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Thursday, May 23rd, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 20

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-9

Psalms 20:0

To the chief musician, a Psalm of David

1          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 fulfil all thy counsel.

5     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.

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.

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.

9     Save, Lord:

Let the king hear us when we call.


Its Contents and Composition. The assistance of God is implored for a king, with reference to a war with foreign enemies, and indeed, as it seems, not in general at his entering upon his government (Hupf.); or without any reference to a special case as a formula of a prayer for authorities in general (Calv., Luth., Geier); or in a direct Messianic sense pointing to Christ and the Church militant (J. H. Mich., et al.); or embracing the two last references (Hengst.); but on his going forth to war, and with the sacrifices usual upon such occasions (1 Samuel 13:9-12, most interpreters). On account of the mention of Zion in connection with the sanctuary (Psalms 20:2), this king cannot be Saul, to whom and of whom David might speak, but rather David himself, who in the second expedition against the Syrians marched forth himself personally (2 Samuel 10:17), and knew how to vanquish his enemies who were provided with chariots (2 Samuel 8:4). The speaker is then, naturally, not David, but either the congregation assembled at the sacrifice (most interpreters), or some one speaking in their name. The supposition of a responsive song between the choir and a single voice (Psalms 20:6), either a Levite (Ewald, Delitzsch), or the king (Knapp et al.), makes the Psalm more vivid, but is not plainly given by the text.

The transparent language and the simple arrangement, the smooth symmetry and the quiet advance in thought, are not in favor of a poetical effusion of the feelings of the moment, but of its being a hymn previously composed for Divine service on a special occasion. It is more natural to suppose that the author was David, than an unknown poet, as there are some things that remind us of his style. Hitzig, with reference to the next psalm as one closely connected with the present, considers the king here addressed as Uzziah who at the beginning of his government had to contend with the Philistines (2 Chronicles 26:6), and the prophet Zechariah (who exerted some influence upon Uzziah, who was then sixteen years old, 2 Chronicles 26:5), as the speaker. But the threads of this hypothesis are finer than a spider’s web (comp. Psalms 21:0).

The first half of the psalm expresses the desire for the success of the king through the assistance of Jehovah, in such a way that its fulfilment is not only formally presupposed, but forms the real foundation for the victorious shouts of the congregation (Psalms 20:5). The imperfects have from the earliest times been constantly regarded as optatives, only by Hitzig and Sachs as futures in the sense of comforting and encouraging exhortation, as an expression of a hope, which is said to form the prelude to the conviction expressed in Psalms 20:6. But the certainty of Divine help which appears in Psalms 20:6, with “now,” which does not at all lead to a later composition of this section (Maurer), but to a confirmation of the faith in Divine help, as it has been declared in sacrifices and prayers, agrees better with the supposition that the preceding verbs are optatives. Only from this foundation of certainty does the language rise (Psalms 20:6 b) to the expression of the hope of the victory (which is described in Psalms 20:7-8, in dramatic antithesis) and close with prayer corresponding with this course of thought (Psalms 20:9). The perfects in Psalms 20:6; Psalms 20:8, express the sure future.

Str. I. [Psalms 20:1. The name of the God of Jacob.—Barnes: “The word name is often put in the Scriptures for the person himself; and hence this is equivalent to saying ‘may the God of Jacob defend thee.’ See Psalms 5:11; Psalms 9:10; Psalms 44:5; Psalms 54:1; Exodus 23:21. Jacob was one of the patriarchs from whom, after his other name, the Hebrew people derived their name Israel, and the word seems here to be used with reference to the people rather than to the ancestor. Comp. Isaiah 44:2. The God of Jacob, or the God of Israel, would be synonymous terms, and either would denote that he was the Protector of the nation. As such He is invoked here; and the prayer is, that the Great Protector of the Hebrew people would now defend the king in the dangers which beset him, and in the enterprise which he had undertaken.”—Defend thee, literally as the margin of A. V. “set thee on a high place.” Perowne: “ ‘set thee upon high’ that is, as in a fortress where no enemy can do thee harm, or on a rock at the foot of which the waves fret and dash themselves in impotent fury.”

Psalms 20:2. From the sanctuary, parallel with out of Zion, as the earthly abode of God among His people whither they are to go up as to His palace, and from whence as from His throne they are to receive help and strength, vid. Psalms 14:7; Psalms 3:5.—C. A. B.]

