The Righteous King: Psalm 72

September 17, 2017

A note to readers: Today’s post is part of a Sunday Voice Series by Dr. Timothy C. Tennent, a close friend, mentor and colleague of mine. He serves as the President of Asbury Theological Seminary among other posts he holds across the global church. This Sunday Voice Series will cover the Psalms, beginning to end, by focusing on a Psalm each Sunday. I can’t tell you how excited I am for his interest in contributing here. This will be a huge blessing to us all.

Psalm 72 (NIV)

Endow the king with your justice, O God,
the royal son with your righteousness.
May he judge your people in righteousness,
your afflicted ones with justice.

May the mountains bring prosperity to the people,
the hills the fruit of righteousness.
May he defend the afflicted among the people
and save the children of the needy;
may he crush the oppressor.
May he endure[a] as long as the sun,
as long as the moon, through all generations.
May he be like rain falling on a mown field,
like showers watering the earth.
In his days may the righteous flourish
and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

May he rule from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
May the desert tribes bow before him
and his enemies lick the dust.
May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores
bring tribute to him.
May the kings of Sheba and Seba
present him gifts.
May all kings bow down to him
and all nations serve him.

For he will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.
He will take pity on the weak and the needy
and save the needy from death.
He will rescue them from oppression and violence,
for precious is their blood in his sight.

Long may he live!
May gold from Sheba be given him.
May people ever pray for him
and bless him all day long.
May grain abound throughout the land;
on the tops of the hills may it sway.
May the crops flourish like Lebanon
and thrive like the grass of the field.
May his name endure forever;
may it continue as long as the sun.

Then all nations will be blessed through him,
and they will call him blessed.

Praise be to the LORD God, the God of Israel,
who alone does marvelous deeds.
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory.
Amen and Amen.

This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse.

CONSIDER THIS

This is one of only two psalms attributed to King Solomon. It is fitting that Psalm 72 celebrates the qualities of a righteous king. This psalm idealizes a righteous king in lofty terms that are worth noting. The righteous king embodies justice and renders faithful justice to his subjects (vs. 1, 2). The righteous king helps his people to prosper and he protects them from oppression (vs. 3, 4). When a king is righteous, then all in his kingdom is well.

The idealization of the righteous king mounts even higher as the psalm continues, for now his rule will last for all time, poetically stated as “till the moon is no more” (vs. 7). The extent of his reign is not just vast in the Alexander the Great type scale; it is “to the ends of the earth” (vs. 8). Distant kings bring their gifts: “The kings of Tarshish and of distant shores will bring their tribute to him; the kings of Sheba and Seba will present him gifts. All kings will bow down to him and all nations will serve him” (vs. 10, 11). Then, the psalmist even picks up on the founding covenant language from Genesis 12:3 to declare that it is this righteous king who will be the source of the blessing of all nations: “All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed” (vs. 17).

History makes it clear that no earthly king, even Solomon at the peak of his power, could fulfill the ideals of this psalm. But the day would come when a truly righteous King would come into the world. Magi would come bearing gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh as tribute. He alone would truly administer justice and defend the cause of the needy. His rule will extend to the ends of the earth. All rivals will be placed “under his feet,” including death itself. Indeed, “every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth […] and every tongue confess” that he is Lord (Phil. 2:10, 11). We are speaking, of course, of the Lord Jesus Christ. He and he alone, stands as the fulfillment of every hope and aspiration of Psalm 72. This psalm inspired the great 18th century hymn writer, Isaac Watts, to write that beautiful hymn, “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun:”

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun,
Does his successive journey’s run,
His kingdom spread from shore to shore
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

It is fitting that this Psalm concludes the second book of the psalter. Despite all the trials and tribulations so vividly expressed in this section of the psalms, the final word in this book is the glory of God being spread to all nations; the final triumph of the rule and reign of God in the world: “Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen” (vs. 19). What a powerful word of hope for us during our own uncertain and challenging days.

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Timothy C. Tennent is the President of Asbury Theological Seminary and a Professor of Global Christianity. His works include Invitation to World Missions: A Trinitarian Missiology for the Twenty-first Century and Theology in the Context of World Christianity: How the Global Church Is Influencing the Way We Think about and Discuss Theology. He blogs at timothytennent.com and can be followed on twitter @TimTennent.

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