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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 20

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 20:0


Prayer for Victory Over Enemies The Assurance of God's Saving Work Prayer for the King's Victory in Battle A Prayer for Victory Prayer for the King
MT Intro For the choir director. A Psalm of David.
Psalms 20:1-3 Psalms 20:1-3 Psalms 20:1-3 Psalms 20:1-5 Psalms 20:1-2
Psalms 20:3-4
Psalms 20:4-5 Psalms 20:4-5 Psalms 20:4-5
Psalms 20:5a
Psalms 20:5b
Psalms 20:6-9 Psalms 20:6 Psalms 20:6-8 Psalms 20:6-8 Psalms 20:6
Psalms 20:7-8 Psalms 20:7-8
Psalms 20:9 Psalms 20:9 Psalms 20:9 Psalms 20:9

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.


A. This may have been a liturgical prelude to battle, as Psalms 21:0 is a liturgy of welcoming home the victorious king and army.

B. The offerings of Psalms 20:3 (i.e., “meal” and “fat”) may have been the expected sacrificial offerings before a battle.

C. The song/shout and the banners of Psalms 20:5 may have been the expected ways of welcoming home a victorious king.

Psalms 21:0 may be the song referred to in Psalms 20:5.

Verses 1-3

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 20:1-3 1May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high! 2May He send you help from the sanctuary And support you from Zion! 3May He remember all your meal offerings And find your burnt offering acceptable! Selah.

Psalms 20:1-3, Psalms 20:4-5 This strophe is a prayer, as is Psalms 20:4-5, to plead with YHWH to help His covenant representative (i.e., the Davidic king, cf. 1 Samuel 8:7; 1 Samuel 10:19) in battle (cf. Psalms 20:5, Psalms 20:7).

Notice the series of imperfects used in a jussive sense (cf. NASB, NRSV, REB, NIV, JPSOA, i.e., prayer requests) in Psalms 20:1-5.

1. May the Lord answer you BDB 772, KB 851, Qal imperfect

2. May the name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high BDB 960, KB 1305, Piel imperfect

3. May He send you help from the sanctuary BDB 1018, KB 1511, Qal imperfect

4. May He support you from Zion BDB 703, KB 761, Qal imperfect

5. May He remember all your meal offerings BDB 269, KB 269, Qal imperfect

6. May He grant you your heart's desire BDB 678, KB 733, Qal imperfect, cf. Psalms 21:2; Psalms 37:4

7. May He fulfill all your counsel/purpose BDB 569, KB 583, Piel imperfect

8. May He fulfill all your petitions same as #7

Psalms 20:1 “in the day of trouble” This is a recurrent phrase (cf. Genesis 35:3; 2 Kings 19:3; Psalms 50:15; Psalms 77:2; Psalms 86:7; Proverbs 24:10; Proverbs 25:19; Isaiah 37:3; Jeremiah 16:19; Obadiah 1:12, Obadiah 1:14; Nahum 1:7; Habakkuk 3:16). It stands for many different life problems that occur in this fallen world. The news is that God is aware of our problems (i.e., Exodus 3:7-8) and is with us in the midst of those problems. He is the answer to all human need and amazingly He is pursuing us!

The term “day” (BDB 398) has several connotations.


“the name of the God of Jacob” There are two Special Topics that illuminate this phrase.

1. Special Topic: Names For Deity

2. Special Topic: The Name of YHWH

NASB“set you securely on high” NKJV“defend you” NRSV, TEV, NJB, LXX“protect you” JPSOA“keep you safe” REB“be your tower of strength”

The MT verb (BDB 960, KB 1305, Piel imperfect used in a jussive sense) is from the root “to be high,” and thereby inaccessible and secure (cf. Psalms 59:1; Psalms 69:29; Psalms 91:14; Psalms 107:41). This is the same imagery of a high, defensible fortress used in Psalms 18:2!

Psalms 20:2 “from the sanctuary. . .from Zion” These are parallel lines of poetry. Both refer to the temple in Jerusalem. It was not built in David's day but the tabernacle was there. Jerusalem was built on seven hills; the temple was built on Mt. Moriah (cf. 1 Chronicles 21:18; 2 Chronicles 3:1). Mt. Zion was the site of the Jebusite fortress captured by David (cf. 2 Samuel 5:7; 1 Chronicles 11:5), as well as the site for his palace. It came to be the name used for the entire city of Jerusalem and the phrase “daughter of Zion” for the Israelite people (cf. 2 Kings 19:21).

Notice that Psalms 20:6 uses the phrase “from His holy heaven,” which is another parallel.

Psalms 20:3 “Selah” See note at Psalms 3:2 and Introduction to Psalms, VII.

Verses 4-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 20:4-5 4May He grant you your heart's desire And fulfill all your counsel! 5We will sing for joy over your victory, And in the name of our God we will set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your petitions.

