This is a short academic paper on how, in light of the covenantal background, I understand God’s promise to David outlined in 2 Samuel 7.
Throughout history the promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 has been variously understood, reflecting the changing nature of the reading audience (Schniedewind, 1999). Brueggemann (1990) sees the promise as central to both the drama and theology of the books of Samuel.In seeking to understand the promise we will consider how it may relate to the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, as well as evaluate how perception of the promise has changed in light of succeeding biblical history and revelation.
The promise was given after David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem where he pitched a tent for it (2 Samuel 6:12-17). Characteristic of successful Ancient Near East kings, David desired to build a temple (2 Samuel 7:1-2) for the deity that bestowed that success (Knoppers, 2013). Temple building was thought to secure the dynasty (Laato, 1997). Nathan the prophet initially approved David’s proposal, but Yahweh intervened and issued Nathan with his promise to give to David (2 Samuel 7:4-17). David is reminded that Yahweh raised him to the throne (7:8); Yahweh gave him both victory over his enemies, and a great name (7:9); Yahweh has appointed a place for Israel (7:10), and will make a house for David (7:11); after David’s death, Yahweh will raise up his seed, and kingdom (7:12); David’s seed will build a house for Yahweh’s name, and his throne will be established forever (7:13); the king will be treated as Yahweh’s son, be subject to discipline if he breaks God’s commands, but regardless Yahweh will ensure his house and kingdom continue forever (7:14-16). Halpern (2001) describes Yahweh as issuing “the guarantee of a dynasty on credit” (p. 338) as David’s lifetime would not see its fulfilment. In overriding David’s proposal, Yahweh presented his own plan that he alone would perform (Satterthwaite, 1995).
Although the word “covenant” (Hebrew: berith) does not appear in 2 Samuel 7, the underlying concept is covenant loyalty or faithfulness (Hebrew: hesed) (Kuivenhoven, 2010). 2 Samuel 23:5 and Psalm 89:34-37 demonstrate that 2 Samuel 7:8-17 is the first description of a particular covenant – the Davidic covenant (Grisanti, 1999). Old Testament covenants were solemnly inaugurated relationships that incorporated obligations on one or both sides (Beckwith, 1987). The Abrahamic, Sinai or Mosaic, and Davidic covenants influence the majority of biblical history and theology.
The Abrahamic covenant is a grant covenant, in which God is generally acknowledged as giving an unconditional commitment to Abraham (Grisanti, 1999). It is found in Genesis 12:1-3, promising Abraham a land, he would become a great nation, a great name, and a blessing to all peoples. It is further developed and refined in Genesis 13:14-17; 15:4-21; 17:1-22; 18:17-19; 22:15-18; 26:2-5; 28:13-15. In contrast, the Mosaic covenant, which governed how God’s nation should conduct their lives, followed the form of an ancient suzerain-vassal treaty between God and Israel. It applied only to Israel, with blessings or curses conditional upon Israel’s obedience or disobedience (Barrick, 1999). Originally entered into at Sinai (Exodus 19-24), it was subsequently refined through Israel’s history; for example, at the restatement of the covenant before entering Canaan, recorded in Deuteronomy.
Contrary to first impressions, in actuality both covenants possess an on-going tension between conditionality and unconditionality. Despite its unconditional nature, the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant did require elements of obedience from the human participants (Genesis 17:9-14; 18:19; 22:15-18; 26:5). If God’s people disobeyed the Mosaic covenant, God remained faithful and preserved the blessings, such as the land promise, for a future generation who would be obedient (Barrick, 1999). For both covenants, the ultimate blessings unconditionally remained; God would fulfil his covenant obligations. However, whether human participants benefitted depended on their faithfulness.
Does the Davidic covenant possess any similarity to God’s previous covenants concerning the question of conditionality? In every verse from 2 Samuel 7:10 through 14, Yahweh repeatedly emphasises that he alone will bring the covenant to fruition, yet if the human participants are to experience the full blessings of the covenant they must meet the condition of faithful obedience to God’s laws (2 Samuel 7:14). Israel’s ideal Davidic king was one who kept the Mosaic covenant, and directed the people to covenantal obedience (Howard, 1990). In a sense he was to embody the Mosaic Law for his people (2 Samuel 7:14 cf. Deuteronomy 17:18-20).
