Our Pages

Psalm 20: Encouraging brethren in the Lord

Psalm series

Psalm 20: Encouraging brethren in the Lord
Posted on October 16, 2020  - By Dr. David Brooks

Sometimes, we find ourselves in battles that overwhelm us. These may be financial, social, spiritual, emotional, physical or professional. The stakes may be such that if we lose, not only will we suffer, but others for whom we are responsible will suffer as well. If the trouble is caused by people, they may have more power and resources than we do.

King David, in Old Testament times, found himself in such straits. He needed God’s help, and his people knew it. Psalm 20 shows how they encouraged him, resulting in his renewed confidence in the Lord.

A king in distress

The psalm opens with a prayer by the people for their king:

1 “May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion!

David was in distress. The Hebrew term for distress connotes the concept of being in a narrow place, a “tight spot,” with no way out and no options left. He was under pressure and saw no way to succeed — a situation we can, no doubt, relate to too.

The stakes may be such that if we lose, not only will we suffer, but others for whom we are responsible will suffer too

The people were calling on the Lord to respond to their king in his distress. They wanted God to send help from the sanctuary in Zion (named after one of the hills in Jerusalem). A few years later, King Solomon would refer to the same concept at the inauguration of the Temple in 1 Kings 8. David’s son would pray that the Lord would answer His people when they prayed toward the Temple. Centuries later, the Israelites still maintained this idea. 

Daniel, for instance, would open the lattice of his apartment that faced west from Babylon toward Jerusalem and pray. Although the Temple had been destroyed by the time of Daniel 6, the Israelites thought of the sanctuary and Jerusalem as God’s special place on earth (cf. 1 Kings 8:29). So, they would face this direction when praying. Solomon knew that Yahweh could not be contained in one place such as the Temple (1 Kings 8:27) and would actually answer his prayers from heaven above (1 Kings 8:30, 34, 36, 39, 43, 45, 49).

David had known this earlier (cf. Psalm 20:6) and apparently taught his sons the principle. Because David was in a difficult situation against overwhelming odds, his people prayed God would defend him by placing him in a place inaccessible by his foes. The term they used for God protecting him essentially requests God to put him in a high location, such as on a mountaintop that the enemy could not reach. On high ground, he would be safe; he would be untouchable even if the enemy were not eliminated. Our God can choose to deliver us even without entirely removing the cause of our problems.

Our God can choose to deliver us even without entirely removing the cause of our problems

The people rally

Our troubles are caused by various problems. Some of them are because of our responsibilities to the Lord or other people. David was fighting a military battle for the Lord and his people. Therefore, they refer to his offerings and sacrifices:

3 “May he remember all your offerings and regard with favour your burnt sacrifices!” 

Before a king went to battle, he was supposed to offer a sacrifice to the Lord (1 Samuel 10:8; 13:8-9), dedicating the battle to God. This did not force God to fight for the king, but dedicated the king and the fighters to the Lord to fight for His cause and His people. God could not be forced to fight for anyone (cf. Numbers 14:39-45), even if the symbol of His presence was taken into the fray (1 Samuel 4:1-10). But with the sacrifices, the king placed the outcome symbolically and meaningfully into God’s hands.

The king had to make his plans ― and the people prayed the Lord would make them successful. But he and his army would be dependent upon Yahweh’s answer. So, the nation refers to his petitions, his requests:

4 “May he grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill all your plans! 5 May we shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the LORD fulfill all your petitions!”

Their reference to setting up banners shows they rallied to the Lord and David’s army. David was not alone in the struggle. The Lord and his people were with him. We know our struggles are more difficult when we feel alone, so we ought to encourage others when they are in serious trouble. 

Struggles are more difficult when we feel alone, so we ought to encourage others when they are in serious trouble

The battle belongs to the Lord

As a result of the people’s support, the psalmist took confidence in the Lord. They had reminded him — if he had forgotten — that victory depended upon the Lord. Consequently, he responded:

6 “Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving might of His right hand.”

David might not have needed reminding of the Lord fighting the battle for him or with him, but their reminder encouraged him. He was confident the Lord would answer his prayer, not just his people’s prayer.

The king called himself the Lord’s anointed, his messiah. He was not claiming to be the coming Messiah but, as Israel’s king, he had been anointed as regent over God’s people for the time (2 Samuel 5:3; cf. Saul in 1 Samuel 12:3, 5). The Messiah for the whole world would come in God’s time (Isaiah 11:1). The psalm then returns to the people’s speech:

7 “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. 8 They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.”

In vv. 1-5, they had offered their petitions to God. Now they express their confidence like David had. The army may deploy horses and chariots, but Israel knew their victory ultimately depended upon the Lord. Many armies used horses and chariots, but that did not make them always victorious. The Lord made Israel stand out from all the rest. Likewise, when we are up against trouble, we use the best methods we have available. But we would do well to remember that the outcome is up to the Lord, and we must put our trust in Him.

We would do well to remember that the outcome is up to the Lord, and we must put our trust in Him

Praying for one another

The psalm concludes with the people’s prayer:

9 “O LORD, save the king! May he answer us when we call.”

The king was fighting on their behalf. When they needed him and he was in distress, they asked the Lord to save him so he could be victorious when called upon. They were in this contention together.

We must not “bury our heads in the sand” when people are advocating or struggling on our behalf or fighting what are truly battles for the Lord. Our prayers for them and encouragement to them are important. David and his contemporaries knew this. 

In Ephesians 6:10-20, Paul alerts the church that we are in a spiritual battle against forces we cannot see that are more powerful than us. He did not say we would necessarily lose because of this. Instead, he urged the believers to pray for him as he fought. We should do the same for those who lead us in spiritual warfare. 

Not only should we pray for and encourage them but we should also join them, as Israel rallied to the Lord and their king (Psalm 20:5). And, of course, we need the prayers and encouragement of others when we are up against overpowering problems.

Dr. David Brooks

About Dr. David Brooks

David Brooks is a senior professor of Hebrew & Old Testament at Criswell College, Dallas, where he lives with his wife and four children. Having been raised with an emphasis on international missions, he often accepts international teaching assignments while also teaching adjunctively at Dallas Theological Seminary.



Get a notification in your Inbox

A weekly brief of new resources and Scripture-based insights from our editorial team.