The wisest king ever sets example for Canada's next PM
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
On Canada's coat of arms is found the Latin expression "A mari usque ad mare." It means "From sea to sea." It's our nation's motto, and it's taken from the Bible, Psalm 72:8, a prayer that has much to say about how leaders today are to govern their people.
With Federal elections only days away, I thought we might pause for a moment and reflect on this psalm so closely associated with our national identity.
Psalm 72 is a prayer for Solomon at his coronation as ancient Israel's third king, following the death of his father, King David about 3,000 years ago. (Solomon is regarded by many as the wisest king that ever lived.)
Besides Canada's motto, the psalm contains another often-quoted line, especially treasured by us who live in sight of the Rockies: "The mountains shall bring peace to the people" (verse 3 as it appears in the King James Version).
For the rest of this column, I'll be quoting from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible.
"Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king's son," the psalm begins.
Immediately, attention is drawn to the special obligation national leadership must bear toward the disadvantaged:
"May [the king] 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." (Vv.24).
The king is to be "like the rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth," with the consequence that peace and wellbeing prevail throughout the land (vv.67).
The next verse, "May he have dominion from sea to sea," is not only the source of Canada's motto, but resonates with expressions such as "Dominion of Canada" and "Dominion Day," now known as "Canada Day."
The psalm continues with the prayer that other world leaders, impressed by the king's style of leadership, will pay special honour to him:
"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." (Vv.1214)
Solomon, well aware of the heavy burden of public office, knew that he could not handle the task alone. "May prayer be made for [the king] continually, and blessings invoked for him all day long," the psalmist pleads (v.15).
I find it interesting, in the light of so much emphasis today on divorcing godliness from governance, that for the psalmist, seeking first God's governance is fundamental to human governance and necessarily precedes any desire for national prosperity. Only with that priority clearly established does the psalm continue:
"May there be abundance of grain in the land . . . and may people blossom in the cities like the grass of the field" (v.16).
When our political leaders today seem so caught up in the kind of legacy they want to be remembered for, it is instructive that Solomon's legacy was to be grounded in one thing alone: godliness reflected in goodness a legacy that benefits the whole world:
"May his name endure forever, his fame continue as long as the sun. May all nations be blessed in him; may they pronounce him happy." (V.17)
The impassioned tone of this coronation psalm is not surprising in light of an encounter Solomon had with God early in his kingship. God came to Solomon in a dream one night and asked him what he'd like from God.
"O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child," Solomon answered. "Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil. . . ." (1 Kings 2:5-9)
Solomon had a good mentor in his vision and values for leadership. His father, in his final words as king of Israel, spoke of the most important principle a king or prime minister must never lose sight of:
"One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land" (2 Samuel 23:34).
May the next Prime Minister of this land that stretches "from sea to sea" be so blessed with this wisdom as was King Solomon.
© 2006 Warren Harbeck