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Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible

Psalms 72

 

 

Verse 1
PSALM 72

A SOLOMONIC FOREGROUND AGAINST A MESSIANIC BACKGROUND

SUPERSCRIPTION: A SONG OF SOLOMON.

It is rather strange that Solomon is thought to be both the author of this psalm and the subject of it. It was evidently written to be sung by the people as a prayer upon behalf of Solomon. The reign of that king is here hailed as one of peace, prosperity and justice; and, as contrasted with the many wars of David's reign, Solomon's reign did exhibit a favorable contrast in those particulars. However, as Halley stated it, "The general tenor of the Psalm and some of the specific statements in it can allude only to that One Greater than Solomon."[1]

THE JEWISH CONCEPTION OF MESSIAH

When God called Abraham, He prophesied that in him and in his seed (singular) all the families of the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:3). That it would be some glorious Individual through whom such blessings would come, became more and more obvious as times unfolded. He would be "Shiloh" of the tribe of Judah. He would be the Star that should rise out of Jacob. He would be that Prophet like unto Moses. Then in 2 Samuel 7, God revealed that the Holy One would descend from the posterity of David, that his throne would be established forever and ever; and despite the fact, that David probably envisioned all of this happening to Solomon, such was not God's intention at all. Nevertheless, this psalm most certainly reflects Jewish thought regarding the coming of that Great One; and that accounts for the inclusion here of statements that can be applied only to Christ the Son of God.

The Davidic dynasty was indeed destined to bring in that Greater Son of David, even Christ, but not through the fleshly line of David's dynastic successors. They were as wicked a collection of humanity as the world ever witnessed and totally unworthy of giving birth to the Messiah. It was through Nathan, not Solomon, that Mary would at last bring forth the Messiah and cradle him in the manger at Bethlehem.

The line of Davidic kings, which finally ended in Zedekiah and Jehoiachin, was privileged to contribute one thing, the legitimate title to the vacant throne of David. This became the rightful title of Jesus Christ through his legal (adoptive) father Joseph, a descendant of the Davidic dynasty of kings and the legitimate heir to the throne.

It was this failure of Jewish understanding to separate the conception of the Holy Messiah from the popular manifestation of their reprobate kings that led the people, with the coronation of each new monarch to hope and pray, "O God, let this be the One," a conception that did not die till the wretched experience of the captivity in Babylon.

Furthermore, even as late as the ministry of the Messiah himself, the leaders of the Jewish nation desired nothing, either in heaven or upon earth, as fervently as they passionately longed for the restoration of that dirty old Solomonic empire.

A consideration of these facts will explain why such a classic as this psalm could have been written, with its hopeful reference to the reign of Solomon in the foreground, and at the same time, the looming mystery of Messiah and his glorious kingdom in the background.

SOLOMON A TYPE OF CHRIST

I. Just as the First Israel had its most glorious extent under Solomon; so shall the Second Israel, the Church of God though Christ attain to eternal glory in Christ.

II. Solomon was a son of David; Jesus Christ is The Son of David.

III. Solomon reigned over the earth from the Euphrates to the Mediterranean Sea; but Christ's dominion is "to the uttermost parts of the earth."

IV. Solomon's wisdom was known all over the world; but "In Christ all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden."

V. Solomon's reign was one of peace; and Christ our Lord is the Prince of Peace, "And of the increase of his government and of peace, there shall be no end."

VI. Solomon sat upon the literal throne of David in Jerusalem; but Christ, risen from the dead and seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High, is seated upon the Throne of David in heaven (Acts 2:30-31).

VII. Kings and rulers of all the world of Solomon's day honored him and brought presents to him. In Christ's kingdom, "The kings of the earth bring their glory into Christ's kingdom" (Revelation 21:24); and even in the manger at Bethlehem the kings of the earth brought unto Christ gifts of gold, and frankincense and myrrh.

Despite these considerations which make Solomon, in a sense, a type of Christ, there were far more contrasts. As Jesus himself said it, "Behold a greater than Solomon is here."

We believe that the above review of the situation will make it clear how this psalm can be both "of Solomon" and "of Christ."

