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Bible Commentaries

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

Psalms 21

Verses 1-13

Psalms 21:0

To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David

1          The king shall joy in thy strength, O Lord;

And in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!

2     Thou hast given him his heart’s desire,

And hast not withholden the request of his lips. Selah.

3     For thou preventest him with the blessings of goodness:

Thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head.

4     He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him,

Even length of days for ever and ever.

5     His glory is great in thy salvation:

Honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him.

6     For thou hast made him most blessed for ever:

Thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance.

7     For the king trusteth in the Lord,

And through the mercy of the Most High he shall not be moved.

8     Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies:

Thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee.

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.

10     Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth,

And their seed from among the children of men.

11     For they intended evil against thee:

They imagined a mischievous device, which they are not able to perform.

12     Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back,

When thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy strings against the face of them.

13     Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength:

So will we sing and praise thy power.


Its Contents and Character.—In the first half of this Psalm Jehovah is addressed and thanks are expressed to Him for the great benefits shown to the king. The words seem to refer not merely to general blessings (Hupf.), but to special blessings, and particularly to a powerful Divine assistance, with reference to wishes and prayers previously expressed, which greatly rejoices the king, and this as an exhibition of Divine power and grace, connected with the preservation of the king’s life and the strengthening of his government so that it continues as a blessing to the entire people. The supposition of a reference to the event presupposed in the previous Psalm is very natural, especially as David, after the conquest of Rabbah, set upon his head the royal crown of the Ammonites, which was adorned with precious stones (2 Samuel 12:30), and some of the people were thrown into brickkilns, after the fall of the strong city had been decided by the personal presence of David. Psalms 21:9 might refer to this.1 In the second half of the Psalm Jehovah is not again addressed (Hupf.), but the king. The expressions in Psalms 21:11 are especially against the reference to Jehovah, although in other respects this reference is favored. The address of prayer to God, which expressed thanks for the help and blessings which had been received, passes over into the prediction of still further victories of the king over his enemies, in spite of all crafty devices. Psalms 21:7 makes the transition which speaks of Jehovah as well as the king in the third person (Hengst.). Psalms 21:13 gives the conclusion, with an appeal to Jehovah, which does not put the entire Psalm somewhere before the beginning of an impending war (De Wette), but refers to the realization of the promise last expressed. The mutual relation of the two Psalms is perhaps due to the one who arranged them. Many of the more ancient interpreters, even Rosenm. 2 Ausg., after the example of the Chald. and the more ancient Rabbins, regard the Psalm as Messianic, especially on account of Psalms 21:4; Psalms 21:6; Psalms 9:2 Hitzig, on account of עז יהוה, Psalms 21:1, thinks of the king Uzziah (עֻזִיָהוּ) whose father and grandfather had fallen victims to conspiracies (2 Kings 12:21 sq. 2 Kings 14:19), which might likewise attempt the life of the heir to the throne. Psalms 21:4 is said to refer to this, in connection with which we are reminded that already in 2 Kings 10:14; 2 Kings 11:1, the design was to exterminate the family of David. Ewald thinks of the king Josiah, would however rather descend to a later time. Hengstenberg finds expressed in the Psalm, the thanks of the people for the promise given to David, 2 Samuel 7:0, and the joyful hope in its fulfilment. The prophecy of Nathan, at all events, is the revealed foundation for connecting the Messianic hopes with the house of David, and is reëchoed in the Psalms, and has even to a certain extent been further carried out in them. In the present Psalm, however, there is not the slightest trace of such a development; and the Messianic interpretation is shattered already in the fact that the crown cannot be taken as symbolical, as Job 19:9; Lamentations 5:16, because it is called a crown of fine gold.3 But it must be conceded, that the references to the Syrian and Ammonite war are only possible, but not direct, and that the words would more naturally remind us of the elevation of David to the royal throne by the hand of God, than the laying hold of the crown of a king conquered by David. But a reference to the above mentioned prophecy is nowhere to be recognized. For this has to do with the continuance of the house of David and his kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16) to which Psalms 89:4; Psalms 132:12 refer. Now the expressions in this Psalm, “length of days,” and “forever and ever,” may not be referred to the continuance of the life of his posterity (Calvin, Hengst.), but must be taken as personal and individual.4 For the mention of prayer for life immediately precedes, and this can only be understood of saving or of preserving life. When now it is said, that God not only has heard this prayer in its primary sense, but his given the king an unending life, extending into eternity, the Messianic interpretation was very natural to the congregation in later times; the author, however, has used the expression only of the person of the king, not of his race which culminates in Christ (Hengst.). If now David is the author, who speaks of himself in the third person, for which reason this Psalm might be a song of the congregation, that expression may not be interpreted as hyperbole, and explained with reference to 1 Kings 1:31; Nehemiah 2:3 (Hupf. Hitzig, Delitzsch). For it is an entirely different thing whether a people or a subject congratulates a king, that his days may have no end, or whether he says of himself that God has given him a life that will not end, and makes this the subject of public thanksgiving. Therefore, I find here the strongest expression of the assurance of faith in the personal continuance of the life of those who hold fast to the covenant of grace in living communion with Jehovah. That which elsewhere shines forth as hope in the soul of David, and declares itself at times in words of prophecy, which do not themselves transcend David’s own understanding, has here attained the form and language of assurance, and presupposes a maturity of spiritual experience, and a reflection upon previous gracious guidances and revelations, which in order to be understood lead to the latter period of David’s life. With this agree the following words likewise, in which David manifests a consciousness of his position and importance in the history of redemption. He is placed for a blessing forever, that is, for an object and mediator of blessing as Abraham, Genesis 12:2; the people, Isaiah 19:24; Ezekiel 34:26; Zechariah 8:13; the righteous, Psalms 37:26, and has in the presence (before the face) of Jehovah (Psalms 16:11) in future as at present the source of his joy, and the triumphant assurance of his victory over all enemies.

