“Give the king your justice, O God” is a prayer, from Psalm 72:1. The Psalmist prays for God to give his nation’s ruler justice. Normally it would not occur to me to pray such a prayer. Justice, in the Hebrew scriptures, refers not only to providing a system of rules which are just and fair for all, but also refers to how people are treated, especially those on the margins of society. The Hebrew word for “justice” is mishpat. Its most basic meaning is to treat people equitably. It also means giving people their rights. The Psalmist’s prayer for the king continues: “May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice. May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.” (Psalm 72:2, 4). 

Who wrote it? Possibly David or his son Solomon. It is not really known. As is typical of psalms at the time, it could have been written by anyone and ascribed to David. It suffices to name the author the Psalmist. It would seem that with a king like David or Solomon, you hardly need a prayer for them to rule with justice.

But O my God, do we need such a prayer today. O Lord my God, I pray for you to give our leader your justice. Indeed, may every person on the planet pray the same.  May all of our leaders be infused with your justice. It does not seem to be happening. Just when one country seems to get it right, another goes astray of your way of love, mercy, compassion and justice. Job asked the question “Shall one who hates justice govern?” (Job 34:17) Sadly, it happens. The neglect of justice was one of the sins that Jesus of Nazareth hated most. He called those who neglected justice hypocrites, and proclaimed “But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God. It is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others.” (Luke 11:42). In an earlier Psalm (33), the Psalmist wrote about God who “…loves righteousness and justice.” God loves justice. God loves all people without exception and desires them to be treated fairly and equitably.

Give the king your justice, O God” is a prayer, from Psalm 72:1. The Psalmist prays for God to give his nation’s ruler justice. We need such a prayer today. O my God, I pray for you to give our leader your justice. Indeed, may every person on the planet pray the same.”

“Give the king your justice, O God.” In the United States, we have witnessed the best and the worst of justice advocated by our heads of government. The one who needs this prayer most is the one who fails to seek the betterment of each individual or who undermines systems of safety nets to care for those with the least. The prayer of the Psalmist continues: “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.” (Psalm 72: 12-14).

At times, citizens feel helpless to do anything to counter the one who ignores God’s love of justice. Elie Wiesel, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, said during his 1986 Nobel lecture, “There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Even when the king or head of government practices or advocates for injustice, people of faith are called to stand with and speak for the oppressed and for those on the margins of society.

The scriptures as well as the wisdom of the ages undergird this prayer:

“Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”  (Isaiah 1:17)

“He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

“But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:24)

“The American people have this lesson to learn: That where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob, and degrade them, neither persons nor property will be safe.” Frederick Douglass

“We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

“True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Justice consists not in being neutral between right and wrong, but in finding out the right and upholding it, wherever found, against the wrong.”  Theodore Roosevelt

“Let, then, our first act every morning be to make the following resolve for the day: ‘I shall not fear any one on earth. I shall fear God only; I shall not bear ill-will towards any one. I shall not submit to injustice from any one. I shall conquer untruth by truth and in resisting untruth I shall put up with all suffering.’” Mahatma Gandhi

Give the king your justice, O God. Since rediscovering this brief prayer, it has been in my prayers every day. I pray it for our ruler and also for the rulers of every nation where it seems like justice is threatened. Sometimes I feel more like praying, “O God, let the king be gone.  Send another who will rule with justice, truth, and care for all people.” But that is not the model of the Psalmist. There are times it feels hopeless. I wonder and almost doubt that my prayers will make any difference. But it would be foolish to be what we are, Christians, and not believe in the power and purpose of prayer. 

And so, I pray for leaders who seem to rule with injustice that God will “remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). And I will continue to pray like Paul, without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17), that God will give kings, presidents and rulers a God-like justice. Give the king your justice, O God.

Rev. John Zehring has served United Church of Christ congregations as Senior Pastor in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Maine. Prior to parish ministry, he served as a Vice President at colleges and a theological seminary for more than two decades. He is the author of more than forty books and eBooks and is author of the recent Judson Press book Get Your Church Ready to Grow: A Guide to Building Attendance & Participation.