For my weekly quiet time this week, I will blog about Psalm 72 and its interpreters. I have four items.
1. Peake's Commentary on the Bible's treatment of Psalm 72 intrigued me. It states:
king is to be just, beneficent, renowned. But he is in no sense
superhuman. On the contrary, in 15 we are told that men will pray for
him constantly. But in 5-11 another view presents itself. Not only is
he to rule all nations, but his pre-existence, as some have thought,
seems to be assumed in 6, and clearly his immortality is implied in 5.
The insertion breaks the connection between 4 and 12. Hence it is now
generally admitted that 5-11 is, at least in part, a later addition..The
passage inserted (5-11) assumes a Messianic doctrine of very late
Psalm 72 is about a king of Israel, but which king
of Israel? Is Psalm 72 a Psalm by David about his hopes and
predictions concerning the reign of his successor, Solomon? Is Psalm 72
about any king of Israel, as the nation expressed its hopes regarding a
new king----that his reign would bring peace, prosperity, and respect
for Israel from the nations? Is Psalm 72 about the Messiah, as many
Jewish interpreters have maintained, and as a number of Christians have
held in applying Psalm 72 to Jesus Christ?
Unlike Peake's Commentary,
I don't think that Psalm 72:15's statement that prayer is made for the
king continually has any bearing on whether the king is human or
super-human. Granted, a human is probably more dependent on God
than is one who is super-human, but people can still pray for and root
for the success of a super-human, or one who is superior to humanity.
After all, is not "Thy Kingdom come" a part of the Lord's prayer? God
is superior to us and is able to bring his kingdom anytime, and yet
Christians pray for that kingdom to come. Why, similarly, couldn't
Israelites pray for a super-human king?
In a sense, the king of Israel was believed to be super-human. See here
for my post on Psalm 45, in which I discuss that very issue. The king
was thought to have a special relationship with God and even divine
characteristics, such as a special knowledge. That was not the only
belief about kings in Israel, however, for the Deuteronomistic School
tended to regard kings as mere human beings, who could and did make
mistakes, some of them fatal to the nation. But Psalm 72 could hold
that the king of Israel was super-human, without being an exilic or
post-exilic statement about a coming Messiah.
But Peake's Commentary
believes that Psalm 72 (or, more accurately, what the commentary
considers to be a Messianic addition to Psalm 72) is taking the king's
super-human status another step: that Psalm 72 is saying that the king
existed prior to his human birth and will live forever. To evaluate
that claim, let's look at vv 5-11 in the KJV:
5They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.
For Peake's Commentary,
this verse is saying that the king himself will live forever, meaning
that it concerns a super-human Messiah. Those who think that the verse
is not about a super-human Messiah but rather a pre-exilic king of
Israel, however, maintain that the verse concerns the length of the
Davidic dynasty, not an individual king (see II Samuel 7:16).
there are Christians who have argued that Psalm 72:5 actually affirms
the Messiah's pre-existence, for the second half of the verse can be
translated as "and before the moon, generation to generation." For
these interpreters, this means that the Messiah existed before the
creation of the moon. Detractors, by contrast, maintain that "before"
in Psalm 72:5 does not mean chronologically before but rather "before"
in the sense of being "in the presence of" the moon.
6He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.
I do not know what Peake's Commentary has in mind in citing this as a verse that assumes the king's pre-existence. Perhaps Peake's Commentary means that, according to v 6, the Messiah was in heaven and came down to earth, like rain. An
alternative interpretation, however, says that v 6 is suggesting that
the king's reign will bring refreshing relief to the poor and natural
prosperity to the land, as rain refreshes and enlivens the earth. The king of Israel was expected to defend the poor and to bring natural prosperity to the land.
7In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.
8He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.
9They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.
10The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.
11Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.
who believe that these verses are about a super-human Messiah point out
that vv 8-11 affirm that the king's reign will be worldwide, which was
not the case with any Davidic monarch thus far. Detractors retort that
this sort of hyperbole or hope is present in other nations' descriptions
of their kings (i.e., Egypt). There may have been a hope that the king
would rule the world, or a belief that the king technically did
rule the world (geopolitical realities notwithstanding) because he was
the earthly representative of the deity, who himself ruled the world.
See my post on Psalm 2.
Those who believe that Psalm 72 concerns Solomon will point out that
some of the nations mentioned in v 10, such as Tarshish and Sheba, gave
gifts to Solomon (I Kings 10; II Chronicles 9:21). (This is unclear in
the case of Tarshish, for Tarshish-ships were a type of ship, not
necessarily ships from Tarshish. Solomon could have had Tarshish-ships
that brought him riches, without those ships being sent from Tarshish.)
72:3 states: "The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the
little hills, by righteousness." What does this mean? One idea is that
the king, by being righteous (i.e., defending the poor), will influence
God to bring peace and/or natural prosperity to the land of Israel
(called the mountains). Some interpreters maintain that the specific
reference to mountains is significant, however, for they believe that
the passage is saying that peace will not only exist in the protected
cities, but also in the mountains, where bandits tend to roam.
The Orthodox Jewish Artscroll commentary regards the mountains as
metaphorical for the nations, who make peace with Israel after they
recognize her righteousness.
3. Psalm 72:17 states: "His name
shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun:
and [men] shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed."
Psalm 72:17 associates the king with blessing, which recalls God's
promise that the nations would bless themselves in Abraham and Abraham's
seed (Genesis 22:18; 26:4). Many commentaries that I read
asserted that the king is the means for the fulfillment of God's promise
to Abraham and Abraham's seed----that it is through the king that the
nations will receive blessing, or that Israel will become so prosperous
that the nations will bless themselves in reference to Israel. John Van
Seters, however, argues the opposite: that what we see in Genesis is a
democratization of the role of the king, as Israel was granted the
king's role so that she could find meaning in exile, a time when she
lacked a king.
There is debate about what the hithpael for b-r-k
means. Does it mean that the nations will receive blessings through
the king of Israel or Abraham's seed, as if Israel has a mission of
benevolence to the world, or the nations can bring divine blessing on
themselves by being nice to God's people (see here)?
Or does it mean that the nations will look at Israel's prosperity and
wish that they would be like her in terms of prospering, the sort of
thing that we see in Genesis 48:20 (may God make you like Ephraim and
Manasseh)? In Deuteronomy 29:18, the hithpael of b-r-k refers
to a blessing that a sinful Israelite might pronounce upon himself,
notwithstanding his wickedness, and that appears to go with the latter
view. Still, I cannot rule out the former view. In any case, I'd like
to think that God's blessing of Israel will bring blessing to the other
nations as well.
4. Psalm 72:20 states: "The prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended." But
there are Psalms of David that appear after Psalm 72 (i.e., Psalms 86,
101, 103). How, then, could Psalm 72:20 says that David's prayers are
A modern scholarly response is that Psalm 72:20 reflects a stage of the Book of Psalms at which David's Psalms did end
with Psalm 72. I should note John MacArthur's point that the Psalms
that come next (Psalms 73-83) are by Asaph and not David. Others have proposed different solutions, however. One solution is that the word translated as "are ended", kalu,
means something different. It could mean "fulfilled" (Ezra 1:1), in
which case Psalm 72:20 is saying that David's prayers will be fulfilled
when Solomon or a Messiah rules the world in peace and righteousness. According to John Gill, this was the view of Abraham Ibn Ezra and Rabbi Joseph Kimchi. The word could mean "yearns" (Psalm 84:3), in which case Psalm 72:20 is saying that David yearns for that time of peace.
Jewish interpretation is that Psalm 72:20 is simply indicating that
Psalm 72 was David's very last Psalm, and that David composed it when he
was old and Solomon was about to take his place; Psalm 72, in this scenario, is David's expression of hope about what the reign of his son Solomon will be like.