The King's Victory
Topic: English Passage: Psalm 20:1-9
As we have been taking a break from our study of First Peter, we have been going through various psalms, some of which you have recommended to me. Like I’ve said before, Psalms have a number of ways that they can be classified, and they touch on a various emotions and circumstances in life. They model for us how to turn to God in all kinds of situations.
Some psalms are very triumphant and joyful. Some psalms express times of sadness, confusion, or frustration.
This morning, I’d like us to turn our attention to what I am calling a battlefield psalm. Most commentators refer to this psalm as a royal psalm or a kingly psalm, and that’s appropriate because of the focus on the king. But the background of the psalm is a battle. Let’s turn to Psalm 20, and while you’re doing that, I want to help us set the context for when a psalm like this might have been used.
The nation of Israel was not a stranger to war. God brought them out of Egypt, through the desert, and into a Land that He had promised them. He had promised it to Abraham and to his descendants. But that land wasn’t empty. There were nations living there.
Those nations rejected God. They refused to worship him and, instead, served their own idols. So, God used the nation of Israel as His instrument of judgment for the continued rebellion of the pagan nations.
The book of Joshua is the story of God granting victory, for the most part, to Israel within the boundaries of the Land He gave them. By the time Joshua ends, they have conquered and divided most of the land, but there remained enemies that needed to be driven out.
Right after Joshua, we get the book of Judges, which chronicles how Israel grew complacent and refused to continue battling for the remainder of the land. As a result, God used those wicked nations to enslave the Israelites for various amounts of time. So, instead of being used by God for judgment on the foreign nations, Israel receives God’s judgment through those nations.
What Israel desperately needed was a national leadership. They needed a king who would unite the nation and lead them, on behalf of God, into battle. Every king had the responsibility to honor God by leading the people into righteousness and defending them from attacks. That’s what every king was supposed to do, from Saul through David and Solomon and all the kings that followed.
As you might imagine, going into battle would bring all sorts of emotions for the king and those in his court, as well as for the men who would fight and the families they represented. A faithful king would honor God with sacrifices and then lead his people into battle.
We aren’t certain if there was a specific battle that prompted the writing of Psalm 20, but I’m sure it was used in subsequent battles. Let’s look at it together. [Psalm 20:1-9]
Anytime you read the Bible, you need to keep in mind where you are within the story of Scripture, but also you need to keep in mind the kind of genre you are looking at. Psalms are different than a narrative or a New Testament epistle. It’s a different genre, so we don’t want to approach it in exactly the same way. Rather than try to dissect every possible phrase, I want us to understand the heart behind what it’s saying. And then, we can reflect that heart in our prayers and in our own battles.
As we look a little more closely at Psalm 20, I’d like to point out two primary characteristics of a battlefield prayer. What does a God-honoring battlefield prayer look like?
Number 1, we see humble dependence. Humble dependence. Humble dependence is the recognition that we can’t do this by ourselves. We need God in order for there to be success. We are completely dependent on Him.
This is the heart behind the first 5 verses of Psalm 20. Humble dependence makes itself known through prayer. In the case of this psalm, the prayer is seeking victory in battle. More specifically, the people are lifting up the king in prayer because he is the leader of the army, and he’s God’s appointed ruler over His people.
The king is the man who mediates God’s rule over God’s people. If the king is righteous and successful, he will lead the people into the blessing God has promised them. So, the people lift him up in prayer.
Let’s read that prayer again in verses 1-5. [Psalm 20:1-5]
There’s a number of requests in those verses, which we’ll get to in a second. But more important than what the prayer is asking is whom the prayer is made to. This is not just a generic wish list. This is a dependent prayer to Almighty God.
God is under no external obligation to hear anyone who comes to Him. That’s why we come in humility. That’s why verse 1 is asking God to answer or hear the prayer. The same sentiment gets repeated at the end of the psalm in verse 9. “May He answer us when we call.”
And obviously, the psalmist expects to be heard; otherwise, he wouldn’t be praying. He knows that this is Yahweh, the Lord. He is the God of Jacob. He is the holy and mighty One who guides and dwells with His people. And He does hear when His people call out to Him.
You need to teach this principle to your children and model it in your own life. Prayer is not a wish list spoken into the sky. It is a genuine, humble petition to the living God who hears His people. You are talking to God, and you are completely dependent on Him. You need Him in order for there to be success. Any blessing in this life is from His hand. So, we go to Him in humble, dependent prayer.
