Psalm 72
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The preceding Psalm dwells much upon the righteousness of God: this Psalm depicts the blessings which will flow from the righteousness of His earthly representative, the theocratic king. In Psalm after Psalm in this book we have heard the cry of the oppressed: here is unfolded to our view the splendid vision of a perfect ruler who shall be the champion of the oppressed, whose glory will be, “redressing human wrong.”

i. The Psalm begins with a prayer that God will endow the king with the knowledge of His laws and with the spirit of His righteousness. Thus equipped he will fulfil the ideal of his office, as the just ruler who protects the oppressed, and secures for his people the blessings of peace and plenty (Psalm 72:1-7).

ii. Thus far the Psalmist has dealt with the relation of the king to his own people. Now, taking a wider sweep, he prays that he may have a world-wide dominion, and that the wealthiest and most distant nations may bring him tribute, won by the moral supremacy of his beneficent rule to offer him their voluntary homage ((Psalm 72:8-14).

iii. The Psalm concludes with prayers for the welfare of the king himself, for the prosperity of his people, and for the undying perpetuation of his memory as the benefactor of the nations, in whom the promise made to the seed of Abraham finds its fulfilment ((Psalm 72:15-17).

In rendering the title ‘A Psalm for Solomon,’ the A.V. follows the LXX (εἰς Σαλωμών) in regarding Solomon as the subject of the Psalm. Similarly the Syriac Version entitles it, ‘A Psalm of David, when he had made Solomon king, and a prophecy concerning the Advent of the Messiah and the calling of the Gentiles.’ But this explanation is untenable. The analogy of the other Psalm-titles points to the rendering of A.V. marg. and R.V., supported by all the other Ancient Versions, ‘A Psalm of Solomon.’ It seems then to have been regarded as having been composed by Solomon as an intercession to be used by the people on his behalf. Nor is this an impossible view of its origin and purpose. If the “last words” of David, uttered in the spirit of prophecy shortly before his death, describe the blessings which would flow from the rule of a righteous king, animated by the spirit of justice and guided by the fear of God, and anticipate the rise of such a righteous king out of his house in virtue of the eternal covenant which God has made with him, why should not the first words of Solomon be a prayer that these great hopes should be realised in himself by the world-wide extension and eternal duration of a kingdom founded in righteousness?

Many of the arguments urged against the Solomonic date are of little real weight. (1) It is said that in Psalm 72:2 the whole people is spoken of as ‘afflicted,’ and that Psalm 72:12-14 “read like the hope of one who had seen the nation sunk in distress.” But the reference is not to the nation as a whole, but to the poor and weak within it who were always liable to be hardly treated by the rich and powerful. (2) Psalm 72:8 is said to be a quotation from Zechariah 9:10; and Psalm 72:12 from Job 29:12. It is however by no means clear that the Psalmist is the borrower. (3) The clear and flowing style is thought to be the mark of a later age. Delitzsch on the contrary finds in the somewhat artificial style a mark of the Solomonic period, and the argument is not one which can be pressed.

On the whole however the Psalm seems rather to reflect the memories of Solomon’s imperial greatness than to anticipate it. For what later king it was written must remain uncertain. It may have been for Hezekiah, who came to the throne at a time when grave social evils called for reform, and when the hope of the advent of the ideal king in the near future animated the minds of the prophets. It is even possible that the Psalm does not refer to any particular king, but is a prayer for the establishment of the Messianic kingdom under a prince of David’s line according to prophecy, the lyrical counterpart in fact of Zechariah 9:9 ff. At the same time it does appear to have a definite historical background, and to be a prayer for a king who is actually on the throne. The prayer in the Psalms of Solomon for the advent of the Messianic king (Introd. p. xlix) has an altogether different tone.

The hypothesis of Hitzig and others, approved by Cheyne, that it refers to some non-Israelite king, such as Ptolemy Philadelphus (b.c. 285), may safely be rejected. It is not conceivable that a poet of real patriotism, not to say of inspiration in the higher sense of the word, it should have so grovelled to a heathen monarch as to apply to him the sacred language of Messianic hope, and to connect his name with the solemn promises to the seed of Abraham and the house of David.

