May the LORD answer you when you cry in distress; May Jacob’s God keep you, whose name you confess. May God send assistance from his holy place, And grant you from Zion support by his grace.
May God keep in mind every sacrifice made; Accept on the altar your offerings laid. And may he fulfil the desire of your heart— Success to each one of your plans to impart.
With joy we will shout when your victory’s won; We’ll lift up our banners in God’s name alone. And so may the LORD hear your earnest request, And answer your prayèrs as seems to him best.
Now truly I know that the LORD from above Protects his anointed in covenant love; From heav’n in his holiness God hears his cry, And saves by the pow’r of his right hand on high.
In horses or chariots some trust for defence, But the name of the LORD is our strong confidence. They’re brought to their knees, while in strength we arise. O LORD, save the king! Hear and answer our cries!
You can hear a Free Church congregation sing this to the tune St Denio (Immortal Invisible) here.
Psalm 20 is a dangerous worship song. Is it a battle cry? Is it a prayer of intercession? Depends on who is singing it and where it is being sung.
Imagine any G7 leader singing this Psalm to his or her fellow citizens. The Psalm suddenly reeks of the decay of colonialism or of a destructive form of nationalism.
Imagine an Eritrean Orthodox priest whisper this Psalm prayerfully as he is huddled in a prison cell, interceding on behalf of his congregation who are in hiding from an oppressive government. The Psalm suddenly speaks of a faith and of a trust in God that few of us in the UK can comprehend.
According to Scripture, Israel has been both a strong regional player and an oppressed, occupied land. Was this psalm written in a time of prosperity as a way of proclaiming Almighty God’s rule? Or was it written as a prayer on the eve of battle as a strong military ‘superpower’ threatened Israel?
A few of things I’ve noted:
This is a prayer of one believer/follower for another that comes from a place of ‘distress’ and of a relationship with Almighty God through faithful worship (stanzas 1 &2)
Any ‘victory’ belongs to God, is because of God, and is on God’s terms (stanza 3)
The Psalmist has faith that God will protect His anointed and hear their cries for help (stanza 4)
Any confidence we have should be in the name of Almighty God, not in our own military might, talents, number of social media ‘likes’, positive newspaper headlines, or strength of our currency (stanza 5)
But I wonder – how do you sing Psalm 20?
Imagine singing this Psalm over a friend having chemotherapy
Imagine singing this Psalm to a friend in jail for burglary and possession with intent to sell
Imagine singing this Psalm with your new neighbour who is seeking asylum from a war raging in his/her homeland
Imagine a friend singing this Psalm with you with whatever difficulty you are facing
What are you praying for in each imagining?
What would a ‘victory’ worthy of the name of Almighty God look like?
What is the truth of this Psalm that transcends the details of any context?
Imagine you are a follower of Jesus and you are singing this Psalm in your church to other followers of ‘the Way’. How would this Psalm sound as it is sung in your church? In your community? In your workplace? In your school? In your home?
Triumphant? Colonial? Militant? Nationalistic? A heartfelt prayer? An intercession for others? An assertion of faith? A declaration of the power of Almighty God? An expectant hope?
How do you sing it? And wherever you sing it, what would a ‘victory’ worthy of the name of Almighty God look like?
I’d invite you to pray this Psalm, adapting as appropriate, over a ‘distressing’ situation that needs the power of God.
Angela Rigby is an ordinand at the Northern College and a member of Christ Church URC in Haydock, St Helens.
Sing Psalms (C) Psalmody and Praise Committee, Free Church of Scotland, 15 North Bank Street, Edinburgh, EH1 2LS.