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.
- What are the three blessings mentioned in today’s study?
- 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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