Power, Justice, And Peace: An Exegesis Of Psalm 72 -- By: Patrick D. Miller, Jr.

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 04:1 (Fall 1986)
Article: Power, Justice, And Peace: An Exegesis Of Psalm 72
Author: Patrick D. Miller, Jr.

Power, Justice, And Peace:
An Exegesis Of Psalm 72

Patrick D. Miller, Jr.

Princeton Theological Seminary

In the Catholic Bishops’ letter of 1983 published under the title The Challenge of Peace, the following claim is made: “A theology of peace should ground the task of peacemaking solidly in the biblical vision of the kingdom of God... “ (para. 25). Psalm 72 belongs to such a ground, for it is a vision of the kingdom of God, one that arose out of the hopes and realities of a people who sought—and often failed—to live in the world under the rule of the Lord, forming a kingdom that was truly God’s. It endures because it bears witness not to what Israel accomplished but to what it knew and prayed for, the realization of God’s reign of peace and justice mediated by the agency of human rulers. The characteristics of the kingdom envisioned here are righteousness and peace. They do not arise full blown and naturally from the soil of human community. They are effected by the power of God at work through human power. So this psalm is about justice, peace, and power, and how these possibilities and realities melt together in a vision of the kingdom.

The psalm is a royal psalm, which means that its central focus is the king, perhaps the most ambiguous position of leadership in all of Israel’s history. From the early anti-monarchical voices of ancient Israel to contemporary scholarly criticism of the monarchy as a pagan intrusion on early Israel’s egalitarian tendencies, the king has been a questionable feature of Israel’s history. Historically, the criticism has much justification. Even through the certainly biased eyes of the Deuteronomist, confirmed by the critique of the prophets, there can be little doubt that the kings of Israel and Judah were often, if not largely, a corrupting influence on the people’s efforts to follow the way of the Lord.

The royal psalms, however, are a clear indication that somehow the office of the king came to be the focal point, the primary manifestation of God’s rule on earth. But a kingdom not like any other meant a king not like any other. Negatively, that meant the common perquisites of royalty were not to be assumed by Israel’s kings. Deuteronomy 17:16–17 in the law of kingship denies to the king the acquisition of great wealth, many wives, and many horses, the latter referring to a large professional army of horses and chariots. Positively, the characteristics of human rule according to God’s design are best indicated in the royal psalms, and especially Psalm 72 with its word about power in behalf of righteousness and peace. As this psalm, therefor...

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