Chariots and Horses
Psummer in the Psalms • Sermon • Submitted • Presented • 30:39
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There’s a phrase in Psalm 20 that’s been stuck in my head since I read it many years ago. It goes like this:
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
I think this has been stuck in my head for a few reasons:
1. It’s a little strange; it’s different enough to be memorable.
2. It seems dated, but it’s actually quite relevant.
3. It doesn’t feel like it has any application, but it’s really very applicable to our lives in 21st century America.
Psalm 20 is a psalm for the king; a prayer for David, the king of Old Testament Israel. The people of Israel are here focused on the king as he prepares to lead their forces to war. Their attention and concern are justified, for, as it goes with the king and the troops, so it goes for the people. Their fortunes are locked up with the king’s.
So the people pray for the king in verses 1-5.
Before you check out, disappointed or disinterested because this psalm seems to be about the king, because there seems to be a great deal of distance between this psalm and where you are, between the time this psalm was written and the time in which we live; as if this psalm has nothing to do with you.
It might seem like that, but have patience.
It’s like a couple years ago when the city started to chip and seal 6th Street. I didn’t think much of it when they were working on the street in front of the post office. It was a little annoying to have to drive a block out of my way; but really I thought very little of it. It didn’t really affect me.
But a few days later, I had to correct my thinking. They were now chipping and sealing the street right in front of our house. I actually had to call and bug Gordon because for the better part of one day, we had no way to access our house by car! What did they expect me to do? Park my car on Spruce St. and walk 50 feet to the door like some chump?
The mess by the post office had more to do with me than I had imagined.
I suspect you’ll find the same with Psalm 20; it doesn’t seem immediately important to us, but in fact, it has very much to do with you and me, we’ll just have to work our way there.
Psalm 20 is a prayer we can still pray.
Verses 1-5 record the prayer of the people:
1 May the Lord answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. 2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. 3 May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. 4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. 5 May we shout for joy over your victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the Lord grant all your requests.
THE PRAYER WE CAN STILL PRAY
THE PRAYER WE CAN STILL PRAY
The people pray that the Lord Yahweh will answer [the king] in the day of distress, or trouble.
The king is facing a serious situation, possibly a defensive war. Distress could mean that Israel has come under attack or something of the sort. They are in trouble for some reason; we just don’t know what exactly.
The people pray for the name of the God of Jacob to protect the king. Speaking of Yahweh as the God of Jacob illustrates that He is the covenant God who makes commitments and sticks to them.
This verse sounds a lot like Jacob’s words to his clan in Genesis 35:3—listen:
3 Then come, let us go up to Bethel, where I will build an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress and who has been with me wherever I have gone.”
What a God to have in life’s dark hours, huh?
The psalm reminds us of this powerful truth, as Dale Ralph Davis puts it: “We have a Jacob God for a David situation.”
We have a God who protects; that is, literally a God who sets his servant in a high place, out of and above the reach of his enemies or would be destroyers.
It’s like when my sister’s monsters, I mean children, came to stay: anything valuable was carefully set atop the kitchen cupboards, well out of their reach.
So it is: God sets His people in a safe place. He protects the king. He protects His own. And if you belong to Him, He protects you…
The people pray for the Lord to send [the king] help from the sanctuary and grant [the king] support from Zion.
The Lord’s throne is in the heavens—and that is the ultimate source of His help. But His earthly sanctuary is the place of His feet, the appointed place of the Lord’s presence where His people are right to expect His aid.
Help comes from the Lord who reigns above and who has chosen to dwell here below with His people. He will help. He will give support.
In verse 3, the people mention the king’s burnt offering and gift offerings.
3 May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings.
This is not some ritual motivated by legalism.
The king has used the God-provided means of atonement; burnt offerings were the payment for sins in the Old Testament.
In light of the king’s obedience and worship, the people pray that the Lord Yahweh will give him (verse 4) his heart’s desires, fulfill his plans and strategies and all his requests.
And (verse 5) the people themselves vow to delight in and celebrate the victory the Lord gives the king.
Let’s remind ourselves why the people are so fixated on the king’s success: the welfare of the people rested on the success of the king. Disaster for the king = disaster for the people.
There’s an amusing analogy to this situation; a story from the Civil War:
Charles Dana was an observer at the Battle of Chickamauga. He was at staff headquarters behind Union lines. He had been taking a nap when he heard the loudest noise of rifles and cannons. The Confederates had overrun a Union flank and were pouring in.
Dana says the first thing he saw as he sat up was General Rosecrans, a devout Roman Catholic, genuflecting. Dana knew instinctively that if the general was crossing himself, the army was in deep trouble. So Dana jumped on his horse and skedaddled.
That is the thinking here, especially regarding King David. In one sense, David is Israel. Were David killed, Israel would flounder in darkness and confusion. His death would spell disaster for them.
