May the Lord answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high!
May He send you help from the sanctuary
And support you from Zion!
Psalm 20 is categorized as a royal psalm, a liturgical blessing from the priests and people upon the king of Israel. As much as this psalm sings of the monarch, however, it clearly places confidence in the LORD of Israel who is the only one ultimately responsible for the king’s successes.
May we sing for joy over your victory,
And in the name of our God we will set up our banners.
Clinton McCann provides an interesting insight about this psalm:
On one level, it is possible to hear Psalm 20 as nothing more than a piece of ancient Judean political propaganda – that is, God is on our side and God will give us the victory. It seems to be an ancient example of the kind of thinking that is so dangerous and frightening in our day, thinking that leads people to conclude that God sanctions whatever our nation does and to label our opponents as evil empires.
On the other hand, it is possible to hear Psalm 20 quite differently, building upon the insights that the primary actor in the psalm is God, not the king or the people. Keeping this in mind, we can hear in Psalm 20 the lesson that the people of any nation in some sense depend on their leaders, as well as the admonition that both the people and their leaders are to depend on God.
McCann then quotes theologian James Mays:
As Scripture, the psalm teaches the church to pray for those who hold the power of office, because they, like us, are dependent on the LORD. It warns against ever letting our dependence on their service turn into the trust we owe to God alone. It warns against allowing their fascination with military strength to make us support policies based on trust in military might.
“The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool…”
Every Sunday, during the Prayers of the People, Christians within the Anglican tradition pray for national leaders. In our community where I live and worship, we pray for:
Donald, our president and the congress and courts of these United States.
Greg, our governor and the legislature of this state.
Steve, our mayor and the council of this city.
Chuck, our judge and the commissioners of this county.
Guide the people of this land, and of all the nations, in the ways of justice and peace; that we may honor one another and serve the common good.
“Praying for” our leaders in no way suggests we must support everything they do or say. Rather, we are praying that our leaders will behave as God would desire: in the ways of justice and peace. Since we cannot make any of our leaders behave in this way of justice, as people of faith, it is logical, appropriate and right for us to ask God’s intervention and guidance in the hearts and actions of leaders across the globe.
Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.
The Name. The Name of God represents the presence and power, the identity and character of God. It is this Name that gives us confidence to follow our leaders when they demonstrate the divine character and courage to resist them when they do not.
Pray for the king but trust in the Lord.
J. Clinton McCann Jr. “The Book of Psalms” in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IV (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1996) page 756.
James L. Mayes, Psalms in Interpretation Commentaries (Louisville: John Knox,19940 103.
Book of Common Prayer, online resource