The Background of the Davidic Covenant
I think it is fitting that God chose Jeremiah as the one to whom He revealed the future of the Davidic Covenant in conjunction with the other facets of His covenant plan. After all, Jeremiah was the prophet in Jerusalem who prophesied against the Davidic kings foretelling that the rule of the Davidic line would come to an end. Even though God had to bring this phase of His covenant plan to an end, He did not leave the people without hope. Since it was God who originally instituted the Davidic Covenant, He clarifies in Jeremiah 33 as to exactly what will occur in the future even though there will be no more sons of David ruling from Jerusalem.
There is no way that I can do justice to this grand theme of the Bible. That won’t stop me from trying to get you to think about it though. I cannot just plunge into Jeremiah 33 without first examining some other passages related to the Davidic Covenant. First, I will examine what was promised to David. Then I will examine some psalms which deal with this promise. Finally, I will delve into some other prophecies in Isaiah which flesh out the future hope that Israel had concerning God’s love for David.
The Davidic Covenant
II Samuel 7/I Chronicles 17
The Davidic Covenant comes at the time when God has confirmed that Jerusalem is the place where His name is to be proclaimed. David has just brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. In Deuteronomy 12:5, 10-14, 14:22-27, 16:1-8 et al, the LORD revealed as a part of the Palestinian Covenant that there would be one place which the LORD would mark out for His own. The order in II Samuel 5 is quite distinct. David takes the city of Jerusalem. Hiram, King of Tyre, then sends David messengers, wood, and skilled craftsmen in order to build David a house in Jerusalem. At that precise moment, it was revealed to David by the LORD that God had established him as king over Israel and the LORD had exalted His kingdom for the sake of His people Israel, II Samuel 5:11-12. Deuteronomy had also foretold that the time would come for a king to rule over the nation of Israel, Deuteronomy 17:14-20. The progression is clear in II Samuel. God chooses the city. He then reveals who will rule from that city.
In the background of this is the Seed Promise. Adam and Eve were promised that an individual would come and crush the head of the serpent. The law traces a lineage for this seed promise. It was confirmed through Seth, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Nahshon, and now here we are at David. Someone will lead the people back into perfect fellowship with God as in the garden of Eden. Saul was not able to do this because he was not obedient. Now David, the man after God’s own heart, inherits the seed promise; but so much more is revealed about the seed promise at this point in the progressive revelation of the Bible. The seed promise would not just be a man, he would be a king.
The passage in II Samuel 7 is not lengthy at all. If you examine what God promised to David, there is very little to it. In verses 4-9, God rehearses things of which David was already aware. In verses 10-11 God begins with prophecy for the future. The first prophecy that God gives (before He reveals anything about David) concerns His people, Israel. It only stands to reason that David could not be king unless there were people for him to rule over. God’s interest in appointing David as king is for the security and welfare of His chosen nation. The Davidic Covenant cannot stand alone without the framework of God’s plan for Israel up to this point in time. The nation of Israel dwelling securely will be the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant. Then in verses 12-16 God reveals that David’s offspring will build the temple in question after he sleeps with his fathers. The throne on which his offspring sits will be established forever. Notice that it is the throne of David that is established forever. There will be a special father/son relationship between the LORD and the king sitting on David’s throne. Because there is no one higher than the king, if the king commits iniquity, God Himself will issue correction.
The collaborative works of I Samuel through II Kings and then also I & II Chronicles do not end the theme of the Davidic Covenant there. They continue describing how God intervenes, chastens, praises, and punishes according to His promises contained in the Davidic Covenant. I Kings 11:13 and 15:4 clearly show that God is acting on behalf of His choice of David as king and the city of Jerusalem together. David’s sons are buried “in the city of David”, meaning Jerusalem. Abijah points out that the kingdom is given to David forever, even to his sons, II Chronicles 13:5. In the dark days of Athaliah, good priest Jehoiada states in II Chronicles 23:3 to the military captains that “the king’s son shall reign, as the LORD hath said of the sons of David.”
Although I don’t have space to write here concerning the differences between Jeremiah’s account in I & II Kings and the Chronicler’s account (Ezra) in I & II Chronicles, I will point out the way each ends their respective work. Jeremiah ends I & II Kings and the book of Jeremiah in the exact same way. Jeconiah (Jehoiachin) is lifted up from his prisoner of war status and given a place at the royal table in Babylon. It should be noted that as long as Jeconiah lived, he remained the rightful heir, with Zedekiah ruling vicariously until he returned, Jeremiah 28:4. So Jeconiah receiving such honor in the midst of captivity was a sign of hope to the nation of Israel that God would fulfill his promise to David at some point in the future. Ezra ends his Chronicles with the decree of Cyrus for Israelites to return and restore temple worship [according to the commandment of David, Ezra 3:10, Nehemiah 12:24, 45]. In the book of Ezra, he takes great care to describe the role of Zerubbabel in rebuilding the temple. Haggai’s prophecy concerned Zerubbabel specifically. Early in the genealogies Ezra had already pointed out that Zerubbabel was the grandson of Jeconiah, I Chronicles 3:16-19. Both writers conclude their works showing God’s unerring faithfulness to the Davidic Covenant.
