Psalm 21 — LeGrand Baker — Covenant of Invulnerability in the Psalm’s veil ceremony

Psalm 21 — LeGrand Baker — Covenant of Invulnerability in the Psalm’s veil ceremony

The 21st Psalm describes the king’s request to enter the Holy of Holies through the veil. (In Alma 5 in the Book of Mormon, when Alma was asking the people in the congregation if they could still the song of redeeming love, as they had once sung it, it seems likely that the hymn he was referring to was the 21st Psalm.) The psalm begins by someone describing the action on the stage. It might have been a chorus, as in a Greek play, or a narrator, or it might have been the entire congregation who sang this part:

1. The king shall joy in thy strength,
O Lord; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!
2. Thou hast given him his heart’s desire,
and hast not withholden the request of his lips
(Psalm 21:1-2).

This is what we know about what has already happened on the stage: the king had asked the Lord for something, and the Lord had granted that request. In the next verse there is an unusual word, “preventest.” The footnote in the LDS Bible helps with that. It says that the words “thou preventest him” might be translated “thou wilt meet him.” When we use that phrase, this is the way the chorus described the Lord’s response to the king’s request:

3. For thou wilt meet him with the blessings of goodness:
thou settest a crown of pure gold on his head (Psalm 21:3).

In the next verse we learn what the blessing was that the king had requested:

4. He asked life of thee, and thou gavest it him,
even length of days for ever and ever. [i.e. through all eternity]
5. His glory is great in thy salvation:
honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him (Psalm 21:4-5).

“Honour and majesty” are the names of the clothing that represents his kingship and priesthood: {1}

6. For thou hast made him most blessed for ever:
thou hast made him exceeding glad with thy countenance (Psalm 21:6).

The king had received a blessing that reached “for ever,” and now the king is “exceeding glad” because he had seen the countenance of God:

7 For the king trusteth in the Lord,
and through the mercy of the most High he shall not
be moved (Psalm 21:7).{2}

That he will not be moved indicates that the king will keep the covenants he has made with the Lord.

The next five verses in the psalm are spoken by God to the king. It is easy for us to read them in the context of our own time—and that without much understanding, for they sound like a battle hymn whose emphasis is victory in war. But when one recalls that they were written in a time very unlike our own, then the words have a different ring altogether. In the days of ancient Israel, there were no police forces that kept one safe as he traveled. People built walls around cities, and the wealthy built fortifications on their own estates. The words in our psalm, and many like them in other psalms and in Isaiah, are promises of protection—of personal invulnerability—the same kind of invulnerability he promises all those who keep his commandments:

8 Thine hand shall find out all thine enemies:
thy right hand shall find out those that hate thee.
9. Thou shalt make them as a fiery oven in the time of thine anger:
the Lord shall swallow them up in his wrath,
and the fire shall devour them.
10. Their fruit shalt thou destroy from the earth,
and their seed from among the children of men.
11. For they intended evil against thee:
they imagined a mischievous device,
which they are not able to perform.
12. Therefore shalt thou make them turn their back,
when thou shalt make ready thine arrows upon thy
strings against the face of them (Psalm 21:8-12).

The final verse is an anthem of praise, sung by the people who sang the first verses of the psalm:

13. Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength:
so will we sing and praise thy power (Psalm 21:13).

About these events, Margaret Barker observes:

“The rituals of the holy of holies were thus taking place outside time and matter, in the realm of the angels and the heavenly throne, and those who functioned in the holy of holies were more than human, being and seeing beyond time.” {3}

The Covenant of Invulnerability is the covenant God made with us that if we would keep our eternal covenants he would remove all obsticles that might prevent us from doing so. It is taught throughout the scriptures. For example Ammon marveled at the Lord’s goodness with these words:

1 And now, these are the words of Ammon to his brethren, which say thus: My brothers and my brethren, behold I say unto you, how great reason have we to rejoice; for could we have supposed when we started from the land of Zarahemla that God would have granted unto us such great blessings? (Alma 26:1)

There may be no other scripture that so accurately express the sense of awe that the faithful feel as they watch the Lord fulfill the promises he has made to them. It is an echo of the much shorter, but equally profound question asked by Enos: “Lord, how is it done?”(Enos 1:7.)

The answer, while unfathomable from our perspective, is very simple to say in words: At the Council in Heaven we made covenants with God. On our part, we promised what we would do when we came here; on his part, he promised he would make it possible for us to do it—not easy—not even safe—but possible (Paul explains that in the first chapter of Ephesians). However, like the Prophet Joseph, Peter, and Abinadi, it might appear to others that we had been prevented from achieving our objective; but like with them, the end cannot come until the Father has fulfilled his covenants to help us succeed—unless, of course, we have chosen to not fulfill our part.

His promise is renewed here in this world as we are taught what we must do to return to him. His promise is virtually a guarantee of invulnerability—not against hurt or sorrow, but against failure if we do our part. The following are two excerpts from my forthcoming book on the Psalms, They discuss our of invulnerability. The first is from my discussion of Psalm 45 which portrays the king (and through him all the audience) receiving that promise during the proceedings of the Council in Heaven.

In his blessing to the king, the Father promised that when all these conditions are met, “thy right hand shall teach thee awesome things.” {4} Then Elohim concludes his blessings to the future king of kingship and priesthood with this final promise.

5. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee (Psalm 45:5).

