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5.24 2 Samuel -- the Davidic Covenant

God was pleased with David's worship, and his intention to honor the Lord.  So Nathan told him that, instead of David building a house for God, God would build David's house!  He would make David's name great, raise up his offspring after him, and establish his throne forever (2 Sam 7:16).  This was an unconditional covenant, which would continue in force even if his successors disobeyed God.  

          "Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever" (2 Sam 7:16).

There is an interweaving of earthly and messianic fulfilments in this revelation: speaking of David's descendant, God said:

          "I will be his father, and he will be my son" (2 Sam 7:14).

           This sounds lilke a messianic prophecy, until we read the next sentence:

          "When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men.  But  my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul" (2 Sam 7:14-15).

            This is much more applicable to Solomon than to Jesus!  Other provisions apply to Israel as a whole: a home of their own, without disturbance from enemy nations.


The making of this covenant between God and David represented a remarkable promotion in the status of the idea of monarchy itself.  We recall that God repudiated the entire concept of an earthly king at the beginning of 1 Sam, equating it with rebellion and rejection.  Saul did much to fulfill God's negative predictions.  But now God abandoned His own scheme of divinely-chosen, prophetically-appointed leaders, and initiated a royal dynasty, with David as the progenitor and ideal king!  This is undoubtedly the most extraordinary shift in the nature of God's action in post-Exodus history:  Moses himself had no natural succession, nor did Joshua.  Their descendants were anonymous and powerless. The closest we come to a royal lineage prior to David is the offspring of Aaron, who alone were qualified to serve as priests.


In the realms of political power, military leadership, or prophecy, there were no hereditary dynasties.  But this changed from David on.  His family was given a divine monopoly on political power in Israel.  And beyond that, God linked Himself in an as yet undefined way with David's heirs.  The divine ruler, the mysterious godking, would be of David's seed, and of David's type:  a shepherd king who will govern the flock of Israel, and lead them to abundant pasture.  Thus this chapter, 2 Sam 7, is of pivotal importance in redefining the nature of God's work in history and the  manner in which His ancient promises to Israel will be fulfilled.


Not only does this chapter alter the nature of God's dealings with Israel, it also changes the focus of the blessing of Abraham.  In the Pentateuch, we followed the course of God's covenant promises, and likened them to a candle flame that was passed from generation to generation.  In certain periods there was a custodian of the blessing of God, a man who received it, nurtured it, and passed it on.  This man represented the center, the focus, of God's activity in history:  Abraham,  Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and then the judges.   But alongside those men were others who were rejected or excluded from the covenant:  Lot, Ishmael, Esau. Now, with the establishment of the monarchy, the king became the custodian of God's Presence and His Promise.  This worked to his credit if he was a good king and faithful to God.  More often, however, the king was a faithless custodian of the Blessing, and this redounded to his shame and eventual judgment.  The reigns of Saul and David represent the two possibilities:  Saul was granted the gift of God's favor, but threw it away, much like Esau did.  David, on the other hand, became the custodian of the Promise in his generation.  And, even more than this, David recapitulated Abraham, and became the father of multitudes.  As nations will bless themselves through Abraham, so David's house shall be established forever, and the righteous king will spring from his seed.


From this point on, Israelite history becomes not so much the acts of God, but chronicles of the deeds of the kings.  God acts through the kings, or against the kings, and speaks to them sporadically through his prophets.  But the prophets do not wield the sword and do not occupy the throne, as was possible in the time of the judges.  Sacred history takes a back burner to political history.  And the historical orientation of the Israelites themselves begins to shift: there had always been a reactionary theme, a tendency to look backward to Moses and the Law, to identify progress with greater devotion to the old traditions.  This theme continues in the time after Solomon, yet a counter-expectation begins to co-exist with it: the expectation of a future perfection actualized by the son of David.  God will do what man cannot accomplish -- He will send the deliverer who will resolve the contradictions of life, both moral and political, by initiating a reign of peace and holiness, the Kingdom of God among men.

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