May our Leaders Govern with Justice & Compassion

Psalm 72 is a prayer for the king, and it is a prayer for justice and compassion within the nation.  Psalm 72 is a prayer for the leader of the nation to govern the nation with justice and compassion.  It begins: “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.” 

Verses 12-14 add, “For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have 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.”

There is no question in this psalm that the leader of a nation only leads the nation well when he or she governs with integrity while pursuing justice and compassion for all the people of the land (“liberty and justice for all”).

Commentating on this psalm, Kenneth Way remarks, “The Davidic king must express godly character through social justice.  He is commissioned here to defend the poor, deliver the needy, and crush the oppressor; to have pity on the weak and needy; and to value life/blood and redeem people from oppression and violence.  All of these royal responsibilities are expressions of God’s values.  This is what God’s justice looks like.  God cares about the poor and the oppressed, and so should the king…. The point is that we also should care about such things.  Just as Israel’s king was to embody God’s values in order to promote human flourishing, so we all as God’s royal images should embody God’s values.  Social justice is what the Torah is all about!  At least half of the laws in the Pentateuch are about the gritty details of social justice.  At least half of the commandments in the Decalogue [the Ten Commandments] are about loving one’s neighbor.  Both Jesus and the Apostle Paul made this point crystal clear: loving our neighbor is one of the ways they speak of fulfilling God’s whole law.”

One of the aspects of this psalm that I find particularly fascinating is how the psalmist weaves together on the one hand the call to the leader of the nation to govern with justice and compassion and on the other hand the hope for bountiful crops.  Verse 3 prays, “May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.”  And verse 16 prays, “May there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of the mountains; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field.” 

In an article entitled “Bread for the World: Toward an Agrarian Reading of the Psalter,” J. Clinton McCann explains, “When justice and righteousness are done, the result is shalom.  In verse 3, ‘the mountains bear shalom’ [McCann’s translation].  Why the mountains?  Because it was the hill country where Israelite farmers grew their food.  It was the monarchy’s responsibility to create a legal system (justice) and a web of social relationships (righteousness) that would protect small farmers and their land, precisely so that ‘the mountains bear shalom’—that is, food.”

May we join with the psalmist in praying for the leaders of our nation, and may we pray for justice and compassion…and for abundant crops and for human flourishing…to fill our land.


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