This Thursday, we’ll all gather around tables with friends and family to celebrate a supremely Christian feast. And it matters not that Thanksgiving as a national holiday isn’t commanded in the Scriptures. Christianity alone can account for and support the tradition. If there is no God, who is there to thank? So, as we prepare to roast turkeys and set tables, as we polish crystal goblets and bake pies, Psalm 21 is here to teach us how to also prepare heaping mounds of joy and gratitude.
The text for the sermon today is Psalm 21. These are the words of God:
21 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.
1 O Lord, in your strength the king rejoices,
and in your salvation how greatly he exults!
2 You have given him his heart’s desire
and have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah
3 For you meet him with rich blessings;
you set a crown of fine gold upon his head.
4 He asked life of you; you gave it to him,
length of days forever and ever.
5 His glory is great through your salvation;
splendor and majesty you bestow on him. 6 For you make him most blessed forever;
you make him glad with the joy of your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the Lord,
and through the steadfast love of the Most High he shall not be moved.
8 Your hand will find out all your enemies;
your right hand will find out those who hate you.
9 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.
10 You will destroy their descendants from the earth,
and their offspring from among the children of man.
11 Though they plan evil against you,
though they devise mischief, they will not succeed.
12 For you will put them to flight;
you will aim at their faces with your bows.
13 Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!
We will sing and praise your power. (ESV)
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
David, King over Israel, has just returned from the field of victory and sings of the Lord’s deliverance in v. 1-7. The people respond in v. 8-12 declaring their trust in the Lord for future deliverance as well. And the Psalm concludes with a shout of praise in v. 13. This Psalm, therefore, is a pause, a moment of rest, in which the people thank God for what he has done, and to praise him for the good they expect in the future.
David ascribes everything to God. Both the strength to fight the battle as well as the outcome are traced back to God: he planned it, he ordained it, and he worked to accomplish it. And all of it was what David had asked for. (v. 1-2) The end of verse 2 is a single word: selah. It’s a word that means “Stop, and think about it.”
God has set the crown on the king’s head (v. 3) The king asked for life and God gave it to him in eternal measure (v. 4) Because God saved the king from his enemies, his glory and renown have grown in the earth. And God’s unfailing presence brings unspeakable joy. (v. 5-6) The king then turns to the future and declares his trust in the Lord. So long as the Lord loves him, nothing can touch him. (v. 7)
Many commentators believe the people of Israel spoke the second part of this Psalm. So, “Your” in v. 8 is speaking of the king, but of course this “Your” represents God as well. God’s hand and the king’s will find out their enemies. (v. 8) When the king appears they will be turned into blazing ovens; all their sinful schemes exposed and consumed. (v. 9) God will purge their legacy from the earth. (v. 10) God will judge both evil that is attempted, and even evil that is intended though it isn’t carried out. (v. 11) His arrows of judgment will put evil to flight. (v. 12) This doctrine of God’s judgment on the wicked is not one that we are ashamed of, but rightly understood, is a doctrine we delight in and thank God for.
“Be exalted, O Lord in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.” (v. 13)m
True Christian thanksgiving begins by ascribing everything to the Lord. (v. 2) David had just won a battle, but he knows that it could have easily gone differently. Therefore, his successes are truly God’s. His strength comes from the Lord. There isn’t anything, if he thinks long enough about it, that he can take full and final credit for.
THANKSGIVING FOR PAST VICTORIES
As I’ve said before, gratitude is living with your eyes open. In order to be thankful, you have to take account of what’s been going on. David does this in the first 2 verses. He’s reflecting on the deliverance of God, and he’s given himself time to do it. “Selah” isn’t a word we often use, but we ought to embrace it this week.
Our secular world only knows how to air grievances. Christians ought to demonstrate a better way. If there is a God, you have something to be thankful for.
Chesterton once said, “The man who said, “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed,” put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth is, “Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised.”
So, what good have you not deserved, yet received anyway? Rather than a “Thanksgiving” jar, we ought to have a “Selah” jar. None of the good gifts are coincidence, none of them chance happenings.
THANKSGIVING FOR FUTURE VICTORIES
V. 8-12 teach us that God will search out all his enemies, destroy them, and that we are to extol his name for it. We are to be thankful, not just for the material blessings of a table heavy with turkey and gravy. We are to thank the Lord even for his consuming wrath.
Many Christians read the first 7 verses of Psalm 21 and smile and nod, but when they get to v. 8-12 they frown in disapproval. “How could such a beautiful Psalm end like this?” But David knew better, and he knew what was entailed in praying for God to deliver his people from their enemies. You can’t pray for God to provide a kidney for a transplant, and at the same time be surprised that someone had to die to provide the kidney.
Neither can we take the easy way out of these verses by saying something like, “Well, that’s in the Old Testament.”
He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. (Rev. 19:11-16)
This world is evil and fallen. (Gen. 3) The people born into it are by nature children of wrath. (Eph. 2) No one seeks after God. (Rom. 3) God told Adam that in the day of his disobedience he would surely die, and yet he let Adam live another day.
Friend, if God didn’t restrain evil; if he wasn’t gracious & patience with evil doers such as us, we’d burn down the earth in about 15 seconds. So, the problem is never with God and his wrath, it’s with us and our saccharine definitions of love and niceness. The question we should be asking isn’t, “Why is this so harsh?” It’s “how are we still alive?”
9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9)
So, we really do want God to judge evil. We are praying that his kingdom would come. (Matt. 5:10) And this means we’re praying that his just wrath would descend on the wicked. But we also know that 2,000 years ago, his just wrath descended first upon his own Son. And this means that God destroys his enemies in two ways:
He can either destroy them the old fashioned was like a righteous king bending the bow, or he can destroy them by transforming them into his friends. So, we rightly understand Psalm 21 as we rightly understand Christ.