COMMENTARY ON PSALM 20 (Vulgate 19)
translated by F.F. Reilly
In the preceding psalms David considered his freedom from persecution. Here in Psalm 20 (19) he renders his due thanks for such freedom. Being so freed, or with a hope for his liberation, the psalmist seeks to be advanced to greater things.
This Psalm 20 (19) is divided into two parts. First, a prayer of exaltation is set forth, and second, there is a promise. As there: "In thy strength the king rejoices, O Lord; and in thy help how greatly he exults!" (Ps 21 (20):1).
Regarding the prayer of exaltation three ideas are proposed. First, the prayer itself is considered, second, is a hope for an answer. As there: "Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed, he will answer him from his holy heaven with mighty victories by his right hand. (Verse 6). And third, the psalmist's conclusion is presented. There: "Give victory to the king, O Lord; answer us when we call." (Verse 9).
Concerning the prayer itself two ideas are advanced.
First, the prayer is advanced in relation to evils, and second, its advancement is towards goodness. There: "May he grant you your heart's desire, and fulfill all your plans!" (Verse 11).
This Psalm 20 (19) can proceed in another manner. In other preceding psalms, David's prayer was introduced as if he was praying in his own behalf. Here, in Psalm 20 (19) is a prayer, as if for others by David. And, also literally those things are here said, as referring to David, yet properly and precisely they pertain to the Lord Christ.
However, according to mystery, such things pertain to Christ's Church, and the just man, and are altogether understood. About this part the psalm makes two points.
First, an answer of the one praying is considered, and second, the reason for the answer. As there: "The name of the God of Jacob protect you!" (Verse 1). Thus is said: O David, or, O Christ: "The Lord answer you in the day of trouble!" (Verse l). For: "May he hear your prayers and be reconciled to you, and may he not forsake you in time of evil" (2 Mac 1:5).
David suffered tribulations, as did Christ, in his Passion, so is said in Verse 1: "In the day of trouble". Namely, of rebuke. For: "They said to him, 'Thus says Hezekiah, "This day is a day of distress, of rebuke, and of disgrace" (Is 37:3). In such distress and rebuke Christ has been answered regards himself, and others. For: "In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard for his godly fear" (Heb 5:7). Also: a just man claims: "In my distress I cry to the Lord, that he may answer me" (Ps 120 (119):l).
There can be a triple reason why any prayer is heard. First, through divine goodness, second through aid from sainted ones, and third, from one's own merit or credit. As the Apostle John claims: "We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him." (Jo 9:31).
A reason for a prayer's answer is said in Verse 1: "The name of the God of Jacob protect you." The first reason is because of his name, that is, because of his goodness. "May he protect you", that is Christ, or other persons who pray to the God of Jacob.
This very God, Jacob himself adored, as when God appeared to Jacob at Bethel. (cf. Gen 28:18-22). That is, Jacob's God, who leads earthly persons to heaven, and from this heaven assists earthly person. Thus, does this "God of Jacob" protect you. For: "The name of the Lord is a strong tower" (Prov 18:10).
Also: "thou holdest them safe under thy shelter from the strife of tongues." (Ps 31 (30):20). Again: the name of God is all powerful. Because: "The Lord is a man of war; the Lord is his name." (Exod 15:3).
Also, God's name is one of divine mercy. For: "He who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name" (Lk 1:19). That is, divine mercy is God's name. For: "Your name is oil poured out" (Song 1:2). So, persons are protected through the divine power and mercy of God. Because: "in the shadow of his hand he hid me." (Is 14'9:2). Also: "hide me in the shadow of thy wings" (Ps 17 (16):8).
Verse 2 then gives a second reason for an answer to prayer. "May he send you help from Zion!" That is, from the assembly of sainted persons on Zion, where is two assemblies. One assembly reigns with God in glory in a church triumphant in heaven, another assembly comprises members of the militant church here on this earth. Now, from such earthly and heavenly assemblies persons are helped, as God's own angels intercede for us. Because: "But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous" (1 Jo 2:1).
Also, regards an assembly of God's angels: "And the smoke of the incense rose with the prayers of the saints from the hand of the angel before God." (Rev 8:4). Namely, such smoke from incense comes from moisture and heat.
