Charles Colson, aide to President Richard Nixon during the Watergate Scandal, who was gloriously converted in prison, once said and the US National Prayer Breakfast, “The kingdom of God does not arrive on Air Force One.” It has arrived in Jesus Christ, and it is arriving through Jesus Christ, and it will fully arrive one day by Jesus Christ. We have a glimpse of this in Psalm 72.
Christians can suffer from two opposite maladies. On the one hand, we can be faithlessly pessimistic as we look at the condition of the world while losing our vision of Jesus Christ. This is the worldview, I fear, of most Christians in South Africa. We expect little by way of gospel change and we get what we expect.
On the other hand, we can become overly optimistic, tempted to believe that all things will come right before Jesus Christ returns.
Of course, there is a healthy and biblical optimism. Tozer was biblically optimistic when he said, “Anything God has ever done at any time he can do now. Anything God has ever done anywhere he can do here. Anything God has ever done for anyone he can do for you.”
But this faithfully optimistic view can sometimes morph into an unhealthy because unbiblical triumphalism. This error assumes that the unshakeable kingdom to which we have come (Hebrews 12:22–29) is going to come in the here and now. But it won’t. When we lose sight of the already-and-not-yet, we can become arrogantly, sentimentally and irresponsibly triumphalistic. And, ironically, this can actually result in our emotional, mental and spiritual outlook swinging wildly to the hopelessly pessimistic side of the pendulum.
So, how do we maintain a biblical realism as we face kingdoms in conflict? One means is a proper appreciation of Psalm 72.
Boice helpfully summarises a healthy approach to this psalm when he writes, “We pray that our rulers may be endowed with righteousness, as Psalm 72 does in verse 1. But human rulers always let us down, which is why we look for the only upright, just, and entirely righteous rule of Jesus Christ.”1
This is a psalm of Solomon. Some prefer the heading, “A Psalm to Solomon,” because this psalm is historically a prayer for the successful reign of David’s son. It is therefore said to be “self-serving” if he wrote it. Nonsense.
In fact, this psalm reveals that Solomon, at least at a certain stage in his reign, understood that he was given a huge responsibility when he was anointed king of Israel (cf. 1 Kings 3:1–15).
Anyone appointed by God to lead others would be wise to grasp this heartfelt, God-centred prayer of Solomon.
Solomon certainly desired prosperity for his reign as king, as indicated throughout this psalm, but it is equally clear that he desired this for the welfare of his people. Therefore we should accept this superscription, “A Psalm of Solomon.”
Though this psalm was written by Solomon, and though its immediate application is with reference to Solomon’s reign and rule, ultimately it is about Messiah. In fact, the rabbinic Targum renders the opening line, “O God, give the precepts of judgment to King Messiah.”2
It is clear from the content of this psalm that the reign and rule prayed for is too universal and too all-encompassing in quality to reflect a mere earthly kingdom and king. No, surely this psalm is a prayer for God’s kingdom to come through His appointed King, Messiah. This is a psalm that we can rightly interpret as depicting the already/not-yet rule and reign of King Jesus over all of the kingdoms of this world (Revelation 11:15).
One evidence of this is that surely Solomon was persuaded of the Davidic covenant (2 Samuel 7), with particular assurance of vv. 12–13, which read, “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
Solomon understood that the human Davidic kingdom was a foreshadowing of the one day eternal kingdom, which would be established by David’s greater Son, the Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 1:1; 9:27; Romans 1:3; Acts 13:32–36; 15:16; Revelation 22:16).
Kidner notes, “The New Testament nowhere quotes it as Messianic, but this picture of the king and his realm is so close to the prophecies of Isaiah 11:1–5 and Isaiah 60–62 that if those passages are Messianic, so is this. Language that would otherwise be no more than courtly extravagance makes sober sense with this reference.”3
We can confidently conclude that the language of this psalm ultimately points to the rule and reign of the Lord Jesus Christ.
As we expound this psalm we will do so by applying this to the very legitimate prayer that we should have for human kings. After all, they should rule reflecting the King of kings. We will spend some time dealing with some of these very relevant issues.
Second, we will also approach this psalm with a view to prayerfully expecting the Lord Jesus Christ to continue to exercise His rule with the certain hope that, one day, we will see His perfect rule as heaven comes to earth (Matthew 6:9–10).
