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Psalm 21

Joyful in God’s strength

Praise for deliverance. A David psalm. 

The king[a] celebrates your strength, Yahveh
he bursts out into song over your deliverance.

2 You’ve given him his heart’s desire
withholding nothing he asked for.

You’ve lavished rich blessings on him
and set a crown of pure gold on his head.
He asked you to spare his life
and you not only did that
—you made his life full and free too.
5 The victories you’ve given him
have brought him great glory
and clothed him with splendor and majesty.
6 You’ve given him
an endless succession of blessings
and his joy overflows
at the sight of your face.

7 Upheld by the Most High’s unfailing love
the king trusts in Yahveh
with unfaltering faith.

8 You track down all your enemies
your strong hand seizes all who hate you.
9 When you appear in battle
you turn them into a blazing furnace.
Yahveh’s anger swallows them up
like consuming fire.
10 You wipe out all their descendants
remove all trace of them from the earth.
11 Since they plotted against you
devising evil schemes
they never succeed.
12 When you take deadly aim at them
they turn tail and flee.

13 Move out, Yahveh, in all your mighty power!
We’ll sing and celebrate your strength.

As Psalm 20 preceded battle, this psalm follows victory in battle. Perfectly symmetrical, it begins and ends with celebration of Yahveh’s strength (vv. 1, 13). The psalm’s central couplet grounds the whole psalm in covenantal trust and love (v. 7). Israel’s earthly king overcomes powerful enemies in the strength of Israel’s heavenly king because both are faithful to the covenant. David’s faith doesn’t falter because Yahveh’s unfailing love upholds him.

Five Hebrew couplets preceding verse 7 detail covenant blessings (vv. 2-6) and five following it curses (vv. 8-12). David represents Israel’s true—i.e., heavenly—king and leads his armies in battle against those who seek to crush the fledgling nation. Because David trusts him, God spares his life, crowns him and endows him with his own royal attributes: majesty, glory and splendor. David also represents the nation before God and, so, receives Israel’s covenant blessings. God smiles on him, filling him with joy. And because David trusts him, God empowers him to enact divine curses on those who curse God’s people and try to subvert his rule.[b] With warfare ongoing, the final verse urges God to continue the battle and promises that his people will praise him when he does.

Lord, you’ve overcome evil even though it often feels the night is here to stay. If I trust in you, the darkness can’t put out your light shining in me. May your unfailing love keep my faith from faltering. Empower me to shine your light in the darkness around me, with joy, I pray. Amen.


[a] Interestingly, Jewish scholars were divided over whether the psalm referred to King David or the Messiah, the Midrash taking the former position and the Targum the latter (Goldingay, 2006, 313).

[b] Gen. 12:3. Commentators disagree over whether verses 8-12 refer to Israel’s divine or its human king. Goldingay argues—rightly, I think—that they refer specifically to God (2006, 316). But the issue seems almost moot since, as Craigie points out, the psalmist suggests a fusion of the two kings (1983, 193). Israel’s human king and its divine king are so entwined by verse 7 that we can view them as acting in tandem in the verses following.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.