Here in verse 1, it calls Him the God of Jacob. That would be a historical reminder of God’s enduring faithfulness. He was faithful to Abraham. He was faithful to Isaac. He was faithful to Jacob. He was faithful to Joseph. And He was faithful to Moses.
Those men weren’t perfect, but God’s kept His promises to them and to their descendants. So, it makes sense that now, generations later, God’s people can still call out to Him.
What are they asking for? On behalf of their king, the people are asking for protection. That’s what the end of verse 1 says. Verse 2 says they want help and support. They want God to demonstrate that He is on their side. They want victory. Verse 3 says they want God to remember the king’s sacrifices. In other words, show him favor. Verse 4 is a prayer that God would fulfill their king’s God-honoring plans and desires.
Verse 5 steps back a little, praying not just for the king, but for themselves as his people. They want joy. They want satisfaction. They want their banners set up in the name of God.
Banners are the flags that would be placed at the top of a pole when an army went out to war. It was a symbol of who was fighting. If an army loses, the banners fall. But if an army wins, those banners get set up everywhere in celebration.
Israel’s banner wasn’t symbolic of its own power. Their banner was a reminder that they were on God’s side. So, they pray in verse 5: “May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners.” They knew that as they were fulfilling God’s will, they would receive His blessing.
That expectation of joy and salvation leads us into the second portion of the psalm, which gives us a second component of this battlefield prayer. The first component was humble dependence. The second component is mighty confidence. Mighty confidence.
Dependence and confidence might sound like opposites. But they don’t have to be when they are focused on something outside of yourself. You can’t be self-confident and fully dependent on something else at the same time. But if you are completely dependent on something, you can, at the same time, be confident in it as well.
The confidence that marks the second half of Psalm 20 is not self-confidence. It’s a confidence in the faithful, powerful God who will fulfill His promises.
Let’s look at verses 6-9 of Psalm 20. This is a response of confidence. [Psalm 20:6-9]
This goes from being a prayer of petition to being a declaration of confidence. What is it that the Lord will do for His king and for His people?
Verse 6 says He will save. He will answer. The God of heaven has placed His anointed representative upon the earth, and God’s strength will be made known. That’s what the right hand represents for the Hebrews. God’s power will be made known in victory.
In verse 7, the true confidence of the Israelites is contrasted with the false confidence of their enemies. They trust in chariots and horses, but we trust in the name of Yahweh our God.
This psalm isn’t saying that it’s wrong to have horses and chariots. In fact, Israel had trained warriors for battle. But the distinction being made is that our final confidence is not in those external things; it’s in God. In answer to the petitions from first half of the psalm, God will give a victory. So, we trust in Him.
It’s always important, especially in tough times, to pause and evaluate what it is we’re trusting in? What are you trusting in for your life? For food and clothing? For a home? For your finances? For your health? For your marriage? For your kids? Where is your final trust, and how do you know that’s the case? Think about that.
Israel’s enemies will collapse. That’s what verse 8 says. They will come in arrogance and pride, and they will be brought down. They will fall. They will lie lifeless on the battlefield, but we will rise, says the psalmist. We’re gonna stand. What a graphic contrast, and what a mighty declaration of confidence.
If you’ve ever heard an athlete talk like this before a game or before a match, you might think it’s completely arrogant. And it probably is. We say it’s presumption because nobody really knows how that match is going to end until it actually ends. And maybe you’ve seen boxers or MMA fighters run their mouth in arrogance only to be left unconscious on the floor.
How is this confident declaration any different? Well, for one, like we said already, it’s not a self-confidence. It is a victory the people anticipate, but it’s not a victory the people take credit for. God gets the glory. Secondly, this victory is not simply desired or expected, it has already been guaranteed by God. That was His promise to His people in their land. If the Israelites were walking in righteousness, Yahweh would watch over them in the Land. So, they are filled with confidence. God will hear us, and He will give us the victory. God’s people will win the battle. So, again, there’s humble dependence and there’s a mighty confidence.
Now, how do we, who are not Israelites, apply a psalm like this? Can we pray like this? Well, in a broad sense, the themes of victory and sustaining aren’t new. But, as New Testament Christians, we need to make sure we’re not applying those themes in the wrong way.
You and I are going to go through many difficulties and many battles in this life. Our marriages will have struggles. We will deal with difficulties regarding our health, and our finances, and our children, and our churches. Does this Psalm apply to those battles?