But if the primary reference of the Psalm is to some actual king of Judah, it is plain that it reaches far beyond him. It is a ‘Messianic’ Psalm. It presents a picture of the kingdom of God upon earth in its ideal character of perfection and universality. It is thus in its nature not only a prayer and a hope but a prophecy. As each successive king of David’s line failed to realise the ideal, it became clearer and clearer that its words pointed forward to One who was to come, to the true “Prince of Peace.” Hence the Targum interprets it of the Messiah. It paraphrases Psalm 72:1 thus:

“O God, give the precepts of Thy judgement to King Messiah,

And Thy righteousness to the son of king David:”

and it interprets Psalm 72:17 of the pre-existence of His name:

“His name shall be remembered for ever;

And before the sun existed was His name prepared;

And all peoples shall be blessed in His merits.”

According to the Talmud and Midrash, Yinnôn—the word in Psalm 72:17 which is rendered shall be continued or shall have issue—is one of the eight names of the Messiah. “His Name,” so the Rabbis mystically interpreted the passage, “is Yinnon. Why is He called Yinnon? Because He will make those who sleep in the dust to flourish”: i.e. He will raise the dead.

Following the example of Jewish exegesis, the Christian Church has rightly understood the Psalm to refer to Christ. Yet it is never quoted in the N.T. Possibly the regal aspect of the Messiah was so dominant in the first age (Acts 1:6) that it needed to be kept in the background, until men had learnt that His kingdom was “not of this world,” but a spiritual kingdom.

It was fitly chosen by the Early Church as the special Psalm for the Epiphany, foretelling as it does the homage of the nations to the Messiah, of which the visit of the Wise Men was the earnest.

It was a favourite Psalm of St Edmund, the martyr king of East Anglia, who spent a year in retirement that he might learn the Psalter by heart, so as to be able to repeat it in his intervals of leisure. Its kingly ideal seems to have moulded his life.

A Psalm for Solomon. Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king's son.
1. God is the source of all judgement (Deuteronomy 1:17); the king is His representative for administering it. May God therefore grant him such a knowledge of the divine laws and ordinances by which he is to govern Israel, and endow him with such a divine spirit of justice, as may make him a worthy ruler. Just judgement is the constant characteristic of the ideal king (Isaiah 11:3 ff; Isaiah 16:5; Isaiah 28:6; Isaiah 32:1). The words of this verse and the next are the echo of God’s offer to Solomon, “Ask what I shall give thee;” and of Solomon’s answer, “Give thy servant an understanding heart to judge thy people;” and a prayer for the effectual realisation of the promise, “Lo, I have given thee a wise and an understanding heart.” (1 Kings 3:5 ff.).

the king … the king’s son] Not, to the king and his heir, for the Psalm speaks of but one ruler; but, to a king who is a king’s son, the legitimate successor to the throne.

1–7. A prayer that God will confer upon the king the gifts which he needs for the right exercise of his office. Then righteousness will bear the fruit of peace; redress and repression of wrong will promote the fear of God; under his beneficent rule the righteous will flourish.

He shall judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with judgment.
2. He shall give sentence to thy people with righteousness,

And to thine afflicted ones with Judgement.

Many commentators render the verbs throughout the Ps. as optatives, Let him give sentence, and so forth. In Psalm 72:8 ff. this rendering is required by the form of the verb; but here the form is a simple future. The administration of the king endowed with divine capacities for ruling is described (Psalm 72:2; Psalm 72:4; Psalm 72:6), together with the resultant blessings (3, 5, 7). The rendering give sentence is adopted to indicate that the Heb. word is different from that in Psalm 72:4.

It has been argued that ‘thine afflicted ones’ implies that the nation was at the time in a state of depression and humiliation: but the term is not necessarily coextensive with ‘thy people’; it denotes, as frequently in the prophets, the poorer classes, who especially needed the protection of good government. See Isaiah 3:14-15; Isaiah 10:2; Jeremiah 22:16; Amos 8:4.

