On first impression, a psalm describing a king preparing for battle and a petition for victory may not seem relevant to most of us. Is David giving his blessing to violence or power? We may struggle with this idea. Yet an honest engagement with the psalm can teach us about ourselves and the human condition that is consistent across these three thousand years.
As the king prepares for battle, there is a humility and dependence on God and a need for protection. Violence is a part of human nature. Many persons of faith find themselves in the presence of violence and call upon the honest words of the psalmist for answers in times of trouble, for protection in the face of harm.
As kings prepared for battle, they would first enter the sanctuary to offer sacrifices to God. In our cynicism, we may view this as asking for divine blessing of human intentions. But it may also be a lesson to us that we need to purify our intentions, set aside our egos, and place our plans in submission to God.
Psalm 20 is a prayer for victory, but it clearly acknowledges our human limitations and our need for God’s help. In warfare, horses and chariots are crucial resources. The warrior can see them, measure them, and come to depend on them. But the psalmist calls us to trust not in horses or chariots—in other words, our own human power—but in God.
The reader of Psalm 20 enters into a text that is on the surface about battle and victory. But as we move more deeply into these petitions and prayers, we encounter purification, humility, trust, and dependence on a strength that is not our own. In the subtle ways we are tempted to do violence and abuse power, we can learn again and again from the Psalms.
O God, help me to trust not in external power but in your unseen strength that is always with me. Amen.
From a human perspective, we tend to judge people by appearances: how attractive they are, how wealthy they seem to be. God’s standard, however, is not outward appearance but the attitude of the heart. David was the youngest brother in his family, but God knew his mighty heart and chose him as the next king of Israel. The psalmist declares that God gives victory to those who put their trust in God, not in the outward appearance of might. Jesus reinforces this truth with the parable of the mustard seed. Paul tells the Corinthians that we should no longer judge by what we see on the outside, for God changes what really matters—what is on the inside.
Read 1 Samuel 15:34–16:13. When have outward appearances prevented you from seeing someone’s value as a child of God?
Read Psalm 20. How do you discern whether your “heart’s desire” is in line with what God wants for your life?
Read 2 Corinthians 5:6-17. In what ways are you “urged on” by the love of Christ? How do you behave differently because you know Christ’s love?
Read Mark 4:26-34. When have you seen God make much of a small gift that you offered?
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