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Focus Text: Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more. Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen.
Scriptural Commentary on Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Psalm 72 is one of the royal psalms—those psalms which concern the theological significance of kingship in Israel. These psalms occupy a unique place in the Psalter and in the canon as a whole. They shed light on the theology of the Davidic Kingdom in Israel, but also clearly were given a new meaning for the Jewish community in exile. Moreover, they retained special meaning for the early Christian community, which interpreted them in the light of Jesus the Messiah. Thus, contemporary interpreters and preaches would do well to approach these psalms from three different perspectives: the original purpose of the psalm in the period of the monarchy, the (often messianic) re-interpretation of the psalm during and after the fall of the Davidic Kingdom and the Babylonian exile, and the New Testament understanding of these psalms in the light of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah.
The kingly ideal (Psalm 72) lay beyond the capabilities of the Davidic dynasty, or any of its representatives: it was never remotely reality. In time there developed (and first with Isaiah himself: 9:1-7; 11:1-9) the expectation of an ideal king of David’s line…under whose just and beneficent rule all the promises would be fulfilled. But that hope, too, was disappointed: no such ideal Davidite appeared; the dynasty ended, and the temple lay in ruins. Yet hope was not abandoned. Ever it looked ahead, beyond tragedy, frustration, and despair, for the coming of a King, the Anointed One, the Messiah, who, endowed with God’s power, would bring victory and peace to his people and establish God’s kingdom on earth (John Bright, The Authority of the OldTestament, Nashville: Abingdon, 1967, 223).
As a prophet in Israel, it is into this perennial injustice (primarily economic) and messianic expectation which Jesus steps. Jesus’ declaration in Luke 4 that he was anointed to “bring good news to the poor . . . proclaim release to the captives . . . and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” made clear his mission was to the poor and needy in Israel. His ministry to the poor, teaching on giving and forgiveness, simple lifestyle, and condemnation of oppression demonstrated his commitment to the poor. Thus, early Christians who came to understand Jesus as Messiah (and therefore King) and Lord began to read these royal Psalms through the lens of Christ.
The application of Psalms like this can be difficult. In the United States and in North Carolina, we do not live in a theocracy or monarchy like Israel. Nor do we live in an empire like Jesus and the early Christians. Moreover, Christians in different parts of the world experience different types of government and varying degrees of direct political participation. This psalm, along with passages like 1 Timothy 2, may encourage us to pray for just and wise leaders. We may find ourselves rejoicing, lamenting, or likely some of both over our civil government and authorities in light of the ideal set before us in this psalm.
Yet, if we are willing to read Psalm 72 with the early church as pointing to Christ and his kingship, we may see in the ministry of Jesus concrete steps which the church can take in serving the poor and needy among us in our local communities. In Jesus’ ministry and teaching, we come to glimpse a picture of the Kingdom of God with its eternal justice for the poor. We understand Jesus’ identity to be inextricably linked to Israel and her story and thus we continue to read, sing, and listen to the psalms in order to receive such a gift. Surely this psalm is a reminder of how the reign of God beckons us to champion the cause of the poor.
By Michael Burns, Duke Divinity School Intern
This Psalm is not a realistic description of an actual king, but a prayer to God for an ideal king in Israel who is filled with God’s justice, wisdom, and care for God’s people. Israel’s understanding of kingship acknowledged God alone to be king and any earthly authority was thus derivative. Therefore, a king’s rule was legitimate only insofar as it exercises God’s justice and care for the poor in Israel. Despite this understanding, Israel’s own history is filled with kings and authorities who neglected the law and did not defend the defenseless (see, for example, Jeremiah 22:3, Ezekiel 22:29). It is this failure to protect and care for the poor and the oppressed that the prophets in Israel chastise. Moreover, in the eyes of the prophets and many of the oppressed in Israel, it was precisely this miscarriage which sent them into exile. This continued failure of Israel’s king to “defend the cause of the poor” produced both despair and hope:
Pastoral Reflection on Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
In NC, poverty pervades as we evade by Gene Nichol for the Raleigh News & Observer
The statistics of American poverty are straightforward and astonishing. In the richest nation on earth, over 15 percent of us fall below the stingy federal poverty standard – $23,000 annually for a family of four. We have, this morning, more poor people in poverty, in raw numbers, than at any moment in our long history; more, on a percentage basis, than at any time in a quarter century.
Our poverty is skewed sharply by race. Almost 30 percent of African-Americans, Latinos and Native Americans are poor. It is also skewed by age. The youngest among us, the most vulnerable, are the poorest. Twenty-two percent of American children live below the poverty line; 35 percent of our children of color.
International comparisons are bleak. We countenance greater levels of poverty, especially child poverty, than any other advanced industrial democracy. We produce the most daunting income differentials – gaps between rich and poor – as well. We’re the richest, the poorest and the most unequal advanced nation in the world.
In North Carolina, things are worse. Eighteen percent, 1.7 million of us, live in poverty. Twenty percent have no health care coverage. We have the 12-highest poverty rate in the country – though only a decade ago we were 26th. A quarter of Tar Heel children live in poverty; 40 percent of our children of color. The top one-fifth of our households capture more income than the bottom 80 percent put together.
Over a half-million of our households, last year, participated in the food stamp program. In Robeson County, that included 33 percent of families, the third-highest figure in the nation in counties over 65,000.
Worship Aids about Responsible Leadership
For the President of the United States and all in Civil Authority
O Lord our Governor, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to thy merciful care, that, being guided by thy Providence, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to the President of the United States, the Governor of this State (or Commonwealth), and to all in authority, wisdom and strength to know and to do thy will. Fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve this people in thy fear; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now an forever. Amen.
(Adapted from the Book of Common Prayer, 820)
For the Poor
Make us worthy, Lord, to serve those people throughout the world who live and die in poverty and hunger. Give them through our hands, this day, their daily bread, and by our understanding love, give them peace and Joy. Amen
(Prayer of Mother Teresa)
Vignette about Responsible Leadership
Check out SPENT, an interactive game by Urban Ministries of Durham that will get you thinking about poverty in a new way: playspent.org.