Psalm 20: Lessons from David for Effective Intercessory Prayer

Introduction: The Psalms are filled with great examples on how to pray. Psalm 20 is one of these Psalms. Here, David prayed as an intercessor for God to send a deliverer before the Jews fought a battle. His prayers pointed to Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether you face a physical enemy or a spiritual one (Eph. 6:12), David’s psalm offers several lessons on effective intercessory prayer through Jesus. Effective intercessory prayer includes: (1) Jesus’ name, (2) Jesus’ atonement, (3) petition, (4) praise, (5) faith, (6) humility, and (7) Jesus’ deliverance.

First, to ensure the Jews’ victory in battle, David prayed for Yahweh, through the full power of His name, to send an intercessor to help the Jews succeed. As part of the model prayer, Jesus also urged believers to begin any intercessory prayer with worship for your Heavenly Father in heaven. God the Father answered David’s prayers by sending Jesus to be our deliverer. Jesus now also gives you His power when you pray in His name. Second, David prayed that his atonement offering for the nation’s sins would be accepted. Without this, God would not hear their prayers. Intercessory prayer is only possible through faith in Jesus’ atoning sacrifice. Third, David prayed that God would answer the desires of the people’s hearts for victory in their battle. Intercessory prayer also requires that you petition God for your needs. Fourth, before the battle began, David praised God for answering his prayers. Intercessory prayer should also include praise for God’s answers to your prayers. Fifth, also before the battle began, David assured the people that God had answered his prayers. Intercessory prayer requires faith that God answers your prayers. Yet, His answers will be according to His will and in His timing. Sixth, David boasted that their victory would come through God and not their military might. Intercessory prayer also requires humility and dependence on God. Seventh, David prayed for his King, the “Anointed One” to deliver them. This also foreshadowed Jesus, the King of Kings. Intercessory prayer also requires that you place your trust in Jesus for your deliverance.

1. Jesus’ Name: Intercessory Prayer Should Invoke the Power of Jesus’ Name. Ps. 20:1-2.

  • David’s prayer for the power of “name of the God of Jacob” to grant the Jews victory. Before the Jews marched off to battle, David prayed over the troops for Yahweh, through the power of “His name”, to send help from heaven to grant the Jews victory in battle: “Prayer for Victory over Enemies. For the music director. A Psalm of David. 1May the Lord answer you on a day of trouble! May the name of the God of Jacob protect you! May He send you help from the sanctuary, and support you from Zion!” (Ps. 20:1-2). David invoked “the name of the God of Jacob.” “This allusion to Jacob recalls the patriarch’s vow: ‘I will make there [Bethel] an altar unto God, who answered me in the day of distress’ (Gen. 35:3). The answer of ‘the God of Jacob became proverbial power, divine intervention, and so now the people looked for a similar deliverance in the day of their distress.” (Allen Ross, A Commentary of the Psalms: Volume 1 (1-41), Kregel Academic (2011) p. 494). David’s prayer also prophetically pointed to the power of Jesus. God the Father sent Jesus from heaven to deliver mankind from evil. In turn, Jesus has given all believers the power to pray in His name to do God’s will on Earth.

David prayed as an intercessor over God’s people1

  • Call upon God in heaven when you need deliverance. As our example, David frequently prayed to Yahweh, the God of the Jews’ patriarchs, for victory (Ps. 20:1-2). “Call upon Me on the day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor Me.” (Ps. 50:15). “For the music director; set to Al-tashheth. A Mikhtam of David, when Saul sent men and they watched the house in order to kill him. Rescue me from my enemies, my God; set me securely on high away from those who rise up against me.” (Ps. 59:1). Yet, prayers for deliverance should also include worship: “The LORD bless you from Zion, and may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.” (Ps. 128:5). “Blessed be the LORD from Zion, who dwells in Jerusalem. Praise the LORD!” (Ps. 135:21). If you are in need, call out to God for help. Don’t depend upon your own abilities or others.

  • Jesus’ model prayer included worship for God the Father in heaven. Also as our example, Jesus urged believers to begin their prayers with worship for God the Father in heaven: “Pray, then, in this way: ‘Our Father, who is in heaven, Hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.” (Matt. 6:9-10). Jesus came from heaven to fulfill the will of God the Father: “He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, ‘My Father, if this cup cannot pass away unless I drink from it, Your will be done.”’ (Matt. 26:42; Lk. 22:42). “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me.” (Jo. 6:38).

