I’m a citizen of the United States of America, and as such, I’m not a big fan of monarchs, you know, kings and queens. I suppose it’s fine for some other country to have a king, but not here in the States. While I know that not every sovereign is a king George III, I’m an American after all, it’s part of our historical and cultural DNA to be weary of kings. But I think there is more to it than that. Something deep in me doesn’t want a king, a sovereign telling me what to do. And I guess if the monarch is a despot, then I am right to feel this way. But what if this king is gracious, kind, compassionate, and just? Wouldn’t I do well to bow my knee to such a king?
Background to 2 Samuel 7
In this essay we arrive at 2 Samuel 7 to look at God’s promises to King David. It may be helpful to quickly sum up what happened from the end of the Pentateuch (Deuteronomy) until 2 Samuel 7.
Following the death of Moses, Joshua takes the reigns as leader of the Israelites. God charges him to lead the Israelites into the land the Lord promised to give them. Although the Lord is giving it to them, they still must take it from the current inhabitants, the Canaanites. Joshua, through many victories over these people in battles, takes most of the land.
After Joshua’s death, no one is commissioned to be his successor, as he was Moses’. So the people of Israel without godly leadership turn their hearts to worship and serve false gods. The Lord then disciplines his people through subjection to foreign peoples and some of the people who have yet to be expelled from the land of Canaan. This leads the Israelites to cry out to God for deliverance, and God graciously sends a deliverer, a judge, to fight for Israel and overthrow their oppressors. This cycle of syncretism, subjection, petition, and deliverance continues throughout the book of Judges.
Later, God raises up a prophet, Samuel, to lead Israel. Samuel holds the office of prophet and priest. After some time leading Israel, the people cry out for a king like their neighbors have. After warning the Israelites about the hardships associated with serving a king, God gives the people what they want. The Lord calls and appoints Saul from the tribe of Benjamin king of Israel. Saul, who starts off well enough, eventually turns from the Lord. He is told that the kingdom will go to another who is not one of his descendants.
After the death of Saul, David is made king, first over Judah and later over Israel as well. Following a victory over the Jebusites, from whom David took Jerusalem to be the place from which he would reign, the Ark of the Lord is brought to Jerusalem. This brings us to 2 Samuel 7.
David Desires To Build a House for the Lord (2 Sam 7:1-3)
Chapter three begins with David “settled in his palace.” The Lord had given David victory after victory, and now he “had given him rest from all his enemies around him” (2 Sam 7:1). David, looking at the fine palace he lived in, lamented to the prophet Nathan that while he dwelt in a comfortable house, the Ark of the Lord remained in a tent (7:2). Nathan replies to King David, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you” (7:3). It would appear that David wants to repay the Lord for all that he has done for him. David is now in a position of great means and can afford to do something nice for the Lord, replacing the tattered tent with a proper temple.
The Lord Will Build a House for David (2 Sam 7:4-17)
But the Lord will have none of this. He at no time requested that a house be built for him (7:7). He’s not like the gods of the other nations, one who must be attended to and schmoozed to get him into a good mood so that he will act favorably to the one who strokes him. The Lord basically tells David through the prophet, “You don’t do for me, David; I’ll do for you. You can’t earn my blessing; I give it freely because of who I am. Don’t forget, you were out tending sheep when I called and anointed you king over my people. In fact, I’m the one who won all those victories people praise you over. You don’t do for me David; I’ll do for you” (7:8-9a).
The Lord then promises to do things for and through David at the present time and in the future. In the present, the Lord promises to make David’s name great, to provide a peaceful place for Israel as a nation to live, and to give David rest from his enemies (7:9b-11a). Later, at a time in the future, the Lord promises that David’s descendants will be kings over God’s people (the Davidic dynasty), David’s son will be the one to build the temple (Solomon’s Temple), and the Davidic dynasty will be an everlasting dynasty; “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (7:16, see also 7:11b-15).
This last promise is the most interesting, for in it the Lord promises that David’s line will go on forever. So what are we to make of this? How might the Lord fulfill his promise? D. A. Carson states, “Such a promise could be fulfilled in only two ways. One is for every generation to produce a new Davidic heir and the next heir, world without end … The other possible way is not even mentioned here. In theory, however, if you could eventually have an heir in the Davidic line who himself lives forever, the promise could be fulfilled that way.”[i] When we turn to the book of Isaiah we find that this “theory,” as Dr. Carson calls it, is just what the Lord has in mind.
In Isaiah 9:6-7 we read, “For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.” What we find in Isaiah is another promise, a promise that anticipates a son of David who is also the eternal God. This person is revealed in the New Testament as Jesus Christ, just as the angel Gabriel announced to the virgin Mary, “You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:31-33).
How magnificent and wondrous are the plans of God, particularly when we consider the irony of his plan. Remember, after God yields to Israel’s demands for a human king, thus rejecting God’s rule as king (cf. 1 Sam 8:7), God uses the human institution of the monarchy and in particular the Davidic Dynasty to once again rule as the King through his Son Jesus?
Theological Reflection & Application
- The fact that God has a plan for the course of human history does not mean we should not strategize and plan. There are things God lets us know concerning his will. These things can clearly be found in Scripture. However, there is much that he keeps hidden until the appointed time. We are not privy to this information; thus, we must plan and prepare in accordance with his will revealed in the Bible.
- There may be good things we wish to do for the Lord and in his name that he may nevertheless not allow us to do. Our job may be to prepare the way for others to succeed in what our heart may be inclined to do. This is often a thankless role.
- We must always remember the machinations of the enemy and sinful people will never thwart the plans of almighty God. In fact, he chooses to use sinful people to accomplish his plans (see Gen 50:19-21; Acts 4:24-30).
[i] D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker , 2010), 80.