Psalms 20:4 “your heart's desire” This is “the” issue of peace and trust. A good example of an appropriate desire for a Davidic King is Solomon's prayer of dedication of the Temple (cf. 1 Kings 8:22-61).

Psalms 20:5

NASB“We will sing for joy” NKJV, LXX“we will rejoice” NRSV, TEV, JPSOA“we shout for joy” NJB“with joy we can hail. . .” REB“Let us sing aloud your praise”

This verb (BDB 943, KB 1247, Piel cohortative) denotes a “shout” for good or bad, depending on the context. Here it is rejoicing over the military victory accomplished by YHWH (cf. Zephaniah 3:14).

“we will set up our banners” This follows דגל (BDB 186, KB 213, Qal imperfect [found only here in the OT] used in a cohortative sense). It would be an expected welcome procedure for the victorious king and military.

The NET Bible (p. 875) recommends an emendation to another verbal root, נגיל, from BDB 162 with preposition. The NET Bible suggests this fits the parallelism better and also notes Psalms 89:16, where the verb is used in connection with “in Your name.”

“petitions” This rare noun (BDB 982) is found only twice in the OT, here and Psalms 37:4. The verb root (BDB 981) means “ask.” The root occurs in several names (cf. 1 Samuel 9:2, 1 Samuel 9:3, 1 Samuel 9:5; 1 Chronicles 1:48, 1 Chronicles 1:49; 1 Chronicles 4:24; 1 Chronicles 6:24).

Verses 6-9

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 20:6-9 6Now I know that the Lordsaves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven With the saving strength of His right hand. 7Some boast in chariots and some in horses, But we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God. 8They have bowed down and fallen, But we have risen and stood upright. 9Save, O Lord; May the King answer us in the day we call.

Psalms 20:6-9 The psalmist (i.e., the King, a priest, or a collective singular; Psalms 20:9 fits this last option best) affirms his confidence that YHWH will respond appropriately.

1. Now I know BDB 393, KB 390, Qal perfect

2. YHWH saves BDB 446, KB 448, Hiphil perfect

The verb denotes a settled confidence (cf. Psalms 56:9; Psalms 118:6; Romans 8:31-39). YHWH will hear and answer positively (cf. Psalms 20:6b,c). The King and the covenant people are part of a larger universal redemptive plan for all humanity (see Special Topic: YHWH's ETERNAL REDEMPTIVE PLAN).

Psalms 20:6 “His anointed” This is the Hebrew verb “anoint” (BDB 603), which became a popular title for God's Special Coming King (cf. Psalms 2:2; Psalms 18:50). See Special Topics

1. OT Titles of the Special Coming One

2. “Messiah”

“His right hand” This is a Hebrew idiom of power, authority to act. See SPECIAL TOPIC: HAND.

Psalms 20:7 The verb “boast” (BDB 269, KB 269, Hiphil imperfect) is literally “cause to remember.” It denotes that which one trusts in.

1. human power (i.e., chariots, horses, soldiers, weaponry, etc.)

2. YHWH and His promises

Here are some good parallel texts Deuteronomy 20:1; Deuteronomy 31:6, Deuteronomy 31:8; Judges 7:2; 1 Samuel 17:45, 1 Samuel 17:47; 2 Chronicles 20:17; 2 Chronicles 32:8; Psalms 33:16, Psalms 33:17; Psalms 44:2-3, Psalms 44:4-8; Psalms 60:11-12; Psalms 146:3-7; Psalms 147:10; Proverbs 21:31; Isaiah 31:3; Jeremiah 17:5; Zechariah 4:6! What are you trusting in/boasting about?

“We will boast” The verb (BDB 209, KB 209, Hiphil imperfect) means “cause to remember” with the connotation of rejoicing or praising in some past event or blessing or person. The concept of “boasting” is significant in the Bible; note especially Jeremiah 9:23-24. See the use of the concept in Paul's writings in the Special Topic below.


Psalms 20:8 Note the antithetical parallelism. There are consequences to our words/actions!

Psalms 20:9 “Save, O Lord” This is an exclamatory prayer request (BDB 446, KB 448, Hiphil imperative (cf. Psalms 3:7; Psalms 6:4; Psalms 17:13). See Special Topic: Salvation (OT).

“May the King answer us in the day we call” The grammatical form of the verb is a Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense. The LXX and several English translations see it referring to the prayers of the people for the King (cf. Psalms 20:6; Psalms 21:7; NRSV; TEV; NJB; REB) or “King” may refer to YHWH (cf. Targums' UBS Handbook, p. 202; also note Psalms 98:6; Psalms 145:1). See Special Topic: The Kingdom of God.


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. List all the prayer requests that start with “may. . .” in verses Psalms 20:1-5.

2. What does “may He grant you your heart's desire” mean?

3. Does verse Psalms 20:5 imply a military victory? Why?

4. Who is YHWH's “anointed”?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 20". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-20.html. 2021.
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