Psalm 72 – The King and the King of Kings
The title of this psalm is A Psalm of Solomon. It is possible to translate the Hebrew here (and in almost all the psalms which reference an author) as “A Psalm to Solomon,” and some have regarded it as David’s psalm to and about his son Solomon and his Greater Son the Messiah. Yet, the most natural way to take the title is as it is given, A Psalm of Solomon with the understanding that the line about David in Psalm 72:20 refers to the collection of Book Two of Psalms, which is heavy with David’s psalms, separating Book Two from Book Three, which begins with 11 psalms authored by Asaph.
It is possible that Solomon compiled Book Two of Psalms (Psalms 42-72) and composed this psalm as a fitting conclusion for the collection of mostly David’s psalms. It is a fitting conclusion, because it unexpectedly does not focus upon David himself, but on the Messiah – the King of Kings and the Son of David.
“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.” (Derek Kidner)
A. Prayer for a king.
1. (1-4) The king’s prayer for wisdom.
Give the king Your judgments, 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.
a. Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king’s Son: Solomon began this psalm asking God to bless him as the monarch of Israel, and to bless him with wise judgments and a reign displaying God’s righteousness. This was the same heart behind his great request to God in 1 Kings 3:5-9.
i. These prayers “reflect the antique conception of a king as the fountain of justice, himself making and administering law and giving decisions.” (Maclaren)
ii. “As a royal psalm it prayed for the reigning king, and was a strong reminder of his high calling; yet it exalted this so far beyond the humanly attainable (e.g. in speaking of his reign as endless) as to suggest for its fulfillment no less a person than the Messiah, not only to Christian thinking but to Jewish.” (Kidner)
iii. “The Targum [an ancient Aramaic paraphrase of the Hebrew Bible] at verse 1 adds the word ‘Messiah’ to ‘the king’, and there are rabbinic allusions to the psalm which reveal the same opinion.” (Kidner)
b. He will judge Your people with righteousness: Anticipating the blessing asked for, Solomon announced his intention to rule with righteousness and justice, even for the poor (who are often denied justice).
i. “Righteousness dominates this opening, since in Scripture it is the first virtue of government, even before compassion (which is the theme of Psalm 72:12-14).” (Kidner)
c. The mountains will bring peace to the people: Sometimes mountains represent human governments in the Bible, and Solomon may have intended this allusion. He had in mind a national government (mountains) that blessed the people and local government (the little hills) that ruled with righteousness. This godly government would accomplish at least three things:
· He will bring justice to the poor: Though they are often denied justice, the king and his government will make sure that justice is administered fairly.
· He will save the children of the needy: The king and his government will rescue those most vulnerable in society.
· And will break in pieces the oppressor: The king and his government will protect Israel, keeping the people free from external domination and from internal corruption.
i. Mountains will bring peace: We have connected the idea of mountains with human government, yet there are different understandings of this. Spurgeon quoted three different authors with three different ideas as to what these mountains speak of.
· Geddes wrote they spoke of messengers placed on a series of mountains or hilltops who distributed news through a land.
· Mollerus wrote that it spoke of the fertility of soil on the mountains.
· Caryl wrote that it speaks of the safety from robbers who often infested mountain passes.
· Maclaren wrote of another sense: “The mountains come into view here simply as being the most prominent features of the land.”
ii. Children of the needy: “The phrase, the children of the afflicted, is put for the afflicted, an idiom quite common in Hebrew.” (Calvin, cited in Spurgeon)
iii. Break in pieces the oppressor: “The tale bearer, saith the Greek; the slanderer, saith the Latin; the devil, say some. Over these he shall turn the wheel.” (Trapp)
2. (5-7) Blessings upon such a well-governed kingdom.
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.
a. They shall fear You as long as the sun and moon endure: The answer to the prayer in the previous lines would mean that the people of Israel – the king, his government, and the people – would fear the Lord forever, throughout all generations.
i. “As the psalmist pours out his petitions, they glide into prophecies; for they are desires fashioned upon promises, and bear, in their very earnestness, the pledge of their realisation.” (Morgan)
b. He shall come down like rain upon the grass: God’s presence would then be with His people as broad, as thick, and as good as showers that water the earth.
i. “The word zggez, which we translate mown grass, more properly means pastured grass or pastured land; for the dew of the night is intended to restore the grass which has been eaten in the course of the day.” (Clarke)
ii. “Refreshing and salutary, as the drops of heaven, to the shorn and parched grass, is the mild administration of a wise and pious prince to his subjects. And what image can convey a better idea of those most beneficial and blessed effects which followed the descent of the Son of God upon the earth, and that of the Spirit, at the day of Pentecost? The prophets abound with descriptions of those great events, couched in terms borrowed from the philosophy of rain and dew. See Isaiah 44:3; 55:10; Hosea 14:5; Hebrews 6:7.” (Horne)
iii. The Scriptures often connect the ideas of righteous and just government and blessing upon the ecology and produce of the land. “The Psalm as a whole, shows that what we call the ‘moral realm’ and the ‘realm of nature’ form one indivisible whole to the Israelites. A community which lives according to righteousness enjoys not only internal harmony, but also prosperity in field and flock.” (Anderson, cited in VanGemeren)
iv. “Injustice has made Palestine a desert; if the Turk and Bedouin were gone, the land would smile again; for even in the most literal sense, justice is the fertilizer of lands, and men are diligent to plough and raise harvests when they have the prospect of eating the fruit of their labours.” (Spurgeon)
c. In His days the righteous shall flourish: As God sends such a rich blessing, His people will flourish and there will be an abundance of peace (shalom) that will last beyond comprehension (until the moon is no more).
