Famous battle-songs have led warriors into war. While Southerners sang 'Dixie', the North sang 'John Brown's Body'. It was Robert. E. Lee who wrote: "I don't believe we can have an army without music." One confederate officer, in the aftermath of Attomattox, mused ruefully: "If we'd had your music, sir, we'd have whipped you."
A similar function is performed today by national anthems at sports events: this side of the pond, during the 'Six Nations' rugby campaign, few renditions are as spine-tingling as Murrayfield's 'Flower of Scotland', Cardiff's 'Land of My Father's or Twickenham's ode to the Queen. Battle-song, Psalm 20, led Judah's kings to war.
The Psalm has prayerful bookends which top-and-tail the song (verses 1-5 and 10): it concentrates warriors minds on miracles to expect concerning king messiah (the anointed of the LORD), verse 6.
A. Opening Prayer for Salvation - Verses 1-4
B. Song of Salvation - Verse 5
C. Strength of Salvation - Verse 6
B`Source of Salvation - Verse 7-8
A` Closing Prayer for Salvation - Verse 9
We'll try to get our heads around the details by looking briefly at each section in their original setting - picture the whole church, assembled at Zion's House, the King presents his sacrifice, the High Priest offers prayer, the people shout with confidence, as armies of the LORD rely fully on their God.
Opening Prayer for Salvation - Verses 1-4
First there is supplication - release from dire straits, lift far above distress, be arms underneath to help! On what basis does David's throne seek success?
May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! May he send you help from the sanctuary and give you support from Zion - verses 1-2
Second there is sacrifice - all species of offering Moses ordered (Leviticus 1-5), and specifically burnt offering: full fat gifts as a pleasing dedication and sin propitiation.
May He remember all your offerings and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices - verse 3
Third there is success - David was a son after God's own heart: if successor-sons set the LORD before their face, their plans for war can anticipate similar success.
May He grant you your heart's desire and fulfill all your plans! - verse 4
Song of Salvation - Verse 5
With sacrifice offered, and Aaronic prayer stilled, a united cry ascends - victory in war will lead to joyful song, as standards ripple in the breeze: the army adds 'Amen!'
May we (we will) shout for joy over your salvation, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the LORD fulfill all your petitions - verse 5
Strength of Salvation - Verse 6
Either priest or king, himself, puts total trust in God? Heaven hears and helps by a hidden warrior-hand. God's Christ will be saved by a divine miracle of might.
Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed; He will answer Him from His holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand - verse 6
Source of Salvation - Verse 7-8
Ancient wars were fought with chariot and horse. Modern troops employ jets, tanks and nukes. All fleshly arsenals fall! Judah's army prevails by the Spirit of the LORD!
Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright - verses 7-8
Closing Prayer for Salvation - Verse 9
About to head to war, people, prince & priest, join in unison, in a final rendition of this Israelite anthem: Yahweh, as promised, hear our call - God save the King!
O LORD, save the king! May He answer us when we call - verse 9
It's not hard to see, having unraveled some of the knots, how this psalm applies to Christ and the Son of David's Church: if it could be utilized in a situation like that which Jehoshaphat faced (2 Chronicles 20:1-30), it also becomes a prayer for Jesus seeking triumph at Calvary, and for the church in the aftermath of His Cross.
With Christ delivered from death, raised up from the grave, ascended to heaven, and enthroned in glorious power - subjugating all things under His feet for our sake, safety and strength - Psalm 20 now becomes prayerful war-song of God's Church-Militant, and what's more, with even greater assurance and confidence.
All round the world, with our exalted Head enthroned, His body is persecuted and ridiculed for its faith - surely the LORD makes space when we're cramped, and lifts us to high-havens beyond which man cannot reach. His offering on Calvary is the summation and fulfillment of all Levitical rites, from which fat and gifts drew power and gained His Church effective help.
Was any heart like Jesus' so fully fixed on God? This perfect loyal king, obedient Last Adam, and David's Greater Son, has a heart-strategy for God's Kingdom which will most certainly be fulfilled. The merit of His blood - passive and active obedience - gives us massive confidence that elect from every land will be gathered to His fold.
In light of His Blood shall we not raise Messiah's standard up? His perpetual intercession, as the Great High Priest of the Church, ensures a constant stream of blessing will be poured out on the church. As we march out on Christ's Great Commission, at this trying time will the Christian's war-cry cease? 'May your Kingdom come! May your will be done!'
Physical, mental and numerical weakness may often be our lot: nevertheless, the very same power that raised our Lord Jesus from the dead, and then aloft to God's right hand, is even now at work. That's why believers must take heart and pray for minds that understand (Ephesians 1:15-23). If we have, far too frequently, relied on dummy-guns and repeatedly fired blanks, let prayer be back in vogue as we seek aid from God.
Let us be very sure - God has saved His King: be confident, convinced and convicted of the fact that prayer is the power-tool most often lacking in the Church. It's time to fly the flag, time to pray and fight, not by whistling 'Dixie' but by praying 'Doxology'!