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“A Leader Worth Emulating”

Epiphany Jan.6/13 Psalm 72


If you were starting a brand new nation, what motto would you give it? You’d want a few choice words that would sum up its ethos, the new country’s character, its vision. Our own nation’s motto can be seen on a passport [DEMONSTRATE]: here’s the official Canadian Coat of Arms, and on the scroll at the bottom we see, “A marie usque ad mare”. That’s a little phrase from the Latin of Psalm 72:8 meaning “from sea to sea”. If you have a $5 bill, likewise you can pull it out and see the same Coat of Arms with the lettering. There, now you can tell all your friends about the secret Bible phrase emblazoned on their cash! (But you’d better hurry, because the new polymer $5s and $10s are coming out later this year.)

    Just what inspired our nation’s powers-that-be to use part of a verse from a psalm on their official emblem? In 1864 Sir Samuel Tilley was having his daily prayer and Bible reading time when he read Psalm 72 and convinced the other 32 founding fathers of Confederation gathered at Charlottetown that Canada should be called not a republic but a “dominion” to signify it as a nation under God. For Psalm 72:8 in the King James Version reads, "He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth." Thus until recently July 1 was “Dominion Day” and today a ‘dominion’ we remain.

    Fast forward a bit to the year 1921, when our country’s coat of arms is being redesigned. Under-secretary Joseph Pope is on the 4-person committee and suggests the phrase “from sea to sea” which was used widely by Michael Ignatieff’s Presbyterian minister forebear George Grant as a nation-building slogan during the construction of the Canadian Pacific Railway. With its Biblical background, the phrase hints not only at this country’s broad geographical expanse, but also the Christian background of many of our founding politicians and their desire that our nation retain some markings of its faith-heritage; probably also that the prosperity and blessings mentioned in the Psalm would accompany good government.

    So let’s look more closely at Psalm 72, a “royal” psalm, and the figure depicted in it. Today marks “Epiphany” in the church calendar, 12 days after Christmas. Epiphany in the dictionary is defined as “the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1-12).” Literally, revealing, or showing: Christ was making Himself known to the nations, including non-Jews. In Psalm 72 we perceive the figure portrayed is not just David or Solomon or a subsequent king (although it is a coronation psalm), but also the hoped-for Messiah.

    This isn’t just some abstract theological discussion. Style of leadership is important in government and in other areas of society – wherever there is exercise of authority, including in the home. How we define an ideal leader has repercussions for everyday life. For instance, is it the government’s responsibility to provide care for citizens from the cradle to the grave? This past week we saw the Americans head off the so-called “fiscal cliff” crisis at the last minute. Republicans (or at least tea party-ers) would like to see lower taxes and spending; President Obama campaigned successfully on a platform of increasing taxes on the rich. We Canadians enjoy a measure of healthcare security without having to pay to see a doctor, while so-called “Obamacare” has face opposition south of the border.

    Another question: does the government have the right to bear the sword and use deadly force to protect its citizens? Some churches have a pacifist stance. You might not agree with how the National Rifle Association proposes to beef up security after the Newtown massacre – putting armed security guards in schools.

    Should a government heed minority groups lobbying for better conditions? An aboriginal chief has been conducting a hunger strike in an attempt to get Prime Minister Harper discussing her people’s plight.

    Our society has advocated very much for the rights of children. What’s Psalm 72 suggest about power dynamics in the home? Do parents have the moral authority to tell children what to do, for example if a child wants to have a TV in their room – if the parent says “no” does that make them a “mean parent”?

    Whatever leadership role you may play now or in future, we can take some notes from this royal psalm.


The first thing to notice, an outstanding difference from the way power’s commonly wielded in the world, is that Biblical leadership isn’t unrestrained despotism or tyranny, but places itself under submission to God’s authority. The principles of “justice” and “righteousness” are mentioned repeatedly. Vv1-2, “Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness.He will judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice.” Justice translates the Hebrew mishpat, or “judgment”, the rule that should guide judges, including ‘fair play’ or legal equity. A king or judge shouldn’t rule in someone’s favour because they favour them or because their resources or standing give them “clout” – we would call that blatantly “unfair”. Righteousness (tsedeq) comes from an Arab root meaning “straightness”, an action which conforms to a norm. Relationship is an important component – you know when things “aren’t right” between you and another person. When there’s been a conflict or falling-out, we talk of “making things right” and restoring the relationship.

