Michael Boling – Exegetical Paper on Psalm 72


Psalm 72 has been explicated by biblical scholars as Messianic due to similarities with Messianic prophecies contained in Isaiah 11:1-5 and Isaiah 60-62. As noted by Derek Kidner, “as a royal psalm it prayed for the reigning king, and was a strong reminder of his high calling; yet it exalted this so far beyond the humanly attainable as to suggest for its fulfillment no less a person than the Messiah.” The hyperbole utilized in this royal psalm that finds its fulfillment only in the persona and work of Yeshua has resulted in this psalm being classified, at a minimum, as indirectly Messianic.

Authorship of this psalm has been attributed by some to the psalms penned by King David; however, strong arguments have been made for it being a work of King Solomon. Scholarly debate on this matter resides on the interpretation of the superscription which alludes to Psalm 72 as a Psalm of David with King Solomon as the subject and not the author. Franz Delitzsh argues for Solomonic authorship in his statement that Psalm 72 is for the most part distichic, which has less of original freshness and directness than of an artificial, reflective, and almost sluggish manner, the geographic range of view, the richness in figures drawn from nature, and the points of contact with the Book of Job…these are coincident signs which are decisive in favor of Solomon.” Scholars are divided on the issue of authorship; however, strong arguments have been put forward for this Psalm being a prayer of blessing for the reign of King Solomon or more appropriately, a prophetic declaration of the Messiah. Perhaps the best argument provided for Davidic authorship is given by James Mays who comments that “Superscription and colophon taken together ask that the prayer be read as David’s intercession for his seed and successor, a prayer that the vocation of God’s king be realized in his son.”

The psalmist begins with a prayer for the king, “a prayer which concentrates on the king’s responsibility to bring justice. As leader of the people, the monarch is to guarantee justice and righteousness.” The people of Israel fully understood that the Davidic dynasty was instituted by the hand of God. In order for the covenant blessings to be bestowed upon Israel the “monarch must conform to the divine standards of justice and righteousness.” As evinced through King Saul, the physical attributes of the Israelite leader matter little in regards to the success of the king. What truly was important in God’s eyes, was a ruler who would lead his people in accordance with the Torah. To demonstrate the level of importance that God’s law occupied within the monarchy, a copy of the law was presented to the Israelite king at the time of his coronation “so as to distinguish between the theocratic rule of Israel and the man-centered rule of the nations.”

As evidence of the degree of righteousness with which the king would rule, the psalmist notes a high degree of social justice in his prayer. For the ancient Israelite, God was expected to defend the afflicted and downtrodden; however, the king, as God’s representative was also expected to defend the poor. Walter Houston saliently notes that “God’s justice and righteousness are to be exhibited specifically in the king’s action in defense of the poor against oppression.” The concept of social justice is explicated throughout the Old Testament. Additionally, an important attribute of a righteous ruler, as noted in this beginning prayer of Psalm 72, is one who “will be the defender of those who can only be safe under the protection of the magistrate…he will be their avenger when they are made the victims of injustice and wrong.” This prayer found a level of fulfillment during the time of Solomon’s reign as peace reigned throughout Israel and there was an abundance of prosperity. Furthermore, Solomon was famous for his God-given wisdom and penchant for righteous rule, at least for most of his time as king.

The Messianic connotations of the psalmist’s call for justice and righteousness are clearly evident and thus the requests made in Psalm 72 can be seen in the life of Yeshua and in the promise of his second coming. Richard Belcher notes that “Christ does possess the justice and righteousness of God” further commenting that the “gospel of Christ is good news to the poor because he delivers them from oppression and brings forth the blessings of creation in material abundance.” The Israelites certainly made the connection between the idea of the promised Messiah bringing material blessings when they attempted to make Jesus king following the feeding of the five thousand.

Unfortunately, the nourishment that Yeshua brought was not merely physical, a point greatly misunderstood by the Jews throughout Yeshua’s time on earth. Ultimately, Yeshua will fulfill the request made by the psalmist at the Parousia when the Prince of Peace comes to “smite the foes of his people.” All believers in Yeshua are expected to show concern for the poor and needy as outlined in Matthew 25:35-40. This pericope hearkens back to Psalm 72 in its admonishment to care for those who are oppressed as evidence of living righteously.

The next section of Psalm 72 outlines a request for long life for the king as well as confidence that his rule will extend throughout the earth. VanGemeren rightly notes that enduring as long as the sun, as long as the moon for all generations “probably refers to the length of the royal dynasty rather than the individual ruler.” The psalmist utilizes similes in an effort to describe the abundance of prosperity. The king’s rule is likened to ‘rain falling on a mown field’ as well as ‘showers watering the earth’ vibrantly depicting an essence of youthfulness and growth. Mitchell Dahood explicates the meaning of this simile further in his statement that Psalm 72:6 more correctly means “may the influence of the king be felt in all the cultivated regions of the world” thus noting the universality of the psalmist prayer.

