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Open Journal of Philosophy
2013. Vol.3, No.1A, 192-199
Published Online February 2013 in SciRes (http://www.scirp.org/journal/ojpp) http://dx.doi.org/10.4236/ojpp.2013.31A032
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
Prayer for Good Governance: A Study of
Psalm 72 in the Nigeria Context
Mary Jerome Obiorah
Department of Religion and Cultural Studies, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Nigeria
Received November 27th, 2012; revised December 28th, 2012; accepted January 12th, 2013
Contextualization of Biblical texts is a priority of every exegete, who endeavors to bring the ancient
scripts to dialogue with contemporary issues. This paper, which studies Psalm 72 and a prayer composed
for good governance in Anambra State Nigeria, focuses on this hermeneutical interpretation. The writer
adopts a simplified literary method in Biblical research that takes cognizance of the varied poetic tech-
niques in Psalm 72 and engages in a detailed comparative study of a Psalm composed more than two mil-
lennia ago and a prayer of our time. Such comparative study reveals a striking similar preoccupation of
the composers of both texts. Both prayed for good governance of which all developing countries today are
in dire need.
Keywords: Prayer; Good Governance; Psalm 72; Nigeria
The few months prior to the gubernatorial election in Anam-
bra State in February 2010 were chiefly marked by anxious
desire of the people in this State for a stable, righteous and
peaceful government in a State already noted for instability and
the perilous canker of god-fatherism. Indeed, this situation was
aggravated by the increasing number of those contesting for
just the single post of governorship. The yearning for good
governance was expressed by all residing or visiting any part of
this predominantly Christian State of our nation. Such ardent
desire initially nurtured by individuals quickly attained a com-
mon priority shared even by self-acclaimed political gangsters.
In response to this yearning, a group of good-willed persons
known as Anambra State Good Governance Forum (LAGGOF)
requested the Catholic Prelates in the State to compose a prayer
that all would adopt in preparation for the fast-approaching
election. This prayer bears the seal of the Archbishop of Onit-
sha and the Metropolitan of Onitsha Ecclesiastical Province, the
Most Rev. Valerian M. Okeke.
A three paragraphed petition with a filial invocation to Mary,
Queen of Nigeria is worth citing here in full for its contents
have some striking resemblance to many such prayers in the
Bible, particularly Ps 72 chosen for this paper. In point of fact,
the prayer, which, besides its English version also has a transla-
tion in the vernacular of Anambra State, is captioned, Prayer
for Good Governance in Anambra State:
God our Father, you created the world in goodness, and
blessed humanity with many beautiful things. We thank
you for the gift of our country Nigeria, and particularly of
our state Anambra. You have richly endowed this state
with extraordinary human and material resources, which,
if well used, would adequately provide for the well-being
of the people of the state and beyond.
Unfortunately, dear Lord, due to egoistic political in-
terests of some people, the populace of this blessed state
are in anguish. Now, as we prepare for the forthcoming
elections, we perceive the activities of political gangsters,
aimed at destabilizing the electoral process. Crime wave
is on the increase, bringing about a general feeling of in-
security. These generate a sense of hopelessness in the
But you, O Lord, are our strength. If you do not guard
the city, in vain do the guards keep watch. We pray that
you send your unlimited love, strength and justice to save
our state. Fight for us against the enemies of your people.
Safeguard our electoral process, so that men of integrity
may get into positions of leadership. Endow our leaders
with the requisite wisdom to rule your people, guide and
protect them while in office, and sustain them in good
governance, so that they may lead your people to the
“Promised Land”. We ask this through Christ Jesus our
Mary, Queen of all nations, intercede for us that the
will of God be done in our state (Anambra State Good
Governance Forum, 2010).
If one applies our common concept of prayer as petition to
the above, only the last part of the third paragraph deserves this
name. Thanksgiving to God for the multifaceted gift bestowed
on our nation and on the State in particular swiftly turns into a
communal lament for the misappropriation of these gratuitous
gifts of the magnanimous God and Father. Before the ejacula-
tion invoking the maternal care of Mary, Queen of our nation,
the prayer focuses on its immediate and primary intention:
“Safeguard our electoral process, so that men of integrity may
get into positions of leadership”. Prayer for good governance of
those that would be elected is articulated thus: “Endow our
leaders with the requisite wisdom to rule your people, guide
and protect them while in office, and sustain them in good gov-
ernance. Furthermore, the obscure final clause, “so that they
may lead your people to the ‘Promised Land’” is comprehensi-
ble only from the Biblical perspective, and perhaps, the Chris-
M. J. OBIORAH
tian belief in life after.
The author of Ps 72 expressed similar concern for the leaders
of his time as he joined many other petitioners in interceding
for the king. He must have been spurred on by the conviction
that the welfare of the people depended on the political success
of the king, who in the OT context was the viceroy of the na-
tional God. Just like the Prayer for Good Governance in
Anambra State, Ps 72 begins with a universalistic divine name,
Elohim. Both prayers address God who is the Creator of all and
in whose sovereignty earthly leaders participate. The celebra-
tion of “Nigeria at fifty” should incite meaningful profound
reflections on good citizenship and leadership. In a prayer for
the king in Ps 72, which belongs to the literary genre of the
Royal Psalm, one finds the characteristic features of a good
leader wished and prayed for by a patriotic petitioner. A survey
of these qualities and their implications for our nation set the
tone for this paper.
