A Day of National Thanksgiving, Day 3

By James Boice

Theme: Thanksgiving for Past Victories

In this week’s lessons we see that prayer is not only to be offered to the Lord when we are in need of his help, but it is also to be offered in thanks for his goodness and faithfulness to us.

Scripture: Psalm 21:1-13

Yesterday we looked at the first of six blessings for which God was to be praised. Today we consider the next three.

2. Answered prayer (v. 2). The king had been praying for victory, of course. It was what was going on in the first half of Psalm 20. But here, in addition to thanking God for the victory itself, Psalm 21:2 also thanks God simply for answering prayer. Thus, the specific answer of granting victory becomes merely one example of the many answers God gives in response to his people’s earnest petitions.

3. Rich blessings associated with the crown (v. 3). The welcome of verse 3 must be the welcome David received upon returning from battle with Israel’s enemies, if the context is to be taken into account. But if it is, then, since the crown is mentioned in the parallel half of the couplet, the “rich blessings” would be those associated with the king’s rule over his kingdom. Our equivalent would be whatever blessings come to us as benefits of the work God has given us to do for him: good income from a good job, the appreciation of fellow workers, friends, and all other such things. Do we thank God for them?

4. Length of days (v. 4). That the king should thank God for length of days is not surprising. This is something anyone might pray for, and David did indeed have a long life. He lived to be seventy. The surprising thing is the phrase “for ever and ever.” How is a phrase like that to be understood? There are three possibilities.

First, it might be simple court hyperbole: “O king, live forever” (cf. Dan. 2:4). The problem with this explanation is that it is more suited to a pagan environment than to the court of a king of Israel. Also, the verse is not a wish that the king might live forever, however exaggerated that might be, but a statement that God has in fact granted him “length of days, for ever and ever.”

Second, it might be a reference to the watershed promise of 2 Samuel 7, in which God promised David that his house would last forever: “Your house and your kingdom will endure

forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (v. 16). In this case, the “length of days” would be fulfilled not merely in David’s long life but in the duration of his dynasty.

Third, it may be a reference to the Messiah. The promise of God to David in 2 Samuel 7 would itself bear this out, for even there the perpetuity of David’s throne is to be established ultimately, not by any mere man but by David’s divine descendant, Jesus Christ. But in addition, the twenty-first Psalm has other messianic elements. Like many of the psalms containing strong statements about the character or future victories of Israel’s king, this one contains statements that can only have their true fulfillment in the Messiah. Besides, there is this interesting fact. The Jewish Targum (the Chaldean paraphrase of the Old Testament) and Talmud render the word “king” in verse 1 by melek mashiach (“King Messiah”), which means that the Jews in an early period understood these words to be spoken of the Messiah. A change came in the Middle Ages as a result of a judgment by Rabbi Solomon Isaaci, known as Rashi (born 1040 A.D.). He endorsed the early view but suggested it be dropped, saying, “Our old doctors interpreted this psalm of King Messiah, but in order to meet the schismatics (that is, the Christians) it is better to understand it of David himself.”5

In my judgment, this is merely another case in which we find ideas in the psalms that go beyond any imagined contemporary context. Though they may not always have been recognized as such, they are prophetic of the one who was to come. The next psalm, Psalm 22, is entirely about him.

Study Questions:

  1. What are the three blessings mentioned in today’s study?
  2. In what ways can the phrase “for ever and ever” in verse 4 be understood? Which view is preferred, and why?

Application: What prayers has God answered for you recently? Have you remembered to offer up to him the praise and thanks that belong to him for his goodness?

5Cf. J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 232. Original edition 1878-1879. Also Arno C. Gaebelein, The Book of Psalms: A Devotional and Prophetic Commentary (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1965), p. 97.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Day of National Thanksgiving, Day 2

By James Boice

Theme: Lest We Forget to Thank God

In this week’s lessons we see that prayer is not only to be offered to the Lord when we are in need of his help, but it is also to be offered in thanks for his goodness and faithfulness to us.

