This article contains an exposition of Psalm 72, as well as questions and discussion points for Bible study.

5 pages.

Psalm 72 – A King Prays for a King According to God’s Will

As indicated in the introduction, we end this series of outlines with a discussion of Psalm 72. It will be readily clear to you that Psalm 72 is closely connected to what we have dealt with so far. In previous outlines we have mentioned this psalm a number of times.

In the NIV the heading above this psalm says, ‘Of Solomon’. In the Statenvertaling, a Dutch translation which dates back to 1618/1619, the translated heading reads ‘For Solomon’ (the Hebrew preposition used here can also mean ‘for’). I concur with that translation. From verse 20 it becomes clear that this psalm originally belonged to a bundle of prayers of David. In this song, David leaves his son, who succeeded him as king, in the care of the LORD. David uses the promises that the LORD gave to him through Nathan the prophet as the starting point of his prayer (2 Sam 7:12-16).

Not everything what is said and prayed for in this psalm can be related to something we know about Solomon’s kingship. When we deal with the text I will indicate this in more detail. The kingdom of Solomon was vast and extensive, yet there were limits to it. Solomon himself was a great and mighty king, yet he had his limits also. The righteousness of the LORD (v. 1) was his guideline, but he marginalized it towards the end of his reign. During his reign, Solomon was allowed to demonstrate aspects of Christ’s kingship. His kingdom displayed some of the glory of Christ’s kingdom. For that reason he partly met the requirements of the king portrayed in this psalm. However, to meet all the requirements we have to look to the Christ. He is more than Solomon.  In Jesus Christ, more than in Solomon, will all the words of this song be realized. What exactly did David know about this when he composed this psalm? Naturally, we are unable to say much about this. David had the promises of 2 Samuel 7. This promise was concerning Solomon, but in fact it spoke about a distant, messianic future. David’s psalm is in keeping with that promise.

Question 1:  Can you point out aspects of this psalm which may be applied to Solomon but which cannot be literally applied to the Christ?

Question 2:  To what extent may we use this song in our prayers for kings and other rulers in the present?

1. Verses 1-7🔗

The first thing David requests for Solomon is that he may reign as a righteous king over his people. This is an important element in this psalm. You will not only find it in verses 1-4 but later again in verses 12-14. Compare this to what Solomon himself asks the LORD in 1 Kings 3:9 (see outline 9). It is his top priority. And this is exactly what the LORD wants. In connection with this, read what is said about the coming Messiah in Isaiah 11:3-5, for instance.

Ruling the nation in righteousness means that the king makes a stand for the poor. The poor, apparently, can suffer a great deal in the church (!); the psalm speaks about oppression and violence. And that even while the LORD had expressly commanded them to open their hand wide to poor brothers, and to open their hearts to them. Just read how beautifully that is prescribed in Deuteronomy 15:7-11! A king who is king after God’s will would take care of the ‘least of these brothers’. God himself will defend their rights. After all, the concern is about his afflicted ones (v. 2); they belong to him!  He wants the beauty of the covenant to be expressed in their lives. For that reason they must be freed from oppression and violence.

Question 3:  In verse 7 the poor are referred to as ‘the righteous’. This means that we are dealing here with people who want to keep the covenant of the LORD. To what extent are poverty and piety an automatic combination? How do we look at this today?

Question 4:  Psalm 72 finds its final fulfillment in Christ. Does this psalm teach us that Christ the King sides with the poor and oppressed in the world, as some contemporary theologians say?

Question 5:  The form for the installation of deacons states that we must make sure that the weak and needy can share in the joy of God’s people. To what extent does Psalm 72 pertain to this? And what could be your ‘kingly task’ in this context?

Question 6:  The expression “the least of these brothers of mine” can be found in Matthew 25:40. What does Jesus say about them in this text? What is the connection with Psalm 72?

Wherever righteousness triumphs, peace is enhanced. When oppression and violence is brought to an end, the righteous are again able to flourish (v. 7).  Life in Canaan will be good again. God takes care of the well-being of his people. That is peace!

‘He’ in verse 5 does not refer to Solomon. Literally, it says, ‘may they praise you’. The word ‘they’ can refer to ‘the poor’ from verse 4. The point is, that under the reign of this king, the respect for the LORD and the service of the LORD is promoted. This, then, must happen into eternity (as long as the sun or the moon exists, from generation to generation). In verse 5 David clearly reaches out beyond Solomon, to Christ. His kingdom will last from generation to generation. Until the end of time he will cause people to serve the LORD through his Word and Spirit.

2. Verses 8-14.🔗

In the verses 8-11 David prays for a worldwide dominion. “From sea to sea” (v. 8) means the same thing as ‘from one end of the earth to the other’. The expression is based on the idea that the earth is surrounded by seas on all sides. ‘The River’ denotes the River Euphrates, a distant border in those days. Having worldwide dominion means that people in remote wildernesses (desert tribes, v. 9) and kings from distant countries subject themselves to this king. Solomon’s kingdom came close to this description; his kingdom comprised a large part of the world, as it was known then. It extended to the river mentioned in verse 8 (1 Kings 4:21). And although the Queen of Sheba (v. 10) may not have been subject to him, she did underline his glory with her gifts and with the homage she paid. Solomon achieved a lot, but a worldwide kingdom of God will not be established until Christ returns. To him, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess his lordship (see Phil 2:10,11). In connection with this, read Zechariah 9:10 where similar words are used.  However, this passage clearly deals with the Christ, the king who will enter Jerusalem seated on a donkey (v. 9).

