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The Biblical Covenants, Part 5b: Davidic Covenant Cut

Having traced the theological, historical, and logistical concepts of Israel’s kingship from Adam to David, we may now focus on the covenant that God cut with David. Yet there is still a little more contextual groundwork to lay down before analyzing the covenant itself and then examining the continuation of this covenant.

 

Davidic Context


The events recorded in 1 Sam. 16-31 are somewhat confusing because Saul remains the ruling king over Israel and yet David has already been anointed. Is David the anointed king? Yes. Is David ruling Israel? No. There is, therefore, a precedent being made for a king who is handpicked by God and anointed for the office of king with an interim of time between the anointing and the beginning of the kingdom. The focus of the last half of 1 Samuel shifts to David, yet it is David without a kingdom.


Any attempt to recreate the events of David’s reign in chronological order must bear in mind that the book of Samuel[1] is a theological book before it is an historical book. The book of Samuel thus develops Israel’s disunity and rebellion under the judges to a unified kingdom under God’s chosen king by following three men: The last judge Samuel (1 Sam. 1-7), Saul, Israel’s choice of king (1 Sam. 8-15), and David, God’s choice of king (1 Sam. 16-2 Sam. 24). While there remains a general sense of chronology in the development of David’s life and reign, there is also a thematic arrangement that cannot be ignored. David’s reign over all Israel begins in 2 Sam. 5:1. From chapters 5-8, the reader is provided all the triumphs and positive aspects of David’s reign with a magnificent summary in chapter 8. Beginning in chapter 9 and extending all the way through chapter 20, the reader is presented with the troubles and failures of David’s reign. While both sections are internally chronological, the events they record overlap with each other. The life and reign of David contained both high points and lows (triumphs and troubles) and each section focuses on either David’s triumphs (2 Sam. 5-8) or his troubles (2 Sam. 9-20). A brief illustration of Samuel may be helpful:

·       Samuel: The Last Judge (1 Sam. 1-7)

·       Saul: Israel’s Choice of King (1 Sam. 8-15)

·       David: God’s Choice of King (1 Sam. 16-2 Sam. 24)

o   David’s Rise (1 Sam. 16-31)

o   David’s Reign (2 Sam. 1-20)

§  David Coming to Reign (2 Sam. 1-4)

§  David’s Triumphal Reign (2 Sam. 5-8)

§  David’s Troubled Reign (2 Sam. 9-20)

o   David in Review (2 Sam. 21-24)


This understanding of how the book of Samuel is arranged is necessary in order to present the events of David’s life and reign in a coherent chronological order.[2]

·       c. 1041 BC: David’s Birth

·       c. 1029 BC: David anointed by Samuel

·       c. 1011 BC: David anointed king of Judah

·       c. 1004 BC: David anointed king over all Israel

·       c. 996-993 BC: The great famine

·       c. 993-990 BC: The Ammonite wars

·       c. 992 BC: Adultery with Bathsheba

·       c.  991 BC: Birth of Solomon

·       c. 985-982 BC: Absalom exiled

·       c. 979 BC: David’s palace built

·       c. 977 BC: The ark moved to Jerusalem

·       c. 976 BC: Absalom’s rebellion

·       c. 975 BC: The census

·       c. 973-971 BC: Coregency with Solomon

·       c. 971 BC: Solomon crowned king/David’s death


With this brief timeline to go from, we can deduce when in David’s reign the events of 2 Sam. 7 (the cutting of the DC) took place. It had to be after David’s palace was built in light of 7:1-2: “Now it came about when the king lived in his house, and Yhwh gave to him rest on every side from all his enemies, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I am dwelling in a house of cedar while the ark of God is dwelling in the midst of curtains.’” This scene must have taken place after 979 BC when David’s own palace was completed. Another piece of the puzzle comes in v. 18 when David sat or dwelt (ישׁב, the same verb translated as “dwelling” in vv. 2) before Yhwh. The text implies that the ark, the visible manifestation of Yhwh’s presence, is already in Jerusalem. Thus, the giving of the DC must be after the ark was moved there c. 977 BC. Because Ps. 3 is entitled “A psalm by David, when he fled from Absalom his son” we know that the psalm was written in or around 976 BC. In this psalm, David calls Yhwh his shield (v. 3) and the one who gives victory (vv. 7-8). How could David know for certain that he would not only survive Absalom’s rebellion, but maintain his kingdom? The answer is that David had already been promised an everlasting kingdom in the DC. We’re arguing for a date of the DC between 977-976 BC; after the ark was moved into Jerusalem and before Absalom’s rebellion. Thus, late in David’s life and reign, God cut a covenant with David to ensure an everlasting Davidic dynasty.

