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YEAR B: PENTECOST 3
June 17, 2012
Psalm 20


This is one of a number of royal psalms. Others include Psalms 2, 18, 21, 45, 72, 89 etc. In Psalm 20 we hear of a prayer for the king that Yahweh may remember the king’s faithfulness and look favourably on him, especially in times of military trouble (vv. 5-8). In a way, then, the selection of Psalm 20 for this week does not really match the context of the Old Testament lesson which is concerned with how David, a seemingly unlikely choice, becomes king. The psalm is about a king who is well established.  Since the first two books in the Psalter are presumed to be the prayers of David (see Ps 72:20) this makes the psalm seem even further out of context.

While we might recognise this lack of correspondence there are still some points to be taken from the psalm and its other context, i.e. within the Book of Psalms. In Psalm 18 David ‘spoke’ of his own trust in Yahweh, his deliverer especially in time of threat (in that case from Saul; see the superscription to Psalm 18), and the one worthy of praise. David ‘spoke’ bluntly about his inability to save himself and ended that psalm with thanksgiving for Yahweh’s having answered his prayer. Psalm 20 begins again with a plea for Yahweh to aid the king in time of threat. Although no specific enemy is mentioned, David’s troubles with Saul in Psalm 18 might come to mind even though they have not yet arisen in the reading from 1 Samuel. In Psalm 20, the psalmist, now separate to David, speaks to him focusing on the temple, the place from which Yahweh’s help comes and where the king expresses his ‘heart’s desire’ through sacrifice (v. 4). At the heart of Psalm 20 is the assurance of divine assistance for those who trust not in human strength but in the name of Yahweh (vv. 6-8; cf. Ps. 3.8; Deut. 20.1-4). But in the use of the pronoun ‘our’ (in v. 7) the psalmist broadens the prayer beyond the affairs of David to those of all his people. The plea in v. 1 for Yahweh to answer the king is paralleled by the prayer for Yahweh to ‘answer us’ (v. 9). Moreover, it does not take very much imagination to broaden the contexts within which such divine help might be sought and experienced, beyond the narrow military ones mentioned in the psalm.

Suggestions for the use of the psalm in worship:

The psalm may be adapted for use in parts of the prayers of the people. For example, the last verse could be adapted as a response to each of the petitions as follows:

L: Give (peace, courage, guidance, strength, etc. etc. as applicable) to your (creation/church/congregation etc.), O Lord;
R: answer them when they call.
The prayers of the people could also be concluded by a prayer based on vv. 1-5:
Lord, answer your people in their day of trouble!
Protect them,
send your help and support them
from your dwelling place.
Remember their offerings, and regard them favourably.
Grant them their heart’s desire, and fulfil their hopes.
Let them shout for joy in the name of our God.


Old Testament reading: 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

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