Christmas Psalms: Psalm 72

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to the royal son!
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice!
Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness!
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!

–Psalm 72:1-4 (ESV)

In the aftermath of the tragic school shooting in Newtown, CT, last Friday, the variety of emotions and opinions expressed has been astounding.  Facebookers and newscasters alike are demanding everything from better psychiatric care to tougher gun control.  Reactions have varied from abounding compassion to unrestrained outrage.

Amidst all of the chaos, one word rises above all the others: “Why?”  What could motivate a human being to kill twenty young children who had done nothing to hurt him?  How could a good God allow such an atrocious act?

Psalm 72 happens to be the subject of the next installment in this “Christmas Psalms” series.  While it’s surpassingly appropriate for Christmas, Psalm 72 can also impart Scriptural clarity to the perplexing muddle surrounding this tragic story.

From its inscription we learn that Psalm 72 is “Of Solomon,” which, according to the ESV Study Bible, could mean that it was composed either by or about Solomon.  In either case, this is a royal psalm which describes the glorious rule of the Lord’s anointed ruler while foreshadowing the arrival of the ultimate Son of David—Jesus Christ.

One important thing Psalm 72 shows us is that Christ’s kingdom is not limited to the people of Israel.  “May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!…May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him!” (vv. 8, 11).  Jesus’s coming is good news for the entire world, because in his days “the righteous [will] flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more!” (v. 7).  It’s not hard to hear echoes of the angels’ chorus in Luke 2: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

Yet these idyllic promises seem to clash horribly with the events we see in the world every day.  As Jim described the state of the world in his meditation on Psalm 9, “We look around and see injustice, hate, and oppression.  We look inside and see idolatry, pride, and greed.  And in despair, we bow our heads.  There’s no hope for salvation anywhere in the human race.  There’s no hope for ultimate peace or goodwill anywhere on this earth.”

In light of the Newtown shooting, which transpired more than a week after Jim wrote these words, Psalm 72 seems even more distant:

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!  (v. 4)

For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight.  (vv. 12-14)

“Why,” arises the cry, “did God allow this to happen?  Where was he when those twenty innocent children were brutally murdered?”

The problem lies not with God, but within man’s own heart.  Psalm 14 provides a grave description of our true nature: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’  They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.”  The Bible presents us with a terrible truth, as hard as it may be to receive: The fundamental reason for Adam Lanza’s senseless rampage is present in all of our hearts.  It was present even in the hearts of the unoffending victims of his attack.  It’s called sin.  And sin leads to death—not just for the murderer and those he murdered, but for the entire human race.

But at this point, we must stop—Psalm 72 begs to be read again with new eyes.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the children of the needy,
and crush the oppressor!

For he delivers the needy when he calls,
the poor and him who has no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life,
and precious is their blood in his sight.

In his abounding love and mercy, Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah, defends the cause of the poor in spirit.  He gives ultimate deliverance to the children of the needy by crushing the real oppressor—Satan.  He delivers our needy souls from their bondage to sin.  He has pity on the all-too-weak human race, and saves his chosen ones from the power of death.  From oppression and violence he redeems our lives!  Precious is our blood in his sight—so precious that he sheds his own to ransom it!  This is the message of the Christmas season, which shines brightly as the sole beacon of hope in this dark world.

Readers, are you trusting in this Messiah, this Son of David, this Jesus Christ, for your salvation?  If not, though you may not suffer the agony of brutal murder, you will eventually suffer the far greater agony of eternal damnation—eternal separation from God, eternal punishment for your sins.  This is not exaggeration.  It is not hyperbole.   It is the truth of the Bible.  The prophet Malachi described it this way:

For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble. The day that is coming shall set them ablaze, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who fear my name, the sun of righteousness shall rise with healing in its wings. You shall go out leaping like calves from the stall. And you shall tread down the wicked, for they will be ashes under the soles of your feet, on the day when I act, says the LORD of hosts.

–Malachi 4:1-3

And who is this Sun of Righteousness but Jesus Christ, the one who will be worshiped “while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations” (Ps. 72:5)!  Those who humble themselves before this mighty God will surely be redeemed from sin and death.  Faced with the promise of eternal life in God’s presence, the violence and oppression we must endure on this earth begin to seem light and momentary.  Even the children among God’s elect who died in Newtown are now enjoying an everlasting life infinitely better than anything they could have had on this earth.  Psalm 72 is completely correct—the Lord has redeemed their lives from oppression and violence.  Fear God and take refuge in the work of Jesus Christ, so that you too may “be blessed in him”!

But you, my fellow Christians!  I urge you not to sit back in your chair and absently nod as you read this familiar gospel message; Psalm 72 calls you to action as well.  How will the desert tribes, the kings of Tarshish and of the coastlands, the rulers of Sheba and Seba, and the peoples of all the nations come to know Jesus Christ?  It is your duty and mine to proclaim his gospel to the ends of the earth!  “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns’” (Isaiah 52:7).  Make no mistake, it is the Lord who changes hearts and grants eternal life.  Yet he calls all of us to be his ambassadors to a despairing world.

Whatever may come along with it, the Christmas season offers an unmatched opportunity to share the good news of salvation with our friends and family.  The Newtown tragedy has multiplied the need for this gospel sevenfold.  Might God, through your diligent service to him, save twenty children you know from an eternal fate worse than that of these victims?  Might he use your words to bring even one soul to salvation?  May it be so!

Because we know that our God is sovereign, we can be sure that Christ’s name will endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun.  People will be blessed in him; in fact, all nations will call him blessed.  At the final judgment, oppression and violence will be overturned, and, as Isaac Watts wrote in his paraphrase of Psalm 72:

Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Does his successive journeys run,
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.

Until then, the solution to this world’s problems can never be found in heavier government involvement, readier psychological care, or tougher restrictions.  Our only hope is focused on a Child who was born in a stable about two thousand years ago—one perfectly innocent Child who would die the most excruciating death in history, and rise to life again, to save His people from their sins.

Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may the whole earth be filled with his glory!
Amen and Amen! (Psalm 72:18-20)


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