Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
At the first glance this psalm looks like one that would readily yield up not only its meaning, but its purpose and authorship. Odes in honour of royalty generally tell their own tale, and here we certainly have a prayer for a king, the son of a king, who is to be at once glorious and good, renowned and just, in whose reign peace is to “lie like a line of light from verge to verge,” plenty is to crown the year with happiness, and the empire is to be as wide abroad as the government is righteous and beneficent at home. But, making every allowance for poetical exaggeration, it is impossible to find any monarch of Israel whose reign the poem exactly describes. The name of Solomon is naturally the first to suggest itself, as it did to those who prefixed the inscription. Undoubtedly the memory of his imperial greatness inspired the song. The psalmist looks for deliverance not to the sword, but to a wise and understanding heart. He prays that the king may be animated by the spirit which dictated Solomon’s choice to discern between good and evil; and he perceives that the only solid foundation for national prosperity is a just administration. Internal justice, external power and prosperity, would go hand in hand. All this might have been breathed as a prayer at Solomon’s succession; but the tone (Psalm 72:12-14) is hardly such as we should expect at the close of David’s reign. These verses read rather like the hope of one who had seen the nation sunk in distress, and who hailed the advent of a young prince as bearing promise of restoration and renewal of power and glory. Josiah has been suggested by Ewald, as meeting these conditions; a foreign prince, Ptolemy Philadelphus, by Hitzig and Reuss. But the view which regards the psalm as Messianic, i.e., descriptive of the peace and plenty and power anticipated under a prince as yet unborn and unknown, who was to come of David’s line to restore the ancient glory of the theocracy, best suits its general tone. The verse is easy and graceful, with a regular parallelism, but an uncertain division of stanzas.
Title.—According to usage, this inscription can mean only of Solomon, denoting authorship. (See Introduction.)
A Psalm for Solomon. Give the king thy judgments, O God, and thy righteousness unto the king's son.(1, 2) The order of the words should be noticed—“judgments,” “righteousness,” “righteousness,” “judgment”—as offering a good instance of introverted parallelism. With regard to the meaning of the words we are placed on practical ground; they refer to the faculty of judging in affairs of government, of coming to a great and fair decision. In fact, whether Solomon be the intended subject of the poem or not, the prayer made in his dream at Gibeon (1Kings 3:9) is the best comment on these verses. (Comp. Isaiah 11:4; Isaiah 32:1.)
(1) The king . . . the king’s son.—The article is wanting in the Hebrew.
The mountains shall bring peace to the people, and the little hills, by righteousness.(3) The mountains . . .—Better, literally, Let the mountains and the hills bring forth to the people peace in (or by) righteousness. This imperative sense, instead of the future, is by most modern commentators preserved throughout the psalm. The LXX. give it here and in Psalm 72:17, but else use the future.
The verb here employed (properly meaning “lift up”) is used in Ezekiel 17:8, for “bearing fruit,” and in Isaiah 32:17 peace is described as the natural work or fruit of righteousness. (Comp. Psalm 85:10.) For the same prominence given to its hills as the characteristic feature of Palestine, a land which is “not only mountainous, but a heap of mountains,” comp. Joel 3:18.
They shall fear thee as long as the sun and moon endure, throughout all generations.(5) They shall . . .—Literally, may they fear Thee (coevally) with the sun, and in the face of the moon, generation of generation. For the preposition, “coevally with,” see Dan. 3:33; (Hebrew) and comp. the Latin use of cum—
“Cum sole et luna semper Aratus erit.”
OVID: Amor., xv. 16.
The phrase “in the presence of the moon” (see the same expression, Psalm 72:17, and compare Job 8:16), means, not by the moonlight, but as long as the moon shines. (Comp. Psalm 72:7.) On the other hand, our phrase “under the moon” refers to space. With this passage Psalm 89:36-37, alone in Hebrew poetry exactly compares, or may perhaps have been borrowed from here.
Whether God or the king is the object of the “fear” spoken of in this verse is a question that must remain unanswered.
He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass: as showers that water the earth.(6) He shall come down.—The rule of the monarch is to be beneficent as the rain refreshing the earth, and covering it with blessings as with verdure. Under a similar image, David’s last words (2Samuel 23:4) describe a good government.
Mown grass.—The Hebrew word means “a shearing,” and is used of a fleece (Judges 6:37; so here, LXX., Vulg., and Prayer Book version); of a hay crop (Amos 7:1). The reference here may be either to a “mown field,” on which a shower would cause fresh grass to sprout, or to meadow grass ready for mowing.
In his days shall the righteous flourish; and abundance of peace so long as the moon endureth.(7) Flourish—i.e., spring up and grow like vegetation after rain.
Endureth.—See margin, and comp. Job 14:12, “till the heavens be no more.”
He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth.(8) He shall have. . . .—The original is more poetical, recalling the root idea of the verb, “may he tread down (the nations) from sea to sea.”
That the river in the next clause is the Euphrates there can be no question, but are we, therefore, to see precise geographical limits in the expression “from sea to sea” (from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea), as in Exodus 23:31, or is it merely poetical for a wide extent of empire? The vague and general expression, “ends of the earth,” which takes the place of the definite “desert,” in the passage of Exodus, makes in favour of the latter view. So, too, do the hyperbolic expressions in Psalm 72:5; Psalm 72:11; Psalm 72:17. On the other hand, Psalm 72:10 mentions particular places. The same phrase in Zechariah 9:10 describes the Messianic kingdom, and is certainly poetical, but whether that or this passage is the original is doubtful.
