December 2012 - Vol.  64

The House of David 

A Scriptural Reflection 
by Jeanne Kun

“Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.”           – 2 Samuel 7:16

“It is the Son of the Most High alone who is the key of David that shuts and no man opens, and in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and of knowledge.”

  – Bernard of Clairvaux, In Adventu Domini 1, 1-10
Reflecting on the Word
Before God sent Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden, he intimated that evil would ultimately be defeated by the seed of the woman (Genesis 3:15). This was the first hint of how God would restore humankind to full union with him. True to his promise, over time he revealed his plan of salvation to the people he called his own.

First the Lord made a covenant with the patriarch Abraham and promised to make him the father of a nation through whom all the earth would be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3; 15:7-12, 17-19; 17:1-8). This promise extended beyond Abraham to his offspring “throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant” (17:7).

When Abraham’s descendants had become slaves in Egypt, God delivered them. Then he made a covenant on Sinai with Moses and the Israelites, bringing them into a special relationship with him as his chosen people (Exodus 19:5-6; 24:7-8). Later, when they asked for a king to rule them, the Lord appointed Saul to the task (1 Samuel 9:15-17; 10:1). After Saul’s disobedience (15:1-23), the shepherd David, the youngest son of Jesse, was anointed king over Israel (16:1-13).

Anointing with oil—that is, pouring oil from a horn or vessel on the head of one to be made king—was a symbolic act that consecrated the person to God’s service. Priests (Exodus 30:30), prophets (1 Kings 19:16), and even holy objects such as altars, vessels, and lampstands (Exodus 30:26-29) could also be anointed with oil to indicate that they, too, were consecrated to God. “Messiah”—mashiach in Hebrew, and christos in Greek—literally means the “anointed one,” and the title “the Lord’s anointed” originally referred to the king who ruled over God’s people.

When King David had secured peace within his kingdom and with the surrounding nations (2 Samuel 7:1), he desired to honor God by building a “house” for him in Jerusalem. In the ancient world a god was truly established when he had a fitting home. The temple that David decided to build for the Lord was to replace the tent that had sheltered the ark of the covenant since the days at Sinai (7:2, 6); he also intended it to be a place of worship, where praise and sacrifices would be offered to God.

Instead of affirming David’s plan, God surprised him by revealing a much grander plan. Through the prophet Nathan, God told King David that he was not to construct a dwelling place for him. Rather, God intended to build a “house” for David, that is, a dynasty that would rule over his people. The Lord declared to David that one of his descendants would always sit on the throne, thus promising to establish David’s house for all time: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever” (2 Samuel 7:16). Notice the word play and variety of meanings for the word “house” as God spoke to David through Nathan: palace, (7:1), dwelling (7: 2, 5, 6, 7), temple (7:13), and royal dynasty (7:11, 16).

This promise to David amplified the covenants with Abraham and with Israel at Sinai. God did not expect or require anything of David in return for the promise; it was a grant made freely to King David and his descendants, not a treaty that stipulated obligations.

Solomon succeeded to his father David’s throne, but soon after his death, Israel and Judah, which had been united as one kingdom under David, broke apart. The monarchy was plagued with strife and began to decline under Solomon’s son, King Rehoboam, and his heirs. Two centuries later (around 722 B.C.) Israel was vanquished by Assyria, and Judah was made Assyria’s vassal. In 587 the Babylonians wiped out Judah, destroying the temple, burning Jerusalem, and sending many of the city’s inhabitants into exile. Yet memories of the brilliant days of David’s reign lived on in God’s chosen people.

Despite the failings of the kings of Israel, Judah, and his chosen people, God did not retract his promises to them. Instead, he continued to love them steadfastly and to unfold his plan for salvation through the prophets that he sent to them. As Benedictine monk and Scripture scholar Damasus Winzen noted, “Through all the human confusion of defeat and victory, of treachery and loyalty, of disappointments and triumph, we can hear—if we have ears to listen—the quiet steps of God’s fatherly love pursuing the path of redemption” (Pathways in Scripture).

