Theme: Lest We Forget to Thank God
In this week’s lessons we see that prayer is not only to be offered to the Lord when we are in need of his help, but it is also to be offered in thanks for his goodness and faithfulness to us.
Scripture: Psalm 21:1-13
Since Psalm 21 is a prayer of national thanksgiving, it suggests another illustration. The great poet Rudyard Kipling was asked to write a poem to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria in 1897. It had been a splendid occasion. High government officials and soldiers from all over the empire had assembled in London, along with nearly two hundred ships of the Royal Navy. They had come through a great century, and everyone was now praising England and her queen. But Kipling wrote,
God of our fathers, known of old, Lord of our far-flung battle line,Beneath whose awful hand we hold dominion over palm and pine—Lord God of hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget—lest we forget!
Far-called, our navies melt away; on dune and headland sinks the fire:Lo, all our pomp of yesterday in one with Nineveh and Tyre!Judge of the Nations, spare us yet, lest we forget—lest we forget!1
Kipling understood that nations, like individuals, forget God and need always to be reminded to thank him. But he was not liked for having said so. In fact, popular opinion had it that Kipling was passed by in the search for a new Poet Laureate because of this “Recessional.”
The first section of Psalm 21 (vv. 1-7) corresponds to the first section of Psalm 20. In the earlier psalm the people were addressing themselves to their king but were in effect asking God to hear the king’s prayers and grant victory in the battle that was coming. The first section of Psalm 21 is an explicit prayer directed to God to give thanks for the victory. That is why verse 5 refers to “the victories you gave.”
Who is speaking in this section? This is not so easy to determine. It could be the king himself, speaking in the third person, as kings do. Derek Kidner thinks it is the king.2 It could be someone speaking for the king, a priest, for example. Peter C. Craigie suggests this possibility.3 It could also be the people themselves, the congregation. The majority of commentators probably incline this way and, in fact, there is nothing in the psalm that could not have been spoken by this worshiping congregation. The fact that the people are speaking at the start of Psalm 20 suggests that they may also be speaking at the start of this one, and it is certainly clear that they are the ones speaking at the end since the last verse uses the first person plural pronoun: “We will sing and praise your might.”
What are the specific blessings for which the people (or king) give thanks in this section? There are six of them, one in each of the first six
1. Victory through God’s strength (v. 1). The previous psalm had asked for victory, not through chariots and horses in which the heathen trust but in the name and by the power of God. This is precisely the blessing God gave.
It is not wrong to emphasize victory above the other items also listed, since victory is what was fervently prayed for earlier and since it is mentioned in this psalm, not only in verse 1 (“How great is his [the king’s] joy in the victories you give”) but also in verse 5. (“Through the victories you gave, his glory is great.”) Craigie says, “The military victory which the king appeared to win in battle was in reality the victory which God, in his might, had granted.”4
How does the first section of Psalm 21 correspond with the first section of the previous psalm?
In the first section of this psalm, verses 1-7, what is the first specific blessing for which God is given thanks? Why is this theme emphasized?
Reflection: Why was Kipling’s poem received as it was? What similarities do you see in our own country today?
1Rudyard Kipling, “Recessional” in George K. Anderson and William E. Buckler, The Literature of England (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1953, 1967), p. 1134.2Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity), 1973), p. 103.3Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 189.4Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 190.