Not only was the reign of the Davidic ruler expected to be long-lived it was also expected to extend to the uttermost regions of the earth, a belief fully outlined in Psalm 72:8-11. As noted by Michael Grisanti, “God promised to give His anointed king dominion over the entire earth.” Such verbiage also hearkens back to the promises made to Israel in Exodus as to the boundaries that would define the Promised Land. A.F. Alexander further explicates the concept behind the psalmist’s declaration by stating that “extension, not limit, is the idea conveyed. The world belongs to God: may He confer on His representative a world-wide dominion!” The universality of this world-wide dominion would be evidenced, in the mind of the psalmist, by the nations of the world bowing in obeisance to the king of Israel. The psalmist depicts the extent of the king’s rule in his reference to distant nations such as Tarshish, Sheba, and Seba. During the reign of King Solomon, a certain degree of this prophetic request was fulfilled as the borders of Israel were extended to their fullest dimensions during his reign.

Once again, the Messianic overtones can be seen when Psalm 72:5-11 are viewed through the lens of the New Testament. Matthew Henry lucidly comments that “no sea, no river, is named, that it might, by these proverbial expressions, intimate the universal monarchy of the Lord Jesus. His gospel has been, or shall be, preached to all nations, and the kingdom of the world shall become his kingdoms.” Additionally, Revelation 7 alludes to the assertions of the psalmist when it depicts all the nations of the earth bowing down to the throne of God crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb” which is Yeshua.

Images of peace, prosperity, and the subjugation of the nations are further presented in the book of Revelation where the Apostle John “expresses in a vision the hope that one day all nations shall submit to our Lord.” Initially at the cross, Yeshua won victory over his enemies though at his return, sin and the enemies of God will finally be subjugated for eternity. As noted by Belcher, “one day this righteous king will come again and make all things new, ending pain, sorrow, and death and bringing the fullness of life. The consequence will be that all nations and kings will honor and serve this king.”

Concomitant with the coronation of a king who would reign with justice and righteousness was the expectation that he would also be God’s representative for the oppressed, a recurrent theme in Psalm 72. The psalmist identifies the poor and oppressed as those “whom others discriminated (‘who have no one to help’)”, these were the very people whose concerns the king took to heart.” Furthermore, the pity which the king was expected to show on the oppressed would involve more than mere emotion; he was to exude action thus “transforming sympathy to empathy…pity is an emotion of love and endearment rather than a detached condescension.”

The act of redemption portrayed in Psalm 72:14 had an immensely personal level to it. So much so that Marvin Tate comments that the word for redeem utilized in this passage carries with the meaning of a “personal relationship between the redeemer and the one on whose behalf he is acting. They are connected in some way, which is why the redeemer is willing to pay the price.”

Just as the king showed compassion and mercy for those less fortunate, so to Yeshua displayed a similar attitude towards those who were oppressed both physically and spiritually. Yeshua is our redeemer who came to set us free from the bonds of sin and death provided we place our trust in him. John Calvin further elucidates Yeshua as redeemer by stating “we know that supreme sovereignty, both in heaven and earth, has been given to Yeshua, that he may defend his people not only from all temporal dangers, but especially from all the harassing annoyances of Satan.” Just as the Israelite king was divinely appointed by God to defend the oppressed, so to Yeshua portrayed in scripture as the Divine Warrior who will fight on behalf of his people.

Moreover, Yeshua was willing to pay the ultimate price in order to redeem mankind. Charles Spurgeon saliently notes that the “Son of God came down from heaven to earth to deliver mankind, his vile, ungrateful, faithless servants, from the pangs of the serpent.” The psalmist noted that the blood of his servants was “precious in his sight”, a reference to the kinsmen redeemer, a role which Yeshua performed at the cross.

The psalmist concludes his petition to God on behalf of the king with a benedictory prayer requesting prosperity for the king and the nation in full recognition that it is the “God of Israel who has done and will continue to do ‘marvelous deeds’…in all the earth.” The Davidic dynasty was prayerfully requested to exist in perpetuity. The phrase “long may he live” was understood not to be directed to the current king, but rather was indicative of the longevity of the dynastic rule of David and his progeny. Additionally, the repeated references to abundance of gold, grain, and fruit are descriptive of the vast blessings that were expected to be received under a king who ruled in accordance with the precepts outlined in the Torah. VanGemeren notes that the “security and perpetuity of his kingship is advanced by the subject nations that bring him tribute – such as the gold from Sheba.”

Such blessings as outlined in this latter half of Psalm 72 were understood by the psalmist as the result of God’s favor on a king and nation who lived righteously. The prosperity noted in Psalm 72:15-17 is not merely abundance of crops, but also an increased level of “internal harmony” or peace within the land and with the surrounding nations. This level of peace and prosperity was experienced by Israel during much of King Solomon’s reign as God blessed the people and the land. Keil and Delitzsch note that “under the just and benign rule of the king, both land and people are thus blessed.”

