Psalm 20 Bible Commentary

John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible

(Read all of Psalm 20)
To the chief Musician, a Psalm of David. This psalm is thought, by some, to be written by David, on account of himself, and as a form to be used by the people for him, when he was about to go to war; particularly with the Ammonites and Syrians, 2 Samuel 10:6; mention being made of chariots in it, Psalm 20:7; of which there was a great number in that war: Arama thinks it was made by him when he got the victory over the Philistines; others think it was written by one of the singers on David's account, and should be rendered, "a psalm, for David," as Psalm 72:1: but rather it is a psalm concerning David; concerning the Messiah, whose name is David; or a psalm of David concerning the Messiah, since he is expressly mentioned, Psalm 20:6; and Aben Ezra says, there are some that interpret it of the Messiah; and some passages in it are, by Jewish writers {m}, applied unto him, as Psalm 20:6; and our countryman, Mr. Ainsworth, says, the whole psalm is a prophecy of Christ's sufferings, and his deliverance out of them, for which the church with him triumphs. Theodoret takes it to be a prophecy of Sennacherib's invasion of Judea, and of Rabshakeh's blasphemy, and of Hezekiah's distress and prayer on that account.

{m} Shirhashirim Rabba, fol. 18. 1. Tzeror Hammor, fol. 44. 2.

Verse 1. The Lord hear thee in the day of trouble,.... All the days of Christ were days of trouble; he was a brother born for adversity; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with griefs; he had his own sorrows, and he bore the griefs of others; he was persecuted by Herod in his infancy; he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness; he was harassed by the Scribes and Pharisees continually; he was grieved at the hardness, impenitence, and unbelief, of that perverse and faithless generation of men, and was sometimes made uneasy by his own disciples: at some particular seasons his soul or spirit is said to be troubled, as at the grave of Lazarus, and when in a view of his own death, and when he was about to acquaint his disciples that one of them should betray him, John 11:33; but more particularly it was a day of trouble with him, when he was in the garden, heavy, and sore amazed, and his sweat was, as it were, drops of blood falling on the ground, and his soul was exceeding sorrowful, even unto death; but more especially this was his case when he hung upon the cross, and is what seems to be principally respected here; when he was in great torture of body through the rack of the cross; when he endured the cruel mockings of men, of the common people, of the chief priests, and even of the thieves that suffered with him; when he had Satan, and all his principalities and powers, let loose upon him, and he was grappling with them; when he bore all the sins of his people, endured the wrath of his Father, and was forsaken by him: now in this day of trouble, both when in the garden and on the cross, he prayed unto his Father, as he had been used to do in other cases, and at other times; and the church here prays, that God would hear and answer him, as he did: he always heard him; he heard him at the grave of Lazarus; he heard him in the garden, and filled his human soul with courage and intrepidity, of which there were immediate instances; he heard him on the cross, and helped him as man and Mediator, Isaiah 49:8;

the name of the God of Jacob defend thee; that is, God himself, who is named the God of Jacob, whom Jacob called upon, and trusted in as his God, and who answered him in the day of his distress: Jacob was exercised with many troubles, but the Lord delivered him out of them all; and which may be the reason why the Lord is addressed under this character here; besides, Israel is one of the names of the Messiah, Isaiah 49:3; on whose account the petition is put to which may be added, that Jacob may design people of God, the spiritual sons of Jacob, the church of the living God, whose God the Lord is; and the phrase may be here used by the church, to encourage her faith in prayer: the petition, on account of the Messiah, is, that God would "defend" him, or "set" him on "an high place" {n}; or "exalt" him: he was brought very low in his state of humiliation; he was in the form of a servant; he was in a very low and mean condition throughout the whole of his life; through the suffering of death he was made lower than the angels, and he was laid in the lower parts of the earth: the church, in this petition, prays for his resurrection from the dead; for his ascension into the highest heavens; for his exaltation at the right hand of God; for the more visible setting him on his throne in his kingdom; in all which she has been answered.

{n} Kbgvy "elevet te," Pagninus, Montanus; "exaltet te," Vatablus, Museulus, Michaelis; "in edito collocet te," Junius & Tremellius, Piscator; so Ainsworth.

Verse 2. Send thee help from the sanctuary,.... Meaning either from the tabernacle, the holy place, where was the ark, the symbol of the divine Presence; or rather heaven, the habitation of God's holiness unless the same is meant by it as by Zion, in the next clause, the church of God, from whence he sends the rod of his strength;

and strengthen thee out of Zion; and the "help" and "strength" prayed for are not to be understood of that assistance and support, which Christ, as man, had from his Father, at the time of his sufferings, which were promised him, and he believed he should have, and had, Psalm 89:21; since these petitions follow that which relates to his exaltation; but of the help and strength afforded to the apostles and ministers of Christ, after they had received the commission from him to preach the Gospel to every creature; when, as a full answer to these petitions, God worked with them, greatly assisted them, strengthened them with strength in their souls; confirmed the word with signs and wonders following; made it the power of God to salvation to multitudes; and so strengthened the cause, interest, and kingdom of the Redeemer.