These covenants complement each other (Barrick, 1999). Grisanti (1999) describes God as, “weaving a beautiful covenant tapestry, weaving each new covenant into the fabric of the former covenants”(p. 245). The Abrahamic covenant was the foundation for all subsequent scriptural revelation (Essex, 1999); the Mosaic covenant was the vehicle God used to deliver the Abrahamic land promise (Niehaus, 2013). The Davidic king was obliged to faithfully obey the laws outlined in the Mosaic covenant in order to fully receive the Davidic blessings that are grounded in the Abrahamic covenant. Even the way Abram is presented in Genesis 15 appears to foreshadow David (Gosse, 2010). The progression and expansion of the promises within 2 Samuel 7:8-17 show that God’s purposes revealed in his covenants would be centred upon his Davidic king, whose house, kingdom and throne would be established forever (v. 16). The gradual progressive building of the promise may have helped David not to baulk at the sheer enormity of its concluding fullness (Tyler, 2003).
Some scholars view the Davidic promise as Solomonic propaganda, legitimising the Davidic dynasty over the house of Saul. Regardless, over time the promise was vested with great significance that centred on both the Davidic king and Solomon’s temple in Jerusalem (Schniedewind, 1999). The integrity of God’s promise was further strengthened by the survival of Judah, when the northern kingdom fell to Assyria in 721 B.C.. However, this view received a shattering blow when Judah itself fell to the Babylonians in 586 B.C., assigning the Davidic kings and Solomon’s temple to history. God had been true to 2 Samuel 7:14 in disciplining the covenant-breaking kings, yet God had promised an everlasting kingdom to David. Schniedewind (1999) succinctly asks, “What happened to it?” (p. 3). Did God fail to deliver his promise? Alternatively, was understanding of the promise somehow inaccurate, or incomplete?
Scripture itself provides useful commentary in understanding the Davidic promise. Despite the Chronicler writing after the Babylonian exile, 1 Chronicles 17:1-15 remains unwavering in its restatement of the promise, with some assigning messianic expectation to the text (Mason, 2013). Psalms 89 and 132 also provide refinement and commentary of the promise. Notwithstanding the casting down of the throne (Psalm 89:44), the Psalm ends with future hope (vv. 49-52).
The biblical prophets have much to say concerning the development of God’s covenantal program (Olander, 2006). Petterson (2010) points to numerous examples where, despite judgment for breaking the Mosaic covenant, Yahweh will accomplish his people’s restoration in a manner focused on the Davidic king. Hosea 1:9-11 refers to restoration of both the southern and northern kingdoms under “one leader” (NASB), with Hosea 3:4-5 specifically mentioning the Davidic king in the context of the last days. This would be a throwback to the original unity under the Davidic king hinted at when Amos, the southern kingdom prophet, prophesies to the northern kingdom (Amos 1:1) (Goswell, 2011). The “fallen booth of David” (Amos 9:11 NASB) will be restored. Micah 4:8 and 5:2-5 speak of a restored kingdom, and a ruler originating in David’s town, Bethlehem Ephrathah, who “will be great to the ends of the earth” (NASB). Zechariah 12:8 predicts the restoration of David’s house in the context of the people mourning over someone who was “pierced”, and a shepherd who was struck (Zechariah 12:10 NASB). The context demands this figure is the future Davidic king who is killed, resulting in restoration of the covenant relationship between God and his people (Petterson, 2010).
The Major Prophets contain the same theme. Isaiah 9:1-7 speaks of this future king who will establish the kingdom on David’s throne. Significantly he will “uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on forevermore” (Isaiah 9:7 NASB) suggesting this king will be faithful to the Mosaic covenant, consequently fulfilling the Davidic promise in 2 Samuel 7 (Williamson, 2013). The same future hope is found in Jeremiah 23:5-6.