[Str. I. Psa 21:1. Rejoiceth … exulteth.—The imperfects are presents (Hupf., Delitzsch, Ewald, Hitzig, Moll.) and not futures (A. V., shall joy … shall rejoice. Perowne: “Shall be glad,” “shall exult.” Alexander: “Shall rejoice,” “shall exult”).

Psalms 21:2. Request of his lips.—Hupf.; “This is the spoken wish, the explicit prayer (corresponding with שׁאל, Psalms 21:4) placed along side of the quiet wish of the heart as its complement—אֲרֶשֶׁת (only found here) is correctly given in Sept. θέησις. ארשׁ is a secondary form of ירשׁ (as likewise in the Arabic and Talmud nominal forms from ירש are found with א instead of י) properly = χατέω, to be empty, to need (comp. Niphal and the related רוּשׁ to be poor) hence to desire, and then afterward the usual meaning of take possession, possess, etc.—C. A. B.]

[Str. II. Psa 21:3. Preventest.—Barnes. “Thou goest before him; thou dost anticipate him, vid.Psalms 17:13, margin. Our word prevent is now most commonly used in the sense of hinder, stop, or intercept. This is not the original meaning of the English word; and the word is never used in this sense in the Bible The English word when our translation was made, meant to go before, to anticipate, and this is the uniform meaning of it in our English version, as it is the meaning of the original.” The meaning here is, that God had anticipated him or his desires. He had gone before him. He had designed the blessing even before it was asked Hupfeld, whom Moll and Perowne follow, render it, Thou comest to meet him. This is perhaps better.—Crown of pure gold.—Hupfeld regards this not as the crown of a conquered king but as “his own, as symbol of the royal dignity given him by God.” Barnes refers it to the victory. “He was crowned with triumph, he was shown to be a king; the victory was like making him a king, or setting a crown of pure gold upon his head.” Perowne regards it as a poetical figure. Delitzsch refers it to the captured crown of the king of the Ammonites, which is most likely.

Psalms 21:4. He asked life of thee.—Barnes: “The expression itself would be applicable to a time of sickness, or to danger of any kind, and here it is used doubtless in reference to the exposure of life on going into battle, or on going forth to war.”—Length of days.—Hupfeld: “Preservation of life and long life; a standing feature of blessings (Psalms 61:7; Psalms 91:16), derived from the promise of the law, and the proverbs of the fear of God and wisdom, Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 4:10; Proverbs 9:11; here as the consequence of Divine protection and especial Divine grace.Forever and ever.—Perowne: “There is no difficulty in this expression even as applied to David. It was usual to pray that the king might live forever (1 Kings 1:31; Nehemiah 2:3, etc.), and a like anticipation of an endless life occurs in other Psalms (Psalms 23:6; Psalms 61:6; Psalms 91:16.”—C. A. B.]5

[Str. III. Psa 21:5. Great is his glory through Thy deliverance (A. V., His glory is great in thy salvation).—The idea is that the saving help of God in giving him the victory over his enemies had made his glory great. Hupfeld: “כבוֹד (glory) properly of the Divine majesty, here its reflection, the royal, vid.Psalms 8:1; Psalms 8:5.” Delitzsch: “The help of God redounds to his glory, and paves the way for his glory, it enables him, as Psalms 21:5 b means, famously and gloriously to maintain and strengthen his kingdom. The verbs Psalms 21:5 b and ver 6, are presentsLayest upon him (Moll, Delitzsch, Perowne, et al. A. V. has, “laid upon him”).

