Second Sunday in Advent, Year A - December 8, 2019

Advent 2 Matthew Romans Isaiah Psalm
Advent 2

Messengers and Messages

At the heart of the lesson from Matthew for Advent 2, and perhaps its overall theme, is the matter of hope. As Paul writes "May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit." Related to this is answering ‘What defines a great leader?” In the midst of this we are called repentence.

Fundamental is the prophesy of Isaiah, "root of Jesse" that there was a precedent for Jesus. Paul uses it in Romans and extends the Messiah to the Gentiles. "The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope." The Jews were not the only chosen people - Gentiles too will find hope in Christ. Christ saw the bigger picture. The scriptures will help to unify us so we can become more Christ-like.

This week centers around John the Baptist and his mission described in the Gospel. The message is couched in irony. How could a man coming out of the wilderness provide a message of the savior ?

In the Gospel, John the Baptist calls for repentance in preparation for the coming Messiah. It refers to a turning away from the past way of life and the inauguration of a new one. John doesn't come in traditional messenger garmants let alone priest clothes. However, his message will change the world.

From Isaiah's time there was plenty of needs for this in the corruption 8th centuries before Christ. He defined qualities of the ideal ruler. The ruler should have a spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might and knowledge and fear. The Psalm also looked forward to a new ruler to establish peace and justice, a desired state of affairs which goes out to help the poor.

While this week is about messenger and the message, we must accept the twists and turns in our own journey - the unexpected - and how God may be making a plan for us. We will be different for all of it. The key may be to expect the unexpected. In this Advent season, our preparation may be the onsideration of our own repentence.


"St John the Baptist" - Leonardo da Vinci (1513-1516)

Matthew 3:1-12

In those days John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near." This is the one of whom the prophet Isaiah spoke when he said,

"The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
`Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.'"

Now John wore clothing of camel's hair with a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then the people of Jerusalem and all Judea were going out to him, and all the region along the Jordan, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit worthy of repentance. Do not presume to say to yourselves, `We have Abraham as our ancestor'; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

"I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and will gather his wheat into the granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire."

There are so many evocative symbols surrounding John the Baptist in the four Gospels. Each gospel emphasizes a different point of view about John the Baptist.

Luke emphasizes the concern for the poor and the ethical demands for justice. In Luke we hear John the Baptist’s preaching, urging people to share their cloaks and food with the needy, demanding that tax collectors not line their pockets by taking more than is required from people and challenging soldiers to not use their force to extort and threaten people.

Mark and Matthew emphasize the prophetic nature of John, noting that he is out in the wilderness eating locusts and wild honey. They link John the Baptist’s message to Isaiah 40:1-11, that emphasizes him as the prophet preparing the way for Jesus, through making the highway straight in every heart.

John is only the son of a small town priest. Further, he is nowhere, out in the wilderness. However, he is perhaps the last and culminating -- representative of the Old Testament prophets. He was of priestly lineage on both sides of his family (1:5), is named by the angel Gabriel as having the spirit and power of Elijah (1:17), and fulfills the prophecy of Isaiah (3:4-6). Similarly, John, moved by the word of God, plays two characteristically prophetic roles: (1) He calls for repentance and, indeed, proclaims a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and (2) he also precedes, prepares the way for, and foretells the coming of the Messiah, the one who is the salvation of Israel.

Matthew has told us of Jesus’ descent from King David, his birth and infancy, and the coming of the wise men. Now he leaps forward to about 26 AD. John appears in the “wilderness”, the arid region south and east of Jerusalem, an area where only hermits lived. His call to repentance, to turning back to the way of life to which Israel committed herself in its covenant with God, is like that of Old Testament prophets.

If the overall theme is one of hope, that theme is focused in two major sections of the lesson. The first part (1-6) is captured in the summary of John's preaching: "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.