The people are intricately united to their king.
I mentioned earlier that this prayer was a prayer we still pray today. And it’s true. It’s just a little different for us living in A.D. time.
We pray something like verses 1-5, though differently because the Son of David, David’s Lord already sits enthroned (see Psalm 110).
Unlike David, Christ is not going out to fight the Philistines or the Syrians, nor is He waging a defensive campaign against the enemy.
Rather, the Root of David has won the victory (Revelation 5:5). He crushed death to death on the cross. He has risen, ascended, and sits at God’s right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that can be invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come (Ephesians 1:20-21).
He has already won the war, has vanquished every invisible and visible foe—only the “clean-up” work remains.
So, unlike the pray-ers in Psalm 20, we do not pray for Jesus to be victorious; we pray because He has been victorious.
On the day Jesus began to reign, our prayers changed a bit. That day changed everything.
Like the people of Israel, we are inseparably united to our King; we are victorious because our King has won the ultimate victory. Indeed, the only thing for Him to do is to return and set the world at rights. And friends, that day’s a comin’!
We celebrate Jesus’ victory (very much like the celebration in verse 5), but we don’t pray for Jesus’ victory.
We pray that Jesus would manifest, display, make open and public His victory, that the scoffers would see Jesus as Victor and give their lives to Him, that His people would rest in the victory He won until He takes us home or returns victorious, riding on the clouds.
We pray, but we pray on the basis of a victory already achieved.
Psalm 20 gives us a prayer we can pray (albeit a little differently).
And Psalm 20 reveals the position we must take.
See verses 6-8:
6 Now this I know: The Lord gives victory to his anointed. He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary with the victorious power of his right hand. 7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
THE POSITION WE MUST TAKE
THE POSITION WE MUST TAKE
In these verses, the king himself is speaking (notice in verse 6 the shift in pronouns from the second person singular you to the first person I).
The king seems completely confident of the Lord’s help—now this I know…
It seems a tad bit premature; the king hasn’t even gone out to battle yet, and still the king says, “The Lord gives victory…”
The verbs in verse 6 are in a past tense—the Lord gives…He answers...
The king is so convinced of the Lord’s saving him that he depicts it as having already happened.
This is like Paul in Romans chapter 8, verse 30—
30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
Glorified in the past tense. Not will glorify, but glorified. It hasn’t happened yet; it’s still future, yet to come.
But since God has determined to do it, it is so certain that it can be spoken of as already having occurred.
It hasn’t happened yet. And yet, it has happened.
King David stands absolutely grounded in his certainty here before he even heads out to battle, he trusts that the Lord has already given victory.
His certainty in God extends to verse 8 where the king pictures his opponents as already defeated: they are brought to their knees and fall…
The king’s confidence—sure and certain as it is—rests on whether or not the king and his people have assumed the right position.
The position is spelled out in verse 7, that verse I’ve have stuck in my head:
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
I love how the verse reads in Hebrew. (No, I don’t speak or read Hebrew; I have books and a friend who tells me what the Hebrew says). In Hebrew the verb doesn’t show up until the last phrase, so verse 7 reads like this:
Some…in chariots, some…in horses,
but we, we will trust in the name of Yahweh our God.
The psalmist speaks for himself and his people saying that they call upon the Lord, lean upon the Lord, they trust in Him—in this case, to the exclusion of horses and chariots.
You see, if you trust the Lord, you will take a non-chariot, non-horse position.
Horses and chariots were the very pinnacle of warfare, they gave the army that possessed them the fighting edge. In Egypt, legend has it, the king’s chariot was considered a divine being and praises were sung to the various parts of the chariot.
One can imagine why, upon seeing Pharaoh’s chariot, 600 of the best chariots, and every other chariot in Egypt coming after them, the Israelites camping by the sea were so afraid.
If you had horses and chariots, and your enemy did not, you would likely win the day. Horses and chariots were game changers.
The danger here, though, was that too often a substitution was made and God’s people would trust in human armaments rather than in the arm of the Lord.
“The Lord’s people must not lean on mere human power, even power with steroids like horses and chariots.” – Dale Ralph Davis
The prophet Isaiah pronounces woe on those who trust in chariots and horses (Isaiah 31:1-2):
1 Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help, who rely on horses, who trust in the multitude of their chariots and in the great strength of their horsemen, but do not look to the Holy One of Israel, or seek help from the Lord. 2 Yet he too is wise and can bring disaster; he does not take back his words. He will rise up against that wicked nation, against those who help evildoers.
The problem is that too much can happen to human resources.
Chariots are a case in point—in Joshua 11, Joshua strikes the enemy: hamstrings their horses and burns their chariots before they could use them effectively.
In the book of Judges, Sisera’s mighty chariots were bogged down by a muddy plain, thanks to a rainstorm courtesy of the God who makes the clouds His chariot (Psalm 104:3).
