by Logan Runnalls
"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise again and stand firm." (Psalm 20:7-8)
Some days my nine-year old son is incapacitated by the stress in his young life. I wish I could tell him it gets easier, but my adult experience has taught me that we find ourselves in a hard world full of conflict and stress. We are regularly confronted by stresses both personal and national which demand a response. We wrestle with financial debt, with the desire to see justice and peace reign, and with many personal struggles. In these times of stress it is vital to remember where we find our hope. Where is our security in a world of deadly trouble? This was a question Israel needed to answer as well. As Israel prepared for conflict they sang Psalm 20 to one another, encouraging one another to remember where their security was found. In verses seven and eight we see Israel's hope contrasted with one of the most constant hopes of the world. There are three lenses I use to read the Psalm: as inheritance, fulfillment, and devotion. When each lense is in place we are able to see how the security in Psalm 20 may fill the breadth of our lives.
We may read Psalm 20 as our inheritance, as our own story, because we have been grafted into Israel's story. To read this psalm as inheritance will look like taking it up and praying for our rulers. Whether we are in a kingdom or nation-state we must pray for those who are set up to protect the peace. In particular we are to pray that they will not misplace their trust in human strategies. It is far too easy to depend on our own perceived strengths to deliver us from evil. We tell ourselves, "Sometimes, you have to make the hard choice" and mean that we must put aside Jesus Christ, the Way of Life, in order to preserve life. This is especially tempting for those who must develop and implement national strategies. At all times, and especially in times of crisis, we must remember that while some trust in chariots and some in horse, some trust in the military complex, and some in the free market, we must trust in the name of the LORD our God if we are to stand firm.
To trust in the name of the LORD our God means, at least, that we trust in the revealed character of God. We are to trust in the One who gathered the outcast Hebrews and made them into a people without the major weapons of their day. We trust in the One who cares for the alien and the widow, in God who is mighty in mercy and rejoices in long suffering. We trust in the One who has revealed what is good (Micah 6:8) and trust that his way through (not around) evil leads to abundant life (Psalm 25:8-10, 20). We trust that God does not abandon those who pattern their lives after name of the LORD. Our rulers must develop strategies of peace, but if there is to be any hope, any life in those strategies they must fit in the revealed name of the LORD. Surely, all who deal treacherously, no matter how dire the situation, will be put to shame, but those who trust in the LORD will rise again. This is how we may read Psalm 20 as inheritance.
When we envision Psalm 20 as fulfilled in Jesus we see what the security of the Psalm looks like in practice. I can easily imagine this Psalm constantly ringing in our Lord's heart as he set his hand to revealing and establishing the Kingdom of God. Jesus demonstrates radical faith and obedience in the manner that the Psalm demands. Here is the man who shows us the depths of what it looks like to trust in the name of the LORD our God. He did not accept the Devil's assistance, nor did he allow the people to forcefully make him king. Can you hear him reminding himself and the people that no matter how good the desire, how pure the intention is, those who trust in the ways of men will eventually stumble and fall while those who trust in the LORD's name will rise again and stand firm?
Jesus committed himself to trusting in the name of the LORD even unto death. When others taunted him: "He saved others but he can't save himself! Let the Christ, this King of Israel, come down from the cross" (Mark 15:31-32) perhaps he remembered the Devil's temptation to call on the army of angels to save him. If there was ever a time to summon a legion of angels surely this was the moment. But Jesus chooses to trust in the name of the LORD his God. Indeed, he would rather doubt in God's presence than use his own power to save himself. He cries, "My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?" and he hears no answer.
The air is filled with weeping and jeering, with grunts and hard breaths, with so many sounds except what should count--an answer, any answer, from God. This is a hard scene, perhaps a pitiful scene, but do not think that Jesus is hanging resigned upon the cross. Jesus is doing battle; it is a battle against death and sin. He is equipped with faith and he will not take up any other weapon, any other strategy, for he knows that anything apart from God's way will fail in the end. Rather, he holds onto the belief, the hope, that those who trust in the name of the LORD will rise again. And he dies.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but our dear saviour, Jesus Christ, trusted in the name of the LORD our God, and so God was pleased "to raise Jesus from the dead and seat him at his right hand high above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given" (Ephesians 1:20-21, ff.). Through the lense of inheritance Psalm 20 shows us that our national strategies should be shaped by God's revealed character. As fulfillment, these verses reveal such a rich and awesome faith in Jesus and the reward that awaits us all in his resurrection.
A devotional reading prayerfully asks how the Psalm speaks to my own life. We may read this Psalm devotionally by asking what our place is in a world of conflict. We have all known times of distress. As long as this world continues to resist God's rule it will be a place of hardship. Indeed, our Lord Jesus does not desire to draw us away from this world precisely because he wants us to be agents of peace, to be ministers of reconciliation, in the midst of the hardships of the present age. Jesus has shown us the way that we may "rise again and stand firm." Moreover, he sends us to bear with our spiritual brothers and sisters, and to bear with our neighbours.
Psalm 20 opens with a blessing: "May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion" (vv. 1-2). Let it be so! Now, even as we are to seek and receive aid from God's sanctuary we must stand alert and be ready to offer the peace that we have received, for God has made our hearts and our fellowship his dwelling place! We are the sanctuary from which God desires to extend his mighty mercy. This does not mean that we must make ourselves busy seeking out those in distress. Rather, as we go about our life, in work or leisure, we stay attentive. "With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints," indeed, all of creation (Ephesians 6:18). Pray for your leaders. Pray even for Jesus. Pray "Your kingdom come. May the victory you accomplished on the cross come to full fruition." And remember, those who walk as Jesus did, those who trust in the name of the LORD our God will stand firm, and our God will be pleased to share the good work of reconciliation with them.
"Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise again and stand firm." Let it be, Lord. We wait upon the help from your sanctuary. Do not let us be put to shame, nor let our enemies triumph over us. Seal us in your victory.