Day 9 – Stranger Love

Psalm 72:1-4

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. 

Psalm 72 is a coronation Psalm, likely read/sung/prayed at Solomon’s inauguration and at coronations of subsequent kings.  It is a prayer that asks God to endow the newly anointed political leader with justice (mishpat) and righteousness (zedekah), Hebrew terms that describe God’s desired state of affairs (mishpat) and being in full harmony with God’s will (zedekah).  As James Howell, pastor of Myers Park United Methodist Church in Charlotte, NC, observes: “the king is measured, not by hordes of chariots or the gold in the treasury, but by whether the cause of the poor was defended, whether the needy were delivered.”  1

The people pray for a ruler who will enact policies that will result in abundance for everyone–not just the few, and who will put into place protections for those who are vulnerable to abuse by those with power.  THIS is a ruler who shows (s)he possesses God’s justice and God’s righteousness.  Having this kind of political leader would indeed be like “refreshing showers that water the earth.”  Psalm 72:6

Questions For Reflection

In our opinion, who (besides Jesus) has come closest to embodying this kind of political leader?  What actions and/or policies did that person enact that match God’s justice and righteousness?

As citizens of a democracy that get to select our leaders, do you think we should use Psalm 72 to evaluate them as candidates?  Why or why not?

  1. James Howell’s commentary on Psalm 72
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4 comments

  1. I’m reluctant to mix religion and politics because there is so much baggage there. I don’t need my leaders to be Christians necessarily but to be decent people who care about the well-being of everyone. This psalm is probably a good guide for choosing that kind of leader. I do think President Obama did a lot of good through the affordable care act (at least in theory, if not in how it was implemented). Beyond that, I need to know more political history. This is honestly the first time I’ve cared so much about what goes on in government. I’m almost ashamed to admit that.

  2. As a starting point, yes, I think we could use Psalm 72 to evaluate leaders. But I think that when we look to some “great leader” to solve all our problems, two things happen: 1. it doesn’t work, and 2. it lulls us into passivity and inaction. It’s true that as Christians we look to Jesus for deliverance, but that’s different from looking to earthly leaders. In 1 Samuel, when the Israelites first decide that they want a king, God’s first response is to say that it is a sinful thing to desire a king to rule over you. When I try to think of a leader who truly embodies the qualities of Psalm 72, Eugene Debs comes to mind. He once said “I am not a labor leader; I do not want you to follow me or anyone else. If you are looking for a Moses to lead you out of this capitalist wilderness, you will stay right where you are. I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I led you in, someone else would lead you out. You must use your heads as well as your hands, and get yourself out of your present condition. As it is now, the capitalists use your heads and your hands.”

  3. I agree with Kyle that Psalm 72 is a good starting point for evaluating candidates. I believe many people were drawn to Bernie Sanders because he, unlike every other candidate, talked about addressing the struggles of the poor and the marginalized. In the same way, I think many people are hoping that Elizabeth Warren will run for higher office because of her strong stands for consumer protection (from Wall St.) and her boldness during the confirmation process for #45’s picks for Cabinet posts. I also believe that Psalm 72 can be used as an accountability tool–reminding existing leaders of what they are supposed to do. But first and foremost, it is a prayer, and praying for those in leadership is always appropriate. Yes, I pray for our president, and the content of my prayer is frequently, “O God, replace hearts of stone with hearts of flesh.”

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