Jean’s Gospel: Psalm 72: To Great David’s Greater Son
Psalm 72 is a beautiful prophecy of Christ. It is the appointed psalm for the feast of Epiphany in the traditional lectionary of the Western Church. Epiphany is January 6th.
Two events in the life of Jesus are traditionally celebrated on Epiphany: His Baptism in the Jordan at which the Divinity of Jesus within the Trinity is first recognized; and the visit by the Magi to the Christ child in Bethlehem, symbolizing the universal reign of Christ.
Psalm 72: “Of Solomon.”
The heading of this psalm is also translated “For Solomon” (KJV). Whether it was written by David for Solomon or by Solomon himself, this psalm prays for a King and kingdom which surpasses anything Solomon possibly could have accomplished. Only Christ, great David’s greater Son, fulfills this psalm. Only Christ brings perfect justice, a universal kingdom, and an everlasting reign.
“1 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
3 Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!”
The hallmark of Christ’s rule is justice. “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’ ” (John 9:39)
First there is the justice of the Gospel, according to which Christ forgives our sins and promises eternal life as a gift we receive through faith. God’s decree of forgiveness is just because Christ has paid for our sins in full. Second there is the justice of the Law, according to which Christ crushes the oppressors of His people. God’s decree of eternal punishment is just because the condemned have spurned God’s forgiveness and by their sins have earned their punishment.
This side of His return, the prosperity of Christ’s saints is visible only to the eyes of faith. However, the imagery of mountains bearing prosperity for the people contains a promise not yet fulfilled that when Christ returns in glory, He will gather His saints to His holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God. (Rev 21)
“5 May they fear you while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth!
7 In his days may the righteous flourish,
and peace abound, till the moon be no more!”
Christ reigns through the Gospel until the end of this age, and then on into eternity. For as long as the sun endures, Christ will prosper His saints with spiritual blessings, as rain nourishes mown grass. These blessings include forgiveness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17). Like grass, which grows and spreads after the rain, Christ’s kingdom will grow and take root in every nation.
“8 May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth!
9 May desert tribes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust!
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands
render him tribute;
may the kings of Sheba and Seba
11 May all kings fall down before him,
all nations serve him!”
The realm of the King’s rule extends over the whole world. We see the beginning of the fulfillment of this prophesy as people from every nation come to faith in Christ through the preaching of the Gospel. On the last day, Jesus will return in glory and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Phil 2:10-11).
“12 For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight.”
Christ saves “the poor,” “the needy,” and “him who has no helper.” Is that it? Must Christians be poor or needy?
Did not God save Abraham, David, Solomon, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, the official in John 4, Cornelius, etc., none of whom was financially poor? Conversely, did not many poor and needy people abandon Jesus, such as 9 of the 10 lepers He healed (see Luke 17:17) and many of the disciples in the aftermath of His feeding of the 5,000 (see John 6:66)? There is no financial litmus test here.
The poor and the needy are those who confess their spiritual poverty before the Lord: they agree with God’s Law, according to which they merit nothing but condemnation; they recognize their works avail them nothing before God; and their hope is in the abundant mercy of the King and the justice of the Gospel.
The Gospel offers the greatest wealth transfer in human history. Paul writes: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.” (2 Cor 8:9) Christ takes our poverty (i.e., our sin, shame and guilt) and, by grace alone, gives us His riches (i.e., forgiveness, life and salvation).
Such an exchange seems like a no-brainer, but it is not. The treasure that Christ gives His saints also includes the cross. Christ’s peace and other treasures are not of the kinds that the world and our sinful flesh exalt. To the contrary, Christ’s gifts invite opposition and oppression from the world, the devil and our sinful flesh. The justice of the Gospel is both death and resurrection (Gal 2:20). Therefore, a lot of seed falls along the path, upon the rock and among the thorns (Luke 8). Meanwhile, Christians, like any poor, are often denied their rights and, in some countries, are violently persecuted. For them, it is written: “he redeems their life, and precious is their blood in his sight.”
“15 Long may he live;
may gold of Sheba be given to him!
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all the day!
16 May there be abundance of grain in the land;
on the tops of the mountains may it wave;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field!
17 May his name endure forever,
his fame continue as long as the sun!
May people be blessed in him,
all nations call him blessed!”
This section prays for Christ’s gracious reign and for spiritual and temporal blessings. Verse 17 echoes the messianic promise given to Abraham: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” (Gen 12:3)
“18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
19 Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen!
20 The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.”
The psalm closes with a doxology (i.e., expression of praise) and completes Book 2 of the Psalter. Thank you for reading. Amen.
“Hail to the Lord’s anointed,
Great David’s greater Son!
Hail, in the time appointed,
His reign on earth begun!
He comes to break oppression,
To set the captive free,
To take away transgression
And rule in equity.”
– Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, James Montgomery, 1771-1854, v. 1.