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Psalm 21

The King rejoices in your strength. Lord, how great is his joy in the victories you give! 

You have granted him his heart's desire and have not withheld the request of his lips. You came to greet him with rich blessings and placed a crown of pure gold on his head. He asked you for life and you gave it to him – length of days, forever and ever.

Through the victories you gave, his glory is great; you have bestowed on him splendor and majesty. Surely you have granted him unending blessings and made him glad with the joy of your presence. For the king trusts in the Lord; through the unfailing love of the Most High, he will not be shaken.

Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies; your right hand will seize your foes. When you appear for battle, you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace. The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and his fire will consume. You will destroy their descendants from the earth, their posterity from mankind. Though they plot evil against you and devises wicked schemes, they cannot succeed. You will make them turn their backs when you aim at them with drawn bow. 

Be exalted in your strength, Lord; we will sing and praise your might.

Recently, I have been encouraging my son to expand his praying vocabulary. When he first started to pray on his own, his prayers were all thanksgiving: “Thanks for a great day; Thanks for no rain; Thanks for soccer practice; Thanks for winning. Soccer; Thanks for dinner; And thanks for good sleep....” We have been trying to add to our gratitude and thanksgiving words of praise, as well as prayers of intercession for people who are in need.

One night he asked me, “Dad, why do we pray? Does God really hear us?” This was a beautiful opportunity to teach him about God's sovereign rule over all creation. It was a beautiful opportunity to show him an model of the kind of relationship that God wants us to have with him: like a son to a father, he wants us to come to him.

I was then able to share with him some instances from my own life where I have experienced God answering prayer. But more importantly we also had the opportunity to talk about what the Bible says about coming to God in prayer and to see instances where he answered the prayers of his people.

Psalm 21 is the song of response to the answered prayer of Psalm 20, which ends, “Lord, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!” That the compiler of the Psalter intends for us to see this connection is clear from the first line of Psalm 21, “The King rejoices in your strength. Lord, how great is his joy in the victories you give!” The repetition of the title “King” and the word “victory” between the two psalms underscores for us that Psalm 21 answers the prayers of Psalm 20.

The prayers of the people in Psalm 20 have been answered in God’s provision of the King. Magisterially, David, who offers this song, recognizes that it is even bigger than him. Indeed, David did accomplish significant victories in his reign as king. And yet when David says in verse 4, “He asked you for life, and you gave it to him – the length of days, forever and ever.” or again in verse 6, in using the language of “unending blessings” – this is more than hyperbole. This is the language of 2 Samuel 7 put to song: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (vs. 16) We know this isn't an exaggeration because it is fulfilled in Jesus. With the resurrection of Jesus and his victory over sin and death, with his ascension to the right hand of the Father, all authority on heaven and earth has been given to him (Mt. 28:18); and he does reign forever and ever (Rev. 11:15). What he has received from the Father he has given over to us (Jn. 17:7-8). Jesus’ desire was for those the Father had given him, for his bride – the church (Jn. 6:37-39). And he promises that those who have been given him it will be held on to the end, they will persevere, so that he might receive them as his bride in glory (Jn. 10:27-29). This is his true and better hearts desire (vs. 2)! Because of the unfailing love of the Most High, Jesus did not waver to the left or to the right when the cross was before him. Instead, he was unshaken (vs. 7; cf. Heb. 12:2).

And now for those of us who believe by grace through faith, for those of us who have been adopted as sons and daughters, who are being transformed into the image of his Son, who are being called up into the glory that is the church, we will not be shaken. “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe…” (Heb. 12:28) “We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

For David, this was future hope. For the believer today, this is the current reality is of victory.

And yet we must also recognize that victory requires a foe. The second half of Psalm 21 is this acknowledgement. For many of us, the prosperity of our lives and the relative ease with which we live – to say nothing of the influence of health and wealth ideas of faith – makes the reality of judgment and the punishment of God's enemies hard to understand or even to accept. But to anyone who has experienced serious oppression or anyone who has been on the receiving end of injustices, the truth of God’s judgement is a comfort. Further, because Jesus is a just judge, we can give that responsibility wholly to him. Christians are reminded not to repay evil with evil but to overcome evil with good (Mt. 7:1-2; Rom. 12:17-19). Just as Jesus commands us not to judge others, for in doing so, we risk being judged in return, Christians are called to live at peace with everyone, leaving room for God's righteous judgment (1 Cor. 4:5; Jas. 4:11-12). Instead of seeking revenge, believers are urged to bless those who wrong them, trusting in the Lord's promise to repay according to His perfect justice (Lk. 6:28; 1 Pt. 3:9). As followers of Christ, we are reminded that our role is not to condemn but to demonstrate love, forgiveness, and humility, leaving the ultimate judgment to the one true Judge, who will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will reward each according to their deeds (1 Cor. 4:5; Rom. 12:17-19).

Tying these two halves together: Because Jesus is the king who has already won victory, and because we know he hears and answers prayer, part of living as those who are victorious (cf. Rev. 2&3) means living in obedience to and worship of him and it means we can let go of our grudges and our need for revenge; trusting him in life and death.

And so, we pray…

Lord Jesus, victorious king – you make me victorious. Here the cries of my heart and help me to trust that you will answer. Thank you for being the king of victory and the king who judges justly. Help me to trust you in life and in death. In Jesus’ name, Amen!