i. In a limited sense, this was true of Solomon. “In the kingdom of Solomon, through the influence of his wisdom, good men were encouraged, righteousness flourished, and the land enjoyed tranquility.” (Horne)
ii. In a greater sense, it points to Jesus alone. The connection between the righteous and peace reminds us of Melchizedek, the One who was and is both the King of Righteousness and the King of Peace (Hebrews 7:1-3).
B. The Greater King.
1. (8-11) Looking to a greater King, a greater reign.
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.
a. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea: Solomon began to lift his vision above a desire for his own reign to be blessed toward the anticipation of the reign of a greater Son of David, Messiah the King. This King would have dominion far greater than Solomon.
i. Under David and Solomon, Israel had its greatest extent of territory.
ii. “The messianic government spreads out over seas, rivers, and land. It is unnecessary to restrict the meaning to a particular sea or river because Psalm 72:8 speaks of his universal rule, encompassing seas, rivers, and lands.” (VanGemeren)
b. His enemies will lick the dust: To oppose the King with such a great dominion meant certain defeat. His enemies would be brought low in a way associated with the curse upon the enemy in Genesis 3:14-15.
i. “Bear in mind that it was a custom with many nations that, when individuals approached their kings, they kissed the earth, and prostrated their whole body before them. This was the custom especially throughout Asia.” (LeBlanc, cited in Spurgeon)
ii. “Tongues which rail at the Redeemer deserve to lick the dust.” (Spurgeon)
c. All kings shall fall down before Him: Solomon sang of a king far greater than Solomon ever was. All nations shall serve Him, even those from faraway places and islands.
i. This was prophesied in a beautiful way by the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 7, which had in mind both David’s immediate son and successor (Solomon) and David’s ultimate Son and Successor (Jesus the Messiah). Both were in view in 2 Samuel 7:11-16, and both are in view in Psalm 72. The fulfillment in Solomon’s day is described in 1 Kings 10:23-25.
ii. “The distant nations are the kings of the ‘distant shores’ (Psalm 72:10): Tarshish (cf. Psalm 48:7), Sheba (modern Yemen), and Seba (an African nation: cf. Genesis 10:7; Isaiah 43:3, 45:14).” (VanGemeren)
iii. “Tarshish may have been Tartessus in Spain; it was in any case a name associated with long voyages; likewise the isles or ‘coastlands’ were synonymous with the ends of the earth: see, e.g. Isaiah 42:10.” (Kidner)
2. (12-14) The compassionate rule of Messiah the King.
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.
a. He will deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also: The justice and righteousness Solomon prayed for and aspired to regarding his own reign (Psalm 72:1-4) will be perfectly fulfilled in the Greater King.
i. “All helpless ones are under the especial care of Zion’s compassionate King; let them hasten to put themselves in fellowship with him. Let them look to him, for he is looking for them.” (Spurgeon)
b. He will save the souls of the needy: His work will go beyond what is thought of today as social work; the Greater King will also work to save the souls of the poor and needy.
c. He will redeem their life from oppression and violence: We can see this in both the oppression and violence they are targets of, and of that which they inflict upon others. Both are forms of slavery that require one to be set free from by purchase (redeem their life).
i. Oppression and violence: “Those two noted engines of all mischief to the poor, viz. privy deceit…and open violence, fraud and force, craft and cruelty.” (Trapp)
ii. “The king is represented in Psalm 72:14 as taking on himself the office of Goel, or Kinsman-Redeemer, and ransoming his subjects’ lives from ‘deceit and violence.’” (Maclaren)
iii. Blessed as it was, Solomon’s own reign did not live up to this fully. After his death they complained of his oppression (1 Kings 12:4). “Solomon continues to speak more wisely than he was ever to act.” (Kidner)
d. Precious shall be their blood in His sight: The lives of the poor and needy are often considered to be of little value. The Messiah, the Greater King, will regard their lives as precious. This is especially meaningful when we consider the cheap regard for life outside of and before the world influenced by Christianity.
3. (15-17) The exaltation of the Greater King.
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.
