God the Messiah King
Preached by Jason Abbott, senior pastor
1 Give the king your justice, O God, / and your righteousness to the royal son! / 2 May he judge your people with righteousness, / and your poor with justice! / 3 Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, / and the hills, in righteousness! / 4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, / give deliverance to the children of the needy, / and crush the oppressor! / 5 May they fear you while the sun endures, / and as long as the moon, throughout all generations! / 6 May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, / like showers that water the earth! / 7 In his days may the righteous flourish, / and peace abound, till the moon be no more! / 8 May he have dominion from sea to sea, / and from the River to the ends of the earth! / 9 May desert tribes bow down before him, / and his enemies lick the dust! / 10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands / render him tribute; / may the kings of Sheba and Seba / bring gifts! / 11 May all kings fall down before him, / all nations serve him! / 12 For he delivers the needy when he calls, / the poor and him who has no helper. / 13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, / and saves the lives of the needy. / 14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life, / and precious is their blood in his sight. / 15 Long may he live; / may gold of Sheba be given to him! / May prayer be made for him continually, / and blessings invoked for him all the day! / 16 May there be abundance of corn in the land; / on the tops of the mountains may it wave; / may its fruit be like Lebanon; / and may people blossom in the cities / like the grass of the field! / 17 May his name endure for ever, / his fame continue as long as the sun! / May people be blessed in him, / all nations call him blessed! / 18 Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, / who alone does wondrous things. / 19 Blessed be his glorious name for ever; / may the whole earth be filled with his glory! / Amen and Amen! / 20 The prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are ended.
In Psalm 72, we have a prayer for God’s anointed one—or Christ. (These are simply two ways of saying the same thing.) In the Old Testament, people or “things were anointed…to signify…separation unto God…”1 for his special purposes and service. In this instance, the anointed is the king.
This may seem somewhat odd to us today. Yet, we nevertheless do very similar kinds of ceremonial “anointings” in our society and don’t think them strange in the least.
For example, whenever we inaugurate a president, we are signifying (in our country) that he or she has been set apart for the special task of leading the United States. The people have chosen him and anointed him with special powers so that he can execute the duties of his office. This is not at all unlike what took place when Israel anointed a king, except that, in Israel’s case, the anointing was not of human origin but of divine origin. The choice was up to God! (So too by the way is the choice of president, but we nonetheless like to pretend it’s up to us.2)
What we therefore have in Psalm 72 is a prayerful petition being made for the anointed king of Israel. However—and this is of utmost importance to our discussion today—this prayerful request cannot be merely for any one of Israel’s anointed kings specifically! Rather, it must be a kind of “measuring-stick” prayer for all of God’s anointed kings—a “bulls-eye” target toward which all kings must take aim!
We’re thus going to look at it as the standard, and see what this standard for the anointed king has to teach us about God’s Messiah King. We’re hopefully going to learn to pray for two things in the anointed. We’re going to learn to pray:
- God, let the anointed rule righteously and justly.
- God, let the anointed rule long and wide.
1. Let the anointed rule righteously and justly (vv. 2-4, 12-14).
Whenever a new king was anointed in Israel, he received a copy of the law of God upon his coronation. He was required to write it out for himself in a book and study it all the days of his life. Why? In order that he might:
…learn to fear the Lord…by keeping all the words of this law, [and] that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers (Deuteronomy 17:19-20).
In other words, in order to “be an instrument of God’s kingship on earth, the monarch must conform to the divine standards of justice…and righteousness.”3 So he must write out word for word and study daily God’s standards! Can you imagine how tedious and tiresome this task must have been?!!
Moreover, this would have been no delinquent school boy at a blackboard! For the king to do this would be like having a president’s first task, following his inauguration, be to write out a word for word copy of The Declaration of Independence, The Bill of Rights—as well as—every legally binding act of Congress and decision of the Supreme Court!
This would be a humbling inaugural activity for a president. (What president would do it?!!) It would have been a humbling inaugural activity for Israel’s kings. It would have unquestionably said to them: “This is the law, and it judges you as well as everyone else! You are not above it!”
So the psalmist prays for such a law-abiding, anointed king. He prays for:
- A king who judges the people with righteousness and justice (v. 2).
- A king who defends the poor, delivers the children of the needy, and crushes the oppressors of the people (v. 4).
- A king who delivers those in need and those without a helper (v. 12).
- A king who pities the weak and poor (v. 13).
- A king who cares about the lives of those who are easily oppressed (v. 14).
What a high standard! This lesson was really brought home for me during seminary when everyone had to take a Bible content exam in order to test our knowledge of the Old and New Testaments. One of the difficult things was to learn how to distinguish between the good and bad kings of Israel and Judah. In order to help, my brother-in-law shared a little trick with me. If a king was from Israel (following the divide of the kingdoms) then he wasn’t good. Israel, after Solomon, never had a good king! And Judah only had a handful!