Many of the psalms that contain blessings, conclude with similar promises of military invulnerability {5} as we move through linear time. {6} In ancient Israel there were two kinds of enemies. One challenged the king’s earthly responsibility for providing personal and national peace and security. The other (a holdover from the previous world) challenged his powers of one’s righteousness and priesthood. That is the context of these seeming military blessings in this and other psalms. They appear to suggest military conquest, but in fact they are reiterations of the assurance of the Lord’s guarantee that no power on earth or in hell could prevent one from keeping one’s premortal covenants, and from enjoying the blessings derived therefrom. It was a promise to the king who was newly dressed in sacred clothing; that by truth, meekness and righteousness; even though he found himself surrounded by enemies, he would remain invincible until his covenants were fulfilled and his mission accomplished.

The promise of invulnerability is often found in psalms that speak of the king’s actually approaching God. It is a reminder of the promise received in the Council that God is the guarantor that one will have the power to fulfill one’s eternal covenants. That promise of invulnerability is important because, as is always so in the cosmic myth, the assignment is impossible and only the intercession of the heavens can make a path through the obstacles that would prevent its fulfillment. The obstacles and the impossibility of the task are ever-present but then so is the guarantee that the Father will fulfill his part of the covenant.

It is the same guarantee as the prayer that concludes the first chapter of Ephesians, after Paul reminded his readers of their pre-mortal relationship with their Father in Heaven, and of the covenants and instructions they received before they left home. {6}

With those definitions in mind, consider the impact of Elohim’s blessing to the king as a single, coherent promise:

3 Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. [names of sacred clothing: glory is priesthood, majesty is kingship]
4 And in thy majesty ride prosperously [successfully] because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible [awesome] things. [Then follows the promise of invulnerability]
5 Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee. (Psalm 45:3-4)

Elohim’s blessing to the king was a comprehensive covenant, embracing all of the powers and authorities of sacral kingship and priesthood—there was nothing left to be added except the promise about his posterity, and that was reserved for the conclusion of the psalm.

Two statements in the Doctrine and Covenants suggest that the powers of a king, as described in Psalm 45, closely parallel the powers of the Melchizedek priesthood. These passages are not the same as the statement in the psalm, but the messages seem to be the same. They emphasize the powers of the Melchizedek Priesthood in terms that sound very much like “truth, meekness, and righteousness.”

“Truth” is defined as knowledge of reality in sacred time: “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come” (D&C93:2.).

“Meekness” is keeping the covenants we made at the Council and remake here:

9 The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way.
10 All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth unto such as keep his covenant and his testimonies. …
14 The secret [sode, decisions of the Council in Heaven] of the Lord is with them that fear him; and he will shew them his covenant. (Psalms 25:9-10, 14)

“Righteousness” is zedek – correctness in temple and priesthood things.

The first of the D&C scripture reads:

19 And this greater priesthood administereth the gospel and holdeth the key of the mysteries [“Mysteries” would probably be the same as sode in the Old Testament] of the kingdom, even the key of the knowledge of God [knowing the truth].
20 Therefore, in the ordinances thereof [In Isaiah and the Psalms, the word “ordinances” would probably appear as the code words “way”or “path”], the power of godliness is manifest.
21 And without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;
22 For without this no man can see the face of God, even the Father, and live [a sode experience].
23 Now this Moses plainly taught to the children of Israel in the wilderness, and sought diligently to sanctify his people that they might behold the face of God (D&C 84:19-23).

The second reads:

18 The power and authority of the higher, or Melchizedek Priesthood, is to hold the keys of all the spiritual blessings of the church—
19 To have the privilege of receiving the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven [truth], to have the heavens opened unto them [sode experience], to commune with the general assembly and church of the Firstborn [Council in Heaven], and to enjoy the communion and presence of God the Father, and Jesus the mediator of the new covenant (D&C 107:18-19).

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ENDNOTES

{1} “Majesty” clearly represents his kingship, just as it does elsewhere in the scriptures. In Job 40:10 the fact that the Lord is talking about clothing is made even more clear: “Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty.” In Moses 7:3-4, and in his sode experience, Enoch is dressed properly. One must be clean and properly clothed to come into the presence of God. In our psalm the phrase, “honour and majesty hast thou laid upon him” suggest that God himself has dressed the king in royal garments.

{2} The prophet Enoch describes an experience in a similar sequence:

3 And it came to pass that I turned and went up on the mount; and as I stood upon the mount, I beheld the heavens open, and I was clothed upon with glory;
4 And I saw the Lord; and he stood before my face, and he talked with me, even as a man talketh one with another, face to face (Moses 7:3-4).

{3} Barker, Great High Priest, 81
{4} The Tanakh (official Jewish translation) uses “awesome” rather than “terrible.”

{5} Some important examples are Psalms 2, 21, 110.

{6} At the conclusion of Paul’s discussion of the covenants we made with God in the premortal world (Ephesians 1:1-14), Paul prays that his readers may know three things:

First, “what is the hope of his calling.” Calling is a verb, thus it is God’s calling—his premortal assignment—to the Saints.

Second, “and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” That is, what great blessings await those who keep their covenants.

Third, “And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.” (v. 18-20 and on to v. 23)

In other words, Paul’s prayer concludes with the hope that we will know that the Father has also promised us that he will enable us to fulfill our covenants if we are faithful to the instructions of the Holy Ghost.

 

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