Theme: Assurance of the King’s Success
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
The second stanza of Psalm 20 is the section spoken in the first person singular, perhaps by the king himself, as some scholars think,4 or, more likely, by one of the nation’s priests.5 It is an assurance that God hears and will answer the king’s (and people’s) prayers.
The heart of this section is verse 7 which compares Israel’s trust in God to the confidence the pagan nations surrounding them had in their arms: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Later in her history, particularly under Solomon who raised extensive cavalry units and built large forts to garrison them, Israel became very much like her neighbors. But Deuteronomy 17:16 had said that the kings of Israel were not to trust in or even acquire horses, and at the beginning they did not do so.6 Their faith was in God, and the God they trusted gave victories.
The history of Israel had been a long experience of God’s powerful and timely intervention to save the people from hostile adversaries. Abraham was no warrior. He was a Bedouin chief with no army at all, only loyal servants. Yet when the four kings of the east attacked Sodom and the other cities of the Dead Sea plain, carrying off Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family, the patriarch pursued their armies with 318 of his men, fell on them by night and routed them, recovering Lot, his family and the spoil. It was a brave move, but it was not Abraham’s courage that gave victory. It was God himself, as Melchizedek, God’s priest, reminded Abraham when he returned from the battle (Gen. 14:20).
The deliverance of the people from Egypt was a spectacular example of God’s strong intervention. The Jews were only a mixed rabble of slaves at the time. The Egyptians were the mightiest oppressors of their day. Yet God delivered Israel through ten great plagues and destroyed the pursuing armies of the Pharaoh. Moses composed a song about it which starts, “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Exod. 15:1, 2).
Joshua’s experience at Jericho, when the walls of the city fell by God’s will, and the subsequent conquest of the promised land, fit the same pattern. So do Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites with just a handful of soldiers, and young David’s killing of Goliath. It was no empty boast or groundless hope for the future when the psalmist wrote these lines.
Compare Israel’s trust in God with the confidence of Israel’s pagan neighbors.
What are some examples of situations in which God intervened for the Israelites?
Reflection: Review what Deuteronomy 17:16 says about horses. Why do you think this command seems to have not been kept later on in Israel’s history?
4See Derek 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. 101.5See Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 185. Others allow for either possibility, for example, J. J. Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 229. Original edition 1878-1879.6The difference between the way the Jewish armies fought in David’s time and before (on foot) and the way they fought from the time of King Solomon’s rule and afterward (with chariot and cavalry units) argues for an early date and thus also a Davidic authorship for the psalm.