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Psalm 20

The Psalms were all composed with the history, images and patterns of the Torah in mind. So it makes sense if the arrangement of a sacrifice of praise might recapitulate, step-by-step, the process of a sacrifice of flesh.

Once these visual sequences are internalised, it is possible to parse the Hebrew text and understand the logic of the author. What appears to be a whimsical “stream of thought” turns out to be a meticulous literary construct. Not only does this Psalm consist of 70 Hebrew words, it works step-by-step through the sevenfold pattern of Creation as represented in the order of the Ascension offering:

Initiation – A “son of the herd” is chosen; (Sabbath)
Delegation – as sin bearer, it is set apart and killed, (Passover)
Presentation – it is lifted up and placed on the altar; (Firstfruits)
Purification – holy fire incinerates the flesh (Pentecost)
Transformation – creating clouds of fragrant smoke (Trumpets)
Vindication – which testify to the payment for sin (Atonement)
Representation – and there is peace with God, rest and rule. (Booths)

INITIATION – Creation

To-the-choirmaster, (Word)
A-psalm (Sacrament)
Of-David. (Government)

  • At Initiation, David is the servant-king. His sins have been covered by the blood of another, that his sacrifice might be a fragrant cloud, a good, acceptable and perfect ascension before God. As a “son of the herd,” David was chosen from among his brothers by God. Christ was likewise chosen from among the repentant Jews in the Jordan before His “sacrificial washing.” James Jordan writes: “Domestic animals not only represent the worshiper’s desires, but also the people that God has specially ‘domesticated.’ Israel herself was God’s flock and herd, gathered around His house. A ‘son of Israel’ was appropriately represented by a ‘son of the herd” (this is the literal translation of Lev. 1:5). An animal, moreover, taken ‘from the herd’ symbolized the Israelite as a member of God’s household. The sacrificial animal represented the Israelite both as near to God and as near to his fellows.” James B. Jordan, Priestly Animals, Biblical Horizons No. 34.

DELEGATION – Division

May-we-be-heard | by-Yahweh (Transcendence)
In-the-day | of-trouble, (Hierarchy)
May-we-be-defended (Ethics)
In-the-name | of-the-God (Oath/Sanctions)
of-Jacob. (Succession)

  • Stanza 3 (corresponding to Passover) is a call for covering. Israel’s military victories depended upon her faithfulness to God, so a call for divine defence was at heart also a call for a covering of sins.
  • Since it follows the fivefold Covenant formula, there is a fair amount of correspondence between this stanza and the Ten Words.1See God-In-A-Box. If the “knife and fire” of faithful sacrifice was neglected through idolatry, Israel would be given to murder (strange knife) and adultery (strange fire) as was David himself. As in Genesis, sin the Garden (idolatry) led to sin in the Land (murder and adultery) and would bring the “knife and fire” of the Gentiles down upon Israel (World).
  • The name of God is Israel’s Covenant oath, the name which dwelt between the cherubim behind the Tabernacle Veil. As Stanza 2, this stanza is the Veil. At Sanctions within the stanza, it is the Veil opened that the Land might be cleansed from sin.
  • Jacob is the tree of righteousness, the faithful father, at Succession, since this is the “circumcision” stanza.

PRESENTATION – Ascension

May-He-send | help (Creation – Ark of the Testimony)
from-the-sanctuary (Division – Veil)
And-from-Zion (Ascension – Altar/Mountain)
May-He-strengthen-us. (Testing – Lampstand)
May-He-remember | all | our-offerings (Maturity – Incense)
And-our-ascension-offerings | may-he-accept, (Conquest – Mediators)
Selah. (Glorification – Shekinah)

  • Stanza 3 (Priesthood) reinforces the fact that godly cultus leads to robust culture. Help comes from heaven, via the mountain of God on earth, and the response is the ascension of sacrificial smoke.
  • “Strength is usually a reference to holy kingdom, and to the “mighty men” who subdue the earth. Unlike the mighty men in Genesis 6, David’s warriors were (generally speaking) empowered by the warriors of heaven. Submission to heaven leads to dominion on earth.
  • As the final line of the Ascension stanza, “selah” is the Day 7 “rest” which ends the “sacrificial head” section of the Psalm. The offering has ascended and Israel awaits the descent of the Spirit. Forming leads to Filling.

PURIFICATION – Testing

May-He-grant (Transcendence)
to-you (Hierarchy)
According-to-your-heart (Ethics)
And-all-of-your-counsel (Oath/Sanctions)
May-He-fulfil. (Succession)

  • The central Ethics stanza (Kingdom) describes the wisdom of the faithful king.
  • At the center of this stanza is the true Pentecost, the external law of Moses becoming the internal law of the Spirit. The sovereignty of God and the free will of man become one in the Priest-King.
  • The final line, Succession, concerns the fulfilment of the promised dominion.

