Psalm 21

God's silly vassal

According to news reports of the day, Mummar Gaddaffi, dictator of Libya for over fourty years, once declared, ‘I am an international leader, the dean of Arab rulers, the king of kings of Africa, and the imam of Muslims, and my international status does not allow me to descend to a lower level.’  But, several years later, the king of kings was dragged from a concrete sewer where he was hiding and summarily shot. 

Psalm 21 is another of the ‘royal psalms.’  These psalms were composed for coronation ceremonies of Israel’s kings or as liturgies for the anniversary celebration of a king’s coronation.  They may also have been used as a liturgy as the king prepared for military action.  But note how verse 7, the centre of the psalm, focuses on what is essential for a king of Israel:

        7 For the king trusts in the Lord,
        and through the steadfast love of the Most High                       

        he will  not be shaken.

This makes it clear that kingship is more about God than the king.  The model king lives in dependence upon God and trust in God’s gracious purposes.  

A second clue that this is really about God comes from the arrangement of the poem.  Verse 1 begins with the king rejoicing in God’s ‘strength.’  Verse 13 concludes the liturgy with, Be exalted, O Lord, in your strength!   We will sing and praise your power.’    In other words, everything that can be said about the king begins and ends with God’s strength.     

While the king here is presented as a model of faith, in truth the Israelite monarchy for the most part modeled self-assertion and self-reliance.  Solomon who first asked for wisdom, could not finally control his desire for riches, power, and fame.  King Ahaz, invited by the prophet Isaiah to trust the Lord, instead sought security in a military alliance with the Assyrians.  Even Hezekiah who is cited as a model of godly trust, could not resist an act of arrogance that led to God’s displeasure (see Isaiah 39).

It would fall to Jesus to model authentic kingship and authentic humanity.  Paul’s Christ hymn in Philippians 2 shows us the model:

5Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God,
   did not regard equality with God
   as something to be exploited,
7 but emptied himself,
   taking the form of a slave,
   being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
8   he humbled himself
   and became obedient to the point of death—
   even death on a cross.

King Jesus humbled himself in living in loving dependence upon God as kings were supposed to do.  These are the basics of faithfulness for all God’s people, even though we often fail to measure up.

Andrew Melville, a leader of the Reformation in Scotland, once reminded his monarch, King James, that the king does not ‘crown himself.’  The king is just ‘God’s silly vassal.’  It is the Lord who is king.