Psalm #72

Right makes Might

This is the only psalm ascribed to Solomon; was it written for him or by him?  We don’t know.  But we do know something about the man himself from 1 Kings 1-11.   His first encounter with God is magnificent:

        The Lord appeared to Solomon at Gibeon in a dream at night. God said, “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”  Solomon responded, “You showed so much kindness to your servant my father David when he walked before you in truth, righteousness, and with a heart true to you. You’ve kept this great loyalty and kindness for him and have now given him a son to sit on his throne. And now, Lord my God, you have made me, your servant, king in my father David’s place. But I’m young and inexperienced. I know next to nothing. But I’m here, your servant…. Please give your servant a discerning mind in order to govern your people and to distinguish good from evil, because no one is able to govern this important people of yours without your help.”

Notice the humility in Solomon’s response to God; his wish is for wisdom, God adds riches and honour as well.  But Solomon’s high intentions do not last.

  • He builds a lavish palace and lives a lavish lifestyle (ch.4).
  • He conscripts his own citizens to carry out forced labour for his building programs (ch.9).
  • He ‘loves’ many women, most of them for strategic military and economic alliances (ch. 11).

Imagine then, Solomon coming to worship at the Temple he had built and hearing this psalm sung by the Temple choirs.  Was he embarrassed as he heard the words:

1Give the king your justice, O God,                                                        

      and your righteousness to a king’s son.                                              

2May he judge your people with righteousness,                 

      and your poor with justice….

4May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,                        

       give deliverance to the needy,                                               

       and crush the oppressor.  

Israel’s king is praised, not for his great power, but for his reign of justice and righteousness.  That is true wisdom.

This psalm is the king’s job description:

  • His authority comes from making decisions with faithfulness in relation to God and to his people (v.1-2).
  • The well-being of the land is an expression of God’s faithfulness and the outcome of the king’s wise rule (v.3,16-17).
  • Through such a king, Abraham’s blessing will spread to the nations (v.10,17).


Verse 3 describes ‘shalom’  which occurs when justice and righteousness are practiced.  One thinks of the picture in Leviticus of well-being in the land:

‘If you follow my statutes and keep my commandments and observe them faithfully, 4I will give you your rains in their season, and the land shall yield its produce, and the trees of the field shall yield their fruit. 5Your threshing shall overtake the vintage, and the vintage shall overtake the sowing; you shall eat your bread to the full, and live securely in your land. 6And I will grant peace in the land, and you shall lie down, and no one shall make you afraid; I will remove dangerous animals from the land, and no sword shall go through your land’  (Leviticus 26.3-6).

Rick Tobias writes: 


‘If Canada were to select an official national scripture, I would nominate Psalm 72.

Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley read Psalm 72 during his morning devotions as the fathers of Confederation met in 1864 to decide upon a name for our nation. Based on that Psalm, Tilley proposed that our nation be called “the Dominion of Canada”. Canadian leaders later chose the phrase “from sea to sea,” again from Psalm 72, and by proclamation of King George V in 1921, those words became part of our official coat of arms.

But that’s not why I would select it. The reason I would nominate Psalm 72 is that this is a good Psalm for a nation -- it speaks of justice, and it speaks particularly directly to those of us who have the nerve to call ourselves leaders in the land, whether political, religious, social or moral.

There is strong moral conviction in this prayer and the request: “Make me just.” Whoever wrote it understood that if Solomon was to become truly a magnificent world-class leader, he must be an advocate of the poor and for the poor. The prayer offers no comments about financial competency, no plea for management skills, no petition for competency either in diplomacy or war, no call for economic genius. Instead, there is simply the request that the king would be “just” – a powerful advocate for the poorest of the poor.   Psalm 72 recognizes that great leaders and their nations take care of their poor.’  [1]

Such kings rule humbly, with genuine compassion and care for the least of these. 

Perhaps the most obvious point is the disparity between this psalm’s portrayal of the king and the actual behaviour of the kings of Israel and Judah.  The same disparity is sometimes evident in the church.  That the church uses this psalm during Advent and Epiphany suggests that Christians see Jesus as fulfilling the role of this just king.          

To use the key word in Psalm 72, ‘right makes might’ (Eugene Peterson)!  The cruciform power of love, weak though it seems, is ultimately the greatest power in the world (1 Cor. 1.25; 2 Cor. 12.9).        

May our prayers for our leaders be vigorous and bold.


[1]  Rick Tobias was President and CEO of Yonge Street Mission in Toronto, and chaired the first Street Level Conference in 1994.This reflection is based on an address given at Street Level 2006. From March 29 to April 1, 2006 nearly 350 individuals, representing some 70 organizations from across Canada who are passionately engaged in finding solutions to poverty and homelessness, gathered in Ottawa to participate in Street Level 2006.