Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Matthew 8:18-22; Acts 10:24-33; Psalm 20; Genesis 44-45
Psalm 20 has been taken to mean that when in distress, we can pray to God and he will give us the desires of our heart. Today’s section of Genesis reflects this idea as we see that Jacob and Joseph received what they desired deeply: to see one another again. But we know that God doesn’t always grant our requests. The man who comes to Jesus in Matthew 8 wanted to bury his father, but Jesus tells him to leave that and come with him right away. How are we to reconcile what we see in life with this apparent promise in Psalm 20?
The solution lies is looking carefully at the context of our passage. A quick read of Psalm 20 may leave us thinking that this is a promise that when I am in distress, God will answer my prayers. We need to look at why a passage was originally written and whether it had a particular purpose. Commentators agree that Psalm 20 was a prayer or song recited as the king and his army prepared to go into battle. The first five verses are the prayer of the people for the king, the next three are a response by either the king or possibly a priest, and then everyone concludes with the last verse.
The Psalm is therefore a community’s prayer for its leader. In ancient Israel, the king of Israel should have been going into battle only if God had instructed him to do so. The sacrifices and plans were made to discern what God wanted him to do. This Psalm is not about an individual’s desires, but about how the people pray for their leader as he takes them into a dangerous situation.
We can still learn from this Psalm. The people’s prayer is inspiring as they face the upcoming dangers and challenges. The army would have their weapons and equipment ready, but verses 6-8 show us where their confidence lies. They trust in the Lord, not their technology or their leader’s abilities.
We can take a similar attitude as we face distressing challenges. These may be entering into conflict, fighting economic challenges, or dealing with sickness or pain. We cannot claim from Psalm 20 that God will give us everything that our heart desires. We may desire peace or health, or just time to bury our father, but that may not be possible. Life itself, or even following Jesus, may not take the path we thought it would. At that point, we are faced with a choice. Will we put our confidence in the latest technology or economic theory to save us? These are not wrong in themselves, as we know the Israelites went into battle prepared and equipped. But where do we place our ultimate confidence for victory? When we trust God, we can be confident that he will deliver us. That should give us hope and courage as we face into difficult situations.