Praying for the King as the Primary
Context of Psalm 72
Psalm 72 belongs to a group of the OT texts (1 Sam 2, 10,
Pss 28, 8; 61, 6-7; 63, 11 and 84, 8-9) that contain some prayers
for the king. One of its verses reads: “May prayer be made for
him continually, and may blessings invoked for him all day
long” (v. 15b). Similar desire is found in 1 Tim 2, 1-2: “First of
all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and
thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are
in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life
in all godliness and dignity”. Unlike Ps 72 that fully focuses on
praying for the king, other OT prayers for the leaders are in-
serted in some general intercessions. In other words, the prayer
for the king in these texts is one of the petitions found therein.
These are, therefore, comparable to the General Intercessions or
Prayer of the Faithful we have in our liturgy. For instance, at
the conclusion of the Liturgy of the Word on Good Friday
celebrations, the Church solemnly, in words and gestures, ad-
dresses ten different petitions to God. The ninth of these is for
persons in public office:
Let us pray for those who serve us in public office, so that
all men may live in true peace and freedom: Almighty and
eternal God, you know the longings of men’s hearts and
you protect their rights. In your goodness watch over
those in authority, so that people everywhere may enjoy
religious freedom, security and peace (…).
It is instructive to learn that the Church calls these leaders
“those who serve us”; hence praying for them is not just a duty
we owe them but also for the good of all whom they serve.
While praying for these “public servants” the prayer asks for
religious freedom, security and peace which are the pressing
needs of every society. The penultimate position of this prayer
in the General Intercession is similar to what we have in many
OT prayers for the king, especially in the Book of Psalms.
In appreciation of the favour received from God, Hannah, the
mother of Samuel, celebrates her joy with a Song which Mary’s
Magnificat (Luke 1, 46-55) replicates. The ten verses of Han-
nah’s Song of Praise (1 Sam 2, 1-10) extol the good Lord who
is the Voice of the voiceless and who brightens the face of the
ill-fated. This exultation ends with a prayer, or rather a wish,
expressed in these words: “The Lord will judge the ends of the
earth; he will give strength to his king, and exalts the power of
his anointed” (v. 10). The synonymous parallelism in “his king”
and “his anointed” conveys the relationship between God and
the king. Of the three groups of people anointed in the OT (king,
prophet and priest), only the king bears the title “the Anointed
of the Lord”. Israel’s monarchs were visible manifestations of
God’s kingship. If one follows the chronological order of
events in the OT narrations, the prayer for the king in Hannah’s
Song could be categorized as anachronism, that is, something
that is not in harmony with the time. The prayer preceded the
practice of monarchy in Israel. This could explain the reason
why this prayer is inserted at the end of an extended song of
praise. It is explained as a late addition in the text (Gunkel-
Begrich, 1998), or that the entire text was composed and in-
serted in its canonical place. Verse 10, however, is not uncon-
nected with the entire poem; it forms an inclusion with v. 1, and
it fits the theological point of the song. “As Yahweh blesses the
anointed king, the poet will personally experience divine sup-
port” (Klein, 1983: p. 19). This point is verifiable in other
prayers for the king in the OT.
The author of Ps 28, a prayer for help and thanksgiving for
help received from God, remembers the king in his implicit
prayer for the leader of his people: “The Lord is the strength of
his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed” (v. 8). If the
Lord saves the king, this lieutenant of God acts on his (God’s)
behalf in being the strength of the people. As the poet of Ps 28
prays to God for his personal needs, he includes a protestation
of faith in God who sustains his people through the king.
Psalm 61 is a payer for God’s protection and the psalmist
dedicates a significant part of his poem in praying for the wel-
fare of his leader in these words: “prolong the life of the king;
may his years endure to all generation! May he be enthroned
forever before God; appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to
watch over him!” (vv. 6-7) He prays for long life, steadfast love
and faithfulness. These are God’s gifts to the king so that he
will be able to do his work effectively for God and for the peo-
ple, particularly for the petitioner who implores divine protec-
tion on himself. He obtains this through the good leadership of
the king whom he believes that God will keep long in office.
The background of this triple petition and of the concepts found
in the Royal Psalms, which will be discussed below, is the
promise of the perpetuity of the Davidic dynasty in 2 Sam 7,
particularly in vv. 12-17. It was also customary in the Ancient
Near East to pray for king’s long life. At the end of a prayer to
Ishtar, the petitioner intercedes for the king, praying for his
long life (Falkenstein-Von Soden, 1953). Another Babylonian
hymn to Nana also concludes with an intercession on behalf of
the king, particularly for long life (Falkenstein-Von Soden,
1953). In Psalm 72, the author prays twice for God to give the
king long life (vv. 5 and 15). The Prayer for Good governance
in Anambra State asks that God may sustain the leaders in good
governance. In other words, those who govern well may con-
tinue in doing well and their office be prolonged.
