Whether we think of heads of state, or heads of families it seems so many rulers are prone to questionable, even unconscionable, decisions. What does a really great ruler really look like? Psalm 72 points the way (I encourage you to read it by clicking the link). There are some things to note:
First, this psalm is a prayer. And so we are reminded to pray for people in authority. We may hear of decisions made by dictators and elected officials, mums and dads, and shake our heads in disgust. But do we bow our heads in prayer for them? What a great change there can be for many people when there is godly change in the life and thinking of a person in authority. And if you and I stand in places of authority, we stand in the need of prayer.
Second, what is the key word of this prayer? Let us consider the first two verses:
Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son. 2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. Psalm 72:1-2 NRSV
While justice and righteousness are important words, there is one word in the first two verses that shows up more often: ‘Your.’ Here is a plea for a ruler not to rule with their own sense of justice and righteousness, but to rule with God’s. Also, we are directed to the think of the people we have authority over not as ‘our’ people, but God’s. Rulers may think they are tops, but they are really stewards accountable to a higher authority. I might be pleased with how my young boys are becoming young men. But is God? They are His, my leadership in their lives needs to please God, not me. And it needs to be according to God’s standards, not mine. Notice too, that the call is made for the authorities to take special notice of the poor. Yes they are God’s too, and how they are treated will not go unnoticed.
Third. What rulers throughout history have shown themselves to be answers to this prayer? Sadly, far too many have fallen far too short of a godly rule. This is true within nations and within families. But there is one who fits this prayer precisely, Jesus the Messiah.
In the Christmas story, the magi serve a theological purpose, they point to Jesus as being the ruler this Psalm longs for. Though not precise in the details, the nations have arrived bearing gifts:
10 May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. 11 May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service. Psalm 72:10-11 NRSV
11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 NRSV
The book of Revelation paints a picture of the ruler this Psalm longs for. The king’s reign is eternal. The king reigns with justice and righteousness. The reign of the king is good news for the oppressed. The kingdom is secure. People blossom. These are things common to the king longed for in Psalm 72 and the King of kings and Lord of lords revealed in Revelation.
Jesus points to himself as the one who fulfills the longing of this prayer. He describes himself as the good shepherd. He is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherd, Herod, who killed off many young boys in an effort to rid the world of Jesus. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherds, the religious leaders, who would seek his life. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves the sheep, not like the bad shepherd, Pilate, who would authorize his death. Jesus is the good shepherd who loves people, who helps people. The psalm longs for a king who
delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. 13 He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. 14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. Psalm 72:12-14 NRSV
So precious is our blood in His sight that He shed His own blood to help us in our greatest need. All our earthly needs come and go, but our need for salvation from the sin that separates us from God is something we carry into eternity, unless of course there is an authority that can help. In Jesus there is.
If you are a person in authority, are you an answer to this prayer? Whether you are a person in authority or not, do you know the One who is the greatest answer to this prayer?