[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as….)]
Psalm 72 begins with a prayer for the king to rule with justice and righteousness (verses 1-2). This is a good connection to the life of Solomon, since when he began his reign he requested “wisdom to rule the nation.” Here the king is to be endowed with justice and righteousness, corollaries of Solomon’s wisdom. The way a king demonstrates justice and righteousness is by defending the cause of the “afflicted ones,” verse 2 and verse 4. The needy will be saved, but the oppressor will be destroyed. The king is to function as the “redeemer” and defender for those people within the society who have no natural defender.
A king that reigns in righteousness will bring prosperity to the nation (verse 3). This is a function of the Deuteronomic covenant. God has established his law, and if the nation does that Law, they will find that they are blessed with prosperity; if they do not they will be cursed. The psalmist does not mention the sacrificial law here – the king does righteousness by taking care of the outcasts of society, not by properly performing sacrifices.
The word translated by the NIV as “prosperity” is the Hebrew שלוֹם, shalom. While typically this word means “peace,” there is far more to the biblical idea of shalom than no war.” Shalom is the state of the world as God created it. This which function correctly, the way that God designed them to function, are in a state of shalom. This is an allusion to a future, eschatological age when the whole of creation functions once again as God created it. This is a case where the Psalm goes beyond David and Solomon and looks for a future, ideal “son of David” who will bring true peace to the world, the messiah.
Is there an application of this Psalm to modern nations? Does God really give prosperity to modern nations if they are godly? It is important to interpret this Psalm for what it is and avoid the application of the language of this psalm to America. It is not appropriate to cite this psalm as evidence for the idea that God will bless America if our government is godly. This is a promise for Israel’s king and evokes the deuteronomic covenant. If Israel keeps the covenant they will be blessed, if they do not, they will be cursed.
It is wrong to make a transfer of this promise to the Church, or to any “Christian society” since it is a promise made to a historical Israel and serves as a foundation for the hope of restoration for Israel in the future. America does not “take over” this covenant because we are allegedly a Christian country.
On the other hand, God does require the nations to conduct themselves morally and ethically. The king is responsible for the ethical behavior of a nation, and God will judge a nation if they abuse the widow and the orphan, or the alien who lives in their land. In fact, if there is a “blessing” offered to the nations, it is based on wisdom and the created order rather than the Covenant with Israel. Nations which treat people properly tend to be more prosperous than those who oppress the poor. That is the natural way God has designed human relationships rather than a function of Law.
Drawing an application to the messianic age, the rule of the Messiah will be one that is perfectly just and righteous. There will be no one who “falls through the cracks” because the messiah will always give justice to those who deserve it. It is important to observe that Jesus does this even in his earthly ministry, focusing his attention on the poor and oppressed, politically, physically, and religiously,
The future kingdom is usually described as a society which cares for the needs of the poor and oppressed. It is a kingdom which does the heart of the Law perfectly. This time of justice and peace is a common description of the messianic age (Isa 2:4, 11:6-9). As verse 4 says, the eschatological age will be the time when the poor and needy receive justice because the oppressor has been crushed (verse 4). The verb translated as “oppressor” (עשק) in verse four has violent connotations. While it is used to describe the exploitation of the poor, such as “a debtor unable to pay” or “the weaker party in a business contract,” it is sometimes used for the “the (politically or socially) oppressed” (HALOT). Usually the oppressor crushes the needy, but this is reversed in the coming kingdom. The verb “crush” (דכא) is applied to the poor in Isa 3:15, here the oppressor is the one who will be ground to dust.
Once again, the description points to a future age when the oppressors will be judged and the oppressed find themselves vindicated before a righteous God.