Christ also (King of all angels and saints), helps us. For: "Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them" (Heb 7:25).
So Verse 2 declares: "May he send you help from the sanctuary , and give you support from Zion!" Namely, from the Incarnate Son of God, the Father, Christ. For the Lord Christ is analogically termed as: "Holy". Because: "therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God." (Lk 1:35). And: "to anoint a most holy place." (Dan 9:21). And: "from the sanctuary" (Verse 2). Namely, out of Christ's own tribulations, as he sanctified himself in his Passion and Death. Since: "And for their sake I consecrate myself that they also may be consecrated in truth." (Jo 17:19). Also: "Tomorrow by the time the sun is hot, you shall have deliverance." (I Sam 11:9).
Again Verse 2: "May he send you help from the sanctuary." That is, from the assemblies of holy, sainted, blessed persons. For: "Yet thou art holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel!" (Ps 22 (21):3).
Then, Verse 2 concludes: "and give you support from Zion!" That is, from David's tent, or dwelling, upon Mount Zion. Here on Zion was an ark, or sanctuary, for the Lord's Covenant (or Torah), wherein the Lord God of Jacob was worshipped. Thus, Verse 2 declares, as it were: From the prayer of those persons who, in this present world, turn to celestial assemblies. And so: "and give you support from Zion!" (Verse 2). Namely, may he, the God of Jacob, make you, David, safe.
Again Verse 2: "from the sanctuary". Namely, from an assembly of holy persons in this world. Also: "from Zion". Namely, those who are in glory give you help. Or also: "from the sanctuary" (Verse 2). That is, in relation to those in the contemplative life to those in the active life as: "from Zion" (Verse 2). Namely, as holy persons help by their prayers.
A third reason for an answer to prayer is that holy deeds of blessed persons are most pleasing to the Lord God of Jacob. So, Verse 3 states: "May he remember all your offerings, and regard with favor your burnt sacrifices. Now, every deed is good, insofar as a person makes some sacrifice, since all deeds ought to be offered as sacrifices to God. As is said: "So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31). All deeds are indeed sacrifices to some degree, just like simple alms-giving. Since: "Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God" (Heb 13:16). And also, like to fasting. For: " In appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is your spiritual worship." (Rom 12:1).
Within the Old Law there occurred certain sacrifices that were not totally, but only as partially burnt offerings. For instance, there were so termed peace-sacrifices, that were totally burnt-offerings, and so declared as most holy, and "Holocausts". This word "Holocaust", comes from two Hebrew words: "Olon", meaning a totality, and "cauma", meaning incense. Now, there is a dual kind of good deeds. Some are termed "Sacrifices". For example, whenever a holy person dedicates his good deed to God, as refraining from the marital act upon certain days of the month. As said: "A time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing." (Eccles 3:5). Or again, whenever a holy person sacrifices oneself totally, reserving no free-will, and thus rendering self as a complete holocaust.
So, Verse 3 declares: "May he remember all your offerings." That is, "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise." (Ps 51 (50):17).
And then: "And regard with favor your burnt sacrifices!" (Verse 3). For: "The offering of a righteous man anoints the altar." (Sir 35:6). Also: "your burnt sacrifices"! For, a holocaust is a totally burnt sacrifice and makes a great odor, since much fat of animals make more odors, or incense. Thus, persons totally devoted, offer more than a mere sacrifice partially but it becomes their complete sacrifice or holocaust, whatsoever their offerings be. Hence all such ideas on offerings, sacrifices, or holocausts, may be the ones referred to the person of Christ, (the Redeemer), on his cross.
Again Verse 3: "May he remember all your offerings." Namely, Christ, (the Savior), reminds everyone to recall his own Passion and Death. For: "Remember my affliction and my bitterness, the wormwood and the gall!" (Lam 3:19). Or: "May he remember". (Verse 3). Namely, the good deeds, as offerings to the Lord Christ.
Thus, the psalmist above considered an advancement towards goodness by prayer. Such prayerful goodness is desired inwardly, and two ideas about such is made.
First, the persons desire their prayer be answered, as to what is prayed for, and second, is their reason. As there: "May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners! May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!" (Verse 5).
