The Messianic Psalms - Psalm 72
R. Catchpole, London
Speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostle Paul asserted, ‘He must reign’, 1 Cor. 15. 25. Although denied by a-millennialists, the One whom men rejected and crucified at His first coming is appointed to have a throne and a kingdom in the very scene of His rejection. God has determined it; the scriptures testify to it, and in Psalm 72, His reign of righteousness and peace is graphically described.
In the Hebrew Bible, the Psalms are divided into five books corresponding to the five books of the Pentateuch. Psalm 72 concludes the second book, that section of the Psalms which begins with Psalm 42 and corresponds to the book of Exodus. The second book of Moses, Exodus, concludes with the glory of God filling the tabernacle and thus it is no accident, but a mark of divine inspiration, that Psalm 72 concludes on a similar note, looking on to the golden age of Messiah’s kingdom when ‘the whole earth [will] be filled with his glory’, v. 19.
The superscription to the Psalm
‘A psalm for Solomon’, although the margin says, ‘A psalm of Solomon’. If the first title is correct, this is a psalm written by David for the instruction of Solomon and likely written at the very end of David’s life. If, however, the writer was Solomon, then here is a son giving expression to and wanting to see realized, the desire and longings of his father’s heart, v. 20. Either way, it is evident that the initial subject of the Psalm was Solomon himself and although the substance was in some measure realized in his reign, for its total fulfilment, it awaits the reign of ‘a greater than Solomon’; the millennial reign of the Lord Jesus Christ.
The sections to the Psalm
The psalm begins with a petition, ‘Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king’s son’, v. 1. In verses 2 to 17, it opens out into prophecy, as the writer anticipates the fulfilment of his request and its delightful consequences. 1 It concludes in verses 18 to 20 with a note of praise to the One who will bring it all to pass.
The subject of the Psalm
The Person who reigns: ‘the king/the king’s son’, v. 1. Because of Adonijah’s attempt to claim the throne for himself, Solomon was anointed king while David was yet alive. 2 If the psalm was written by David in those latter days, Solomon in his own right bore the title of ‘king’ but, equally, when viewed in relation to David himself, he was ‘the king’s son’ and as such the rightful heir to the throne. Needless to say, this distinction is but a reflection of the personal greatness and glory of the ‘greater than Solomon’, Matt. 12. 42. In the glory of His person as the eternal Son of God, the Lord Jesus has an inherent right to rule; He is the King of kings, the Lord of lords. But, equally, relative to His manhood, as the seed of David, He is the rightful heir to David’s throne, Luke 1. 32.
The principles that characterize His reign, vv. 1-4. The psalmist requests two things: ‘Give the king thy judgments’, embracing the prerogative and liberty to act as judge; and give the king ‘thy righteousness’, embracing the integrity and wisdom to exercise that authority righteously. Both things will be found with the Lord Jesus. In reference to the prerogative and liberty to act, Psalm 2 verses 7 to 9 records, ‘the Lord hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron; thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel’. In regard to His integrity and wisdom, note Isaiah chapter 11 verses 2 to 5, ‘the spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; And shall make him of quick understanding in the fear of the Lord: and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither reprove after the hearing of his ears: But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked. And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins’.
His reign will be marked by justice and equity, ‘Behold, a king shall reign in righteousness’; His sceptre will be a ‘sceptre of righteousness’, His millennial capital, Jerusalem, ‘the city of righteousness’. 3
Four distinct groups of people are mentioned in verses 2 to 4 of Psalm 72: ‘Thy people’, who will enjoy righteous government, v. 2; the ‘poor’, i.e., the afflicted and oppressed, who will find justice and vindication, vv. 2, 4; the ‘children of the needy’ or ‘the destitute’, those who are the most vulnerable in society, these will be delivered and avenged, v. 4; the ‘oppressor’, who will be broken in pieces and crushed, v. 4. Here is a King with whom there will never be any failure or injustices.
