Today’s passage: Psalm 72
Today’s chocolate: Chuao Baconluxious
What makes a good king?
It’s a question that we, in the largely king-free modern world, rarely ask ourselves. And many, seeing feudalism and monarchy as outdated, would say that the only good ruler is a deposed ruler whose reign has been supplanted by a democratic system of government. Others would go further in their hatred of monarchy, saying with Denis Diderot that “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest.” As I’ve noted before, we as a whole are not so fond of kings.
But this is the question that Solomon, himself a king, sets out to answer in Psalm 72. Petitioning God for a blessing on the king as the psalm opens, he prays, “May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor” (4). The king’s first duty is to protect those who are under the gun, to go to bat for the disempowered people who need his power. Further, the king is called to exercise compassion for those who suffer. “He will have compassion on the poor and needy, and the lives of the needy he will save” (13), Solomon writes. In the context of vv.12-14, it’s clear that this compassion primarily entails protecting them from violence and rescuing them from physical harm by evildoers. But I think we can also infer that the king is obligated to provide materially for his people’s needs. When Solomon prays, “May there be abundance of grain in the earth on top of the mountains” (16), the psalm suggests that this harvest is meant to be the shared wealth of the nation, not simply locked up in the king’s storehouses.
I might conclude by challenging King Solomon on his suggestion that the king must “crush the oppressor,” counter-asserting that the best king will be able to resolve conflict through non-violent ways. But instead, I’m going to let Solomon challenge our contemporary authorities. If this psalm depicts the ideal for kings–if a monarch’s authority isn’t just license to do whatever he wants, but also carries responsibilities–then how much more does it apply to democratically-elected leaders and those we term “public servants?” According to Solomon’s picture, every case of malnourishment, every victim of violence, every starving kid or battered woman is an indictment of those in power. And if we’ve failed to use our power to benefit our countrymen, we don’t answer to Solomon–we answer to God himself.