Victory for the king—Psalm 21

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

I have noticed for a long time that Psalms 22 to 24 are linked by a theme of the death, resurrection and return of Jesus. Looking through Book 1 of the psalms I now see that this is a longer link starting with the coronation of the king in Psalm 20 through to the return and victory parade in Psalm 24.

Soldiers, carrying both the flags of Russia and the former Soviet Union. march through Moscow.
Russian Victory Day procession, 9th September 2023

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

21 O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices,
    and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
You have given him his heart’s desire
    and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah

For you meet him with rich blessings;
    you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
    length of days for ever and ever.
His glory is great through your salvation;
    splendour and majesty you bestow on him.
For you make him most blessed for ever;
    you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
For the king trusts in the Lord,
    and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.

Your hand will find out all your enemies;
    your right hand will find out those who hate you.
You will make them as a blazing oven
    when you appear.
The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath,
    and fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
    and their offspring from among the children of man.
11 Though they plan evil against you,
    though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12 For you will put them to flight;
    you will aim at their faces with your bows.
13 Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
    We will sing and praise your power

Psalm 21 ESVUK

In September 2022, Russian president Vladimir Putin used the Victory Day parades, which commemorate Russia’s victory over the Nazis in 1945, to defend the current war in Ukraine. Psalm 21 looks like it is defending the use of weapons of war, especially bows and arrows. But in context, we have to remember that the previous psalm states that. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalm 21 is part of a group of psalms that contains Psalm 20, so this has to be taken into account.

As a Christian, Vladimir Putin has got it wrong. Yes, Putin claims to be a Christian.

There is another similarity between Psalms 20 and 21. Both Psalms are double chiastic, and both have a selah in the first chiasm.

A chiasm is a literary structure where the themes are introduced in one order and dealt with in the reverse order.

A selah is thought to be an instruction to pause and think before moving on to the next connected part. It is also thought to be for a musical interlude.

I am using the letters A to C for the first chiasm and D to F for the second one; an apostrophe like A’ shows it is the second part of the chiasm. I am using the theme words in bold and italics to show the linked worlds. Parts C and F are the central focus of each part

  • A) Psalm 21:1 The king rejoices
    • B) Psalm 21:2 You have given himthe request of his lips.
      • C) Psalm 21:3 Blessings
    • B’) Psalm 21:4 He asked life of you; you gave it to him
  • A’) Psalm 21:5-7 Make him glad with the joy of your presence. For the king trusts in the Lord.
  • D) Psalm 21:8 Your right hand
    • E) Psalm 21:9-10 Their descendants
      • F) Psalm 21:11 They plan evil
    • E’) Psalm 21:12 Your bow
  • D’) Psalm 21:13 in your strength!

Before I started looking deeply at the psalms the only poetic device I had heard of was parallelism, where the same thing is said in two different ways. I have since learned that the most used device in the psalms is the chiasm. The second chiasm in Psalm 21 also uses parallelism in both repeated pairs. in the D/D’ pair, God’s right hand and God’s strength are paralleled in many places including in Isaiah 62:8, “The Lord has sworn by his right hand and by his mighty arm.” The E/E’ pair is trickier, how can descendants and bow be parallels? It is not common in scripture, but descendants and arrows are used as parallels, and not always directly, “Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth.” (Psalm 127:4). The parallel in verse 12 mentions a bow, but the link is thee.

So that’s the structure, which has a bearing on the meaning, now to the purpose itself but bearing in mind the poetic form:

There are times when I find Evangelical Bible commentaries to be abusive. The Enduring Word Bible commentary spends a lot of time talking about the things that can stop a person’s prayers from being answered, and all of them have the same meaning, if your prayers are not answered it is your fault. What abusive rubbish. I have had depression and instead of being recommended to phychiatric and psychological help I was convinced that it was my fault. “If you are feeling far from God, guess who’s moved?” they said. If you have ever said anything like that I suggest you repent.

I am through that depression now, apart from the realisation that I am prone to depression, but I have come to the realisation that when I could not feel God with me, neither I nor God had moved, I was ill, but Jesus walked with me in my dark times. “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death … you are with me;” is coming up in my studies in a couple of weeks’ time. Just because you don’t feel him with you doesn’t mean he’s not there. To blame those going through a hard time for their problems is abuse.

The first chiasm ends with an extension of part A’, in verses 4 to 6, which is far more than a parallel to verse 1. It shows that the king it is talking about is the Messiah by saying, “You make him most blessed for ever;” in verse 6, so reading that back into the central section of the chiasm, verse 3, we see that it is Jesus, the Messiah, who is blessed and crowned with gold. It’s not just Jesus though, through Jesus and in Jesus we also are blessed and crowned. Following Jesus gives us a share in his victory.

It is The Messiah’s victory, not ours and it is won not by putting your trust in God alone and not as Psalm 20 says bt trusting in chariots and horses, neither in missiles and tanks, to give it a modern twist. The military language of a physical battle is in the context of the spiritual battle that we are fighting. Some people say that the Christian life is like a battle. I say it is a battle. But our warfare in this world is “Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.” Zechariah 4:6

Psalm 21 is the second of a series of Messianic psalms. How the battle is won in the next song, Psalm 22.


< Psalm 20 | Psalm 21 | Psalm 22 >
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