We will examine this psalm under several headings.
The Righteousness of His Rule
Solomon begins, in vv. 1–4, by writing of the righteousness of the king’s rule:
Give the king Your judgements, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s Son. He will judge Your people with righteousness, and Your poor with justice. The mountains will bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness. He will bring justice to the poor of the people; He will save the children of the needy, and will break in pieces the oppressor.
Likely, 2 Samuel 23:1–7 (David’s last words), and particularly v. 3 (“The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spoke to me: “He who rules over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God”), was on Solomon’s mind when he wrote these words.
His overriding theme in these opening verses is righteousness; he uses the word three times in four verses. His prayer is to have such knowledge of God’s judgements (laws, statutes) that he will rule properly. Leupold writes, “The gift sought for the king is ‘principles of judgment,’ which is likely a reference to the laws and ordinances which God gave to Israel…. If the king is endowed with these qualities, he will rule as God’s effective and true representative…. Such a rule will never be harsh; it will never be lax.”4
We know from Deuteronomy 17:14–20 that every new king of Israel was, at the commencement of his reign, supposed to write out by hand a copy of the law of God.5 Kings were to be VIPs—very instructed people. And, in fact, that is precisely what we should pray for regarding our own governments (see 1 Timothy 2:1–7). Government leaders are “God’s minister(s)” (Romans 13:1–6), and their responsibility, therefore, is to rule justly—as defined by God’s standard of justice.
Righteous governance is, by definition, just governance. In a righteous government, justice flows from the top to every strata of society. I sometimes wonder so why many Christian thinkers want to argue against the concept of theonomy.6 Surely an absolute law from a holy God would be a far better standard than arbitrary rules from fallen man? God’s law is absolutely just and righteous (Deuteronomy 4:1–8). What better law is there to be ruled by?
The Results of His Rule
In vv. 5–7, Solomon turns to the results of the king’s righteous rule: “They shall fear You as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations. He shall come down like rain upon the grass before mowing, like showers that water the earth. In His days the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace, until the moon is no more.”
The point being made here is that, when a people submits to the righteous rule of God, it goes well with that people. Nations ruled by God’s standard flourish. Conversely, those who cast off God’s law flounder.
Solomon wrote of this elsewhere. In Proverbs 14:34, he wrote, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin a is a reproach to any people.” Proverbs 29:2 adds, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice; but when a wicked man rules, the people groan.” Is it any wonder that contemporary nations like Zimbabwe are in the state they are in when their governments have long ago abandoned any notion of God’s righteous rule? When the rulers of a nation reject righteousness, they can expect things to go quickly awry.
Solomon, however, realised that, if he ruled in the fear of God, the people would be blessed—and abundantly so.
The NKJV translates the first line of v. 5 as “they shall fear You.” A textual variant suggests that a better translation may be, “he shall endure.” The former translation suggests that this is a prayer that, by the righteous rule of Solomon, the people would come to revere God more. Leupold accepts this interpretation when he writes, “Men, knowing that God alone can make such blessed results possible, will look up to God and as a result reverence Him as they never reverenced Him before.”7
On other hand, it could refer to the continuation of Solomon’s rule (“he shall endure”) as a result of his faithful and righteous rule.
The main point is this: Blessings flow to a people with such a king. As Kidner puts it, “The just king is like sun and rain to his subjects, creating the conditions in which all that is fresh and good may flourish.”8 Or to cite Leupold again, “Here will be perfect rule; none will sigh and languish over rights violated or injustices to be borne.”9
Righteous leadership brings abundance of blessing to those who submit to it. Human flourishing requires righteous living and is enhanced by righteous leadership. Righteous leadership creates an environment for righteous behaviour. The early years of Solomon’s reign are a testament to this. Yes, things went south when he was old (1 Kings 11), but in his early years he ruled righteously and Israel benefited from it.
This is what the gospel will bring to a nation. We should expect this in a land where the new heavens and new earth are taken seriously. Where leaders submit to God’s rule, and lead the people accordingly, God’s blessings are abundantly lavished.
