Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son. May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. Psalm 72:1-4
I was teaching a Bible Study on Epiphany. This was one of the most dedicated and consistent groups of people studying the Bible I have seen. Every week for decades they have come together to read the selected scriptures for the upcoming Sunday. Most weeks they just skip over the psalms. How much theological depth do we really get from just a praise song?
This week Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14 was on the lectionary. This was a royal psalm, a psalm that was written for the king. Even more important, this was a psalm that was used for coronation day as well as the anniversaries of that day. If you read the passage, the message is clear: a good king is one that cares for the poor and oppressed. This is a strong reminder that every king of Israel had a duty to care for those that had no power in society.
One gentleman asked a question, “Where does this idea come from that a good king is supposed to care for the poor?” The first thing that came to my mind was the fact that kings in Israel were supposed to be close to the heart of God. They were people who were supposed to care about the things that God cares about. And God deeply cares about the poor and the oppressed. I think that was a faithful answer. But it caused me to keep thinking and coming back to society in the United States.
The U.S. is not a theocracy as Israel was. However, we are certainly a very religious country, one where most leaders are religious themselves. What do we demand of these leaders? Do we demand that they “defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor,” as verse 4 implores?
Perhaps the call of the people of God who live in a secular democracy is to make sure our rulers have the most important things at the heart of what they do: care and defending the poor, oppressed, and needy. What a sacred duty we have.