Concerning first, the prayer's answer, two further notions are advanced. First, is sought that which is inward within a soul's notion, as to one's free-will, for an answer. Second, is desired, that answer in relation to ideas within one's prayer. As: "May he grant your heart's desire, and fulfill all your plans!" (Verse 4).
Again, Verse 4: "May he grant you your heart's desire!" Namely, according to your own free-will towards some end. As Verse 4 declares, as it were: The Lord God leads you to your end, as you, David, so intended, or free-willed, while God leads. For: "What the wicked dreads will come upon him but the desire of the righteous will be granted." (Prov 10:24).
So Verse 4 states: "and fulfill all your plans!" That is, like your ideas that lead to your end, David. Since our plans are so weak we cannot provide for everything. "For the reasoning of mortals is worthless and our designs are likely to fail" (Wis 9:14).
Now, it is the Lord God himself who leads or confirms our plans by his divine direction, since all plans should concern eternal desires. For: "Hitherto you have asked nothing in my name; ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full." (Jo 16:24). Therefore, it is God himself, by permitting our effectiveness, who really fulfills our plans. As Job claims: "He takes the wise in their own craftiness; and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end." (Job 5:13).
Then Verse 5 asserts: "May we shout for joy over your victory." Here is presented the reason for the answer to prayer. For, God bestows his divine blessings freely on those creatures who extend themselves in behalf of other creatures. So is said: "As each has received a gift, employ it for one another, as good stewards of God's varied grace" (1 Pet 4:10).
The reason for an answer to prayer is sometimes the goodness one may desire, and that ought to be applied to others. Such reason first occurs in relation to a joy regarding many other persons, as if at once everyone rejoices.
So, Verse 5 again: "May we shout for joy over your victory!" Namely, a victory, not due to oneself. Since, Gregory, the Pope, (540-604 A.D.) claims: "It is just that one should find self within sadness, who, by abandoning God, seeks gladness within self."
Then Verse 5 continues: "And in the name of our God set up our banners!" That is, by an invocation to God who exalts, you, David. "For in everything, O Lord, thou hast exalted and glorified the people; and thou hast not neglected to help them at all times and in all places." (Wis 19:22). So is stated in Verse 5: "May we shout for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God set up our banners!" Namely, then we shall all be great.
Then, Verse 5 concludes: "May the Lord fulfill all your petitions!" Here the psalmist finally considers exterior prayers. That is, regards when God, to whom all pray, answers us. Besides, the Lord Christ utters many prayers in behalf of all (cf. John, Chapter 16, in passing).
Verse 6 begins: "Now I know that the Lord will help his anointed." Here is stated a hope for an answer to a prayer. As if it states: Considering that we all increase by thy blessings, O Lord. This can refer to Christ, through whom many are saved, or to David who was saved by being predestined.
"Now I know", as if talking before the event, as in 1 Peter: "The prophets sought this salvation, predicting Christ's sufferings and his future glory." This took place not only by God's saving Christ by raising him from the dead: Ps 15: "You did not allow your Holy One see corruption", but through Christ the Head's being saved, his members will be saved. And he will hear him, that is, Christ praying for his members. "Father, I know that you always hear me" (Jo 11:42). Or it can refer to David.
"He will hear him". Here in Verse 6 the power of an answer to prayer is commended. First, as to power itself and second, the experience of such power. As there: "Some boast of chariots, and some of horses; but we boast of the name of the Lord our God." (Verse 7).
Strength, or fortitude, can be classed as a plentitude of power, or virtue which is valid for dominating. Such can so refer to persons. So, the meaning in Verse 6 is: "with mighty victories by his right hand." Thus God, the Father, by his right hand, saves Christ, (his Son) and, also saves everyone through Christ. Such is evident with mighty victories, at every location, as virtuously, or powerfully, within persons.
Or again: "with mighty victories by his right hand." (Verse 6). Namely, by God, the Father, in the magnitude of thy divine power. For: "God gives the desolate a home to dwell in; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity." (Ps 68 (67):6). So is said: "by his right hand" (Verse 6).
