Psalm putty: Psalm 72 (part one)

If you’ve been reading Coffee with the King for a while, you’ll know that I use “psalm putty” to fill in the gaps between when one series ends, and the start of a new week. For the next three days, Psalm 72 will be filling in not only this logistical gap, but the historical and theological gap of more than 1000 years we’re about to leap: the gap between the book of Ruth which we just finished, and the Christmas story in Matthew’s gospel, which we begin on Monday.

In one of the earlier orderings of the books of the Hebrew Bible, Ruth comes just before Psalms – perhaps to highlight how the story of Ruth is the story of God’s hand in David (the primary psalm-writer) becoming Israel’s king. And the Psalms – particularly those that are about Israel’s king – have a strange habit of pointing to the coming Messiah. So for the next three days we’re going to look at one of those kingship psalms – Psalm 72 (the last of the psalms associated with David).

Head of State

Most countries have a Head of State – a person who represents and embodies the country when dealing with the rest of the world.

My country, Australia, has as Head of State Queen Elizabeth II of England. And we also have a Governor-General, who fills in for her when she can’t be here – which is pretty much all of the time. Personally, I think it’s a great system. What could be more Australian than having a Head of State who’s been taking a perpetual sickie since 1953, making someone else do their work for them, and claiming 30 million pounds a year from the government using several different names including Elizabeth Windsor, Elizabeth R, and Mrs Phillip Mountbatten?

But statistically, the majority of Australians disagrees. We want an Aussie as our Head of State. And we’re pretty fussy on whom we’ll have as Governor-General, too. Why is this?

I think it’s because we believe our Head of State should embody who we are – our values, our dreams, the way we see ourselves and want others to see us – and what our role is in the grand scheme of things. Opinion polls indicate that most of us don’t want a Pommie chick with a bad taste in hats that seems to run in the family. Nor does the majority want our Governor-General to be a religious figure, or someone who’s perceived as ‘out of touch’ with the way the majority views certain issues.

But our most popular Governors-General in recent times – people like William Deane, Quentin Bryce, and Peter Cosgrove – show that we do want someone who is concerned with social justice, someone who champions that great Aussie value of giving everyone a ‘fair go’.

Ps 72 is all about Israel’s Head of State. Or rather, their Governor-General-like king who acted on behalf of their true ruler, God.

As you’ll probably pick up when you read the Psalm, they were pretty idealistic about their Head-of-State. He was to embody their ideals of justice, national prosperity, and God’s supreme rule over all the nations. Everything that Israel wanted to be as God’s chosen people was symbolically thrust upon their king, their representative, as an almost unachievable ideal.

They would have sung this Psalm at each new king’s coronation, reminding him of what he was supposed to live up to. In fact, it’s quite possible that this was written by David or one of his team of songwriters for his son Solomon’s coronation.

But what’s Israel’s Head of State in the Old Testament got to do with us, now? Well, if they’d done their job, perhaps nothing. But as you probably know if you’ve read the history of the kings of Israel, most of them were pretty bad – and even the good ones never fully measured up to what was promised. And so a belief developed that God would one day put things right and send a perfect king, who would live up to these ideals.

And he did. Everything that Israel was intended to do and be – embodied in her king – Jesus fulfilled. The perfect king of God’s new covenant people, made up not just of ethnic Israelites but of people from all nations.

So we can read this Psalm out of historical interest for Israel and her human king – but also as being relevant to us, the church, and our perfect king Jesus. Now you have to be a little careful in this process, as the church is not a nation you’re born into – it’s a people you decide to be a part of; we don’t have earthly kingdom with a land of our own and material blessings, but a spiritual kingdom with an inheritance in heaven that will never spoil or fade or perish.

But the principles remain. What ideals should Israel’s king have lived up to? How did they fail? How did Jesus fulfil them perfectly? And how are we to live as citizens of heaven, living out these ideals in the world today? That’s what we’re going to be asking over the coming three days as we look at Psalm 72.

To do

Read Psalm 72 now, making note of all the things Israel’s king was supposed to be and do, according to this psalm. Over the course of the day, contemplate how Jesus might have fulfilled each aspect of this role.

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