“For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.”
—Psalm 72: 12
Psalm 72 begins “Give the king your justice, O God.” It implies that justice is a God-given matter, and though in our time we have no king, the seeking of justice remains one of the marks of authentic government.
So today’s verse describes compassion for the needy as one of the attributes of a good king. Ancient Israel’s kings derived authority by virtue of their divine calling, symbolized by anointing, but in Israel’s long history there was another kind of authority, which we might call “reputational authority.” They knew that there were good kings and bad kings. King David, to whom this psalm is attributed, was a good king, and thus became the model for the expected messiah.
I’m reading Robert Caro’s magisterial multi-volume biography of President Lyndon B. Johnson. Caro describes vividly the kind of extreme poverty that existed in the Texas Hill Country where Johnson was born and raised.
Johnson is chiefly remembered for escalating the tragic war in Vietnam. But during his presidency he signed into law some of the most far-reaching social legislation in our history. He especially sought to help our nation’s most needy members with “a social safety net.” Out of his own experiences of deprivation he found the empathy to use his authority to advance what was good and just.
We’ll see if the social safety net remains in place in the new administration. But whether our government is more just or less just Scripture leaves no doubt that God cares for the poor and requires that we do as well. And the church in every season and under every administration must always be ready to hear the call of the needy and to help those who have no helper.
Prayer: God of justice and righteousness, give us your justice and a heart of compassion for our brothers and sisters who need a helper.