109

Hail to the Lord's Anointed (Psalm 72)

Full Text

1 Hail to the Lord’s anointed,
great David’s greater Son!
Hail, in the time appointed,
your reign on earth begun!
You come to break oppression,
to set the captive free,
to take away transgression,
and rule in equity.

2 You come with rescue speedy
to those who suffer wrong,
to help the poor and needy,
and bid the weak be strong;
to give them songs for sighing,
their darkness turn to light,
whose souls, condemned and dying,
are precious in your sight.

3 You shall come down like showers
upon the fruitful earth;
love, joy, and hope, like flowers,
spring in your path to birth.
Before you on the mountains
shall peace, the herald, go,
and righteousness in fountains
from hill to valley flow.

4 Kings shall fall down before you,
and gold and incense bring;
all nations shall adore you,
your praise all people sing.
To you shall prayer unceasing
and daily vows ascend,
your kingdom still increasing,
a kingdom without end.

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Scripture References

Thematically related:

Further Reflections on Scripture References

Psalm 72 is a prayer for blessing upon God's anointed king, probably intended for use in a liturgy for coronation. Later Jewish traditions and the early church saw in it a description of Messiah's righteous reign. The psalm expresses the people's desire that God so endow the king that righteousness and justice will characterize his reign (v. 1). This king will be worthy of high praise, for he will defend the poor and crush the oppressor (st. 1); his reign of refreshing peace and blessing will extend "over every nation" (st. 2). All nations will submit to him and bring him tribute (st. 3). He will rescue the poor, oppressed, and needy, for they are "precious in his sight" (st. 4). Prayers for the longevity and prosperity of his kingdom and praise for him will never cease (st. 5). His name will endure forever, as will his blessings among all nations, invoking eternal praise of the God whose glory fills creation (st. 6; see also Ps. 101).

 

Psalter Hymnal Handbook

Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Further Reflections on Confessions and Statements of Faith References

Stanza 1 proclaims immediately that the Lord’s anointed one is “great David’s greater Son!” Belgic Confession, Article 18 also traces his lineage back to David: “…the fruit of the loins of David…descended from David…the seed of David; the root of Jesse.”

 

And yet, the rule of the promised descendent of David, Jesus, will only begin “in the time appointed” (stanza 1). This truth is also told in Belgic Confession, Article 18: God fulfilled his promise “at the time appointed.”

 

Stanza 4 says, “all nations shall adore you,” a truth that is rooted in the prediction that the Messiah was coming for “all nations.” Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21, Question and Answer 54 professes that the Son of God gathers his church “out of the entire human race,” a church that “is not confined, bound, or limited to a certain place or certain people. But it is spread and dispersed through the entire world...” (Belgic Confession, Article 27).

 

The song concludes in stanza 4 picturing “a kingdom without end,” a truth that parallels Our World Belongs to God, paragraph 44: “Jesus Christ rules over all,” “His kingdom will come, and the Lord will rule” (paragraph 55). Our Song of Hope, stanza 21 professes: “There will be a new heaven and a new earth, and all creation will be filled with God’s glory.”

109

Hail to the Lord's Anointed (Psalm 72)

Call to Worship

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.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures,
and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
—Psalm 72:1-5, NRSV
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two

Additional Prayers

God of every nation, your law is right, your rule is just,
and even in this fallen world your kingdom knows no boundaries.
May the compassion, patience, and forgiveness you show us in Jesus Christ our Savior
form the ministry of reconciliation we offer to all people in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Everlasting God,
you brought the nations to your light
and kings to the brightness of your rising.
Fill the world with your glory,
and show yourself to all the nations,
through him who is the true light
and the bright morning star,
Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.

