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Psalm 21


As in the eighteenth psalm, David publicly thanks God for the promises contained in 2 Sam. 7, so here he puts a similar thanksgiving into the month of the church or chosen people. In ver. 2–7 (1–6), the address is to Jehovah, and the king is spoken of in the third person. In ver. 8 (7) this form of speech is used in reference to both. In ver. 9–13 (8–12) the address is to the king. In ver. 14 (13) it returns to Jehovah. As to the substance or contents of these successive parts, the first praises God for what he has bestowed upon the king, ver. 2–7 (1–6). In the second, there is a transition to another theme, ver. 8 (7). The third congratulates the king on what he is to do and to enjoy through the divine mercy, ver. 9–13 (8–12). The fourth returns to the point from which the whole set out, ver. 14 (13). The opinion that this psalm relates to the fulfilment of the prayer in that before it, seems to be inconsistent with its structure and contents as just described. They are rather parallel than consecutive, the principal difference being this, that while the twentieth psalm relates to the specific case of assistance and success in war, the twenty-first has reference to the whole circle of divine gifts bestowed upon the Lord’s Anointed.


1. To the Chief Musician. A Psalm by David. The correctness of the first inscription is apparent from the structure of the psalm, throughout which the speaker is the ancient church. The correctness of the other may be argued from the general resemblance of the style to that of the Davidic psalms, from numerous coincidences of expression with the same, and from the tone of lively hope which seems to indicate the recent date of the divine communication, especially when compared with psalms which otherwise resemble it, such as the eighty-ninth. The particular resemblance between this psalm and the twentieth makes them mutually testify to one another’s genuineness and authenticity.


2 (1). Jehovah, in thy strength shall the king rejoice, and in thy salvation how shall he exult! This verse commences the description of God’s favor to the king with a general statement, afterwards amplified in ver. 3–7 (2–6). Thy strength, as imparted to him, or as exercised in his deliverance, which last agrees best with the parallel expression, thy salvation, i.e. thy deliverance of him from the evils which he felt or feared. In thy strength and salvation, i.e. in the contemplation and experience of it. The future verbs shew that the gift has not yet been consummated, without excluding the idea of it as begun already.


3 (2). The desire of his heart thou hast given unto him, and the quest of his lips hast not withholden. Selah. The occasion of the joy and exultation mentioned in the preceding verse is now more particularly set forth. It is easy to imagine, although not recorded, that the great promise in the seventh chapter of 2 Samuel was in answer to the fervent and long-continued prayers of David for a succession in his own family.—The word translated quest occurs only here, but its sense is determined by the parallelism and the Arabic analogy. The combination of the positive and negative expressions of the same idea (given and not withholden) is a Favorite Hebrew idiom.


4 (3). For thou wilt come before him with blessings of goodness, thou wilt set upon his head a crown of gold. This, as Luther observes, is an answer to the question what he had desired. The for connects it with the statement in the foregoing verse, which is here explained and justified. As the preterites in ver. 3 (2) shew that his request was granted in the divine purpose, so the futures here shew how it was to be fulfilled in fact. Come before, come to meet in a friendly manner. See above, on Ps. 17:13, 18:6 (5), and compare Deut. 23:5 (4).—Blessings of good, not blessings prompted by the divine goodness, but conferring, or consisting in, good fortune, happiness. See above, on Ps. 16:2.—The reference in the last clause is not to David’s literal coronation at the beginning of his reign, nor to the golden crown which he took from the Ammonitish king of Rabbah (2 Sam. 12:30), but to his ideal coronation by the granting of these glorious Favours to himself and his successors. The divine communication in the seventh of 2 Samuel seems to be here viewed, as the only real coronation of David as a theocratic sovereign. The last word in the sentence is the same that was translated pure gold when contrasted with the ordinary word for gold, Ps. 19:11 (10).


5 (4). Life he asked of thee, thou hast given (it) to him, length of days, perpetuity and eternity. By disregarding the masoretic interpunction, the construction may be simplified without a change of sense. “Life he asked of thee, thou hast given him length of days,” &c. The last words of the verse are often used adverbially to mean for ever and ever; but as they are both nouns, it is best to put them here in apposition with the same part of speech which immediately precedes. This last clause shews that the life which David prayed for was not personal longevity, but the indefinite continuation of his race, an honor which was granted to him, even beyond his hopes and wishes, in the person of our Saviour. Compare 2 Sam. 7:13, 16. Ps. 89:5 (4), 132:12.


6 (5). Great shall be his majesty in thy salvation; glory and honor thou wilt put upon him. His personal experience of God’s saving grace, and his connection with the great scheme of salvation for mankind, would raise him to a dignity far beyond that of any other monarch, and completely justifying even the most exalted terms used in Scripture, from the charge of adulation or extravagance.


