, on behalf of its king. It is clearly manifest that the two Psalms form a pair, being connected by unity of author and subject. They both open somewhat uniformly with a synonymous parallelism of the members, Psalms 20:2-6; Psalms 21:2-8; they then increase in fervour and assume a more vivid colouring as they come to speak of the foes of the king and the empire, Psalms 20:7-9; Psalms 21:9-13; and they both close with an ejaculatory cry to Jahve, Ps 20:10; 21:14. In both, the king is apostrophised through the course of the several verses, Psalms 20:2-6; Psalms 21:9-13; and here and there this is done in a way that provokes the question whether the words are not rather addressed to Jahve, Psalms 20:6; Psalms 21:10. In both Psalms the king is referred to by המּלך , Ps 20:10; Psalms 21:8; both comprehend the goal of the desires in the word ישׁוּעה , Psalms 20:6, cf. Psalms 20:7, Psalms 21:2, Psalms 21:6; both delight in rare forms of expression, which are found only in these instances in the whole range of Old Testament literature, viz., נדגל Psalms 20:6, נתעדד Psalms 20:9, ארשׁת Psalms 21:3, תחדהו , Psalms 21:7.

If, as the לדוד indicates, they formed part of the oldest Davidic Psalter, then it is notwithstanding more probable that their author is a contemporary poet, than that it is David himself. For, although both as to form of expression (cf. Psalms 21:12 with Psalms 10:2) and as to thoughts (cf. Psalms 21:7 with Psalms 16:11), they exhibit some points of contact with Davidic Psalms, they still stand isolated by their peculiar character. But that David is their subject, as the inscription לדוד , and their position in the midst of the Davidic Psalms, lead one to expect, is capable of confirmation. During the time of the Syro-Ammonitish war comes David's deep fall, which in itself and in its consequences made him sick both in soul and in body. It was not until he was again restored to God's favour out of this self-incurred peril, that he went to his army which lay before Rabbath Ammon, and completed the conquest of the royal city of the enemy. The most satisfactory explanation of the situation referred to in this couplet of Psalms is to be gained from 2 Sam 11-12. Psalms 20:1-9 prays for the recovery of the king, who is involved in war with powerful foes; and Psalms 21:1-13 gives thanks for his recovery, and wishes him a victorious issue to the approaching campaign. The “chariots and horses” (Psalms 20:8) are characteristic of the military power of Aram (2 Samuel 10:18, and frequently), and in Psalms 21:4 and Psalms 21:10 we perceive an allusion to 2 Samuel 12:30-31, or at least a remarkable agreement with what is there recorded.

Verses 1-5

(Heb.: 20:2-6) Litany for the king in distress, who offers sacrifices for himself in the sanctuary. The futures in Psalms 20:2, standing five times at the head of the climactic members of the parallelism, are optatives. ימלּא , Psalms 20:6, also continues the chain of wishes, of which even נרננה (cf. Psalms 69:15) forms one of the links. The wishes of the people accompany both the prayer and the sacrifice. “The Name of the God of Jacob” is the self-manifesting power and grace of the God of Israel. יעקב is used in poetry interchangeably with ישראל , just like אלהים with יהוה . Alshêch refers to Genesis 35:3; and it is not improbable that the desire moulds itself after the fashion of the record of the fact there handed down to us. May Jahve, who, as the history of Jacob shows, hears (and answers) in the day of distress, hear the king; may the Name of the God of Jacob bear him away from his foes to a triumphant height. שׂגּב alternates with רומם (Psalms 18:49) in this sense. This intercession on the behalf of the praying one is made in the sanctuary on the heights of Zion, where Jahve sits enthroned. May He send him succour from thence, like auxiliary troops that decide the victory. The king offers sacrifice. He offers sacrifice according to custom before the commencement of the battle (1 Samuel 13:9., and cf. the phrase קדּשׁ מלחמה ), a whole burnt-offering and at the same time a meat or rather meal offering also, מנחות ;

(Note: This, though not occurring in the Old Testament, is the principal form of the plural, which, as even David Kimchi recognises in his Lexicon, points to a verb מנח (just as שׂמלות , גּבעות , שׁפחות point to שׂמל , גּבע , שׂפח ); whereas other old grammarians supposed נחה to be the root, and were puzzled with the traditional pronunciation m e nachôth , but without reason.)

for every whole offering and every shelamim - or peace-offering had a meat-offering and a drink-offering as its indispensable accompaniment. The word זכר is perfectly familiar in the ritual of the meal-offering. That portion of the meal-offering, only a part of which was placed upon the altar (to which, however, according to traditional practice, does not belong the accompanying meal-offering of the מנחת נסכים , which was entirely devoted to the altar), which ascended with the altar fire is called אזכּרה , μνημόσυνον (cf. Acts 10:4), that which brings to remembrance with God him for whom it is offered up (not “incense,” as Hupfeld renders it); for the designation of the offering of jealousy, Numbers 5:15, as “bringing iniquity to remembrance before God” shows, that in the meal-offering ritual זכר retains the very same meaning that it has in other instances. Every meal-offering is in a certain sense a מנחת זכּרון a esnes . Hence here the prayer that Jahve would graciously remember them is combined with the meal-offerings.