God of new beginnings, as we conclude the recent holiday season and celebrate
now your Epiphany, we recognize that we are even now forging ahead into a new
year. As we look back on the year gone by, we see so many things: things that
grieve us, things that cause us to rejoice, things that surprise us in ways both good
and bad, things that concern us. For our congregation, O Lord, any given year is
often a time of highs and lows, of births and of deaths, of exciting opportunities and
of unfulfilled hopes. Yet you are the faithful God who stays with us in and through
it all. When we ascend into heights of joy, you are there to receive the words of
praise that gush from our lips. When we descend into valleys of shadow, death,
fear, and uncertainty, you are there to hold our hand in the darkness and to assure
us that we are not alone. When we walk level paths as we go about ordinary tasks,
you walk with us, gracing the fruit of our hands with your own sacred benediction.
We confess, Father, that because we do not always behave the way we desire for
ourselves, there are times when your abiding presence makes us squirm, when the
brilliance of your light makes us scurry for cover. We are ashamed of some of the
things we do as you walk alongside us, of some of the thoughts we entertain in the
deep places of our hearts (places that are, even so, not hidden from you). Yet in your
grace you continue to stick with us, so we find your faithful constancy as our companion
in joys and sorrows to be a source of relief, of assurance, of repose. Thank
you for being with us through the many turns and twists our paths took last year.
And now as we enter a new year, bathed in the sacred light of Epiphany, we
sense anew how much we need your providential presence. We know that in past
months loved ones have suddenly died, precious jobs were suddenly terminated,
illnesses that we did not even remotely suspect were diagnosed—and suddenly all
of life changed. We did not see any of those things coming, O God, and we do not
have eyesight that can penetrate the months ahead in this new month and year. All
we can do is petition you for mercy and strength to face what is to come. But we
pray too that you will keep us in good health, in perfect safety, and in the knowledge
that we are loved by you and also by family and friends.
We need that sense of love, O God, because we know there are so many around
us in life who lack this awareness. So many are lonely. So many endured the holiday
season with only a grim determination to help them keep getting out of bed in the
morning. They had no parties to attend, received no Christmas cards in the mail,
had few if any for whom to buy gifts (or from whom to receive them). The lonely
among us are often also the invisible among us. But you see them, and by the goading
and prompting of your Spirit, you can enable us to see them as well. Minister to
them, and help us to minister to those who find the cosmos a barren and cold place.
Befriend the friendless, swaddle in love the unloved, take compassion on the bereft,
the childless, the lonely—and do all of that, O God, through us and through the love,
friendship, and compassion we ourselves proffer to this community.
Hear us as we pray, sacred Father. For any here this morning who feel so constricted
by doubt, anger, or grief that they cannot pray, assure them that we, along
with many others, are praying for them. Bless us in the balance of this service even
as you have already blessed us and graced us by your presence as we together
glorify you in our worship. Through Christ Jesus, the light of Epiphany, the light of
the world, we pray, Amen.
[The Worship Sourcebook]
— Worship Sourcebook Edition Two
109

Hail to the Lord's Anointed (Psalm 72)

Hymn Story/Background

Psalm 72 is a prayer for blessing upon God's anointed king, probably intended for use in a liturgy for coronation. Later Jewish traditions and the early church saw in it a description of Messiah's righteous reign. The psalm expresses the people's desire that God so endow the king that righteousness and justice will characterize his reign (v. 1). This king will be worthy of high praise, for he will defend the poor and crush the oppressor (st. 1); his reign of refreshing peace and blessing will extend "over every nation" (st. 2). All nations will submit to him and bring him tribute (st. 3). He will rescue the poor, oppressed, and needy, for they are "precious in his sight" (st. 4). Prayers for the longevity and prosperity of his kingdom and praise for him will never cease (st. 5). His name will endure forever, as will his blessings among all nations, invoking eternal praise of the God whose glory fills creation (st. 6; see also Ps. 101).
 
James Montgomery wrote this text for Christmas 1821 as an ode based on Psalm 72. It was first published in its entirety (eight stanzas) in 1822 in Adam Clarke's Commentary on the Bible, and later that year Montgomery also published it in his Songs of Zion. Montgomery's original paraphrase contains explicit Christian messianic overtones; Bert Polman’s 1985 revision brings the versification closer to the biblical text.
 
