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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 72

Introduction

A Psalm for Solomon.

The beauty of this psalm is unsurpassed. It belongs to the religious-civic sphere, and is a description of what the nation and the world will be when the ideal of the theocracy shall be fully realized in the future grand, assured, universal Christocracy. The language far outsteps all bounds of actual history, and portrays that golden age when Jehovah shall reign alone as king, and the willing people obey his laws. This was the Hebrew form of representing Messiah’s government. Their ideas of Messiah’s reign being Jehovistic, that which in the Old Testament is ascribed to Jehovah, in the New is often applied to Christ. The Jews themselves applied this psalm to King Messiah. The person speaking is a king, as in Psalms 2, 20, 21, , 45. The psalm presents a glorious anticipation of the millennium, as portrayed in the Prophets and the Apocalypse, wherein the earth should yield plentifully, (Psalms 72:16,) government be founded in the laws and judgment of God, and the “poor,” “needy,” “oppressed,” “helpless,” and “fatherless” should be “judged,” “delivered,” “saved,” “redeemed.” See Proverbs 25:5; Isaiah 11:1-5; Revelation 20:4. The kingdom of David had already largely realized the earlier promises, and the opening of Solomon’s reign was sublimely hopeful; but the completion of the theocratic idea was still future, and to be reached through the royal line of David. The full type idea thus acquired became the medium through which the kingly prophet foresaw that fuller glory of “great David’s greater Son.”

On the authorship of this psalm there is divided opinion, some assigning it to Solomon, others to David. The chief argument in favour of the former lies in the signification of lamed ( ל ) when prefixed to a proper name in the titles of the psalms. Usage has established a common law that in such cases it denotes authorship. According to this, the title of our psalm, לשׁלמה , ( lishlomoh,) should be translated of or by Solomon. On this law of usage alone rests the argument. But to this there are serious objections.

The law of usage referred to admits of at least one exception. In Psalms 88:0, title, two forms occur, לבני קרה and להימן , which, if we translate uniformly, “ of the sons of Korah” and “ of Heman,” we make an absurdity, for the psalm could not have had two authors; but if we do not translate uniformly we violate the rule referred to respecting the usage of lamed, and establish a clear exception. It cannot be urged that “the sons of Korah” is a family designation, and not, therefore, an analogous case, for it is not pretended that the same inscription does not denote authorship in the other ten Korahite psalms. De Wette insists that lamed, in the Korahite psalms, denotes authorship, though he says, “In strict propriety the title should have ascribed the psalm to one of the Korahites only.” Besides, Asaph, also, is a family name, running through many generations; yet the prefixed lamed stands in twelve Asaphic psalms, where the signification of authorship is not questioned. In the two examples, therefore, cited from Psalms 88:0, the claims to the sense of authorship are precisely equal; but as they cannot both be admitted, one of them must take the sense of to or for. This is what we claim for the title of Psalms 72:0. One of the American editors of Dr. Moll, ( Introd. to Lange’s Com. on Psalms,) says, “Lamed before the proper names [in the titles] does not always indicate strictly the authorship, but properly relationship and dependence.” Our English translators concede the same, by placing the optional reading “ of ” and “ for ” in the margin of the Korahite and Asaphic psalms. In agreement with the foregoing, the Septuagint, contrary to its usual sign of authorship, and in an age when Jewish (especially Alexandrian) writers were becoming critical, has, in Psalms 72:0, εις Σαλωμων , for or concerning Solomon, Vulgate, in Salomonem; and De Wette again says, “This psalm [72] can be referred to Solomon only as the subject.”