Scripture: Psalm 21:1-13

Since Psalm 21 is a prayer of national thanksgiving, it suggests another illustration. The great poet Rudyard Kipling was asked to write a poem to celebrate the sixtieth anniversary of the reign of Queen Victoria in 1897. It had been a splendid occasion. High government officials and soldiers from all over the empire had assembled in London, along with nearly two hundred ships of the Royal Navy. They had come through a great century, and everyone was now praising England and her queen. But Kipling wrote,

God of our fathers, known of old, Lord of our far-flung battle line,
Beneath whose awful hand we hold dominion over palm and pine—
Lord God of hosts, be with us yet, lest we forget—lest we forget!

Far-called, our navies melt away; on dune and headland sinks the fire:
Lo, all our pomp of yesterday in one with Nineveh and Tyre!
Judge of the Nations, spare us yet, lest we forget—lest we forget!1

Kipling understood that nations, like individuals, forget God and need always to be reminded to thank him. But he was not liked for having said so. In fact, popular opinion had it that Kipling was passed by in the search for a new Poet Laureate because of this “Recessional.”

The first section of Psalm 21 (vv. 1-7) corresponds to the first section of Psalm 20. In the earlier psalm the people were addressing themselves to their king but were in effect asking God to hear the king’s prayers and grant victory in the battle that was coming. The first section of Psalm 21 is an explicit prayer directed to God to give thanks for the victory. That is why verse 5 refers to “the victories you gave.”

Who is speaking in this section? This is not so easy to determine. It could be the king himself, speaking in the third person, as kings do. Derek Kidner thinks it is the king.2 It could be someone speaking for the king, a priest, for example. Peter C. Craigie suggests this possibility.3 It could also be the people themselves, the congregation. The majority of commentators probably incline this way and, in fact, there is nothing in the psalm that could not have been spoken by this worshiping congregation. The fact that the people are speaking at the start of Psalm 20 suggests that they may also be speaking at the start of this one, and it is certainly clear that they are the ones speaking at the end since the last verse uses the first person plural pronoun: “We will sing and praise your might.”

What are the specific blessings for which the people (or king) give thanks in this section? There are six of them, one in each of the first six

verses.

1. Victory through God’s strength (v. 1). The previous psalm had asked for victory, not through chariots and horses in which the heathen trust but in the name and by the power of God. This is precisely the blessing God gave.

It is not wrong to emphasize victory above the other items also listed, since victory is what was fervently prayed for earlier and since it is mentioned in this psalm, not only in verse 1 (“How great is his [the king’s] joy in the victories you give”) but also in verse 5. (“Through the victories you gave, his glory is great.”) Craigie says, “The military victory which the king appeared to win in battle was in reality the victory which God, in his might, had granted.”4

Study Questions:

  1. How does the first section of Psalm 21 correspond with the first section of the previous psalm?
  2. In the first section of this psalm, verses 1-7, what is the first specific blessing for which God is given thanks? Why is this theme emphasized?

Reflection: Why was Kipling’s poem received as it was? What similarities do you see in our own country today?

1Rudyard Kipling, “Recessional” in George K. Anderson and William E. Buckler, The Literature of England (Glenview, IL: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1953, 1967), p. 1134.
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity), 1973), p. 103.
3Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 189.
4Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 190.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

A Day of National Thanksgiving, Day 1

By James Boice

Theme: The Importance of Giving Thanks

In this week’s lessons we see that prayer is not only to be offered to the Lord when we are in need of his help, but it is also to be offered in thanks for his goodness and faithfulness to us.

Scripture: Psalm 21:1-13

Psalm 20 is a prayer for God’s deliverance of Israel’s king on the occasion of an impending battle. It is a prayer for victory. The twenty-first Psalm, the one that we will look at here, is a prayer of national thanksgiving for that deliverance.