In a Psalm of ardent longing for God in the temple, and of
comfort and assurance in God’s presence, the poet of Psalm 63
prays for the king who supposedly has built the sacred precinct
and maintains it: “But the king shall rejoice in God; all who
swear by him shall exult” (vv. 10-11). In the world of the Bible,
one of the duties of the king was to erect and support the temple
of the national God. He also played some important role in the
cultic celebrations. This is because, sanctified by his anointing
and adopted by Yahweh, he was a sacred person and seemed
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M. J. OBIORAH
thereby to be empowered to perform religious functions (De
Vaux, 1994). With this in mind, one understands why the per-
son who longs to be in God’s presence in the temple prays for
the well-being of the king. The continuity of the king guaran-
tees the continuity of the place of worship.
Similar to Psalm 63 is the pilgrimage or Zion Song of Ps 84.
The author prays: “Behold our Shield, O God; look on the face
of your anointed” (v. 9). In this distich poem, the psalmist em-
ploys the metaphor of shield that is rarely predicated of the king
(Obiorah, 2004). In fact, shield is a common metaphor for
God’s protection in the OT (Gen 15, 1; 2 Sam 22, 31; Pss 3, 3;
7, 10; 18, 2; 18, 35; 28, 7; etc.). The characteristic features of a
shield that God bears are realized in human history through the
protection that the king gives to his people. Praying for the king
becomes, therefore, an important civic duty.
Psalm 72 is more elaborate in its prayer for the king than any
of the texts discussed thus far. It is also special in the sense that
the author, while praying for the king, delineates the qualities of
good leadership which has its source only in God. Indeed, our
Psalm begins by asking God to give the king that justice and
righteousness that belong to God. These two are the key points
of this long prayer, which relates to the readers what the con-
temporaries of the psalmist expected of their king. Justice and
righteousness that a good leader exhibits are God’s gifts that
should be asked of God for the rulers. When people pray for the
king, they ask for these fundamental virtues. In the Prayer for
Good Governance in Anambra State, these basic features of a
leader are called “requisite wisdom”, because they are indis-
pensable in the life of every leader. The poet of Psalm 72 aptly
develops in its very interrelated strophes and stanzas the “req-
uisite wisdom” of a good leader.
A Close Reading of Psalm 72
Psalm 72—A Royal Psalm
A prayer for the king as we have in Psalm 72 would naturally
belong to the genre of Royal Psalms. These are Psalms 2; 18;
20; 21; 45; 72; 89; 101; 110; 132; 141, 1-11 (Gunkel-Begrich,
1998) and their internal unity deals with kings (Kraus, 1993).
“All they have in common is that they are concerned with the
king” (Westermann, 1984: p. 56). This is not farfetched in
Psalm 72. Every part of its stichs, strophes, and stanzas is on its
central theme, which is prayer for the king. Royal Psalms like
Ps 72 bear a well spelt-out internal unity more than any other
type of Psalm.
When taken as a unit, Royal Psalms form a repertoire of all
the designations or appellations referring to the king. In them
Israel’s monarch is called “king” (Pss 20, 10; 21, 2.8; 45, 2.6.12;
72, 1), “YHWH’s anointed” (18, 51; 20, 7; 89, 52; 132, 10),
“YHWH’s servant” (89, 51). Psalm 72 alone contains another
title that is not found in other Royal Psalms. In its introductory
verse, the monarch is called “a king’s son”. The sense of this
appellation and its function in the entire Psalm will be duly
Many would argue and persuasively as well that the king
mentioned in the Royal Psalms was no other than Israelite
kings. This is because in all these Psalms the national God that
the kings represent is YHWH, and their people are YHWH’s
people. Furthermore, the king mentioned in the Royal Psalms
resides in Zion (Ps 2, 6; 20, 3; 110, 2; 132, 13), the city of
YHWH ((Ps 101, 8). Psalm 89, 51 specifies that the ancestor of
these king is David. With this in mind, arguments on foreign
rulers in the Royal Psalms appear relatively unconvincing.
Related to this is the issue of the date of the Royal Psalms.
Vivid presentations of events in the life of Israelite kings may
not be outside the monarchic era; that is, pre-exilic period in the
history of ancient Israel (Barbiero, 2007). “All Royal Psalms
have reference to the time in which the monarchy existed in
Israel; they are in origin pre-exilic—even though we cannot
rule out later shaping” (Kraus, 1993: p. 57). However, Ger-
stenberger (2001) argues for a post-exilic date of Ps 72.
Royal Psalms, therefore, have their life setting in lived events
of Israel’s kings. Possible events are the enthronement of new
ruler (Pss 2; 72; 101), special festivals like the one to which
Hosea 7,5 alludes, dedication of the temple, victory in war (Pss
20; 18; 144, 1-11), thanksgiving celebrations, solemn proces-
sion with the ark (Ps 132), declaration of loyalty and taking a
vow (Ps 101), a royal wedding (Ps 45). The special prayer for
the king in Psalm 72 could be an item in the agenda of a solemn
enthronement of a new king (Paul, 1972). While praying for
him, the people articulate their expectations. If the Prayer for
Good Governance in Anambra State is well preserved, many
future generations could deduce from its content the life situa-
tion that engendered such prayer. They would know that there
was a time when political turmoil that nearly destabilized this
part of our nation was arrested by heartfelt recourse to the
power of prayer. The generations to come would read from the
text the fear that gripped all because of the uncertainty of the
awaited electoral process.
Structure of P s al m 7 2
There is often so much to elicit from correct analysis of the
structure of a text, especially the OT poems like the Psalms.