As regards the ‛olah , the wish “let fire from heaven (Leviticus 9:24; 1 Kings 18:38; 1 Chronicles 21:26) turn it to ashes,” would not be vain. But the language does not refer to anything extraordinary; and in itself the consumption of the offering to ashes (Böttcher) is no mark of gracious acceptance. Moreover, as a denominative from דּשׁן , fat ashes, דּשּׁן means “to clean from ashes,” and not: to turn into ashes. On the other hand, דּשּׁן also signifies “to make fat,” Psalms 23:5, and this effective signification is applied declaratively in this instance: may He find thy burnt-offering fat, which is equivalent to: may it be to Him a ריח ניחח [an odour of satisfaction, a sweet-smelling savour]. The voluntative ah only occurs here and in Job 11:17 (which see) and Isaiah 5:19, in the 3 pers.; and in this instance, just as with the cohortative in 1 Samuel 28:15, we have a change of the lengthening into a sharpening of the sound (cf. the exactly similar change of forms in 1 Samuel 28:15; Isaiah 59:5; Zechariah 5:4; Proverbs 24:14; Ezekiel 25:13) as is very frequently the case in מה for מה . The alteration to ידשּׁנה or ידשׁנהּ (Hitzig) is a felicitous but needless way of getting rid of the rare form. The explanation of the intensifying of the music here is, that the intercessory song of the choir is to be simultaneous with the presentation upon the altar ( הקטרה ). עצה is the resolution formed in the present wartime. “Because of thy salvation,” i.e., thy success in war, is, as all the language is here, addressed to the king, cf. Psalms 21:2, where it is addressed to Jahve, and intended of the victory accorded to him. It is needless to read נגדּל instead of נדגּל , after the rendering of the lxx megaluntheeso'metha . נדגּל is a denominative from דּגל : to wave a banner. In the closing line, the rejoicing of hope goes back again to the present and again assumes the form of an intercessory desire.

Verses 6-8

(Heb.: 20:7-9) While Psalms 20:2 were being sung the offering of the sacrifice was probably going on. Now, after a lengthened pause, there ascends a voice, probably the voice of one of the Levites, expressing the cheering assurance of the gracious acceptance of the offering that has been presented by the priest. With עתּה or ועתּה , the usual word to indicate the turning-point, the instantaneous entrance of the result of some previous process of prolonged duration, whether hidden or manifest (e.g., 1 Kings 17:24; Isaiah 29:22), is introduced. howshiya` is the perfect of faith, which, in the certainty of being answered, realises the fulfilment in anticipation. The exuberance of the language in Psalms 20:7 corresponds to the exuberance of feeling which thus finds expression.

In Psalms 20:3 the answer is expected out of Zion, in the present instance it is looked for from God's holy heavens; for the God who sits enthroned in Zion is enthroned for ever in the heavens. His throne on earth is as it were the vestibule of His heavenly throne; His presence in the sanctuary of Israel is no limitation of His omnipresence; His help out of Zion is the help of the Celestial One and Him who is exalted above the heaven of heavens. גּבוּרות does not here mean the fulness of might (cf. Psalms 90:10), but the displays of power (Psalms 106:2; Psalms 145:4; Psalms 150:2; Psalms 63:1-11:15), by which His right hand procures salvation, i.e., victory, for the combatant. The glory of Israel is totally different from that of the heathen, which manifests itself in boastful talk. In Psalms 20:8 הזכּירוּ or יזכּירוּ must be supplied from the נזכּיר in Psalms 20:8 (lxx μεγαλυνθησόμεθα = נגביר , Psalms 12:5); הזכּיר בּ , to make laudatory mention of any matter, to extol, and indirectly therefore to take credit to one's self for it, to boast of it (cf. הלּל בּ , Psalms 44:9). According to the Law Israel was forbidden to have any standing army; and the law touching the king (Deuteronomy 17:16) speaks strongly against his keeping many horses. It was also the same under the judges, and at this time under David; but under Solomon, who acquired for himself horses and chariots in great number (1 Kings 10:26-29), it was very different. It is therefore a confession that must belong to the time of David which is here made in Psalms 20:8, viz., that Israel's glory in opposition to their enemies, especially the Syrians, is the sure defence and protection of the Name of their God alone. The language of David to Goliath is very similar, 1 Samuel 17:45. The preterites in Psalms 20:9 are praet. confidentiae . It is, as Luther says, “a song of triumph before the victory, a shout of joy before succour.” Since קוּם does not mean to stand, but to rise, קמנוּ assumes the present superiority of the enemy. But the position of affairs changes: those who stand fall, and those who are lying down rise up; the former remain lying, the latter keep the field. The Hithpa. התעודד signifies to show one's self firm, strong, courageous; like עודד , Psalms 146:9; Psalms 147:6, to strengthen, confirm, recover, from עוּד to be compact, firm, cogn. Arab. âd f. i., inf. aid, strength; as, e.g., the Koran ( Sur. xxxviii. 16) calls David dhâ - l - aidi , possessor of strength, II ajjada , to strengthen, support, and Arab. 'dd , inf. add , strength superiority, V tāddada , to show one's self strong, brave, courageous.

Verse 9

(Heb.: v. 10) After this solo voice, the chorus again come on. The song is closed, as it was opened, by the whole congregation; and is rounded off by recurring to its primary note, praying for the accomplishment of that which is sought and pledged. The accentuation construes המּלך with יעננוּ as its subject, perhaps in consideration of the fact, that הושׁיעה is not usually followed by a governed object, and because thus a medium is furnished for the transition from address to direct assertion. But if in a Psalm, the express object of which is to supplicate salvation for the king, המלך הושׁיעה stand side by side, then, in accordance with the connection, המלך must be treated as the object; and more especially since Jahve is called מלך רב , in Psalms 48:3, and the like, but never absolutely המלך . Wherefore it is, with Hupfeld, Hitzig, and others, to be rendered according to the lxx and Vulgate, Domine salvum fac regem . The New Testament cry Ὡσαννὰ τῷ υἱῷ Δαυίδ is a peculiar application of this Davidic “God bless the king (God save the king),” which is brought about by means of Psalms 118:25. The closing line, Psalms 20:9, is an expanded Amen.

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 20". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kdo/psalms-20.html. 1854-1889.
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