We sometimes see Jesus’ mission as just personal salvation—a golden ticket away from a sinking ship. Christmas then becomes a celebration about the ticket going on sale for those who want it. In Psalm 72, Solomon shows us a Christmas vision that includes personal salvation, but is so much bigger than that.
Solomon wrote this psalm.1 Like many Old Testament texts about the king of Israel, it operates on two levels. First, Solomon writes a prayer for his own son, Rehoboam. That didn’t work out so well (see 1 Kgs 12; 2 Chr 10). But, on a deeper level, this is also a wish for what the real king of Israel should be like. We’ll focus on the second level in this article. The first verse captures Solomon’s plea, and the rest of the psalm is an elaboration on that wish.
Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness (Ps 72:1).
Solomon wants the king to embody justice or right judgment—the insight to do the right thing. We like that quality. There’s a reason why politicians run as so-called “outsiders” who are “untainted” by the Washington swamp (etc., etc.). In his 1976 presidential campaign, Jimmy Carter famously pledged “I’ll never lie to you!” We like to believe in people who claim they’ll do “the right thing,” who claim to be “good people” in contrast to the “bad” folks now in power.
Of course, we all have different ideas of what the “right thing” is! So, Solomon asks God to endow His king “with your righteousness.” God’s king is all about God’s values, God’s righteousness. But, what are His values? We might be quick to answer in terms of “moral codes,” but Solomon never mentions those at all. We’ll return to this soon.
Now we see a series of prayers. When God’s people looked forward to a good king (“the royal son”), what did God teach them He’d be like?
May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice (Ps 72:2).
He’ll judge His people “in righteousness,” which means He judges the right way, all the time. He makes sure justice is done. No courts, no trials, no deliberations, no mistakes. The state of Oklahoma just released a man who served 48 years in prison for a murder he didn’t commit.2 In contrast, the true king will judge God’s “afflicted ones with justice.”
Who are these “afflicted ones”? These are the “small people.” The hurting, the struggling, the people who are tired, at the end of themselves, without hope. This royal son—the king of the world to come—will vindicate everyone who is afflicted because of injustice (in any form). He’ll set things right—especially for the “forgotten people” of this world.
This is the first hint that Solomon’s vision of the king’s mission is bigger than individual salvation. He continues:
May the mountains bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness (Ps 72:3).
This isn’t a wish for some crude prosperity gospel, but a longing for a better time when the king fixes us and this world. The agricultural references are just a metaphor for “good times.” In 1984, President Ronald Reagan famously said it was “morning in America!”3 Well, here Solomon says “it’ll be morning in paradise when the king is here!”
What will happen when the morning comes? What will this “new day” look like? Rather than well-meaning moralism, Solomon describes a much more comprehensive renovation:
May he defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy; may he crush the oppressor (Ps 72:4).
Eternity will not involve sitting on clouds in heaven. Instead, Solomon prays for a future in which the king does justice on a renovated earth. What would this world look like if:
- The king defended the afflicted? If he was on the side of those who are hurting and have no advocate? No voice? No hope? No power? Nobody caring about them once they have their vote?
- The king rescued (cp. LXX) the children of the poor? A local elementary school just contacted our church asking if we would help stock a food pantry of sorts it was organizing for kids who didn’t have enough food at home. One day this problem will be over.
- The king crushed the oppressors? These are the folks who move the levers of power in oppressive, unholy directions—not just cartoon villains, but also the faceless drones who aid and abet unholy policies that have oppressive effects downstream. God will rip them down from their lofty perches! This was Mary’s prayer as an afflicted and hurting poor woman in a rural town—she wanted the Messiah to fix the injustice in this rotten world (Lk 1:52-55).
After prayers for this king’s reign to never end and to be like water to a parched land (Ps 72:5-7), Solomon shows us the breadth of this king’s reign:
May he rule from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth (Ps 72:8).
