Saturday, February 16, 2013

Notes on the Psalms – Psalm 21

The first part of Psalm 21 is a beautiful thanksgiving prayer. In verse 1, David, speaking in the third person, rejoices in God's strength and greatly exults in His help. The tone and language elevate throughout this verse. The word for “rejoices” comes from śâmach, which means to be glad and make merry. David does this because of God's strength, His mighty power. But then David says that he greatly exults in God's help. The words for “greatly exults” come from me'ôd, which implies vehemence and wholeness, and from gı̂yl, which literally means to spin around under the influence of great emotion. What is it that makes David so worked up? God's help, according to the text, but the word for “help” is yeshû‛âh, salvation, Yeshuah, God-saves, Jesus. Here, once again, we catch a glimpse of Christ. 

David's thanksgiving continues in verse 2: “You have given him his heart's desire, and have not withheld the request of his lips.” God has answered the king's prayers and not just any prayers but the longing that is at the very core of his being. Further, David has not remained silent about his desires; he places them before God in vocal prayer. 

What are David's desires? We find out in the next few verses as the king enumerates the “rich blessings” with which God has met him. This is an interesting line in the original Hebrew. The literal translation might be something like “For You have preceded him with blessings of goodness.” The word for “met” or “preceded” is qâdam. It suggests anticipation. God knew what David needed even before David asked, and He was waiting for him with His hands full of blessings. These are blessings of goodness or rich blessings. The word for “goodness” or “rich” is ṭôb, which means “good” in the widest sense of the word. This goodness or richness encompasses many aspects; God's blessings are varied, beautiful, sweet, joyful, bountiful, and precious. 

What are these blessings, then? First, God has set a “crown of fine gold” upon David's head. He has give him kingship, authority, and power to act as His representative. With this blessing comes great responsibility and often trials, but God will assist David if the king obeys Him and acts righteously. God has given David life, “length of days forever and ever.” Does David believe in eternal life for those who love God? The Israelites' beliefs in the afterlife were not yet fully formed during David's day, but perhaps the king saw further than most of his contemporaries and anticipated the day when Heaven would be open and life would abound. He may not fully understand, but perhaps he sees a flash of future beatitude. God gives David glory, splendor, and majesty, for God has also given him His “help.” Once again, the word “help” here is really yeshû‛âh, salvation, and as we Christians know, Yeshuah, Jesus. Again, we catch a glimpse of Christ, and we understand that any glory, splendor, or majesty that we have comes not from ourselves but from God and the salvation that He brings us. 

David finishes counting his blessings in verses 6 and 7. God has made him glad with the joy of His presence. The Hebrew text actually says “exceedingly glad.” David's happiness is being in the presence of God, and God's blessings will last forever. David is confident in God's steadfast love and knows that, with God's support, he will not fall or waver. These are the greatest blessings of all: God's presence, God's love, and God's support. 

In verse 8, the tone changes. Although still speaking directly to God, David warns God's enemies what will happen to them if they continue to oppose divinity. First off, God will find His enemies, those who hate Him. They can't hide from Him. His “right hand” will discover them. God's right hand symbolizes His power, authority, and strength. David continues that when God appears, His enemies will be consumed by fire. Even their offspring will perish. God's enemies will not succeed in their wicked plans; they will flee before God's might. 

These verses may make us uncomfortable. We're used to focusing on God's mercy, so it's difficult to read about God as an angry deity. Remember, though, that the Israelites were surrounded by persecuting enemies on all sides. It is natural that they would see God as their avenger. Further, David didn't know as much about God as we do today. God has revealed Himself over time, more and more, according to His people's needs and capacity to understand. He is still doing that with us today. No one will ever grasp the full mystery of God or understand all His different facets. What seems strange and unpleasant to us was probably just what the Israelites needed to hear. 

Recall, too, that we Christians are still beset by enemies on every side, only these are spiritual enemies, the devil and his angels who attack us with cruel vehemence. We can easily pray to God to destroy these foes the way this psalm describes. Which of us wouldn't want to see the devil consumed by God's fire and fleeing before His mighty power? 

Finally, the psalm ends with a prayer for praise: “Be exalted, O Lord, in Your strength! We will sing and praise Your power.” Here David prays, and we pray along with him, that God may be raised up. He is already seated on His throne on high, of course, but He also needs to be seated in the high place, the first place, the seat of honor in each of our lives. May God's strength and power by our support, David prays. May we always sing to Him in thanksgiving and praise Him for His mighty deeds, and even more, for Who His is, the all-powerful, all-loving God.

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