The Jewish people recalled the promises God had made to King David, promises of an eternal dynasty and of a kingdom that would last forever. Faced with the disasters and sins of the monarchy that unfolded after the reign of David, they came to hope that these promises would be fulfilled by a future “hero-king.” This anointed leader or “Messiah” would be descended from David, a conqueror who would throw off the oppressor’s yoke, restore the kingdom, and establish perfect justice. Jewish expectations were focused on the “David” of the future—a figure who would revive and carry on the glorious reign of David forever.

Many of the Old Testament psalms—among them, Psalms 2, 45, 89, 100, and 110—have royal and messianic overtones. Several are quoted in the New Testament as prophecies about Jesus, who fulfilled Israel’s hopes and yearnings for the rule of one who would truly be God’s anointed king and Messiah. Psalm 89 in particular recounts God’s dealings with Israel and joyously celebrates the absolute and unconditional promise that God made to establish David’s dynasty. Although David and his descendants failed to keep God’s commands and were to be justly punished as a consequence (Psalm 89:31-33), God nevertheless declared,

I will not violate my covenant,
 or alter the word that went forth
  from my lips.
Once for all I have sworn by my
 I will not lie to David. His line
  shall endure for ever.

However, in events that seemed to belie God’s word, Israel fell into disgrace at the hands of a foreign nation; her king was brought down, and it appeared that David’s line had been cut off (Psalm 89:38-45). How could Israel reconcile this destruction with God’s promises? The situation required that God’s promise to David be understood in a new sense—as a description of an ideal king who would one day inherit David’s throne.

Psalm 89 ends with a great cry wrenched from the heart of a disappointed yet hopeful people (89:46-52). In anguish, the psalmist implores God to remember his promise and restore his people by sending a righteous king to reign over them again:

Lord, where is your steadfast love of old,
 which by your faithfulness you
  did swear to David?

The people of Israel were mistaken in their understanding and expectation of a political ruler, yet their faith would finally be vindicated: God would answer their pleas not by restoring the ancient monarchy but by raising up, in the words of one hymn writer, “great David’s greater son.” A descendant of David would in the end rule as king over all.

When the prophet Samuel anointed David as king of Israel, the Spirit of God “came mightily” upon him (1 Samuel 16:13). This is a prefigurement of the baptism of Jesus, the “Christ,” God’s anointed one (Matthew 3:16). The Jerusalem Catecheses, a catechetical work of the early church, explains,

Christ bathed in the river Jordan, imparting to its waters the fragrance of his divinity, and when he came up from them the Holy Spirit descended upon him.. . . Christ’s anointing was not by human hands, nor was it with ordinary oil. On the contrary, having destined him to be the Savior of the whole world, the Father himself anointed him with the Holy Spirit.

Immediately following his account of Jesus’ baptism, John the Evangelist records the first proclamation of Jesus’ messianic identity: “[Andrew] first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ)” (John 1:41). Ultimately, God’s promise to David and Israel’s hopes would be fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

Adoration of the Shepherds by El Greco (1603)

Of Shepherds and Kings

As young David, Jesse’s son,
herded sheep in the rock-strewn fields
near Bethlehem (city of his birth)
little did he dream
he’d be king one day
and shepherd of God’s people Israel.

And still less did lowly herdsmen
later dream they’d see
great David’s greater son
lying in a manger,
and bright angelic hosts above those same fields
heralding this strange, glad news
as they watched o’er their flocks.

The baby born in Bethlehem
sleeps now quietly upon the straw
(no golden cradle for this humble heir of royal David).
Perhaps he’s dreaming of the day
he’ll gather his sheep to himself
(there shall be one flock, one shepherd then)
and none shall snatch them from his hand.

David and Nathan, by Rembrandt

The Scene
2 Samuel 7:1-22, 28-29

1Now when the king [David] dwelt in his house, and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies round about, 2the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” 3And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart; for the LORD is with you.”

4But 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? 6I have not dwelt 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. 7In 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?”’ 8Now 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; 9and 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. 10And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them, that they may dwell in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, 11from 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. 12When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. 14I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men; 15but I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever.’” 17In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.