It is not just the subject matter that links these two psalms, however. They are linked by deliberately repeated words and by the psalms’ form. The closing words of Psalm 20 are picked up at the start of Psalm 21. The earlier psalm says, “O LORD, save the king! Answer us when we call” (v. 9)! Psalm 21 begins, “O LORD, the king…” after which it tells how God answered the earlier petitions (v. 1). There are other echoes of Psalm 20 in Psalm 21. Psalm 20:4 asked God to give David the desire of his heart. And Psalm 21:2 says, “You have granted him the desire of his heart.” Psalm 20:5 asks, “May the LORD grant all your requests.” Psalm 21:2 answers, “You have not withheld the request of his lips.” Psalm 20:7 says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Likewise, Psalm 21 declares, “For the king trusts in the LORD” (v. 7).

Even the structures of the two psalms show a linking similarity. Each consists of two longer stanzas in which words are addressed either to the LORD or the king, followed by a concluding couplet of one verse in which the people either call upon or praise God.

There is something to be learned by the mere existence of this psalm even before we begin to study it in detail, and that is the importance for us of giving thanks. Generally, we do not find it particularly hard to pray when we are in trouble. Even unbelievers will pray in times of sickness, danger, financial loss or other hardship. “O God, what am I going to do?” they will say. We do the same. It is much harder to pray after God intervenes to help, rescue or save us, as he often does. The fact that Psalms 20 and 21 were written together and are carefully linked shows

that the ancient Jews realized the importance and necessity of being thankful.

Jesus did too, as well as recognized how we easily neglect the latter. We remember that on one occasion, when Jesus was traveling to Jerusalem along the border of Samaria and Galilee, he was met by ten lepers. They asked Jesus to have pity on them, which he did. He told them to show themselves to the priests, which they would be required to do eventually in order to receive formal certification that they had been cleansed of this ultimately fatal disease, and as they went on their way they were healed. All were delighted, of course. It was a literal reprieve from death. But only one was thankful. He was a Samaritan. He returned to Jesus, fell at his feet and thanked him profusely.

Jesus then asked those who were standing by, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner” (Luke 17:11-19)?

Study Questions:

  1. How are psalms 20 and 21 connected?
  2. Why does God need to remind us to give thanks? What does that say about us?

Application: Make it a point to daily thank the Lord for his blessings, including specific ones you have recently received.

For Further Study: To help us understand the seriousness of our sin and the depth of our gratitude we owe to God for his redemption given in Christ, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “On Being Thankful.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

God Save the King, Day 5

By James Boice

Theme: A Summary Petition

In this week’s lessons we learn what kind of people our leaders should be, and how we should pray for those whom God has put in authority over us.

Scripture: Psalm 20:1-9

Let me give one more illustration of how God answers prayer concerning a national situation.

In Romania, where President Nicolae Ceausescu just weeks before had declared that apple trees would bear pears before socialism should be endangered in Romania, the end began in the house of a Protestant pastor whose parishioners surrounded him, declaring that they were willing to die rather than let him be arrested by the state police.7 Josef Tson, the founder and president of the Romanian Missionary Society, was in Romania just after the death of Ceausescu and reported the details of the story.

The pastor was a Reformed minister in the city of Timisoara, His name was Laszlo Tokes. The secret police wanted to evict him from the town to eliminate his influence, but the members of the church took up a vigil around his house to prevent it. On Saturday, December 16, 1989, just a few days before Christmas, hundreds and then thousands of people joined these brave parishioners. One was a twenty-four-year-old Baptist church worker who got the idea of distributing candles to the ever growing multitude. He lit his candle, and then the others lit theirs. This transformed the protective strategy into a contagious demonstration, the beginning of the revolution. The next day, when the secret police opened fire on the people, the young man was shot in the leg. The doctors had to amputate his leg, but on his hospital bed this young man told his pastor, “I lost a leg, but I am happy. I lit the first light.” Romanians do not call the events of December 1989 a national revolution. They say rather, “Call it God’s miracle.”8

If “every good and perfect gift” comes from the Lord, as the Bible says it does (James 1:17), then freedom also comes from him and the nation that seeks it will receive it in God’s time. On the other hand, a country that forgets God, as our country in spite of its genuinely religious roots seems hell-bent on doing, will be overwhelmed by tyranny.