To the foregoing we must add the authority of the subscript, (Psalms 72:20,) in favor of Davidic authorship. It is objected to this, however, that Psalms 72:20 was added by the compiler of this second book of the Hebrew Psalter, (which ends with this psalm,) or by Ezra, (who gave to the Psalter its final revision,) as a subscript to the preceding books, to signify that in them were contained the collection of David’s psalms. But this hypothesis is against probability. The language is, “The תפלות ( tephilloth,) prayers of David, the son of Jesse, are at an end.” The plural form, ( tephilloth,) which occurs nowhere else, accords well enough with the hypothesis named, though it would be equally proper to refer it to the petitions of this psalm, as containing the burden of David’s heart in this his last act of public authority. But allowing the word to apply to all the foregoing Psalms (1-72,) it would equally include Psalms 72:0 as one of the “prayers” of David, and thus fix the authorship with him. Aside from this, it is well known that neither the Psalter nor any lesser collection of psalms bears the title of tephilloth. The word occurs five times, in the titles of Psalms 17, 86, 90, 102, 142, and in each instance applies only to the individual psalm. It occurs also in Habakkuk 3:1, as the title of the chapter, but is never used to designate any collection or plurality of psalms. Had the author of the subscript in question so intended, he would have used the more generic and suitable word tehilloth, praises, not tephilloth, prayers, One other psalm only bears the latter title in the first two books, (Psalms 17:0,) while two of David’s are found in the later books Psalms 86, 142. Besides, neither were all of the first two books written by David, nor are all the psalms of David contained in them. An entire group of Korahite psalms, seven in number, (besides one of Asaph, and four others evidently not of the Davidic period,) appear in the second book of the Psalter; while in the later books sixteen psalms bear his name, besides others, anonymous, which are clearly his. To all this it must be added, that it is assuming too much for the wisdom and maturity of Solomon to suppose, that at the date of his coronation he should have entertained such profound conceptions of the theocracy, the wisdom of government, and, above all, of Messiah’s reign, (of which the psalm is an unsurpassed typical prediction,) as is herein displayed. Nowhere else in the Bible are such profound subjective views of Messiah’s kingdom given to one so young as Solomon, (at this time eighteen, according to Calmet, and twenty, according to Dr. Hale,) and of whose previous spiritual development we have so little knowledge. This consideration alone is sufficient to settle the question against his authorship. A later hand would more likely have written, “David, the king of Israel,” or, “the sweet psalmist of Israel;” but, as Dr. A.B. Hyde remarks, “The naming of himself the ‘son of Jesse’ seems to be an effort to transmit these prayers as a family utterance for ever.” The hypothesis, therefore, that Psalms 72:20 was added by a later compiler as denoting that the psalms of Davidic authorship end there, is against probability and against fact. More probably, as we have stated, it was inserted by David’s own hand, to mark the psalm itself as his last production for public use after, or for the occasion of, the second anointing of Song of Solomon 1:0 Chronicles 28:29. David’s last effusion, (not a lyric,) (2 Samuel 23:1-7,) is the echo of the present psalm. His mind was filled with the conception of a model theocratic kingdom, such as he would have Solomon’s to be. The present psalm is, indeed, “proverb-like, and for the most part distichic and reflective,” (Delitzsch;) and in this, and the supposed want of the glowing feeling which was characteristic of David, (Hengstenberg,) it might seem to suit better the style of Solomon than of David; but it is in perfect harmony with the chastened wisdom and piety of David’s later life, now within a few months of its close. Nor is it unreasonable to suppose, with Jebb, that Solomon may have revised it after David’s death, and thus left upon it something of the impress of his own mind, although it is not in the style of the Song of Songs, nor of Psalms 45:0, nor of Ecclesiastes.

In general this psalm is a prayer for the righteousness, extent, and perpetuity of, historically, Solomon’s government; prophetically, of that of Messiah. Its contents may be thus divided: Psalms 72:1-7, a prayer for the righteousness and everlasting continuance of Solomon’s government; Psalms 72:8-11, for its universal extent; Psalms 72:12-15, the reasons for such extent, continuance, and honour of his reign; Psalms 72:16, an illustration of the perfect peace and protection of property which should obtain throughout the kingdom; Psalms 72:17, a repetition of the blessedness and continuance of his reign; Psalms 72:18-19, the doxology; Psalms 72:20, historic note.

Verse 1

1. Judgments… righteousness The latter the principle, the former the act or sentence, of justice. The one implies the discernment of the will of God, or wisdom to govern; the other, the executive energy to adjust the administration of government to that standard. This was partially fulfilled in the early part of Solomon’s reign, (see 1 Kings 3:28; 1 Kings 10:9,) but the state of society here described is realized fully only under King Messiah’s government, and is represented (Revelation 20:4) as belonging to the millennium: “I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them.”

The king… the king’s son The one a designation of office, the other of royal descent, and hence of hereditary right to reign.

Verse 3

3. Mountains shall bring peace The verb may be taken in the sense of to elevate, lift up, as a signal, and hence the ensigns of war upon the tops of the mountains shall give place to peace-signals and publishers of good tidings. See Isaiah 40:9; Isaiah 52:7-8; or, it may be taken in the sense of bring forth, and allude to the fact that cities and villages were generally built upon mountains or hills for better military defence, and here, naturally, would be the centres of war. But those, being now at peace, would bring peace to the nation. Anciently nations were composed of municipalities. Country life was little known.