The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.
3. Logically this verse forms but one sentence, and the exact reproduction of the Heb. division into two clauses for the sake of rhythm has an awkward effect. The sense is, By righteousness shall the mountains and the hills bear peace for the people. The mountains and the hills, which are the characteristic features of Palestine, represent poetically the whole land, which, under a just government, will bear the fruit of peace and general welfare for its inhabitants. Similarly Isaiah describes peace as the result of righteousness (Isaiah 32:17); and peace was the distinguishing characteristic of Solomon’s reign (1 Chronicles 22:9), as well as of its antitype the Messianic age (Isaiah 2:4; Isaiah 9:6-7; Zechariah 9:10).

He shall judge the poor of the people, he shall save the children of the needy, and shall break in pieces the oppressor.
4. An expansion of Psalm 72:2. The oppressed and defenceless are the special care of the true king, “whose glory is, redressing human wrong.” He does justice to ‘the afflicted of the people’; he is the preserver of ‘the children of the needy,’ words which are best understood literally, not merely of those born poor, or as a periphrasis, according to a common idiom, for ‘the needy,’ but of children, especially orphans, at once innocent and helpless, and therefore calling for special protection (see Isaiah 10:2; Micah 2:9, for the dangers to which they were exposed): while he crushes the merciless oppressor, treating him as he had treated his victims (Psalm 94:5; Proverbs 22:22-23; Isaiah 3:15; James 2:13).

They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.
5. They shall fear thee while the sun endureth,

And so long as the moon doth shine, throughout all generations.

Who is addressed? Not the king, who is spoken of throughout in the third person, but God. The just administration of the king will promote reverence for God, Whose representative he is (cp. 1 Kings 8:40; Matthew 5:16), so long as the established course of nature lasts. For the order of nature as an emblem of permanence cp. Jeremiah 31:35 ff; Jeremiah 33:20 ff.

The LXX however represents a different reading: He shall endure as long as the sun, &c.: a reference to the promise of eternal dominion to the house of David, as in Psalm 72:17 : cp. Psalm 89:4; Psalm 89:29; Psalm 89:36-37; Psalm 21:4. The word presumed by the LXX (יאריך) closely resembles that in the Massoretic Text (ייראוך), so far as the consonants are concerned, and it may have been the original reading: still, the text gives a good sense.

He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.
6. He shall come down &c.] A condensed comparison, for, ‘he shall be like rain coming down.’ The simile may have been suggested by the ‘last words of David,’ 2 Samuel 23:4 : cp. Proverbs 16:15; Hosea 6:3; Micah 5:7.

the mown grass] The meadow which has been mown, and which needs rain to start the aftermath (Amos 7:1). The P.B.V. into a fleece of wool is an amplification of the rendering of LXX, Vulg., Symm., Jer., upon a fleece. The Heb. word means a shorn fleece or a mown meadow; probably the Ancient Versions meant fleece metaphorically of the meadow: Coverdale’s paraphrase a fleece of wool may have been prompted by the recollection of the dew on Gideon’s fleece.

In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.
7. flourish] The metaphor follows naturally upon that of the preceding verse. Cp. Proverbs 11:28; Psalm 92:12-13. For the righteous LXX, Jer., Syr. read righteousness, which suits the parallelism better.

so long as the moon endureth] Lit. as R.V., till the moon be no more; for all time. Cp. Job 14:12.

He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.
8. He shall have dominion also] Render, And may he have dominion. The form of the verb here is decisive in favour of rendering as a wish or prayer, and governs the meaning of the verbs in Psalm 72:9-11, which should all be similarly rendered.

from sea to sea &c.] The words are a poetical generalisation of the promise to Israel in Exodus 23:31, “I will set thy border from the Red Sea even unto the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness unto the River”; and of the language in which Solomon’s empire is described, 1 Kings 4:21; 1 Kings 4:24 (where note the use of the same word to have dominion). If any definite seas are intended, they would be the Mediterranean on the West, and the Red Sea or the Indian Ocean on the East; but more probably the phrase is quite general, meaning, ‘as far as the land extends’ (Amos 8:12; Micah 7:12). The River (rightly spelt in R.V. with a capital, as denoting the River par excellence) is the Euphrates: the ends of the earth (the same words as the uttermost parts of the earth in Psalm 2:8) are the remotest parts of the known world. Extension, not limit, is the idea conveyed. The world belongs to God: may He confer upon His representative a world-wide dominion! a hope to be realised only in the universal kingdom of Christ. Almost the same words recur in Zechariah 9:10, and the son of Sirach combines them with the promise to Abraham in Sir 44:21.