Psalm 20 closes with a summary petition in verse 8: “O LORD, save the king! Answer us when we call!” Here is an Old Testament text telling us to pray for the men and women God sets over us, just as the New Testament also instructs us: “I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone—for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Savior” (1 Tim. 2:1-3).

Let’s do it! But as we do, let us also pray that God will give us godly leaders and make us into the kind of people who will be able to produce such leaders, be willing to elect them to office and then follow them as they urge us to follow after God and his righteousness.

Study Questions:

  1. How has America changed religiously since its founding? How has this change affected the country’s reputation around the world?
  2. What can you do to encourage your political leaders, particularly at the local and state levels, to do their work in a righteous way?

Application: Do you pray for your political leaders? If you do not, why? Write down a list of concerns that you could pray for regarding your local, state or national representatives.

For Further Study: Since the Bible commands us to pray for our leaders in government, whether they are Christians or not, how much more do we need to pray for Christians who labor in ministry. Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Prayer for Christian Workers.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

7The generally neglected story of the role of the church in the changes that have come to Eastern Europe is told in part in the January 22, 1990, issue of National Review, “How the East Was Won: Reports on the Rebirth of Christianity under Communism,” pp. 22-28.

8Voice of Truth magazine, Romanian Missionary Society, January-February 1990 issue, p. 2.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

God Save the King, Day 3

By James Boice

Theme: Assurance of the King’s Success

In this week’s lessons we learn what kind of people our leaders should be, and how we should pray for those whom God has put in authority over us.

Scripture: Psalm 20:1-9

The second stanza of Psalm 20 is the section spoken in the first person singular, perhaps by the king himself, as some scholars think,4 or, more likely, by one of the nation’s priests.5 It is an assurance that God hears and will answer the king’s (and people’s) prayers.

The heart of this section is verse 7 which compares Israel’s trust in God to the confidence the pagan nations surrounding them had in their arms: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Later in her history, particularly under Solomon who raised extensive cavalry units and built large forts to garrison them, Israel became very much like her neighbors. But Deuteronomy 17:16 had said that the kings of Israel were not to trust in or even acquire horses, and at the beginning they did not do so.6 Their faith was in God, and the God they trusted gave victories.

The history of Israel had been a long experience of God’s powerful and timely intervention to save the people from hostile adversaries. Abraham was no warrior. He was a Bedouin chief with no army at all, only loyal servants. Yet when the four kings of the east attacked Sodom and the other cities of the Dead Sea plain, carrying off Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family, the patriarch pursued their armies with 318 of his men, fell on them by night and routed them, recovering Lot, his family and the spoil. It was a brave move, but it was not Abraham’s courage that gave victory. It was God himself, as Melchizedek, God’s priest, reminded Abraham when he returned from the battle (Gen. 14:20).

The deliverance of the people from Egypt was a spectacular example of God’s strong intervention. The Jews were only a mixed rabble of slaves at the time. The Egyptians were the mightiest oppressors of their day. Yet God delivered Israel through ten great plagues and destroyed the pursuing armies of the Pharaoh. Moses composed a song about it which starts, “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Exod. 15:1, 2).

Joshua’s experience at Jericho, when the walls of the city fell by God’s will, and the subsequent conquest of the promised land, fit the same pattern. So do Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites with just a handful of soldiers, and young David’s killing of Goliath. It was no empty boast or groundless hope for the future when the psalmist wrote these lines.

Study Questions:

  1. Compare Israel’s trust in God with the confidence of Israel’s pagan neighbors.
  2. What are some examples of situations in which God intervened for the Israelites?

Reflection: Review what Deuteronomy 17:16 says about horses. Why do you think this command seems to have not been kept later on in Israel’s history? 