The Davidic Covenant in the Psalms
Psalm 132 is probably the earliest work which relates to the Davidic Covenant outside of the actual words of Nathan to David. It is difficult to date specific psalms, but this one seems to have been written during the days while David was still alive. It should be noted that 132 is within a groups of psalms that was written by David himself. Although Psalm 132 seems to have been written by someone else, there are other factors which place its composition within the date of David’s lifetime. Notice there is mention of the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant (vs. 7-8), but no mention of a temple. This is telling. The LORD had chosen Zion, vs. 13, but the temple had not yet been built. The other time marker is the mention of Ephratah. The composers of this psalm were of David’s hometown. The wording of “we have heard of it at Ephratah” shows that these were David’s contemporaries taking pride in the fact that one of their own had been chosen (anointed) by the LORD to possess the kingship forever.
The content of Psalm 132 is not much different from the promise that God made to David. It seems to be the same material put to music. But there is one thing of interest. The choice of Zion as the habitation for the LORD is intertwined with the rule of David’s lineage. Here it is not so much as the place of rule and reign, but the place of rest for the LORD. We should note the reason why David could not build the temple of the LORD. In I Chronicles 22:8, 28:3, David later shares that the temple could not be built by him because he had been a man of war and shed much blood . This shows that God did not want the temple to be a symbol of war and blood, but a symbol of peace. This is why the temple could not be built until the peaceful reign of Solomon had begun. In Psalm 132, it is not that God desires to make war with the nations from Zion, but to rest in His place of habitation. Finally, toward the end of the psalm, we see the term “anointed” being used in reference to the horn of David. This would mean that the one ruling in David’s place on the throne of David would be referred to as the “anointed”. This term was already in place early in the reign of Saul, I Samuel 10:1. But now with the Davidic Covenant, the term became specific, applying to the Davidic dynasty.
Although the portion referencing David within this psalm is brief, it warrants mentioning. The psalm as a whole documents the covenant plan of God for the nation of Israel. After describing the mighty miracles in Egypt, God’s care for them in the wilderness, the conquering of the promised land, and all of this in spite of their sinfulness; Asaph then briefly describes the role of David in relation to God’s plan for Israel. In verses 70-72, it is plain that David is there to care for the nation of Israel. God’s plan is not so much for David as a person, but for the nation of Israel as a whole. God wanted someone to shepherd His people with the same skill that He would. God chose David for this reason, not to exalt David as a king, but to exalt the people of His inheritance according to His love for them. As we saw earlier, God’s promise to David cannot be viewed without an understanding of God’s covenant plan for Israel. This psalm beautifully encompasses the entire picture.
There is no way to prove when Psalm 89 was written. I am leaning toward a post-exile date. I have three reasons. #1- Book three of the psalms (Psalm 73-89) is primarily works of Asaph, or those ascribed to Asaph. The Chronicler, Ezra, compiles so much information regarding Asaph and his work which were completely missed by Jeremiah in his book (I & II Kings). It seems that these documents may have been recovered after the exile was completely over. If the works of Asaph were recovered after the exile, that would date the compilation of book three during the time when Chronicles and Ezra were written. #2- The title ascribes Psalm 89 to Ethan the Ezrahite. If the term “Ezrahite” refers to the Ezra well known enough to have people claim his name, this must mean that it was written well after the exile as temple worship was being restored. #3- The content must have been written at a time when the Davidic dynasty had either completely ceased, or was going through such darkness that it looked like there was no human hope for the lineage to ever rule from Zion again, vs. 38-45. I’ve read that it could have been written during the short lived reign of Absalom, but I don’t think it fits. I have personally contemplated that it was written during the reign of Athaliah. Given all of the facts, though, I believe it was written during a condition which took place over many years and when many enemies of Israel had completely plundered and dominated the nation. Further, even in the midst of that condition, there was a current assembly or congregation of saints which were worshiping the LORD, vs. 5, 7. In light of that, I believe the psalm was written during the days of Ezra. But I am going to include the revelation contained therein here rather than later because I believe it embodies the hope of a coming king which was prevalent all throughout the history of the nation of Israel. So while the psalm was not formulated until after the exile, the nation of Israel looked forward to the hope contained within this psalm long before the thoughts were put to pen. The prophecies of Isaiah will confirm this.
