Psalm 72 and the Just Ruler
Psalm 72 portrays a ruler who embraces the righteousness and justice of God. It begins with:
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. (vv. 1-2)
According to the psalmist, justice and righteousness are the hallmarks of a ruler who governs as God wants. The poor are singled out as God’s special concern and the nature of the ruler’s responsibility to the poor is elaborated in a subsequent verse:
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people; give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor. (v. 4)
The ruler who delivers justice to the needy is exalted above all others and is blessed abundantly:
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 be invoked for him all day long. (vv. 11-15)
The psalm clearly sets out what God requires of a ruler or nation. The world order which God ordains and blesses is clear. Rejecting rulers who prioritise amassing great military strength and political power and wealth, God’s blessings are bestowed on the ruler who cares for the poor, the lowly and the under-privileged. More than this, the good ruler or government is not so much guided by a merciful, compassionate disposition, but by a commitment to justice for the disadvantaged.
Psalm 72 tells us that, in God’s eyes, all is well in the world when the needs of the weakest and most vulnerable in society are the first priority of the nation and when the state prioritises caring for their needs because it is right and just.
In this activity, your students are given an opportunity to learn about the plight of a group of vulnerable people and to send a message to a national or world leader to urge them to take action to free them from their oppression.
Firstly, ask your students to locate Psalm 72 in their bible and read it as a class.
Ask them to identify phrases which indicate:
- what actions God expects of a good ruler or government,
- what will happen when the good ruler or government does these things.
Lead your class in a brief discussion about how the words of this psalm might apply to the contemporary situation. Some questions you might ask include:
- What are some examples of governments and leaders taking actions which ignore the needs of the poor in our world?
- What are some specific examples of people facing injustice and oppression in Australia?
- What are some examples of people facing hardship and injustice in other countries?
- Can you think of examples of leaders taking actions which bring about justice for vulnerable people?
Introduce your students to the plight of a particular group of disadvantaged people either locally or overseas using video clips. Examples of issues include: child soldiers, slavery and people trafficking, homelessness, and people with a disability. (See the resources list.)
Ask your students to research this issue to find more video clips with further stories, especially of individual people affected by injustice, and to collect information to include on a fact sheet on the issue. Some of the questions which could be answered by the fact sheet include:
- Where is this injustice concentrated?
- How many people are affected?
- What are the causes of the injustice?
- Who is involved in causing and maintaining this oppression?
- What specific problems do the affected people encounter as a result of this injustice?
- What is being done already or being proposed as ways to overcome this injustice?
Depending on the issue which is chosen, work with your class to compose a letter or e-mail message to either Australia’s Prime Minister or to the Secretary-General of the United Nations to urge them to take action to bring about a just outcome for the affected people. It may be possible to write to both.
Letters to the Prime Minister may be sent to:
The Hon Julia Gillard MP
CANBERRA ACT 2600
E-mail messages may be sent to her via the following contact page:
Letters to the United Nations may be sent to:
HE Mr Ban Ki-Moon
New York NY 10017
E-mail messages may be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The responses your class gets may encourage further action.
As an example, you might encourage your students to share the information they have gathered with others by sending a story to the local paper, radio station or TV station about the message they have sent and the people on which it focuses as well as the leader’s reply.
Making Leaders Accountable
This activity enables your students to learn something about the biblical vision of just governments and a just world order. It also helps them to learn something about how governments affect the lives of people and how ordinary people like them can make a difference by standing up for disadvantaged and oppressed people and holding governments and world leaders responsible for their needs as God wants.
Note: Always check the appropriateness for your class and community context of suggested YouTube clips. They may include inappropriate advertisements or may need to be only partially used. Also consider if the message of the clip reflects Catholic theology.
These YouTube clips may be more appropriate for teacher background.
4Eyesn4ears, (2013). Child Soldiers – Full documentary. YouTube. Viewed 7 March 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DR6T4YSBAWQ>
Slavery and People trafficking
SpoaneWR, (2011). Human Trafficking.mov. Youtube. Viewed 7 March 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cR8mlV44ZzU>
Wesley Mission Sydney, (2008). More than a bed: Sydney’s homeless speak out. YouTube. Viewed 7 March 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c3wAsbgZlG4>
Brotherhood Laurence, (2010). Joshua’s story. YouTube. Viewed 7 March 2013. <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vRBoYwRAPkw>