The meanings of these poems are embedded in their structure.
When a text still retains its original form, unaltered by redactors
or editors in the course of its transmission, its structure portrays
the artistry of its composer (Kselman, 1975). Many affirm that
the text of Psalm 72 did not suffer so much from editorial con-
jectures. This means that the Hebrew version of this Psalm
resembles the original text.
Psalm 72 is the last Psalm of Book II in the Psalter. Like
every other Psalm that ends each of the five books of the Psalter
(Pss 1-41; 42-72; 73-89; 90-106; 107-150), there is also a dox-
ology at the end of our Psalm (vv. 18-19), and a postscript in
the final verse: “The prayers of David son of Jesse are ended”
(v. 20). Terrien (2003) separates v.18 from this doxology and
joins it to the fifth stanza. Whatever may be his reason for this,
other similar doxologies at the end of each book of the Psalter
remains plausible evidence for making the poem proper of Ps
72 end in v. 17. Apart from these two verses, which most
probably are not part of the original text, but editorial glosses
appended at some stages in the redaction of the Psalter, Psalm
72 has five stanzas with clear stanza markers. These stanzas are
vv. 1-4; 5-7; 8-11; 12-14; 15-17 (Girard, 1994). The view that v.
1 should be a mono-strophe stanza because it is the only verse
that has imperative and that it encapsulates the message of the
Psalm (Wilson, 2002) should not be discarded. However, no
one doubts this observation because every Psalm has a well-
calculated introduction, usually the first sentence in the poem.
Psalm 72 is not an exception. In fact, early Christian interpreta-
tion of the Psalms names each text according to its key text,
which is often from the first line of the Psalm. A very good
Copyright © 2013 SciRes.
M. J. OBIORAH
example is the name of Psalm 51, Miserere.
In Psalm 72, v. 1 introduces the entire text but in a particular
manner it forms an integral part of the first stanza. The psalmist
asks for divine justice and righteousness for the king. With
these two the king will judge the people, and his righteous
judgment will have some cosmic effect (v. 2). His “requisite
wisdom”, according to Prayer for Good Governance in Anam-
bra State, extends to those who are in dire need of it (v. 4).
In vv. 5-7 the petitioner prays for long life for the king and
specifies that it is not quantity but quality that is required. The
long life asked should not be empty oppressive reign but should
be filled with concrete good works. In point of fact, fruitful
long life is the prayer intention in this second stanza (Ravasi,
The third major division, vv. 8-11, concentrates on the inter-
national fame of the king. If he does well internally, the whole
world would not fail to recognize him. In other words, his fame
will reach the four corners of the earth because of how he or-
ganizes his internal affairs.
The poet returns to the initial prayer point of vv. 1-4 in the
fourth stanza (vv. 12-14), but from a new perspective and con-
text. Actually, vv. 12-14 have strong affinity with the preceding
vv. 8-11. The whole world would recognize the leader and pay
him homage (vv. 8-11) because he exhibits marks of good
leadership in his realm (vv. 12-14).
The final stanza (vv. 15-17) begins with a prayer for long life
as in the second stanza. This fifth stanza, however, is more
concrete and does not use metaphors as in vv. 5-7. The king
lives to fulfill the expectations of his people and of God in
whose sovereignty he participates. These expectations should
be the positive impacts of good leadership. The king remains in
office for this purpose.
Prayer for Good Governance in Anambra State is organized
in three stanzas with a final Marian invocation characteristic of
Catholic prayer. This intercession, like Psalm 72 has its inter-
nally unified structure. The first stanza prepares for the second
and the second for the petition in the third stanza. In the first
paragraph of this prayer that is addressed to God the Father, we
acknowledge the manifold gifts of our nation and in particular
of this part of our country. The prayer subtly echoes the words
of Ps 65, 9: “you visit the earth and water it, you greatly enrich
it”. A prolepsis at the end of this stanza anticipates the content
of the second paragraph which is on misappropriation of God’s
gifts by those in power. Their action impoverishes those whom
God has generously enriched. The content of the third para-
graph is necessary because of the general feeling of hopeless-
ness engendered by perverse leadership. In similar manner, the
author of Psalm 72 prays and wishes that his people may not be
victims of vicious leadership.
The Message of Psalm 72
A very short superscription attributes Psalm 72 to Solomon.
The only other Psalm with this name is Psalm 127. Perhaps, the
traditional connection of Ps 72 with Solomon could be derived
from the phase “a king’s son” in v.1 and Solomon’s prayer for
wisdom and righteous rule in 1 Kings 3, 6-15 (Wilson, 2002).
We bear in mind always that superscriptions on the Psalms are
traditional interpretations and applications of these texts and
might have nothing to do with authorship.
Besides the superscription, Ps 72 being the last Psalm of the
Book II of the Psalter contains an elaborate doxology (vv. 18-
19) and a post-script (v. 20) which is found only here in the
Book of Psalms. The doxology here and at the end of the other
books of the Psalter might have inspired the use of doxology in
Christian prayers beginning from the Early Church, particularly
as observed in The Didache 9, 1-10, 6 (Van de Sandt-Flusser,
2002). Each of the five stanzas of Ps 72 contains a specific
message of the text, which we attempt in the following para-
graph to elucidate.