Psalms 20:3. Remember all thy meat-offerings. [A. V. offerings].—This expression naturally refers to the evidence of his piety previously given by the king, but it is not opposed (Hupf.) to the reference to an offering now being made, but rather leads to this, as it is thus even now presented in the burnt offerings of the king. The bloodless meat offerings of meal with oil and incense (Leviticus 2:0), with few exceptions, accompanied the burnt offerings which were entirely consumed on the altar, or whole burnt offerings (Leviticus 1:0); hence both expressions properly complement one another, and their separate mention has only a rhetorical significance. May God remember the previous offerings of the king, let Him be pleased with the present offerings. The latter sense is contained in the expression: may He find fat, [A. V. accept] literally; may He make fat (Psalms 23:5); but the piel includes likewise the meaning of declare. It was not commanded that the animals offered should be fat (Leviticus 22:18 sq.), it was so much the more an evidence of the willingness and gladness of the offerer. The translation of some of the more ancient interpreters after Aben Ezra: turn to ashes [A. V. margin] regards the words as a denominative of דֶּשֶן, but leads to the expectation of its being kindled by heavenly fire as a sign of its gracious acceptance, as Leviticus 9:24; 1 Kings 18:37; 1 Chronicles 21:26, which is not at all justified by the text. With this derivation, moreover, the sense would properly be “may He cleanse from ashes.”

[Psalms 20:4. Counsel.—Perowne: “All thy plans and measures in the war”—C. A. B.]

Str. II. Psa 20:5. [Thy salvation.—Hupfeld. “Help, or appointed victory (Psalms 33:17), corresponds with the contents of Psalms 20:1-2.”—C. A. B.]29Wave banners, that is, as an expression of joy on account of victory. The translation of more ancient interpreters: set up banners as a memorial of victory [A. V.] does not correspond with the form of the Hebrew word. It is questionable, likewise, whether the translation of the Sept. Vulg. as well as the Pesch. μεγαλυνθησόμεθα, magnificabimus, exultabimus, can be derived from the same word, as after the Arabic, or whether we are to accept another reading נְגַרֵּל instead נִדְגֹל—[Fulfil all thy petitions, repeats the contents of Psalms 20:4.—C. A. B.]

[Str. III. Psa 20:6. Perowne: “The hope suddenly changes into certainty. Now know I that Jehovah hath saved, hath given victory. The singer speaks in the full assurance of faith, that the prayer is heard, and as if he already saw the victory gained. The prayer had been (Psalms 20:1-2) that God would hear and send help from the earthly sanctuary or Zion. Now the answer is said to come from His holy heaven. For if God then condescended to dwell in visible glory among men, yet He would teach His people that He is not limited by the bounds of time and space. He is not like the gods of the heathen, the god of one city or country. He sends help out of Zion, but the heaven of heavens cannot contain Him (see the recognition of this truth in Solomon’s prayer, 1 Kings 8:27, etc.). Calvin sees expressed in the earthly sanctuary made by hands the grace and condescension of God to His people; in the heavenly, His infinite power, greatness, and majesty.”—Mighty deeds [A. V. strength].—Delitzsch “גְּבוּרוֹת means here not the fullness of strength (comp. Psalms 90:0), but the exhibition of strength (Psalms 106:2; Psalms 145:4; Psalms 150:2; Isaiah 63:15), by which His right hand works salvation, that is, victory, for them who are battling.”

Psalms 20:7. Some of chariots and some of horses, but we make mention of the name of Jehovah our God.—Delitzsch: “According to the law Israel should have no standing army; the law for the king, Deuteronomy 17:16, denounces the keeping of many horses. So was it likewise under the judges and still under David; under Solomon already it changed, he procured for himself a great number of horses and chariots. 1 Kings 10:26-29. Psalms 20:7 gives a very decisive confession of the time of David, that Israel’s boast against his enemies, especially the Syrians, is the firm defence and arms of the name of his God. David speaks similarly to Goliath, 1 Samuel 17:45.”—The A. V. does not give the force and beauty of the original. Trust should not be inserted in the first clause, and remember does not give the idea of the second clause.

