It is quite clear that Psalms 20 and 21 form a related pair in the Psalter. In our previous study in Psalm 20 we found an army of God’s people expressing their definitive trust in God for His divine intervention to secure their future victory. Psalm 21 serves as a response to the previous Psalm. As Psalm 20 ends with a plea to save the king (20:9), now Psalm 21 picks up referencing the king rejoicing in the strength of God who grants him salvation and victory. Like the Psalm before it, Psalm 21 is another ‘royal Psalm’ repeating the theme of God’s ‘right hand’ effecting the king’s deliverance. Both Psalms 20 and 21 anticipate a victory that lies ahead, and praise God for His power and promised support. While the emphasis on Psalm 20 is the trust of God’s people, Psalm 21 is more focused on the strength of God in triumphing over the enemies of His people.
There has been some interesting disagreement among translators concerning verses 1 and 5 of Psalm 21. The ESV translates the Hebrew in these verses as “your salvation;” the NIV translates this as “the victories you give.” The difference may be subtle, but is not unimportant; is the king rejoicing in the promised salvation of God that is yet to come or in the fact that he has already triumphed by the power of God. This difference has caused some to consider Psalm 21 to be a victory celebration wherein the king is rejoicing in his own victory which he gained with divine help. Others look at Psalm 21 more like Psalm 20, as an expression of trust in the strength of God in whom future triumph is certain. The two views are consistent with two different “Christian worldviews,” or theologies – that of glory and that of the cross. Those enthused with a theology of glory tend to emphasize the present triumph that Christ has already won at the cross. Those who emphasize the theology of the cross tend to emphasize a present trust in a certain future triumph. Both of these theologies have their merit and tend to emphasize different aspects of a single truth. Christ has indeed already triumphed on the cross and in his resurrection and ascension; however, there is a final consummation of that triumph in His future return.
Whatever one thinks of Psalm 21, it is certainly a messianic Psalm that anticipates the return of Christ in judgment (see verse 9). We can all agree that there is a future time coming when Christ will return as judge of the living and the dead (1 Pet 4:5-7). At that time the perishable “crown of fine gold” (v. 3) and temporal gifts of “glory … splendor and majesty,” (v. 5) will give way to the “eternal blessings” of the joy of God’s presence (v. 6) and the unshakable foundation of His steadfast love (v. 7). Though we know that our ultimate triumph is yet to come, we nevertheless sing and praise God now for His great strength and power.