"This is evidently a liturgical psalm, and was intended originally, it would seem, to be sung on behalf of a king who was about to go forth to war against his enemies. As the king stands within the sanctuary offering his sacrifice, the whole assembled crowd of worshippers in the spacious courts lift up their voices in the prayer, that Jehovah would graciously accept those sacrifices, and send him help and victory in the battle. The psalm has no doubt a prophetical aspect, from the fact that the Jewish king was, by virtue of his office, a type of Christ. Calvin is right in saying that inasmuch as this kingdom differed from all other kingdoms, because God had determined to govern and defend His people by the hand of David and of his seed, therefore we ought to recognise, under the type of the temporal kingdom, that better rule on which the joy and happiness of the Church depend."—Perowne.
THE NAME OF JEHOVAH
(Psa ; Psa 20:5; Psa 20:7.)
I. The name of Jehovah a consolation in trouble. "The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee" (Psa ). No character or rank is exempt from the ills of life. The highest dignity cannot guard off troubles; and crowns especially are often lined with thorns. The history of David records many a dark day and sorrowful night. It was a day of distress with Jacob when he fled from his brother Esau, and arrived at Bethel a distracted wanderer (Gen 35:3). Few plants, says an old writer, have both the morning and the evening sun; and an older than he has said—Man is born to trouble. But in the deepest, darkest, wildest distress Jehovah is the refuge of His people; and His name soothes the keenest anguish, and lifts up the most despairing.
"Thy mighty name salvation is,
And keeps my happy soul above;
Comfort it brings, and power, and peace,
And joy, and everlasting love."
II. The name of Jehovah an inspiring battle-cry. "In the name of our God we will set up our banners" (Psa ). Banners are a part of military equipage, borne in times of war to assemble, direct, distinguish, and inspirit, the soldiers. They have been often used in religious ceremonies. It is the practice of some people to erect a banner in honour of their deity. In a certain part of Thibet it is customary for a priest to ascend a hill every month, to set up a white flag, and perform some religious ceremonies to conciliate the favour of a dewta, or invisible being, who is the presiding genius of the place. The Hindoos describe Siva the Supreme as having a banner in the celestial world. Every nation has its own expressive battle-cry. "For hearth and home" was the cry that found a deep and warm response in the breast of the ancient Roman; and, in modern times, the Germans roused the enthusiasm and bravery of every soldier by the cry of "Fatherland!" But the militant Church goes to war with the name of the Lord of Hosts on her banners—a battle-cry which inspires every heart with holy courage, and binds it with the cincture of a firm, unalterable purpose. It was this that nerved the youthful David with a giant's prowess in his victorious combat with Goliath (1Sa 17:45).
III. The name of Jehovah the strength of the Militant Church. "We will remember the name of the Lord our God" (Psa ). The world trusts in the material—in rifles, mitraileuse, turret-ships, and torpedoes; but the Church is taught to trust in the spiritual—the mysterious, invisible, but almighty power of Jehovah. The material fails; but the spiritual never. Many a formidable and rarely-equipped army has
"Melted like snow in the glance of the Lord,"
while the feeble and despised champions of the Church have stood forth in all the honour and lustre of victory. When the saint relies fully on Jehovah, and is absorbed in His holy cause, he is surrounded with an impenetrable defence. Numa, being told that his enemies were coming upon him as he was offering sacrifice, thought it was sufficient for his safety that he could say, I am about the service of my God; and yet how slow men are to put their trust in that Name where alone all true comfort, the holiest courage, and the mightiest strength are found! It is easy, says Arnot, to persuade papists to lean on priests and saints, on old rags and painted pictures, on any idol; but it is hard to get a Protestant to trust in the living God.
PRAYER A PREPARATION FOR CONFLICT
(Psa ; Psa 20:9.)
I. Prayer should have reference to future emergencies. "The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble" (Psa ). War is a time of trouble, both to king and people; and considering the vicissitudes and sufferings of the battlefield, it is wise to implore the aid of Heaven for seasons when earthly resources may be exhausted. Prayer has a prevenient power. To-day's prayers can help tomorrow's; the congregation's present prayers, the king's future prayers. Prayer may bring present power that shall put the man's heart right, and keep it right, so that when the hour of need shall come, the prayer of his heart may be right prayer, and be both heard and answered. "Troubles roar like thunder; but the believer's voice will be heard above the storm."
