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The Davidic Covenant

Classes and Training by J. Ligon Duncan on Nov 5, 1998

If you have your Bibles, I would invite you to turn with me to 2 Samuel 7.  We are going to rapidly overview to the Davidic Covenant and especially the establishment of the house of David in II Samuel 7 

The Davidic Covenant

Robertson says that the climax of the Old Covenant is found in the coming of the kingdom in David’s day.  When the king sits on his throne, the kingdom has come.  That principle holds true for both the Old and the New Covenant eras.  To understand this, we will first look at II Samuel 7 and then I would like to set the context for this Davidic Covenant.  Let’s hear God’s Word in II Samuel 7: 

Now it came about when the king lived in his house, and the LORD had given him rest on every side from all his enemies, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains." And Nathan said to the king, "Go, do all that is in your mind, for the LORD is with you." But it came about in the same night that the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying, "Go and say to My servant David, 'Thus says the LORD," Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in? "For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent, even in a tabernacle. "Wherever I have gone with all the sons of Israel, did I speak a word with one of the tribes of Israel, which I commanded to shepherd My people Israel, saying, 'Why have you not built Me a house of cedar?'" ' "Now therefore, thus you shall say to My servant David, 'Thus says the LORD of hosts," I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be ruler over My people Israel. "And I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth. "I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. The LORD also declares to you that the LORD will make a house for you. "When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. "He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. "I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My loving kindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. "And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever." '" In accordance with all these words and all this vision, so Nathan spoke to David.” Thus ends God’s word.

Context of the Davidic Covenant

Let me set the context of this great passage.  This passage offers one of the most significant moments in God’s dealing with His people under the Old Covenant, because the establishment of the house of David is an integral part in God’s master plan to crush the head of the serpent.  For instance, Psalm 78, verses 67-72, makes it clear that the placement of David on the throne was of major significance in God’s redemptive purpose and was essential to the establishment of godly rule in Israel.  God had brought His people out of Egypt.  He had given them a good land.  He had driven out their enemies.  But because of their sinfulness in the days of the judges, God was angered and delivered them into the hands of their enemies.  And then, Psalm 78 tells us that God came to their rescue, established sanctuary and remedied their sin.  He paved the way for righteousness in setting up His servant David as the shepherd of Israel, as the servant king on the throne. 

So the book of II  Samuel records four important events which provide the context for II Samuel 7.  II Samuel 7 is the formal inauguration of the Covenant of God with David.  It is the formal inauguration of the Davidic Covenant.  But there are four important events that provide the context to this passage.  And here they are.

First, the long civil war in Israel between the forces of Saul and David was brought to an end.  And David was recognized as king.  II Samuel 5:3 says, “So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them before the LORD at Hebron; then they anointed David king over Israel.”  And we are told in II Samuel 5:10 that David responded to this in this way: David perceived that the Lord had established him as king over Israel and that He had exalted his kingdom for His people Israel’s sake.  Now that is not an insignificant statement on David’s part, because you remember David’s whole plan for the unification of the kingdom was jeopardized by the wickedness of his general, Joab. 

You also remember Abner had come to David and wanted to establish with some sort of peace agreement between the forces of Saul and the forces of David.  Abner was the lead general for Saul, and continued to run the opposition even after the death of Saul in the civil war.  And Abner had come to David, at Hebron and he had made a pact with him, and he said, look, I am going back to the armies of Saul and I am going to tell them, lay down your arms, we are going to follow David.  And you can imagine how David’s heart would have been lifted by the prospect of the end of this long civil war.  And it wasn’t just a civil war, remember, it was a holy war in the eyes of those who were fighting it.  Those on both sides had fundamental religious principles at stake as well as political principles at stake.  And what happened to Abner?  Joab found out what Abner had done, Joab feared that Abner would displace him as the lead assistant and general, and Joab independently of David’s knowledge, called Abner to come and meet him and he killed him. 

Now you can imagine, if you can pick up on the rumors that fly around our President today, okay, you can imagine the kind of things that were said about David in Israel when that happened.  You know, ah ha, David lured good Abner to his palace to cut this deal and Abner cut this deal and what did he do?  He literally stabbed him in the back.  You can imagine that from David’s standpoint, this looked like the end of any possibility of any reconciliation between these two forces, because Abner was an honorable man.  But Joab hated him for a variety of reasons that I won’t go into right now, and Joab jeopardized the whole plan.  So when God finally brought an end to this war, David really did realize that it was God who had given Israel into his hands, because he couldn’t have conceived now anything but utterly wiping out the other side, ever bringing an end to animosity between those two warring groups, so that is the first thing that happens in setting up what happens in II Samuel 7.  We see and end to the civil war.  David is established as king in the land.

