Psalm 20 ~ "Save Us; Lead Us"
I’m a farm boy. School days were the days that I got to sleep in. On the weekends and summers, I was outside by 6:00. We would work for several hours and make sure all of our cattle were fed, and then we got to come inside for our food. There were six kids in my family. Along with that, it was pretty common for one of our hired hands to join us for a meal. With a crew like that, my mom had to prepare a lot of food, and she was good at it. She was an excellent cook. Pastor Al and Sheila were at my house on New Year’s Eve and saw evidence of it. They looked through one of our old picture albums and saw that I had about 40 extra pounds on me as a 16 year old. As I’ve grown up and moved out of my parent’s home, I’ve become the main cook in our home, but Kyla does the baking. I don’t follow recipes so much. A little of this, a little of that, a dash here, a pinch there, and you end up with a slightly different dish every time. That doesn’t work so well for baking, so Kyla does a much better job than me as she’s more precise. Kyla has tried to recreate a few of my favourite desserts from growing up, but it’s been interesting. My mom is an excellent cook, and Kyla is also an excellent baker. There’s been two problems. The first problem is that my mom is a terrible recipe writer. It’s like reading a mystery code. The ingredients aren’t always listed out, and there’s not precise measurements. It will just say, add all of these ingredients until you like the taste. The second problem is that Kyla has no idea what she’s trying to make. She can’t sift through the mistakes in the recipe because she has no frame of reference for what the final product is supposed to be like. So we just end up with interesting desserts. Reference points and context are incredibly important. And nowhere else do we find them so significant than when it comes to understanding Scripture and becoming like Christ.
Our text for this evening will be Psalm 20. This song was part of a preparation for battle, and it has 3 main parts. The first part is a prayer spoken by the gathered assembly of people. It is a prayer for the king who is about to lead them into battle. The second part is the king’s response to the prayer. The last verse is a final plea of the people. Let’s read [PSALM 20].
One of the non-negotiable pillars that our church stands on is our reliance on Scripture. It is not a mere devotional, or rule book. It is the word of God. It’s a lot to comprehend. There’s been a back and forth between two different schools of thought for understanding Scripture. Systematic theology looks at Scripture as a finished product and extracts the final word. This can lead to overlooking the Old Testament because one will find it irrelevant and rather lean of the New Testament. Biblical theology looks at Scripture through a more historical lens to understand the truth of a passage in the time that it was spoken as a part of God’s gradual revelation. The unfolding story has value in itself. This is also not the end all be all method of interpretation. Looking at an Old Testament prophecy for example, it had meaning when it was written, but it has an even fuller meaning when we look at it’s fulfillment. A few weeks ago, Pastor Joshua made this statement, that we cannot fully understand the application of a text unless we first full understand what it meant for the people for whom it was first written. Both are necessary and actually compliment one another. That’s crucially important for us to remember when reading the Psalms. In my own study of this Psalm, I found myself reading through it a number of times and wrestling to understand the full meaning of what is written. This is more than a war time ritual. It’s more than a simple slogan of “pray for government”. It is also more than a mere non-applicable historical tradition that shouldn't be applied to our life at all because our culture is so different. It was a tradition indeed, and that tradition was part of a different covenant with God and His people than we are under.However, this prayer and tradition had meaning in that covenant, and that covenant had, and even has meaning and value for our understanding of who God is because it was part of His working and revelation in preparation for our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ who now offers salvation to us. Tonight we're going to first look at the cultural and historical context of this Psalm and then, knowing that the Word is living and active, we’ll look at how this applies to us today.
In the first section, Israel prays for it’s king. They pray for his success, that he would be found right before God, and that God would uphold him and save him, thereby upholding and saving the people. The king was God’s servant, his executor of justice. The physical nation of Israel was God’s chosen people. His covenant with them was that if they sought God, that He would uphold them and bless them in the land He promised them as an inheritance. God’s promise to them for salvation had physical bearing on this earth. God promised to physically bless and uphold His people as tangible evidence that He is the one true God. So Israel prayed that God would lead their king, in order to bring physical blessing to God’s people, that God might be glorified.
Here are the ways in which this song is different for us. We live in the New Covenant. God’s people is no longer one of ethnicity, but one of faith, faith in the perfect King. Our “Promised Land” is heaven. Our tangible evidence of God’s goodness is the fruit of the spirit and his breaking of our bonds and enslavement to sin. Our salvation is not temporal and earthly alone (although He does help us in this world and in this life), but our salvation is one that conquers the grave for all eternity!