That there are indeed the most positive Messianic prophecies here has been known for ages. "The ancient Jewish interpretation is indicated by the Targum rendition of the opening line, "O God, give the precepts of judgment to King Messiah."[2]

The whole nation of Israel knew of the promise to David of the "Great One" who would sit upon his throne and whose kingdom would never end; and it was in the full knowledge of that prophecy that Solomon composed these lines (that is, of course, if Solomon actually wrote it). "In this light, a psalm like this is most reasonably attributed to him."[3]

"Solomon put this psalm into the mouths of the people, probably very soon after he became king; it was a kind of church-prayer on behalf of the new reigning monarch. But the Psalm is none the less Messianic; and with perfect right the Church has made it the chief Psalm of the Festival of the Epiphany."[4]

"The commentaries of present-day Roman Catholic scholars (e.g. Heinrich Herkenne and Jean Cales) also assume a messianic significance for the psalm."[5]

All of the older commentators likewise accept the Messianic nature of this psalm, recognizing, at the same time, that by no stretch of imagination does the whole psalm apply to Christ.

Before looking at the text line by line, there is one other viewpoint regarding the authorship that must be mentioned. John Calvin, one of the giants of Biblical exegesis, attributed the authorship to David, identifying the Psalm as, "David's prayer on behalf of Solomon."[6] Matthew Henry accepted that viewpoint and further commented upon it. See under Psalms 72:20.

Psalms 72:1-4

PRAYER THAT THE KING MAY BE JUST AND COMPASSIONATE

"Give the king thy judgments, O God,

And thy righteousness unto the king's son.

He will judge thy people with righteousness,

And thy poor with justice.

The mountains shall bring peace to the people,

And the hills in righteousness.

He will judge the poor of the people,

He will save the children of the needy,

And will break in pieces the oppressor."

There is an intimation of Messiah's government in the repeated promises to regard the poor, to save the children of the needy, etc. The Beatitudes of Matthew 5 are a fulfillment of what is indicated here.

"And thy righteousness unto the king's son" (Psalms 72:1). "Solomon here speaks of himself not only as 'king,' but as 'the king's son,' thus appealing to the sentiment of respect for the hereditary nature of the kingship."[7]

"He will judge the people with righteousness" (Psalms 72:2). The words "He will" may be replaced by the marginal reading "Let him," and so on throughout the psalm where this expression occurs a number of times. If the Psalm was a prayer of David for Solomon, this would be most appropriate. "Righteousness always involves the reward of the good as well as the punishment of the wicked."[8]

"The mountains ... and the hills" (Psalms 72:3). "These are metaphors standing for the whole land of Israel."[9] The meaning of the verse is that peace and prosperity shall result from the righteousness of the entire nation.

"He will judge the poor ... save the children of the needy" (Psalms 72:4). Several of the prophets pointed out that Israel's rulers consistently ignored such requirements as these. "The unjust rulers and judges of Israel neglected this duty."[10] "They judge not the fatherless ... and the right of the needy do they not judge (Jeremiah 5:28)." Isaiah 1:23 and Zechariah 7:10 also bear witness to the same behavior.

Verse 5
THE IMMORTAL, PRE-EXISTENT; UNIVERSAL RULER

"They shall fear thee while the sun endureth,

And so long as the moon, throughout all generations.

He will come down like rain upon the mown grass,

As showers that water the earth.

In his days shall the righteous flourish,

And abundance of peace, till the moon be no more

He shall have dominion from sea to sea,

And from the River to the ends of the earth."

It appears to us that there is precious little in this paragraph that can intelligently be applied to Solomon or to any other except the Blessed Messiah.

"They shall fear ... while the earth endureth ... so long as the moon ... throughout all generations" (Psalms 72:5). Such a time-span as this is a reference to immortality. "Clearly, his immortality is implied in Psalms 72:5."[11]

"He will come down like rain ... like showers" (Psalms 72:6). Both the rain and the showers come down from the heavens; and Solomon certainly never did anything like that. "Not only will this Great One rule all nations, but his pre-existence seems to be assumed in Psalms 72:6."[12]

"In his days the righteous shall flourish ... abundance of peace" (Psalms 72:7). In a very limited and imperfect manner these words might be applied to the reign of Solomon. However his excessive taxation to support his hundreds of wives and concubines (a full thousand of them in all), his building of temples to their gods, the extravagant magnificence of his reign, and his expensive military establishment with some 40,000 horses, resulted finally in the rebellion against his successor and the rejection of the Davidic dynasty by the vast majority of the nation, ten of the twelve tribes going with Jeroboam I. All this prevents the application of Psalms 72:7 to Solomon, except in a very limited sense.