However, let’s simplify things a bit more. In terms of the standards being prayed for in Psalm 72, there was never a righteous and just king! For, even great king David abused the powerless (e.g. Uriah) and ignored justice (e.g. Tamar)!
However, before you get too comfortable, know that, in your roles of leadership, you will also fall short. You will never perfectly parent your children. You will never righteously manage your employees. You will never justly coach your sports teams. No, every leader and every person will fail in the pursuit of perfect justice and righteousness because every one of us is a sinner.
Yet, even though we’re imperfect, God still instructs us to pray for the perfect! He encourages us to pray for justice and righteousness! He does not say, “Since you’re sinners, I’ll grade you on a curve!” God doesn’t demand less because we’re fallen and unable to act in righteousness and justice! Sinfulness wasn’t a free pass for his anointed kings, and it isn’t a free pass for us today!
So, we must pray as the psalmist does here! Pray for justice and righteousness in the parenting of our children. Pray for justice and righteousness in the management of our businesses and careers. Pray for justice and righteousness in the governing of our leaders.
Let me illustrate. I have a professor who is deeply convicted that he should pray for Michelle Obama. Specifically he’s convicted that he should pray that her position on abortion might change and that her new convictions might influence her husband’s policy making.
Certainly this is a prayer for just leadership on behalf of the poor and powerless of our time. I would suggest that this is praying precisely as the psalmist prays here. This is biblical doctrine meeting Christian practice; we must learn to pray in such ways!
Now we come to our second lesson about prayer. We learn a second thing to pray for in the life of God’s anointed leader. We learn from the psalmist that it is right to pray for God to:
2. Let the anointed rule long and wide (vv. 5-11, 15-17).
So the psalmist prays for the anointed king to have a long reign:
- May he be obedient to God as long as the sun and moon endure (vv. 5, 7)!
- May he live a long life (v. 15)!
- May his name and fame continue forevermore (v. 17)!
Moreover, the psalmist prays for the anointed king to have a wide reign:
- May he have power from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth (v. 8)!
- May desert tribes and kings from foreign lands pay him tribute (vv. 9-10)!
- May all kings and all nations fall down before him and serve him (v. 11)!
- May all the nations call him blessed (v. 17)!
Here (as with the psalmist’s prayers for righteousness and justice) we feel the tension of this petition for perfect length and breadth of the anointed’s reign as it strains against the reality of humanity’s finitude and falleness! How can any anointed king reign so long and so fully?
Such language has been interpreted by many to be a reference to the Davidic kingdom not one specific king. By this interpretation, one would see the “he” as representative of all the kings in the Davidic line. So, it would perhaps mean something like:
- May their (the Davidic line’s) reign last as long as the sun and moon endure!
- May all the nations call them (the Davidic line) blessed!
This is most certainly right at the foundation. In other words, the psalmist without a doubt is praying for the Davidic line. As one commentator explains concerning these extreme descriptions:
The hope is that the wise king will remain a blessing for a long time. The duration (“as long as the sun, as long as the moon,” v. 5) probably refers to the length of the royal dynasty rather than the individual ruler.4
However, the Davidic line (I want to argue) cannot be the only or the ultimate reference point for such extreme descriptions. Certainly, God—through the prophets (here the psalmist)—spoke truths even they didn’t fully comprehend!
Peter touches upon this mysterious reality in his first letter. Speaking about the glory of the good news and the prophet’s proclamation of it, he writes:
Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully…. [Yet]…they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news… (1 Peter 1:10-12).
In other words, when the Old Testament prophets spoke they did not simply speak to their contemporaries (though they did speak prophetically to their contemporaries). They spoke to all the faithful throughout time as well, and they spoke of better things than even they could comprehend!
Therefore (I believe), the psalmist here prays for the Davidic king and even for the Davidic kings to come, but he ultimately prays for the ultimate Davidic King! He prays for the reign of the Messiah! He prays for the King who is the fulfillment of all kings! He prays for Jesus the Christ, the Anointed One!
And we should (in fact, we must) learn to pray this way too! We must learn to long for such a complete and eternal reign in our lives. People have always dreamed of such righteous and just and long and wide governance! Haven’t they?
- We compose legends about it (e.g. King Arthur and his royal court).
- We watch and admire movies about it (e.g. Neo’s righteous and complete deliverance of humanity in The Matrix trilogy, or Luke Skywalker’s heroic defeat of the evil Empire in the Star Wars series).
- We complain about its absence (e.g. when the I.R.S. doesn’t judge all political support groups equally).
Yes, we must learn to pray this way! We must pray (and work) for our leaders and government to be righteous and just and full in scope right now but with our eyes ever fixed on God’s ultimate reign through his Anointed One, Christ Jesus! Only then will we be able to fully sing:
Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel…. Blessed be his glorious name for ever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory (vv. 18-19)!