Praying for the King
“Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!” (vv. 1–2).- Psalm 72:1–11
Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:1–2, urges us to make “supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings…for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We understand the need of this prayer in the apostle’s context, working as he did during the Roman empire, whose early leaders were not always disposed to treat Christians fairly. Yet long before Rome conquered the known world, believers were exhorted to pray especially for those rulers who knew the covenant God of Israel. Today’s passage, in fact, is a model prayer for such kings.
First and foremost, what we learn from this prayer is that no ordinary king—even one hailing from the divinely chosen line of David—can rule successfully if he depends only on his own innate abilities. Throughout vv. 1–11, Solomon prays for the Lord to provide to the king His own righteousness and justice, the wisdom to defend the cause of the poor, and success in possessing the nations. This is an implicit recognition that the monarch will not reign in justice and truth if God does not enable him to do so. Furthermore, the fact that Solomon—himself a king from David’s line—offers the prayer shows us even more powerfully that the Davidic king was nothing without the Lord’s help. If this was true of the kings of ancient Israel, it is even more true of our rulers today, who, despite the fact that they reign at the pleasure of divine providence, are not anointed directly by God as the Davidic kings were. John Calvin comments, “If kings possessed in themselves resources sufficiently ample, it would have been to no purpose…to have sought by prayer from another, that with which they were of themselves already provided.” Our leaders need our prayers for divine assistance so that they might rule with wisdom and justice.
In offering up this prayer, Solomon portrays those qualities for which our Creator looks in a king. Chief among these is that he judges God’s people with righteousness and shows justice to the poor and needy (vv. 2–4). A wise and just ruler does not allow justice to be bought and sold. He is not swayed by powerful interests to treat the impoverished any differently in his courts than those blessed with great wealth. Those kings of whom God approves also establish conditions that allow the righteous to flourish (v. 7). Rulers who oppress the Lord’s people can expect a severe judgment, so all who would govern rightly must govern impartially and allow the church to do the church’s work.
Christians who live under governments that are hostile to the interests of the church may find it difficult to pray for their rulers. Scripture, however, does not tell us to pray for our leaders according to their godliness. In fact, if even the best old covenant kings who knew the Lord needed prayer, how much more do ungodly rulers need it? May we be encouraged to pray regularly for our leaders no matter how just or unjust they might be.
Passages for Further Study
1 Kings 13:1–10