Psalm 21: Would You Like to be Queen for a Day!
“Would you like to be queen for a day?” the announcer would shout at the beginning of the TV Show “Queen for a Day.” You can, Psalm 21 tells us!
I remember watching as a kid. Even then I thought it was a little strange as four women were selected out of the audience and told their hard luck stories, parading their pain before the world. The one who received the most applause won the title a dozen roses and other prizes. The show ended with the host saying, “Wishing we could make every woman queen for every single day.”
Whereas Psalm 20 was the prayer of a king going into battle, Psalm 21 is prayer of celebration after the king’s victory. The two could possibly refer to the same event. Written in two parts, verses 1-7 addresses the Lord, verses 8-12 are addressed to the king.
Part One – Verses 1-7
The psalm starts with the king rejoicing. “You have given him his heart’s desire,” the psalm continues. God gave the king everything he desired; he gave him many blessings, a crown of gold, and long life.
Verse 3 states you met him with goodly blessings – the image is of a returning warrior being greeted by cheering throngs and then having a crown or other symbol of success placed on his head. An old Gaelic saying states that “he is a king who is well.” The crown could be a symbol of God’s blessing through good health. In that we have good health, we are kings/queens.
The king asked for life (vs. 4) and God gave it to him. God gave him length of days. Even more than that, God makes him most blessed forever. “You bestow on him blessings forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence.” (vs. 6) God gives him, and us, the promise of life forever in heaven where we will wear a heavenly crown.
Part Two – Versus 8-13
At verse 8 the psalm shifts its focus and addresses the king, proclaiming victories not only over his enemies but their descendants as well. The verses are problematic in their violence and vengeance, creating a challenge for the reader. You won’t find these verses in the common lectionary for such verses are routinely avoided. Walter Brueggemann, speaking at a conference at Western Theological Seminary, encouraged listeners to wrestle with such difficult passages rather than avoid them. All of Scripture is helpful and thus worthy of our attention.
So how do we deal with such difficult passages? Why do we resist passages that do not reflect our own worldview? Because of cognitive dissonance.
Cognitive dissonance is a psychological term that addresses the brain’s tendency to dislike contradictory messages. The brain is a cognitive miser, meaning it likes to conserve energy. It doesn’t want to work any harder than it has to. These contradictory messages mean the brain has to work to understand them and maybe even change its opinion. So sometimes, rather than do this, we will simply dismiss information that we don’t like. In other words, we believe what we want to believe. It can be hard to break through this resistance.
If we look at the cultural context of our psalm, the second portion could be interpreted in a variety of different ways. The people are praying for the king. They are praying for a complete conquest, one so complete that not only would the king’s enemies would be wiped off of the face of the earth, it would extend to their children and their children’s children.
How to Explain Problematic Passages
Early Hebrew nation had little concept of an afterlife. They did speak of Sheol as this shadowy place, but for most part, the focus is on this life. Immortality for the Hebrew community lies in the community, not in life after death. This makes Jesus’ resurrection even more profound. A common Hebrew blessing would be for children and children’s children for countless generations. Hence God promised Abraham that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars.
A Hebrew curse would be that there be no generations, thus no immortality for enemies. While it sounds terribly harsh to us, especially within the context of a prayer, it would not seem that way for the Hebrew community.
Another way to look at it would be in terms of God as the king and the last judgment when the wheat will be separated from the chaff. God is the one to destroy evil from the face of the earth, wipe out all of the seeds of evil, even to the last generation. The fiery furnace could be the fires of Gehenna. They are praying for God to prevail and wipe out all evil from every generation.
In a spiritual sense, if we are to free ourselves of sinfulness, we must not only root out the big sins, murder, adultery, theft, but even the smaller ones, thoughts that lead to unkind and evil actions. We pray that God will put all evil thoughts to flight. Psalm 21 ends with a confirmation of the writer’s belief in the strength of God to do all these things and praise of God.
The Crown of Love
Each of us already has a crown waiting for us in heaven. It is a crown of love. To be loved, to be aware of God’s abiding love, surely that is the greatest gift of all, the greatest crown to wear. In that we have loved and been loved, there is a crown awaiting us. There are cheering crowds in heaven above, waiting to welcome us home and place this crown on our heads. And even more that that, we already possess this crown.
This Sunday we celebrate Mother’s Day. Our Mothers have an important role to play in making us the people we are, open to God’s love. In that we have been loved well as children, we will be able to love as adults. And so, let us wear our crowns of love.
Wishing we could make every woman, and every man, queen or king for every single day. We already are!
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Dancing on a High Wire the first book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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