Psalm 72: Why We Must Honor and Pray for Our Leaders

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           Psalm 72 is a royal psalm or coronation hymn marking the change of command ceremony in which power was being transferred from Kind David to his son Solomon. David’s prayer was for his son Solomon to reign in a way, which would reflect the justice of God, but it also contains elements which foreshadow the eternal kingship of Christ. To understand what a psalm means to believers today, or how it might foreshadow a future event, it must first be understood in both its historical-cultural and literary context. Thus, the chief aim of this analysis is to bridge the gap from an exegetical focus, which relies on historical events and principles to more of a contextualized approach, by illustrating the timeless truths found within the text. The end goal is to better understand Psalm 72 historically and then be able to declare what it means today.

HISTORICAL-CULTURAL CONTEXT

            The “why” behind the psalm is the key question to answer in understanding the historical-cultural context. Richard Belcher Jr. illustrates, “Psalm 72 is a prayer for the king asking that God bring about His rule on earth through the reign of the king [and] this psalm begins with the title ‘for Solomon’ and ends with a doxology that closes Book II of the Psalter.”[1] King David is the most likely author, but it is possible either Solomon wrote it about himself or someone else wrote it about Solomon. Either way, the people of the time would have been very familiar with the Davidic covenant,[2] which assured a descendant of David would rule an enduring kingdom, but the Father-son relationship established between the Lord and His descendant was symbolic of a covenant love that could never be taken away. The Lord is essentially adopting the king as His son and serves as His human vice-regent. The rule and reign of the Davidic king in Jerusalem was also a reflection of Yahweh’s heavenly rule and reign.

In addition to David praying, the people are also praying that God would give the king the ability to rule with wisdom and justice, so that the entire nation would be blessed, as a result of the king’s righteous reign. David’s prayer for his son is reminiscent of Solomon’s answer to the Lord when He offers Solomon anything he would ask for. This psalm is asking God to enable His king to rule and reign with righteousness. In Old Testament times righteousness was associated with being in the will of God, while unrighteousness was affiliated with sinful living, being unclean, and not being in the will of God. As a result of this reality, the people for obvious reasons wanted a righteous king, despite God warning them what an earthly king would lead to. So while this psalm began as a prayer from King David to his son Solomon, it was also a community prayer due to the consequences that resulted from an unrighteous king.[3] When looking at royal psalms in their historical context, Belcher clarifies, “[While] the king leads the people in military battle, Yahweh is the one who ultimately fights for His people and wins the victory.”[4][5] Nancy deClaissé-Walford et al. further clarify, “The deification of the human king was pervasive in Israel and these ideas were adapted into a concept of the king being the ‘son of God,’ an earthly representative of the Lord, chosen by the Lord to rule over the people Israel.”[6] Frank E. Gaebelein further explains, “The king was God’s anointed representative [and] submission to the king implied submission to the God of Israel.”[7]

LITERARY CONTEXT

            When approaching the psalms, Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart rightly assert, “The most important thing to remember in reading or interpreting psalms is that they are poems – musical poems, [so] by their very nature, they addressed the mind through the heart.”[8] Psalms is made up of five books,[9] each of which concludes with a doxology and the final form came into existence during the post-exile time period. Belcher highlights, “The common thread in the royal psalms is kingship, [so] one of the main issues is the relationship of the psalm to the historical king.”[10] Clarence Bullock identifies, “The most obvious criteria are they (1) refer to the ‘king,’ (2) mention the ‘anointed’ one as a noun or make use of the verb, and (3) they refer to David by name.”[11] Royal psalms pray for the king of the day, but they also point to Jesus.