Psalms 20:8. Hupfeld: “The contrast of the previous verse is continued with reference to the consequences which both have derived from their confidences.” Delitzsch: “The præterites are præt. confidentiæ—‘a triumphal ode before the victory’ as Luther remarks,—‘a cry of joy before the help.’ ”—They have bowed down and fallen (not as A. V.: They are brought down).—The idea is that they first sink down upon their knees and then fall to the ground.—But we have risen and stood firm (A. V. stood upright).—Delitzsch: “Since קוּם does not mean stand, but stand up, קַמְנוּ presupposes that the enemies then had the upper hand. But the condition of affairs changes. Those who are standing fall, those who are lying rise up; the former remain lying, the latter keep the field.”—C. A. B.]

Str. IV. Psalms 20:9. Help the king.—This is the basis of the hymn: domine salvum fac regem, and the national hymns which have been derived from it in accordance with the Sept., Vulg. According to the Masoretic accentuation, which is advocated by Hengst. and Delitzsch,30 it would be translated, Jehovah help: May the king hear us. Thus the Pesch. [and A. V.]. The king would then be Jehovah, since the hearing of prayer is a predicate of Jehovah; according to ancient interpreters, Christ. Since, however, the psalm has already spoken of another king, the supposition of such a transition to Jehovah is the more objectionable, since it is true He is called a great king (Psalms 48:2) yet never merely, the king. This objection would be partly set aside, if with the Chald. we might translate, O king! especially as the call of prayer, help is used Psalms 12:1; Psalms 118:25, without an accusative. But the third person of the verb does not suit the vocative, which the Vulg. arbitrarily changes into the second person. The whole manifestly stands in manifest relation to Psalms 20:6, so that Psalms 20:9 is distinguished from Psalms 20:1, by the fact that the closing petition is based upon the intervening promise, Since the words in Psalms 20:9; Psalms 20:6 correspond in other respects entirely with one another, it is certain that the anointed has the same meaning as king. [Delitzsch: The New Testament cry of Hosanna is a particularizing of this Davidic, ‘God save the king mediated by Psalms 118:25. The closing line is a developed Amen.”—C. A. B.]


1. It is an evidence of great grace and a source of rich blessing in a land, if prince and people meet in the presence of God, with common desires and bring the same cares in united prayer before the throne of the Eternal. For prince and people belong so closely together, that the need of the one is likewise the calamity of the other, but the common good is essentially advanced by concord, and concord is best confirmed and advanced by union in common devotion to God.

2. A king shows that he is an anointed of the Lord, and a king by God’s grace, especially by not only surrounding the actions of his government with prayer and Divine service, but by personally participating therein as a shining example for the whole congregation. A people proves itself to be a people of the Lord and a congregation of God by not only huzzahing such a ruler and wishing him success and victory, salvation and blessings, but likewise by praying with him and for him. Thus this psalm may “serve as a devout and holy watchword.” (Luther.)

3. Joyfulness in prayer and confidence of being heard are nourished and strengthened by the remembrance of the exhibitions of help, with which God has already previously declared and magnified His name, and particularly by those with which He has glorified it in our predecessors and ancestors who are the models of our faith. It arises moreover from the assurance that we are in the same covenant of grace with our fathers and that we prove ourselves to be members of it. It is true, we call upon God with a deeper, richer and mightier name than the Israelites could, but the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the same God as the God of Jacob, whose name the Israelites brought to remembrance (Genesis 35:3) when they prayed to Jehovah on Zion. The difference is merely in the stages of His revelation, and accordingly in the depth and fulness of the knowledge of Him. The places, forms and methods of Divine service have been altered in a corresponding way. But the change in them has taken place through the spirit of the new Covenant in order to fulfil the old; the God who is enthroned in the sanctuary of heaven, still ever meets with His people in sanctuaries on earth, and lets His gracious help flow forth from thence upon His congregation, whilst He comes to help them from heaven with the mighty deeds of salvation.

4. The congregation of God is distinguished from the world by the fact that in the day of trouble it does not rely upon earthly means of help, even when it makes use of them in a proper manner and according to the commandment of God. But it puts its confidence in the assistance of God, and for this reason before and afterwards gives His name the glory (comp. 1 Samuel 17:45; Isaiah 31:3; Psalms 33:17). For this, however, a strong and living faith is necessary. “But the faith which relies upon God, can sing the triumphant ode before the victory, and make a cry of joy before the help ensues; whereas everything is allowed to faith. For he believes in God and thus truly has, what he believes, because faith does not deceive; as he has faith, so will it happen unto him.” (Luther).