  • Jesus has given all believers the power to pray in His name. In modern culture, personal names frequently do nothing more than to distinguish one person from another. A person does not typically select a name for a child based upon the child’s characteristics. English speakers frequently use the term “God” in the same way. To some, the name is simply a means of distinguishing the Supreme Being from ordinary people. Yet, in the Bible, a name was not only a means of identification. It expressed a person’s identity as well. “A good name is to be more desired than great riches.” (Prov. 22:1). The generic reference to the “name” of God includes all of His many powers. For example, Abraham called upon the “name of the Lord” in reference to His full power (Gen. 12:8; 13:4). As another example, God proclaimed His “name” to Moses in reference to His power (Ex. 33:19; 34:5). It was also an act of worship when someone called upon “the name” of the Lord (Gen. 21:33; 26:25). Likewise, belief in the name of Jesus Christ alone brings salvation (Jo. 1:12). Believers are also commanded to gather in Jesus’ name (Matt. 18:20). We are to “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matt. 28:19). In the book of Acts, the early disciples also frequently referred to their service, worship, and suffering as being done in Jesus Christ’s “name.” (e.g, Acts 4:18; 5:28, 41; 10:43; 19:17). The name of Jesus will, however, be a stumbling block to non-believers. Jesus warns that those who bear His name will be hated (Matt. 10:22). Yet, for those believers who pray in faith, Jesus has given you the legal equivalent of a power of attorney to pray in His name when you seek to do His will: “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” (Jo. 14:13-14). “You did not choose Me but I chose you, and appointed you that you would go and bear fruit, and that your fruit would remain, so that whatever you ask of the Father in My name He may give to you.” (Jo. 15:16). “In that day you will not question Me about anything. Truly, truly, I say to you, if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you.” (Jo. 16:23). Jesus’ name is so powerful that the archangel Michael was able to drive Satan away merely by rebuking him in Jesus’ name (Jude 1:9). Yet, to correctly pray “in Jesus’ name”, pray for His will to be done and not yours.

2. Jesus’ Atonement: Intercessory Prayer is Possible Through Jesus’ Sacrifice. Ps. 20:3.

  • David prayed for God to accept the Jews’ blood offering of atonement. In order for God to hear the prayers of His people, David prayed for their blood offering to be accepted: “May He remember all your meal offerings and accept your burnt offering! Selah” (Ps. 20:3). Since the time of Cain (Gen. 4:5), God has not accepted every offering to Him. A proper blood atonement was also required before God would hear a person’s prayers.

  • Without the atonement of sin, God does not hear the prayers of sinners. In the Old Testament, God warned that He will not hear the prayers of sinners: “So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood.” (Is. 1:15). Jesus repeated this warnings about the consequence of sin in the New Testament (Jo. 9:31). Peter also warned that unrepentant sin can still “hinder” a believer’s prayers (1 Pet. 3:7). Thus, without Jesus’ atonement, intercessory prayer would not be effective before God.

  • Faith in Jesus’ atonement is necessary for your prayers to be acceptable to God. In order for his prayers to be accepted before God, David followed the sacrificial laws in faith and prayed for God to forgive his sins: “Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean; cleanse me, and I will be whiter than snow. . . . Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices, in burnt offering and whole burnt offering; then bulls will be offered on Your altar.” (Ps. 51:7, 19). Jesus can forgive any sin: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9). His one-time sacrifice forever fulfilled the need for blood sacrifices: “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.” (Heb. 10:14). Yet, you must first turn to Him, confess your sins, and accept that He died for your sins. If you could be saved by your works, then Jesus died needlessly at the Cross. “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.” (Gal. 2:21). Thus, before you begin any intercessory prayer, confess and repent of your sins to Jesus and give thanks for His atoning death.