In some ways, maybe. But in other way, this isn’t going to apply in exactly the same way. God had guaranteed Israel victory in battle if the nation was walking in righteousness in the Land. Israel was the instrument of God’s judgment on wicked nations in that part of the land. And they were the blessed nation through which God would one day bless the world.
Now, we serve the same God, but we are not Israel. We are Gentiles. There are physical blessings God promised Israel that don’t apply to us at this time. This is one of the errors of the prosperity gospel, or even what some call the therapeutic gospel. We can’t take the physical promises of God to Israel in the Old Testament and assume that means God is going to do the same for us today. We can pray for that, but we can’t presume on that.
There may be many small victories in this life, and we should pray for that and praise God for that. But Psalm 20 doesn’t mean that we will win every battle we hope to win. Many of the specific battles we face haven’t been guaranteed a victory by God.
A Christian athlete has no guarantee from God that he’s going to defeat an unbelieving opponent. On a larger scale, there is no guarantee that this nation, the United States is going to win every battle or war we step into. This Psalm also doesn’t mean that you as a Christian are not going to face opposition from this world. Jesus said we would be persecuted. This life is filled with sorrow.
There is, however, one victory that God has guaranteed for us. And that victory is the victory over sin. The nation of Israel placed its confidence in the king, the anointed. But none of the Old Testament kings were perfect. We now know who the true King of Israel is. He is the Messiah. He is the Christ. Those are the Hebrew and Greek words for Anointed. Our King is Jesus Christ. He has brought, and He will bring, victory over sin.
We are to be dependent on God for every aspect of life. But our greatest dependency on God, something which we should never forget, is our need to be freed from sin.
Sin makes a person an enemy of God. Sin, to any degree, deserves eternal judgment, because it’s rebellion against an infinitely holy God. But God sent Jesus Christ to save us from our sin. He paid the price of death and humiliation and separation from the Father, so that sinners would be forgiven and accepted into the family of God. Jesus was raised from the dead in victory, giving us the assurance of what He had accomplished.
If you surrender your life to Jesus Christ, believing that He died to pay the penalty you deserve and that He was raised from the dead in glory, God will give you victory over sin. You will be freed from the penalty of sin, and you will begin a journey freeing you more and more from the power of sin.
That’s the journey you are on if you belong to Jesus. We fight sin every day. We have the capacity to defeat it in a moment, but we don’t sustain that very long. We sin regularly. But we are grateful that Christ forgives and restores. And the work He began in us will be completed one day. We will lose battles to sin. But in the end, because of Jesus, we will win.
There’s a humble dependency, knowing that we need to rely on Jesus at all times, and there’s a mighty confidence because we know victory will come. Sin will be eradicated from our lives and from this world. Jesus Christ will come in all His glory and we will take part in a final victory.
We can look around and see the attacks against God form individuals and from the governing authorities. We have people and systems fighting against God’s truth. And as grievous as that is, we know how it’s going to end.
The nations of this world will unite against the God who created them, and they will exalt themselves in arrogance. They will think they’ve won. But Revelation 19 tells us that the multitudes in heaven will say “Hallelujah!” because Christ will come in victory. And God’s people will rejoice.
In Revelation 20, there is a final battle against the army of Satan, but they will be devoured by fire. All those who oppose Christ will be judged, and all those who belong to Christ will spend eternity in a new heavens and a new earth without any sickness, without any death, and without any sin. We will be victorious.
Jesus said, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”
The Apostle John says it like this in 1 John 5: “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?”
Throughout this life, we walk in humble dependence. But in anticipation of the victory that Christ has guaranteed for us, we walk in strong confidence. We will win this battle in the end because we belong to Christ. We will be victorious.
In celebration of that victory, we have Psalm 21, the very next psalm. These are linked Psalms. Obviously, they’re linked by being next to one another. But they’re also linked by the theme of salvation and victory. Psalm 20 was a prayer and an expectation of salvation, and Psalm 21 is a praise for the salvation God has brought. Psalm 20 would have taken place before the battle. Psalm 21 takes place after the battle.
We aren’t going to look at it in depth, but we are going to read it. This is a psalm praising God for the victory he has given His people, and praising Him for the promised future victory as well. And those victories have come through the King.
And as we read it, keep in mind that originally it might have sounded poetic for the Israelite king. But now that Christ has been revealed, this psalm finds its true fulfilment in Him. Listen for the way this psalm of victory points us to the Resurrection of Jesus and to the Second Coming.
Let me read it, and then we’ll close in prayer. [Psalm 21:1-13]