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Psalm 72:1-7, 18&19

Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness. 

May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice. May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness. May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor. May he endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations. May he be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth. 

In his days may the righteous flourish and prosperity abound till the moon is no more.

Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvelous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and amen.

I love movies. And if you know me, you know that particularly applies to the Marvel movies; but also to any big epic stories that are crafted on the silver screen – most recently this was true in the major Denis Villeneuve film adaptation of Frank Hurbert’s Dune. One of the things I love about movies are good trailers. Trailers that instill a hunger and desire to see the bigger story. Trailers create a sense of anticipation, a longing for something more. Good trailers create that without giving away too many details about the bigger story – without ‘spoiling’ it. Recently a good example of this, in addition to the hype and story of Dune, is the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home trailers. There is all sorts of speculation about what else might happen and who else might be in the story, and the trailers, while revealing some details, have only left us hungry for more.

A good preview does that.

I suggest to you, that Psalm 72 is a preview of a bigger story yet to come. Without getting too into the weeds on this, scholars debate whether Psalm 72 is a prayer or a prediction.[1] Is it written as an imperative – an injunction for the king to follow – or is it offered as a prophecy – a hoped for reality brought about by the king (or by the King of Kings)? Is it “Judge your people in righteousness!... Defend the afflicted!... Crush the oppressor!...” Or is it “He will judge your people in righteousness… He will defend the afflicted… He will crush the oppressor.”? Using the language of grammarians, is the mood imperative or the [imperfect] indicative? The ambiguity may be why the NIV editors have translated it with the subjunctive “may” – may he judge… may the mountains… Not because they didn’t want to force a decision, but because the best answer might be both.

Psalm 72 is a prayer and a prediction. It is an imperative and a promise.

This Song of Prayer starts with the superscription, “Of Solomon” and ends in verse 20 with the line, “This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse”. While it seems clear that the final line was added by a redactor at some point in the composition of the whole psalter (notice how Psalm 72 ends Book II of the psalter in most Bible publications); this final line isn’t an error or contradiction. Perhaps Solomon recorded a prayer his Father prayed over him, perhaps this prayer is offered in the tradition of David as the first in the line of Israel’s kingdom established forever. After all, God does tell David, “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father and he will be my son… Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” (cf. 2 Sam. 7:11b-16) The language between God and the king as between father and son (echoed in Psalm 72:1)– especially in this context of the promise of an “eternal kingdom” and in the place of David and his not yet even conceived son, Solomon – is covenant language. It is language of promise. And a promise of God is a sure thing. What God says he will do. In fact, when God says it, you can consider it done. Even if it hasn’t happened yet, it is fixed and finished in the movements of history as if it had, because it will, because God isn’t fickle; God is unchanging, he is immutable. His covenant promises – and thus the kingdom consequent of them – are sure.

And so, Psalm 72 is a command to the king of Israel to reflect the heart of God as he rules – and Psalm 72 is a covenant promise from God’s heart that one day his rule will reign supreme and ultimate. This Song of Prayer is an imperative to the earthly king to be a type for the eternal king, the antitype who is Jesus. Jesus is the true and better king; Jesus is the true Son of the Father (cf. Ps. 2:6-8; Mt. 3:17).

Psalm 72 is a prayer and a prediction because it reveals God’s covenant kingdom in its initial revelation and in its anticipated fulfillment. Psalm 72 is a prayer for the already/not yet of the kingdom of God. The kingdom of God is ‘already’ in that it is revealed and inaugurated by Jesus, and modeled by his disciples in the church as the chosen people of God; and the kingdom of God is ‘not yet’ in that it will be revealed in fulness at the return of Jesus, when every power and authority is brought under submission to him, when heaven and earth are united as one again, and the dwelling place of God is with humanity, when we will have no need of a temple for we will see God face to face (cf. Eph. 6:12; Col. 2:15; 1 Pt. 3:22; Rev. 21&22).

In ancient Israel the good government of the king was both a command he must follow, but also a revelation of the promise and provision of God for his ultimate king and kingdom to come. Likewise today, good government is supposed to be a rule and revelation of God’s kingdom, come and coming, in the world today. A place where people might see in shadow what will be revealed in reality in the age to come.

But let’s be clear: unlike the days of ancient Israel – where the promise was tied to a civil-religious authority and a place in the land – the revelatory power of good government and order to reveal the kingdom come and coming is not primarily in our political institutions. It is the church – the Holy Catholic Church; the church universal, throughout time and space, the true disciples of Jesus, born again to a living hope – that is the reflection of the kingdom promises to come.  And sure, in a small and limited way our political institutions should reflect the same as they work to ensure justice and equality for its citizens; but the kingdom of God is the place where justice and mercy meet; where God’s judgment and God’s grace collide in beautiful harmony and majesty; and that should be the sweet spot of the church.

In fact, this is exactly what Jesus teaches us to pray when we say, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come…” (Mt. 6:9-10a). I love the way John Calvin, a 16th century reformer of the church, understands this line and works out the definition of “kingdom.” In the first place, it is the more immediate reality of the reign of God in my, and your, heart by the Word and Spirit, saying that the kingdom commences for each of us at the “destruction of the old man, the denial of ourselves, that we may be renewed to another life.” The kingdom of God comes first in the hearts of the Church. 

And the kingdom is yet coming! The reign of God is fulfilled when he “overthrows his enemies, and compels them, with Satan their head, to yield a reluctant subjection to his authority, ‘till they all be made his footstool.’ (Heb. 10:13)”[2]

The Kingdom of God has come in the hearts and minds of those who believe; and is coming as we learn to take every thought captive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Likewise, the kingdom of God has come in the advent of Christ, and in the empty tomb of his victory over sin and death; and will come in fulness at his return. Until then, as people transformed and transforming, we live and work to reveal the prayer and the promise of his kingdom.

This is the beautiful task of the Church. This is the beautiful life together we get to model and enjoy as brothers and sisters. And yes, it is inadequate and incomplete; our holiness is full of holes; our shalom is often short lived.

But – and here we can again say with the Psalmist, “Praise be to the Lord God” – the promise of his coming is not contingent upon my, or your, or our, being worthy of it. The reality of the thing is not made true by its having a shadow; it has a shadow cast back through history because it is already true. And while we are living in the preview, we are waiting with a barely bridled anticipation for the true and better story to come, the fulfilment of the Kingdom of God. That’s why we say “Amen and amen.

Father God, I wait. Help me to wait with eagerness and anticipation. Help me to wait in such a way that reveals to the world just how you kingdom has come in my heart and is coming in my life; help me to wait in such a way that hungers for the fulfillment of that waiting in the consummation of your kingdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen!


[1] Cf. Geoffery Grogan, Psalms, The Two Horizons OT Commentary, 131-32.
[2] Calvin, Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, Baker Books 500th Anniversary Ed., 321