Commentary on Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19
Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19 is timely for the season of Advent. We come in these Advent Sundays to hear and experience the kingship of the Messiah, who has come, is present, and will come in power and glory as the Son of Man on the clouds of heaven.
In Israel’s history the king represented the ruling presence of God among the people. The exalted reigns of the earliest kings, David and Solomon, provided a way to an understanding of kingship that was not without faults.
Psalm 72 carries the title “Of Solomon,” either attributing this psalm to the poetry of Solomon, or is expressive of the worship life of Israel, attributing to Solomon a king who rules in God’s favor: “Give the kings your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son” (verse 1).
This psalm is identified as one of the nine Royal Psalms (2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 110, 132) that sing praise to the king as God’s chosen representative on earth. They are prayers from Israel’s worship life for the king and his role as earthly ruler.
The Old Testament reading for this Sunday from Isaiah picks up on the theme of God’s kingship, identifying David’s father, Jesse, as the root or stump from whom comes the righteous branch of Israel’s kingship:
“A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, a branch shall grow out
of his roots. The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom
and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge
and the fear of the LORD. His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD. He
shall not judge by what his eyes see or decide by what his ears hear” (Isaiah 11:1- 3).
The Isaiah text has been interpreted within the church as Isaiah’s vision of the ideal king brought to fulfillment in Jesus’ reign of peace, righteousness, and justice (Isaiah 11:4-9). Psalm 72 carries out in detail these themes from Isaiah: “May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice” (verse 2).
Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-7:29) establishes his reign and his claim on the walk of his followers: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20). Jesus warns that righteousness is not in our accomplishments, but only in his reign is God’s kingdom of true righteousness present.
The four gospels express in countless ways in Jesus’ parables, teachings, miracles, and narrative stories the way in which Jesus as Messiah embodies the righteous rule of a king who deals justly and in justice:
“May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and hills, in
righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor” (verses 3-4).
The righteous rule of the Davidic king is reflected as a ruler over all, including nature, demon possession, and even death. Jesus is the one who calms the storm as he crosses the Sea of Galilee with his disciples (Mark 4:35-41), exorcises the demon-possessed man as they reach the Gentile shore (Mark 5:1-20), heals a woman with an issue of blood (Mark 5:24b-34) while he is on the way to heal Jairus’ daughter, who in the delay of healing the woman, has since died, and Jesus raises her from death (Mark 5:21-24a, 35-43).
The prayer of the psalmist for the king is also the prayer we acknowledge to be true for the ministry of peace Jesus brings to this earth: “May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. . . . In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more” (verses 5 and 7). The apocalyptic signs of the coming of the Son of Man reflect these themes from the psalm of the Messiah’s coming:
“But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.
Then they will see the Son of Man coming in clouds
with great power and glory” (Mark 13:24-26).
The closing verses from Psalm 72 serve as a beautiful benediction on the rule of the king and reflect the expectation the glory of Jesus’ kingly reign as we continue to exalt his messiahship in this season of Advent:
“Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name for ever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen” (verses 18-19).
The epistle reading from Romans 15:4-13 for this Second Sunday of Advent concludes with Paul’s proclamation and hope for the messianic king as he cites from another prophetic word of Isaiah concerning the righteous king from Jesse’s stump:
“And again Isaiah says, ‘The root of Jesse shall come, the one
who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope'” (Romans 15:12).
Paul is citing Isaiah 11:10 from our Old Testament reading for this Second Sunday of Advent. This brings us full circle to the closing verse of Psalm 72: “The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended” (verse 20). In the pattern of Jesse’s son, David, and David’s son, Solomon, we see the way in which God’s kingly reign and rule is present in the one whom we herald as the messianic king, Jesus, the Son of Man who will come on the clouds of heaven in great power and might.
This is our Advent promise and proclamation.