As the story of Psalms unfolds in Books I and II, Davidic psalms are prominent and seem to focus on God’s faithfulness over the house of David, so Belcher believes, “The best way to approach a royal psalm is to understand how the psalm fits into the historical setting of the monarchy, especially its relationship to the Davidic Covenant.”[12] Psalm 72 is found at the end of Book II and illustrates how this covenant promise has been passed from King David to his son Solomon. However, when the reader approaches Book III, there is immediately a crisis, the Israelites had been defeated in battle, their temple was destroyed, and God’s chosen people had been carried off to exile in Babylon. In light of these events, the people surely asked themselves what had happened to the promises God made to David and whether or not those promises were still in effect. As John Walton demonstrates, “Psalm 72 is the seam psalm, the conclusion of Book II. As David’s blessing on Solomon, it is one of the anchors of the cantata hypothesis.[13] Also of interest in this psalm is what Gerald Wilson identifies as the only explicit statement within the psalms that exercises an organizational function in verse twenty.”[14] Wilson views Books I thru III, as representative of the rise and fall of the Davidic monarchy, with Psalm 2 marking the inauguration of the Davidic Covenant, while Psalm 72 marked the transition to the future Israelite kings. Walter Kaiser then recognized by, “Leaving Psalm 89 at the end of Book III to lament over what appeared to be Yahweh’s ultimate rejection of the Davidic kingship. This, according to some, would explain why the Royal Psalms later on played a smaller role in Books IV-V in the Psalter.”[15] This coronation hymn defined the kingdom of God and Beth Tanner illustrates how Kind David’s, “Last prayer is for the next monarch and it sets the Psalter within a particular history of a particular people. But it also sets this particular history within the scope of the world and, indeed, within the cosmic scope of all that exists.”[16] DeClaissé-Walford et al. further demonstrate how, Psalm 72 strikes a high note and it is, “Flush with the hopes and dreams for the future. In contrast, Psalm 73 opens Book III on a note of confusion and doubt. Life with God will not be lived in an idyllic world, at least for the moment, but in a world where the values espoused in the previous psalm do not always meet with the realities of life.”[17] In Asaph’s prayer, the righteous suffered while the wicked prospered, which went against everything the people understood to be true. Ultimately, the movement and language throughout Psalms reflects what a life of faith is all about. Moments of disorientation are used by God to reorient the individual and community back into communion with God.

Structurally, in verse three, the psalmist speaks of the mountains bearing prosperity for the people. Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch explain, “Mountains and hills describe synecdochically the whole land of which they are the high points visible afar off. ‏נָשָׂא‎ is used in the sense of ‏נָשָׂא  פְּרִי:[18]‎ may ‏שָׁלֹום‎ be the fruit which ripens upon every mountain and hill; universal prosperity satisfied and contented within itself.”[19] In verses five thru seven, there is a shift from the work of the king to the king himself. DeClaissé-Walford et al. illustrate, “Long life is associated with the vision of God’s kingdom,[20] and the wishes of the king extend to the people. The king’s good reign is to be like the life-giving showers that provide food.[21] The king is simply to provide the environment where the benchmarks of God’s kingdom can grow.”[22] Verses eight thru eleven focuses on the king’s dominion being from sea to sea and how the kings from surrounding kingdoms will bow and bring gifts. DeClaissé-Walford et al. stress the extent of this adoration demonstrating, “Kings are to fall down before him, and all the nations are to serve him. The final verb is especially important, for it is always a key word for Israel. Hebrew ʿāḇaḏ[23] means both to “serve” and “worship.”[24] Verses twelve thru fourteen contain the conjunction, “because,” which points back to what must happen for the petitions to come to pass. The king must have compassion on the oppressed and is called to save and rescue the weak and needy. Only when the king fulfills the requirements of verses twelve thru fourteen will the petitions and wishes in verses five thru eleven be a reality. Verses fifteen thru seventeen depict the abundance of blessings that will come forth from the kingdom and verse seventeen affirms, “May people be blessed in him, and all nations call him blessed,” which parallels the Abrahamic covenant.[25]

THEOLOGICAL INTERPRETATION

            The first request in Psalm 72 asked God to grant the king justice and righteousness. Jessica Tate demonstrates exactly how:

Justice and righteousness are bound together throughout the psalm just as they are bound in life. Righteousness means to be in right order, to be blameless or godly. Justice can also be translated as “righteousness” or “judgment.” One cannot have divine justice without righteousness, nor righteousness without justice. A word study on the matter suggests that when the king carries out justice, he is an “agent of the divine will.” Justice is associated with the basic requirements of life in the community.[26]

The imitation of God is one of the key principles of the psalms as Gordon Wenham explains, “Those in the best position to promote righteousness are the kings, and they are called on to exercise godlike qualities of justice.”[27]

The second request prayed for a universal ruler who had dominion all over the earth. Belcher demonstrates, “Although some take this psalm as a direct prophecy of the reign of Christ,[28] it is better to take the reign of the king in Psalm 72 as a type of the reign of Christ because the psalm clearly reflects the historical reality of Solomon’s reign”[29] and no earthly king has ever had dominion all over the earth. Wenham demonstrates how Psalm 2 and Psalm 72 are strategically placed royal psalms that open or close a book of the Psalter, but he then explains, “If the Psalter had ended with Psalm 72, we would probably have to agree with form critics that both psalms were just prayers for a coronation, and that the exaggerated language about the ‘ends of the earth’ and ‘all king falling down before him’ were just poetic hyperbole. But the Psalter does not end with Psalm 72; that is only the end of Book II.”[30]