Righteousness will issue in something else: peace. Isaiah says, ‘the work of righteousness shall be peace; and the effect of righteousness quietness and assurance for ever’, Isa. 32. 17. In Psalm 72, the writer says, ‘The mountains shall bring peace to the people’, v. 3. The mountains of Israel are especially in view, from which, in former days, invaders often descended. In that day, there will be no conflicts but ‘an abundance of peace’, v. 7. Today, men measure the security of their kingdoms by the strength of their military capabilities but in that coming day it will be measured by the security that allows boys and girls to play in the street, ‘the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof’, Zech. 8. 5.
The permanence of His reign, vv. 5-7. The section ends much as it begins. The idea in verse 5, ‘They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure’, is that they shall fear God day and night throughout all generations. Then, in verse 7, there will be an ‘abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth’, or literally, ‘until the moon is not’, again emphasizing its abiding character. In between, we have two important statements. The first describes the initial effect of Christ’s coming, especially upon the Jewish nation ravaged in tribulation days, ‘He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth’. The picture is of grass that has been cut down and is ready to wither beneath the hot eastern sun unless refreshed by rain. The second statement asserts that, under the reign of this righteous king, righteous men will flourish, and the nations will prosper and expand, v. 6. All preceding kingdoms have risen, flourished, and declined, but not this one.
The perimeters of His reign, vv. 8-11. It is recorded of Solomon that, ‘he reigned over all the kings from the river even unto the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt’, 2 Chr. 9. 26. Great king though Solomon was, there were limits to his kingdom; but not to Christ’s. Psalm 72 verse 8 says, ‘He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth’, or literally, ‘land’, and no doubt Israel’s inheritance is specifically in view. But the Psalm then opens out to embrace nomadic tribes, ‘those that dwell in the wilderness’; the subjugation of enemies who formerly opposed Him, ‘his enemies shall lick the dust’; the most distant gentile kings, ‘kings of Tarshish and of the isles’, and the most opulent kings, ‘the kings of Sheba and Seba’. He will have universal dominion, for ‘all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him’, v. 11.
The proficiency of His reign, vv. 12-15. These verses speak of ‘the needy’, ‘the poor’, and ‘him that hath no helper’, those who are often the victims of injustices and are all too frequently ignored and forgotten in the corridors of power, but not with this King. Because of the beneficence of His reign, some will express their appreciation in the gifts they bring to Him, others in their prayers for Him. Daily shall men praise Him, not only for what He does but also for what He is in himself.
The prosperity of His reign, v. 16. The earth will enjoy abundant fertility, ‘There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon’. The top of mountains and deserts are not areas that men currently cultivate, but in millennial days these areas, once barren, will be fruitful. Whereas today there is an emphasis upon industry, in that day, with the curse removed, the focus will be upon agriculture. 4
The pre-eminence of the ruler, v. 17. ‘His name shall endure for ever, his name shall be continued as long as the sun’ or ‘while the sun shines His name shall be perpetuated’, i.e., ‘shall produce fresh progeny’ or ‘send forth new shoots’. 5 In that day, the promise God gave to Abraham, ‘in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed’ will be fulfilled, Gen. 12. 3, men ‘shall be blessed in him’, v. 17. All nations shall call Him ‘blessed’, acknowledging Him to be the author and the source of their salvation and prosperity. Two different Hebrew words are translated ‘blessed’ in this verse. The second one could be translated ‘felicity’ or ‘happiness’, conveying the pleasure that Messiah Himself will find in the blessing of men.
The prayers of David ended, vv. 18-20. Having been occupied with the King of divine appointment and the delightful character of His reign, the heart of the psalmist overflows in gratitude and praise to the One who will bring it all to pass, blessing God for what He does and what He is, vv. 18, 19.
All David desired for his seed, his throne and his kingdom, will be attained in Christ; David’s ‘prayers are ended’, he need not ask for anything more. Does all that we desire likewise focus upon Christ occupying the throne and being pre-eminent?
1 Note the repetition of the word ‘shall’ thirty-one times in verses 2 to 17.
2 1 Kgs. 1. 5-40.
3 Isa. 32. 1; Heb. 1. 8; Isa. 1. 26.
4 Isa. 35. 1, 2; Amos 9. 13; Mic. 4. 3, 4; Rom. 8. 19-21.
5 W. Kay, Psalms, 2nd edition, Rivingtons, 1874, pg. 230.