The Reach of His Rule
Solomon’s focus next turns to the reach of the king’s rule:
He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. Those who dwell in the wilderness will bow before Him, and His enemies will lick the dust. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles will bring presents; the kings of Sheba and Seba will offer gifts. Yes, all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him
While these verses hint at the extent of Solomon’s rule—who ruled more of the Promised Land than any other king of Israel or Judah—the language clearly seems to indicate a great rule; viz. the rule of King Jesus. The extent of this reign is far greater than Solomon ever achieved; indeed, it describes the reign of one “greater than Solomon” (Matthew 12:42).
The extent of this reign is measured in a number of ways.
First, there is the measurement by means of waterways: “from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.” Once again, this can be understood as partly a reference to Solomon (1 Kings 4:21; 2 Chronicles 9:26), but “from sea to sea” would seem to imply something grander.
Second, there is the measurement by geography. He mentions “those who dwell in the wilderness.” “Tarshish” was in Spain, which represented (at that point) the furtherest known geographic point. Similarly, “the isles,” says Kidner, “were synonymous with the ends of the earth.”10 “Sheba” is Yemen, and “Seba” is Sudan. Geographically, the rule spoken of here is indeed universal.
Third, we see that the measurement included not only loyalists but also enemies (v. 9).
Fourth, the measurement was universal in terms of peoples and languages. It covered “all kings” and “all nations.”
Boice summarises it well when he writes, “These verses speak of all lands, the Euphrates being the farthest point the writer could think of to the east, Tarshish the farthest city to the west, and Sheba and Seba the farthest kingdoms to the south.”11
“He shall have dominion” (v. 8) should be the motivating factor in the life of the Christian. Christ’s rule and reign is universally extensive, not only geographically or politically, but culturally, personally and morally. This is fundamentally what the Great Commission is all about. Leupold is correct: “Such a ruler deserves that his kingdom be extended endlessly. These prayers are not nationalistic or chauvinistic; they are wholesome and unselfish.”12
The Relief by His Rule
Solomon next turns his attention to the relief attained by the king’s rule: “For He will deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper. He will spare the poor and needy, and will save the souls of the needy. He will redeem their life from oppression and violence; and precious shall be their blood in His sight” (vv. 12–14).
The note of compassion is very strong in this passage. There is a strong relief motif here. The king who rules righteously will deliver those unjustly afflicted; he will buy them back from slavery; he will redeem the oppressed. With such redemption will come deep relief from unnecessary sorrow.
In Solomon’s early days, he was such a king. But after some time he became harsh, and through heavy taxation, and by what became an unnecessary opulent building program, he created hardship for the marginalised. In fact, the marginalised became increasingly maximised numerically.
But King Jesus is never like this. He never has been and never will be. In fact, He invites people to come to Him for relief, for the rest that comes by His redemptive work (Matthew 11:28–30).
The redemptive rest that Jesus gives to us will be passed on to others. Those saved by grace will pay it forward in their interactions with others. When we are converted, and as we progressively bow to King Jesus in practical everyday life, we will make the lives of others easier, not more difficult.
The Riches of His Rule
Solomon now turns his attention to the riches of the king’s rule
And He shall live; and the gold of Sheba will be given to Him; prayer also will be made for Him continually, and daily He shall be praised. There will be an abundance of grain in the earth, on the top of the mountains; its fruit shall wave like Lebanon; and those of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.
We see in these verses the prosperity attending the righteous rule of the king. No doubt, this can be said of Solomon, as the visit of the Queen of Sheba makes clear (1 Kings 10). But we will need to look further than that historical fulfilment.
Let’s make an immediate application: Righteousness does exalt a nation. When a nation is ruled by law—God’s law—blessings flow to and from it. This can be shown time and again historically. For example, I have no doubt that this has been the case in the past with the United Kingdom and the United States. Yet the increasing economic collapse of those nations should not surprise us. After all, when a nation legalises the murder of its babies then, like Rome, it should not surprise us when that empire collapses.
With reference to this it is worth quoting Boice at length:
Wherever Jesus is honoured and served, and wherever righteousness is pursued, there prosperous times will almost inevitably follow. Families will become stable. Parents will care for, educate, and promote the well-being of their children. Unproductive members of society will be reclaimed and assisted in becoming productive. Virtue will permeate the workplace, and wealth will be created through industry and hard work. Christianity has contributed such material blessings to numerous nations, while nations that have persecuted the followers of Christ and repressed Christianity have languished in it.13
The prosperity under Solomon eventually came to a grinding halt. But under King Jesus we can expect this prosperity to one day be the case in a far more glorious way (see Isaiah 2; 11; Revelation 21; etc.). Paradise will be restored, and we will enjoy it. In a real sense, heaven will be a place on earth.