Verse 4

4. Children of the needy The phrase specially signifies those who are born to poverty, and is an intensive advance in the sense of poor, in the former line of the verse. In the absolute monarchies of the East these were treated as though they had little claim to justice and protection a horrible sin in the sight of God! Jeremiah 5:28-29; Amos 4:1; Amos 8:4; Amos 8:6. Compare, under Messiah’s government, Matthew 5:3; Matthew 11:4-5

Verse 5

5. They shall fear thee On account of thy righteous judgments. See Revelation 15:4.

As long as the sun and moon endure Literally, With the sun and before the moon: a proverbial expression for stability and perpetuity, equal to Isaiah 51:6; Isaiah 54:10; Matthew 5:18.

Throughout all generations Literally, generation of generations. The repetition of the same word is a Hebraic form for suggesting the idea of uninterrupted continuance and boundless duration, (Ewald,) here applicable only in the prophetic sense to Messiah’s kingdom, as in Daniel 7:13-14; Psalms 33:11; Deuteronomy 3:15

Verse 6

6. He shall come down like rain Giving life to vegetation and beauty to the earth. See Deuteronomy 32:2. Elsewhere David uses the same figure, which fully applies only to Christ. 2 Samuel 23:4

Verse 7

7. Shall the righteous flourish The highest proof of a righteous government and of a prosperous people.

Moon endureth See Psalms 72:5

Verse 8

8. In the preceding verses are set forth the character and duration of Messiah’s kingdom; Psalms 72:8-11 chiefly describe the extent of his dominion. The words from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth, are nowhere used to describe Palestine, or the political dominion of David or Solomon. Outside of Palestine the Hebrews, at this period, were acquainted with no seas but the Mediterranean and Red Seas.

These are specifically named in bounding the Hebrew dominion. Thus, in Exodus 23:31, God says: “I will set thy bounds from the Red Sea, even unto the Sea of the Philistines, [Mediterranean,] and from the Desert [of Arabia] unto the River” [Euphrates]. These are definite geographical limits, and this extent of dominion was literally attained and enjoyed under both David and Solomon. But very different from this is the language of the text. “From the Red Sea to the Sea of the Philistines,” is not the same as “from sea to sea;” and “from the Desert [of Arabia] to the River [Euphrates,]” bears no comparison with the all-comprehensive language, “from the River [Euphrates] to the ends of the earth.” No allowance for the oriental imagination can make them equal, or interpret the latter as less than universal, beginning, as it does, at the utmost limit of Solomon’s dominion, and carrying that of Messiah “to the ends of the earth.” And to this sense the connexion agrees. Psalms 72:9-11; Psalms 72:15. These words of the psalmist are quoted (Zechariah 9:10) in a passage confessedly Messianic, to describe the extent of the dominion of “Zion’s king.”

Verse 9

9. Wilderness Of Arabia, as in Psalms 74:14. The Arabian tribes, from immemorial ages, have been a wild, independent, and unconquerable people, and their willing submission is here a notable feature.

Verse 10

10. Tarshish Its location is not known, but is supposed to be the same as Tartessus, a colony and trading point of the Phoenicians, situated in the south of Spain, the most distant point west of Palestine known to the ancients.

The isles The countries lying beyond the sea with regard to Palestine, particularly the countries bordering the Mediterranean on the north.

Sheba Same as Arabia Felix, or Yemen, on the southern coast of Arabia. The Septuagint reads, “The kings of the Arabians.”

Seba Ethiopia, strictly the old and rich kingdom of Meroe. If the description of Psalms 72:8, “From the river to the ends of the earth,” is to be understood of all the world lying east of the Euphrates, then “Tartessus” and “the isles” may represent all nations west of Palestine and the “wilderness,” (Arabia,)

(Psalms 72:9,) as “Sheba” and “Seba” may those lying south and south-west, the whole constituting a description as comprehensive of the whole world as the Hebrew knowledge of geography could poetically give.

Verse 11

11. All kings… all nations This is a summing up of all that has been said, and clearly fixes the world-dominion of the “king” here prophetically extolled.

Verse 12

12. For Again in this and the two following verses the reasons are assigned for this majesty and dominion. (See Psalms 72:2-4.) “He has merited such submission by the exercise of every royal virtue, by the justice and the mercy of his sway. The majesty of righteousness enthroned in his person compels all to bow before him.” Perowne.

And him that hath no helper Phillips reads, “ When he has no helper,” giving vauv ( ו ) the adverbial sense.