Secondly, in II Samuel 5, verses 6 and 7, we learn that David captures the stronghold of the Jebusites in Jerusalem and he made it his capital.  We are told in II Samuel 5, verses 6 and 7, that the king and his men went to Jerusalem, to the Jebusites to the inhabitants of the land, and David took the stronghold of Zion, the same as the City of David.  Up until that time, David’s king, his capital had been among the Southern tribes in Hebron, and this move to Jerusalem which occupied a strategically central location between the Northern and Southern tribes, a strategic location for transport and warfare and communication, thus became his capital.  And of course, that was an important step in establishing the unity of Israel.  The Jebusites had long been a thorn in the flesh of the Israelites, who had not obeyed the Lord in driving them out of the land in the original conquest.  So now, David finally drives the Jebusites out of Zion.  

Third, in II Samuel 6, verses 16 and 17, we see that David brings the Ark of the Lord to Jerusalem.  This is the third aspect or event that sets the stage for the establishment of the Davidic Covenant.  This emphasized the close connection between David’s kingship, and the rule of God in Israel.  The ark represented the throne of God, the presence of God, the rule of God, amongst His people.  And to bring the ark into the capital, to the same location, was to emphasize that David’s reign in Israel was reflective of the rule of God in Israel.  The king of Israel would rule under the direct command of God, whose presence was symbolized in the form of the ark.  

Fourth, we are told in II Samuel 7 verse 1, that the Lord had given David rest from all his enemies.  In other words, God gave David’s kingdom an unprecedented security form the adversaries that had been such a threat to the very existence to the nation.  The Lord has finally brought a level of peace not experienced heretofore in Israel, here at that advent of David’s reign.  

So all four of these things provide the context for what read in II Samuel 7 verses 1-3.  And I direct your attention there.  Now in the context of the culmination of those four things,   David pours the thoughts of his heart out to his faithful prophet  Nathan.  He says, "See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains."   David sensed the incongruity of his living in an impressive palace while the Ark of God was still in a tent.  I mean if David was in a palace of cedar, surely, God’s ark ought to be an impressive structure.  David’s own humility and his love for the Lord moved him with the desire to bring about a change in that situation and he shared that desire with Nathan, his friend, his prophet.  And Nathan perceiving the king’s sincere motivation, gave his blessing on the project, which was implied in his words to David.  He said, “go and do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” 

Now some have suggested that Nathan here spoke a prophetic word that did not come true. since God subsequently instructed David not to go through with the building.  However, I want to note, first, that Nathan was absolutely correct when he said, the Lord is with you.  The Lord Himself affirms that in verse 9.  I was with you wherever you went.  The hand of the Lord was indeed upon His servant David. 

And second, as Matthew Henry reminded us a long time ago, Nathan spoke this not in God’s name, but as from himself, not as a prophet, but as a wise and good man.  And we are going to see in the very way that God corrected David here and forestalled this event coming about.  God, Himself, protected both David, and Nathan’s reputation in the way He went about doing this.  Look at verses 4-7 now, here we see God’s response.  The Lord’s gracious response is recorded in these verses, the same night that David had shared this with Nathan, and Nathan had said to him, “Go and do it, the Lord is with you,”  the Lord came to Nathan and He instructed him to put a question to David.  He said, “Go and say to My servant David, 'Thus says the LORD," Are you the one who should build Me a house to dwell in?”  Now look at how good and wise our sovereign Lord is in the way he sends these words to David.  He gives these words to David from the mouth of Nathan and not from another prophet, so that the reputation of Nathan would not be impugned.  I mean, what would it have been like, if God had sent another prophet to tell this to David.  It would have looked like Nathan had spoken wrongly.  But God is good and He allows Nathan to be the one to deliver this news.  And think how perplexing it would have been to David to have had Nathan tell him during the day, the Lord is with you, go and do likewise and then another prophet shows up and says don’t do it.  So the Lord’s wisdom and kindness is seen in the way that He delivers this message to David.  David is not confused and Nathan’s reputation is not damaged. 