    V3 mentions “the fruit of righteousness”; v7 “in his days the righteous will flourish”, so righteousness is very important in this leader’s domain. Other Biblical passages reinforce this. When the Queen of Sheba visits King Solomon and is wowed by his God-given wisdom, she says in 2Chron 9(8), “Because of the love of your God for Israel and his desire to uphold them forever, he has made you king over them, to maintain justice and righteousness.” Isaiah prophesies in 9:7 (a passage we often use around Christmas), “Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end.He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.”

    Tyrants and bullies in the world would say, “Might makes right.” But in the Bible, “justice and righteousness” are defined in relation to God’s revealed instruction: His teaching provides the yardstick, even for kings. At a crucial transition of power, aging David charges his young son Solomon who’s about to become king in 1Chron 22(12), “May the LORD give you discretion and understanding when he puts you in command over Israel, so that you may keep the law of the LORD your God.” Even kings need to submit themselves to God’s standards of right and wrong – standards that accord with people’s inborn sense of “right and wrong” written on our conscience, what’s known as “natural law”.

    There was a joke about a famous political leader that ran something like this: “What’s Abraham Lincoln have in common with a piano? They’re both grand, upright, and square.” Righteous people (like ‘Honest Abe’) may have fun poked at them because of their high moral standards, but at the same time, broadly speaking, they’re widely respected for their fairness and godly principles.


Being submitted to moral laws is a restraint – but that’s a good thing, because rulers need to be able to exercise considerable power to deal with evil in the world. V4b, “he will crush the oppressor.” V8 “He will rule from sea to sea...” literally “have dominion, tread down, subjugate.” V14 “He will rescue [the weak and needy] from oppression and violence...” There ARE oppressors out there – schemers ready to take pot shots and the unsuspecting in order to take advantage and line their own pockets or grab property. Jesus criticized even religious leaders [the teachers of the law] for “devouring widows’ houses” (Mark 12:40).

    It would seem necessary, then, for governing officials to “bear the sword” as God’s servant to punish wrongdoers, as Paul observes in Romans 13(4). Proverbs 20(26) uses vivid imagery, “A wise king winnows out the wicked; he drives the threshing wheel over them.” Psalm 2(9), Revelation 2(27) and 19(15) all speak of “ruling with an iron scepter”. In fact the description Paul gives us of the climax of the cosmic war between good and evil comes in 1Cor 15(24), when Jesus at the end “hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power.” During His earthly life, the Lord Jesus did not shrink back from confronting the most powerful religious leaders of His day about their mistakes (Matthew 23). So a godly leader definitely has a role to rebuke and discipline. But whether parent or prince, they need to remember God’s word in Scripture (not just their personal preference) is what’s “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness” (2Tim 3:16).


Yet while the godly ruler needs to be strong enough to butt heads with bullies, he (or she) also needs to remember they have a unique obligation to speak up for those who are too weak to speak for themselves. Fools and scoundrels abuse their power to extort from the weak. Isaiah condemned this in wicked kings of his day [32:6ff]: “For the fool speaks folly, his mind is busy with evil: He practices ungodliness and spreads error concerning the LORD; the hungry he leaves empty and from the thirsty he withholds water.The scoundrel’s methods are wicked, he makes up evil schemes to destroy the poor with lies, even when the plea of the needy is just.But the noble man makes noble plans, and by noble deeds he stands.”

    In contrast to evil fools, vv4a and 12-14 go to considerable detail to highlight the godly leader’s role in helping the poor instead of harming them. “He will defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy...For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help.He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death.He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight.” Note that last part – he doesn’t do it just because it’s his job, or part of “doing his duty”, but because he genuinely cares for the weak and needy: their blood is PRECIOUS to him.

    So prophetic passages in the Old Testament foretell a Messiah who “comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” (Zec 9:9) Gently, on a beast of burden, as a servant, not on a warhorse.

    We see this special concern for the poor and powerless reflected in Jesus’ opening pronouncements: Matthew 5(3), “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Luke 4(18) quoting Isaiah 61(1f), “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed...” Later in His ministry when John the Baptist wondered if Jesus was really the Messiah, our Lord offered these observations as proof He fulfilled the role as prophesied: “The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.” (Mt 11:5)

    The phrases in verses 12-13 of Psalm 2 suggest incidents in Jesus’ ministry. “He will deliver...the afflicted who have no one to help”: perhaps the woman caught in adultery in John 8 - Jesus stood up for her when all the other men were ready to stone her. “He will take pity on the weak and the needy”: Matthew 9:36, “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” He will “save the needy from death”: remember the widow at Nain in Luke 7(11-16), whose only son had died. When Jesus met the funeral procession “His heart went out to her”; he told her not to cry, then touched the coffin and raised her son back to life! What a Saviour!