ES FLOG EIN KLEINS WALDVOGELEIN, a German folk tune, was first published in an early seventeenth-century manuscript collection from Memmingen, Germany. It later became a setting for Christopher Wordsworth's "O Day of Rest and Gladness" in George R. Woodward's Songs of Syon (1910 edition). The tune shares its opening motive and also its bar-form structure (AABA') with LOBE DEN HERREN (575). ES FLOG's combination of a sturdy tune and an able harmonization calls for energetic art singing that remains vibrant but not rushed. Psalm 72 also lends itself to antiphonal performance: the outer stanzas (1, 6) may be sung by everyone; the other stanzas by alternating groups.
— Bert Polman

Author Information

James Montgomery (b. Irvine, Ayrshire, Scotland, 1771; d. Sheffield, Yorkshire, England, 1854) was the son of Moravian parents who died on a West Indies mission field while he was in boarding school. Montgomery inherited a strong religious bent, a passion for missions, and an independent mind. He was editor of the Sheffield Iris (1796-1827), a newspaper that sometimes espoused radical causes. Montgomery was imprisoned briefly when he printed a song that celebrated the fall of the Bastille and again when he described a riot in Sheffield that reflected unfavorably on a military commander. He also protested against slavery, the lot of boy chimney sweeps, and lotteries. Associated with Christians of various persuasions, Montgomery supported missions and the British Bible Society. He published eleven volumes of poetry, mainly his own, and at least four hundred hymns. Some critics judge his hymn texts to be equal in quality to those of Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley. Many were published in Thomas Cotterill's Selection of Psalms and Hymns (1819 edition) and in Montgomery's own Songs of Zion (1822), Christian Psalmist (1825), and Original Hymns (1853).
— Bert Polman

Composer Information

Educated at Caius College in Cambridge, England, George R. Woodward (b. Birkenhead, Cheshire, England, 1848; d. Highgate, London, England, 1934) was ordained in the Church of England in 1874. He served in six parishes in London, Norfolk, and Suffolk. He was a gifted linguist and translator of a large number of hymns from Greek, Latin, and German. But Woodward's theory of translation was a rigid one–he held that the translation ought to reproduce the meter and rhyme scheme of the original as well as its contents. This practice did not always produce singable hymns; his translations are therefore used more often today as valuable resources than as congregational hymns. With Charles Wood he published three series of The Cowley Carol Book (1901, 1902, 1919), two editions of Songs of Syon (1904, 1910), An Italian Carol Book (1920), and the Cambridge Carol Book (1924). Much of the unfamiliar music introduced in The English Hymnal (1906) resulted from Woodward's research. He also produced an edition of the Piae Cantiones of 1582 (1910) and published a number of his translations in Hymns of the Greek Church (1922).
— Bert Polman

Song Notes

Psalm 72 is a well-known prophecy of the coming Messiah – foretelling the reign of the King and what the Kingdom of that Messiah will be like.  But perhaps more than a prophecy, Psalm 72 is a prayer. In these verses the psalmist calls upon God to send give justice and righteousness to the king, perhaps the newly crowned earthly king of Israel, but also the heavenly king. It is a cry for the deliverance of a broken people, for the realization of peace and light. James Montgomery’s hymn text from 1821 beautifully captures the essence of that prayer. Albert Bailey says, “His poem is more prayer than prophecy, or shall we say it is prophecy in large part unfulfilled but still capable of inspiring the Church to work for its fulfillment!” (Bailey, The Gospel in Hymns). As we sing this beautiful hymn, we both declare our hope and our longing for the Kingdom of God, and for the coming of the one who will turn darkness to light, and whose kingdom is “still increasing, a kingdom without end.”
— Laura de Jong
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