Who is the King of Glory – Jesus or Caesar?

When Augustus ruled alone upon the earth,
the many kingdoms of men came to an end,

and when You were made man of the pure Virgin,
the many gods of idolatry were destroyed.
The cities of the world passed under one single rule,
and the nations came to believe in one sovereign Godhead.

Virgin Mary being enrolled for taxation

The peoples were enrolled by the decree of Caesar,
and we the faithful were enrolled in the name of the Godhead,
When You, our God, were made man.
Great is Your mercy, O Lord, glory to You! 

(hymn from Vespers of the Nativity)

The events surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ as described in the Gospels of St. Matthew and St. Luke purposefully mirror images we know from historical evidence describing the celebration of the birth of the sons of Roman Emperors.  The Gospel writers want to be be clear that Jesus is not only the King of the Jews but more truly the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Caesars may rule THE Empire, but Christ rules the entire cosmos.  Sts Luke and Matthew set Christ from the time of His birth on a collusion course with the claims of the Roman Emperors.

“Ethelbert Stauffer in his work, Christ and the Caesars (SCM Press, 1955)…pays close attention to the evidence of the imperial coinage (which was regularly used as a propaganda medium) in this regard. The imperial coinage is full of the characteristic motifs of Advent and Epiphany, celebrating the blessings which the manifestation of each successive divine emperor was to bring to a waiting world. Among the adulatory formulas with which the emperor was acclaimed, he mentions, as going back probably to the first century, ‘Hail, Victory, Lord of the earth, Invincible, Power, Glory, Honor, Peace, Security, Holy, Blessed, Great, Unequalled, Thou Alone, Worthy art Thou, Worthy is he to inherit the Kingdom, Come come, do not delay, come again’ (p. 155).

Indeed, one has only to read Psalm 72 (**see below) in Latin, in the official language of the empire, to see that it is largely the same formal language which is used alike in the Forum for the advent of the emperor and in the catacombs for the celebration of the Epiphany of Christ (p. 251). Here there could be no compromise. Who was worthy to ascend the throne of the universe and direct the course of history? Caesar, or Jesus?”   (F. F. Bruce, The Defense of the Gospel in the New Testament, p. 65)

**Psalm 72:1-17

Give the king thy justice, O God, and thy righteousness to the royal son!

May he judge thy people with righteousness, and thy poor with justice! Let the mountains bear 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! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may righteousness flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more! May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!

May his foes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust! May the kings of Tarshish and of the isles render him tribute, may the kings of Sheba and Seba bring gifts! May all kings fall down before him, all nations serve him! For he delivers the needy when he calls, the poor and him who has 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 invoked for him all the day! May there be abundance of grain in the land; on the tops of the mountains may it wave; may its fruit be like Lebanon; and may men blossom forth from the cities like the grass of the field!

May his name endure for ever, his fame continue as long as the sun! May men bless themselves by him, all nations call him blessed!

Psalm 72 and “America the Beautiful”

LincolnMemYesterday in my daily scripture reading I read Psalms 72 , which says it is a “Prayer for Guidance and Support for the King” written by Solomon.

The Psalm made me think of the wonderful hymn, “America the Beautiful“, for a couple of reasons.  First, in verse 8 the Psalm says, “May he have dominion from sea to sea” which is paralleled by the songs “with brotherhood from sea to shining sea.”  Second, the Psalm verse 16 says, “May there be abundance of grain in the land; may it wave on the tops of the mountains” which is paralleled in the songs “For amber waves of grain.”   Third, verse 3 says “May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness”  which is paralleled in the songs “Purple mountain majesty.”  I have no idea whether the songs composer, Katherine Lee Bates, had Psalm 72 in mind (or any other Psalm for that matter), but the Psalm verses did remind me of the song verses.

This made me also think about the claims that America is a Christian nation.  For in Psalm 72 we are given a very particular image of what godly leadership consists.   And while the Psalms are Old Testamental, thus pre-Christian, many Christian Patristic writers believed the Psalms represented the mind of Christ.

So how does Psalm 72 envision godly leadership in a godly nation?

 [72:1] Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.

[2] May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

[4] May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.

 [7] In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.

[12] For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.

[13] He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.

[14] From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.   (The Septuagint according to the Orthodox Study Bible reads “He shall redeem their souls from usury and injustice.“)

XCenthronedOne thing which is clear in Psalm 72 is that the ruler of a godly nation provides justice to the poor and helps secure that the poor benefit from the righteousness of the nation.   The godly nation – the Christian nation – is to care for and provide for its poor.   The godly ruler takes up the cause of the poor and defends them, has pity for them, and delivers them in time of trouble.

Another thing made clear in the Psalm is the hope that peace will abound for the godly ruler and the godly nation.  The poor often suffer the worst of all citizens in the time of war as they already live on the edge of not being able to support themselves.   If there is such a thing as a peace dividend, it ought to be used to help the poor.

 Finall the godly nation and the godly rulers protect the poor from usury – the demands of interest charged by lenders.  There is a financial burden the godly nation must bear to help its poor. The godly nation is not to just make lending to the poor easy, or even to make lending cheap.   Rather the godly nation relies on generosity from its prospering citizens to provide for the needs of the poor and the disabled.   A godly ruler is one who cares about the poor and insures that they are treated well by the nation and by the people.