Different countries have experimented with different forms of government. We are seeing now what we didn’t know a century ago, the failure of communism. One thing that became apparent during soviet Marxism is that agriculture flourished less in the state-run cooperatives than when people owned their own farms. People missed the incentive of raising their own crops; productivity diminished when they were forced to work for the megalith state rather than feeding their own families. The ruling elite tolerated corruption that counteracted any will of the individual to work harder that others might flourish.

    By contrast, several verses in Psalm 72 speak of the flourishing conditions and blessing that result from godly leadership. Righteousness makes prosperity possible. V3 “The mountains will bring prosperity to the people, the hills the fruit of righteousness.” Vv6-7 “He will be like rain falling on a mown field, like showers watering the earth.In his days the righteous will flourish; prosperity will abound till the moon is no more.” V16 “Let grain abound throughout the land; on the tops of the hills [possibly the drier parts in an arid climate, more difficult to get a good yield on] may it sway.Let its fruit flourish like Lebanon; let it thrive like the grass of the field.”

    Note especially the aspect of BLESSING in v17b: “All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.” There’s an echo here of God’s original promise to Abraham back in Genesis 12(3) when He called him to leave his homeland, “...all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Then again in chapter 22(18) after Abraham passes the test of being willing to sacrifice his son Isaac, God promises, “through your offspring [seed] all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed Me.”

    What is God’s purpose through the Messiah, Abraham’s “seed”? To bless all nations on earth! This has huge implications for the church, if we truly are Christ’s Body representing Him here (as Ephesians 4 and 1Corinthians 12 describe). Do we as church view our role as to bless others? Or do we run for cover safe behind the walls of our cosy fortress, going through the rituals on Sunday but not finding ways to bless others in Christ’s name the rest of the week? Jesus proclaimed that we are “salt” to have a seasoning / preserving effect in a world that’s in danger of “going off”; that we are “light” to shine out in a dark world in such a way that others see our good deeds and praise our Heavenly Father (Mt 5:13f). Are we out there BLESSING, or just in here BLUFFING?


David Platt in Radical Together writes, “We see up close a propensity in our [church] budgets to value our comforts over others’ needs.As I write this, more than 500 million people in the world are starving to death. They lack food, water, and basic medical care.Children are dying of diseases like diarrhea; many who live will suffer lifelong brain damage from early protein deficiency.Others will be sold into forced labour or trafficked for sexual exploitation.Nearly 150 million children are orphans.Yet judging by what we hang on to in our churches, convenient programs and nice parking lots are still more important than such children and their families.”

    This is the crowd Jesus looked out over and felt compassion for because they were “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd”. Will we respond with His heart? Do we see that we’ve inherited the role of the godly ruler in Psalm 72, to “defend the afflicted among the people and save the children of the needy”?

    One church that seems to be getting past nice parking lots is The Living Room church in Montreal. ChristianWeek describes how they meet for free each week, but there’s a catch: they have to roll up their sleeves and clean the bar in which they meet. The owner lets them use the space for free because their great cleaning job (despite things like vomit on the floor from Saturday night’s patrons) proves what Pastor Michael Jones tells him, “We just wanted to leave it better than we found it.” (Isn’t that a bit like “blessing” someone?)

    The main focus of The Living Room church is not on a building per se, but building into the lives of the 20- to 30-year olds they minister to on the campus of Concordia University. Jones says many of these young adults are fatherless and need mentors and people to encourage them. He explains, “I don’t want to disparage anybody, but the [impact of their] fatherlessness and the broken homes they come from is profound.Young men who haven’t been taught what it means to love and respect women, young women who don’t know what it means to love and respect themselves – God’s given us...a grace to just love on them.”

    Doesn’t that sound like something God’s type of leader might be doing? He will “rescue the children of the needy...He will rescue the poor when they cry to Him; He will help the oppressed...He feels pity for the weak and the needy, and He will rescue them.” (72:4,12f) Let’s pray.