Psalm 20: prepare for battle
Psalm 20 For the director of music. A psalm of David. (1) May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. (2) May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. (3) May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. (4) May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. (5) May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests. (6) Now this I know: The LORD gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. (7) Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. (8) They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. (9) LORD, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!
Psalm 20 is considered a psalm of David, although in this case it seems the multitude are singing on his behalf, praying for victory, for safety, for strength.
The king is readying for battle.
The 19th century preacher Charles Spurgeon calls this ancient Israel’s “national anthem” to be sung at the outbreak of war as the king puts on his armor. David’s sword, we know, was well used and rarely sitting on the shelf. Some say: “hacked, not rusted.” Israel fought many wars.
The first three verses cry out for God to protect their king, to go with him and before him. The first verse alone calls to God as Yahweh- the most holy of names for the Lord- and also to the God of Israel’s patriarch Jacob. Maybe the use of both names was a call upon God’s holiness as well as a reminder of His great faithfulness to them in the past. Then the second verse calls for help and support form His sanctuary (holy place or tabernacle where the ark was kept) and also from the hills of Zion.
May he remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices! Selah Psalm 20:3 ESV
Two rituals mentioned here are the minchah (gratitude offering) and the olah (blood sacrifice). Ancient Israel would have performed both before sending their king into battle. They knew what happened when they didn’t prepare themselves before the Lord, when they didn’t do this and give the battle to the Lord first. They knew the importance of preparation.
The minchah or grain offering is explained in Leviticus 2 with more instructions as to how the priests should hand it and how it should be prepared in Leviticus 6 & 7.
When anyone brings a grain offering to the LORD, their offering is to be of the finest flour. They are to pour olive oil on it, put incense on it and take it to Aaron's sons the priests. The priest shall take the handful of the flour and oil, together with all the incense, and burn this as memorial portion on the altar, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the LORD. Leviticus 2:1-2
About two thousand years prior, in the story of Cain and Abel, both brothers brought a minchah offering before the Lord. One was accepted, and one was not. Both brothers provided an offering before the Lord like they were supposed to. Cain brought the first fruits of the garden or field (Genesis 4:3), and Abel brought the first fruits of the flock (Genesis 4:4). It wasn’t until God provided Moses the Law (the Torah) did God command the minchah to be a grain offering- the first fruits of the ground.
If Abel kind of did it wrong- even though he would not have known the Law- why was his offering accepted and his brother’s was not?
Cain and Abel both brought a minchah (gift of tribute) before God, but Abel acted in faith.
By faith Abel brought God a better offering than Cain did. By faith he was commended as righteous, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith Abel stills speaks, even though he is dead. Hebrews 11:4
God knows our hearts. God knew Abel’s heart. God knew Cain’s heart. He knows my heart, and He knows when my offering is from a place of faith and gratitude.
A good reminder that our gifts to the Lord must come from our heart.
The olah sacrifice (burnt offering) is described in Leviticus 1 and again in Leviticus 6 & 7. The requirements for this sacrifice are also very specific. The blood sacrifices of ancient Israel are hard for us to understand, and we certainly try not to envision them. Thankfully we do not live in a time when the Lord requires animal sacrifice anymore.
Also, an interesting note, the first olah sacrifice was that of Noah after the flood:
Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. "As long as the earth endures, seed time and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." Genesis 8:20-22
Thankfully the Lord was pleased with Noah’s burnt sacrifice upon that mountain after the flood. Thankfully, for all of us, the Lord accepted Noah’s sacrifice.
And thankfully we have this promise.
Bible commentators pause here and remember the sacrifice of the cross. Was Jesus our olah offering before the Lord?
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" John 1:29
SELAH . . . pause, breathe, wonder.
Remember all thy offerings and accept thy burnt sacrifice (Selah). Psalm 20:3 KJV
“SELAH.” It is well to pause at the cross before we march onward to battle, and with the psalmist cry, “Selah.” We are too much in a hurry to make good haste. A little pausing might greatly help our speed. Stay, good man, there is a haste which hinders; rest awhile, meditate on the burnt sacrifice, and put thy heart right for the stern work which lieth before thee.Charles Spurgeon, English preacher, 1834-1892
We are not required to offer the sacrifices of old, but what does the Lord ask of you to give to him today? He does call us to sacrifice ourselves to Him anew each morning.
And like the Israelites before going into battle, we must prepare ourselves each day by being right with God. By making sure we go with the Lord’s favor.
What do you offer the Lord today?
Do you go with His favor?
As the world suffers. As neighbor fights neighbor. As sickness and racial tension and anger and bitterness suffocate us, what do the Lord require of me today? What does He require of you?
We face battle today, my friends. Go forth with the favor of the Lord.
He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:8 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. Psalm 20:7
Father in heaven, may we seek you today. May we sacrifice for you today. And may you be pleased with our offerings, a pleasing aroma. As this world is at war and fighting against unseen darkness and bitterness, sickness and hopelessness, may we seek you. When we feel that hopelessness seeping into our hearts, may we open your Word, and may you fill us with the sustaining knowledge that you are all that we need. that you are the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That you oversee all, and that you also stand beside each of us. Thank you for your promises and for your faithfulness. Amen.