For generations, Christians have found the book of Psalms to be a rich source of theological instruction as well as a sound guide for worship. Of course, any believer may turn to the Psalter and receive great benefit, but in so doing it can be easy to miss the book’s particular association with the king of Israel. In a real way, the book of Psalms is a prayer book for the king, as it deals with specific kingly concerns in many passages.
Today’s passage is an excellent illustration of how Psalms is the king’s prayer book. Psalm 20 was written as a prayer for the king, as a prayer that the people of ancient Israel were to offer up for their leader who represented them before the nations and before the Lord. It opens in verse 1 with the congregation praying for the Lord to answer the king in the “day of trouble.” This likely is a reference to battle, so Psalm 20 was a fitting prayer for the people to offer whenever the king went out to fight against his and their enemies.
Note that throughout the psalm, the trust of the people is directed first and foremost to the Lord God and not to the king himself. This represents a positive change from the original motivations that the nation had in seeking a king. When the ancient Israelites first asked Samuel to anoint a king over them, they did so in rejection of God’s Lordship (1 Sam. 8). It was not inherently wrong to desire a king, for the law of Moses foresaw a day in which a king would reign over God’s people (Deut. 17:14–20). Yet the people originally did not want the kind of king that the Lord sought, namely, a humble servant. Instead, they wanted a king like the rulers of the other nations, one who would glory in himself and his own abilities. David rejected this sinful desire, directing the people to seek refuge in the Lord first and foremost, not in his own gifts and strategies. The evidence for this is his writing a prayer to the Lord for the king in Psalm 20.
David rightly called for the people to trust in God and not in him, for as good a king as he was, David was a mere creature. Things are different with David’s greatest son, Jesus Christ, for He is the very incarnation of the Lord and has every right to trust in Himself. Yet in taking on human flesh, Jesus set aside His divine prerogative to glory, choosing to live as a man wholly reliant on His Father in heaven (Phil. 2:5–11). He likewise trusted in God to deliver Him, and that is exactly what His Father did, raising Him from the dead to vindicate Him as Savior and Lord of all (Rom. 1:1–4).