This Psalm is a foreshadowing of Christ and the perfect salvation He would bring, and the ultimate prayer of it is for the rescue, provision, and salvation of God’s people, which would ultimately be a testimony to the glory of God. That prayer is timeless. The military success of whatever country we live in is not a symbol of God’s glory for us as it was for Israel. This is still a beautiful prayer, but more broadly applied for us, it is one we should pray for our government leaders, our military leaders, our community leaders, our church leaders, our workplace leaders, our neighbourhood leaders, the leaders of our interest groups, the leaders of our homes, and even for each and every believer as they bear Christ’s name in all of their activities. This is a prayer for salvation through leaders. God, lead our leaders. That is the broader overview and application, so now let’s look a little more closely at this song.
In their preparation and trepidation before battle, the people of Israel pray “May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! The wording is much more specific than “God protect you”. It’s intentional and it communicates something; the name of the God of Jacob. A name is identification. It carries a heritage. Jacob is referenced over Abraham, or Isaac, or Moses. Jacob was the scheming scoundrel who swindled his brother out of his birthright and tricked his own father for a blessing. He was undeserving of grace. Yet, in his unworthiness, in his day of calamity, God never neglected His promise to be with Jacob and keep him. God delivered him from his oppressive uncle as well as Esau’s army of 400 men. David is keenly aware of his unworthiness before the Lord, yet he and the people call upon God’s gracious protection.
[READ vs.2-3] We notice several significant items in these verses: help from the sanctuary, support from Zion, remembrance and favour for burnt offerings. Help from the sanctuary refers to spiritual help. In Samuel chapter 4 (we’re not turning there, I’m just going to summarize), God’s people went to battle against the Philistines at Ebenezer. After the Israelites were defeated, they questioned why they were beaten. Rather than praying, they concluded that God would defeat their enemies if they had the ark of the covenant, which was a box filled with items that symbolized and reminded the people of God’s work and His presence with them. They were extremely confident and gave a battle cry that frightened their enemy. They reduced God’s power to a mere relic or magical wand, and so they lost the next battle as well and the ark was captured. The Israelites were correct in realizing that they did need God’s help. They needed the help from His sanctuary that’s spoken of here in Psalm 20.
In the same verse, they pray for support from Zion. This was a reference to military support, physical help.. So God please grant us military skill and strength, but we also just need you working in us, through us, and for us. And these are both connected with verse 3, that God would remember and regard the king’s offerings and sacrifices. We just saw that religion is not a magical formula by which we invoke God’s power at our pleasure. In Matthew 15:8-9 we read Jesus quoting the prophet Isaiah “This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” God protects, leads, provides, heals, saves, and glorifies His people upon His own desire to glorify Himself, because He alone is worthy of glory, and His glory is our good. So God gave spiritual and physical help to His people who, though unworthy, cried out for protection and salvation from a heart of worship.
We live in a global society with a global economy. Just walk through your home and you’ll find hundreds of different products which were made with any number of various materials and ingredients which were shipped to them by multiple other companies which were sold and shipped by other companies and made their way into other stores before you finally paid for it and brought it into your possession. I have been scolded before for buying products from particular stores, or buying a certain brand of laundry detergent, or toothpaste, or coffee, because that company, or a company that that company did business with supported a particular charity or cause that we as Christians disagree with. I completely understand the notion that we do not want our dollars to support causes which reject Christ at their core. However, my point is that in our complex and diverse global society, I don’t think I would even have enough time to research every hand that’s in the pot of even a handful of the products I buy on a weekly basis let alone everything. And even harder than that would be to find companies who don’t support something disagreeable or at least conduct business in a Godly manner. However, every now and again I come across unique businesses. Handfuls of people, whether international companies or even just local businesses who manage their companies in honourable and Godly ways that are unfortunately too rare, companies that don’t treat money as the ultimate goal, but glorifying God. These are leaders that I consciously make effort to support, even if it costs me a little more money.We should pray for leaders like this. Pray that they would worship God with their whole heart, that they would not worship in vain by being hypocrites, so they would receive spiritual and physical help in Christlike humility. Pray for their support, pray that God would use their witness to influence others. The goal of our prayers and striving so is not to be well off, but that our leaders would put themselves under the direction of Christ. In praying for physical and spiritual help, the essence of the prayer is for INFLUENCE. We pray for these leaders because we’re praying for God to be known, people to be saved, and for God to be glorified!
Between verse 3 and 4, we read that interesting word, Selah. A pause. The people prayed that their leaders sacrifices would not be in vain, and then they paused in their prayer. The pause was so the king could actually offer up his sacrifices. Always, a follower of Christ is not merely one who knows, but does. We must worship in deed, in our actions. And as simple as that sounds, we cannot be arrogant people who know all the right answers but take no action in it. In our church board meetings, it is a somewhat regular point of discussion that as leaders, as Christians, we must take seriously the responsibility on us to not just talk highly about ideals, but to be diligent and faithful men who do the dirty and hard jobs because that is what’s required of us. In all of our talk, let us pause, let listen to God’s leading, let us pray, let us do.