Just and Righteous Leadership (vv. 1-4)
The king in Ps 72 is first called “king” and then “son of a
king”. Though the phrase “son of a king” could be an allusion
to Solomon and a basis for the attribution in the superscription,
this title at the beginning of a Royal Psalm, particularly in a
prayer for good leadership is significant. It is not only an ap-
propriate title, but also the only fitting one for the ideal king
portrayed in this text. It points at the legitimacy of the king. He
did not come to the throne through fraudulency or usurpation,
or in our parlance, through rigging the election. According to
the poet, he is the successor of his father, who was also a king.
The importance of this title lies in the fact that we have here the
foundation of every good leadership (Human, 2002). In the
Prayer for Good Governance in Anambra State, this was the
preoccupation of the citizenry when February 2010 was ap-
proaching and the echo of the words, “safeguard our electoral
process, so that men of integrity may get into position of lead-
ership”, resounded in all homes and parishes.
Men and women of integrity could obtain their “requisite
wisdom” if they recognize that their position of leadership has
its origin in God. He gives wisdom to rule. “Justice” and
“righteousness” which the psalmist asks of God for the king in
v. 1 are the foundation on which good governance is built. The
Hebrew version of this verse presents “justice” mišpāt in the
plural form mišpātîm. The Septuagint and the Syriac Peshitta
translate this with a singular noun. This plural form appears
strange in the text; but a close reading reveals the intention of
the composer. It refers to the various aspects of this fundamen-
tal virtue of justice. In fact, it is vital that it occurs in this plural
form at the beginning of a poem that focuses so much on the
different manifestations of justice. Good governance is founded
on administration of justice (Alonso & Carniti, 1992). It is a
constant teaching of the OT Wisdom Literature, especially the
Book of Proverbs (cf. 8, 15.16; 16, 12; 20, 26; 20, 28; 25, 5; 29,
14) and on the divine law which Dukor (2010: p. 30), writing in
the context of African culture, describes in these words: “The
Divine law is impartial. Fortunate and unfortunate develop-
ments were believed to take the course of natural justice”.
The first stanza presents these different ways by which jus-
tice could be exercised. Triple act of good leadership in v. 4
include first, “to defend the cause of the poor of the people”;
second, “to give deliverance to the needy”; finally, “to crush the
oppressor”. Where these are practiced, there is equity among
people (2 Sam 8, 15; Pss 101; 122, 5). In the words of the au-
thor of Ps 72, 3, when justice and righteousness exist, there is
natural equilibrium; mountains yield prosperity for the people.
“Abundance of natural crops, especially on the mountains and
hills, also belongs to the royal ideology” (Terrien, 2003: p. 519).
Where there are justice and righteousness, crime wave would
not be on the increase; and a general feeling of insecurity will
be held at bay. People plant their crops and joyfully reap the
fruit of their labour. Material resources would adequately be
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M. J. OBIORAH
provided for the well-being of the people. “The possibility of
ordering, protecting, and supporting a social unit depended on
the use of power for the corporate group” (Mays, 1994: p. 236).
The psalmist reflects on the fact that “protection of the poor and
universal peace are traditionally the benevolent capacities of
monarchs” (Terrien, 2003: p. 519). Hence, there is need to pray
for the king, especially for fruitful long life.
Fruitful Long Life (vv. 5-7)
To pray for long life of the king presupposes that the king is
already on the right track, exercising justice and righteousness,
which are manifestations of his “requisite wisdom”. Otherwise,
it would be unnecessary praying that he remains in office. In
the second stanza of our Psalm, the petitioner prays for fruitful
long leadership of a just and righteous king. Just like the peren-
nial sun and moon, which never fail in their divinely assigned
functions, the king lives to do his work of protecting God’s
people. It is, indeed, hyperbole to liken the long duration of the
king’s reign to sun and moon (Alonso & Carniti, 1992). Similar
use of this particular figure of speech in Ps 89, 37, however,
shows that Ps 72 would not have sounded strange to its audi-
Two similes in v. 6 underscore this desire for fruitful long
reign of the king. First, good governance is like rain that falls
on the mown grass. Second, it is like showers that water the
earth. Only a person that has experienced aridity in the land of
the Bible will appreciate the image which the psalmist is evok-
ing by using these similes. Both refer to fertility and prosperity
brought by refreshing rain. There is leap of great joy among the
people when their dry patched land is blessed with early pre-
cipitation that gives hope for abundant harvest. Good govern-
ance is compared to this. This symbol is recurrent in the OT,
particularly in the prophets (Isa 45, 8; 52, 7; 55, 12; 61, 11;
Ezek 36, 8; Micah 6, 1-2; Joel 2, 23-24; Ps 85, 12). In Ps 72,
“they pray for the life of the king in order that the king may
give them life which enables them, in turn, to pray” (Tate, 1990:
226). Correspondingly, writing on happiness in life in African
context, Dukor (2012: p. 172) conveys: “In Africa, happiness in
life is predominantly sought in the enjoyment of beauty where
beauty presents itself to our senses and our judgment, the
beauty of human forms and gestures, of natural objects and
landscapes and of artistic and even scientific creations”.