 

David’s Covenant


Because of the greatness of his own palace and the apparent shabbiness of the tabernacle, David is convicted to build a palace for Yhwh, a more permanent structure for the newly arrived ark to rest in. The idea seemed good enough to Nathan when David approached him with the idea, so the prophet (without first seeking God’s approval) gave David the green light to proceed. But Yhwh had other ideas and made them known to Nathan that night. Rather than making a house for God, God will make a house for David. The text of 2 Sam. 7:8-17 contain no less than seven distinct promises,[3] all of which either look back to previous promises and covenants made or look forward to the fulfillment of those same covenants.


The first promise made to David is that Yhwh will make David’s name great (v. 9). This of course corresponds with Yhwh’s promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:2) and thus begins a linking of these two covenants. The sense is not that David’s name will be made great like Abraham’s name was made great, but that in making David’s name great, God is fulfilling His promise to Abraham. This promise to David is part of the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham.


Second, God promises to provide a place for the nation of Israel and plant them (v. 10). This fits with the land promised to Abraham (Gen. 15:18), a promise that has not come to completion at this time otherwise God would be wasting His breath. Though God kept His word to Abraham in that He brought Israel out of Egypt and into the Promised Land of Canaan, the boundaries of the land have never been realized, nor have the original inhabitants been permanently dispersed. Four hundred years after the “conquest”, Israel still waits for the fulfillment of the land promise to be realized in full. This land promise is now part of the DC.


Third, David is promised rest from all his enemies (v. 11). This promise is interesting on two points. (1) The context has already been stated as when David was enjoying rest on every side (v. 1). This was a moment in David’s reign when there was relative peace throughout the kingdom. Yet, according to our timeline, that peace will not be enjoyed for long. Rebellion and betrayal will find David soon enough. This promise of rest therefore is a promise for something far ahead in David’s future. (2) The language of rest is tied to the Noahic Covenant, for even Noah’s name (נֹחַ) anticipates a future rest (נוח) from the labor of the curse (Gen. 5:29).


Fourth, David is promised a future seed (זֶרַע – v. 12) after David’s death. Much like Abraham (Gen. 17:7-10) this seed will come from David’s own line. The promise therefore is not expected to be fulfilled within David’s lifetime but within the lifetime of his seed.

Fifth, this future seed will build a house for God (v. 13) rather than David building it. While David’s name will be made great, the honor associated with the construction of the house for God’s name will belong to David’s seed.


Sixth, God promises David that He, Yhwh, will be the father of David’s seed (v. 14). This certainly echoes the statements God made regarding the nation of Israel (Ex. 4:22) but finds its roots in the implications of Abraham’s original call (Gen. 12:1) and especially in the status of Adam (Gen. 1:26-28; Lk. 3:38). Somehow, the line of David and the line of Yhwh God will meet in a single individual: David’s seed. If it has not already been made clear, God explicitly tells David that the seed of the woman who will crush Satan and rule the world from Jerusalem will come forth from David as his seed. The Davidic dynasty is now an explicit feature in God’s victory plan.


Finally, God promises that David’s dynasty, kingdom, and authority will endure forever (vv. 13, 16). This is an important feature because it explicitly demands an eternal aspect of this covenant. The DC certainly does not fit the parameters of a Suzerain-Vassal treaty, for there are no terms or conditions for David to fulfill. As in the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Priestly Covenants, this is a Land Grant covenant whereby David is an unconditional (and undeserving) beneficiary of God’s grace. The language employed provides direct links with the Noahic and Abrahamic Covenants while continuing and developing themes of the Mosaic Covenant. Here, for the first time, we begin to understand how God is going to firmly connect Israel to the blessings of AC and where the seed of the woman will come from. Israel’s future Davidic king is the key.

 

To this we must make several additional observations. The first is that there is no way in which this promise can point to David’s son Solomon as the fulfillment because (1) Solomon fully met none of these promises, (2) Solomon was not a righteous or faithful king, and (3) Solomon freely admitted that he was not the promised seed of David. Regarding the promises made to David here in 2 Sam. 7, Solomon (a) pursued the greatness of his own name rather than the greatness of his father’s name. (b) Solomon’s land came close to the boundaries promised to Abraham but did not quite meet them. (c) Solomon enjoyed more rest than David yet did not enjoy complete rest. (d) While Solomon is in fact David’s seed and (e) he did build a house for God’s name, neither Solomon nor the house he built lasted forever. (f) Solomon was not Yhwh’s son but was the son of David through Bathsheba. (g) Solomon’s kingdom was split immediately after his death and has not been resurrected since. While Solomon provides a taste of many things to come, he cannot be said to have fulfilled the DC in any meaningful or realistic way. Regarding Solomon’s reign, a comparison of Solomon’s deeds to the explicit expectations of Israel’s kings from Deuteronomy 17:14-20 will soon reveal that Solomon broke all three prohibitions for the king (1 Kings 10:26-11:8 vs. Deut. 17:16-17). Solomon was not a righteous king. As for Solomon’s own estimation of his reign, a study of Ps. 72, composed by Solomon, exposes the fact that Solomon not only knows that he is not the promised seed of David, but that he joins his father David in longing for this future righteous king to come who will rule the world from Jerusalem.