Psalms 21:6. For Thou settest him as a blessing forever. (A. V., Thou hast made him most blessed forever. Marginal reading, and set him to blessings).—Barnes: “The expression in our translation, as it is now commonly understood, would mean, that God had made him happy or prosperous. This does not seem to be the sense of the original. The idea is, that he had made him a blessing to mankind, or to the world, or that he had made him to be a source of blessing to others.”—Delitzsch: “To set as blessings or fulness of blessings is an emphatic expression of God’s word to Abram, Genesis 12:2; be a blessing, that is, the possessor and mediator of blessings.”—Thou dost gladden him withjoy in Thy presence.—So Perowne, Moll, and Delitzsch, and Hupfeld, more exactly, “before Thy face;” Ewald, “before Thee.” Vid. Ps. 16:12. The presence of God is the joy of the righteous, to be before His face, beholding His face is their greatest privilege and pleasure. The A. V., “with thy countenance” is an incorrect rendering of the Hebrew אֶת־פָנֶיךָ.—C. A. B.]

[Str. IV. Ver 7 This verse connects the former part of the Psalm with the latter For, gives the reason of the blessings which the king has received. He trusteth in Jehovah, he depends upon Him and not upon himself and therefore he shall not be moved, he shall not be shaken from the firm rock upon which he is established.—C. A. B.]

Str. V. [Ver 8. Perowne; “The hope passing into a prophecy that in every battle the king will be victorious over his enemies” Alexander: “By a kind of climax in the form of expression hand is followed by right hand, a still more empatic sign of active strength. To find, in this connection includes the ideas of detecting and reaching. Comp. 1 Samuel 23:17; Isaiah 10:10, in the latter of which places the verb is construed with a preposition (ל), as it is in the first clause of the verse before us, whereas in the other clause it governs the noun directly. If any difference of meaning was intended, it is probably not greater than that between find and find out in English.”—C. A. B ]

Psalms 21:9. Set as a fiery oven.—Hupfeld prefers to regard this as a nominative, because he refers the passage to God,6 whose wrath is frequently described as a consuming fire, whose punishment Isaiah 31:9; Mal. 3:19 is compared with a fiery oven as the instrument of consuming. But even with this interpretation “set” is an expression derived from other connections; and Jehovah is not spoken of as a devouring fire until the following clause. Most interpreters, therefore, explain the expression, as a loose comparison and remind us of Sodom, whose smoke (Genesis 19:28) is compared to the smoke of a furnace, or to the consuming of the Ammonites in the oven (2 Samuel 12:31).—In the time of thy angry look. [A. V. thine anger].—Since the king is in the presence of Jehovah, Psalms 21:6, when he directs his face upon his enemies, it exerts that destructive power which is usually ascribed to the angry look of Jehovah Hitzig understands these words of his personal appearance (2 Samuel 17:11). [So Riehm: “When thou (the king) marchest personally against them at the head of thy army and showest them thy countenance, before which namely, they will not stand but will fall.”—C. A. B.]

[Str. VI Psalms 21:10. Perowne. ‘Their fruit,= children, posterity, etc.,Lamentations 2:20, Hosea 9:16; more fully ‘fruit of the womb,’ Psalms 127:3; Psalms 132:11.”—C. A. B.]

Str. VII. [Psalms 21:11. “They have stretched out evil (A. V.: They intended evil).—Barnes: “The idea seems to be derived from stretching out or laying snares, nets, or gins, for the purpose of taking wild beasts. That is, they formed a plan or purpose to bring evil upon God and His cause: as the hunter or fowler forms a purpose or plan to take wild beasts.” So Moll and most interpreters. But Hengst., Hitzig, Delitzsch and Riehm render it “They bent evil over thee,” that is in order to cast it down upon thee, vid. the parallel expression, Psalms 55:3; 2 Samuel 15:0They shall not prevail.—The rendering of the A. V. as a relative clause “which they are not able to perform,” is inexact and spoils the force of the poetry.