Similarly, in the Prayer for Good for Good Governance in
Anambra State the people pray that God may sustain the leaders
in good governance, so that they may lead them to the “Prom-
ised Land”. If the term “Promised Land” is metaphorical here,
as one would expect, it could be interpreted as a symbol of that
peaceful and prosperous life for which the people constantly
and ardently yearn.
Universal Reign of the King (vv. 8-11)
The map showing the boundaries of the king’s kingdom is
presented in this stanza as “from sea to sea, from the River to
the ends of the earth”. Other occurrences (Ps 80, 2; Gen 15, 18;
Exod 23, 31; Deut 1, 7; 11, 24; 1 Kgs 5, 1.4-5; 1 Chr 9, 26) of
similar description of the world show that this map is an ideal
borders of the kingdom of David and Solomon (Ravasi, 1996).
“Psalm 72 gives the most precise definition of the realm in
which the anointed one is responsible” (Seybold, 1990: p. 181).
According to some interpretations, “from sea to sea” indi-
cates from the Red Sea in the south to the Mediterranean in the
north; or from the Dead Sea in the east to the Mediterranean in
the west; from Euphrates in the east to the ends of the land in
the west (Ravasi, 1996). This description, however, depends on
where the writer was at the time when he composed his poem.
In addition, one perceives in the text an allusion to God’s
promise to Abram: “I will make of you a great nation and I will
bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a
blessing” (Gen 12, 2). This blessing is realized or reached its
apex in the time of the United Kingdom of Israel.
In v. 10 specific important places in this vast kingdom are
mention. First is Tarshish which represents the part of the world
on the west of Palestine (Ps 48, 8; Isa 23, 1; 60, 9; 66, 19; Jonah
1, 3; 4, 2). Tarshish was one of the four sons of Javan, the son
of Japheth who was a great-grandson of Noah (Gen 10, 4). His
descendants are associated with maritime countries in the
Mediterranean and Aegean (Baker, 1992). Another place men-
tioned in the text is Sheba. At the time of Solomon it was the
Queen of Sheba that came to Jerusalem with camels loaded
with spices, gold and precious stones (1 Kgs 10, 2a; 2 Chr 9, 1).
In Ps 72, kings of Sheba will bring gifts to YHWH’s anointed.
Sheba is said to be in the southwest corner of the Arabian Pen-
insula (Ricks, 1992). Seba that is also mentioned is located in
the southern part of Arabia. Isles in the text indicates all the
Islands in the Mediterranean coast (Ps 97, 1; Isa 11, 11; 24, 15;
40, 15; 41, 1-5; 42, 4.6). This covers all the places on the west-
ern part of Palestine. According to the author of Ps 72, all the
kings from these places and beyond will be subject to the king,
and the king, in turn, will be able to extend his protection to all
of them. The wish expressed here for the extension of the
power of the king’s dominion should not be interpreted as a
mere political megalomania (Weiser, 1962). He will be able to
do this because of his charism of justice and righteousness that
have their origin in God.
Marks of Good Leadership (vv. 12-14)
In a three poetic lines of synonymous distich in each of them,
the poet articulates in his ardent desire for good governance
what can be recognized as marks of good leadership. The syn-
onymous parallelisms in each of the distich strengthen the
message contained therein. Good leadership, according to the
poet, makes the defense of the less privileged of the society a
top priority. In this stanza (vv. 12-14) of our poem, the psalmist
presents the various groups of those who should need the atten-
tion of the king more than others. Each group is matched with a
corresponding and appropriate action of the king.
In v. 12 the first action of the king is expressed in the root nṣl
of the hiphil pattern with the meaning “to pull out”, “extricate”,
“rescue”. The recipients of this action in the words of the
psalmist are those he depicts as ’ebyôn, that is, the needy, poor,
oppressed, those in want and abused. In adding a piel participle
of the root šwʽ (“to cry for help”), the poet further vivifies the
situation of this social class. In the next stich the action of a
good leader expressed by the root nṣl extends to another group
of the needy called ʽānî, that is, a person overwhelmed by want,
poor, wretched, unfortunate. The third phrase ʼēn ʽozēn lô “one
without helper” describes the third group. The syntagma with
ʼēn followed by a singular noun as we have here has been ex-
plained as categorical negation (Joüon-Muraoka, 2006). Per-
haps, the position of this phrase at the end of the stich is to give
a fitting portrait of the preceding ’ebyôn and ʽānî; these groups
of downtrodden are persons without helper. The role of the king
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M. J. OBIORAH
is to extricate them from their deplorable situation.
In v. 13 the psalmist adds to his repertoire of Hebrew terms
for the less privileged the adjectival noun dal “helpless”, “pow-
erless”, “insignificant”, “poor”, “dejected”, as he repeats the
term he has already used, ’ebyôn, first as a singular noun, and
then in a plural form ’ebyônîm. These two in the text are ac-
companied by two verbs of actions of a good king. The first
verb is from the root ḥws which in the Hebrew Bible is em-
ployed only in the qal pattern and bears the meaning “to look
compassionately at”. Compassionate feeling should culminate
in palpable action; hence the poet adds another and frequent
verb of deliverance yšʽ used in the hiphil here with the meaning
“to save”, “rescue”. It is impressive to note that the direct ob-
ject of this second verb is nepeš (here in plural napšôt) of
the ’ebyônîm. It indicates the life, with all the connotations of
this term, of the person involved. The two verbs and their cor-
responding direct objects are chiastically arranged in order to
highlight the message of the poetic line and the stanza in gen-
eral. An outstanding mark of a good leader is to save and pre-
serve life, especially the life of persons who because of their
social status are unable to help or defend themselves.