The third request was for long life and prosperity. God promised Solomon his days would be lengthened[31] as long as he remained obedient, but in his later years, he turned away from the ways of the Lord.[32] Wenham highlights the first two books of the Psalter end with King David’s very upbeat prayer for Solomon, but “Solomon of course did not live up to his father’s hopes, either militarily or socially. Instead, Solomon’s reign was marked by oppressive policies.”[33] DeClaissé-Walford et al. note, “Verses 15-16 have much in common with vv. 5-7 but also add references to the lifting of prayers and blessings for the king. At v. 16, the creation reappears, and its abundance is an added wish. Verse 16 has the two most problematic lines of the psalm, and their exact meaning is unclear.”[34] While the failure of the Davidic Covenant appeared problematic, especially to those living in exile, it is important to understand the difference between the messiah in historical and eschatological terms.

Lastly, Belcher emphasizes, “Psalm 72 must be understood in light of the first and second comings of Christ. Now that the righteous king has come and won the victory on the cross, we do not pray for Him as much as we pray for the full coming of His righteous kingdom.”[35] Despite Psalm 72 being classified as a messianic psalm, nowhere is it quoted from in the New Testament, so Daniel Estes and many other scholars agree, “Several psalms have come to be called Messianic psalms even though it is quite likely the original psalmist did not grasp the Messianic dimensions that would later be explicated in the New Testament text.” The New Testament writers came to understand the Old Testament text in a deeper reality than the original authors.

MODERN APPLICATION

            Psalm 72 is historic as David intercedes for Solomon, it is prophetic with reference to another king (Christ,) and it also holds significance for the church today. First, it teaches people should honor all leaders and elected officials and not speak evil of them.[36] Second, God has commanded believers to pray for leaders, specifically regarding the salvation of his or her soul as well as the ability to rule righteously and justly, according to God’s will.[37] As David prayed for Solomon, Christians too should ask God to make leaders Christlike in how he or she rules. Finally, Psalm 72 should also point people to Christ’s return and future coming kingdom, following Peter’s strong example in Acts 3:19-21, which F.F. Bruce shows “If they would turn back in heart to God, the salvation and blessing procured by the Messiah’s death would be theirs. Their sins would be blotted out, even that sin of sins, which they had unwittingly committed in consenting to the death of the Author of life. Here is the heart of the gospel of grace.”[38]

Tanner explains Psalm 72 teaches what righteous leadership is supposed to look like. “God’s kingdom and God’s ways of justice and righteousness are to be the norms. This is the way that God intends the world to be; it was true in Abraham’s time, in the time of the kings, and in the world today. It is the kingdom to which we all press forward and the place in which our future hope is vested.”[39] These lessons are just as relevant today as they were three thousand years ago. By avoiding the traps and lust for power and position that tempts humans, ruling with righteousness becomes the motivation, allowing those in power to remain in the will of God, which, as history demonstrates, provides abundant blessings and justice for God’s people.

CONCLUSION

            The people wanted a king, so God gave them a king. As a result, Psalm 72 becomes universal in its petitions for the king, who with the guidance from the Lord would be greater than all the other kings and would recognize his primary role being to reign with justice and righteousness. The goal of this analysis was to bridge the gap from exegesis to application, so by explaining David’s and the people’s prayer for Solomon was to rule and reign righteously and justly, precedence was established for all people to pray the same today. As history has shown, only God’s perfect and holy Son Jesus Christ can truly fulfill all that David prayed for but that does not negate the obligation for Christians to honor and pray for all leaders or elected officials.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Belcher, Richard P. Jr. The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms. Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2006.

Broyles, Craig C. Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Psalms. Edited by W. Ward Gasque, Robert L. Hubbard Jr., and Robert K. Johnston. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 1999.

Bullock, C. Hassell. Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2001.

DeClaissé-Walford, Nancy, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014.

Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, 3rd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003.

Futado, Mark D. Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook. Edited by David M. Howard Jr. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 2007.

Gaebelein, Frank E., ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 3: Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, 1 & 2 Samuel. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1992.

_______. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991.

Henry, Matthew. Matthew Henry Concise Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1961.

Hughes, Robert B. and J. Carl Laney. Tyndale Concise Bible Commentary. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1990.