A second observation is the implication of this seed’s suffering in relation to sin (v. 14). Part of God’s promise to David is that this coming seed will be corrected with the scepters of men and the strokes of the sons of Adam (אֲשְׁר בְּהַעֲוֹתוֹ וְהֹכַחְתִּיו בְּשֵׁהֶט אֲנָשׁים וּבְנִגְכֵי בְּנֵי אָדָם). Several points must be made. (1) This promise comes in conjunction with the statement that this seed will be God’s own son. (2) This promise was not fulfilled in Solomon because he was never beaten by a foreign king nor was he ever physically beaten.[4] In Solomon and the Davidic kings to follow, we see shadows of fulfillment in the many positive aspects of this promise and yet we do not see complete fulfillment. It is only natural to expect consistency in this pattern regarding the negative aspect here. The seed of David (who is in fact the seed of the woman and the son of God) will suffer at the hands of men in connection with iniquity. The future king will be a suffering king.


A final observation goes back to the statement God made regarding David’s origins. In v. 8, God reminds David that he began as a son reduced to servitude in the pastures only to be promoted by God to rule over His people, Israel. The language is implicit, to be sure, yet seamlessly fits the expectation of the one who will champion God’s victory where Adam failed. Because the promise concerns David’s seed rather than David himself, we know that David is not the promised seed. Yet, in David we begin to see a picture of what to expect in the coming seed of the woman. God’s champion will come first as a servant before serving as king.

 

Covenant Confirmation


While it is all well and good to make these kinds of observations, how can we know that we have come to the correct conclusion? Our first clue is to ask the question: did David understand this covenant in the same terms that we do? If Abraham believed God and was credited righteousness (Gen. 15:6) and Phinehas acted on faith resulting in atonement for the nation (Num. 25:1-13), then we should expect David’s understanding of this promise to be both correct and accurate. In addition to this we should add what the later prophets would say regarding this covenant with David. How did the prophets interpret God’s promise with David?

 

David’s Prayer (2 Sam. 7:18-29)


The prayer of David immediately following Nathan’s prophecy of the DC is enlightening on many fronts. From David’s own mouth we are told how David interpreted this promise. Three main points arise from observing David’s prayer: (1) the fulfillment of this promise will not occur in the next generation, (2) this promise will positively affect the world, and (3) the promise to David relates to God’s choice of Israel.


The first two of these points are found in the same verse. In v. 18, David begins his prayerful response to Yhwh’s grace by acknowledging that he owes his present position as king and his future position as dynastic head to Yhwh. It is He who has taken David from the pasture to the throne. In v. 19, David both recognizes the fact that fulfillment lies in the distant future and that this fulfillment has global implications. Many translations render the final line of v. 19 in obscure and unhelpful ways: “…this is the manner of man” (NKJV), “…this is the law of man” (LSB), “…this is the custom of man” (NASB). The text literally states “and this is the instruction concerning the man” (וְזֹאת תּוֹרַת הָאָדָם). The term for “man” here is not emphasizing his masculinity (אִישׁ) but his humanity in connection to Adam (אָדָם). David claims that the DC is the instruction or Torah (תּוֹרָה) concerning[5] the man, the Adam[6] to come in the distant future. David perfectly understands that this promise reveals the seed of the woman who will come to gain victory over the serpent and thus undo and reverse the global curse. This is a promise to David and for all sons of Adam.


The conclusion of David’s prayer consistently links this promise to David with God’s relationship with the nation Israel. The phrase “the God of/over Israel” (vv. 26, 27) summarizes the purpose of the AC (Gen. 17:7, 8) and the objective of the MC (Ex. 19:6). David recognizes that this promise of the man to come as king over Israel will be the key to connect the nation the blessings promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Israel. This promised seed of David will complete the picture which Moses painted but failed to bring into focus.

 

The Prophets Interpretations


Because the DC is such a major theme in the prophets, it is difficult to summarize the totality of what they said. There are however a few main themes on which we can focus in order to crystalize the whole of their teaching.


The first point to consider is the prophet’s understanding of the future fulfillment of this promise. None of the prophets considered the DC as fulfilled in the lifetime of David, Solomon, or any Judean king between David and Zedekiah. Near the end of Judah’s independent existence, Jeremiah rebukes king Jehoiachin (Coniah) and declares that he is cut off from DC blessing in that he will be marked down childless and is thus removed from the Davidic seed line (Jer. 22:30). If the seed had already been produced, then this curse is unnecessary and meaningless. If the seed is future from Jeremiah’s perspective, then He could not have come in the form of any person between David and the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.


