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This short Psalm is a cry that God will faithfully respond to His own in the day of trouble. Such a day of trouble has apparently come and the appeal is threefold, firstly for YHWH to act in response to the past faithfulness of His people, secondly, because of YHWH’s own trustworthiness as their covenant God, and thirdly and finally because He is their King.
It may be that we are to see it as in the form of prayer and response. First the leading intercessor makes his declaratory petition (Psalms 20:1-4). Then the people respond (5 a-b). Then again the leader speaks (5c), followed by further response (6-8; Psalms 20:6 may be the response of the high priest alone) and concluding with a final plea for deliverance (9).
For the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.
This is another Psalm offered to the organiser of the sacred music, or the choirmaster, and dedicated to David. The prayer is for God to aid the Davidic king, giving him victory against the enemies of God’s people.
The Leading Intercessor Speaks To The People By Way Of Intercession (Psalms 20:1-4 ).
We note here the singular ‘you’. The reference is probably to the whole people seen as one. Or it may be spoken to the king as representing the people. Either way it was probably spoken in the tabernacle/temple precincts while sacrifices were being offered (Psalms 20:3), in a day of trouble, possibly when news had come of raids on their territory and possibly more. We do not all suffer from those now, but we do suffer the encroachments of another Enemy.
‘YHWH answer you in the day of trouble,
The name of the God of Jacob set you up on high,
Send you help from the sanctuary,
And strengthen you out of Zion.’
The leading petitioner (who may be the anointed Prince, or the High Priest) appeals for Yahweh to help them (the people) on the day of trouble that has come on them, and to set them in a place of safety and victory. Reference to ‘the God of Jacob’ may recognise that they are like Jacob, the weak and failing side of Jacob/Israel, but at the same time stressing that they are looking to His mercy, precisely because He was the God of Jacob, the weak and failing one who yet proved his strength with God. Or they may be proudly naming their ancestor, and reminding God that they are descended from one who was His chosen, and that they are His chosen in him. Either way the appeal is that He will establish them ‘on high’, in the place of honour and victory.
‘The name of the God of Jacob set you up on high.’ That is, God as He is revealed through His name.
The deliverance is looked for ‘from the sanctuary’, that is from the invisible God acting from Heaven through His throne over the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH in the Holiest of All. They look for strengthening (‘a holding up’) in their endeavours, in all they sought to do, a ‘holding up’ coming out of Mount Zion, the earthly dwellingplace of God, on which the Tabernacle or Temple stands.
The assumption is that God will hear and answer their cry because by His own choice He has taken up His dwelling among His people, and because He is their God Who has elected to make a covenant with them, and their prince is His anointed one (Psalms 20:6), His chosen.
‘Remember all your offerings,
And accept as fat your burnt offering. Selah’
So as the offerings for YHWH’s aid are offered, the petitioner appeals to God to remember all their past offerings which have revealed them as His true covenant people, and to especially note these that are now being offered. The offerings are both an admission of sin, a means of atonement and a token of rededication to God’s covenant. To ‘remember’ them will be to act in response to them
‘All your offerings.’ Possibly in mind are the meal offerings (mincha - ‘gift’) which accompanied sacrifices. Also the ‘burnt offering’ (‘whole offering’, i.e. wholly consumed by fire) which was wholly offered to YHWH. These two composed the daily morning and evening offering (Exodus 29:38-42; Numbers 28:3-8). But they were also offered at other times as well, and the fact that the meal offerings are plural suggests that this is referring to extra offerings possibly resulting from the crisis. ‘Accept as fat’ means to treat it as acceptable. The fat was an important part of the offering.
For sacrificial offerings made specifically in preparation for war see 1 Samuel 7:9-10; 1 Samuel 13:9-12 and Jeremiah 6:4 which speaks of ‘sanctifying a war’.
‘Grant you your heart's desire,
And fulfil all your counsel.’
The speaker’s final petition is that they will receive what they desire from their hearts, and will be prospered in what they have decided to do in order to deal with the problem on hand.
The People’s Response (Psalms 20:5 a).
‘We will triumph in your salvation,
And in the name of our God we will set up our banners.’
The people make response by declaring their faith and confidence that He will deliver, thus causing them to triumph, and proclaim that it is in His name that they will set up their banners. Firstly it will be in faith, in readiness for their victorious assaults against the enemy with Him on their side, and then, once their faith is rewarded, in revealing the victory after the battle. All would be one in declaring their confidence in YHWH.
Psalms 20:5 b
The Original Petitioner Then Adds His ‘Amen’ (Psalms 20:5 b).
‘YHWH fulfil all your petitions.’
The leading petitioner then takes over stating his confident hope that YHWH their God will fulfil all their petitions. This is followed by a confident declaration that God will respond to His anointed prince and give him the strength required for victory.
This Could Be A Declaration of Faith From The Original Petitioner or From The High Priest (Psalms 20:6 ).
‘Now know I that YHWH has saved his anointed,
He will answer him from his holy heaven,
With the saving strength of his right hand.’
This could be the continuation of the words of the leading petitioner, or the words of the High Priest. Either way his confidence is that YHWH will save His anointed (the Davidic Prince), delivering him from his foes by answering from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand (by exerting His strongest power) and giving him victory. ‘Has saved’ is expressing the certainty that it will be so. Alternately ‘His anointed’ may mean the people as a whole.
The People Again Respond Asserting Their Total Dependence on YHWH (Psalms 20:7-9 ).
‘Some trust in chariots, and some in horses,
But we will make mention of the name of YHWH our God.’
The contrast is then made between them and their opponents, and indeed them and all the world. Whereas others trust in chariots and horses, and in all their other weaponry and worldly resources, God’s people trust in the name of YHWH their God. That is, they believe in what He is as represented by His name. His name, and what He is, will be their battlecry and their boast. They need nothing else. Although they will arm themselves as adequately as they are able, they recognise that without Him they can do nothing. Faith, however, is no excuse for lack of effort. In the words of Cromwell, they trust in God and keep their powder dry.
‘They are bowed down and fallen,
But we are risen, and stand upright.’
That they have made a sensible choice comes out in the fact that the chariots and horses will fail their enemies so that they will bow down and fall (seen as already accomplished). While through their confidence in the name of YHWH they know that they themselves will, after the battle, arise and stand upright.
Let the King answer us when we call.’
The Psalm ends with a firm plea to the covenant King. Let Him save, by answering them when they call. Alternately it may be a plea to YHWH to save, by means of their king responding when they call, but the former is more likely.
The general principle behind the Psalm can be applied to all God’s people when they face trouble. They can call on God to help them through His Anointed Who is with them, and be certain of God’s victory in whatever way He pleases to send it.
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 20". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 13 / Ordinary 18