8–14. May all nations submit to this best of rulers, recognising the paramount claim of moral supremacy.

They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.
9. Let them that dwell in the wilderness bow down before him, And let his enemies lick the dust.

Even the wild Bedouin tribes that roam at large through the desert, the freest of the free, submit to his rule. LXX, Aq., Symm., Jer., render, Ethiopians, the Targ., Africans; but the term is quite general. There is no need to alter the text. Cp. Psalm 74:14.

lick the dust] I.e. prostrate themselves with their faces on the ground in abject submission. Cp. Micah 7:17; Isaiah 49:23.

The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.
10. Let the kings … bring presents, or, as R.V. marg., render tribute, the word implying that they are rendering what is due to him. Tarshish was the wealthy Phoenician colony of Tartessus in southern Spain: the isles or rather the coastlands are those of the Mediterranean generally. Sheba was south-eastern Arabia (Arabia Felix), famous for its wealth and commerce; hence P.B.V., following LXX and Vulg., gives Arabia: Seba, mentioned in Genesis 10:7 among Cushite peoples and coupled with Egypt and Ethiopia in Isaiah 43:3; Isaiah 45:14, is generally supposed to be the kingdom of Meroe in Ethiopia, but may denote a Cushite state on the Arabian Gulf. The most remote and the most wealthy nations unite in honouring the righteous king.

Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.
11. Yea, let all kings fall down before him,

Let all nations serve him.

The allusions to Solomon’s empire in this and the preceding verse are obvious. “All kingdoms brought presents and served Solomon.” … “All the earth sought to Solomon, to hear his wisdom, … and they brought every man his present.” His alliance with Phoenicia brought him into connexion with the West; he had extensive commerce both by sea and land with the East and South; his fame brought the queen of Sheba to visit him in person. See 1 Kings 4:21; 1 Kings 4:34; 1 Kings 10:1 ff., 1 Kings 10:11; 1 Kings 10:15; 1 Kings 10:22; 1 Kings 10:25; 1 Kings 10:28-29.

For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.
12. For he shall deliver] His claim to this universal homage rests not on the strength of his armies but on the justice and mercifulness of his rule. Cp. Isaiah 16:4-5. The true victory of the kingdom of God is a moral victory, Psalm 72:9, it is true, refers to the forced submission of his enemies; but the same inconsistency is found in Zechariah 9:9 ff.: it was only by slow degrees that the triumph of the kingdom of God came to be completely dissociated from the idea of material conquest, and was realised to be entirely a moral triumph.

the poor also &c.] And the afflicted, when he hath no helper. The verse closely resembles Job 29:12.

He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy.
13. He shall have pity on the weak and needy,

And the souls of the needy shall he save.

The weak may include the sick as well as the poor. Cp. Psalm 40:1; Psalm 82:3-4; Isaiah 10:1; Isaiah 11:4; Amos 4:1. Souls primarily = lives, and so in Psalm 72:14.

He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.
14. deceit] Oppression (R.V.) or fraud (R.V. marg.). The word occurs elsewhere only in Psalm 10:7; Psalm 55:11.

and precious &c.] He will not suffer it to be shed with impunity. Cp. for the phrase Psalm 116:15; 1 Samuel 26:21; 1 Kings 1:13-14; and see Psalm 9:12. P.B.V. dear means ‘costly’ or ‘precious.’

And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.
15. The connexion and meaning are uncertain. The R.V. connects the verse with Psalm 72:14, placing a colon at the end of Psalm 72:14 and rendering, and they shall live: lit., as marg., he, namely, each one of the afflicted ones. The literal rendering of the next clause is, and he (or, one) shall give him, which is understood to mean either that the poor man will grow rich and give presents to the king in gratitude for his deliverance, or that the king will not only protect the life of the poor man, but give him a rich largess in addition. Neither of these explanations is satisfactory. It is better to separate Psalm 72:15 from Psalm 72:14. and regard Psalm 72:15-17 as a concluding series of wishes or prayers for the king and his kingdom.

So may he live, and may men give him of the gold of Sheba:

And may they pray for him continually, and bless him all day long.