This psalm specifically uses the phrase “I have made a covenant with David”. The word “covenant” is absent from the passages in II Samuel 7 and I Chronicles 17. The basic concept of God’s covenant dealings with man is used in II Samuel 7. God is the one initiating the promise. God’s action is unilateral. While mankind may bring certain consequences upon them for actions good or evil, God has promised to fulfill His part in an ongoing way, even forever. In spite of that, it never says in that specific passage that God makes a covenant with David. In Psalm 89 however, we are left with no doubt. Here God makes the covenant and it is explained in such a way as to show that David did not fulfill the ultimate terms.
This leads to the next revelation contained in Psalm 89 which is not overtly contained back in II Samuel 7 and I Chronicles 17. The idea of the ultimate Davidic king is seen quite clearly here. This ultimate anointed one, or maybe Anointed One/Messiah, is described in such language that no king who ever sat on the throne of David could have fulfilled it. The enemies of Israel would not be afflicted by anyone else, indeed Israel would not even be indebted to any other enemy nations, vs. 22. This Messiah would have a special relationship with God as the firstborn Son of God, vs. 26-27. His authority, with His hand on the sea and right hand on the rivers, would be unchallenged by any other. Contained here in this psalm is the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, that of a superlative Messiah to be unmatched by any other.
I believe Psalm 89 is the definitive place in the Bible to view the Davidic Covenant. The language of II Samuel 7 and I Chronicles 17 is contained within it, but it is more fully developed here. In spite of the darkness which prevailed making the continuation of this covenant seem impossible, hope is being expressed that God will still keep His word. We are led to the conclusion that God will still bring a Messiah to rule over the nation of Israel, ushering in a time of peace and security for them, in spite of the disobedience of the nation and the Davidic line.
Isaiah’s view of the Davidic Covenant and Messiah
Isaiah is hard to ignore when it comes to this theme, since he writes the words “the throne of David” in reference to the birth of the Messiah in Isaiah 9:6-7. In this wonderful prophecy, Isaiah foretells that a baby will be born who will ascend the Davidic throne. Governmental responsibilities will fall on His shoulders. His kingdom will be established with no definable end. The fact that He is described as Mighty God should show that this Davidic ruler would be higher than all the other Davidic rulers. For the Messiah to be both man and God, ruling from the throne of David, is how Israel should have expected that the Davidic Covenant would ultimately be fulfilled.
In Isaiah 11:1-5 we have a description of the person who would come from the line of David. Verse 2 is solely devoted to describing the role of the Spirit of the LORD upon this Davidic personage. He will be full of all the characteristics of the Spirit of the LORD including wisdom, understanding, counsel, might, knowledge, and fear of the LORD. His judgment will not consist of things that can be physically seen and heard, but instead He will be interested in justice for the poor. When He comes He will slay the wicked one with the breath of His mouth. Again, the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant is seen here as being fulfilled by one ultimate ruler full of the Holy Spirit. The wisdom of Solomon was only a pale shadow portending the Wisdom which would finally come.
While verses 1-5 describe the character of the King, verses 6-9 describe the character of His kingdom. The scope of His kingdom is a transformed earth. Animals are at peace with one another, and with humans. But this is not because we have trained them to be in subservience to us. Little children are able to lead formerly wild animals. This will be the natural state of things in Messiah’s kingdom, at least in the holy mountain from which the King reigns. There will also be a knowledge of the LORD available throughout all the earth during this kingdom.
The remainder of the chapter points out that the root of Jesse, the Davidic Messiah, will be personally responsible for the second exodus of the nation of Israel. He leads them from all nations into the rest of the promised land. So the nation of Israel is a part of this Messianic kingdom. The Messiah will supernaturally provide a way for all of His chosen people to be regathered into His resting place, which will be glorious. There will be true unity within the nation of Israel. The prophecies of Isaiah foretold of a king, but they also envisioned a kingdom over which this king would rule.
Although other prophecies could be included in this section, I want to end with this. The reason being is that here the Davidic Covenant is spoken of as the Everlasting Covenant. Remember that the Everlasting Covenant is the everlasting covenant plan of God, moving forward progressively. In Jeremiah 30-31 we looked at the New Covenant. In Jeremiah 32 we looked at the Everlasting Covenant which is essentially the same as the New Covenant. Now we see here that the Davidic Covenant is a part of the Everlasting Covenant. In the KJV, it is the sure mercies of David. In the ESV it is My steadfast, sure love for David. But it is also termed the everlasting covenant. This tells me that the Davidic Covenant is part of the everlasting covenant plan of God. There is no end to it. It must be fulfilled in the exact terms that it was prophesied, otherwise God’s word is untrue. In reading Jeremiah 30-33, we see that there is a unity between all three oracles. The New Covenant, the Everlasting Covenant, and the Davidic Covenant are so intertwined that they cannot be separated. God will accomplish them all together.
In my next post in this series, I intend to look at the prophecies of Jeremiah and what Jeremiah saw as the future for the Davidic Covenant.
Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13
-The Orange Mailman