Tolkien’s classic fantasy series culminates in the coronation of Aragorn, king over all Middle-Earth. And “the hands of the king are healing hands,” it is said.
As we conclude our week looking at the psalms of the king, we are reminded that the Bible’s ultimate focus is not our glory, but God’s. And at the end of this great story, God’s glory is most fully revealed when Christ rules and reigns on earth (Revelation 20-22).
In other words, all of the psalms that speak of wise, earthly kings are only the shadows of this great throne—they describe an ideal; only Christ can embody the reality.
In psalm 72, we find a prayer for Israel’s king. In its ancient context, the psalm focused on what it would mean for Israel’s king to rule over the nation. But we will also see that it hints at a day when the world’s true King would rule over all nations.
THE SOURCE OF JUSTICE (Psalm 72:1-7)
First, we see that there is a prominent theme of “justice” and “peace.”
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! 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!
All of the justice and peace language is sourced in the rule and reign of the king. Wrongs are set right. Things are put back to where they are supposed to be.
THE SCOPE OF JUSTICE (Psalm 72:8-14)
Second, the psalm focuses on how far-reaching this justice truly is:
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 bring gifts! 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! 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.
In the ancient world, it would have been easy to dismiss the king’s rule as localized to one nation—but here we see that the king is sovereign over all peoples. Notice again the emphasis on the elimination of oppression and violence.
THE BENEFITS OF JUSTICE (Psalm 72:15-20)
Finally, the psalm concludes with prayers for long life and blessing.
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! 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.
Justice, peace. These are the attributes that are associated with Christ’s ultimate rule. Yet in today’s world we are tempted to write these off as in some way restrictive. My plans are better—or at least that’s what I’ve been convinced. And if I am deeply committed to living my own way, I may find myself at odds with Christ’s followers.
In his Reason for God, Tim Keller offers a helpful anecdote. He famously says that even if you don’t believe in Jesus, you should “want [his story] to be true:”
“Each year at Easter I get to preach on the Resurrection. In my sermon I always say to my skeptical, secular friends that, even if they can’t believe in the resurrection, they should want it to be true. Most of them care deeply about justice for the poor, alleviating hunger and disease, and caring for the environment. Yet many of them believe that the material world was caused by accident and that the world and everything in it will eventually simply burn up in the death of the sun. They find it discouraging that so few people care about justice without realizing that their own worldview undermines any motivation to make the world a better place. Why sacrifice for the needs of others if in the end nothing we do will make any difference? If the resurrection of Jesus happened, however, that means there’s infinite hope and reason to pour ourselves out for the needs of the world.”
The true king establishes justice, brings peace. Surely we can each long for a day when the world is set right, and goodness flows through our streets.