"Dominion from sea to sea ... from the River to the ends of the earth" (Psalms 72:8). It is true that Solomon ruled over all of the Mid-East from the River (Euphrates) to the Mediterranean Sea, but not "to the ends of the earth."

Furthermore, the expression "from sea to sea," actually refers to the whole planet earth. "The ancient idea was that the earth was set in the middle of a great ocean";[13] thus "from sea to sea" meant the whole earth. Zechariah applied the exact Words of this verse to the Dominion of Messiah (Zechariah 9:10), of which dominion alone are they truly descriptive.

Delitzsch summarized this paragraph by his declaration that, "The wishes expressed here are of wider compass (than Solomon's dominion); and Zechariah repeats them predictively with reference to the King Messiah (Zechariah 9:10)."[14]

Our own viewpoint is that the words of this paragraph were not only "predictive" when Zechariah repeated them. They are predictive here, referring not to Solomon at all but to Christ. Such a truth as this lends remarkable support to the viewpoint of Calvin and of Matthew Henry that these words here are David's prayer for Solomon.

Verse 9
THE EXTENT OF HIS DOMINION

"They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him;

And his enemies shall lick his dust.

The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall render tribute:

The kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.

Yea, all kings shall fall down before him;

All nations shall serve him.

For he will deliver the needy when he crieth,

And the poor that hath no helper."

"All his enemies shall lick his dust" (Psalms 72:9). It is very difficult to credit anyone except David with a remark like this.

"Kings of Tarshish ... the isles ... of Sheba and Seba" (Psalms 72:11). Through his marriages to the daughters of many kings, Solomon did indeed bring many rulers of the world into the periphery of his power.

"Tarshish" was a Phoenician colony on the south coast of Spain, and there is no evidence available to us that Solomon's dominion ever extended to the westernmost nation of Europe.

"Sheba and Seba" might well have been under Solomon's dominion. "Sheba was in southern Arabia and Seba was in Ethiopia."[15]

All of the places mentioned here, at one time or another, have paid homage to the Lord Jesus Christ.

"All kings shall fall down before him" (Psalms 72:11). Nothing like this ever happened either to Solomon or to Christ; but it will yet be fulfilled, as in Revelation 6:15-17.

"He will deliver the needy ... and the poor" (Psalms 72:12). Again, this note of special concern for the poor and needy is sounded in this psalm. We do not have much information about how Solomon's kingship conformed to this pattern; but certainly, that of Christ is truly prefigured here. He announced great blessings upon "the poor in spirit," and upon "the poor," and "the meek," "the persecuted," "the fatherless," and "the widows."

Verse 13
THE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND JUSTICE OF HIS REIGN

"He will have pity on the poor and needy,

And the souls of the needy he will save.

He will redeem their soul from oppression and violence;

And precious will their blood be in his sight:

And they shall live; and to him shall be given of the gold

of Sheba: and men shall pray for him continually;

They shall bless him all the day long.

There shall be abundance of grain 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."

"He will save ... he will redeem" (Psalms 72:13-14). In our opinion, these words simply do not belong in any treatise regarding King Solomon. The only way we can understand such terminology as this is to ascribe it to the prayer of David, at a time when he was almost on his death bed, anticipating the reign of his son Solomon, and applying the prophecies spoken to him by Nathan (2 Samuel 7) to Solomon, whom David mistakenly supposed would be that "everlasting king" of God's promise through Nathan.

Solomon never saved any souls, nor did he ever redeem anybody.

"And they shall live" (Psalms 72:15). The marginal reading here makes more sense, "He shall live," that is, the Christ shall live perpetually, and to him the gold of earth's remotest place shall be offered to him in worship.

"And men shall pray for him continually; and they shall bless him all the day long" (Psalms 72:15). This verse has been understood to deny the application of the passage to Christ, on the basic truth that Christ does not need anyone to pray for him. Of course, that truism is certainly a fact; but there is a sense in which men can and should pray dally "for Christ." "His subjects shall offer prayer for him continually, as Christians do when they pray, `Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.'"[16]

"Abundance of grain ... fruit ... like Lebanon ... flourish like grass" (Psalms 72:16). The psalmist is sure that in a kingdom where righteousness, justice, truth and compassion are in control that, not merely fertility but extraordinary fruitfulness would also be given to such a nation.

