We have spent a lot of time trying to understand how the Jewish people understood the psalms and the prophets. Psalm 72 is an important psalm which requires us to look carefully at how the Hebrews interpreted the text.
The Jews understood these psalms in their original context, but also applied the psalms and the prophets to the days of the Messianic age. The Dead Sea Scrolls shows that this is the way the psalms and the prophets were used.
Notice this quotation from the Dead Sea Scrolls concerning Habakkuk 1:6: “For I am now about to raise up the Chaldeans, that brutal and reckless people.” This refers to the Kittim, who are swift and mighty in war, annihilating many people, [and …] in the authority of the Kittim and the wic[ked …] and have no faith in the laws of God. (1QpHab; 2.10-15)
This shows that this is how the Jewish people understood their sacred books. Even though Habakkuk specifically prophesied against the Chaldeans (the Babylonians), the Qumran community, who lived from the first century B.C. to the first century A.D., believed this was speaking about the Kittim, a common Jewish term for the Romans. The text not only had application to the days of Habakkuk and his circumstances, but also applied to the Jewish in their own day and time, with special emphasis on the Messianic age.
The scriptures show this method of interpretation as well. In dealing with the Pharisees in the first century, Jesus said: “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me'” (Mark 7:6). When we go back to Isaiah 29:13 we realize that Isaiah was not speaking about the Pharisees in the first century but was speaking to the sinfulness of his own time. But the Jewish people took those prophecies and applied the teachings to their own day and time.
As we come back to Psalm 72, we see that this psalm requires this time of understanding. Solomon is the author and is speaking about his own conditions. However, the Jewish people understood this text to be looking forward to the Messianic age.
Verse 1 reads: “O God, give your justice to the king and Your righteousness to the king’s son.” Compare Solomon’s words with the words of the Targum, an Aramaic translation of the scriptures which dates from the exile: “O God, give your just rulings to the King Messiah, and your righteousness to the son of King David.”
Therefore, as we read this psalm we want to consider its meaning at the time of Solomon as well as what the Messianic kingdom will be like.
Character of the Kingdom (1-4)
In the first four verses the essential character of the kingdom is described. The primary characteristic is righteousness and justice. The king will judge the people in righteousness. The fruit of this righteous judgment is peace to the people. This is exactly what Solomon prayed for at the beginning of his reign which the Lord found pleasing.
“Now, O Lord my God, You have made Your servant king in place of my father David, yet I am but a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Your servant is in the midst of Your people which You have chosen, a great people who are too many to be numbered or counted. So give Your servant an understanding heart to judge Your people to discern between good and evil. For who is able to judge this great people of Yours?” (1 Kings 3:7-9).
The Messiah would rule in righteousness, unlike Israel’s previous kings who acted in their own selfish interests. In this kingdom of righteous rule, peace would exist for the people.
Duration of the Kingdom (5-7)
Verses 5-7 describe the eternal nature of God’s kingdom. God’s throne will be established and remain forever. While the prayer is for the physical kingdom to exist forever, the fulfillment is found in the Messianic reign whose throne is established forever.
Expanse of the Kingdom (8-11)
Solomon then describes the vast expanse of God’s kingdom. The kingdom of God is described as universal. The kingdom is “from sea to sea and from the River to the ends of the earth.” His rule is so extensive that even the desert nomads bow and kings of Tarshish (Spain) send tribute.
Nature of the Kingdom (12-14)
The fourth characteristic of the Messianic kingdom is compassionate. The Messiah will deliver the need and the afflicted. He will have compassion on the poor and needy, even saving their lives. People who have been victimized by violence and suffered oppression will be rescued to love and serve the Messiah.
Blessing of the Kingdom (15-17)
Prosperity is the final characteristic of the kingdom of the Messiah. Blessings will come from the rule of Christ. Verse 17 recalls the original promise the Lord made to Abraham that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Here we see the Messianic tone of Psalm 72, “All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed” (NIV). The blessings of the Messiah are pointed out by Paul in the first chapter of Ephesians: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).
This ending seems to not only be for Psalm 72 but also for the second book of the Psalter. God alone does marvelous works and must be praised for those works. Particularly, this praise is in the hope of the future work of the Messiah.
This kingdom exists now. It is sad to see people think that this is a kingdom that has not arrived yet. The Messiah is Jesus and he restored the kingdom. >”Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire” (Hebrews 12:28). “I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation, kingdom, and perseverance in Jesus…” (Revelation 1:9).
Since we are part of this kingdom, we must open our eyes to the blessings we are enjoying in the kingdom. We are in the Messianic kingdom of righteousness and peace. We are in a kingdom extending compassion to each of us who have been hurt by the world and been hurt by sin. We can come to God for help and healing. This is a kingdom that will not end so it is our time to join the eternal reign of Christ to receive His many blessings.