His message about the nearness of God’s kingdom, of the time of complete fulfilment of God’s promises for humans, is a central message of Jesus. A new era, in which God rules, is almost here! Originally applied to the exiles returning from Babylon, Isaiah’s words in v. 3 also fit John. He is dressed like a hermit (“camel’s hair”, v. 4) and he eats off the arid land (“locusts”, “wild honey”), as did Elijah. Repentance, or metanoia, to use the Greek word, refers to far more than a simply being or saying one is sorry for past sins, far more than mere regret or remorse for such sins. It refers to a turning away from the past way of life and the inauguration of a new one, in this case initialized by an act of baptism. It is changing one’s mind. Repentance asks that the "death of self" which God began to work in us in baptism continue to this day.

"The kingdom of heaven" is uniquely Matthew's phrase. He often uses it in place of Mark's "kingdom of God." Perhaps, if we assume a Jewish background for Matthew, it is a way of avoiding saying the name of God.

There is both a present and future aspect to its coming. Heaven's rule comes with Jesus, but we are still waiting for it.

The kingdom is near, yet repentance has something to do with preparing the way for God's entry into our lives. One thing is clear, for Matthew, God's power calls for and enables a transformed new life of discipleship. Repentance then directs our vision not so much to sorrow for the past, but to the promise of a new beginning. The promise of this lesson is that because God's reign is so near it has the power to bring about this new orientation of life.

What is involved in heaven's rule arriving? From Matthew 10:7-8, it means healing the sick, raising the dead, cleansing those with leprosy, driving out demons; and freely giving as we have received. Jumping ahead a little in our text -- perhaps those are the good fruits worthy of repentance in 3:8 & 10.

People came to him from both sides of the Jordan (v. 5) and were baptised by him with water, in recognition of, and confession of, sin – with complete acceptance of God’s judgement and forgiveness.

One of the mistakes sometimes made in interpreting this text is assuming that the sort of baptism John called his fellow Jews to is to be equated with the baptism later practiced by Christians on all and sundry. The problem with this assumption is that John is calling for repentance of those who already believed in the Biblical God and in his Word--- namely Jews, including the Jewish leadership, whereas Christian baptism is treated by Paul in Romans 6 as an initiation rite for those converting to Christ, a rather different matter (see Witherington Troubled Waters, Baylor 2005).

What is interesting about John's call to repentance and baptism is that he seems to be offering a way for remission of sins without requiring going to Jerusalem and offering a sacrifice. If this is correct, it explains why the Jerusalem leadership would have been uneasy with John the prophet, and it may explain the adversarial attitude John had towards them in Matthew 3:7-10 where he calls them snake spawn!

A further theme in this passage is the presentation of John's humility, knowing there would be the One who comes after him whom he knows he is not even worthy of being the household servant of (the task of unlacing the sandals was left to the household slave). Notice, as well, the contrast between John's baptism and that of Jesus' in verse 11. So far as we know, Jesus never baptized anyone (see the clarification in John 4:1-2), though even his earliest disciples, perhaps especially those who had previously followed John, did. Jesus, according to John, would baptize people with the far more potent and life changing Holy Spirit.

Only Matthew has Jesus declaring the forgiveness of sins at the Last Supper: "for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (26:28, cf. Mk 14:24; Lk 22:20; 1C 11:25). Perhaps this is another indication of: (1) Jesus is more powerful than John; and (2) how Jesus makes heaven's rule come near -- something John declared, but didn't do.

The second part, beginning with "But when he saw." (7) might be characterized under the themes of righteousness or judgment.

“Vipers” (v. 7) are poisonous snakes, a danger in the wilderness. John doubts the sincerity of “Pharisees and Sadducees”, thinking they are trying to avoid God’s adverse judgement (“wrath”); he challenges them to show their return to God in their lives (v. 8). John calls for his hearers to "Bear fruit worthy of repentance" (8). The issue is that of response to the promise of God. What shape does the kingdom and repentance take in our lives? If the promises of God are a matter of grace and gift, then do I have any responsibility? Matthew's answer is a clear "Yes." Repentance and fruit belong together, but it is important to hear their connection in context. Such bearing of fruit means above all not to be enslaved to the past, to be open to the future of what God is doing

Repentance means to assume responsibility for the future and not to be tied to the past. Change is what is important. No one is to be written off as inferior or worthless. Every person matters to God. He warns that being ethnically Jewish, a member of God’s people, is no guarantee of entry to the Kingdom; God shows no partiality (v. 9); he can have other “children”. John foresees a judgment falling on Israel separating the wheat from the chaff, something Jesus also seems to have envisioned as well

Those who do not show in their lives that they have returned to God will be destroyed (v. 10). In v. 11, John foretells Jesus’s mission: giving people power to reshape the world (“with the Holy Spirit”) but also judging the ungodly, and purging them (“fire”). V. 12 puts this in farming terms: “wheat” was separated from “chaff” on a “threshing floor”; the wind blew away the “chaff”.