Psalms 21:12. For thou wilt make them turn their back (lit., make them shoulder, vid.Psalms 18:40), with thy (bow) strings wilt thou also aim against their face.—Alexander: “The common version of the first word (therefore) is not only contrary to usage, but disturbs the sense by obscuring the connection with the foregoing verse, which is thus: ‘They shall not prevail, because Thou shalt make them turn their back.’ ”—C. A. B.]. Luther remarks upon this verse: “Their troubles excite them to flight, and the bow hastening against them compels them to return, and thus they are taken in a strait, and are in such a condition that they fall out of the frying pan into the fire.”7

[Psalms 21:13. Perowne: “The singer has done with his good wishes and prophecies for the king. Now he turns to the Giver of victory, and prays Him to manifest Himself in all His power and glory, that His people may ever acknowledge Him as the only source of their strength.”—C. A. B.]


1. Thankfulness for received help is becoming. There is great salvation when heart and lip agree in it, and people and prince unite in it, as well as in the prayer for help. And when a king rejoices more in God’s strength than in his own strength, and when the congregation acknowledges the same with praise, it is a sign of correct judgment and true piety, which gives us hope of further blessings and opens the sources of enduring happiness.

2. He who can wear a crown has attained to much honor and greatness If he has received it from God’s hand, he may reckon it among the great blessings of success. If he continues to remember whence his crown came, it will not bring any spiritual injury to him, or do any injury to his soul. He will give God the honor in thankful joy, and in humble faith ask of God what he needs; but more than the golden crown will he value the imperishable crown of eternal life and the crown of righteousness, and indeed as the gracious gift of Him who does exceeding abundant above all that we ask and understand.

3. He who receives blessings from God, has likewise to spread them abroad upon others. But the greatest blessings are received and spread abroad by the bearers of divine revelation, the mediators of the history of redemption. Their communications not unfrequently, it is true, transcend the immediate understanding; but there is no occasion in this to conceal and withhold them from the congregation. In them is developed rather the understanding of revealed truth and participation in the salvation and life bestowed on them by God.

4. The pious experience the greatest joy when they are with God, here on earth in the foretaste of grace, especially in Divine service, there in the full enjoyment of life, when after awaking they are satisfied with the form of God (Psalms 17:15). During this earthly life there are still many enemies to combat, which are inflamed even to hate, exert their strength to destroy the pious, and in their craftiness stretch out their nets of destruction against them. But he who puts his trust in God, will not totter or fall, but rather will not only be delivered and preserved by the grace of the Almighty, but will completely vanquish and triumph over his enemies.

5. In these circumstances and relations there is a reason and summons to daily petition and thanksgiving. For we could not dispense with God’s rising up to our assistance, and the efficacy of His power, in any undertaking or situation of our life. This, moreover, we ought likewise to recognize, and to express with glad thankfulness in praising God, who is as much the true Hero and the true Conqueror, as the Lord over all lords and King over all kings.


True thankfulness towards God is an expression of pious joy, and indeed not only in the help and gifts that have been received, but chiefly in the strength and love of God which has been made known.—God hears prayer, but He does far more and gives far more than all we ask or understand.—A pious king confesses that he has his crown from God, but he values the crown of eternal life far more than the golden crown, and the joy in the presence of God is worth more to him than the glory of earthly success.—He who has been anointed by God, is placed by God as a blessing for others, but this Divine purpose finds its complete realization in Jesus Christ alone.—He who bases himself in the love of God, and supports himself upon the strength of the Most High, has the best security against tottering and falling—The glory, grandeur, and strength of princes is only a reflection of the majesty of God; therefore those are the greatest among them who serve God the most conscientiously.—The anointed of God has a twofold task to perform; he Isaiah 1:0) a mediator of Divine blessing, and 2) an executor of Divine judgment.