4See Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 101.
5See Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 185. Others allow for either possibility, for example, J. J. Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 229. Original edition 1878-1879.
6The difference between the way the Jewish armies fought in David’s time and before (on foot) and the way they fought from the time of King Solomon’s rule and afterward (with chariot and cavalry units) argues for an early date and thus also a Davidic authorship for the psalm.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

God Save the King, Day 4

By James Boice

Theme: When God Answers Prayer

In this week’s lessons we learn what kind of people our leaders should be, and how we should pray for those whom God has put in authority over us.

Scripture: Psalm 20:1-9

Have other nations ever experienced something of this nature concerning God’s interventions? Indeed, they have, though not every claim to a divine intervention on a people’s part is genuine. The history of England has such incidents. There is the victory over the Spanish Armada in the days of Queen Elizabeth. The fate of the English Reformation was at stake in that battle, as well as the English throne. The Spanish ships were mightier and outnumbered the English. People all over England were praying. As a result, the English navy achieved a stunning victory, and the work begun in the southern portion of the channel was completed by a sudden and unexpected storm which drove the escaping Spanish ships northward and wrecked most on rocks off the coast of Scotland.

A contrasting deliverance occurred at Dunkirk when God sent unseasonably calm weather which allowed England to evacuate its European Expeditionary Force in the face of what seemed to be certain destruction by Adolf Hitler’s encircling panzer divisions. On that day many in England were praying the very words of this psalm, “O LORD, save the king!” And God did.

In 1989-90 Westerners were astounded at the radical political changes in Eastern Europe. Country after country has repudiated its seventy-two-year communist heritage, replacing its leaders with democratically elected officials and providing new personal freedoms. Impressive! But these changes in the eastern bloc have come about, less by the will of one person, Mikhail Gorbachev or any other, than by a spiritual hunger and genuine trust in God by the long-oppressed people.

The strength of the Solidarity movement in Poland, where the breakthrough first came, is that of the Roman Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II has been a strong supporter of the people’s faith and dreams. Spiritual strength also lay behind the victories in East Germany. Conventional wisdom in Germany has it that the turning point was on October 9 when seventy thousand demonstrators marched in Leipzig. The army was placed on full alert, and under normal circumstances it would have attacked the demonstrators violently. But the protestors’ rallying cry was, “Let them shoot, we will still march.” It was a spiritual statement. The army did not attack, and after that the protests grew until the government was overthrown.

Study Questions:

  1. What do these examples teach you about prayer, and also about the Lord who answers prayer?
  2. What lessons from them can we learn about the proper way to respond to unrighteousness, whether on a national level or even in our individual lives?

Application: What are some reasons why we do not bring our requests to God as we should?


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

God Save the King, Day 4

By James Boice

Theme: Assurance of the King’s Success

In this week’s lessons we learn what kind of people our leaders should be, and how we should pray for those whom God has put in authority over us.

Scripture: Psalm 20:1-9

The second stanza of Psalm 20 is the section spoken in the first person singular, perhaps by the king himself, as some scholars think,4 or, more likely, by one of the nation’s priests.5 It is an assurance that God hears and will answer the king’s (and people’s) prayers.

The heart of this section is verse 7 which compares Israel’s trust in God to the confidence the pagan nations surrounding them had in their arms: “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” Later in her history, particularly under Solomon who raised extensive cavalry units and built large forts to garrison them, Israel became very much like her neighbors. But Deuteronomy 17:16 had said that the kings of Israel were not to trust in or even acquire horses, and at the beginning they did not do so.6 Their faith was in God, and the God they trusted gave victories.

The history of Israel had been a long experience of God’s powerful and timely intervention to save the people from hostile adversaries. Abraham was no warrior. He was a Bedouin chief with no army at all, only loyal servants. Yet when the four kings of the east attacked Sodom and the other cities of the Dead Sea plain, carrying off Abraham’s nephew Lot and his family, the patriarch pursued their armies with 318 of his men, fell on them by night and routed them, recovering Lot, his family and the spoil. It was a brave move, but it was not Abraham’s courage that gave victory. It was God himself, as Melchizedek, God’s priest, reminded Abraham when he returned from the battle (Gen. 14:20).