The psalmist concludes the second book of the Psalms with a reference to God as Yahweh Elohim the God of Israel in recognition that is he alone who does wonders on behalf of His people. Such a description of God is fitting as the second book of the Psalms contains but psalms directed to God as Elohim. Calvin notes that the psalmist, in a spirit of prophetic utterance prays with good reason “that the glory of the divine name may fill the whole earth, since that kingdom was to be extended even to the uttermost boundaries of the globe.” Such a declaration points to the recognition that it was God who established the Davidic dynasty and it only by His power and mercy that the nation of Israel would find both its mere existence and any level of prosperity. Tate rightly notes that the conclusion of Psalm 72 serves as a “reminder that God alone is the giver of life, justice and power. The glory goes to him rather than to any earthly agents, no matter how great they might be.” D.J. Human reminds us that “The king’s office is the continuation of Yahweh’s engagement and blessed accompaniment in the history of Israel, which he started with Abraham. His mediation of justice and righteousness makes him the medium of God’s blessing to his people, including the nations and kings of the universe. He thus becomes the realization of God’s promise to Abraham.”

Once again, the Messianic connections are abundant in the conclusion of Psalm 72. As believers, we are to bless the name of our Lord, Savior and King Jesus Yeshua for it is through him that we are truly blessed. This is no more evident that through his sacrifice on the cross through which we obtain forgiveness of sins and salvation from the penalty of death. As noted by Matthew Henry, “man’s works are little, common, trifling things, and even these could not do without him. But God does all by his own power, and they are wondrous things which he does.”

The New Testament repeatedly reminds us of our inability to do anything to merit the favor of God. It is only through his grace that we can approach the throne of our King. Just as the Israelite king was the medium between God and his people, so to Yeshua is our mediator with God. Yeshua is the epitome of justice and righteousness and we can have confidence that he will act when needed on our behalf. It is with this understanding that we can, as did the psalmist, praise our King for his mercy endures forever. When Yeshua returns, the “whole earth will be filled with his glory” and every knee will indeed bow down in worship of Yeshua our Savior.

Psalm 72 is a presentation of an ideal ruler who through God’s sovereignty would reign in an attitude of justice and righteousness which would in turn bring blessing and prosperity to the nation of Israel. Subsumed within the presentation of the ideal king is a pervasive reference to social justice evidenced by the king’s personal concern expressed by action for the poor and oppressed. As noted by Marvin Tate, the various themes outlined in Psalm 72 “add up to the biblical concept of shalom (peace/well-being)…the blessing shalom, in which there is life and harmony for all creation, is a central concept of the Bible” and a theme which is treated thoroughly in Psalm 72.

Furthermore, Psalm 72 demonstrates the need for the people of God to intercede on behalf of their God appointed ruler. This requirement is outlined in I Timothy 2:1-2 where the Apostle Paul admonishes believers that “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all men, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life.” Given its inclusion in the genre of royal psalms, Psalm 72 clearly explicates that the “righteous monarch is the channel of blessing for the people.” In its messianic theological context, Psalm 72 elucidates that Yeshua is our redeemer. The psalmist portrays Yahweh as king and the personal relationship which the ruler had with his people. Once again, this is a beautiful portrait of the relationship which Yeshua has with the believer. Furthermore, as noted by Charles Spurgeon, Jesus is depicted in Psalm 72 “beyond all doubt, in the glory of his reign, both as he now is, and as he shall be revealed in the latter day glory.”

Belcher, Richard. The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ From all the Psalms. Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, 2006.

Bellinger, W.H. Psalms: Reading and Studying the Book of Praises. Peabody: Hendrikson Publishers, 1990.

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__________. Transformed by Praise: The Purpose and Message of the Psalms. Phillipsburg: P& R Publishing, 2002.

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Grisanti, Michael. “The Davidic Covenant.” The Master’s Seminary Journal (1999): 233-250.

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Human, D.J. “An ideal for leadership – Psalm 72: The (Wise) King – Royal Mediation of God’s Universal Reign.” Verbum Et Ecclesia JRG 23 (2002): 658-677.

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Mays, James. “”In a Vision: The Portrayal of the Messiah in the Psalms.” Ex Auditu (1991): 1-8.

Smith, James. The Wisdom Literature and Psalms. Joplin: College Press Publishing Company, 1996.

Spurgeon, Charles. The Treasury of David: Classic Reflections on the Psalms, Psalms 58-110. Peabody: Hendrikson, Publishers, 1988.

Tate, Marvin. Word Biblical Commentary: Psalms 51-100. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1990.

VanGemeren, Willem. “Commentary on the Psalms” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms Through Song of Songs. Edited by Frank Gaebelein. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981.

Michael lives in Belleville, IL, a suburb of St. Louis, MO with his wife Erica and daughter Alissa. An 8 year Navy veteran, he is now employed at the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) where he oversees advanced educational programs. Michael holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Religion (Biblical Studies) from Liberty University. He is an avid reader and blogger operating the website Christian Apologetics and Intelligence Ministry (http://intelmin.org) which provides both original content and shares relevant posts and articles from around the web.

bolingme – who has written posts on Apologetics and Intelligence Ministry.

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