A king does well if, before he leads his people to battle against the enemy, he leads them into the house of God to prayer.—It is well for a land whose king is the model of piety, whose people have this motto: Jehovah help the king!—He chooses the best portion in war who does not rely upon earthly means of power, but puts his confidence in the assistance of God.—Natural courage is not to be despised; but the confidence of trust in God surpasses it, in worth, duration and strength.—The communion of faith unites stronger than the same danger and need, more intimately than the same hope and joy.—Happy the land whose king cares for the good of the people and whose people rejoice in the salvation of the king.—Divine service has the precedence of the service of kings.—The confidence of trust in God and the assurance of the hearing of prayer do not constitute the beginning of communion with God, but are a consequence and fruit of it.—We should not only pray with one another, but likewise for one another.—God has His dwelling-place not only in heaven, but likewise on the earth, and from both places He sends forth blessing, consolation and help to His people.—Man’s drawing near to God has for its reason as well as its consequence God’s drawing near to man.

Starke: Although the Christian Church is weak and weaponless, it has a strong tower in the name of God.—The sacrifices of the Christian are a broken and a contrite heart, a holy life and an earnest praise of God.—The Lord does what those who fear God desire; but they desire nothing that is opposed to God.—If the world reckons to its honor what it has accomplished alone with its own power, on the other hand it is a strange thing of which believers boast, of the help which has come from God.—Just as Israel could lift up its banner with joy in the name of God, so every believing Christian can now likewise in his office, station and calling venture upon it. confident in God, and can assure himself of His gracious assistance.—What is heard in heaven must be powerfully executed on earth.—Carnal plans are generally of poor success and turn out badly; on the other hand what is begun with God, lasts.—Our best arsenal is in heaven and in the right hand of God.—The ungodly have never yet been able to sing a true triumphant ode over the downfall of the pious, their boasting is false; but believers can here and in heaven forever sing the glorious victory of the Lord (1 Corinthians 15:57; Revelation 12:10).

Luther: God must help and advise; our plans and actions are otherwise of no value.—Osiander: Great, exalted titles do not make a king invincible, but God’s help, which is gained by the prayer of faith. The victory is a gift of God, and is not accomplished by great preparation or a great host.—Selnekker: What is begun with God issues favorably; but the greater part of the world transact all things without God’s advice, without fearing Him and calling upon Him.—Taube: Faith and prayer always join hands in the Christian heart and cannot live apart. Prayer supports faith and faith strengthens prayer.—Diedrich: The God of Israel, who is in our midst and in us, is He who is enthroned above all heavens and rules all things from thence.—All depends upon our belonging to God’s followers and our daily stationing ourselves by His banner, that is, His word, and from it deriving chastisement and consolation, warning and confidence.

[Matth. Henry: The prayer of others for us must be desired, not to supersede, but to second our own for ourselves.—Those who make it their business to glorify God may expect that God will, one way or other, gratify them; they who walk in His counsel may promise themselves that He will fulfil theirs.—In singing these verses, we should encourage ourselves to trust in God, and stir up ourselves to pray earnestly, as we are in duty bound, for those who are in authority over us, that under them we may lead quiet and peaceable lives, in all godliness and honesty.—Barnes: Never should we look for success unless our undertaking has been preceded by prayer; and when our best preparations have been made, our hope of success is not primarily and mainly in them, but only in God.—Spurgeon: Chariots and horses make an imposing show, and with their rattling, and dust, and fine caparisons, make so great a figure that vain man is much taken with them; yet the discerning eye of faith sees more in an invisible God than in all these. The most dreaded war-engine of David’s day was the war-chariot, armed with scythes, which mowed down men like grass: this was the boast and glory of the neighboring nations; but the saints considered the name of Jehovah to be a far better defence.—C. A. B.]


[29][Perowne: “This may mean ‘the help and victory vouchsafed by God to the king;’ but Thrupp observes: ‘The almost instinctive dependence of the Israelites upon their king, as the man who should save them (comp. 1 Samuel 10:27), fully justifies us in interpreting the expression, thy salvation Psalms 20:5, in its most natural sense, not as the salvation bestowed by God upon the king, but as that wrought by the king for his people.’ ” Alexander thinks that “both ideas are included.” The explanation of Hupfeld is the most proper.—C. A. B.]

[30][Delitzsch, however, agrees with the author in the translation “save the king.” Vid. closing remarks.—C. A. B.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 20". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-20.html. 1857-84.
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