They that dwell in the wilderness shall bow before him; and his enemies shall lick the dust.(9) They that dwell in the wilderness. . . .—The Hebrew word in other places is used of “wild animals” (Psalm 74:14; Isaiah 23:13). Here apparently it refers to the nomad tribes wandering over the desert. The LXX. and ancient versions generally have “Æthiopians.”
Lick the dust.—The allusion is to the Eastern etiquette of prostration before a sovereign.
The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents: the kings of Sheba and Seba shall offer gifts.(10) Tarshish.—The question of the identity of this place (or district) with the “Tartessus” of the Greeks is too long for a note. (See Jonah 1:3.) But plainly the mention here of “the isles,” i.e., islands and coasts of the Mediterranean (comp. Daniel 11:18; Isaiah 11:11), is in favour of the identity.
Bring presents.—Literally, return presents, but not in the sense of an interchange of royal gifts (as 1Kings 10:13) but of “payment of tribute.” The expression is illustrated by the words “revenue,” “custom-house returns,” &c. (Comp. the Latin, reditus.)
Sheba.—The Joktanic kingdom, embracing the greater part of Yemen or Arabia Felix, and so here representing Arabia, (the LXX. and Vulg. have “kings of Arabians”) while “Seba” (or “Saba”), which was Cushite, and was by Josephus (A. J., 2:10, s. 2), identified with “Meroë,” represents Africa. (See Genesis 10:7; Genesis 10:28, and Smith’s Bible Dictionary, articles “Sheba” and “Seba.”)
Yea, all kings shall fall down before him: all nations shall serve him.(11) Yea, all kings shall . . .—Better, as before, Let all kings.
For he shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper.(12) For he shall deliver.—Here the verb must be present, “for he delivereth” giving the reason of the wide sway asked for this monarch. The prayer is based on the justice and beneficence of his reign (“to him that hath shall be given”), in which the weak and poor find their lives safe from violence, and their property protected against fraud. The verse is almost word for word the same as Job 29:12.
He shall redeem their soul from deceit and violence: and precious shall their blood be in his sight.(14) And precious . . .—The parallelism shows the meaning. The life of his people is dear to the king, and he therefore protects them from violence.
And he shall live, and to him shall be given of the gold of Sheba: prayer also shall be made for him continually; and daily shall he be praised.(15) And he shall . . .—Literally, And he shall live, and shall give him of the gold of Sheba, and pray for him continually; every day shall he bless him. This can only refer to the man whose protection from harm and redemption from fraud and violence is mentioned in the last verse. The subject under the just government of the monarch will live, and will bring to his benefactor daily blessing, as well as rich gifts, with the gold of Sheba, and “with true prayers that shall be up at heaven, and enter there.”
The Prayer Book version, “prayer shall be made to him,” is quite inadmissible.
Gold of Sheba—i.e. (see Psalm 72:10), of Arabia (as in Prayer-Book). A Greek historian (Agatharchides), writing of the Sabæans, gives an admiring account of the quantity of gold used in adorning and furnishing their houses. This wealth was probably acquired by commerce with India.
There shall be an handful of corn in the earth upon the top of the mountains; the fruit thereof shall shake like Lebanon: and they of the city shall flourish like grass of the earth.(16) An handful.—Rather, abundance, from a root meaning spread. The clauses, as arranged in the text, evidently miss the intention of the writer. Render,
“Let there be abundance of corn on the earth;
On the top of the mountains let it wave like Libanus,”
i.e., like the cedars of Libanus. The word rendered “wave” elsewhere is used of “earthquakes” or “violent storm,” and suggests here rather a violent agitation than the quiet waving of a sunny cornfield, as if the very mountains were under cultivation, and their crowning woods that sway to and fro in the breeze were suddenly changed to grain. (Comp. Psalm 92:13.) The images suggested by the LXX. and Vulg., of the corn in the lowlands growing high enough to overtop Lebanon, is grotesque.
And they of the city . . .—Better, and let them (men) spring forth from the city like grass from the earth. (As images of large population, comp. Psalm 92:7; Job 5:25.) But probably we ought to transpose a letter and read, “and let cities spring up like grass from the earth.”
His name shall endure for ever: his name shall be continued as long as the sun: and men shall be blessed in him: all nations shall call him blessed.(17) Shall be continued.—Rather, have issue. Literally, send out new shoots.
As long as the sun.—See Note on Psalm 72:5.
Shall be blessed in him.—Or, bless themselves in him. The meaning is clear, though the Hebrew is rather vague. The monarch will himself be a source of blessing to his people, who will never tire of blessing him. The psalmist’s prayer finds a genuine echo in the noble dedication of In Memoriam:
“May you rule us long,
And leave us rulers of your blood
As noble, till the latest day!
May children of our children say,
‘She wrought her people lasting good.’ ”
For the doxology closing the second book, and for the note apparently appended by the collector of this book, “the prayers of David the son of Jesse are ended,” see General Introduction.