The deliverance of the people from Egypt was a spectacular example of God’s strong intervention. The Jews were only a mixed rabble of slaves at the time. The Egyptians were the mightiest oppressors of their day. Yet God delivered Israel through ten great plagues and destroyed the pursuing armies of the Pharaoh. Moses composed a song about it which starts, “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation” (Exod. 15:1, 2).

Joshua’s experience at Jericho, when the walls of the city fell by God’s will, and the subsequent conquest of the promised land, fit the same pattern. So do Gideon’s defeat of the Midianites with just a handful of soldiers, and young David’s killing of Goliath. It was no empty boast or groundless hope for the future when the psalmist wrote these lines.

Study Questions:

  1. Compare Israel’s trust in God with the confidence of Israel’s pagan neighbors.
  2. What are some examples of situations in which God intervened for the Israelites?

Reflection: Review what Deuteronomy 17:16 says about horses. Why do you think this command seems to have not been kept later on in Israel’s history? 

4See Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1973), p. 101.
5See Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX: Word, 1983), p. 185. Others allow for either possibility, for example, J. J. Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 229. Original edition 1878-1879.
6The difference between the way the Jewish armies fought in David’s time and before (on foot) and the way they fought from the time of King Solomon’s rule and afterward (with chariot and cavalry units) argues for an early date and thus also a Davidic authorship for the psalm.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

God Save the King, Day 2

By James Boice

Theme: Prayer for the King

In this week’s lessons we learn what kind of people our leaders should be, and how we should pray for those whom God has put in authority over us.

Scripture: Psalm 20:1-9

I have said that the first five verses are a prayer for Israel’s king. Yet strictly speaking, they are not a prayer to God so much as words directed to the king himself, assuring him that the people believe in him and want God to answer his petitions.

The key word here is “may.” It occurs six times, introducing six fervent desires on the people’s part: 1) “May the LORD answer you when you are in distress” (v. 1); 2) “May the name of the God of Jacob protect you” (v. 1); 3) “May he send you help from the sanctuary” (v. 2); 4) “May he remember all your sacrifices” (v. 3); 5) “May he give you the desire of your heart” (v.4); and 6) “May the LORD grant all your requests” (v. 5). As I say, these words are directed to the king more than to God. Yet they really are prayers in spite of their form, since the people clearly want God to deliver, protect and bless their monarch and are obviously echoing his prayers for these things.

Something else is striking about these verses, and that is the picture of the king that emerges. For one thing, he is a man of prayer himself. We do not know the circumstances of the original composition of this psalm, but it seems to have a setting in which the king is praying before the tabernacle or temple prior to going out to battle, and the people are standing about him at a slight distance joining in his petitions. In other words, he is leading them in prayer. If this is a psalm of David, as the title says it is, we have no difficulty believing that David would have done this.

Second, the king is religiously devout, for he is offering sacrifices. It is possible for both sacrifices and prayers to be mere form, of course, but there is nothing in the psalm that would make us think that of this situation. A nation is blessed if it is favored with such godly leaders.

What about our country? America had many such people at one time. Today it is fashionable, even among evangelicals, to decry the religious foundations of our nation, pointing out that many of our founding fathers were deists, skeptics or outright unbelievers. That is true. But in our desire to correct a dishonest national mythology we have frequently forgotten the genuine open faith of many of our country’s leading figures.

In Philadelphia, when the vote for American independence was taken on July 4, 1776, there was a moment of solemn silence after which Samuel Adams spoke. He voiced what many were thinking: “We have this day restored the Sovereign to whom alone men ought to be obedient. He reigns in heaven and . . . from the rising to the setting sun. May his kingdom come.”3

Even Benjamin Franklin, who was not a Christian but who had deep respect for many who were, broke a serious deadlock in the debate over the American Constitution in 1787 by calling for daily prayer. He was eighty-one years old at the time. The delegates to the Constitutional Convention did pray, and God again did answer. The result was the first written constitution in history in which representatives of a people sat down to devise the principles and laws by which they would be governed. Our Constitution became a monument to freedom and an inspiration for millions who yearn for it.