Verse 14

14. Deceit and violence “Under the terms craft and violence the psalmist comprehends all kinds of misdealing; for a man in doing harm is either a lion or a fox: for some rage with open force, and others creep to misdealing insidiously and by stealthy arts.” Calvin.

Precious shall their blood be How true of the reign of Christ, our king and avenger! See Psalms 116:15. He will requite innocent blood. Matthew 23:34-36; Revelation 18:20; Revelation 18:24; Revelation 19:2. Christ is identified with his saints in joy or suffering. Matthew 10:40; Acts 9:4-5

Verse 15

15. And he shall live “Live,” here, should be referred to the king, not to the poor, as some suppose. “Let the king live!” (of which the English “ God save the king!” is no translation,) was the common salutation to kings. See 1 Samuel 10:24; 2 Samuel 16:16; Daniel 2:4; Daniel 3:9, et al. Here, also, the optative form of the verb may be adopted, “and may he live,” instead of, “and he shall live.”

The gold of Sheba The “gifts” of Sheba have already been mentioned in verge 10. Why is gold here mentioned as coming from thence? We know from Scripture (Genesis 2:11-12) and from ancient authorities that Arabia, in early times, produced gold. which the kingdom of Sheba enjoyed in great abundance. 1 Kings 10:1-2; 1 Kings 10:10. The mention of “Sheba” instead of Ophir, as a place of gold, is a strong internal indication that this psalm was written by David, not by Solomon, in whose reign the chief receipts of gold were from the latter place. 1 Kings 9:26-28

Verse 16

16. There shall be a handful of corn Hebrew, There shall be a diffusion, or superabundance, of corn, etc., deriving פסה , translated handful, from פסס , to diffuse, (as Gesenius, Furst,) which is more in accordance with the connexion.

Upon the top of the mountains Dr. Moll translates, Even to the top of the mountains, as if the allusion were to the terracing, which should extend to the summit. The mountains of Palestine were terraced for more perfect tillage, and, viewed from the summit, they presented an almost unbroken forest of grain fields and vineyards. The “mountains” are here specified, instead of the plains, perhaps either because the Israelites were forced to occupy chiefly the mountainous districts, being unable to expel the inhabitants of the great plains, who fought with war-chariots, (see Joshua 17:16; Judges 1:19; Judges 1:34,) or, because the mountains were of more difficult tillage, and more exposed to the depredations of wild beasts and the casualties of the season, especially the want of moisture. But even here should be plenty and thrift under the vigorous reign of this theocratic king.

The fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon Shall wave in the wind like the cedars of Lebanon.

They of the city shall flourish The population shall spring up as grass. Thus the two great elements of national strength, a flourishing population and bountiful subsistence, should be realized. See Psalms 72:3. But this external prosperity would spring from the righteousness of the people responsive to that of the government.

Verse 17

17. His name shall endure Shall live, as in Psalms 72:15. The verb takes the form of prayer, “may he live,” etc.

His name shall be continued The verb here translated “continued,” has the sense of sprout, increase, growth, as if his name should be reproduced, or propagated, in successive generations, as the name of the father in the son. This is the idea given in the margin of our English Bibles. The Jewish rabbins took it as a proper name for Messiah,” His name is Yinnon before the sun,” Yinnon, ( he shall propagate,) being the rabbinical name for Messiah. See Perowne. But the idea is that of continuance. The verb occur’s nowhere else, but the noun always means progeny, offspring. Dr. Pusey renders it, “His name shall propagate, gaining, generation after generation, a flesh accession of offspring.”

And men shall be blessed in him Probably, in the sense of the covenant, (Genesis 22:18; Genesis 26:4,) that is, in Christ, as being the cause of blessing. But another form of blessing in or by any one is that of taking him as a model, or standard, by which to measure a wished-for blessing upon another, as Genesis 48:20, “God make thee as Ephraim,” etc. The former is undoubtedly the sense here.

Verses 18-19

18, 19. Blessed be the Lord This doxology, which closes the second book of the Hebrew Psalter, is more full and rich than that which closes the first book, (Psalms 41:13,) or, indeed, any other, befitting the solemnity and triumph of David’s closing life as king, and as “the sweet psalmist of Israel.”

Verse 20

20. Prayers of David… ended For the import of this verse see introductory note. The psalmist has given his ideal of a theocratic king, partially realized in Solomon’s reign, but to be fully so only in that of Messiah.

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Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Psalms 72". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/psalms-72.html. 1874-1909.