Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jun 9 2019 - Psalm 72 – Prayer for the king

This wonderful psalm has perplexed readers regarding its author and its subject. The psalm marks the conclusion of the second of five divisions of the psalms and concludes with words that do not form part of the psalm, "This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse" (v.20). This has led some to suggest that, like most of the psalms in these two sections, it was written by David and that it consists of a prayer for his son, Solomon. Others have taken the opening ascription to indicate that the psalm was written by Solomon and is either a prayer for himself, cast in the third person so that it can be used by the people in their worship, or that it may be a prayer expressing his hopes for his own son. Whatever the case, this psalm is certainly a prayer for God to bless Israel's king and prosper the nation under his rule.

The extravagant hopes expressed for the king far outstrip the reality of any actual king over God's people, even Solomon. For this reason, readers of the psalms have seen this as an expression of the longings of God's people for a king who will perfectly fulfil all that God desires of one who will rule in his name. For us, as Christians, it is natural to read this as a Messianic psalm pointing forward to the Lord Jesus Christ. This is reflected in some of the great hymns based on this psalm such as Isaac Watts' "Jesus shall reign where’er the sun doth his successive journeys run…" and James Montgomery's "Hail to the Lord's anointed, great David's greater Son! …"

The psalm begins with prayer that the king's reign will reflect the justice and righteousness of God himself (vv. 1-4), and that he would show particular concern for the poor and afflicted among God's people. This would not have been characteristic of kings in Solomon's day, nor is it the obvious concern of those in power today. But this was a characteristic of the Lord Jesus Christ who seemed to have spent far more time with, and showed far more concern for, the outcasts from the society of his day than he did for those in positions of power. Jesus declared that his kingdom belonged to the poor in spirit (Matthew 5:3). Note also verses 12-14 of this psalm and the beautiful picture they paint of the compassion found in our lovely Saviour.

"O king, live for ever!" was a traditional greeting for ancient kings (see, for instance, Daniel 2:4; 3:9). This same longing is expressed in verses 5-7 of this psalm. His enduring reign of righteousness will bring blessing to his people. See how this theme is also expressed in verses 15-17 of this psalm. Such longings may be read as poetic exaggeration, but they find their fulfilment in the Lord Jesus of whom it was prophesied that, "Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever." (Isaiah 9:7).

Not only is it prayed that this king will have no time limit to his reign, it is also prayed that his kingdom will have no geographical limit (vv. 8-11). It is prayed that all other kings and nations may come to bow before him and offer him their tribute. Jesus alone satisfies this longing for he is King of kings and Lord of lords. He is the one to whom the Father has promised the nations as his inheritance (Psalm 2:7-8). But Christ has not subdued us with his rod of iron, nor has he demanded gifts from us. He gave himself for us and has won our worship and obedience by his selfless love.

The psalm concludes with a doxology, praising the living God who has blessed his people and who purposes to bless them through their king:

Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
    who alone does marvellous deeds.
Praise be to his glorious name for ever;
    may the whole earth be filled with his glory.

Our hearts join psalmist and singers in this hymn of praise and earnestly add our voices to this prayer as we echo the cry, "Amen and Amen".

Peter Misselbrook