In v. 14 constructive emphasis on the situation of all the
groups of the exploited mentioned in the two preceding verses
might have engendered the emphatic position of the two terms,
tok “oppression” and ḥāmās “violence”, at the beginning of this
line. From both possible fates of the less privileged a good
leader should redeem (gʼl) their life. He does this because their
blood is precious in his sight. In other words, preservation of
human life takes precedence over any other royal act. In sum-
marizing the contents of this stanza, v. 14 concludes the psalm-
ist’s concept of marks of good leadership. Life is precious and
should be protected and cared for at all just costs (John Paul II,
2004). The king participates in the divine attributes as preserver
of human life.
The mark of good leadership for which the petitioner in Ps
72 fervently desires is concretized in an ancient hymn that de-
scribes the reign of Ramses IV:
Those who have fled return to their towns,
Those who have hidden showed themselves again;
Those who had been hungry were fed,
Those who had thirsty were given drink;
Those who had been naked were clad,
Those who had been ragged were clothed in fine gar-
Those who were in prison were set free,
Those who were in bond were filled with joy (De Vaux,
It is the desire of every nation to be blessed with good lead-
ers. Prayer for Good Governance in Anambra State asks God
for the same when the people pray for “requisite wisdom” for
their leaders. It is wisdom to know what to do and to have the
will to do it. The first manifestation of this wisdom in leader-
ship is to care for all under one’s authority, especially for those
who are in most need of help.
Renewed Prayer for Fruitful Long Life (vv. 15-17)
This last part of the prayer for good governance in Ps 72
takes the form of wishful desires for the ideal king presented in
the text. It is all in the jussive beginning with the exclamation,
“Long may he live!” (v. 15) The petitioner prays for long life,
prosperity (v. 15b), that all may continually intercede for the
king (v. 15c), for the well-being of his entire kingdom, abun-
dance of all under his jurisdiction who are most in need of (v.
16), and for enduring reign of this just and righteous king (v.
The unity of these three verses is essentially marked by an
envelope figure, an inclusion, deducible from verses 15a and 17.
The exclamation, “Long may he live”, of v. 15a corresponds
with the prayer that the king’s name, that is, his reputation, may
endure forever. Still in the same two verses, the gold of Sheba
of v. 15b parallels other nations that will recognize the fame of
the king and pronounce him blessed (v. 17). There is here
without a doubt an allusion to the reign of Solomon; this could
explain the attribution of this Psalm to Solomon as one can read
in its superscription.
One of the points raised in this stanza is the necessity of
praying for leaders always: “May prayer be made for him con-
tinually and blessings invoked for him all day long” (v. 15). We
have already seen above the many OT texts, especially in the
Psalter, where petitioners include short prayers for the king in
their individual and communal prayers. They believe that the
interests of the king are theirs too. It is indeed an act of faith to
pray for the king, because such prayers come from the convic-
tion that kings are God’s representatives. They execute the will
of God for the people. Being God’s anointed, they bear marks
of God whom they represent on earth. God’s attributes, par-
ticularly those derived from divine acts of protection and care
for his people are manifested in every God-fearing king.
This explains why in vv. 15-17, particularly in vv. 15-16
prayer for the wellbeing of the king is immediately followed by
a prayer for the land and for the people that live therein (v. 16).
This second part of the prayer could be the ultimate aim of
every prayer for good governance. In fact, the people pray for
their leaders so that they may exercise their duties conscien-
tiously. Impact of this is the wellbeing of the subjects. The
blessings that should be invoked for the king continually, ac-
cording to v. 15c, is explained in v. 16. These blessings include
abundance of grain in the land. In other words, in good gov-
ernance this basic human need is diligently provided. The au-
thor of Psalm 72 underscores this when he further describes
“abundance of grain” with another desire: “may it have on the
tops of the mountains”. The well-watered and fertile Lebanon
becomes almost proverbial in the text. Abundance of grain in
the land is comparable to “fruit of Lebanon”. A land with such
abundance will certainly have people that blossom like grass of
the field (v. 16).
The first and second paragraphs of Prayer for good Govern-
ance in Anambra State are almost a lament because there is
abundance of everything in the state, but “the populace of this
blessed state are in anguish”. They are in anguish because the
extraordinary human and material resources are not well used,
and the leaders do not provide for the wellbeing of the people.
There is, therefore, urgent need for God’s intervention in the
life of the citizens.
“Long may he live” that the psalmist earnestly desires for the
king, according to v. 15, is for fruitful reign of a good king who
holds his people in his hearts, and provides for them. His
blessings will be manifested in his people. In this way his fame
will continue as long as the sun endures (v. 17), that is, forever;
a hyperbole that profoundly reveals the deepest yearning of the
petitioner for good leadership.
