Theme: Thanksgiving for Future Victories
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
The second stanza of Psalm 21 corresponds to the second stanza of Psalm 20, though there are some differences. In Psalm 20 the speaker is apparently an individual, and while this could be the case in Psalm 21, it is not made explicit. In Psalm 20 the speaker uses the present tense, anticipating the victory that has been prayed for and is expected to be given. In Psalm 21 the tense is future, anticipating the victories yet to come.8 In spite of these differences, the tone of the two sections is very much alike, however. Both express confidence in God to protect the king and people in coming days as he has done in the past. In Psalm 21 this confidence follows naturally on the reference to the covenant in verse 7.
The only real problem with this section is the identity of the person being addressed (“you” and “your”), but it is not important. The person could be the king, in which case the stanza would mean that God would give him power over his enemies so they might be completely overthrown. Future victories would complete the work begun. Or the person could be God himself, in which case the stanza means that God will achieve this final victory. In the final analysis, the debate involves a distinction without a difference, because in any case it is God who works through the king.
Whatever the proper identity of the person addressed in verses 8-12 may be, there is no doubt at all about the one addressed in the final verse, which is where the psalm ends. He is God alone, all attention now being directed upward from man and anything man can do to God and God’s strength: “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength; we will sing and praise your might” (v. 13).
We need to learn from this as Christians, particularly in respect to our prayers for political and church leaders. Usually, we make one of two serious errors in regard to them. Either we have little or no respect for them and do not value them, which we show by failing to pray for them. Or else we think too highly of them and are therefore disillusioned or crushed when we discover in time that they are only mere sinful human beings, as we are.
We would not do either if we would follow the pattern set by Psalms 20 and 21. Psalm 20 is a prayer for the leader God has given. The people value him and want his plans to succeed. They know that his success is their success, his victory is their victory. Since no one can succeed without God’s help and intervention, they are faithful in their prayers for him. Psalm 21 thanks God for this intervention, and it rightly focuses on him, not the king. In both the intercession and the thanksgiving the people see their leader in the proper light and do what they should do in the exercise of their own spiritual responsibility. “O LORD, save the king!” they say. They want God to bless their leaders, to prosper them and to give success to their projects. But they also say of God, “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength.” This means that only God will be exalted and that our successes as leaders and as a people will only come when they are in his service and are given to us by him.
How do we generally pray for our leaders? What are the two errors we can make concerning how we regard them?
What does this passage teach us about praying for those in authority?
Key Point: They want God to bless their leaders, to prosper them and to give success to their projects. But they also say of God, “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength.” This means that only God will be exalted and that our successes as leaders and as a people will only come when they are in his service and are given to us by him.
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8In the Hebrew text the tenses in Psalm 20:6-8 are perfects, though they are rightly translated by present tense English verbs since they refer to a victory which, though certain, had not yet finally occurred (“The LORD is saving his anointed”). The tenses of the Hebrew verbs in Psalm 21:8-12 are imperfects, which could also be rendered by present tense English verbs but in the context seem to require explicitly future translations.