Too much can happen to mere human resources.
This can be said even when nations graduate and advance to tanks and planes and missiles and drones:
It’s not that the Americans didn’t have planes at Pearl Harbor in 1941; it’s just that they were disarmed and parked in bunches to prevent sabotage. So, when Japanese pilots came into Hickam and Wheeler Fields, the American forces were decimated.
It’s not that the Germans didn’t have plenty of tanks as they attacked the U.S.S.R. But temperatures started to plummet. Fuel would freeze and, at 31 degrees below zero, German tanks were next to useless.
Flaunted resources of human power can be very fragile and flimsy—they are just horses and chariots…
The people of God are charged NOT to place their trust in those things. The people of God must take a different position.
In verse 8, the psalmist speaks of “they and their” versus “we”.
8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
That is those who trust in chariots and horses will be brought to their knees and fall. But we who trust in the Lord will rise up and stand firm.
We must shun our favorite props and most cherished substitutes and keep running to the LORD and finding shelter and protection in Him, just the angel of God and the pillar of cloud protected the Israelites in the desert. Keep trusting God, and God alone.
This is where the rubber meets the road; it's about to get real personal, real quick.
Think about what we place our trust in. Those things that aren't much different, and certainly aren’t any better than chariots or horses.
We trust in ourselves. We even say things like, “If you want something done right, you've got to do it yourself.” We look to our wisdom, our ability, our power to help, to save, to pull us out of whatever situation we find ourselves.
In fact, this thinking has crept into Christianity, when it fact it is the opposite of Biblical. The first sentence of the first chapter of Norman Vincent Peale’s book The Power of Positive Thinking says this: “BELIEVE IN YOURSELF! Have faith in your abilities! That’s not Christianity, by the way; that has nothing to do with Biblical faith.
We trust in the size of our bank account. “As long as I have this cushion, I'll be fine.” We live and die with the bank balance; we serve and worship at the altar of money. We place our trust in this.
Chariots and horses.
We are forever caught in the on-going political cycle; it never ends and there’s nothing we can do about that. But if we're not careful, we might just start to tie our hopes and dreams to this candidate or that, the politician or that. We might even hear ourselves saying something like “They are our only hope; without them, we’re going to be in a world of hurt,” or “If that person gets elected, I’m headed to Canada.”
You know what every bit of the politics-as-savior mindset is?
Chariots and horses.
We tend to place our trust in people, and some of that is fine. We should trust our loved ones in some sense, but we have to realize that they will never be able to give us what we truly need. To give any person the trust that only God is worthy of will only serve to disappoint.
Our good deeds, we might believe or maybe we've even been taught to believe, that our good deeds, our goodness, our self-righteousness will do for us what only a Savior to do. To trust that my works have any ability to save my sinful soul, well…that’s just stupid.
All of these are just chariots and horses…pretty impressive, formidable even; but man-made, finite, and temporary; they are poor, poor substitutes for the living, all-powerful God.
We must shun our favorite props and our most cherished substitutes and place our trust in the hands of the only One who is truly trustworthy. This is the position—the only position—we must take.
My whole life seems to be an experiment in learning not to trust in all the things I’m tempted to trust.
Again and again, we have to learn that only the nail-scarred hands of the resurrected Jesus are adequate to hold us up.
People of God: don’t place your trust in all those silly things you’re tempted to place your trust in.
Chariots and horses make lousy saviors. Money and politics, ourselves and our country, our family and good deeds are worthless to save; there’s no security there. Lousy saviors. Mere Chariots and horses.
Why are we so tempted to trust in finite, frail, flimsy trinkets and people when we can trust the God of Jacob, the Lord Yahweh, the God who holds the entire cosmos in His hands.
When you’re in trouble, don’t expect horses and chariots to save you. Call on the name of the Lord, the One who will send you help from above; the God of Jacob who is your protection.
When you’re in need, don’t seek answers from horses and chariots; look to the Lord who gives victory, who saves and redeems with the power of His mighty right hand.
When you don’t have the strength, the strength of horses and chariots won’t do. The Lord Almighty, the God who reigns on high will answer you and remember you and hold you up.
7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. 8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm.
The psalm ends with this summation: Lord, give victory to the king! Answer us when we call!
And this we know: He has, indeed, given victory to the King of Kings—Jesus has conquered. He has defeated death and sin, Satan and all the forces of hell. Victory is won!
On the basis on Jesus’ victory, we are victorious. We overcome, not with chariots and horses, but through Jesus, by Jesus, because of Jesus.
God has answered us, giving us Jesus. He has met our deepest need through Jesus’ blood. He hears us when we call, and because of Jesus we can call upon Him any time.
Let us shout for joy over [His] victory and lift up our banners in the name of our God.
Chariots and horses…we have no need of those lousy saviors because we trust, WE TRUST in the name of our Lord our God and in our King whose name is Jesus.