7 (6). For thou wilt make him a blessing to eternity; thou wilt gladden him with joy by thy countenance (or presence). He shall not only be blessed himself, but a blessing to others, the idea and expression being both derived from the promise to Abraham in Gen. 12:2, an allusion which serves also to connect the Davidic with the Abrahamic covenant, and thus to preserve unbroken the great chain of Messianic prophecies. Make him a blessing, literally, place him for (or constitute him) blessing. The plural form suggests variety and fulness, as in Ps. 18:51 (50), 20:7 (6). By thy countenance, or with thy face, i.e. by looking on him graciously, not merely in thy presence or before thee, as the place of the enjoyment, but by the sight of thee, as its cause or source. See above, on Ps. 16:11.


8 (7). For the king (is) trusting in Jehovah, and in the grace of the Most High he shall not be moved. The consummation of this glorious promise was indeed far distant, but to the eye of faith distinctly visible. In the grace seems to mean something more than through the grace (or favor) of the Most High, as the ground of his assurance, or the source of his security. The words appear to qualify the verb itself, and to denote that he shall not be shaken from his present standing in God’s favor. The use of the third person in this verse, with reference both to God and the king, makes it a kind of connecting link between the direct address to God in the first part of the psalm, and the direct address to the king in the second.


9 (8). Thy hand shall find out all thine enemies; thy right hand shall find (those) hating thee. Having shewn what God would do for his Anointed, the psalm now describes what the latter shall accomplish through divine assistance. Corresponding to this variation in the subject, is that in the object of address, which has been already noticed. By a kind of climax in the form of expression, hand is followed by right hand, a still more emphatic sign of active strength. To find, in this connection, includes the ideas of detecting and reaching. Compare 1 Sam. 23:17, Isa. 10:10; in the latter of which places the verb is construed with a preposition (ל), as it is in the first clause of the verse before us, whereas in the other clause it governs the noun directly. If any difference of meaning was intended, it is probably not greater than that between find and find out in English.


10 (9). Thou shalt make them like a fiery furnace at the time of thy presence; Jehovah in his wrath shall swallow them up, and fire shall devour them. The ascription of this destroying agency to God in the last clause serves to shew that the king acts merely as his instrument. Thou shalt make, literally set or place, i.e. put them in such or such a situation. A fiery furnace, literally a furnace (or oven) of fire. To make them like a furnace here means, not to make them the destroyers of others, but, by a natural abbreviation, to make them as if they were in a fiery furnace. At the time of thy presence, literally thy face, which may be understood to mean, when thou lookest at them.


11 (10). Their fruit shalt thou make to perish from the earth, and their seed from (among) the sons of man (or Adam). This extends the threatened destruction of the enemies to all their generations. The same figurative use of fruit occurs in Hos. 9:16.


12 (11). For they stretched out evil over thee; they devised a plot; they shall not be able (to effect it). The figure of the first clause is the same as in 1 Chron. 21:10. (Compare 2 Sam. 24:12.) The idea here is that they threatened to bring evil on thee. As the verb to be able is sometimes used absolutely, it is translated, they shall not prevail.


13 (12). For thou shalt make them turn their back; with thy (bow) strings shalt make ready against their face. The common version of the first word (therefore) is not only contrary to usage, but disturbs the sense by obscuring the connection with the foregoing verse, which is this: “they shall not prevail, because thou shalt make them turn their back.” This last phrase, in Hebrew, is so strongly idiomatic that it scarcely admits of an exact translation. Thou shalt make (or place) them shoulder. See above, on Ps. 18:41 (40), where a similar idiom occurs. In the verse before us, the chronological succession is reversed; it was by shooting at their face that he should make them turn their back. The true relation of the clauses is denoted, in the English Bible, by supplying a particle of time: “thou shalt make them turn their back (when) thou shalt make ready (thine arrows) upon thy strings against the face of them.” The version make ready is also a correct one, although some translate the phrase take aim, which is really expressed by another form of the same verb. The true sense of the one here used is clear from Ps. 11:2, and the distinctive use of both from Ps. 7:13, 14 (12, 13).


14 (13). Be high, Jehovah, in thy strength; we will sing and celebrate thy power. Here the psalm returns to God as its great theme, and gives him all the glory. Be high, exalted, both in thyself and in the praises of thy people. See above, on Ps. 18:47 (46). Thy strength and power, as displayed in the strength given to thine anointed. Celebrate by music, as the Hebrew verb always means. There is a beautiful antithesis in this verse, as if he had said: thou hast only to deserve praise, we will give it.


Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 95–98). Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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