Starke: God’s goodness is still so great towards His children that He often gives them much more than they have the courage to ask or to hope (Ephesians 3:20).—As long as Christ lives, His believers must likewise live; for His life is their life (John 14:19).—The worldly-minded trouble themselves only for temporal blessings, health of body, riches, great honor, and long life; but all this is a dream and shadow in comparison with the heavenly and eternal blessings of the pious.—True joy is beholding the face of God, which takes place here on earth in faith, and in the Word, but in heaven face to face (1 John 3:2).—However coldly God now seems to look upon the enemies of Christ, the more will His anger burn against them in the future.—As the enemies of the Church are unable to carry out their wicked designs against the Head of the church, so they will not against His members. Therefore be comforted ye children of the Most High! He who is for us, is greater and stronger than all that are against us (1 John 4:4).—Osiander: God looks for awhile upon the pride of His enemies; yet if He has stored up against them for a long time. He will punish with still greater severity afterwards.—Geier: God has His limited time as well for His wrath as for His grace.—Frisch: Joy must finally follow pain; help follow trouble; the blessing the curse; the golden crown the crown of thorns; life death; decoration and honor shame.—Rieger: From the thankful recognition of what God has thus far done for the king, and therefore for the whole people, flows good confidence in still further assistance from God.—Guenther: All regents in the world are only instruments of God to bless and chastise the nations.—Diedrich: Trust in God is an inexhaustible strength, which maintains the victory in all necessities, and through all sufferings.—Where God gives joy, nothing will venture to trouble us.

[Matth. Henry: When God’s blessings come sooner, and prove richer, than we imagine—when they are given before we prayed for them, before we were ready for them, nay, when we feared the contrary,—then it may be truly said, that He prevented us with them. Nothing, indeed, prevented Christ; but to mankind never was any favor more preventing than our redemption by Christ, and all the blessed fruits of His mediation.—Barnes: Truth meets error boldly; face to face, and is not afraid of a fair fight. In every such conflict error will ultimately yield; and whenever the wicked come openly into conflict with God, they must be compelled to turn and flee.—If all the devices and desires of the wicked were accomplished, righteousness would soon cease in the earth, religion and virtue would come to an end, and even God would cease to occupy the throne.—Spurgeon: Mercy in the case of many of us, ran before our desires and prayers, and it ever outruns our endeavors and expectancies, and even our hopes are left to lag behind.—Prevenient grace deserves a song.—All our mercies are to be viewed as “blessings,” gifts of a blessed God, meant to make us blessed; they are “blessings of goodness,” not of merit, but of free favor; and they come to us in a preventing way, a way of prudent foresight, such as only preventing love could have arranged.—For a time the foes of God may make bold advances, and threaten to overthrow everything, but a few ticks of the clock will alter the face of their affairs.—At first they advance impudently enough, but Jehovah meets them to their teeth, and a taste of the sharp judgments of God speedily makes them flee in dismay.—C. A. B.]


[1][Perowne: “The last Psalm was a litany before the king went forth to battle. This is apparently a Te Deum on his return. In that, the people cried, ‘Jehovah give thee according to thy heart’s desire;’ in this, they thank God who has heard their prayer: ‘The wish of his heart hast Thou given him.’ ” Delitzsch: “In both Psalms the people appear before God in the affairs of their king, there wishing and praying, here thanking and hoping, here as there in the midst of war, but here after the recovery of the king, in the assurance of its victorious termination.”—C. A. B.]

[2][Wordsworth: “Doubtless, in a primary sense both these Psalms concern David himself; but they extend far beyond him. The King, here displayed to us, is King of kings; He is the Ever-living One, Christ Blessed forever. The Chaldee Targum opens here with these remarkable words: ‘O Lord, the King Messiah shall rejoice in Thy strength;’ and Rashi owns that the older Hebrew doctors expounded this Psalm of the Messiah; but he adds, that in order to obviate the arguments of Christians, it is better to confine it to David. They, therefore, who limit it to the literal sense, imitate the Jews. The Church has declared her own Judgment on this question by appointing this Psalm to be used in the festival of Christ’s ascension into heaven.”—C. A. B.]

[3][Vid., however, Hupfeld on Psalms 21:3.—C. A. B.]

[4][Vid. exposition of Psalms 21:4.—C. A. B.]

[5][Wordsworth: “This could not be predicted of David himself; but is true of Christ, who says, in the Apocalypse, ‘I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold I am alive forever more,’ (Revelation 1:18; comp. Romans 6:10).”—C. A. B.]

[6][Hupfeld: ‘Thou wilt be for them as a fiery oven.”—C. A. B.]

[7][German: Aus dem Regen in die Traufe, that is, out of the rain and into the water which falls from the roof.—C. A. B.]

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Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 21". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.