II. Prayer invokes the invincible protection of Jehovah. "The name of the God of Jacob defend thee" (Psa ). By the name is signified the whole revealed character of Jehovah. He is called the God of Jacob, because He manifested Himself as such, in a fulness of deeds, to Jacob and to his posterity. A heavenlier light is needed to explain all the mystery and glory of the Divine name. There is power in the historical associations of the name to help faith, as the pleading soul recalls the scenes of Bethel, Peniel, Padan-aram, Shechem, and Egypt. The name of Jehovah is an inviolable protection. "Defend thee"—exalt thee—"to be upraised to a high and fortified place, made safe."—Bythner. "Set thee up on high," i.e., "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."—Perowne. The name of God is a more secure retreat than the spot defended by parks of artillery.
III. Prayer should be accompanied with sacrifice. "Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice" (Psa ). It was customary in ancient times for warriors to offer sacrifice before going into battle; and this was often done with most imposing ceremony, and with lavish liberality. "Thy burnt sacrifice"—thy holocaust, "a sacrifice of quadrupeds and birds, which are raised altogether upon the altar and burned: the Greek hecatomb seems borrowed from this."—Bythner. "Accept"—graciously accept—literally, make fat; in a declarative sense "regard as fat," and so "receive as fat," i.e., "as worthy to be offered, the fattest of the flock being chosen for sacrifice."—Perowne. "At the present day others as well as David may use this psalm in prayer, for as the person, the circumstances, the time and place, are all different in the new law, so likewise is the sacrifice; but one faith and one spirit abide through all ages, and amid all diversities of places, works, persons. The external varies, the internal remains ever the same."—Luther. The individual relation to God is recognised by personal offerings. The separate application of the one sacrifice answers to the separate sacrifices of old. The one sacrifice must have its separate acceptance for the separate individual. Prayer to be efficacious must ever be offered in the spirit of sacrifice.
IV. Prayer is urgent to secure a specific answer to its petitions.
1. As they relate to special blessings. "Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel: the Lord fulfil all thy petitions" (Psa ). Prayer is offered for protection in time of danger, for wisdom to adopt and execute the best measures in the emergencies of war, and for victory over the enemy. Our desires and counsels are completely dependent upon God for their attainment, and ought to be prayers. The more clearly we see our peril, and the more pungently we feel our need, the more fervently do we wrestle for an answer to our petitions. "Sometimes God doth not only grant a man's prayer, but fulfilleth his counsel; that is, in that very way, by that very means, which his judgment pitched upon his thoughts."—Trapp.
2. As they relate to their immediate subject. "Save, Lord; let the king hear us when we call" (Psa ). Rendered by the LXX., "O Lord, save the king, and hear us when we call upon Thee." The king is the subject of prayer, that he may be blessed with victory, and that he may be a blessing to others. The ninth verse is a summary of the whole psalm. The wellbeing of a people is suspended on the character and doings of the monarch. Prayer should be offered for him continually that he may be guarded from evil, that he may be wise, equitable, and prosperous. Prayer must not be intermitted even when confidence of Divine help has been inspired. Prayer will still be necessary to sustain that confidence in its trials, for the very confidence is a contingent virtue, and, perhaps, the more subject to risks of deterioration, because it is an inspired thing and not a thing of earth.
V. Answer to prayer is found wherever the presence of Jehovah is manifested. "Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion" (Psa ). The Jews, whose weakness found it so difficult a task to look up to the Invisible God, were favoured with a visible sanctuary on Zion; thither the devout Israelite directed his prayer; thence he expected help in the day of trouble. Christ is now the sanctuary of His people; and in their worshipping assemblies He is wont to manifest His presence and power. The greatest distress is experienced when God is absent. His return banishes our fears, and nerves us with superhuman bravery. "Men of the world despise sanctuary help; but our hearts have learned to prize it beyond all material aid. They seek help out of the armoury, or the treasury, or the buttery; but we turn to the sanctuary. Certain advertisers recommend a strengthening plaster; but nothing can give such strength to the loins of a saint as waiting upon God in the assemblies of His people."—Spurgeon. God always puts honour upon His appointed services. His help, when it comes, will come by the way of the sanctuary and out of Zion. The faith to which that help is a response, wherever exercised, was first begotten amid the holy things of the sanctuary. The help has the same stamp as the faith that commands it, the stamp of the sanctuary.