We have fallen a long way from those early days of divine blessing. It is hard to point to many contemporary leaders who are genuinely prayerful or devout or who openly seek God’s blessing on national affairs.

Study Questions:

  1. What do the people want God to do for their king?
  2. Describe the king portrayed in Psalm 20. What characteristics does he possess?
  3. How did prayer play a part in the drafting of the American Constitution?

Reflection: How do the characteristics of the king referred to in Psalm 20 compare with those of what seem to be the majority of our political leaders today?

3Charles E. Kistler, This Nation Under God (Boston: The Gorham Press, 1924), p. 71. Quoted by Peter Marshall and David Manuel, The Power and the Glory (Old Tappan, NJ: Revel, 1977), p. 309.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

God Save the King, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: Two National Psalms

In this week’s lessons we learn what kind of people our leaders should be, and how we should pray for those whom God has put in authority over us.

Scripture: Psalm 20:1-9

The twentieth psalm and the immediately following twenty-first psalm are different from the psalms we have studied thus far in that they were designed to be sung by the Jewish people on behalf of their king and nation. The first is a prayer for the king’s victory in a day of battle. The second is a prayer of thanksgiving for that deliverance.

There are several stylistic details to be noted. For one thing, the psalms are tied together by the final lines of the first and the first lines of the second. Psalm 20 ends with a prayer that God will answer the people’s intercession and save the king. Psalm 21 starts by acknowledging that God has done it. Again, each psalm is tied together. Psalm 20 begins with the words “LORD,” “answer” and “day,” although the latter is hidden by the English translation. The opening line actually speaks of a “day of distress.” The psalm ends with the same three words: “LORD,” “answer” and the “day of our calling.” Psalm 21 begins and ends with the words “LORD” and “strength.” In scholarly language this is called an inclusio. It is like a front and back door to a house. A striking example is Psalm 8, which begins and ends with the words, “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.”

There is this feature too. The two psalms seem to be more explicitly liturgical than any we have studied thus far. Why? There are two reasons. First, they are written (for the most part) in the first person plural, that is, using the word “we” rather than “I” or “me.” Compare them with the psalms immediately before and after. Psalm 19 ends, “May the words of my mouth and the mediation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.” That is a personal prayer uttered by an individual. Psalm 22 begins, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It is also personal. But Psalms 20 and 21 say, “we will shout” (Ps. 20:5), “we call” (Ps. 20:9) and “we will sing” (Ps. 21:13). In these psalms many worshipers are involved.

The second reason is a variation on what I have just said. In Psalm 20 the dominant voice is the first person plural, but that is at the beginning and ending only. In between there is a stanza introduced by the words “now I know.” It would seem, therefore, that the first stanza (vv. 1-5) was to be uttered by the people on the king’s behalf; the second stanza (vv. 6-8) to be spoken by an individual, probably a priest, assuring the people that their prayers are answered; and the final verse or stanza (v. 9) again to be spoken by the entire people as a summary and farewell petition, probably as the king marched off to battle.1

J. J. Perowne summarizes this in a balanced way in his introduction, saying, “I think it to be a kind of general litany for magistrates and those who are placed in high office, for whom the apostle also (1 Tim. 2) bids us first of all pray, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.”2 Perowne means that the prayer is a model for what we should seek in our political leaders and how we should pray for them.

Study Questions:

  1. How are Psalm 20 and 21 connected according to their content, and what stylistic details seem to link the two together?
  2. Why is Psalm 20 thought to be liturgical in composition?

Application: Read Psalm 20 and take note of how it can guide your own prayers for your political leaders.

