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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable

Psalms 72

Verses 1-4

This prayer for the ability to rule justly and righteously is similar to Solomon’s request for wisdom, which he voiced at the beginning of his reign (1 Kings 3:9). His references to the mountains and hills are probably metaphorical allusions to his government (cf. Psalms 30:7; Isaiah 2:2; Isaiah 41:15; Jeremiah 51:25; Daniel 2:35; Daniel 2:44; Revelation 17:9). Psalms 72:4 describes basic justice.

Verses 1-7

1. A plea for ability to rule well 72:1-7

Verses 1-20

Psalms 72

This royal psalm is one of two psalms that attribute authorship to Solomon in the superscription (cf. Psalms 127). It describes his reign but anticipates the rule of his successor, Jesus Christ, on earth in the future. [Note: Chisholm, "A Theology . . .," p. 270.] The psalmist prayed for the prosperity of the Lord’s anointed, ultimately Israel’s Messiah. Isaac Watts wrote the hymn "Jesus Shall Reign" after meditating on this psalm. [Note: Kidner, p. 253.]

"The psalm is quoted nowhere in the New Testament as referring to Jesus, but certainly it describes the elements that will make up the promised kingdom when Jesus returns." [Note: Wiersbe, The . . . Wisdom . . ., p. 219.]

Solomon wrote of the blessings that God bestows through His anointed ruler. Because the Lord had appointed the king and because he ruled righteously, Solomon expected his reign to be far-reaching. He asked God to bless his reign with peace and prosperity because he protects the oppressed.

"The psalm begins with a prayer for the messianic kingship of David’s dynasty (Psalms 72:1-2) and ends on an ascription of praise to the universal kingship of the Lord (Psalms 72:18-19). The petition alternates between a prayer for the king, a prayer for the prosperity and justice associated with the rule, and a prayer for the extent of the rule." [Note: VanGemeren, p. 469.]

Verses 5-7

In Psalms 72:5, the antecedent of "them" in the NASB is "the oppressed" of Psalms 72:4, and "Thee" refers to God. In the NIV the translators, following the Septuagint, felt that the king was the subject of the whole verse. The Hebrew text favors the NASB rendering. In Psalms 72:6-7, the king is the subject.

The effects of a just and righteous king, the type of person Solomon asked God to make him, are as beneficial to his people as rain and peace are to the landscape.

"It is the other side of kingship to the ’rod of iron’ of Psalms 2:9; yet the one is the true complement of the other, as Psalms 72:4 has shown already." [Note: Kidner, p. 255.]

Verses 8-11

It was not a sign of egotism that Solomon requested a universal dominion, as Psalms 72:12-14 make clear (cf. 1 Chronicles 4:10). The "river" is the Euphrates, the most significant river in terms of the land promises God gave to Abraham and his descendants. "Tarshish" probably refers to Tartessus in southwest Spain, "Sheba" to modern Yemen in southwestern Arabia, and "Seba" to upper (southern) Egypt, which is now Sudan.

"Extension, not limit, is the idea conveyed. The world belongs to God: may he confer on His representative a world-wide dominion! a hope to be realized only in the universal kingdom of Christ." [Note: Kirkpatrick, p. 420.]

Verses 8-14

2. A plea for wide influence 72:8-14

Verses 12-14

Solomon wanted a wide-ranging kingdom so he might establish justice and righteousness in the whole earth. Then multitudes of people would benefit in the ways he described in these verses.

Verses 15-16

In return for his beneficent rule, the king would receive the blessing of his people. They would express their gratitude by bringing him wealth (cf. 1 Kings 10:10) and by praying for him. As a result of his good influence, his lands would enjoy prosperity, which Solomon compared to abundant crops, favored trees, and flourishing citizens.

"This verse [16], and the Psalm as a whole, shows that what we call the ’moral realm’ and the ’realm of nature’ form one indivisible whole to the Israelites. A community which lives according to righteousness enjoys not only internal harmony, but also prosperity in field and flock." [Note: A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, p. 525.]

Verses 15-20

3. The consequences of a wide reign of justice 72:15-20

Verse 17

Such a king would enjoy lasting praise, not just the appreciation of the generation he served (cf. Genesis 12:2-3; Revelation 21:24).

Verses 18-19

Behind the earthly king, Solomon saw the Lord God. If praise came to Solomon, even more credit should go to the God of Israel for enabling the king to exercise such a marvelous reign. Solomon acknowledged God’s sovereignty by appealing to Him for the personal equipment he needed to rule justly (Psalms 72:1-11). He also did so by attributing blessing to the Lord here at the end of the psalm.

This closing benediction is a doxology similar to the one that ended Book 1 of the Psalter (Psalms 41:13). Probably the editors of the collection of psalms placed Psalms 72 here because of this doxology and because the whole theme of this psalm is so positive, optimistic, and God-honoring.

Verse 20

This verse was probably an editorial addition, rather than a part of Psalms 72, in view of what it says. At least 18 psalms that follow this one were David’s (Psalms 86; Psalms 101; Psalms 103; Psalms 108-110; Psalms 122; Psalms 124; Psalms 131; Psalms 133; Psalms , 138-145). Consequently this verse may have ended an earlier edition of the Psalms rather than the present one. However, this verse also separates the preceding psalms associated with David from those of Asaph that follow immediately (Psalms 73-83). Some scholars believe this verse refers to all the Davidic psalms in the first two Books, [Note: E.g., Delitzsch, 1:22.] but others believe it refers only to his psalms in Book Two. [Note: E.g., Michael D. Goulder, The Prayers of David (Psalms 51-72), p. 24] Interestingly, the word "prayers" is a synonym for "psalms" as used here. Prayers and praises are the two most characteristic marks of the Psalter.

The theme of Psalms 72 is God’s just and righteous rule over the earth. Solomon prayed that God might work through him and his administration to bring such a rule to pass. God answered Solomon’s petitions for the most part. However, because Solomon proved unfaithful to God, his reign was not as great a blessing as it might have been. When Solomon’s successor, Jesus Christ, returns to earth and establishes His reign, the conditions Solomon requested will find perfect fulfillment. [Note: See Walter Kaiser, "Psalms 72 : An Historical and Messianic Current Example of Antiochene Hermemeutical Theoria," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 52:2 (June 2009):257-70.] For us, Solomon’s petitions constitute a model of what the godly should desire-and pray for-regarding God’s just rule on the earth (cf. Matthew 6:10).

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Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Psalms 72". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/psalms-72.html. 2012.