Psalm 72 – May He Defend the Cause of the Poor
SummaryIn this royal psalm, the community prays for the king, for just rule, for abundant crops, and for the well-being of all. The ascription of the prayer to Solomon correlates with Solomon's own prayer for wisdom and the ability to rule justly (1 Kings 3:5-9).
There are several royal psalms that celebrate and pray for Israel's earthly king. Since the king was seen as a mediator between God and the people, the prayers are finally in praise of God and for prosperity for all God's people. The king was God's anointed one ("messiah"), so these prayers also look forward to God's perfect messianic rule.
The prayer begins with the most important thing for any ruler: that he or she rule with justice and righteousness (vv. 1-4). Though these psalms pray for the king himself, the primary concern is for the welfare of the people, especially the poor, the needy, and the oppressed. In God's rule, those are the ones for whom a government has first responsibility.
The prayer moves now to the person of the king with typically extravagant oriental language: "May he live while the sun endures….May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass…" (vv. 5-7). Here too the point is that righteousness flourish and peace abound, "until the moon is no more"--which, of course, reaches beyond the possibility of any given earthly ruler. We hear Israel's longing for God's messianic kingdom.
The prayer that enemies and all nations give service to Israel's king can be misunderstood (vv. 8-11). Heard in arrogance, especially if applied to a contemporary government, it could produce a kind of self-centered chauvinism that dismisses the importance to God of others. Heard, however, in line with God's call to Abraham and Sarah to be a blessing to the nations (Genesis 12:1-3) and the concern for the needy in this psalm, the point is the extension to all the earth of God's good rule--though Israel, too, sometimes forgot this. The defeat of the nations is not sought because they are different, but because they represent the oppression that this psalm longs to overcome. The point is made explicitly later in the psalm: "May all nations be blessed in him" (v. 17).
The next section represents the poetic center of the psalm (vv. 12-14). The grammar is essential to its message. On both sides of this stanza, the people pray for the king and his rule ("May he live [v. 5]….May he have dominion [v.8]….May gold of Sheba be given to him [v. 15]…"), but now we learn why: "For [because] he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper" (v. 12). The king's rule is to serve the needy. Only for that reason does he deserve a name that lives forever (v. 17).
In the final stanza, the psalm returns to prayers for the prosperity of the king and the nation (vv. 15-17). The language of "America the Beautiful," with its "amber waves of grain" and "purple mountain majesties," seems to borrow from the images of these verses. This psalm, too, functions as something of a national anthem for Israel, offering in its prayer for the leader and the nation a prophetic reminder that the government actually be about the concerns of God.
The final doxology (vv. 18-19) is a brief hymn that closes Book II of the Psalter, not a part of Psalm 72 itself. Similarly, v. 20 simply adds information about the collection of the book.