These Old Testament references to an idealised Davidic king leading a future restored kingdom contributed to messianic hopes (Satterthwaite, 1995), albeit indistinct in nature (McConville, 1995). Judah’s imperfect kings contrasted sharply with the future Davidic figure ruling over a glorious kingdom (Satterthwaite, 1995). The New Testament took the texts referring to the Davidic promise and applied them to Jesus, further developing the messianic concept (McConville, 1995), despite many commentators regarding the original Davidic promise as “pre-messianic” (Kruse, 1985, p. 164). They interpreted the Davidic texts through the lens of Jesus, using a messianic hermeneutic. Without this messianic interpretation, the Davidic promise would have remained suspended since 586 B.C., or even considered to be failed. Nevertheless, as with the Mosaic covenant, the failure of man does not nullify the ultimate purposes of God (Knoppers, 2013).
Even the finest Davidic kings did not flawlessly keep the Mosaic covenant. Jesus, however, is presented as perfectly keeping the Mosaic Law (Hebrews 4:15). He is the seed of Abraham (Galatians 3:16), yet simultaneously in the Davidic line (Matthew 1:1-6). So is Jesus the fulfilment of the Davidic promises?
In his Pentecost sermon, Peter alluded to Psalm 132 in identifying the resurrection of the Messiah as the basis for the Davidic promises (Acts 2:22-32) (Beale, 2005b). The Septuagint version of Psalm 132:17-18 says God will make his sanctuary grow upon his Messiah; in other words, the foundation for the temple will be the Messiah (Beale, 2005b). Jesus spoke of his body being a temple (John 2:18-21). Believers in Messiah form his body, the church, which is described as the temple (e.g. Ephesians 2:19-22). In 2 Samuel 7:5-7 God states he has never wanted a permanent building to dwell in, and this seems to be confirmed with the eventual destruction of Solomon’s temple (Anderson, 1989). Instead God preferred a dynamic tabernacle, a desire fulfilled in the church. But have David’s house, kingdom and throne been established yet (2 Samuel 7:16)? Luke 1:32-33 anticipates a literal fulfilment, but this has clearly not yet occurred; complete fulfilment must still be future, to be accomplished on the return of Messiah in the messianic kingdom (Walvoord, 1945).
Walvoord (1945) detects a distinction in 2 Samuel 7 between Solomon, the throne, and David’s seed. Solomon is only promised an everlasting throne, not seed, whereas David is promised an everlasting reign for his seed. Solomon’s seed was cut off at the Babylonian exile, yet David’s seed survived intact through the lineage of another son of David, Nathan, whose line never actually occupied the throne. The first occupant to sit on David’s throne from this line will be king Messiah. It is almost as if the pre-exilic Davidic kings were a distraction. Only Jesus can legitimately trace his lineage back to David, the potential genealogical evidence supporting alternative claims being destroyed in A.D. 70.
The biblical evidence points to the Abrahamic, Mosaic and Davidic covenants all being fulfilled in the person of the Messiah (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:20a). Due to the resurrection, Messiah will permanently reign on the restored throne of David, perfectly embodying the righteous standards of the Mosaic covenant. His kingdom will last forever. Israel will be a great nation and people, possessing the full promise of the land. Messiah and his kingdom will be a blessing to all peoples of the world. He is building his temple, the church. Revelation 21:1-22:5 suggests the fullness of God’s house will transpire when creation is finally renewed, and the New Jerusalem descends from heaven. Rather than having a physical temple building, Revelation 21:22 says, “the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple” (NASB), one that will dominate the new creation (Beale, 2005a). At that time, with the Davidic Messiah king’s throne established forever, both his kingdom and temple will essentially be one and the same, and will endure forever (2 Samuel 7:16).
Despite the unfaithfulness of the Davidic kings, God’s promise to David would bless not only his people Israel, but also the peoples of the whole world. From our vantage point in history, the key Old Testament covenants are seen to be “the fountainhead from which God’s entire redemptive kingdom program springs forth” (Olander, 2005, p. 314). The promise in 2 Samuel 7 is central to this program. Progressive revelation culminating in the New Testament provides a window on the continuing fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, focused upon Israel’s Messiah. That fulfillment is still to reach its conclusion, but when it does it will be on a scale that David could scarcely have imagined.
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