"Accept One Another" -Suigii Studio, 2009

Romans 15:4-13

Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ has become a servant of the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God in order that he might confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written,

"Therefore I will confess you among the Gentiles,
and sing praises to your name";

and again he says,

"Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people";

and again,

"Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles,
and let all the peoples praise him";

and again Isaiah says,

"The root of Jesse shall come,
the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope."

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

“Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope.” And

“"The root of Jesse shall come, the one who rises to rule the Gentiles; in him the Gentiles shall hope." These scriptures speak of Christ and they were written, not just for their day, but also for us, that we might grow in Christ-likeness. This, of course, is our hope.

In fact, hope threads throughout the letter to the Romans:

Abraham, the model of faith, "hopes against hope" that God will make good on the promise of an heir, despite Sarah's barrenness and both her and Abraham's advanced age (4:18).

Through Jesus Christ we also "rejoice in hope of sharing the glory of God;" indeed, present suffering, far from dashing our hopes, disciplines us in patient endurance, building a character capable of hope (5:2-5).

Again, in Romans 8:18-25, the present is a time of suffering, but we live in confident hope of the redemption of our body, the liberation of all creation from futility, decay and death. This hope, says Paul, is for something that cannot be seen at present, "for who hopes for what they see? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."

So by the time we get to the grand finale of Romans in today's lesson, we have learned that hope and steadfastness go together, and that God is the source of both. We learn also that Paul finds reason for hope in the way he sees God working through his own ministry, by bringing Gentiles to faith in Christ the Messiah of Israel. Such Gentile worship of God shows that God is keeping the promises made in scripture.

In Romans, Paul neither minimizes his own anguish and questioning of God (9:1-3) nor solves the mystery of God's ways of dealing with humanity (11:33-36). But he does give grounds for hope, in two ways. First, he reminds his hearers of the scripture's witness to the truthfulness and faithfulness of God. Second, he turns their attention to God's presence in their midst, precisely and especially in the experience of mutual love and service between people who previously were enemies. "Welcome one another," he says, "as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God" (v. 7).

This is the gospel in a nutshell. Christ has welcomed us, all of us, and brought us home to God and to each other. Let us not be sentimental about this welcome; to open our arms to those who otherwise are strangers and even enemies is nothing short of a miracle of grace. The experience of that welcome is the way we learn that "hope does not disappoint us, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us" (Romans 5:5).

Background of this passage:

Paul needed to address a problem of tension between two orientations among Christians and Rome. There were "the strong", who shared Paul's view, that observance of particular days and abstinence from particular foods depended on notions which are no longer valid (14:14). All days are sacred and no food is unclean. On the other side were "the weak" who believed in special days and in differences between clean and unclean foods (14:1-6). The latter would have drawn their inspiration not from Jewish scruples but from scripture itself which clearly set out what was to be eaten and what not and which prescribed particular days.

Consider some of the principles Paul lays on these libertines, these "strong" believers: i] Help the weak, 15:1-2. ii] Follow the self-denying example of Christ, 15:3-6. iii] Welcome one another, 15:7-13.

We might imagine that "the weak" were the Jewish Christians and "the strong", the Gentiles, but that can hardly be the case. Paul is, after all, a Jewish Christian. It is quite possible that some Gentiles were converted by the more conservative Jews and that they held strongly to biblical laws - as converts sometimes can - even more determinedly than others. So the groups were probably mixed. Perhaps this reflects different house churches.