TRANSFORMATION – Maturity

We-will-rejoice (Creation)
in-your-salvation (Division)
And-in-the-name (Ascension)
of-our-God (Testing)
We-will-set-up-banners. (Maturity)
May-He-fulfil, | Yahweh, (Conquest)
All | of-your-petitions. (Glorification)

  • Stanza 5 (Prophecy) deftly combines all of the major Maturity symbols in its Covenant sequence, which explains its apparently strange logic.
  • Music is a common theme. Where Ascension concerns a sacrifice of flesh, Maturity concerns a sacrifice of praise. The silent tent of Moses (Ascension) was rebuilt as the Davidic Tabernacle (Maturity), a tent of music and rejoicing.
  • Resurrection is another theme, and in line 2 the desired salvation of Stanza 2 has finally come.
  • The “name” at Ascension stands in for the faithfulness of the Covenant head.
  • God appears at the center, His holiness the reason for our salvation and our praise.
  • The “banners” at Maturity refer to the jubilant Covenant body, the hosts of Israel, an allusion to Trumpets, the Bride who is “awesome as an army with banners” (Song of Solomon 6:4; 6:10).
  • In the final two lines, the request and fulfilment are switched around. The Lord’s Covenant name is again the Oath, and the petitions allude to the Incense Altar, which pictured the ascension of the prayers of the saints.

VINDICATION – Conquest

Now | we-know | that | He-saves, (Creation/Initiation)
Yahweh, | His-anointed. (Division/Delegation)
He-will-answer | from-heaven (Ascension/Presentation)
which-is-holy, (Testing/Purification)
In-strength (Maturity/Transformation)
He-will-save (Conquest/Vindication)
with-His-right-hand. (Glorification/Representation)

  • In Stanza 6 (Atonement/Joshua), the Lord bears His sword. You might remember that the Bible Matrix symbol for Step 6 is the sword, which against the flesh is a sword of iron, and against the spirits is the “golden tongue” of the Covenant Oath.2The bar of gold coveted by Achan was literally a “tongue” of gold. For more discussion, see “A Tongue of Gold” in Michael Bull, Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes
  • The matrix sequence here is more obviously sacrificial.
  • The answer from heaven appears in the same place as the opening of the New Covenant scroll in the Revelation, just prior to the sending of the Spirit at Pentecost.
  • The strength of the obedient king is now the strength of the hosts of the Lord.
  • The purification of Israel via atonement for sin leads to victory in the Land. In line 6 (Atonement), the two-edged sword of the ga’al redeems His people (blessing) while taking vengeance on their enemies (cursing). This is pictured in the two goats on the Day of Atonement.
  • The placement of the right hand at Booths is interesting. The matrix process was designed to qualify Adam to bear the flaming sword. His failure meant that he was still under it. The Lord’s anointed, however, bears the sword on God’s behalf, as Jesus did in His prophetic witness, and then upon Jerusalem in AD70; as every saint does through Gospel witness, and as every saint will do when we judge the angels.

REPRESENTATION – Glorification

Some-trust | in-chariots (Genesis)
and-some-trust | in-horses, (Exodus)
But-we | in-the-name | of-Yahweh | our-God | will-trust. (Leviticus)
They | are-brought-low | and-fallen, (Numbers)
We | are-lifted | and-stand-upright. (Deuteronomy)
Yahweh, save-us! (Joshua)
Let-the-King hear-us | when | we-call. (Judges)

  • The final stanza alludes to the Feast of Booths, and Israel’s vindication before the nations of the world. Their power is found in earthly hosts (the flesh), but the people of God rely upon the unseen armies of the Lord of glory (the Spirit).
  • The placement of the horses at the Exodus step makes sense. The chariot and Genesis might refer to the glory cloud of God, the mobile throne which descended upon the mountains of God, as seen by Ezekiel, and as replicated in the Ark of the Covenant, which scattered the enemies of God.
  • At the center, all the false kings of history are slain under the Word-Law of God, but only Israel remains once the refining fire has done its work. This was the case with Sodom, with Egypt, and the structural correspondence with the death of disobedient Israel in the wilderness reminds us that it was also the case with the Babylon of the Herods, condemned at Pentecost and executed by the very Roman horses and chariots in whom they trusted.
  • The Hebrew “deliver us” in line 6 is related to the name Joshua, and like ga’al carries the twin meanings of deliverance and vengeance.
  • The rulers of Israel stand as faithful representatives in the last line, men with tongues of gold. Their cry is based upon the promises and conditions of the Covenant, and thus Covenant-shaped:
    Yahweh, (Transcendence)
    Save-us! (Hierarchy)
    Let-the-King (Ethics)
    Hear-us (Oath/Sanctions)
    When | we-call. (Succession)

Parsed by Chris Wooldridge and Michael Bull. Notes by Michael Bull.

If you are new to this method of interpretation, please visit the Welcome page for some help to get you up to speed.

References   [ + ]

1. See God-In-A-Box.
2. The bar of gold coveted by Achan was literally a “tongue” of gold. For more discussion, see “A Tongue of Gold” in Michael Bull, Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes

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