This is probably the praise hymn David and his people sang after the victories prayed for in Psalm 20 as they celebrated a day of national thanksgiving. They had prayed for specific blessings and God had granted them. The hymn opens and closes with praise for God’s strength granted to His king and the army (vv. 1, 13). Answered prayer ought to be acknowledged by fervent praise. Since only Messiah could win the victories prophesied in verses 8–12, the Jewish Targum states that this psalm is about “King Messiah.” Of course, David is a type of Jesus Christ.
Looking Back: Celebration for Past Victories (vv. 1–7)
The people and their king address the Lord and thank Him for what He did for them in answer to their prayers. Compare 21:1 with 21:5, 21:2 with 20:4, and 21:5 with 20:1. The word “salvation” in verses 1 and 5 (KJV) means “deliverance, victory.” David had prayed that his life be spared (v. 4), and the Lord answered him (v. 2; 20:1, 6). This blessing was part of God’s covenant with David (2 Sam. 7:16). The word “prevent” in verse 3 (KJV) means “to see to it beforehand” (69:10; 79:8). The Lord met Joshua before the battle of Jericho (Josh. 5:13–15), and Melchizedek (a type of Jesus Christ) met Abraham after the battle with the kings (Gen. 14); and God went before David and “welcomed” him (NIV) to the battlefield and the victory. That God goes before His obedient people is a great encouragement (48:14; 77:20; John 10:4; Deut. 8:2).
Some students connect the gold crown of verse 3 with Israel’s victory over the Ammonites at Rabbah (2 Sam. 12:26–31), but this victory actually belonged to Joab. David didn’t join the siege until the very end. The crown is probably symbolic of God’s special “blessings of goodness” upon David (v. 5 and see 8:5). To David, the victory God gave was like a second coronation, assuring him that he was indeed God’s anointed. Length of days forever (v. 4) and blessings forever (v. 6) remind us of God’s covenant with David that was ultimately fulfilled in Christ (2 Sam. 7:6, 13, 16, 29; Luke 1:30–33; and see Pss. 10:16; 45:17; 48:14; and 133:3). It was customary to attribute endless life to kings (Neh. 2:3; Dan. 2:4). While he reigned, David would not be “shaken” by his enemies, because his faith was in the Lord (v. 7; 10:6; 16:8; 55:22; 121:3). This declaration of faith is the central verse of the psalm.
Looking Ahead: Anticipation of Future Victories (vv. 8–12)
The king trusted in the Lord and so did the people, and they affirmed their faith as they addressed these words to the king. The emphasis is now on the future victories God will give David and Israel because they have faith in the living God. (See 20:7.) God’s right hand is more than a symbol of power; it actively works for His people and brings defeat to their enemies (89:13; 118:15–16; Deut. 5:15). “Find out” (KJV) means “dispose of.” Just as fire devours what it touches, so the Lord will devour David’s enemies as a cook burns fuel under the oven (79:5; 89:46; 97:6; Mal. 4:1). The nation of Israel and David’s posterity would be preserved (18:50; 2 Sam. 7:16; Gen. 12:1–3), but there would be no future for the enemy. “Fruit” refers to posterity. (See 127:3, 132:11; Deut. 28:4; Hos. 9:16.) God did give David many victories and he greatly extended Israel’s borders and brought peace to the kingdom. The nations might get together and plot against him, but David would still win the battle.
Looking Up: Exaltation of the Lord of the Victories (v. 13)
As in 20:9, the psalm concludes with a statement addressed to the Lord and expressing praise for His greatness. David fought battles and won victories, not to exalt himself, but to magnify the Lord, and his people knew this. David showed this same spirit as a youth when he killed the giant Goliath (1 Sam. 17:36, 45–47). Psalm 20 closes with the people and the king asking God to hear their prayers, and Psalm 21 closes with the prayer that God would be “lifted up on high” and exalted. “[T]hose who honor Me, I will honor” (1 Sam. 2:30, NKJV).