3. Petition: Intercessory Prayer Requires That You Petition God for Your Needs. Ps. 20:4.

  • David prayed for God to fulfill the Jews’ requests and plans for victory. After praising God and atoning for the nation’s sins, David petitioned for God to grant the Jews victory: “May He grant you your heart’s desire and fulfill your whole plan!” (Ps. 20:4). “In this moment, King David had one desire - to defend the people of God and the kingdom in covenant with God . . . When our desires are in accord with the plan and will of God for us, we can pray this same prayer with confidence. We can also look for God to bring our desires more and more into conformity with His, in the course of Christian growth . . . We see this statement also applied to the great desire and purpose for the King of Kings as He went to battle to accomplish our salvation.” (David Guzik on Ps. 20).2

  • David praised God for hearing the desires of His people. David was also careful to praise God when He answered the desires of His people: “You have given him his heart’s desire, and You have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah” (Ps. 21:2). “He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He will also hear their cry for help and save them.” (Ps. 145:19). “LORD, You have heard the desire of the humble; You will strengthen their heart, You will make Your ear attentive” (Ps. 10:17). “The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous, and His ears are toward their cry for help.” (Ps. 34:15).

  • Jesus urges you to petition God for your daily needs. As a sign of your faith, Jesus also requests that you petition God for your needs: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8). God knows what you need. But He wants you to demonstrate your faith by asking Him.

  • Prayer in Jesus’ name without knowing His will may not be answered. Despite giving believers the power to pray in His name, Jesus warns that ‘“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’” (Matt. 7:21-23). If you want to effectively pray in Jesus’ name, you need to study His Word and pray for the Spirit to lead you.

  • Delight yourself in God’s will, and He will grant your requests. David prayed for God to grant the “heart’s desire” of His people (Ps. 20:4). Yet, God will not answer the desires of the heart if they are evil. Through David, God promised that He will answer the desires of the heart if you desire God’s will: “Delight yourself in the LORD; and He will give you the desires of your heart.” (Ps. 37:4). If you desire only what God wants for you, you will never be disappointed with God’s answers to your prayers.

4. Praise: Intercessory Prayer Includes Praise For God’s Answer to Your Prayers. Ps. 20:5.

  • David promised that the Jews would sing praises for God for His future victory. With confidence in God’s faithfulness, David committed the people to singing God’s praises: “5 We will sing for joy over your victory, and in the name of our God we will set up our banners. May the Lord fulfill all your desires.” (Ps. 20:5). David made this statement to the people after praying. Because of his faith, he praised God before the battle began.

David’s prayers always included praise and worship3

  • David celebrated when God heard his prayers. As a sign of his faith, David praised God answering his prayers before God intervened: “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly person for Himself; the LORD hears when I call to Him.” (Ps. 4:3). “Leave me, all you who practice injustice, for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.” (Ps. 6:8). “In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried to my God for help; He heard my voice from His temple, and my cry for help before Him came into His ears, . . . He also brought me out into an open place; He rescued me, because He delighted in me.” (Ps. 18:6, 19). “Blessed be the LORD, because He has heard the sound of my pleading.” (Ps. 28:6). “By this I know that You are pleased with me, because my enemy does not shout in triumph over me.” (Ps. 41:11). “Then my enemies will turn back on the day when I call; this I know, that God is for me.” (Ps. 56:9). “Though I walk in the midst of trouble, You will revive me; You will reach out with Your hand against the wrath of my enemies, and Your right hand will save me.” (Ps. 138:7). When you do God’s will, no enemy can stop you: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Ro. 8:31). Do you also praise God for answering your prayers?

5. Faith: Intercessory Prayer Requires Faith that God Does Answer Your Prayers. Ps. 20:6.

  • David professed faith that God would keep His promises. Before the battle began, David had the faith to know that God would keep His promises and answer his prayers for victory: “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand.” (Ps. 20:6). David did not know exactly how God would answer his prayers, but he knew that God would be faithful to keep His promises to His people: “Show Your wonderful faithfulness, savior of those who take refuge at Your right hand from those who rise up against them.” (Ps. 17:7).

  • God’s anointed Jesus will answer your prayers. David praised God for saving “His anointed” and answering His will (Ps. 20:6). David first used this term in reference to the future rebellion of the rulers of the Earth against the Messiah (Ps. 2:1-3). The promise that God’s “Anointed One” would also be His Son is a central revelation of the New Testament: “that God has fulfilled this promise to those of us who are the descendants by raising Jesus, as it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My son; today I have fathered You.’” (Acts 13:22). “and behold, a voice from the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Mk. 1:11; 9:7; Lk. 3:22). The author of Hebrews quoted from Psalm 2 to also reveal that Jesus is both God’s Son and superior to all the angels (Heb. 1:5, 5:5). Jesus, the King of Kings, will rule forever: “Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, ‘The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever.”’ (Rev. 11:15). With faith, Jesus will answer your prayers.