Copyright © 2013 SciRes. 197
M. J. OBIORAH
So Much in Good Governance
In a prayer of petition, it is easy to perceive the deepest aspi-
rations of the petitioner. These desires are often articulated in
various ways. Some can take the form of entreaty directed to
God, imploring him for specific needs in specific life situations
of the supplicant. This is supplication that contains the intention
of the prayer. The author of Ps 72 does this in the introductory
verse of his poem which contains the only imperative verb, tēn
from the root ntn, in the text. In Prayer for Good Governance
in Anambra State, such direct petitions are presented in the
third paragraph of the text and with verbs in the imperative
mood: “fight for us…”, “safeguard our electoral process…”,
“endow our leaders…”, “guide and protect them…”, “sustain
them…”. All these reflect the desperate need of the people in
their life situation. Apart from direct address to God, petition in
prayer can also be expressed as desires with verbs in jussive.
Many of the verses of Ps 72 are in this category. The psalmist
makes his wishes part of his petition.
Another form of petition seen in the Prayer for Good Gov-
ernance in Anambra State is description of some life situation
of the petitioners. The aim of such detailed description is to
implore God who sees all and can ameliorate such situations.
This is the focus of the second paragraph of this prayer: insta-
bility in the state has been generated by political gangsters. In
Ps 72 this is presented positively in vv. 12-14 which is on
marks of good governance, and extols the king. The psalmist
portrays the expected qualities of the ideal king in his poem.
From Ps 72 and what one can deduce from Prayer for Good
Governance in Anambra State, the first mark of good govern-
ance is authenticity of persons who occupy this post of service.
The author of Ps 72 prays for “a king’s son” (v. 1). In other
words, he prays for one who ascends the throne lawfully. Simi-
larly in Prayer for Good Governance in Anambra State, the
people express their desire for successful electoral process,
knowing that this is the foundation of good governance. Lead-
ers should be those elected by the people and not those who
forced their way to this post. Unfortunately, this has been the
case in many sectors of government in our nation. Political
instability, which we have experienced all these years in our
nation, can be attributed to undue craving for power by persons
who selfishly desire and assume posts of which in normal
course of events they should not be given. Their ulterior mo-
tives are manifested in their egoistic attitude. This explains the
many instances of fraudulent actions by people in authority,
elimination of real or imagined rivals, and negligence of duty
especially towards those they should care for and protect.
Justice and righteousness for which the author of Ps 72 prays
on behalf of the king have been explained above as divine at-
tributes. Leaders share in these attributes in virtue of their of-
fice as God’s representatives on earth. A good leader sees his
office as participation in God’s leadership. Every authority
comes from him. In a crucial moment in the life of Jesus, when
Pilate sees only the human aspect of the Roman authority he
bears and claims in these words: “Do you not know that I have
power to release you and power to crucify you” (John 19, 10),
Jesus instructs him on the divine origin of every earthly leader-
ship: “You would have no power over me unless it had been
given you from above” (John 19, 11). Corruption and corrupt
use of power would very much abate if those in authority be-
come aware of the divine origin and gift of the service they
should render to others. Both leaders and “the led” suffer unde-
servedly where God is relegated to the outskirt of the society.
Leaders suffer the pain of claiming what does not belong to
them. The subjects, “the led”, suffer because of the actions of
their leaders (Doma, 2007).
Where the divine origin of human authority is recognized,
leaders exhibit the expected divine qualities in their actions.
Marks of good leadership stated in Ps 72, 12-14 are copiously
attributed to God in both the OT and the NT. He is the God of
the voiceless. He continues this fatherly care through good
leaders who acknowledge the divine origin of their authority.
The grace and the strength to be the voice of the less-privileged
come solely from God. Consequently, the primary task of every
leader is to give life to those under him; this life knows no ex-
emption for it embraces all under his realm of office.
When the purpose of existence of anyone or thing is achieved,
or there is an effort to accomplish such purpose, peace, the
Biblical concept of shalom, is felt by all. It is, indeed, one of
the ardent desires of human beings that all creatures fulfill that
purpose for which they have been created. In particular, every-
one longs for the experience of good leadership, which is a
great source of human happiness, both personal and communal.
The expectations of good governance are well known to all
(Azeez, 2009) with the effect that these can easily be trans-
formed into earnest petitions, especially when they are not
forthcoming, or when a new leader is about to assume the of-
Psalm 72 studied in this paper in the context of similar peti-
tion in our contemporary society, Prayer for Good Governance
in Anambra State, is an example of human yearning for coher-
ence in life. Leadership is for a purpose; it is meant for the
wellbeing of all, both leaders and those they lead. In the world
of the author of Psalm 72, there was a strong belief that author-
ity was of divine origin. In fact, theocracy persisted even when
human beings were leaders. These human rulers were perceived
as representatives of God. Prayers were offered on their behalf
so that they might effectively carry out their responsibility.
These petitions were also in a way for all because of the con-
viction that the welfare of the monarch was also that of the
people. In these prayers, especially those in Psalm 72, the deep
aspirations of the petitioners are articulated.
Similarly, in Prayer for Good Governance in Anambra State,
the citizens knew what they wanted and addressed their peti-
tioner to God from whom every authority comes. They directed
their entreaty according to the precarious situation in which
they found themselves. In Psalm 72 and Prayer for Good Gov-
ernance in Anambra State the petitioners delineated features of
good governance expected of every leader. These qualities
concentrate on protection of human life, which should indeed
be the aim of every leadership and evidence of the fulfillment
of its divinely ordained purpose.
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