[READ vs 4-5] To be perfectly honest, the thought of some leaders getting all of their desires scares me. Another Psalm of David helps us understand this phrase more fully; Psalm 37:4, “Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” And of course we know that when we actually delight in the LORD, that we are reborn, that we deny ourselves, that we begin to seek His glory and the things that please Him. God will fulfill His sovereign plan. When our hearts are aright with God, then we are no longer in opposition to Him but aligned with the work that He is doing and will accomplish. So the prayer to grant the leader’s desires is actually a prayer that our leaders’ wills would be aligned with Christ. And when that is the case, then their success is not their success alone, but actually a cause for us to praise God, something for us to thank Him for. Oh that our politicians and generals and community and business leaders sought God’s good over their own! What a glorious thing that would be! I really cannot imagine how drastically different things would run, for grace, and true wisdom, and selfless love to be so evident. Oh to pray and live as Christ did, “Not my will, but thy will be done.”
[READ vs 6-8] David gives assurance of the people's prayers. His confidence is not in his military skill, it’s not even a confidence that he would never lose. “But we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” A few months back we looked at Psalm 16, how in the face of death, David trusted God as his refuge, his sovereign, and his treasure. God’s protection for His people goes beyond the physical, beyond temporal, beyond the grave. Even in the worst cases of abuse, oppression, and downright misery, God’s salvation and protection is not negated or compromised for those who trust in His name, for those who are dead to sin and risen with Christ to walk in the newness of life. Just coming out of observing a season of elections in the States, we heard a lot of promises. Candidates are elected on the confidence of the people for them to keep their promises. Very few candidates keep all the promises they make, but for the leader and the individual who trusts in the name of the LORD, the I AM, the eternal God who was, who is, and who always will be, they don’t have to make empty promises, but they can give confidence. They can direct others to also place their confidence in the solid rock.
[READ vs 9] This song ends with a shift back to the people. They make one last simple plea. God save our king, hear our prayer. In that plea we also see the implication of their striving. God may be faithful, may we always remain you chosen people, that you may hear us. We must pray for our leaders, but we must live righteously and faithfully ourselves.
Reference points matter. Knowing what we’re actually striving for is like light in the darkness. This Psalm, all of scripture, finds its form, it's goal, its fulfillment in Christ. This Psalm is a prayer for leaders. And it is so much more. We can’t forget 1 Corinthians 6:3 “Do you not know that we are to judge Angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life!” Christ is our King. He is the one whom we all look to for perfect leadership. Yet, the Holy Spirit lives within us. We, the church, are the embodiment of Christ. In Luke 6:40 we read “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher”. That means that each one of us, even if we’re not a pastor, even if we’re not a deacon, even if we don’t have the gift of teaching, even if our gifts and skills are all behind the scenes, each and every single Christian has the responsibility and even inherent responsibility to lead. By lead, I do not mean that we should all fight to be the person in charge or make any attempt to always be the person who has the right answer, the final say, to always know a little bit better and a little bit more. Even if we lead a quiet life, that life is to be lived against the grain of this secular world. As we obey Christ, we reflect Him. As we reflect Him, we show true leadership by pointing to the only One who leads perfectly.We lead our siblings and relatives, our families, our neighbours, we lead every person who sees us. Christ gives us this teaching about leadership in Matthew 20:25-28 [READ MATT. 20:25-28]. They way we lead is by serving God and serving others.
The topic of if Christian leadership is an extremely broad topic. The command to be a servant doesn't even scratch the surface. I would however recommend “The Book on Leadership”, by John MacArthur. It’s a wonderful book. It does not give a worldly concept and back it up with a few Bible verses. To the contrary, the author focuses on parts of Paul’s ministry and simply extracts the examples of Godly leadership shown by him. In the book MacArthur highlights 26 different characteristics of a true leader. I want to take a moment and read this list to you. A leader is trustworthy, takes initiative uses good judgment, speaks with authority, strengthens others, is optimistic and enthusiastic, never compromises the absolutes, focuses on objectives not obstacles, empowers by example, cultivates loyalty, has empathy for others, keeps a clear conscience, is definite and decisive, knows when to change his mind, does not abuse his authority, doesn't abdicate his role in the face of opposition, is sure of his calling, is humble and knows his own limitations, is resilient and willing to suffer, is passionate, is courageous, is discerning, is disciplined, is energetic, knows how to delegate, and most of all is Christlike. Those are some of the things that we need to be doing every day.
As we lead, may we remember the example of Psalm 20. May we know our unworthiness, may our worship not be in vain, may God’s desires be our desires. Regardless of whether we’re in a recognized position of leadership or not, we must always act in humility, integrity, self denial, rejoicing in Christ. If that is the case, then we have all the confidence of David and even more [READ vs 6-8]. May our worship of God be regarded with favour. May we always be subject to God’s leadership. “O Lord, save… May you answer us when we call.”