Furthermore, the Lord came immediately to Nathan, before David could act on the prophet’s words of encouragement, and thus he spared both of them from embarrassment.  Finally, note that the Lord does not speak a sharp rebuke to David.  The Lord does not speak a sharp rebuke to David.  He honors His servant’s holy desires by giving His contrary instructions gently in the form of a question.  In  fact, we later find out from the lips of David’s son, Solomon, that the Lord told David that He was pleased with what David wanted to do.  Turn with me to I Kings.  I Kings, chapter 8, verses 18-19. “But the LORD said to my father David, 'Because it was in your heart to build a house for My name, you did well that it was in your heart.”  So Solomon tells you that the Lord said to David that He was pleased with the desires of his heart, even though it was the Lord’s plan for Solomon to build this house, not David.  Then, in verse 6, the Lord reminds David of an important spiritual truth.  He say, “For I have not dwelt in a house since the day I brought up the sons of Israel from Egypt, even to this day; but I have been moving about in a tent, even in a tabernacle.” And I want you to stop for a moment and think how profound those words are. 

First, they point to God’s willingness to identify with His people.  If His people must travel in the wilderness in tents, God is going to be there with them.  The sovereign God of Israel is not removed from His people, He is nigh unto His people, and He even shares in their humiliations.  Is this not a foretaste of Christ’s tabernacling with His people.  And yet, you see it here in the sovereign God of Israel.   

Secondly, these words emphasize God’s continual presence with His people.  He is not distant or unconcerned.  But He is near.  He is even in the midst of His people.  And our glorious Lord Jesus Christ would one day show forth beyond all human expectation, the extent of God’s commitment to be with His people, when John tells us in John 1:14, that “He was made flesh and He dwelt, He tabernacled among us.”  Now in verses 8-17, we see that covenant which God inaugurates here with David.  The Lord surpasses Himself in blessing David.  He reminds David that it was He who chose him and made him ruler.  “I took you from herding sheep, from following the sheep to be my ruler over my people, over Israel.”  He has been with David, He has given him victory over His enemies, He is the one who has made David great, He is the one who will make David great.  “I was with you wherever you went.  I have cut off all your enemies out of your sight.” I have made you a great name, like to the names of the great men that are in the earth, verse 9.

Furthermore, God says in verse 11, He will establish His people in their own land and He will give them rest from their enemies.  And ultimately, again, verse 11, the Lord Himself will build David a house.  Nathan tells David that God will make you a house.  Now notice here the play on words.  David had begun this passage by saying,  that he wanted to build a house for the Lord.  Of course, by that, he meant a temple.  Now as you know, the word for house, means palace.  And the word for temple, or house, means temple, and the word for dynasty are all the same word in Hebrew.  And so there is a play on words going on here.  David says Lord, I want to build you a house,” meaning a temple,  “because it is not right for me to be in a house,” meaning a palace, “and “You dwell in a tent.  And God comes back and He says, “David, will you build Me a house,” meaning a temple?  “No.  I will build you a house,” meaning a dynasty.  The Lord was not speaking of building David a house of cedar.  He was speaking of building David a dynasty.  That is something that He has not given to Saul.  Saul wanted Jonathan to sit on the throne and God told Saul that Jonathan would not sit on the throne of Israel.  But now God is saying to David, “David, your sons will sit on the throne of Israel.”  So, the Lord says, “You will not build Me a house, a temple, but I will build you a house, a dynasty.”  He would establish David and his seed after him, as the monarchs of the people of God.  

The Covenant with David Established. 

Now in these words and the following, we have the formal inauguration of God’s covenant with David, though the word covenant is not found here.  Other passages explicitly state that this was a covenant inauguration.  For instance Psalm 89, verses 3 and 4, “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to David, My servant, your seed will I establish forever and build up your throne to all generations.”  You will also find that in Psalm 132.  So later passages make this clear that this is a covenant inauguration. 

Now, the covenant insures a number of blessings to David.  First, his own flesh and blood will occupy the throne.  And when thy days be fulfilled and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, and I will set up thy seed after thee which shall proceed out of your body, I will establish his kingdom.”  Verse 12.  This is no small promise, given the political instability of the near east kingdoms of David’s time, or for today for that matter. 

