Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha



"1. 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.
3. May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
4. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

5. May he live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon,
throughout all generations.
6. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass,
like showers that water the earth.
7. In his days may righteousness flourish
and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

8. May he have dominion from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
9. May his foes bow down before him,
and his enemies lick the dust.
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.

12. For he 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.

15. Long may he live!
May gold of Sheba be given to him.
May prayer be made for him continually,
and blessings invoked for him all day long.
16. May there be abundance of grain in the land;
may it wave on the tops of the mountains;
may its fruit be like Lebanon;
and may people blossom in the cities
like the grass of the field.
17. May his name endure forever
his fame continue as long as the sun.
May all nations be blessed in him;
may they pronounce him happy.

18. Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
who alone does wondrous things.
19. Blessed be his glorious name forever;
may his glory fill the whole earth.
Amen and Amen.

20. The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended."

This is one of the Psalms that relate directly to the king. We can read the psalm as a prayer for the king in Israel, and we can take over many of its verses and make them prayers for our own political leaders today. Some things in the psalm, however, have never been realised in any political leader in the world. So we can appreciate how Jewish people understood them to apply to the Messiah whom they expected, and Christians understand them to be fulfilled in Jesus, our Christ. Nevertheless, the psalm points to virtues that politicians who desire peace and prosperity for their people must aspire to, and it shows the political practice that will allow righteousness to reign.

Justice and mercy

The first prayer is that by God's help the king will uphold justice and live a righteous life, always judging people fairly (verses 1-2). In particular, as the Old Testament often emphasises, it was the duty of the king to uphold the rights of the poor and put down those who oppressed the weak (verse 4, and see the references in the first study question below). Note especially what verses 12-14 say that the good ruler does for the "needy", the "poor", the "weak", and "those who have no helper", because their lives ("their blood") are precious to him. Can that be said of our rulers? Can it be said of us in our relationships with other people?

Peace and plenty

Another thing that the Old Testament often emphasises is that blessing comes to the land when righteousness is allowed to flourish. Hebrew people used the word shalom , which has come into many African and Asian languages in words like salaam or salamu . It is often translated "peace" (verse 7), sometimes "prosperity" (verse 3). The greatest welfare and highest well-being of a person or nation are included in that simple word. It is blessing like rain coming to a dry and thirsty land (verse 6). It is not wrong to pray that the blessing of God may be on our crops, and to ask God's provision for our people both in our rural areas and our cities (verse 16). In writing this one of us in mind the deep impression made on him by his mother's attitude of prayer. She prayed wholeheartedly about everything, as though everything in life depended on prayer. She knelt in the farm praying over a large heap of yams (the main food crop among the Igbo people of Nigeria) and maize, pouring out her heart in prayer and thanksgiving. God truly gives us all that we have. Godliness will not always make us prosperous in material things. But a close walk with God brings a wealth of peace and serenity that money cannot buy. Christians are sometimes called to suffer for their faith, but experience shows that the peace of God rules their hearts in the face of great uncertainties so that they can say: "I fear no evil, for you are with me" (Psalm 23:4). At the national level history shows what a difference the rule of humble and unselfish leaders can make to a country or a community.

Long life and far-reaching rule

"Long may he live!" is the prayer of verse 15, and the national anthems of many countries have that kind of prayer for their rulers. It is the language of poetry to ask for a ruler to live as long as the sun and moon continue to exist (verse 5), even if it a prayer for the whole ruling house and not just one person. It would have been poetry also to ask that the king might rule "from the River to the ends of the earth". ("The River" was the River Euphrates, thought of as the north-eastern limit of the land of Israel as 1 Kings 4:21 shows). It was also a poetical prayer that the kings of Tarshish in the west and Sheba and Seba in the south might bring tribute to the king. The thought, however, was probably of the extent of God's rule, and the king of Israel was God's representative. Some people read this text as a prophetic reference to the millennium when the universal Messiah, God's chosen King, will rule the world for a thousand years, "and there will be no more wars" (Revelation 20:4-6 and 22:3). However we take the psalm, it means more than just its literal words. It was not just a prayer that the king might conquer and dominate many nations, but that the promise to Abraham might be fulfilled (Genesis 12:1-3, 22:18 and 26:4), that all nations might be blessed (verse 17). We can understand the words to express a deep longing of a person of faith who is fed up with the evils and bad leadership around him. It is the longing that the perfect rule of God may become a reality on earth, the longing of the prayer, "your kingdom come" (Matthew 6:10).

The rule of the Messiah

No king of Old Testament days could be the answer to all the prayers of this psalm. But there was a great hope from the time of King David (see 2 Samuel 7:12-16), and one prophet after another spoke of the one who would come in the house of David to rule in righteousness and peace (see Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:1-5, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Ezekiel 34:23-24 and Micah 5:2-4). We believe that those hopes and prophecies were fulfilled in the coming of Jesus, the one who lives "throughout all generations" the same, and who will rule over all nations. Where he is allowed to rule in people's lives and communities today, there is true shalom, abundant blessing.

Verses 18-20 should probably be seen not just as the conclusion to this psalm, but to Book 2 of the Psalms. Such high praise of our great and glorious God we have similarly at the end of Books 1, 3 and 4 of the Psalms (see 41:13, 89:52 and 106:48). Then before our final collection of the Psalms was made as we have it in our Bible, there must have been a collection that had the title, 'The prayers of David son of Jesse'.

Prayer Use verses 1-4 as a prayer today for those who have responsibility of ruling your land and nation.

For further thought and study

a. Look up the following passages and note the ways that they show that a ruler in Old Testament days was judged according to whether or not he had upheld the rights of the poor and acted in justice towards them: Isaiah 1:23, 3:14-15. 10:1-2. 32:1-2, Jeremiah 22:15-17 and Amos 8:4-6. b. What difference do you think that it would make to the well-being and prosperity of your land if it had truly godly leaders who insisted on justice for all people and showed concern for the poor and for minorities?


1. This psalm and Psalm 127 are the only two psalms that have the name of Solomon in the heading that is given. It may be that it was thought that this would have been the kind of prayer David would have made for Solomon, his son, as he came to reign.

2. Linked with the prayer for the king to be given justice and righteousness we should think of the practice of the king having set before him at the beginning of his reign "the rights and duties of the kingship" (see 1 Samuel 10:25). When a ruler is crowned in Britain a Bible is given and it is said to him or her, 'This is the most precious thing the world affords' with the desire that he or she should rule according to God's word.

3. In verse 10 Tarshish is thought to be Tartessus in Spain, Sheba in the area of modern Yemen, and Seba in the area of Ethiopia.