“God Save the King” (or rather under the present circumstances the Queen) is the national anthem of the United Kingdom. I have spent all of my life living in two kingdoms. I spent a part of my childhood living in the UK and the rest of it in the heart of the Asante kingdom. Even though both these settings are quite different, there is broadly speaking, a way of life living under a monarchy.
I recall telling someone what it was like to live abroad in Britain. I heartily sang to him “God save the Queen” which is a pretty rousing tune. He thought the lyrics were absolutely ridiculous. In his mind the Queen lives in absolute luxury so why are you praying for God to help her, she obviously doesn’t need any? He remarked that he would rather sing that God should save him. It is sometimes quite hard to convey what a kingdom mentality looks like, living as a subject of a regent. Especially with modern democracy, monarchy is seen as part of the old ways and does not belong to the current world of so-called progress and enlightenment. Understanding the nature of a kingdom is however, very important to believers because we are a part of the Kingdom of God (Colossians 1:13.)
“God Save the King” is taken from the KJV of 1 Samuel 10:24 and other places as the proclamation of the people of God of their new king.
And Samuel said to all the people, See ye him whom the LORD hath chosen, that there is none like him among all the people? And all the people shouted, and said, God save the king. – 1 Samuel 10:24
Modern versions of the Bible translate it as “Long live the king.” Now why would people want the prosperity of the ruler who would by default be better off than them? The answer lies in the very nature of a kingdom. The king was not just the boss of them all. The king was their commander-in-chief.
But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, “No! But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” – 1 Samuel 8:19-20 ESV
The king had the responsibility of protecting the nation. If your king fell in battle, your nation fell along with him. The prosperity of the king therefore, was also the prosperity of the people. Just a little politics will tell you that power vacuums foster political instability which is never good for any nation. Regardless of modern translations the king was thought of as the saviour of his people (2 Samuel 14:4.) They looked to him in times of trouble especially during warfare. In a military context salvation does not mean escaping a ‘sticky spot’ as it were. It means being victorious. There is no safer position than overcoming the threat. Israel looked to the king for salvation but the king looked to God. YHWH was the true King of Israel who had the ultimate power to deliver or to destroy.
David was no stranger to struggle, danger and hardship for most of his life. From the time he was anointed by Samuel it took David about 20 years in total before he fully reigned over Israel. Soon after he was anointed he was fighting Goliath, a giant who had been fighting probably as long as David was old. One interesting thing among many is what David said in the most famous duel in history,
“You come to me with a sword and with a spear and with a javelin, but I come to you in the name of the LORD of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head. And I will give the dead bodies of the host of the Philistines this day to the birds of the air and to the wild beasts of the earth, that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the LORD saves not with sword and spear. For the battle is the LORD’s, and he will give you into our hand.” – 1 Samuel 17:45-47 ESV
David under the inspiration of the Spirit understood that YHWH is the covenant King of Israel and he had promised to fight their battles for them (Deuteronomy 1:29-31.) This became a common theme in David’s life who constantly sought God to deliver his anointed.
Psalm 22 describes another particularly harrowing incident in David’s life. We do not know the exact circumstances but we can tell it was a time of distress. This psalm in particular has come to be known as the Song of the Cross since it features quite prominently in the crucifixion narrative. Jesus himself quotes the first line while hanging on the cross, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ At Jesus’ exclamation those mocking him eerily echo the eighth line of the psalm when they sneer, ‘Let the Christ save himself, let the king of Israel come down from his cross.’ (Matthew 27:40; Luke 23:35.) In their minds they could never imagine God’s long awaited king being defeated by a foreign pagan force. Coupled with ignominy of crucifixion in the ancient world the idea was completely ludicrous. It was as if David had fought Goliath and the giant won. (I’m quite sure in the eyes of Goliath and the Roman Empire that was how the story was supposed to go down.)
Jesus’ Passion was a great time of distress for him. Like his ancestor David before him he had been hailed as king but crossed the Kidron Valley to weep as his own flesh and blood had betrayed him. (The saga of the rebellion of Absalom is a prophetic foreshadow of what would happen to Jesus.)
In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. – Hebrews 5:7 ESV
The threat Jesus faced was not just insurrection but the very brute reality of death. The only one who could save him from this certain fate was God. God saved King Jesus by raising him from the dead on the third day. God save the king had taken on a fresh full meaning in the resurrection.
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting.” – 1 Corinthians 15:55 ESV
God has conquered death itself in Jesus Christ. Now the one we cry out is Jesus, the only name under heaven, given among men, by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12.) Jesus has given us the victory and we will reign with him on God’s new earth, Hallelujah! (1 Corinthians 15:57; Revelations 20:6.) Indeed, God has saved the King.