Kaiser, Walter. “PSALM 72: AN HISTORICAL AND MESSIANIC CURRENT EXAMPLE OF ANTIOCHENE HERMENEUTICAL THEORIA.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 2 (June, 2009): 257-70, http://ezproxy.liberty.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com.ezproxy.liberty.edu/docview/211193181?accountid=12085. (accessed December 9, 2016).

Keil, Karl and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament – Volume 5: Psalms. Edinburgh, UK: T. & T. Clark, 1891.

Kselman, John S. “Psalm 72: Some Observations on Structure.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research, no. 220 (1975): 77-81. doi:10.2307/1356240. (accessed December 9, 2016).

Leadership Ministries Worldwide, Preacher’s Outline & Sermon Bible, The – Psalm 72. Chattanooga, TN: Leadership Ministries Worldwide, 2016.

Paul, Shalom M. “Psalm 72:5-A Traditional Blessing for the Long Life of the King.” Journal of Near Eastern Studies 31, no. 4 (1972): 351-55. http://www.jstor.org/stable/543794 (accessed December 9, 2016).

Tate, Jessica. “Between Text and Sermon: Psalm 72:1–7, 10–14.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 68, no. 1 (2014): 66-68. DOI: 10.1177/0020964313505970 (accessed December 9, 2016).

Walton, John H. “PSALMS: A CANTATA ABOUT THE DAVIDIC COVENANT.” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34 no. 1 (March 1991): 21-31. (accessed December 9, 2016).

Wenham, Gordon. The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013.

[1] Richard P. Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from all the Psalms (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2006), 135.

[2] II Samuel 7:12-16

[3] I Samuel 8:10-22

[4] 1 Chronicles 29:23

[5] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 132.

[6] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 419.

[7] Frank E. Gaebelein, ed., The Expositor’s Bible Commentary – Volume 5: Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1991), 347.

[8] Gordon D. Fee and Douglas Stuart, How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), 206-207.

[9] Book I: 1-41; Book II: 42-72; Book III: 73-89; Book IV: 90-106; & Book V: 107-150

[10] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 121.

[11] Clarence Hassell Bullock, Encountering the Book of Psalms: A Literary and Theological Introduction (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2001), 178.

[12] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 121.

[13] Views the Psalms as a cantata around the theme of the Davidic covenant.

[14] John H. Walton, “PSALMS: A CANTATA ABOUT THE DAVIDIC COVENANT,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 34, no. 1 (March 1991): 27. (accessed December 9, 2016).

[15] Walter Kaiser, “PSALM 72: AN HISTORICAL AND MESSIANIC CURRENT EXAMPLE OF ANTIOCHENE HERMENEUTICAL THEORIA,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52, no. 2 (June, 2009): 260, (accessed December 9, 2016).

[16] Nancy deClaissé-Walford, Rolf Jacobson, and Beth Tanner, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament – The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2014), 579.

[17] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT – The Book of Psalms, 584.

[18] Ezekiel 17:8

[19] Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament – Volume 5: Psalms (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1891), 480.

[20] Isaiah 65:17-25

[21] The shalom and righteousness of v. 3 appear here again as entities that are independent of human action.

[22] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT – The Book of Psalms, 578.

[23] Israel goes from being “slaves” of the bad reign of Pharaoh to being “servants/worshippers” in God’s kingdom. In Psalm 72, the entire world, through Israel and its king, will become servants in the kingdom of God.

[24] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT – The Book of Psalms, 578.

[25] Genesis 12:1-3

[26] Jessica Tate, “Between Text and Sermon: Psalm 72:1–7, 10–14,” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible and Theology 68, no. 1 (2014): 66. DOI: 10.1177/0020964313505970 (accessed December 9, 2016).

[27] Gordon Wenham, The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2013), 121.

[28] Because of its typological use in 2 Corinthians 6:18 and Hebrews 1:5, verse fourteen has long been considered messianic in a Christological sense.

[29] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 137.

[30] Wenham, The Psalter Reclaimed, 91.

[31] I Kings 3:14; Psalm 72:15

[32] I Kings 11-12:1-15

[33] Wenham, The Psalter Reclaimed, 149-150.

[34] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT – The Book of Psalms, 579.

[35] Belcher Jr., The Messiah and the Psalms, 138.

[36] Exodus 22:28; Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:17

[37] 1 Timothy 2:1-4

[38] F. F. Bruce, The New International Commentary on the New Testament – The Book of Acts (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 83.

[39] DeClaissé-Walford et al., NICOT – The Book of Psalms, 580.