Theme: Prayer for the King
In this week’s lessons we learn what kind of people our leaders should be, and how we should pray for those whom God has put in authority over us.
Scripture: Psalm 20:1-9
I have said that the first five verses are a prayer for Israel’s king. Yet strictly speaking, they are not a prayer to God so much as words directed to the king himself, assuring him that the people believe in him and want God to answer his petitions.
The key word here is “may.” It occurs six times, introducing six fervent desires on the people’s part: 1) “May the LORD answer you when you are in distress” (v. 1); 2) “May the name of the God of Jacob protect you” (v. 1); 3) “May he send you help from the sanctuary” (v. 2); 4) “May he remember all your sacrifices” (v. 3); 5) “May he give you the desire of your heart” (v.4); and 6) “May the LORD grant all your requests” (v. 5). As I say, these words are directed to the king more than to God. Yet they really are prayers in spite of their form, since the people clearly want God to deliver, protect and bless their monarch and are obviously echoing his prayers for these things.
Something else is striking about these verses, and that is the picture of the king that emerges. For one thing, he is a man of prayer himself. We do not know the circumstances of the original composition of this psalm, but it seems to have a setting in which the king is praying before the tabernacle or temple prior to going out to battle, and the people are standing about him at a slight distance joining in his petitions. In other words, he is leading them in prayer. If this is a psalm of David, as the title says it is, we have no difficulty believing that David would have done this.
Second, the king is religiously devout, for he is offering sacrifices. It is possible for both sacrifices and prayers to be mere form, of course, but there is nothing in the psalm that would make us think that of this situation. A nation is blessed if it is favored with such godly leaders.
What about our country? America had many such people at one time. Today it is fashionable, even among evangelicals, to decry the religious foundations of our nation, pointing out that many of our founding fathers were deists, skeptics or outright unbelievers. That is true. But in our desire to correct a dishonest national mythology we have frequently forgotten the genuine open faith of many of our country’s leading figures.
In Philadelphia, when the vote for American independence was taken on July 4, 1776, there was a moment of solemn silence after which Samuel Adams spoke. He voiced what many were thinking: “We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and . . . from the rising to the setting sun. May his kingdom come.”3
Even Benjamin Franklin, who was not a Christian but who had deep respect for many who were, broke a serious deadlock in the debate over the American Constitution in 1787 by calling for daily prayer. He was eighty-one years old at the time. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention did pray, and God again did answer. The result was the first written constitution in history in which representatives of a people sat down to devise the principles and laws by which they would be governed. Our Constitution became a monument to freedom and an inspiration for millions who yearn for it.
We have fallen a long way from those early days of divine blessing. It is hard to point to many contemporary leaders who are genuinely prayerful or devout or who openly seek God’s blessing on national affairs.
What do the people want God to do for their king?
Describe the king portrayed in Psalm 20. What characteristics does he possess?
How did prayer play a part in the drafting of the American Constitution?
Reflection: How do the characteristics of the king referred to in Psalm 20 compare with those of what seem to be the majority of our political leaders today?
3Charles E. Kistler, This Nation Under God (Boston: The Gorham Press, 1924), p. 71. Quoted by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Power and the Glory (Old Tappan, NJ: Revel, 1977), p. 309.