A second point the way in which the prophets connect the DC with the other biblical covenants. Because of the high degree of language shared, every discussion and mention of the DC imports and assumes the entire AC. David’s promised seed includes Israel’s land as well as temporal and eternal blessing. These two covenants are eternally linked. Also, the fact that the DC begins with a promise of rest, all discussions of the DC import the Noahic Covenant. This last statement is proven by Isaiah’s (Is. 54:9-10 vs. 2 Sam. 7:15) and Jeremiah’s (Jer. 33:23-26) treatment of the DC. The Noahic Covenant, the promise of future rest and present stable environment in a cursed condition, is the proof Yhwh provides that the DC will come to fulfillment. In addition to this, we must add that the prophets consider the PC and the DC inseparably linked (Jer. 33:19-22; Ezek. 34:20-31; 37:24-28). The king requires priests to serve and inaugurate Him. The king is the key to everything.


A third point considers the focus which the prophets bring as to this promised one’s identity. Not only will this seed be a direct descendent of David, but He will also be God in human flesh. It is not that this one will be born and then occupied by God, but that He will be both God and man from conception. Only this understanding explains how a virgin can bear a son (Is. 7:14) allowing for this one to truly be called the Son of God (2 Sam. 7:14). Isaiah 9:6 is most explicit that this one to come will be a human child that is physically born and yet will be called “Mighty God” and “Eternal Father”. For a mere human to receive these titles is the height of blaspheme. But for God in human flesh, it is simply the truth. This is what it means to have God with us or Immanuel (Is. 7:14). In this seed of David, God will finally dwell in the tents of Shem (Gen. 9:27). Because of this most unique birth, there is no reason why His arrival should go unnoticed. That is, if the people were watching for it.


The final point of consideration is the role or purpose which the prophets anticipate this coming one to fulfill. As a king, this seed of David is expected to be the single head of the government (Is. 9:6) who shepherds and protects the people (Ezek. 37:24; Micah 5:4) by instructing them (Micah 4:2; Is. 2:3) and raining down righteousness upon them (Ps. 72:6; Hos. 6:3; 10:12). In short, the seed of David will be Israel’s corporate head who will be responsible for Israel’s obedience and fidelity to Yhwh their God (Ezek. 37:24). As a servant (2 Sam. 7:5, 8, 26), this Davidic seed remains a corporate representative of Israel, but in a very different manner. Isaiah speaks of Yhwh’s servant as one who is in fact Yhwh (50:10; 52:13b), as well as a singular representative of Israel (49:3). He rules a global kingdom (42:1; 53:12), suffers at the hands of men (50:6; 53:3, 5) and in substitution for Israel (53:4-6), and one who will succeed in redeeming Israel and the world (42:3-4; 49:6-7; 53:10-12). The tension of the MC was the fact that because Israel broke covenant with God, they must die. Yet, because of the AC and the relationship it has with the MC, Israel cannot die. The DC paves the way for a single representative, Israel’s king, to bear the price of Israel’s iniquity, to die in the place of the nation. If the seed of David will come as a servant before He comes as a king, then the seed must die on behalf of His people before He rules and subdues the world as their king.

 



[1] The Hebrew canon does not designate two separate books (1&2 Samuel) but one singular book “Samuel”. The same is true regarding 1&2 Kings and 1&2 Chronicles. See Appendix B “The Hebrew Canon”.


[2] The following dates and events are taken from Eugene Merrill’s Kingdom of Priests, p. 261. For discussion regarding these dates, the reader should consult this work.


[3] Kaiser, p. 79.


[4] The term many bibles translate as “rods” is literally “scepters” (שֵׁבֶט), the same term used to distinguish the kings that would come from Judah (Gen. 49:10) and the implement of skull crushing used by an Israelite king of Israel’s enemies (Num. 24:17). The implication is that God will use other kings as implements of judgment. The noun נֶגַע (affliction/blow) is attributed to mankind or the sons of Adam. Thus, this cannot be a divine and miraculous blow or affliction but a physical blow. It is difficult to take the language here seriously if one is looking for a fulfillment in Solomon.


[5] The construct “instruction of the man” is an object genitive indicating that the man (הָאָדָם) is the object of the construct noun “instruction” (תּוֹרַת) contained within the DC.


[6] It is possible to take הָאָדָם as a marker of humanity (instruction for humanity/mankind  – e.g., Gen. 6:1, 4, 5) rather than as a definitive singular person (the man – e.g., Gen. 1-3; Ps. 1:1) as per Kaiser (p. 79-80) and Vlach (p. 117). If this is true, then the sense is that this instruction is not concerning the man to come but is for the benefit of all humanity. Yet, even if this interpretation is correct, the global aspect of David’s understanding remains.

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