In the last post, we talked about how certain views of end times are tied to certain views of the biblical covenants with Abraham and David, as well as the New Covenant. Many Christians want to argue for a literal millennium on the basis of the irrevocable nature of the Abrahamic covenant — the notion that the covenant can never be undone since it was unconditional. The Land promises must therefore come to Israel, and that means a literal millennium is still in the future with respect to biblical prophecy. We saw, however, that the Abrahamic covenant did indeed have conditions, and that it was fulfilled only to Abraham’s “true” children — those who, like Abraham, believe. We saw that the Church fits that nicely per Galatians 3. But we ended with these questions: Since it is those who *believe* that inherit the promises, what Paul says in Galatians 3 makes perfect sense but is that the end of the story? Is the kingdom the Church? On what grounds would we look to a national kingdom in Israel in the future?
In this post we’ll look at the covenant with David.
A kingdom naturally needs a king. The Israelite king had to be an Israelite (a son of Abraham). That goes without saying. But when David finally reached the throne, God issued a covenant with him as well that added to the criteria for kingship. That covenant is recorded in 2 Samuel 7 (and it is repeated with basically the same language in Psalm 89):
4 But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, 5 Go and tell my servant David, Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. 7 In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, Why have you not built me a house of cedar? 8 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 prince over my people Israel. 9 And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. 10 And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11 from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. 17 In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
This covenant is unilateral (initiated only by God) and is unconditional in its language. 2 Samuel 7:21 has David responding: “Because of your promise, and according to your own heart, you have brought about all this greatness, to make your servant know it.” There are no conditions placed on David. It can be divided into promises David would see in his lifetime (vv. 8-11a) and promises to be fulfilled after his death (11b-16). The key idea in this covenant is that David’s dynasty is established as the sole legitimate dynasty for kingship in Jerusalem. God guarantees that no one would reign as king in Jerusalem except a descendant of David. David’s throne is therefore eternal.
But is that it? We saw Abraham’s covenant was BOTH unconditional and conditional. It was unconditional in that God guaranteed its fulfillment regardless of human behavior. It was conditional in that only those who believed and obeyed (“obedience of faith”) would reap any benefit from it. And it was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus – the perfectly obedient son of Abraham through whom all nations would be blessed (Gen 12:3).
David’s covenant is the same — it’s actually both unconditional and conditional. Note the conditional language in 2 Samuel 7:12-15
12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.
The referent is SOLOMON, who succeeded David. Even if Solomon goes astray (which he did), God promised that he would still be loyal to David’s line.
The conditional idea of loyalty to Yahweh to gain the *benefit* of the unconditional covenant is evidenced in Psalm 132:11-12 –
The Lord swore to David a sure oath
from which he will not turn back:
One of the sons of your body
I will set on your throne.
If your sons keep my covenant
and my testimonies that I shall teach them,
their sons also forever
shall sit on your throne.
It’s clear – the king was supposed to be righteous, and if he wasn’t, they could expect their immediate line to be cut off. They’d be replaced.
Look what happened in Israel’s history after Solomon. The kingdom split in two. David’s line (2 tribes; Judah) outlived the rebel kingdom of the north (10 tribes; Israel), but it was indeed destroyed in 586 BC. There has been no king (Davidic or otherwise) that has occupied the throne of Jerusalem since . . . depending on how you look at things.
What gives with the demise of the kingdom then? Davidic kingship needs a closer look. The covenant with David actually created a “Father-son” relationship between God and the king. This is indicated in Psalm 2:7-8, Psalm 89. God says of the king, “I will be his father, and he shall be my son.” But what about evil, disloyal sons? What about Israelite kings who disobeyed the Abrahamic covenant and Yahweh’s righteous demands? They are cast aside, but (like the Abrahamic covenant) their rejection does not annul the covenant itself — it just means they forfeit kingship and Yahweh’s blessing. Passages like 1 Kings 6:12-13; 1 Kings 9:4-7 tell us that disloyal sons/kings lose Yahweh’s blessing, even if they are from David’s line. Waltke says it this way:
“YHWH granted both Abraham and David an eternal progeny and fief. Loyal sons . . . would fully enjoy the fief; disloyal sons would lose YHWH’s protection and, if they persisted in their wrongdoing, the possession of the fief itself. The fief, however, would never be confiscated–a promise that opens up the hope that YHWH would raise up a loyal son.”1
The point of all this can be summarized in two questions:
1. Since God allowed the nation of Judah and David’s line to be destroyed and displaced, what of the Davidic covenant? Is it over?
The question is usually answered “no” by Christians, regardless of their end time kingdom views. There is consensus that “God would raise up a loyal son” — Jesus — to fulfill the covenant. That brings us to the second, more weighty, question:
2. Is it possible that the Davidic covenant was already fulfilled in Jesus, the son of David and messiah?
If this is the case, the covenant is fully honored by God and fulfilled, and there would be no reason to expect a literal reign of Jesus on earth. But why? Many reading this will say, “How can the covenant be fulfilled when Jesus hasn’t come back and occupied the throne? The very question *assumes* that a literal land and kingdom are *required* by the ABRAHAMIC covenant — which we saw in the last couple of posts, is NOT a self-evident interpretation of the biblical text. It may well be that the kingdom = the Church. But if that is the case, is Jesus king now?
Isn’t the question interesting? Does anyone really want to deny that Jesus is king NOW?
Is Jesus on the throne now? According to Hebrews 8:1 and 12:2 he is. He is “seated at the right hand of God.” But that isn’t enough for many Christians. They want the literal reign. Fine. That isn’t a sin. My goal here is only to show that the idea that the Davidic kingship has already been fulfilled can be made with clarity and coherence via the biblical text. The amillennialist can easily argue that both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants were fulfilled in Jesus, period. Those who want a literal kingship in the future can say “Jesus is king in heaven now and he will be later on earth” — but recognize that such a view depends on one’s view of the Abrahamic covenant’s land promises! Without that you don’t need this. Since we cannot know absolutely which way it goes, let’s quit talking like there’s only one “biblical” view of eschatology. I hope you can see why I try not to roll my eyes when I hear that sort of thing. And we have a long way to go yet!
- Bruce K. Waltke, The Phenomenon of Conditionality within Unconditional Covenants, in Israels Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, ed. Avraham Gileadi, Baker: 1988, pp. 131-132. ↩