Summary: Psalm 20 is a prelude to war; it tells how a nation should prepare for war.

April 30, 2014

Tom Lowe

Psalm 20 (KJV)

Title: When a Nation Goes to War.

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

1 The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee;

2 Send thee help from the sanctuary, and strengthen thee out of Zion;

3 Remember all thy offerings, and accept thy burnt sacrifice; Selah.

4 Grant thee according to thine own heart, and fulfil all thy counsel.

5 We will rejoice in thy salvation, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners: the LORD fulfil all thy petitions.

6 Now know I that the LORD saveth his anointed; he will hear him from his holy heaven with the saving strength of his right hand.

7 Some trust in chariots, and some in horses: but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

8 They are brought down and fallen: but we are risen, and stand upright.

9 Save, LORD: let the king hear us when we call.


Throughout history, God has frequently used war as his whip to chastise rebellious nations. Indeed, as we read through the Old Testament, we cannot help but see how frequently God’s people, Israel, were at war. The pages of Hebrew history resonate with the clamor of strife. It is just as true of America; our history reads like one long period of war with, at intervals, only brief periods of peace.

Psalm 20 and 21 are twin warfare proceedings. Psalm 20 is mostly ceremony before a battle, while psalm 21 is mostly ceremony after a battle. In the theocracy of Israel, these were to be considered holy wars with the chain of command being as follows:

1) The Lord is commander-in-chief over the anointed king-general and the theocratic people.

2) The soldiers.

Psalm 20, in anticipation of a military campaign commemorates a three-phased ceremony regularly conducted by the people in the presence of the commander-in-chief on behalf of the king-general.

I. An Offering of Their Prayers (20:1-5)

II. A Confirmation of Their Confidence (20:6-8)

III. A Reaffirmation of Their Dependence (20:9)

Psalm 20 is a prelude to war; it tells how a nation should prepare for war. There comes a time in the history of every nation when, faced with the aggression of others, it must say: “That will be enough. One step more and we will fight.” We are considering a nation, faced with the eminent possibility of war, preparing its heart for what lies ahead. Those who have a problem with the military aspects of some of David’s psalms should remember that David went to war only when the enemy attacked Israel. He did not attack other nations just to gain territory and he was fighting the Lord’s battles (2 Chron. 20:15{4]).

Jesus teaches in the New Testament that men are to turn the other cheek, to be peacemakers, and to choose to suffer affliction rather than go to war. But His teachings were not for the world at large, but for those who are saved and in the kingdom of God. Many people have misunderstood this and have adopted a position toward war which is insincere and uncertain. They espouse a philosophy of national peace—peace at any price. They preach appeasement, pacifism, and surrender of the nation to those who would destroy its precious liberties.

The psalm, of course, was concerned with Israel and with one of those wars which became a significant feature of David’s reign. By application, its message can relate to the nation in which we live in a time of world crises when at any moment like it or not, for the sake of its own survival the nation might have to fight. As I compose this study, America is facing threats made by Muslim terrorists, Russia has invaded its former satellites, North Korea is planning another Hydrogen bomb test, and small wars, with the potential of involving world powers are being contested in Africa and other places. It’s a dangerous world that we live in.


Verses 1-3: There can be no doubt that when war looms on the horizon people tend to become more religious [The increase in church attendance following the events of 9-11 would bear this out.]. Even though they may have a double standard for themselves, they expect their leaders to be devout. With war clouds gathering on the horizon, the people of Israel looked to their king. It is uncertain whether the scene of the prayer is the sanctuary in Zion or the vicinity of the battlefield.

1 The LORD hear thee in the day of trouble; the name of the God of Jacob defend thee;

In other words, the psalmist says, “You may be successful, you may be skillful, but are you spiritual?” That is what matters in this time of national emergency. Are you in touch with God? Are you able to pray? In verse 1 it is the eve of the battle, and the people are praying; they ask God to answer the king’s prayers and lift him up above the enemy (“defend”), and turn them back in crushing defeat.

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