Verse 3. Remember all thy offerings,.... The spiritual sacrifices of prayer and praise which Christ, as the great High Priest, offers up for his people; or which they offer by him, and are acceptable to God through him, by virtue of the incense of his mediation; or the offering up of himself, which answers to, and is the body, the sum and substance, of all the offerings of the law; they were types of this, and what they could not do this did; and therefore it is expressed in the singular number in the next clause;

and accept thy burnt sacrifice. The word rendered "accept" signifies to "reduce to ashes" {o}; and the way in which it was known that sacrifices were acceptable to God was by fire coming down from heaven upon them and consuming them, Leviticus 9:24; and therefore the word is rightly rendered "accept"; and Christ's sacrifice of himself, putting away sin, and perfecting for ever them that are sanctified, is of a sweet smelling savour to God; for hereby his justice is satisfied, his law is magnified and made honourable, the sins of his people are atoned for, their persons are accepted, and their sacrifices of prayer and praise come up also with acceptance to him through the virtue of this sacrifice; and so these petitions have their accomplishment.

Selah; on this word, See Gill on "Ps 3:2."

{o} hnvdy "incineret," Pagninus, Montanus, Cocceius; "in cinerem vertat," Vatablus; so Junius & Tremellius, Piscator, Gejerus, Ainsworth.

Verse 4. Grant thee according to thine own heart,.... Which is to see his seed, the travail of his soul, and to have the pleasure of the Lord prosper in his hand; to have all his people called, preserved, and glorified;

and fulfil all thy counsel; whatever was agreed upon in the council and covenant of peace between him and his Father, relating to his own glory, and the salvation of his people.

Verse 5. We will rejoice in thy salvation,.... That is, "so will we," &c. or "that we may" {p}, &c. or "let us"; these words, with what follow, point at the end of the church's requests, and what she resolved to do upon the accomplishment of the above things; for instance, she would rejoice in the salvation of the Messiah; meaning either the salvation and deliverance from death and the grave, and all other enemies, which he himself is possessed of, and which enters into, and is the occasion of the joy of his people; for not his sufferings and death only, but chiefly his resurrection from the dead, session at God's right hand, and intercession for them, cause the triumph of faith in him, and further the joy of it, Romans 8:33; or else the salvation he is the author of, which being so great, so suitable, so complete and perfect, and an everlasting one; is matter of joy to all sensible of their need of it, and who have a comfortable hope of interest in it;

and in the name of our God we will set up [our] banners; either as a preparation for war; see Jeremiah 51:27; so when Caesar {q} set up his banner, it was a sign to his soldiers to run to their arms and prepare to fight; and then the sense is, putting our trust in the Lord, relying on his strength, and not on our own, we will cheerfully and courageously engage with all his and our enemies, sin, Satan, and the world; as good soldiers of Christ, we will endure hardness, fight his battles under the banners of the Lord of hosts, in whose service we are enlisted; or as a sign of victory, when standards were set up, and flags hung out {r}; see Jeremiah 50:2; and then the meaning is, Christ, the great Captain of our salvation, having obtained a complete victory over all enemies, and made us more than conquerors thereby, we will set up our banners, hang out the flag, and in his name triumph over sin, Satan, the world, death, and hell;

the Lord fulfil all thy petitions: the same as in Psalm 20:4; this is put here to show that the church will be in such a frame as before described, when the Lord shall have fulfilled all the petitions of his Anointed; of which she had a full assurance, as appears from the following words.

{p} So Ainsworth; hnnrn "ovemus," Vatablus, Piscator, Michaelis; "cantemus," Gejerus. {q} De Bello Gallico, l. 2. c. 20. {r} Schindler. Pentaglott. col. 1126.

Verse 6. Now know I that the Lord saveth his Anointed,.... Not David, though he was the anointed of the God of Jacob, and was anointed with material oil to be king of Israel by Samuel, at the express order of God himself; but David is not here speaking of himself, nor the church of him, but of the Messiah; anointed by Jehovah king over his holy hill of Zion, with the oil of gladness, or the Holy Spirit. The church in prayer rises in her faith, and is strongly assured of the salvation of the Messiah; that though his troubles would be many and great, he should be delivered out of them all; should be heard and helped in the day of salvation, and be freed from the sorrows of death and hell, he should be encompassed with; that he should be raised from the dead; have all power in heaven and earth given him; ascend on high, and triumph over all his enemies; and all his people, all the members of his body, should be saved through him, which is in a sense the salvation of himself;

he will hear him from his holy heaven; where his throne and temple are, which is the habitation of his holiness, whither the prayers of the Messiah when on earth ascended, where they were received, heard, and answered. Before the church prays that he might be heard, now she believes he would; and that,

with the saving strength of his right hand; that is, by the exertion of his mighty power, in strengthening him as man to bear up under his sorrows, go through his work, and finish it; by upholding him with his right hand while engaged in it, and by raising him up from the dead with it, and setting him down at it in the highest heavens.