"Shall shake like Lebanon" (Psalms 72:16). There is hardly any way to be sure of exactly what this means; but the image is that of fruit trees so loaded with fruit that they make a dense forest like Lebanon.

Verse 17
A PROPHECY OF BLESSINGS IN CHRIST

"His name shall endure forever;

His name shall be continued as long as the sun:

And men shall be blessed in him;

All nations shall call him happy."

"His name shall endure forever ... shall be continued as long as the sun" (Psalms 72:17). We absolutely must see something more in promises like this than the mere fact of some man's getting his named mentioned in the history books, whether sacred or secular history. If something like that is all that is meant here, then the names Korah, Cain and Judas Iscariot have received exactly the same thing, along with the name of Solomon.

No! What is meant here is that the mighty Name of this Great One who is spoken of here shall be a vital and active force in the world throughout the full term of earth's existence, "as long as the sun." This could have no reference at all to any king, much less Solomon.

"And men shall be blessed in him" (Psalms 72:17). The only one who ever lived on earth "in whom" men can be blessed is Jesus Christ the Messiah. "All spiritual blessings in the heavenly places are in Christ (Ephesians 1:3)." That means, of course, that there are not any blessings "in Solomon." By no system of accommodation known to this writer can such a statement as this be understood of anyone who ever lived except the Lord Jesus Christ.

"All nations shall call him happy" (Psalms 72:17). This expression seems hardly appropriate as a reference to Christ; but the words all nations is just as inappropriate as a reference to Solomon; therefore, we shall allow it as a reference to Christ not fully understood by this writer.

This verse is the conclusion of the psalm. The next two verses constitute the doxology, and the final verse designates this psalm with Psalms 72 as the "prayers of David."

Verse 18
THE DOXOLOGY

"Blessed be Jehovah God, the God of Israel,

Who only doeth wondrous things:

And blessed be his glorious name forever;

And let the whole earth be filled with his glory.

Amen, and Amen."

Again, as at the end of Book I of the Psalter, we have a doxology, closed with a double Amen. These doxologies were doubtless added by the devout men who complied and organized the various divisions of the Psalms.

"God is here called `Jehovah Elohim, the God of Israel,' a variation from God's name in the doxology that closes Book I, because the Second Book contains none but Elohim Psalms."[17]

The last line of Psalms 72:19 is identical with Numbers 14:21:

"As I live, and as all the earth shall be filled with the glory of Jehovah" (Numbers 14:21).

Significantly, these words in the Book of Numbers were spoken by God himself, forming a part of the oath by which he swore that the generation who had participated in the exodus would never be allowed to enter Canaan.

From this, the deduction is mandatory that the earth's prospect of being filled eventually with the glory of God is just as certain as the fact of God's existence, both of which are appealed to in God's oath.

"The earth cannot otherwise be filled with the glory of God, than by men everywhere glorifying him, and in bowing down in adoration before God's Son. This doxology ends in the anticipation of that day. Amen, and Amen."[18]

Verse 20
ANOTHER INTERPRETATION OF PSALM 72

"The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended."

Most of the scholars treat this verse as if it is a notation added to Book II, but Henry understood it as a reference to the last two Psalms only. There is as much authority for one view as there is for the other. Since these words do not fit the whole of Book II, they must therefore be a reference to the last two Psalms.

"The foregoing Psalm (Psalms 71) was penned by David when he was old; and it seems so was this one (Psalms 72) also, since Solomon was now standing fair for the crown. Psalms 71 was David's prayer for himself; and this one (Psalms 72) was a prayer for his son and successor Solomon. And with these two prayers, (Psalms 71-72), "The prayers of David the son of Jesse were ended," just as we are told in Psalms 72:20.

After carefully studying the whole Psalm, we find full agreement with Henry's viewpoint. The inspired David, speaking "in the Spirit of God" is a far more likely author of the remarkable intimations of the Messiahship of Christ than was young Solomon.

We cannot profess any ability to solve the mystery of the Psalm's authorship; but we find it difficult indeed to set aside the words of Matthew Henry.

 


Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Psalms 72:1". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". "http://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/view.cgi?book=ps&chapter=072". Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.

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