Whatever the specific situation Paul is not happy with the thought that the differences not be addressed. In chapter 14 he asserts that for him, as for many others, such values no longer hold, even if they are biblical - just as he no longer upheld circumcision. But he was unhappy that the liberals' behavior was offending the conservatives. So he develops the idea that in this context compromise was necessary. People should not give up their beliefs and should certainly not be asked to act contrary to them. Integrity is important. But "the strong" should consider foregoing their choice of food where this caused offence to "the weak" (14:13, 15). I'm not sure how "the weak" would take to being described in this way, but nevertheless Paul argues that there are more significant values in the gospel and for its sake maintaining unity and living together in agreed compromise is the way to go (14:17).

He is continuing this line of thought into Romans 15 when he reminds them that Christ did not simply please himself, but saw the bigger picture. To illustrate this he uses scripture, citing Psalm 69:9 in 15:3. Psalm 69, along with Psalm 22, had been a favorite Psalm for reflection on the suffering of Jesus. In our passage Paul goes on to cite a number of biblical passages to emphasise that Gentiles belong with God's people. This is all part of the argument about belonging and especially about Jews and Gentiles belonging together - and, by implication, the need to make compromises to enable that to happen.

Unity is the theme. Scriptures serve to encourage this hope (15:4). This verse serves as a little aside to explain why Paul supports his case with an Old Testament verse. These scriptures speak of Christ and they were written, not just for their day, but also for us, that we might grow in Christ-likeness. This, of course, is our hope.

“Steadfastness and the encouragement of the scriptures" is the source of hope. The hope is about reconciliation and sharing the same attitude of unity (15:5-6). “the God of steadfastness and encouragement," to whom scripture witnesses, gives hope . It is about accepting rather than condemning one another (15:7; echoing 14:13). God's purpose in Christ's mission to his people was also to enable the Gentiles to become part of the people of God (15:8-9). In that process Christ became a servant or slave (15:8). Then follow the references to the inclusion of Gentiles (15:9-12)

v9b-12. Paul goes on to give biblical support for the ingrafting of the Gentiles into God's historic people: Psalm 18:49. Paul has taken this as a messianic Psalm which promises a proclamation of praise among the Gentiles, in and through the messiah's evangelists (possibly the apostles). Deuteronomy 32:43 is a summons that the Gentiles rejoice with God's people. Psalm 117:1, makes the same point. Isaiah 11:10. This is a promise that the one who will rule the nations is the one in whom the Gentiles will find their hope, and he is a Jewish messiah, the shoot from the root of Jesse. 15:13 concludes with a wish for peace. This is still all about what is going on in Rome.

Paul is pleading for perspective. It is not worth the churches tearing themselves apart over food issues. Compromise if you need to, especially if foods don't matter much for you. It is better to compromise and not eat if that is going to cause offence. The gospel and the unity of the church for its sake is much more important than food! Notice how Paul's thinking is driven by concern for people, not by being right and not by being free to do as we like. For Paul we are free to love. Love matters most.


"THE BRANCH" Isaiah 11: 1" - L. L. Effler

Isaiah 11:1-10

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.
He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.
Through his holy prophets he promised of old,
that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.
He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.
This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,
Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.
You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,
To give people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.
In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,
To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.
Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit: *
as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be for ever.  Amen.

In 745 BC, Tiglath-pileser III became king of Assyria; he was bent on conquering all of the west, including Israel. Isaiah wrote these words soon after. In the preceding verses, he has used tree imagery; he continues to do so here. Note it does not spring from fresh new ground (a new dynasty) but from the old stump or roots “Jesse” was David’s father. A new “branch” will grow, a king descended from Jesse and David, but of a new kind. God’s “spirit” (v. 2) rested on Moses, David and other leaders, enabling them to do the seemingly impossible

This passage is divided into two parts. The overall theme is that the Messiah will transform the world.

A The Davidic Messiah bringing peace to the world (11:1-9)

1. The Messiah’s powers (11:1-5)

“Jesse” was David’s father. A new “branch” will grow, a king descended from Jesse and David, but of a new kind. God’s “spirit” (v. 2) rested on Moses, David and other leaders, enabling them to do the seemingly impossible Note it does not spring from fresh new ground (a new dynasty) but from the old stump or roots The LORD wanted Judah to know that even though the Assyrians and others would come and bring judgment, God would still use them and bring forth life from them. Even if they looked like a long-dead stump, God can bring forth life. Jesus if fully equipped as a ruler. Unlike every other human leader, Jesus Christ is clothed not with the trappings of human ego but with righteousness and faithfulness

The Messiah has seven - the number of fullness and completion - aspects of the Spirit of the LORD This passage is behind the term the sevenfold Spirit of God used in Revelation 1:4, 3:1, 4:5 and 5:6. It isn’t that there are seven different spirits of God, rather the Spirit of the LORD has these characteristics, and He has them all in fullness and perfection.