  • Prayer in Christ’s name while doubting or mindless repetition will not be answered. If you pray with doubt about the power of Jesus’ name, your prayers will not likely be answered: “But he must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (Jam. 1:6-8). Likewise, mindlessly invoking Jesus’ name in prayer will be meaningless to God (Matt. 6:7). If you lack faith, you can build it by reading God’s Word: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.” (Ro. 10:17).

6. Humility: Intercessory Prayer Requires Humility and Dependence on God. Ps. 20:7.

  • David professed that the Jews would depend upon God’s strength for their victory. David boasted that their victory would come through God and not their military might: “Some praise their chariots and some their horses, but we will praise the name of the Lord, our God.” (Ps. 20:7). David knew that God was their true strength: “The LORD is their strength, and He is a refuge of salvation to His anointed.” (Ps. 28:8).

Approach God in humility, trusting in His strength and not your own abilities4

  • God granted the Jews victory when they trusted in His strength, not their own. David trusted in God’s strength, not his own: “The LORD of armies is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold. Selah” (Ps. 46:7). “The king is not saved by a mighty army; a warrior is not rescued by great strength. A horse is a false hope for victory; nor does it rescue anyone by its great strength.” (Ps. 33:16-17). “He watches over the feet of His godly ones, but the wicked ones are silenced in darkness; for not by might shall a person prevail.” (1 Sam. 2:9). “In any case, he is not to acquire many horses for himself, nor shall he make the people return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the LORD has said to you, ‘You shall never again return that way.” (Dt. 17:16; 20:1).

  • Do not place your trust in strong leaders. The Bible repeatedly warns against placing your trust in strong leaders for your salvation: “Oh give us help against the enemy, for rescue by man is worthless.” (Ps. 60:11). “Do not trust in noblemen, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps. 146:3). Jesus is the only one with the power to deliver you: “The Lord is at Your right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.” (Ps. 110:5; Rev. 6:17). “When he falls, he will not be hurled down, because the LORD is the One who holds his hand.” (Ps. 37:24). “Cast your burden upon the LORD and He will sustain you; He will never allow the righteous to be shaken.” (Ps. 55:22). “Commit your works to the LORD, and your plans will be established.” (Prov. 16:3; 17:6).

7. Deliverance: Intercessory Prayer Places Trust in Jesus for His Deliverance. Ps. 20:8-9.

  • David trusted in God to deliver the Jews in the face of their enemy. David then pleaded for God’s deliverance in battle through his future “King”: “They have bowed down and fallen, but we have risen and stood upright. Save, Lord; may the King answer us on the day we call.” (Ps. 20:8-9). David spoke of the King of Kings and Messiah who would hear his prayers and grant them victory: “[I]t seems that the individual for whom David prays is the promised seed, the future king from his line (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12-15) . . . Yahweh will answer the prayers David leads the people in for the King (20:1-5 [MT 20:2-6]), causing salvation for the Messiah (20:6 [MT 20:7), and that will lay low the enemies and raise up God’s people so they can testify (20:7-8) [MT 20:8-9). The Lord Jesus cried out to the Father in the words of Ps 22 on the day of his distress. God the Father answered the prayers of David for his promised descendant in Ps 20 by raising Jesus from the dead. The people of God give cries of celebration of God’s salvation, just as David hoped we would in Ps 20:5 (MT 20:6).” (James M. Hamilton Jr., Evangelical Bible Theology Commentary Psalms (Vol. I: Psalms 1-72) (Lexham Academic 2021) p. 263, 269).

Turn to Jesus for your deliverance5

  • The wicked will bow before Jesus. David promised that the enemies of the Messiah would be “bowed down” (Ps. 20:8). Isaiah repeated this prophecy (Is. 60:14). This is also again prophesied in the New Testament: “so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth,” (Phil. 2:10; Ro. 14:11). You can give thanks that Jesus has already won the battle for you.

  • Jesus is the Messiah and heir to God’s Covenant with David. God promised David an eternal dynasty (2 Sam. 7:16). Daniel repeated this promise (Dan. 7:18). Jesus was born into the line of David (Matt. 1:1). He came to fulfill God’s covenant with David as the eternal King of Kings: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Lk. 1:33; Rev. 19:16). If you have faith, you can also give thanks that Jesus has come to deliver you.

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