18Then King David went in and sat before the LORD, and said, “Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that thou hast brought me thus far? 19And yet this was a small thing in thy eyes, O Lord GOD; thou hast spoken also of thy servant’s house for a great while to come, and hast shown me future generations, O Lord GOD! 20And what more can David say to thee? For thou knowest thy servant, O Lord GOD! 21Because of thy promise, and according to thy own heart, thou hast wrought all this greatness, to make thy servant know it. 22Therefore thou art great, O LORD God; for there is none like thee, and there is no God besides thee, according to all that we have heard with our ears. . . . 28And now, O Lord GOD, thou art God, and thy words are true, and thou hast promised this good thing to thy servant; 29now therefore may it please thee to bless the house of thy servant, that it may continue for ever before thee; for thou, O Lord GOD, hast spoken, and with thy blessing shall the house of thy servant be blessed for ever.”

The Scene
Psalm 89:19-21, 27-37

19 Of old you did speak in a vision
  to your faithful one, and say:
 “I have set the crown upon one who is mighty,
  I have exalted one chosen from the people.
20 I have found David, my servant;
  with my holy oil I have anointed him;
21 so that my hand shall ever abide with him,
  my arm also shall strengthen him.

27 And I will make him the first-born,
  the highest of the kings of the earth.
28 My steadfast love I will keep for him for ever,
  and my covenant will stand firm for him.
29 I will establish his line for ever
  and his throne as the days of the heavens.
30 If his children forsake my law
  and do not walk according to my ordinances,
31 if they violate my statutes
  and do not keep my commandments,
32 then I will punish their transgression with the rod
  and their iniquity with scourges;
33 but I will not remove from him my steadfast love,
  or be false to my faithfulness.
34 I will not violate my covenant,
  or alter the word that went forth from my lips.
35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness;
  I will not lie to David.
36 His line shall endure for ever,
  his throne as long as the sun before me.
37 Like the moon it shall be established for ever;
  it shall stand firm while the skies endure.”

Pondering the Word

1. List the phrases in Nathan’s prophecy that detail specific aspects of God’s promises to David. What predominant themes run through these promises?

2. What does God’s covenant with David indicate about God’s nature and character?

3. Identify the verses in Nathan’s prophecy and in the selection from Psalm 89 that express the absolute nature of God’s covenant with David and his descendants. Why, in your opinion, did God make his promises unconditional?

4. Read 2 Samuel 7:18-22, 28-29, David’s response after he had received God’s word through Nathan. What does this prayer suggest about David’s relationship with the Lord? About David’s character and how he perceived himself?

5. With what titles and attributes is the king described in Psalm 89:19-21, 27-37?

6. Which of God’s promises to David were literally fulfilled in him and his descendants? Which would only be fulfilled in Jesus?

Living the Word

1. God chose David, Jesse’s youngest son and thus an improbable candidate, to be king. Recall some of the surprising ways in which God has called you to serve him. Do you find it difficult to accept God’s right to call you and use you in whatever way he chooses? If so, why?

2. By promising to build a “house” for David—a dynasty that would rule over his people—God blessed David in a way that far exceeded his expectations. How have you seen God bless and honor you in undeserved and unexpected ways?

3. When your experience and circumstances seem to contradict the promises of God, how do you respond? What might you do to grow in a deeper trust in God and a clearer understanding of his word?

4. God used the prophet Nathan to speak to David. Whom has God used to speak his word to you? What impact did this have on you? Have you ever felt called to speak God’s word to another person? What happened when you obeyed God?

5. In what ways do you experience Jesus’ kingship and authority over your life? How do you express honor for him as your king?

6. Write a prayer to praise God and acknowledge some of the ways that he has shown his faithfulness and steadfast love to you. You may find it helpful to model your prayer on David’s (2 Samuel 7:18-22, 28-29).

Jeanne Kun is a noted author and a senior womens' leader in the Word of Life Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA. Excerpt from God's Promises Fulfilled, The Word Among Us Press, Copyright © 2006. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
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