These are grouped in pairs:

It is a spirit of wisdom and understanding. Wisdom is the ability to act in accordance with the existing circumstances. Understanding is the clear appreciation of the situation

Counsel and might. In the power of the spirit, the future king will have no need of human advisers, with their selfish attempts to influence him. His judicial wisdom and ability to distinguish between appearances and reality will enable him to plan aright, and he will also possess the power to translate his decisions into action: for upon him rests the spirit of counsel and heroic migh

Knowledge and fear -Because the whole of reality is constantly determined anew by God, all dealings with it are simultaneously an encounter with God. Consequently, there is no knowledge of God without action He knows everything. He knows our hearts, He knows all the facts. Many times we have made decisions that seemed strange or wrong to others because they didn’t have the knowledge that we have. Jesus has knowledge that we don’t have, so it shouldn’t surprise us that sometimes

The king who is to come from the family of Jesse will share in God's ability (cf. I Sam. 16.7; I Peter 1.17) to see and decide on things as they really are (v. 3).

This ideal future king will both be able to understand God’s purposes for his people and have the power to bring them to effect. He will also exercise justice, thus aiding the underdog and those who hold God in awe (“the meek”, v. 4).

The incorruptibility of the king and judge is exemplified by his attitude towards those who are without possessions and in need (v. 4). Every state is known to exercise the rule of law only in so far as it honors the rights of its weakest members. His rule will correct the massive wrongs we are forced to accept. But he will not step on the little people in pursuing his project. He will defend the meek and slay the wicked (Isaiah 11:4).

Yahweh’s power is expressed here through the rod of his mouth and the breath of his lips. The naked power of the Forester lopping off branches is no longer necessary. Genuine authority can be exercised by decree (the rod of his mouth) and execution of the guilty criminal can be effected by orderly judicial process (the breath [or spirit] of his lips

The king will judge his people in righteousness which he loves. This is the proper virtue of a ruler. He manifests it by helping the poor and needy, the widows and orphans, and is thereby doing the work of God himself

Righteousness and faithfulness were basic characteristics required of a good king and expected from God Only the grace of God, which follows his judgment, can create man anew, so that he does the will of God. Just as the belt holds together the clothes and gives freedom of movement and dignity to him who wears it, so the second David, inspired by the spirit of God, owes his dignity to his righteousness, and his ability to rule, and therefore the endurance of his reign (cf.9.7) to his trustworthiness and loyalty (v.5). He will rule in a way pleasing to God and man.

2. The Messiah’s influence (11:6-9)

In vv. 6-8, the images of peace among animals speak of the restoration of the ideal state of harmony God originally intended, before humans revolted against him.

At the present time, the whole creation is profoundly disturbed by human sin. According to priestly belief, peace had prevailed in the beginning between men and animals. The end of this peace was not affirmed by God until after the flood

At present they had to fear for their cattle. Numerous enemies threatened them, from the wolf to the lion. They had to fear for their little children, who thoughtlessly played with the bright and colourful poisonous snakes and received fatal bites.d

Harmony will also be restored between animals and humans.

Like his contemporary Hosea, Isaiah also expects that in the time of salvation which is to come, peace will be restored between men and animals. He has in mind not so much the existence animals lead with one another, as the removal of the damage and danger to which they give rise for man. He is to bring righteousness into the world.

But it expressly emphasizes that this change will take place only because, and not until, the land is full of the knowledge of God, and when all exercise righteousness under the guidance of the one who alone is righteous.

But this unanswerable question directs him towards the creative foundation of all life, God the creator.

