Part 3 of 4 on my sermon on Psalm 21 (‘Why does the King’s rejoice?’) for South Doncaster Community Church.
MP3 to follow
We’ve seen then, in verses 1-7 that the people praise the LORD because he has brought them victory through his king. In verses 8-13, the focus switches from the victory of the past to the challenges of the future. And here’s the emphasis of these verses: the people go on praising the LORD because they know their king will one day do away with all their enemies.
Yes, there are still enemies for the people of Israel. But listen to how the people sing to their king about these remaining enemies:
8 Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies;
your right hand will seize your foes.
9 When you appear for battle,
you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace.
The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath,
and his fire will consume them.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
their posterity from the human race.
11 Though they plot evil against you
and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.
12 You will make them turn their backs
when you aim at them with drawn bow.
13 Be exalted in your strength, LORD;
we will sing and praise your might.
The enemies are still a real threat, but the people of Israel are still praising the LORD. They’re still singing the psalm. How do they react to these enemies that would contend against them? They pray to the LORD about them, and then they don’t worry about them. They know the LORD and his king have it sorted.
In the light of the victory they’ve already seen the LORD give their king, the people know that their king will eventually triumph over these remaining enemies too. It’s not that they are delusional – they’re only too aware that their enemies really do exist and really do have the power to inflict harm – but they know the depth of the LORD’s love and power and strength exercised through their king. They know that the king wins, and so they don’t worry about the future. They know that, as verse 9 puts it, their enemies will one day be swallowed up by the LORD, through his king. He’ll have these enemies for breakfast. And they know the truth of verse 11: “Though they [that is, our enemies] plot evil against you and devise wicked schemes, they cannot succeed.”
The whole psalm builds to a joyful crescendo in verse 13. I should imagine that, if we sang this psalm today, this is where the key change would kick in! Look at verse 13: “Be exalted in your strength, LORD; we will sing and praise your might.” We will sing and praise your might. You have ensure that the victory belongs to the king, you abound in unfailing love, you have not left us without a saviour king, you will not let our enemies have the last say over us. Praise be to the LORD! The whole psalm was composed to help the people of Israel celebrate the LORD’s work through the king, and to pledge themselves to trust in them as future attacks came.
Now I want to help us to understand what this psalm means for us. What does it mean for us, living in 21st Century Doncaster, to sing this psalm? And to help us to do so, I want to pose a question: why was the LORD so concerned to work through the king? Why does the king figure so heavily in the LORD’s plans? After all, couldn’t the LORD have brought about military victories without a king, without David? Of course he could have! So why was the king so important to the LORD? Why does kingship feature so heavily in the life of Israel throughout the Old Testament?
Here’s the answer: it was to give us the categories and vocabulary to understand more of the work of the Lord Jesus, our Promised Messiah and King. David’s kingship was a model and pale imitation of Jesus’ kingship, which history was always heading towards.
And that means that Psalm 21 ultimately only makes sense when we understand that it is fulfilled by Jesus. There are some beautiful hints of this throughout the psalm. Perhaps the clearest hint of this comes in verse 4. David says that his victory has brought him ‘length of days, for ever and ever’. Of course, if that were only about David it would be patently untrue, at least literally speaking. As Peter tells the assembled crowd at Pentecost, David died and was buried in a tomb. And so people have speculated why David would have included a clause like in his psalm. Perhaps he was using the clause in the same way as people approached and saluted kings of the day, ‘May the king reign forever!’ Perhaps David considered himself to in some way live on through his ancestors. My hunch is that David himself knew enough about the promises of the Messiah that he was directing his people to look towards the Messiah’s ultimate victory even as they celebrated David’s own victory. We can’t know for sure. But the Holy Spirit has ensured that phrases like this one – ‘length of days, for ever and ever’ – have remained in the psalm. He has ensured that we keep looking forward to their fullest fulfilment. In a sense, the Holy Spirit has ensured that the psalms are a bit like the robes with which Israel draped each successive king of Israel at his coronation. Each time a new king is crowned, we wonder: is this the Messiah? And yet, king after king is crowned, but the psalms aren’t literally true about any of them. None of them, for example, has length of days forever and ever. It’s as if none of Israel’s king has shoulders that are broad enough to wear these robes of such lofty description. The psalms giant robes hang loosely until, in the fullness of time, King Jesus, the Messiah, comes. Here, at last, is a descendent of David who perfectly matches the words of the Psalms. Here is one who, as it were, has shoulders broad enough to wear these magnificent robes.
So Psalm 21 because is ultimately about Jesus, our Saviour King. Jesus’ battle was the cross. There Jesus trusted the LORD and took on our enemies: sin, death and the devil. And yet as he was raised by the Father on the third day, and later ascended to heaven, he has been given length of days for ever and ever. Because of his victory and vindication, Jesus’ glory is great. The Father has bestowed on him splendour and majesty. Jesus has been given the name that is above all other names. Jesus has been made the source of unending blessings for all of those who trust him. At the cross, Jesus ensured that the works of the enemy were undone, and one day the devil’s ugly influence would be no more.
Some of you will have heard this illustration before, but it fits perfectly in this context. On May 8, 1945, the official surrender of Germany was accepted by the Allies, and war in Europe was over. Thus ended a six-year war which cost around 60 million deaths. It was marked by Victory in Europe – or VE – Day. It witnessed dancing in the streets in numerous European cities, and celebrations around the world. It marked the end of the world’s most bloody conflict, and put a stop to Hitler’s wicked plans. But, in many ways, the ground was set for VE Day a year earlier, when D-Day was launched in June 6, 1944. This was the beginning of the end of Hitler’s murderous regime as the Allies brought a crushing defeat to the Nazis. From then on, it was a matter of time before Hitler finally fell.
For King Jesus, the cross was D-Day. There Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice for us, offering forgiveness and new life to all who will trust him. Jesus took on the condemnation for all who trust in him as their Warrior King – and the resurrection proved his triumph. And VE Day is on its way. History is heading towards a day when all of the enemies that rage against God – and all of their evil consequences – will be swallowed up once and for all. The enemy of condemnation is beaten. We look forward to the day when our King will finally do away with the devil himself, with all sin and all evil, with death, with disease, with brokenness and with injustice. Jesus is God’s King. He has won the battle. He will win the war, because of God’s unfailing love for his people. We are the champions, because he is the Champion.