Psalm 21 - The exaltation of Jesus

The psalm is in two parts. Verses 1-6 celebrate a victory by the King and verses 7-13 express confidence that further success will come. It is likely that the psalm was composed in response to a victory enjoyed by David, although there are statements, such as the King’s prayer for endless life in verse 4, which cannot be said to have been experienced by David as a king. The psalm is a prophecy of the enthronement and the reign of the Messiah.

The psalm opens by describing the Messiah’s joy at experiencing the Lord’s power and salvation. Verse 2 shows that he received this deliverance in response to his prayers, and we can read such requests in his prayer recorded in John 17 when he asked the Father to give to him the glory he had known before he came into the world. Verse 4 indicates that this deliverance was in fact his resurrection from the dead, which was the commencement of a chain of triumphant events that included the reception of the ‘blessings of goodness’ (v. 3). This phrase covers all the expressions of divine favour that had been promised to Jesus once he completed the work of atonement.

Verse 5 says that Jesus has been highly exalted (see Philippians 2:9-11). In verse 6, there is a wonderful description of the ongoing fellowship between the Father and the Son in heaven – it is marked by great joy as they contemplate one another.

Verses 7-13 describe the progress that the kingdom of Jesus will make in overcoming those who rebel against him. His throne is unshakable (v. 7), continually protected by divine power. Verses 8 to 12 are a description of one aspect of Christ’s reign, which is to identify and punish those who persist in evil. The reality is this: each one of us is either going to be rescued by the hand of Jesus or punished by the hand of Jesus.

Verse 13 is an expression of praise to God for his great display of power expressed in Christ’s resurrection. We can take part in that song if we trust in him.


Psalm 20 - Praying for our rulers

In the main in this psalm, the words are spoken by a plural group (the first person plural is used in verses 1–5 and verses 7–8), with verse 6 being spoken by an individual. Originally it seems that the congregation sang verses 1–5, which is made up of various intercessions on behalf of their king, David. In response to these prayers, one of the priests replied, using the words of verse 6 to assure the people that the Lord was with the king. On hearing these words of assurance, the people then sang verses 7–9 which contain an expression of confidence and a repeated prayer for the prosperity of the king’s cause (the psalm was likely used when the king was leading his army into battle).

As we read verses 1–5, it is clear that Israel was facing a time of crisis (verse 1 mentions the day of trouble). The king is a devout person who responds to the crisis by offering sacrifices (v. 3) and prayers (v. 5). These religious activities are not merely ceremonial responses – they are expressions of the king’s heart. He knows that unless God helps them they will face a difficult future. In this psalm, we have a picture of a righteous ruler.

It is not sufficient for a leader to be intelligent, to possess communication skills suitable for our media age, to offer suggestions to improve our lot as a nation. What is needed are leaders who also have the wisdom to know their need of God’s help, who have developed communication with God, who publicly affirm their need of prayer, and who include a return to righteous living in their policy of improving the standard of living in our society. We should pray that God would give such rulers to us.

What about the people? In verses 7 and 8 they indicate where their confidence lay. It was not in military strength. This is an important word for us. We are still one of the most powerful nations in the world, both in economic and military senses. Sadly, many of our fellow-citizens are depending on these to protect us from our determined enemies. We, in the church, know different. Our only means of successful protection is God. But this protection is not given automatically. We have to pray continually that God will deliver us, which is what the people described in verse 8 did. They were given assurance of victory in verse 6, and they based their confidence on God’s faithfulness.


Psalm 19 - Listening to God

Psalm 19 concerns divine revelation. The author considers two ways by which God makes himself known – in the creation and in the Scriptures. In verses 1-6, the psalmist describes how God is revealed in the created order (this is called general revelation because it is displayed to every person); in verses 7-11, he considers how God is revealed in the Scriptures (this is called special revelation); then in verses 12-14, the psalmist prays that he would benefit from God revealing himself to him.

General revelation is comprehensive (it includes the heavens as well as the earth), consistent (it occurs every day and every night) and clear (everybody can understand it even although they speak different languages and cannot understand one another). The creation continually says that God is pre-existent (he existed before he made the universe), wise (he designed the universe) and powerful (he maintains it in existence). It also tells us that God is good (he provides what his creatures need).

Nevertheless, creation also says that something is wrong because not everything that takes place is good. There are earthquakes, famines and other disasters, and all of creation is marked by death. General revelation is silent as to the cause of these problems and does not hint whether or not the Creator intends to solve them. In order to know these details, we need special revelation.