No one in the whole of (“all”) God’s domain (not just Jerusalem, “my holy mountain”, v. 9) will be in danger, because all will know God, i.e. observe his will, as surely as “the waters cover the sea”. This king (“root of Jesse”, v. 10) will be a rallying point not just for Judah but for all peoples: they will see his achievements and “inquire” of God’s glory as reflected in him. Everything will be transformed

"The Gleaners" - Millet (1857)

Psalm 72:1-7, 18-19

Give the King your justice, O God, *
and your righteousness to the King's Son;

That he may rule your people righteously *
and the poor with justice;

That the mountains may bring prosperity to the people, *
and the little hills bring righteousness.

He shall defend the needy among the people; *
he shall rescue the poor and crush the oppressor.

He shall live as long as the sun and moon endure, *
from one generation to another.

He shall come down like rain upon the mown field, *
like showers that water the earth.

In his time shall the righteous flourish; *
there shall be abundance of peace till the moon shall be no more.

Blessed be the Lord GOD, the God of Israel, *
who alone does wondrous deeds!

And blessed be his glorious Name for ever! *
and may all the earth be filled with his glory.
Amen. Amen.

This is a prayer for God’s blessing on a king – perhaps used at his coronation or at an annual liturgy on its anniversary. It either confirms the king as legitimate and not a usurper (“king’s son”) or it seeks that his dynasty may continue.

After so many kings failed and the people were taken captive, this psalm became a prophetic longing and description for God’s promised Messiah. The Messiah, as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, would fulfill God’s desire to bless all people.

God empowers Godly leaders to cultivate environments of provision and peace. It is their duty to govern with justice and righteousness, so those under their care blossom and flourish.

The psalmist prayed to God as if the present (or future) monarch had the power and riches of David’s son, along with the corresponding blessings of YHWH. In fact, the author implicitly linked the two in the concept of justice.

If the king acted with wisdom (Solomon’s chief virtue), he would spread justice even to the poor and outcast. In response to this justice, God would bless the land with abundance (72:1-4)

May he be a guarantor of justice especially for the helpless “poor” (vv. 2, 4) and “crush” those who harm them; may his reign be marked with “prosperity” (v. 3). “Justice” is not fairness or the good being rewarded and the wicked punished. Rather, mishpat (“justice”) is the Bible’s subversive term for God’s desired state of affairs – what is right: mishpat is when the poorest are cared for.

A society is just to the degree to which every person has enough and is lifted up; a 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. Similarly, “righteousness” isn’t smug goodness; zedekah (“righteousness”) is being in sync with God’s ways, embodying God’s will.

The author prayed that the just king would live long (72:5-7), extend his kingdom (72:8), and force tribute from foreign dignitaries (72:9-11, 15), all because of his just rule (72:12-14). The final verses repeat and extend the invocations; the author prayed for a bountiful harvest and the king’s prosperity (72:16), an increase in the king’s reputation (72:17).

Ancient people saw the king as almost divine (v. 5) and the health, fertility, right living and peace of the nation as bound up with those of the monarch. (“Rain”, v. 6, and “showers” led to abundant produce.) May his empire be universal, with other kings “fall[ing] down [to worship] before him” (v. 11).

The most fascinating verse in Psalm 72 is the verse 11: “May all kings fall down before him.” Israel was a small time power, forced into subservience more often than relishing independence. The other kings most certainly would not be falling down before him! Was this national pride? A fantasy? A sick dream? Or a Messianic hint, that in God’s good time, God’s king would be the one before whom all would bow (P This king is the champion of the underdog (vv. 11-12). May his dynasty “endure forever” (v. 17) – thus ensuring political stability But notice why those kings in verse 11 will bow down: “For he delivers the needy when he calls… He has pity on the weak… From oppression he redeems their life” (verses 12 and 13). Other kings never do such things; but one day the truth will be made palpable, and they will realize the wisdom, wonder, and grace of God’s way.

The prayer for the great king was spiritualized by the early Christian community. They saw Jesus as the fulfillment of this psalm in heavenly terms. His rule was cosmic in dimension and unending. His reign combined justice and the blessings of God the Father. He was THE defender of the poor and the oppressed. For Christians, Jesus was the promised King, the son of David who would fulfill what God had promised in Solomon.

The section of psalms ended in a doxology (72:18-20).