Reflections on Psalm 21: God is a Benevolent Caregiver and a Passionate Protector

We all have plenty of bills. Water, electric, gas, rent, mortgage, phone, car, health, dental, etc. Each month, we receive the bill in our mail or in our email and we have the choice as to whether or not we are going to pay it. Why don’t we just throw the bill in the trash? Well, it’s simple really, we pay our bills, because the people we are paying those bills to have the power to give and take away. The water company has the power to turn off our water, the electric company has the power to turn off our electricity, and the health insurance company has the power to deny us insurance. We have certain responses to people, depending on who that person is and what kind of power they have. In Psalm 21, the people of Israel respond to God in a very specific way because of who he is and what kind of power he has.

Firstly, Psalm 21 reveals to us that the God of Israel is a benevolent caregiver. Verses 1-7 depict this reality for us. Verse 1 says, “O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults!” and then in verse 5 the Psalmist says, “His glory is great through your salvation; splendor and majesty you bestow on him.” It is important to note, that first and foremost, the salvation that the king desired belongs to the Lord. The king does not rejoice in something that he already has, but rather he rejoices in what is not his, in God’s salvation he rejoices.

Salvation is something that is only found in God. Salvation is not some abstract notion, but rather it is personal. Verse 6 says, “For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.” The only kind of salvation that is worth our time is the kind that is found in the presence of God. One of my daughter’s story books is a retelling of the gospel. I love this particular telling of the gospel because it emphasizes the reality that our sin puts us out of God’s presence. To be without God’s presence is to be without salvation. This Psalm emphasizes that reality. The salvation that we so long for is God himself. That is why Jesus is called Immanuel, God with us. We could never reach God through our own efforts, so God comes to be present with us in Christ and even more so in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Salvation belongs to the Lord, but in his gracious benevolence he shares Himself with us.

This salvation, this presence of God, does not depend on whether or not a person is this way or that, it depends on the the choice of God, since it is his salvation to give to whom he chooses. In verses 2-4 the Psalmist says, “You have given him his heart’s desire and have not withheld the request of his lips. For you meet him with rich blessings; you set a crown of fine gold upon his head. He asked life of you; you gave it to him, length of days forever and ever.” The king is blessed with many different things. He is given his heart’s desire, his requests have been granted, he has received a crown of fine gold, and he has been given length of days. Is this because the king is worthy to receive all of these things? No, it is because in God’s gracious plan, he freely, not under compulsion, not because he had to, not because the king had earned it, he freely gave the king blessings. This was a king that trust in the Lord, according to verse 7, and it was only because of the steadfast love of the most High that he was not moved. God’s love covers this King and that is why he was blessed. God was a gracious caregiver to his anointed king.

In His freedom, God chose to bless Israel and its king because he is a gracious and benevolent caregiver, but he also chose to pour out His wrath on Israel’s enemies because he is also a passionate protector. Verses 8 through 12 depict God as a wrathful and powerful God. A God who does not take lightly the actions of his enemies. Verse 8 says, “Your hand will find out all your enemies; your right hand will find out those who hate you.” In Psalm 20, Israel was praying for the protection of their king against the enemies of Israel, but here in Psalm 21 we find that God does not view the adversaries as Israel’s enemies, but rather he views them as his own enemies. God makes things personal because the enemies of God’s people are God’s own enemies. When God’s family is attacked, he is attacked.

Verses 9-12 say, “You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear. The Lord will swallow them up in his wrath, and fire will consume them. You will destroy their descendants from the earth, and their offspring from among the children of man. Though they plan evil against you, though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.For you will put them to flight; you will aim at their faces with your bows.” This is a God that we don’t necessarily like to talk about. However, this God of wrath is not like the wrath of a human. A human’s wrath is uncontrolled and is most often not filled with love. The wrath of God that is described here is not that of a temper tantrum, but rather it is a wrath of protection. Protection for God’s people and protection for God’s glory. But you may think, well this wrathful God, is really mostly that way in the Old Testament, he isn’t that way in the New Testament and certainly not today.  Verse 9, however, shows us something different. It says, “You will make them as a blazing oven when you appear.” God’s appearance brings destruction. Not for his children, but for his enemies. When we pray, come Lord Jesus quickly, yes we pray for our salvation by experiencing his presence, but the presence of God also brings with it the judgment of his enemies. As verse 11 says, “though they plan evil against you, though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.” God will not allow his enemies to succeed, because if they were to succeed they would destroy his people and God cares to deeply about his own family to allow that to happen.

Thus, as the Israelites see who their God is and what kind of power he has, they only have one response. Verse 13, “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.” The Israelites respond to God’s benevolent care and passionate protection with worship. They must give God the glory due his name. There is no other option. They know that they could just as easily have been God’s enemies and it is only by his grace that he has freely chosen to bless them with his presence of salvation. They also know that it is only by His mercy that they have received protection rather than the wrath they deserve. Therefore, they sing and praise God’s power.

This benevolent caregiver and passionate protector is seen most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, we see God pouring out all of his blessings upon humanity by becoming human himself. He did not have to do this, but in his freedom, he chose to become human so that we might experience his presence in the most intimate way possible. Jesus shows us that God is willing to do whatever is necessary to bring a banished people back into his presence. He goes into the far country for our sake. We also see in Christ, God as passionate protector. Our greatest enemy is sin and death. Therefore, Jesus endured the cross and experienced death, the penalty of sin, so that we might experience the joy of his resurrection. Jesus passionately protects us from sin and death by sacrificing everything. Jesus is both our benevolent caregiver and passionate protector. So may we have the same response as the Israelites. A response of worship.

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