For Further Study: You can order your copy of James Boice’s entire three-volume series on the Psalms from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and receive 25% off the regular price.

1The commentators vary in the extent to which they see liturgical words or a liturgical structure in the psalm, as well as in the individuals to whom they assign the various parts. Much of this is sheer conjecture. But even Leupold, who generally resists this kind of speculation, admits that in this case at least “the psalm bears a half liturgical stamp” (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p.185.
2J. J. Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 229. Original edition 1878-1879.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

The Big Book and the Little Book: Part 2, Day 5

By James Boice

Theme: Heart to Heart

In this week’s lessons we continue our study of Psalm 19, and move from God’s revelation of himself in creation to the written revelation of himself in Scripture.

Scripture: Psalm 19:7-14

It is only after this evaluation that we find the completion of the parallel in a statement of two things the Scriptures do: “By them is your servant warned” and “in keeping of them there is great reward” (v. 11). In other words, because the words of God are sure and righteous, the servants of God are warned by them and the keepers of them are rewarded.

Those two benefits are worth pursuing. First, the one who knows the law is warned by it. Against what? Against sin and its harmful effects, of course. And against the lies and errors of this world. We need such warnings, because the world about us is clever and pervasive, and there is nothing except the Bible to stand against its deceptions. John Bunyan had it right when he said of the Bible, “This Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book.”5

Second, the keeper of the law is rewarded. But notice how this is said. The text does not say that the one who obeys God’s commands will be rewarded, though that is certainly true too. It says rather, “in keeping of them there is great reward.” Saint Augustine once said that sin is its own punishment, meaning that it turns bitter in the mouth and thus punishes itself. He could also have said that virtue is its own reward. Though the ungodly do not think so, the upright are actually blessed in their uprightness. Goodness is itself joyous. To be holy is to be content.

In the introduction to the last study I called the final three verses of this psalm a concluding section or coda, but they are actually more than that. They are a climax. For in them the psalmist applies what he has been learning to himself.

The response to God’s self-revelation falls into two categories. The first is a prayer that God will forgive his sin and deliver him from additional transgressions. Sometimes we treat forgiveness lightly, asking God to forgive us but not really thinking that we are sinners, at least not serious sinners, and treating forgiveness almost as a basic human right. It is clear that David does not do this. He is aware of sin’s subtle nature and complexity, dividing it into categories: errors, which are wrongs innocently committed; hidden faults, that is, faults unknown to himself because they are so deeply ingrained in his personality; and willful sins, which are sins of deliberate presumption. The latter are probably equivalent to “great transgression” in verse 13. The psalmist is also aware that he can never be fully aware of these sins in order to seek forgiveness unless God reveals their presence and nature to him by his written law.

We remember the prayer of the tax collector in Jesus’ well-known parable, for although it is less detailed it contains these same essential elements. The tax collector prayed, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:13). We know this man was coming to know God and was really praying to God, because he saw himself to be a sinner, as David also did. The Pharisee did not.

The second part of David’s response to God’s revelation of himself is an appeal to God as his Rock and Redeemer. We are not only led to see ourselves as sinners when we study the Bible. The Bible does that, but it also leads us to the one who is our only deliverer from sin. And, wonder of wonders, he is the same one who has revealed himself gloriously in the heavens. The heavens tell us that he exists and that he is all powerful. The Bible shows that he is our Redeemer from sin, that is, the one who is able to break sin’s bonds and set us free, and that he is the Rock upon which the redeemed man or woman can build and be kept from transgressions.

Study Questions:

  1. What things does the Bible warn us against?
  2. How have you discovered that being righteous is itself rewarding?
  3. In what manner should we pray for forgiveness?

Application: Make it part of your regular prayers to ask the Lord to reveal hidden faults.

For Further Study: If you would like to have James Boice’s entire series on the Psalms in paperback, you can order the three-volume set from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and take 25% off the regular price.

5Qouoted by H. A. Ironside, Studies on Book One of the Psalms (New York: Loizeaux, 1952), p. 123.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.