Yesterday was an overview of Psalm 72, which is helping us bridge the thousand-plus year gap between our study in Ruth, and next week when we start the Christmas story in Matthew’s gospel. Today, we’re focusing on two of the ideals of Israel’s king – and how Jesus “fulfils” or “completes” them. Make sure you’ve read Psalm 72 first, if you didn’t already read it yesterday.
The King as God’s Son
This is one of a number of Psalms called ‘royal psalms’, written about the king. It opens by referring to the king as the ‘royal son’. In the Ancient Near East, kings were often referred to as ‘sons’ of the nation’s god – that is, the god’s representative. Most of the time, these national gods couldn’t be bothered getting of their backsides to help their people – humans were created to serve them, not make their lives harder – so they would get their king to do all their work for them in their absence. Much like our Governor-General…
In Psalm 2, another royal Ps written for David’s coronation, God says to the King: ‘You are my son; today I have become your Father.’ God effectively adopts the king as his son when he ascends the throne.
Behind this idea is the practice of a son entering the same profession as his father, ultimately taking over the family business. Although people might disrespect the hired staff, if you spoke to the son of the owner, you were speaking to his authorised representative – it was like you were speaking to the owner himself. We’ll come back to that later on today.
In Israel, then, Psalms 2 and 72 describe the king in Ancient Near Eastern terms as God’s authorised representative, adopted as his son – his spokesman and executive agent, performing his will. And we see this in the narratives about David, Solomon, and all the kings of Judah.
God’s perfect son
However, no human king could always live up to this ideal of being the perfect representative on earth of Yahweh, the Lord and Creator of the universe. Even the good ones – like David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah – all failed from time to time.
The writer to the Hebrews applies this idea of royal sonship to Jesus, citing Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14
Heb 1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father”? Or again, “I will be his Father, and he will be my Son”?
By the way, this doesn’t mean that Jesus was just a man who was ‘adopted’ into being God after his resurrection. Jesus was God’s Son from all eternity. The ‘today I have become your Father’ in Jesus’ case prob refers to his ascension into heaven after completing his atoning work on the cross. By becoming human, living amongst us, dying for us, and rising again, he at that point perfectly fulfilled the role of God’s son in Ancient Near Eastern kingship terms – God’s perfect representative and mediator to humanity.
As Jesus said (John 14:9) ‘Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’ We’re not talking to hired staff, but the owner himself. Which is why in Jesus’ parable of the wicked tenants – after sending a succession of servants who were ignored or beaten – the owner of the vineyard sends his son, the equivalent of going there himself. And this is why it is so shocking that the tenants killed the son. The point is: you reject Jesus, you’re rejecting God. Conversely: we who have accepted Jesus now have a relationship with God himself.
Christians – God’s sons?
Now we’re not Jesus. Obviously. But we, too, have been given the role of sonship by God – we are to be his representatives.
Eph 1:5 in love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will
That is who we are in Christ – sons of God. (I’m not using the gender-inclusive term ‘children’ here because in this context ‘son’ doesn’t mean ‘male child’, It refers to the role of being an authorised representative of the Father. Each of us, male and female, is God’s son.
We are called God’s sons:
When we follow Jesus in working for peace:
Mt 5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
When we follow Jesus in showing kindness to our enemies:
Lk 6:35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.
When we follow Jesus in his obedience to God:
Rom 8:13-14 For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
As God’s sons, his representatives, through us people should be able to meet God:
‘There was a young boy living in Paris at the end of the World War II. He had been orphaned by the atrocities committed within his city by the occupying German forces. He scrounged around the ruined city as best as he could to find food, clothes and shelter. But everyone was living in desperate times and he found that people either ignored him and or could find nothing to give him. Even the soldiers who had freed Paris from the German army seemed not to care about his situation. He had heard the Priest in the church, long before war had broken out, talk about God and Jesus and living the Christian life. But with the hell on earth that the war had brought he had since lost hope of any sense of Heaven. One cold morning, he was wandering down the street, staring into the windows of shops and cafés. He stopped outside the window of a small bakery. The smell of the fresh bread made his stomach ache with pain, so much so he didn’t notice the American soldier who had stopped in the street and had begun watching him with interest. The boy hardly noticed the soldier as he walked past him and into the store. He did however notice the large bag the baker was filling for the soldier with rolls, breads, pastries and other foods. And the boy could hardly breathe when the soldier exited the shop, knelt down and handed him the bag. The boy looked at the soldier with astonishment and gratefulness. Finally, he looked up at the soldier and asked him the question that was running through his mind: “Mister, are you Jesus?”’
Would other people – having met you, seen who you are, how you behave – go away thinking they’ve seen Jesus?
God’s king forever
The second thing we notice in the psalm about Israel’s king is that he would be king forever:
72:5 May he endure as long as the sun, as long as the moon, through all generations.
Oops. The sun’s still here; moon, too. Solomon’s dead. Maybe the Palmist means that the king will endure through his descendants?
Ps 45:6 Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom.
And how about God’s promise to David about Solomon and his descendants:
2 Sam 7:14a, 16 ‘I will be his father, and he will be my son. … Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’
That lasted a bit longer. A few hundred years. But still, in 587BC, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon marched in and carried the king off. To this day there is no king on David’s throne in Jerusalem. The closest we’ve got is some bloke in Tel Aviv called Ben.
What about God’s promise? What are we to make of this? Are we living in denial when we say God keeps his promises?
Or do we do a rethink about David’s throne? It’s no longer a physical kingship over God’s chosen nation, but now it’s a spiritual kingship over God’s new covenant people, the church.
This is what Peter preached in Jerusalem at Pentecost:
Acts 2:29-32 “Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. 30 But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. 31 Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. 32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.”
We, the church, have God’s son – his perfect representative – through whom we have access to God. And this is not temporary. We have God’s perfect king who is king forever.
But what does that mean for us now? How will this perfect, eternal representative exercise his rule in the world? That’s what we’ll look at tomorrow…
To think about
For now, think about what it means for us to continue Jesus’ work as “sons of God” – his representatives on earth. What kind of a difference would it make to your day today if you kept that thought at the forefront of your mind?