CONFIDENCE IN JEHOVAH THE PLEDGE OF VICTORY
I. Confidence in Jehovah fills the heart with gladness. "We will rejoice in Thy salvation" (Psa ). The people are so assured of the help of God as to break out in a song of anticipatory triumph. Praise raises the moral tone of an army, and it is on this that its success largely depends. Jehoshaphat, before entering into battle with the vast armies of the Moabites and Ammonites, appointed singers to praise the Lord. He obtained an easy victory (2Ch 20:20-22). When Louis XIII. of France had invested with his army a city of the Huguenots, the besieged assembled one evening on the city wall and sang, with great sweetness and solemnity, one of their favourite psalms. The king was so impressed with the whole scene and with the spirit of the singers, that he turned to Mazarin, his favourite general, who was by his side, and quietly observed, "We can do nothing with this people." The siege was raised; and the persecuted Huguenots triumphed in their Lord. God ought to be remembered in our triumph as well as in our need. We are sometimes so much elated by the triumph as to forget the help by which it has come.
II. Confidence in Jehovah inspires with courage for the conflict. "In the name of our God will we set up"—wave—"our banners" (Psa ). When the army has confidence in its General it unfurls its standard with resolute defiance, enters upon the contest with a stout, brave heart, and already anticipates the shouts of victory and the triumphant procession, with banners displayed. "Great certainly is the faith which hath such courage by remembering the name of the Lord. Soldiers in our day are wont, when they go into battle, to recall to mind the brave exploits of their fathers, or former victories, and the like, wherewith to warm and stir their hearts. But let our princes remember the name of God, wherein all salvation and victory do stand."—Luther. "Confession of Christ, as the only name whereby we can be saved, is the banner which distinguishes His faithful people. Oh, that this confession were more distinct, more pure, more zealous, then would His followers be more united, more bold, more successful—terrible as an army with banners."—W. Wilson.
III. Confidence in Jehovah secures the exercise of His Almighty power. "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" (Psa ). Prayer ought never to stop before it has brought a present sense of help. It is possible to have an inspoken answer to our prayers before the outward crisis to which we are looking has come. "The hope suddenly changes into certainty. Now know I that Jehovah hath saved, hath given the 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 that God would hear and send help from the earthly sanctuary or Zion. Now, the answer is 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. 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."—Perowne. Faith, says Quesnel, seems to put the Almighty power of God into the hands of man; whereas unbelief seems to tie up even the hands of the Almighty.
IV. Confidence in Jehovah exposes the inadequacy of the best human contrivances. "Some trust in chariots and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the Lord our God" (Psa ). The remark of a great warrior, that Providence is always on the side of the strongest battalion, may be applauded as an evidence of military penetration, but the sceptical sneer is none the less apparent in the sentiment. According to the law, Israel was forbidden to maintain a standing army. They were taught to trust in God, both for defence and victory (Deu 20:2-4; Deu 32:30). Some of the conquests of the chosen people were gained by means which contradicted and defied the ordinary rules of warfare, and seemed absurd to the believer in military skill and prowess. Moral power was pitted against the material, and won the day, as it ever will. When the Israelites depended more upon their armies than their God, they suffered the most humiliating defeats. "The most dreaded war-engine of David's day was the war-chariot, armed with scythes which mowed men down like grass: this was the boast and glory of the neighbouring nations; but the saints considered the name of Jehovah to be a far better defence."
V. Confidence in Jehovah turns apparent defeat into victory. "They are brought down and fallen; but we are risen and stand upright" (Psa ). The prophetic vision of faith already sees the issue of the conflict. The ranks of those who trust in chariots and horses, who rely on material aid, seem firm, impenetrable, defiant, and the onset irresistible. But the people of God, whose trust is in the unseen, and who seem overwhelmed and put to the worse, rise up triumphant, while their enemies are brought down and crushed—the instruments of war in which they trusted helping to make their ruin more complete. Faith has surer wheels than pride; and prayer will carry us where power must fall. "Faith alone, which commits itself to God, can sing the song of triumph before the victory, and raise the shout of joy before help has been obtained; for to faith all is permitted. It trusts in God, and so really has what it believes, because faith deceives not; as it believes, so is it done."—Luther.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 20". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Sunday after Easter