The various nouns that the psalmist uses for this special revelation – law, statutes, commands – indicate that it contains precepts to be obeyed, which informs us that God is a sovereign King. One of the terms used for special revelation is the ‘fear of the Lord’ (v. 9), which stresses that it is to be approached with reverence, with the same respect that we would give to the King himself.

Each noun is also accompanied by an adjective such as clean, righteous, and perfect, and they state its moral quality. After all, it is possible for a ruler to have unrighteous or irrelevant laws, but not God. There is not one unrighteous law or one unnecessary command in the Bible.

Each of the six descriptions of special revelation has a statement summarising its effect: it revives, gives wisdom, gives joy, gives illumination, is eternal and righteous. Because of these features, the Bible is both beyond price in value and sweet to a believer’s soul. A Christian learns more about God and receives more from God in the Bible than he could learn about him or receive from him in the creation. Climbing a hill to see the view is good for your health, but the resultant vista does not teach us more about God than is revealed in the Bible. For example, the greatest display of divine power is not the upholding of the universe in existence; rather the greatest display of divine power is the resurrection of Christ.


Psalm 18 - Gratitude for deliverance

This psalm is a psalm of thanksgiving in which the psalmist praises the Lord for deliverance from danger. It is almost a duplication of 2 Samuel 22, and its location in 2 Samuel suggests that it was written towards the close of David’s life and may be read therefore as his expression of gratitude to God for preserving him throughout his life, including his youth as a shepherd, his long period of exile under Saul, and his years as king over Israel.

The psalm opens with David’s affirmation of love to the God who had been his strength throughout his life. He describes God’s protective activities under several metaphors drawn from David’s military experiences. When he says that the Lord was his rock, he is referring to a large, high rock. This kind of rock gave great protection from enemies because they could not scale its steep walls. It is a good picture of the security each believer has in Christ – they are seated in the heavenly places, far above their enemies. This does not mean that the enemies will not attack us, but it does mean that they will not destroy us.

Verses 4-6 highlight the effectiveness of prayer even in dark situations. David wants his readers and fellow worshippers to appreciate the response of God to the prayers of his people, and verses 7-17 describe it. The Lord was angry with David’s enemies (7-8) and he used the whole of creation to attack them (12-15). But he gently delivered David from his place of danger (16-17) and set him in a place of prosperity (18-19). This cycle was repeated many times in David’s life.

In verses 20-29 David gives a reason for his deliverance, which was his innocence. This does not mean that David was sinless, for we know that there were dark moments of sin in his life. What it does point to is a general principle in the Bible, which is that God usually blesses his people when they try to live in his paths and chastises them when they do not. David’s explanation reminds us of the necessity of sanctification and of progressing in the life of holiness if we want to know God’s approval.

Verses 30 to 45 are almost a repetition of what David has said in verses 4 to 19. There is one difference between the accounts: verses 4 to 19 describe the deliverances from God’s point of view whereas verses 30 to 45 details them from David’s experience. This twofold viewing of events is the best way to survey the incidents in our own lives.

Praise to God is the theme of verses 46 to 50 and it is fitting that believers should close a review of their lives by extolling him. Verse 49 is quoted by Paul in Romans 15:9 as a prediction of Jesus leading the praise of Gentile believers. This quotation points to Psalm 18 being a description of the experiences of Jesus as well as of David.


Psalm 17 - Arguing with God

This psalm by David is a prayer for divine help against powerful enemies (vv. 9-12). In his prayer he uses various arguments as to why God should hear his prayer. The first is found in verses 1 to 4, and it is an interesting one because it is not one that we would normally use. In these verses David uses his innocence as a plea for being heard. David is not claiming to be sinless when he uses this plea, rather he is saying that he is not guilty of the wrongs with which his enemies have charged him (vv. 9 and 10). Therefore he is coming to God and asking for his blamelessness to be made clear to his opponents. Yet he also realises that he needs God’s help in order to remain blameless, which is why he asks God to uphold him in verse 5.