The realm will extend over the whole earth, “from sea to sea.” Solomon assembles the most exotic cast of characters his geographic frame of reference could conjure to stress this point. Nomads from the deserts, kings from Tarshish “and of distant shores,” and heads of state from Seba and Sheba (perhaps modern-day Yemen)—they will all come to Jerusalem to pledge allegiance to the true king. They’ll “lick the dust” and prostrate themselves before Him. They’ll bring tribute and presents. They’ll bow down and serve Him (Ps 72:9-11).
The New Testament writers often focus on salvation, on personal rescue from Satan (“save yourselves from this corrupt generation!” Acts 2:40). Solomon would surely agree, but in this psalm he takes a larger view. He doesn’t mention salvation at all. So, why will the nations come to the king? Why will people from exotic, faraway lands come to worship God’s royal son as the king of the world? What’s the hook? What’s the attraction? What’s the selling point?
The answer is surprising:
For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight (Ps 72:12-14).
The nations will come to the king because (“for”) He rescues the weak, the needy, and the afflicted. These are likely the same people under cover of three names. They are the lowly, the poor in spirit (Mt 5:3). Not just the “lower classes,” but more “the hurting classes”—the struggling, the “little people,” the working class, the oppressed.
The nations will come because this king rescues. Because He has pity. It isn’t salvation at the barrel of a gun, or salvation by escape from this world. It’s a salvation whose draw, whose hook, whose attraction is pity for the hurting, and rescue for the oppressed. In short, a king who promises to fix us and this world. This includes personal salvation, but is also so much more than that.
Why will the king do this? Because our lives matter to Him (“for precious is their blood in his sight,” Ps 72:14). Because He cares about us. Because He wants to help us. Because He loves us—especially when we don’t love Him back.
Near the end of the psalm, Solomon exclaims “Long may he live! … May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun,” (Ps 72:15, 17). He then writes this beautiful line:
Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed (Ps 72:17).
This is an echo of God’s promise to Abraham and His special descendant, so long ago (Gen 12:3; cp. Gal 3:16). God swore that Abraham would somehow be the channel for God’s blessing to the whole world. But, who is it referring to here?
Abraham is that channel to the world—through Jesus, His descendant (Mt 1:1; Gal 3:16). Christmas is indeed about individual salvation and rescue, but the Savior’s mission isn’t just to give us a ticket on a fast train to Georgia before this whole thing burns up. Solomon knew that. He knew that God’s true royal king would bless the nations of the world through the message He brought. A message about Himself, about rescue from prison, about liberation from Satan—the spiritual kidnapper.
When King Jesus rescues us, He gives us a place in the renovated world that’s coming. A world where justice will be done and things will be set right. Where the weak, the needy, and the afflicted will be defended, where the oppressed will see justice done, where the oppressors will be crushed and punished—all according to God’s definition of righteousness, not ours.
The third stanza of the song “O Holy Night!” reflects much of Solomon’s emphases:
Truly He taught us to love one another; His law is love and His gospel is peace. Chains shall He break, for the slave is our brother, And in His name all oppression shall cease. Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus raise we; Let all within us praise His holy name. Christ is the Lord! O praise His name forever! His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim! His pow’r and glory evermore proclaim!
Brotherly love. The good news of peace on earth. Broken chains. Oppression vanquished. Songs of grateful praise. It’s beautiful. Surprisingly, the song was written in 1847 by an atheist Frenchman. He wrote it as a favor to a friend who was a local priest. He did his background research by studying the Gospel of Luke.
I wonder if the author ever fully appreciated the beautiful truths he wrote about so movingly. It’s the same story Solomon knew, and the same one that faithful Christians still celebrate today. Christmas is the story of a Savior who has come to rescue and renovate us and our world, so that justice can be done on earth, so we can be with Him forever. And the Christmas message is that anyone who turns to God, through Christ, will be rescued and given a place in His family, and in the better tomorrow that’s coming.
1 Or, maybe not. The LXX subscription reads “To Solomon,” which leads some to speculate that David wrote the psalm for Solomon.
2 Jesus Jiminez, “Man Cleared of Murder After More Than 48 Years in Prison.” NY Times. 20 December 2023. https://www.nytimes.com/2023/12/20/us/glynn-simmons-exoneration-oklahom…