Theme: The Character of the Kingdom
In this week’s lessons we see how this psalm ultimately points to the kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Scripture: Psalm 72:1-20
The first four verses of the psalm lift up the essential character of the kingdom being described. It is righteousness, a word that occurs three times (in vv. 1, 2 and 3). Verse 1 asks that the king might be endowed with righteousness. Verse 2 predicts that, so endowed, the king will judge the people in righteousness. Verse 3 speaks of the fruit of righteous judgment which is prosperity, a theme to be developed more fully in stanza 5. The first verse also picks up on the ending of the previous psalm which praised God for his righteousness (v. 19). Righteousness has to do with God doing all things rightly or justly. It is appropriate, therefore, that Psalm 72 should ask for the same quality for the one who is to reign for him on earth.
Did Solomon possess it? Yes, in his early years. Righteousness was a strong characteristic of Solomon, who at the commencement of his reign asked God for wisdom so he might rule justly (see 1 Kings 3:5-28 and 10:1-9).
Unfortunately Solomon did not live up to this high standard. As his reign progressed he turned away from the Lord, followed other gods and began to oppress the people with high rates of taxation to finance his building projects. That is the way with all human kingdoms. They may begin well, but they are always marred by sin and stained with selfishness. We pray that our rulers may be endowed with righteousness, as this psalm does in verse 1. But human rulers always let us down, which is why we look for the only upright, just, and entirely righteous rule of Jesus Christ. Only of him may we say truthfully and with full conviction, “He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness (vv. 2, 3).1
In Jesus’ case this fruit of righteousness exceeds anything Solomon could accomplish. It was Solomon’s duty, like that of all secular rulers, to defend righteous persons who were unjustly attacked. But it is Christ’s work actually to make people righteous since he gives them his own perfect righteousness and then, by his Spirit, also renews their minds according to true godliness. Thus he brings back righteousness, which otherwise would be banished from the world.
1There is a critical question here about how to translate the tenses in verses 2 and following. The verbs are imperfects, but they can be translated as optatives (“May he judge your people in righteousness,” “May he defend the afflicted,” and so on) or as futures (“He will judge…”). If the verbs are to be understood as optatives, the psalm will be seen as an extension of the prayer for God’s blessing on Solomon as expressed first in verse 1. Most commentators, including the translators of the New International Version, prefer the future sense, thereby strengthening the thought that the psalm as a whole looks forward to the coming of Jesus Christ.
What is the essential character of the kingdom?
Briefly explain how a righteous king would rule.
Contrast Solomon’s righteousness and Christ’s righteousness.
What did Jesus Christ do that no earthly king could accomplish?
How have you seen human rulers turn from God’s way to oppression in your lifetime?
Examine your own life. Have you strayed from God’s path? Pray for God’s strength to stay the course.
Prayer: Pray for our leaders, that their lives and leadership would live up to God’s high standard of righteousness.