Verse 7. Some [trust] in chariots, and some in horses,.... That is, in chariots and horses prepared for war; which, besides their use for carriage, did great annoyance to the enemy in battle, and were very terrible to them, and were greatly trusted in by those that possessed them, Deuteronomy 20:1; such chariots as were called "currus falcati," that had scythes at the sides of them, which being drove with fury among the infantry, cut them down as grass is mown with scythes; such the old Canaanites used, which were very terrible, Joshua 17:16; and horses trained up for war do much execution in a battle by pawing and trampling; see Job 39:21; though these are vain things for safety, and not to be depended on, for salvation and victory are of the Lord, Psalm 33:17; and such are the chariots and horses of the sun, and the idols in which the Gentiles trusted, 2 Kings 23:11; and all external things in which men depend for salvation, as fleshly privileges, outward works of righteousness, morality, a profession of religion, a round of duties, &c. all which are disclaimed by those who know the way of life and salvation by Christ, Hosea 14:3;

but we will remember the name of the Lord our God; not any of the names by which the Lord God is called, as Elohim, Elshaddai, Jehovah, and the like; though each of these are worthy of remembrance, and greatly serve to encourage faith in him; but rather the perfections of God, such as the goodness, wisdom, and power of God, which are to be remembered and confided in; and not the friendship of princes, the schemes of human policy, and the outward forces of strength; or else God himself is intended, whose name is himself, and is a strong tower to the righteous: and to remember him is to bear him in mind, and not forget him; to have the desires of the soul towards him, and to the remembrance of him; and to make mention of him, of his names, attributes, word, and works; which is both for his glory and for the encouragement of faith in him, both in ourselves and others; it is to call upon his name in times of trouble, and at all times, and also to trust in him and not in an arm of flesh; for it stands opposed to trusting in chariots and horses; and it is to call to mind past instances of his goodness, wisdom, and power, and be thankful for them, and make use of them to engage confidence in him; and which should be done from the consideration of his being God and not man, and of his being our God, our covenant God and Father.

Verse 8. They are brought down and fallen,.... These are they that rode in chariots and on horses, and trusted in them; who are brought down from their places of honour and safety; and fall, not into the hands of their enemies, and into a low and mean estate, but to the ground by death; as also such who, being like Capernaum, lifted up to heaven with their own outward attainments, and think to get thither by them, are brought down to hell, and fall into the pit of corruption;

but we are risen, and stand upright; who remember the name of the Lord, and trust in him; the church is sometimes in a very low and depressed condition; it consists of a poor and an afflicted people, and who are persecuted by men; so the church has been under the Heathen Roman emperors, and under the Papacy, and will be as long as she is in the wilderness, and the witnesses prophesy in sackcloth; and especially when they will be slain, and their bodies lie on the earth unburied; but these shall rise and stand upright, and ascend to heaven; there will be a glorious state of the church; there will be a reviving of the interest of Christ, through the bringing in the fulness and forces of the Gentiles, and the conversion of the Jews; the dry bones will live again, and stand upon their feet, an exceeding great army; in those days the righteous will flourish and have abundance of peace and prosperity. This may also include the first resurrection, which the saints will have a part in; the dead in Christ will rise first, and will stand before the Lord with confidence, and not be ashamed; when the ungodly shall not stand in judgment, nor sinners in, the congregation of the righteous; for though these words are expressed in the present tense, because of the certainty of them, they belong to future times; hence the following petitions.

Verse 9. Save, Lord,.... Not "the king," as the Septuagint, Ethiopic, and Arabic versions read the words, joining the word "king" to them, which is in the next clause; but this, as Aben Ezra observes, is not right, because of the accent "athnach," which divides these words from the following; rather the word us may be supplied; and so the Syriac version renders it, "the Lord will deliver us"; and the Targum is, "O Lord," Nl qrp, "redeem us," or "save us"; that is, with a temporal, spiritual, and eternal salvation: this petition is directed to Jehovah the Father, as the following is to the King Messiah;

let the King hear us when we call; for not God the Father is here meant, though he is an everlasting King, the King of kings; and who hears his people, when they call upon him, and while they are calling; yet he is rarely, if ever, called "the King," without any other additional epithet; whereas the Messiah often is, as in the next psalm, Psalm 20:1; and prayer is made to him, and he hears and receives the prayers of his people; and, as Mediator, presents them to his Father perfumed with his much incense; for he is a Priest as well as a King.