Psalm 72 – Vision of a New Social Order

“A man’s reach must exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Robert Browning

What are you reaching for, hoping for, working for? Perhaps a world at peace? A better world for your children and their children? What are your dreams?

Our psalmist for today has a dream of a better social order, a world ruled by a king who is truly righteous and just. Psalm 72 is a coronation psalm; it contains prayers for a new king, prayers that he might lead well, with God’s justice. Not only that, that his son might be righteous as well, with good reason. Many a good king has been followed by less than exemplary children. The fact of being born into the household of the king does not automatically make the person right for leadership. And so it is wise to pray for the king and his heirs.

The writer prays for a king who will judge with righteousness and bring justice to the poor. He prays for prosperity for the people, but especially he prays that the king will be a defender of the poor and needy. He prays not just for long life for the king, but stability. The many blessings sound like a toast at a dinner party, yet they are more than that. The poet prays that the king provide order in four different areas: moral, social, political and economic.

Verse 7 refers to the king as the symbol and vehicle of moral stability, lasting as long as the moon. “In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, till the moon be no more!” His righteousness is to be like rain falling on the ground, “May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.” This brings to mind, Portia’s statement on mercy in the Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene 1 “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.” The king is to be first and foremost a righteous man, concerned for the poor of his country, providing justice tempered with mercy.

Upon the base of this moral order the king builds a social structure, one based on gentleness and care for his people. Such a social structure will have an impact far beyond the national level, or the realm of the kingdom, resulting in alliances with other kingdoms, building political security on an international level. Verses 8-11 describe the new king’s dominion. His enemies bow down before him, even the kings of Tarshish and Sheba and Seba bring him gifts.

Nations do not bow down to him because of military conquest but because of his just and merciful ruling of his country as we see in verses 12-14, “For he delivers the needy, when he calls, the poor and him who has no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.” This implies that the way to true political security is not through war but good example, focusing on right governance of your own country. In this way, all will be drawn to the goodness present.

The result of all of these, moral, social and political order, is economic security, shown in vs. 16 as an abundance of grain and growth in population. The poet then ends with a benediction, blessing God, as the conclusion not of Psalm 72, but of Book II of the Psalter, Psalms 42-72. Here ends the psalms attributed to David.

We can see in this psalm, an early effort to dream of a world order of peace and righteousness. The poet uses the social structure of the time, kings and kingdoms, to envision this reality. He dreams of a king who will do all of the above and more so that the world would experience peace and prosperity.

The need for some type of organization, ways to order our lives together, has been present from the beginning, going from a tribal structure to kingdoms to democracy. This dream of a world order that works has been around for a long time as evidenced by this psalm. That it needs to be based on sound moral order has also been around for a while. People for ages have longed for a world of peace, a world where it is easier to be good than evil, where righteousness prevails and the poor and vulnerable are protected.

The problem with all social systems lies not in the structure but in the people. There is no magical structure or set of laws or form of governance that will bring about a true and lasting peace to the earth; all are flawed because we as people are flawed. This true and lasting peace is dependent on a just king, the one and true king, Jesus, our Savior and our Lord.

If we are to someday have that dream of peace, then we must first begin with ourselves, to live lives of peace, devoted to our God. Then others will be drawn to us because of our goodness, so that someday all will live in peace under the leadership of our God.

We are a part of and a continuation of this dream that began centuries ago. Our reach exceeds our grasp as we build upon a foundation others started and future generations will continue. This is a dream worth devoting your whole life to, a dream for this life and the next.

What are you dreaming for that exceeds your grasp?

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