Psalms 72 Summary - The 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 (Psa 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 ((Psa 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 ((Psa 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 Psa 72:2 the whole people is spoken of as ‘afflicted,’ and that Psa 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) Psa 72:8 is said to be a quotation from Zec 9:10; and Psa 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 Zec 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 Psa 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 Psa 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 Psa 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 (Act 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.
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".