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.
a. He shall live: Commentators debate if the He spoken of here refers to the ransomed man of the previous lines or of the King who ransomed him. Since the previous lines speak of a multitude redeemed and this He speaks of One, and because the following lines fit much better with the King, we regard He shall live as both a wish and a declaration for the King.
i. “How little this might mean is obvious from the address, ‘O king, live forever’, in the book of Daniel; yet also how much, can be seen from the Messianic prophecies and from the way these were understood in New Testament times.” (Kidner)
ii. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, Solomon wrote things regarding Messiah the King that were perhaps beyond his own understanding. It’s possible he never knew how wonderful it would be to say of the King of Kings who laid down His life as a sacrifice for sins that after three days in the tomb all would see and say, He shall live.
b. The gold of Sheba will be given to Him: The Greater King would receive gifts and honor and praise. In turn He would bestow great blessing on the earth (an abundance of grain in the earth) and upon His people (those of the city shall flourish).
i. “Poor as God’s people usually are, the era will surely arrive when the richest of the rich will count it all joy to lay their treasures at Jesus’ feet.” (Spurgeon)
ii. Its fruit shall wave like Lebanon: “It shall yield such abundance of corn, that the ears, being thick, and high, and full of corn, shall, when they are shaken with the wind, make a noise not unlike that which the tops of the trees of Lebanon sometimes make upon the like occasion.” (Poole)
iii. “Gold, grain, and fruit were ancient measures of prosperity. So this is a way of saying that under the reign of Jesus there will be prosperity of every conceivable kind.” (Boice)
c. Prayer also will be made for Him continually: We can think of how prayer could and would be offered for an earthly king, but we don’t often think of believers praying for Jesus Messiah.
i. We can say that we pray for Jesus when we pray for one of His people. There is a sense in which we pray for Jesus when we pray for the spread of His gospel.
d. His name shall endure forever: Solomon sensed that this Greater Son of David, the Greater King, would be more than a great man. He and His fame, and greatness of His character, would endure forever.
i. “We see on the shore of time the wrecks of the Caesars, the relics of the Moguls, and the last remnants of the Ottomans. Charlemagne, Maximilian, Napoleon, how they flit like shadows before us! They were and are not; but Jesus for ever is.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The perpetuity, which he conceived of as belonging to a family and an office, really belongs to the One King, Jesus Christ, whose Name is above every name, and will blossom anew in fresh revelations of its infinite contents, not only while the sun shines, but when its fires are cold and its light quenched.” (Maclaren)
e. Men shall be blessed in Him; all nations shall call Him blessed: Solomon recognized that this King of Kings was not only the fulfillment of the promise made to David in 2 Samuel 7:11-16. He was also the fulfillment of the great promise made to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3: In you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.
i. “Christ is all blessing. When you have written down his name, you have pointed to the fountain from which all blessings flow.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “To us the song of this psalm is a prophecy of hope. We have seen the King, and we know the perfect Kingdom must come, for God cannot be defeated.” (Morgan)
iii. Psalm 72 speaks powerfully of the kingdom of the King of Kings and speaks of it in terms of His personal rule, not ruling through an institution such as the Church. “In this Psalm, at least, we see a personal monarch, and he is the central figure, the focus of all the glory; not his servant, but himself do we see possessing the dominion and dispensing the government. Personal pronouns referring to our great King are constantly occurring in this Psalm; he has dominion, kings fall down before him,: and serve him; for he delivers; he spares, he saves, he lives, and daily is he praised.” (Spurgeon)
4. (18-19) Closing doxology of praise.
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.
a. Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who only does wondrous things: Solomon was moved to praise when he considered the greatness of Messiah the King. The work in and through Jesus the Messiah is the work of wondrous things.
b. Let the whole earth be filled with His glory: The thought of the greatness of God and His work naturally led the heart to long that this blessing be extended through the whole earth and that it not only be touched by but filled with His glory.
i. “We pray that the atheist, the blasphemer, the hardened rebel, the prodigal, may each be filled with God’s glory; and then we ask for mercy for the whole earth; we leave not out so much as one, but so hope and expect the day when all mankind shall bow at the Saviour’s feet.” (Spurgeon)
ii. There is also a tragedy in this psalm. As high as it soars with the concept of the king and his reign, we remember the sad disappointment of how quickly the monarchy in Israel declined after Solomon. There were certainly some good kings after him, but the glory of the kingdom went from Solomon’s gold (1 Kings 10:16-17) to Rehoboam’s bronze (1 Kings 14:25-28) in only about five years.
5. (20) End to the Second Book of Psalms.
The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.
a. The prayers of David: We take this as Solomon’s postscript on the collection of psalms gathered into Book Two. David authored most of the psalms in Book Two, and Asaph composed the first 11 psalms of Book Three, so this is a good marking point. We also note that these are not only songs, but also prayers.
b. David the son of Jesse: Because this psalm so exalts the King of Kings, Solomon properly did not refer to David with any royal title, though deserved. David happily takes the lower place before the Greater Son of David and is simply the son of Jesse, a simple farmer of Bethlehem.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org