Secondly, David’s heir will fulfill David’s desire by building a house for God.  In verse 13, God says, “He shall build a house for My name.” 

Third, David’s heir will stand in unique relationship to God.  God will be his father, and he will be His son.  Nathan proclaims that amazing word, “I will be his father and he will shall be My son.” 

Now, we who live under the New Covenant, and who have the precious privilege of addressing God as Father, may not be too startled by that statement, but to the Hebrew ear, it would have been unbelievable.  Nowhere else in the Old Testament is an individual so clearly designated a son of God.  And yet that is the blessing of David’s covenant. 

Fourth, David’s heir may experience punishment for sins, but he will not be cast off like Saul.  We are likely to read verse 14, very negatively.  Look at that second phrase in verse 14, “when he commits inequity, I will correct him with the rod of men and strokes of the sons of man.”  On the surface, that looks very negative.  However, you need to understand that in the context of Saul’s having been cut off,  so that is actually a very positive thing that is being said there.  If he stumbles, and he will, like Saul, I will not cut him off.  I will discipline him, but I will not cut him off.  This of course, proved important in the days of Solomon’s disobedience as well as for many of the kings of Judah. 

Fifth and finally, God makes the astonishing promise that David’s kingdom will last forever.  “Your house, your kingdom will be established forever before Me.”  Your throne will be established forever.  It is worth noting that David’s dynasty is without parallel in the ancient near east in length of duration.  His house ruled Judah for over four hundred years, for longer than the greatest Egyptian dynasty, and in stark contrast, to the numerous ruling families in the Northern kingdom.   I am told that there has never been a longer reign of a single dynasty in any land in the history of the world than David’s four hundred year dynastic reign. 

The Davidic Covenant Fulfilled  

But of course, the promise was not that David would reign for a long time, but that he would reign forever.   That very fact lead the prophets of the Old Testament to see that this Davidic promise would only be fulfilled in the Messiah, and that is of course exactly how the New Testament interprets it.  This reign is ultimately only fulfilled in the reign of the son of David, Jesus Christ and His eternal messianic rule.  This promise finds its ultimate fulfillment only in the reign of Christ.  The succession of the Davidic kings under the Old Covenant was a type.  It was a shadowy figure.  A preillustration of the unbroken eternal reign of the Lord Jesus, who even now reigns at the right hand in heaven. 

And this, by the way, is one of the classic examples of why we should not allow the Old Testament pattern of description to determine our understanding of the New Testament reality.  Or else, you will end up with the old time Dispensationalists believing that one day, David is going to be reestablished on the throne in literal, earthly Israel.  Of course, the New Testament in passages like Hebrews 1:5, makes it clear that the Davidic reign was prophetic of Christ’s reign.  The reality is, by definition, clearer than the shadow.  So you interpret the shadow by the reality, not the reality by the shadow.  If the Davidic reign was a foreshadowing of the ultimate reality, surely you allow your understanding of the ultimate reality to help you understand what the foreshadowing meant, rather than the other way around.   

Question: Is there a covenant sign in the Davidic covenant? 

The short answer is no.  There is no covenant sign mentioned in the Davidic Covenant as a specific covenant sign.  But if there is any symbol of the Davidic covenant, it would be the throne.  And let me just give you one example of that.  If you would turn with me to I Chronicles 29, verse 22, “they made Solomon, the son of David, king a second time, and they anointed him as ruler for the Lord and Zadok as priest.  Then, Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord.”  Yes, you read it right.  Solomon sat on the throne of the Lord.  You see there, what?  An identification between the rule of God in Israel, and the rule of David in his seed.  And so the throne in the Davidic Covenant functions to epitomize the message of the covenant with David.  The teaching of, the prophetic teaching of the covenant of David, points us mostly to an understanding of two things.  Jesus, office as king, and Jesus preaching of the kingdom.  And that throne both points to the office of David and his descendants as the unique divinely appointed king of Israel, and to the rule of God in Israel, because God is even willing to call the throne of David, the throne of Yahweh.  So that is quite an extraordinary statement there in I Chronicles.  And clearly the Chronicler has a theological agenda behind that.  He is showing you the significance of the Davidic line in the plan of God.  He is preparing you for the significance of the split of the nation and the wickedness that occurs from that, and he is relating it to the rejection of that divinely appointed throne of the line of David.