Psalm 72: Is It Possible to Create a World Where It is Easier to be Good?
Peter Maurin, co-founder of the Catholic Worker, said we need to create a society “where it is easier for men to be good.” This is not a new idea. It has been around since the writing of Psalm 72. But is it possible?
Our psalmist for today has a dream of a better social order, a world ruled by a king who is truly righteous and just. Psalm 72 is a coronation psalm; it contains prayers for a new king, prayers that he might lead well, with God’s justice. Not only that, that his son might be righteous as well, with good reason. Many a good king has been followed by less than exemplary children. The fact of being born into the household of the king does not automatically make the person right for leadership. And so it is wise to pray for the king and his son.
The writer prays for a king who will judge with righteousness and bring justice to the poor. “May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.” (2) He prays for prosperity for the people, but especially he prays that the king will be a defender of the poor and needy. “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.” (13-14)
He prays not just for long life for the king, but stability. The many blessings sound like a toast at a dinner party, yet they are more than that. The poet prays that the king provide order in four different areas: moral, social, political and economic.
The King as a Symbol and Vehicle of Moral Stability
Verse 7 refers to the king as the symbol and vehicle of moral stability, lasting as long as the moon. “In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, till the moon be no more!” His righteousness is to be like rain falling on the ground, “May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.” This brings to mind, Portia’s statement on mercy in the Merchant of Venice, Act IV, scene 1 “The quality of mercy is not strained, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. It is twice blest: It blesseth him that gives and him that takes. ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest; it becomes the throned monarch better than his crown.” The king is to be first and foremost a righteous man, concerned for the poor of his country, providing justice tempered with mercy.
Upon the base of this moral order the king builds a social structure, one grounded in gentleness and care for his people. Such a social structure will have an impact far beyond the national level, or the realm of the kingdom, resulting in alliances with other kingdoms, building political security on an international level. Verses 8-11 describe the new king’s dominion. His enemies bow down before him, even the kings of Tarshish and Sheba and Seba bring him gifts.
Political Security Coming from Right Governance
Nations do not bow down to him because of military conquest but because of his just and merciful ruling of his country as we see in verse 12, “For he delivers the needy, when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.” This implies that the way to true political security is not through war but good example, focusing on right governance of your own country. In this way, all will be drawn to the goodness present.
The result of all of these, moral, social and political order, is economic security, shown in vs. 16 as an abundance of grain and growth in population. The poet then ends with a benediction, blessing God, as the conclusion not of Psalm 72, but of Book II of the Psalter, Psalms 42-72. Here ends the psalms attributed to David.
Dreams of a World of Peace and Righteousness
We can see in Psalm 72, an early effort to dream of a world order of peace and righteousness. The poet uses the social structure of the time, kings and kingdoms, to envision this reality. He dreams of a king who will do all of the above and more so that the world would experience peace and prosperity.
The need for some type of organization to order our lives together, has been present from the beginning, going from a tribal structure to kingdoms to democracy. This dream of a world order based on a sound moral code has been around for a long time. Psalm 72 provides evidence of this. People for ages have longed for a world of peace, a world where it is easier to be good than evil, where righteousness prevails and the poor and vulnerable are protected.
The Answer lies not in the Structure but the People
The problem with all social systems lies not in the structure but in the people. There is no magical structure or set of laws or form of governance that will bring about a true and lasting peace to the earth; all are flawed because we as people are flawed. This true and lasting peace is dependent on a just king, the one and true king, Jesus, our Savior and our Lord.
Ghandi tells us, “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” If we are to someday have that dream of a society where it is easier to be good, then we must begin with ourselves. We need to live lives of peace, devoted to our God. Then others will be drawn to us because of our goodness, so that someday all will live in peace under the leadership of our God.
What can we do to bring about a world where it is easier to be good? Is it possible?
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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