Question7:   Does verse 11 (as well as Phil 2:10,11) indicate that rulers and nations will repent and become believers?

Regarding the content, verses 12-14 is a repetition of verse 4. However, instead of a prayer we are dealing here with an unwavering expectation. The king whom the LORD will provide will be righteous; he will rescue the afflicted from the injustice with which they are oppressed. The connection of these verses is indicated with the word ‘for’ in verse 12. Why is it possible to entrust world dominion to this king (according to David’s prayer in verses 8-11)? Because he is a righteous king. He is not someone who will establish his dominion by means of coarse violence, for he loves righteousness.

Again, the psalm reaches out beyond Solomon to the Christ. Read Isaiah 9:6: For what reason will the dominion of the Messiah be magnificent? Because his kingdom is founded on justice and righteousness. That is the only solid basis.

3. Verses 15-17🔗

Paying homage to the king does not consist exclusively of submissiveness and the presentation of treasures. He will be honoured even more when people pray for him and wish him the blessing of the LORD. It is very important that the subjects entrust their king to the LORD in prayer.

Question 8:  To what extent does the act of praying for the king apply to Christ the King?

The prayer of David ends with the petition that the name of the king will be established forever and nevermore be forgotten. This name is a name which throughout history reappears in prayers of blessing, ‘The Lord bless you as he blessed Solomon.’ Thus in fact, it is God who establishes and maintains his name through the blessings that he bestowed on Solomon.

4. Verses 18-20🔗

Formally, these verses do not belong to this psalm. They conclude the second part of the Psalms with a song of praise, as is done at the end of the other four parts of the Psalms (see conclusion of Psalm 41, 89, 106).  Yet, this conclusion fits nicely with the previous verses. The name of the king (v. 17) and the name of God (v. 19) are closely related (see section 3). Whoever praises the king praises the LORD God (see again Phil 2:11: “to the glory of God the Father”). Furthermore, when this King establishes his dominion throughout the world, then the glory of God will fill the whole earth (v. 19).

5. Christ, both Saviour and King🔗

When singing Psalm 72, we may know that Christ governs this earth from ‘sea to sea’. We may also know that God’s kingdom will come; he will establish a kingdom of justice and peace. Christ the King is working toward that goal.

Presently, we live in a world in which injustice is common and peace is hard to find. How much haven’t God’s faithful children suffered from false accusations, oppression, and violence? In our country it appears that some of the liberties, which we have had for a long time, are under attack. People who want to serve the LORD sincerely are not treated justly. You can probably mention additional examples, maybe even from own experiences.

This psalm serves to encourage us. Christ has already become our redeemer. He has freed us from the power of Satan, who acts as a ruler of this world.  His kingship shows us God’s care. Through this redemption, our lives may flourish in the protection of his covenant. It is good to live under his protection (see end of section 1).

God’s kingdom of peace will come.  He brings a new world in which righteousness will dwell, and in which life can flourish in abundance because no suffering will be known there; injustice and violence will never return. Because sin will no longer be an obstacle, God’s name will receive complete glory and honour, also from us.

For the introduction🔗

  1. You may want to mention that there are a number of other ‘kingly’ psalms (e.g. 2, 21, 45, 89, 110, 132). You will also find a number of elements from Psalm 72 in these psalms. Examples include the righteous acts of the king (Ps 45:7,8), the lasting character of his reign (Ps 89:5,37, and 38), and the expansion of his kingdom to the ends of the earth (Ps 2:8). The kingship of God himself is extolled in Psalm 97 and 99, among others. Both songs make clear that God embraces justice and righteousness as the main principles guiding his actions (Ps 97:2b, 99:4).  Thus, David prays that Solomon may reflect the image of God in regards to his kingship.
  2. Concerning the author of this psalm, you may want to add what follows. If Solomon was the author of this psalm, you would not easily be able to determine which king Solomon would be speaking about. Would he write this about himself? Yet, the author makes it clear that he prays for someone else. Does he pray for his son Rehoboam? If you recall the history described in the previous outline (1 Kings 11), you would not be inclined to think that Solomon composed such a song as this one on the occasion of Rehoboam’s ascension to the throne.
  3. In this psalm, prayers are intertwined with expectations (v. 12-15). From the original manuscripts it is not always easy to determine which verses form a prayer or which verses form an expectation. You will notice this when you compare a number of different translations with each other. I do believe that verse 15 must be read as a wish. ‘May he live’ (“Long live the king”) was at that time a common wish extended to the king.
  4. The following can be said regarding verse 1: “Your justice” refers to the unchangeable statutes of the covenant which everyone needs to adhere to and which can be found in God’s law. Herein lies the connection with Deuteronomy 17:18 ff.: the king must always carry the law of the LORD with himself. The distinction between ‘justice’ and ‘righteousness’ lies in the fact that ‘justice’ is a judiciary term used in court procedures, whereas ‘righteousness’ lies more in the ethical realm (pertaining to what is morally a right thing to do).  In God’s covenant, judiciary and ethical matters are in harmony with each other. You could ask yourself the question whether this is also the case in our country today.
  5. A king is not automatically a man who will defend the right. Even in Israel there were many kings who thought of their own position first and were eager to use injustice to achieve their own goals. The account of Ahab’s injustice toward Naboth to get his vineyard is an example that likely springs to mind. That is why David asks “Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.” (v.1)

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