Salvation from the Lord God is twofold. One comes, as if, from the left hand, by which God saves in temporal things, giving temporal goods: Ps 49 : "You save men and animals, Lord". The other is from the right hand, which is giving eternal goods, whereby God saves the just, by giving them gifts. Wisdom 10: "God gave the reward of the labors of his saints".
Next he give an example of God's power, first showing the different kinds of trust and glory that people have, secondly the different result of each: There: "they will collapse and fall". For there are two kinds of people: Some put all their trust in worldly power. Against them Jeremiah (17) spoke: "Cursed the man who trusts in man." Ps 51 (50): "The just will look and laugh..." Others put their trust in God: Ps 118 (117): "It is good to trust in the Lord."
Therefore he says, "Some trust in chariots, some in horses" etc. As if to say, Some trust in worldly power.
Or this can refer to warfare and victories, as some persons fight on chariots, others on horses. Since; "The Egyptians pursued them, all Pharaoh's horses and chariots and his horsemen and his army." (Exod 14:9).
Verse 7 also can refer to warfare victories. As some persons do not trust in victories, but to the glory therein. For, according to the "Gloss" there were dual victories in ancient times. The first kind is termed a "laureated victory", as the victor is crowned with laurel, and rides around in a chariot. The second kind of victory is called an "ovation", and the victor rides around on horseback. Which declares, as if, some victors gloried in their victories by an ovation, while on horseback.
The Latin: "Ovo-ovas" refers to what it is: "to rejoice". So, the English word "Ovation" is derived from an occasion in ancient times, when small shepherd boys rejoiced, as a sheep was given to them as their own. And so, this word "Ovation" can be applied to Verses 6 and 7, as to victories, or ovations, in triumphs. And so, "but we boast of the name of the Lord our God." (Verse 7).
Now, the word "triumph" is derived from the Latin syllables: "tris", meaning "three" and "phonos ", meaning "sound". For, there comes a threefold sound from the victories, or triumphs, of the victors.
The first sound comes to a victor from the entire populace along his way of victory. The second sound comes from all the war-captured bound by hands, and who follow their victors' chariots. The third sound comes from the victor himself.
A victor is clothed in a tunic of Jupiter (Jove, or Zeus, father of the pagan gods), as he sits in a chariot drawn by four white horses. Then, he is led to the "Capitolum", or temple, of Jupiter, at Rome. There before the victor's chariot is placed one war captive, whom the victor boxes or punches, on the ears. Then he shouts to him: "Cognosce teipsum": "Know thyself", or behave thyself!
Then Verse 8 declares: "They will collapse and fall". And here a different outcome is viewed in relation to evil persons. As St Jerome dubs them: "The crooked ones". For, a level path can become curved, or crooked, resulting in one's collapse, and fall. Likewise, little by little, the powers of this world fall.
Again: "will collapse" (Verse 8). For, temporalities can bind good persons, and exceedingly bind evil persons, "because, through part of what God created, they became an abomination, and became traps for the souls of men and a snare to the feet of the foolish." (Wis 14:11). Namely, evil persons, as sinners.
And Verse 8 continues: "and fall", Since, all sinners are finally constrained. Since: "And many shall stumble thereon and they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken." Namely, little by little.
Then, Verse 8 concludes by declaring an outcome of power, as is said: "But we shall rise and stand upright". Because: "Rejoice not over me, O my enemy; when I fall, I shall rise; when I sit in darkness, the Lord will be a light to me." (Mic 7:8),
Finally in Verse 8: "and stand upright". For, an inclination, or curve can be a path to one's falling down. And uprightness is the true posture of a righteous person who walks within sanctity.
Psalm 20 (19) concludes in Verse 9: "Give victory to the King, O Lord; answer us when we call." Thus, a person is seen to bend, or lean, towards two sides. For, either person can pray directly to the Lord Christ, the Savior's divine power, or to such power figuratively in Psalm 20 (19).
As to Christ's power directly Verse 9 says: "Give victory to the king, O Lord." Namely to Christ, (as King of Kings).
As to Christ's power figuratively, it is said: "answer us when we call" (Verse 9). For: "On the day I called, thou didst answer me, my strength of soul thou didst increase." (Ps 138 (137):3).