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Psalm 21

Joyful in God’s strength

No matter how overwhelming the evil around us is, God’s strength and unfailing commitment to bless his people when they truly trust him ultimately bring us the joy of triumph.

Praise for deliverance. A David psalm. 

The king celebrates your strength, YHWH
he bursts 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 did not only 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, delighted with your presence
his joy overflows.

7 For the king trusts in YHWH and stands firm
through the unwavering love of the Most High.

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

13 Rise up, YHWH
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 YHWH’s strength. The psalm’s central couplet grounds the whole psalm in covenantal trust and love. Israel’s earthly king, David, overcomes powerful enemies in the strength of Israel’s heavenly king, YHWH, because both are faithful to the covenant. David’s faith doesn’t falter because YHWH’s unfailing love upholds him.

The five Hebrew couplets preceding verse 7 detail covenant blessings, and the five following it covenant curses. David represents Israel’s heavenly king and leads his armies in battle against those who seek to crush his fledgling nation. Because David trusts him, YHWH 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. With warfare ongoing, the final verse urges God to continue the battle and promises that his people will praise him when he does.

The Jewish Midrash saw the king the psalm refers to as David, and the Jewish Targum as the Messiah. Both views were right since the Messiah represents the fullest expression of the Davidic king. Scholars dispute whether the psalm’s curses are carried out by Israel’s divine or its human king. But the issue seems moot since the psalmist suggests a fusion of the two: so entwined are Israel’s human and divine kings that we should view them as acting in tandem. And this is suggestive of the Messiah, whose perfect obedience to God leaves no gap or slippage between the two.


Though it often feels the night is here to stay, Jesus, you’ve overcome evil. So if I trust 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 till you return and earth and heaven are one. Amen.

In your free moments today, meditate on these words:

For the king trusts in YHWH and stands firm
through the unwavering love of the Most High.


Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH or YHVH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and sometimes transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Likewise, all modern translations either translate or transliterate it. Some other options for translating it are “the Eternal,” “the Almighty,” or “the Sovereign Lord.”

While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it seems to me more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. This roots it more firmly in the biblical story as the name God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. Meaning “the self-existent One who answers to no one,” the name YHWH 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. I’ve chosen to transliterate only YHWH’s consonants since the earliest Hebrew manuscripts contain only consonants, the vowels being added much later. My aim in doing so is to honor God’s name and set it apart, as unique.

One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it out of reverence. (They read Adonai instead whenever they come to YHWH in the text.) I take the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard, who advocated pronouncing it as Yahveh (Yah·vay). He favored that over the standard Yahweh since the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish. It also makes it sound more robust, period.

Finding strength in the ancient psalms

May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.