The Renown of His Rule
Solomon shifts in v. 17 to the renown of the king’s rule: “His name shall endure forever; His name shall continue as long as the sun. And men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed.”
This forms a fitting ending to the main body of this psalm. Solomon, no doubt with his eyes on the future King, looks forward to the day when King Jesus will receive the submissive adoration He so richly deserves. After all, when you consider His gracious rule, the only legitimate response is to desire for Him to receive all glory. And He will (Philippians 2:9–11).
It is clear that the name of Jesus is the name above all names. In a wonderful passage revealing a similar theme to the one revealed here, the early church understood the glory of the name of Jesus. In Acts 4, Peter and John were arrested for healing a lame man and preaching Jesus Christ. Hailed before the Sanhedrin, they were forbidden to preach the name of Jesus. The religious leaders threatened them, but then released them.
And being let go, they went to their own companions and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. So when they heard that, they raised their voice to God with one accord and said: “Lord, You are God, who made heaven and earth and the sea, and all that is in them, who by the mouth of Your servant David have said:
‘Why did the nations rage,
And the people plot vain things?
The kings of the earth took their stand,
And the rulers were gathered together
Against the Lord and against His Christ.’
For truly against Your holy Servant Jesus, whom You anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together to do whatever Your hand and Your purpose determined before to be done. Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word, by stretching out Your hand to heal, and that signs and wonders may be done through the name of Your holy Servant Jesus.”
And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness.
The apostles understood the righteous rule of King Jesus and were bold to proclaim it.
If you want to be “blessed in Him” then you need to be in Him. Bow the knee, and kiss the Son while there is time (Psalm 2:12).
Thanks be to God that the day is coming when all nations will indeed be blessed in Him (see Genesis 12:1–3; etc.).
The Response to His Rule
The closing verses (vv. 18–20) form something of a doxological conclusion, requesting the rule of this king: “Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things! And blessed be His glorious name forever! And let the whole earth be filled with His glory. Amen and Amen. The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.”
This doxological conclusion may have been added by an editor. Certainly v. 20 was. Nevertheless, under God’s inspiration, these words are a wonderful climax to this psalm.
Upon reflection, the only reasonable response to this psalm is that of praise to God for such a king. As VanGemeren observes, “Reflection on the benefits of the theocratic kingship renews the prayer for the extension in time and space of the Davidic dynasty and its monarch.”14 Or to cite Leupold, “The prayer here expressed is obviously to the effect that lasting fame may be attained by this great king.”15
In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul says that the day is coming when Jesus will offer the consummated kingdom to His Father (vv. 20–28). The Son’s glorious affection for His Father will be ultimately displayed when all that the Father gave to Him is lovingly returned to Him; the Son is the faithful steward par excellence.
At this point all of creation will bow in humble adoration to our Great God for such a display of grace and glory in this universe. And this universe will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the seas (Habakkuk 2:14).
So, what is the only logical response to such a vision? To pray for it! When Jesus taught the disciples to pray, He said to pray, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:9–10). If there was ever a psalm that displayed the picture of what this will look like, it is Psalm 72.
But note how this psalm concludes: “The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.” Boice insightfully notes with reference to this phrase, “The prayers of David are not concluded until the son of David is in place.”16 So it remains. We must continue to pray the Lord’s Prayer until the ultimate Son of David fully receives all His due. Yes, He will have dominion. Thank God!
- James Montgomery Boice, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 2:601. ↩
- H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1969), ??. ↩
- Derek Kidner, Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary, 2 vols. (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press), 1973, 1:254. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 517. ↩
- The law referenced in Deuteronomy 17 is likely the book of Deuteronomy, though it is possible that it includes the entire Pentateuch. ↩
- Theonomy is the belief that God’s law as revealed to Moses ought to be observed by modern societies. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 518. ↩
- Kidner, Psalms, 1:255. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, 518. ↩
- Kidner, Psalms, 1:256. ↩
- Boice, Psalms, 2:603. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, 519. ↩
- Boice, Psalms, 2:605. ↩
- Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 5:473. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms, 521. ↩
- Boice, Psalms, 2:600. ↩