The obvious deduction from verses 1 to 5 is that sinfulness can prevent our prayers being answered by God. Sinfulness can show itself in a wide variety of ways such as (1) failing to do an important duty, (2) persisting in maintaining an unforgiving spirit to a person who has offended us, (3) and persevering in disobeying a commandment of God. The psalmist says in Psalm 66:18 that the Lord will not hear us if we regard fondly sin within our hearts. Jesus also said that we would not know ongoing forgiveness from God if we failed to forgive a fellow believer (Mark 11:25-26). We should do as David did in verse 3 – ask God to test our hearts.

A second argument that David uses in order to have his request answered is his relationship to God. In verse 8 he says that he is as weak as an eyeball, which is in constant need of protection. He then changes the imagery and likens himself to a young bird being protected from danger by the wings of its mother. Both these pictures point to the gentle and permanent protection that God gives to each of his people.

David closes the psalm by mentioning a third argument to use in prayer – his future enjoyment of God. The psalmist knows that he lives for the next world, an outlook vastly different from those who only live for this world (vv. 14-15). He knows that he will yet see God. Quite what he understood by this desire is unclear. Yet we know that the Bible as a whole indicates that in heaven we will see God as he continually is revealed in the person of Christ. This eternal contemplation of Christ will be transforming and soul satisfying.

We can use these three arguments as we pray to the same God.


Psalm 16:9-11 - Facing death like a King

Psalm 16:8-11 describes both the psalmist’s outlook as he faced death and the Saviour’s attitude towards his own death. Applying them to the psalmist enables us to see that the Old Testament believers had a strong hope of heaven even if they did not have the fuller understanding of believers who live in the New Testament era. They knew that their Lord would be with them as they faced the last enemy. In this they are a model as to how we should look at death and anticipate the heavenly life to come.

We know that the verses apply to Jesus because Peter says so in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost. They describe the Saviour’s resurrection, and it is important for us to think often of that event. Spurgeon summarised it well when he wrote: ‘Christ’s resurrection is the cause, the earnest, the guarantee and the emblem of the rising of all his people.’

In verse 9 Jesus reveals the source of his joy, which was the presence of his Father described in the previous verse. In verses 10 and 11, Jesus addresses the Father. This type of divine interaction occurs frequently in the Old Testament and we should be on the lookout for it (another example is Psalm 40:8-9). Verse 10 is a reference to the place of the dead where the bodies of humans see corruption. The Saviour, although he died, did not undergo any deterioration in his body.

Verse 11 contains a beautiful description of the journey of Jesus from the grave to heaven: he calls it ‘the path of life’. It began with his resurrection which revealed he possessed life; it continued with his ascension to the place of life (heaven) where he was enthroned in order to bestow on sinners spiritual life; it will yet involve resurrecting them from the dead in the fullness of resurrection life when they will be physically equipped to inhabit the new heavens and new earth in which death in any form will never enter.

John Trapp said of verse 11: ‘Here is as much said as can be, but words are too weak to utter it. For quality there is in heaven joy and pleasures; for quantity, a fulness, a torrent whereat they drink without let or loathing; for constancy, it is at God’s right hand, who is stronger than all, neither can any take us out of his hand; it is a constant happiness without intermission: and for perpetuity it is for evermore. Heaven's joys are without measure, mixture, or end.’


Psalm 16:1-8 - Delight in God

Psalm 16 is quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost when he says that verses 8–11 were fulfilled when Jesus arose from the dead. Therefore, it is appropriate to read the psalm as Messianic and apply its verses to the Saviour. Having said that, it is also important to recognise that the psalm originally described David’s description of his own life, which means that we can interpret the psalm as expressing the desires of a godly person.

Verse 1 is a prayer for preservation and it is straightforward to see how it would be a suitable prayer for David who often found himself in situations of danger. Verse 2 is a statement of commitment by which the speaker affirms that God is his Lord. Obviously, David regards his relationship with God as his highest blessing.

In verse 3, David says that God’s people are his delight, and he is an example to us in estimating the worth of believers. Verse 4, on the other hand, describes David’s estimation of those who are not believers and of how he detests their failure to worship the true God (‘names’ here probably refers to the titles of the false gods). So in verse 5, David repeats that his soul feeds on God (portion, when linked with cup in this verse, probably means bread). This portion David regards as a wonderful and beautiful inheritance (v. 6). 

Verse 7 indicates that David enjoyed being taught by God. He mentions that this often occurred at night. Perhaps nighttime was when it was possible for David to find undisturbed time to meditate on his God and the way he had been led in life. Meditation is the way to digest heavenly food. When we do so, we will have a similar outlook of praise and thankfulness.