Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, Great David’s greater Son! Hail, in the time appointed, His reign on earth begun! He comes to break oppression, To set the captive free; To take away transgression, And rule in equity.
He shall come down like showers Upon the fruitful earth; And love, joy, hope, like flowers, Spring in His path to birth: Before Him on the mountains Shall peace, the herald, go; And righteousness, in fountains, From hill to valley flow.
Kings shall fall down before Him, And gold and incense bring; All nations shall adore Him, His praise all people sing; For He shall have dominion O’er river, sea, and shore, Far as the eagle’s pinion, Or dove’s light wing can soar.
To Him shall prayer unceasing And daily vows ascend; His kingdom still increasing, A kingdom without end. The mountain dews shall nourish A seed in weakness sown, Whose fruit shall spread and flourish, And shake like Lebanon.
O’er every foe victorious He on His throne shall rest, From age to age more glorious, All-blessing and all-blest. The tide of time shall never His covenant remove; His Name shall stand forever, His changeless Name of Love.
The Moravian, James Montgomery* (1771-1854), wrote this in 1821 for a Moravian Christmas occasion. It is a free paraphrase of Psalm 72, a psalm of righteousness and justice.
This works particularly well to the tune Ellacombe. You can hear it sung to this here.
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. May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations. May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth. In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more. May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust. May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts. May all kings fall down before him, all nations give him service. For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper. He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy. From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight. 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. 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. 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. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, who alone does wondrous things. Blessed be his glorious name forever; may his glory fill the whole earth. Amen and Amen. The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended.
Is this a prayer written for an anointed king?
There are a number of ways to interpret this Psalm and the impossible task of kingship which is represents.
It may have been written for the inauguration of a Davidic king in Jerusalem, there is some evidence to suggest that it is closely linked with King Solomon who prayed for wisdom to judge the people with justice. It is equally possible to read it as a prayer for anyone holding the office of king. The lists of all those attributes of an ideal king – justice and righteousness, concern for the poor and needy, long life, dominion over his enemies and defence against oppression and violence – set a challenge and the goal for any monarch.
Surely this is about more than a human king, written at a time when Israel’s king was believed to be the one through whom God’s promise to Abraham would be worked out. This is a prayer which calls for divine government to be manifest in human rulers, which does rather have the potential to set them up to fail!
If we change the focus slightly it is not difficult to find that the prayer, and its expectations, fit precisely the example set by our Lord Jesus Christ.
We could leave it there – it’s about Jesus, it’s about some long-gone kings. We could wish that today’s leaders demonstrated more about justice and righteousness and certainly – in some cases – we hope they won’t ‘endure for ever’!
But that will not do – in the 21st century we do not vest such power in our leaders and each of us is called to a responsibility to help others to live in a way which enables them to glimpse the glory of God in their daily lives. The conduit for sharing God’s love is a responsibility for each one of us, leaders and people alike.
I leave you to decide on the answer to my initial question.
God of righteousness and justice we thank you for the challenge to our way of living, demonstrated in the life of your Son Jesus Christ. We pray for all in authority that they may defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy and crush the oppressors of this world We pray for the courage to follow in the way of peace which enables people to blossom. And we offer our praise and thanks for all your glorious works. Amen
Val Morrison Elder at Hall Gate URC Doncaster andformer Moderator of General Assembly.