Will God give us the desires of our heart? David seems to pray for that to happen in Psalm 20. But is God like a genie or something? Can we rub His tummy or say some magic words and get whatever we wish for?
Let’s shake up the normal order of things for this one. You’ll see why in a moment.
Before we read the Psalm, I’m going to do something I always warn against.
I’m going to pick out 2 verses. And then make a conclusion on those two verses. Well, one and a half verses.
Here they are:
Ps 20:4 May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
Ps 20:5 …
May the LORD grant all your requests.
See? Sounds like God’s really going to give us whatever we want!
But – is this for real?
The desires of our heart?
Now, with that in mind, let’s see what this Psalm says, in full.
Psalm 20 For the director of music. A psalm of David. Ps 20:1 May the LORD answer you when you are in distress; may the name of the God of Jacob protect you. Ps 20:2 May he send you help from the sanctuary and grant you support from Zion. Ps 20:3 May he remember all your sacrifices and accept your burnt offerings. Selah Ps 20:4 May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed. Ps 20:5 We will shout for joy when you are victorious and will lift up our banners in the name of our God. May the LORD grant all your requests. Ps 20:6 Now I know that the LORD saves his anointed; he answers him from his holy heaven with the saving power of his right hand. Ps 20:7 Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. Ps 20:8 They are brought to their knees and fall, but we rise up and stand firm. Ps 20:9 O LORD, save the king! Answer us when we call!
Some background on Psalm 20
The twentieth and twenty-first psalms are different from the psalms we have studied thus far, in that they were designed to be sung by the Jewish people on behalf of their king and nation. The first is a prayer for the king’s victory in a day of battle. The second is a prayer of thanksgiving for that deliverance. 1
Do you see a problem there? The “Uh oh” heading tells us there is one.
Here’s the issue. Yes, David wrote this Psalm. However, David did not write the Psalm praying for God to give us all the desires of our hearts. No, it’s a Psalm for the people (as in us) to sing on behalf of our country and its leaders.
Furthermore, it was written, presumably, for a Jewish King, which we don’t have.
Therefore, to further complicate matters, the U.S., like nearly all countries in the world today, is not a theocracy. We don’t have a national religion with our King/other leaders with authority over both the country and the religion.
More background on Psalm 20
I have said that the first five verses are a prayer for Israel’s king. Yet strictly speaking, they are not a prayer to God so much as words directed to the king himself, assuring him that the people believe in him and want God to answer his petitions.
The key word here is may. It occurs six times, introducing six fervent desires of the people: “May the LORD answer you when you are in distress” (v. 1); “May the name of the God of Jacob protect you” (v. 1); “May he send you help from the sanctuary” (v. 2); “May he remember all your sacrifices” (v. 3); “May he give you the desire of your heart” (v. 4); and “May the LORD grant all your requests” (v. 5, italics added throughout). As I say, these words are directed to the king more than to God. Yet they really are prayers in spite of their form, since the people clearly want God to deliver, protect, and bless their monarch and are obviously echoing his prayers for these things.
Something else is striking about these verses, and that is the picture of the king that emerges. For one thing, he himself is a man of prayer. We do not know the circumstances of the original composition of this psalm, but it seems to have a setting in which the king is praying before the tabernacle or temple prior to going out to battle and the people are standing about him at a slight distance, joining in his petitions. In other words, he is leading them in prayer. If this is a psalm of David, as the title says it is, we have no difficulty believing that David would have done this.
Second, the king is religiously devout, for he is offering sacrifices. It is possible for both sacrifices and prayers to be mere form, of course, but there is nothing in the psalm that would make us think that of this situation. A nation is blessed if it is favored with such godly leaders. 2
Uh oh again and again!
Can the background get any worse? Well, yes, it can. But I think the point is made.
Those of us in the western world, whether we truly follow Jesus or not, and want to claim something like this for us – we can’t do it. The scenario doesn’t fit.
Did David pray for God to give us the desires of our heart?
So Did David pray for God to give us the desires of our heart? Certainly not in Psalm 20!
So Did David pray for God to give our leaders the desires of their hearts? Certainly not in Psalm 20!
Will God give us the desires of our heart?
Since the question probably comes up when people read this Psalm and don’t know the background for what David wrote, I want to address this.
About four years ago, I wrote something titled, Does God always give us what we want? I did an update at the beginning of 2022 because someone didn’t think I actually answered the question. Obviously, I thought it was answered. But just as obviously, it wasn’t answered clearly enough for everyone.
Maybe that’s because the answer was – it depends.
Rather than repeat the entire article here, below is some info on it, with a link to it.
Conclusion – Psalm 20 – Will God give us the desires of our heart?
Sometimes it’s pretty much impossible to read the Bible, without any other resources, and come to correct conclusions about what it means. Even if we pay attention to grammar and every little word, it’s still hard because, for most of us, it wasn’t written in our native language. And things do get lost in the translation.
And then we run into one like this, where without additional info, I cannot imagine how we’d figure out David wrote this Psalm as something to be sung for a devout Jewish King.
We need other sources. Reliable sources. And of course, we need the Holy Spirit. That’s one of the reasons why I do this site. And one of the reasons why, if I don’t feel like I’m listening to the Holy Spirit, I don’t write.
But even then, no one should just take everything I write as for sure 100% correct. Denominations don’t even agree on some of the points in the Bible. And I’m a person – not God. So I pray this helps – give information that you may not have had before. Language. History. Culture. Ideas.
And one thing I learned from reading about Jewish Rabbis – they like to “string pearls”. Put together various scripture passages. We read things using the technique in the Bible. Paul used it a lot. But they could pull out parts of a passage and the Jewish people knew the passage. That’s not something a whole lot of Christians can do today. So I try to unpack them from the Bible. And to tie together various passages in pursuit of linking our Christian New Testament to the same thoughts in the Jewish Scriptures we call the Old Testament.
Then, when you get to things like Psalm 20, you’ll know what David wrote, and to whom it was written.
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