May he live is an echo of the regular acclamation ‘Vivat Rex,’ ‘Vive le Roi,’ which we render God save the king. See 1 Samuel 10:24; 2 Samuel 16:16; 1 Kings 1:25; 1 Kings 1:34; 1 Kings 1:39. May the people not only greet him with the customary acclamation and offer him the choicest gifts, but pray for his welfare and bless him as the source of their happiness and prosperity. Cp. 1 Kings 8:66. The P.B.V. ‘prayer shall be made ever unto him’ is untenable as a rendering of the Heb. It was doubtless suggested by the view that the subject of the Psalm is the divine Messiah.

15–17. A concluding triplet of prayers, for the welfare of the king (Psalm 72:15), for the prosperity of his people (Psalm 72:16), for the perpetuation of his memory (Psalm 72:17).

There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.
16. May there be abundance of corn in the land upon the top of the mountains:

May the fruit thereof rustle like Lebanon;

And may men flourish out of the city like grass of the earth.

A prayer for the fertility of the land, and the prosperity of the people. The poet would see the cornfields stretching up to the very top of the hills, and hear the wind rustling through the ears of corn as through the cedars of Lebanon, a name in itself full of associations of beauty and fertility (Hosea 14:5 ff.). It is doubtful whether the verb means to wave, as A.V. shake, or to rustle. Grass is emblematic of freshness, beauty, abundant and vigorous growth. Cp. Job 5:25; Isaiah 27:6. The increase of the population was a marked feature of Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 4:20), and is a common characteristic in the pictures of the Messianic age (Isaiah 49:20 ff.).

His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.
17. May his name endure for ever;

As long as the sun doth shine may his name have Issue:

May all nations bless themselves in him, (and) call him happy.

The Psalmist prays that the king’s name may not perish like the name of the wicked (Job 18:19), but may always have issue, be perpetuated in his posterity as long as time lasts (cp. Psalm 72:5). The Ancient Versions however (LXX, Syr., Targ., Jer.) point to the reading yikkôn, shall be established, instead of yinnôn, shall have issue, a word which is found nowhere else. Cp. Psalm 89:37; 1 Kings 2:12; 1 Kings 2:45. The LXX reads, “All the families of the earth shall be blessed in him, all nations shall call him happy.” But each of these last three verses is a tristich, and the words “all families of the earth” are introduced from Genesis 12:3. May all nations bless themselves in him, invoking for themselves the blessings which he enjoys as the highest and best which they can imagine (cp. Genesis 48:20);—an allusion to the promises to Abraham and Isaac (Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4).

Blessed be the LORD God, the God of Israel, who only doeth wondrous things.
18. who only doeth wondrous things] Cp. Psalm 86:10; Psalm 136:4; Job 9:10; and note on Psalm 71:17.

18, 19. This doxology is no part of the Psalm, but marks the close of Book ii. It is fuller than the corresponding doxology at the end of Book i (Psalm 41:13), and those at the end of Books iii (Psalm 89:52) and iv (Psalm 106:48).

And blessed be his glorious name for ever: and let the whole earth be filled with his glory; Amen, and Amen.
19. his glorious name] Lit. the name of his glory, as in Nehemiah 9:5. Cp the similar phrase in 1 Chronicles 29:13; Isaiah 63:14. The Name of His glory is the compendious expression for the Majesty of His Being, as it is revealed to men.

and let the whole earth &c.] From Numbers 14:21.

Amen, and Amen] So it is: the response of the congregation, affirming the ascription of praise on their own behalf (Psalm 106:48; Nehemiah 8:6).

The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended.
20. Compare the note in Job 31:40 which separates the speeches of Job from those of Elihu and Jehovah. As the Fourth and Fifth Books contain Psalms ascribed to David, this note cannot have been placed here by an editor who had the whole Psalter before him. Most probably it was added by the compiler of the Elohistic collection, to separate the ‘Psalms of David’ from the ‘Psalms of Asaph’ which follow, and to indicate that there were no more ‘Davidic’ Psalms in his collection. The only Psalm in Book iii which bears the name of David (86) is outside the Elohistic collection, and is moreover obviously a late compilation, composed of fragments of other Psalms. For the term prayers see Introd. p. xx. The LXX rendering ὕμνοι however may point to another reading תהלות, praises.

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