A Meditation on Psalm 20
May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob protect you!
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and give you support from Zion!
May he remember all your offerings
and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah
May he grant you your heart's desire
and fulfill all your plans!
May we shout for joy over your salvation,
and in the name of our God set up our banners!
May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!
Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed;
he will answer him from his holy heaven
with the saving might of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.
O Lord, save the king!
May he answer us when we call.
Psalm 20 is a benediction, a type of psalm that we have not yet seen in the psalter. If you remember that the psalms are prayers, then Psalm 20 is different from what you would normally expect out of a prayer. In fact, go back and reread the psalm bearing in mind that it is a prayer. Does it strike you like the kind of prayer that you would pray or the kind of prayer that you would hear in the worship assembly?
The psalm’s defining feature, of course, is that most of it is not addressed to the Lord. David spends most of his prayer addressing a third party. Only the next to last line is directed to the Lord: “O Lord, save the king!”
Psalm 20 may challenge what we think is an acceptable form of address in prayer. Indeed, the Lord is the normal addressee of prayer in the Scriptures, but Psalm 20 demonstrates that it is possible and acceptable to address others in the context of a prayer.
In this, Psalm 20 is not unique. There are other benedictions. In Num 6.24-26, for example, Aaron addresses blessings to the congregation of Israel. There are prayers other than benedictions that address the congregation. Ezra’s great prayer of repentance in Ezra 9.6-15 begins by addressing the Lord but turns briefly to address the congregation in verses 8 and 9 (and arguably verse 7 as well). Even the sections of the prayer that address the Lord in the second person are clearly aimed at the congregation, especially verses 10-14.
We shouldn’t misunderstand: these prayers are not being offered to the people they are addressing. That would be idolatry. Acceptable prayer is always offered to God, even prayers that largely do not address God. So what is the point of addressing someone else in a prayer that you are offering to God?
From the examples we find in Scripture, we can discern that the aim of these prayers is to invoke the Covenant over the people being addressed. Ezra calls the people to covenant faithfulness. Aaron invokes covenant blessings on the people and David on the king (yes, himself). Again, though, we must wonder why these men chose to pray what they could have delivered as a simple address.
I suspect that Aaron, Ezra, and David use these prayers to invoke the Covenant in God’s presence and hearing. That’s not to say that anyone is ever truly apart from God or outside of His hearing, but we understand that prayer marks a special degree of access to the Lord. Aaron, Ezra, and David use that access to remind the congregation that they are indeed in the Lord’s presence and that He will uphold His end of the Covenant—whether for good or ill.
As we have said, Psalm 20 addresses its blessings to the king. We see this in the next to final line, and we also see it in these lines: “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed [i.e., the king]; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving might of His right hand.” Every once in awhile, we note that the biblical pattern of prayer includes praying for the wellbeing and success of our rulers (cf. 1 Tim 2.1-4), and we always challenge ourselves to offer such prayers even for unpopular officials. Have you ever given thanks for the mayor? For your congressman (yea, even Charlie Christ)? Your Senator? The President? It’s easy to do. Psalm 20 invites us to up our game considerably by not only praying for our leaders but to invoke the Lord’s blessings in an address to them. Perhaps you have written letters to your elected officials. That’s also easy to do. So why not write them a letter that invokes the Lord’s blessings on them?
May the Lord answer us when we call.