The second thing we learn in the Davidic Covenant has to do with. . .
2. The NATURE of the Covenant of Grace: We learn how it is that God's blessings flow to His people
David's last words are recorded in 2 Samuel 23:1-7. And here, as his earthly days draw to a close, we still find him meditating on the covenant the Lord had made with him. David says in verse 5: “[God] has made an everlasting covenant with me, ordered in all things, and secured; for all my salvation and all my desire, will He not indeed make it grow?” Now, let's ponder over these words for a moment. Back in 2 Samuel 7, the primary emphasis in God's covenant with David was God's promise to send the Messiah through David's line. That's what the covenant was about: The Christ would come into the world as one of David's descendants; He would be a king that would reign on David's throne, and the Lord would establish His kingdom forever. God's covenant with David was about David's seed. But now in this passage, David's telling us that God's covenant with him was also about his salvation. It's a similar yet distinct truth: In 2 Samuel 7, we learned that the Christ would come through David's line; now here we learn that the Christ would come for David's salvation. In 2 Samuel 7, we saw God promising that Christ would come from David; here we see the truth that Christ would also come for David. If 2 Samuel 7 tells us how it is Christ would come, here we're told why it is He would come.1
Jesus wouldn't just come as a descendant of David; He would come to save David. He wouldn't just come as David's seed; He would come to be his Savior. By sending the Christ through his line, God wasn't just bestowing a great privilege on David; He was providing for his own deepest spiritual needs. One writer put it this way: “God's covenant with David, was his gospel to David. . .As it was said of Jacob; that his life was bound up in his son's life, so it might be much more said of David, that his life, salvation and delight was bound up in this covenant, and in Jesus Christ. . .”2 God had promised to send the Messiah through David's line, yes; but that was only part of what God was promising to him; that was just the beginning. In God's covenant with David, the Lord was also promising that in and through and because of the Messiah, He would provide for David everything he needed for salvation. In His covenant with David, the Lord was promising to send forth a Savior through David; but He was also promising that in and through that coming Savior, He would accomplish salvation for David.
And we can see this aspect of the covenant back in Psalm 89 as well. We focused earlier on how this Psalm describes for us that Christ would come from David; but it also gives us glimpses of the favor God would pour out upon David in and through Christ. In Psalm 89:24, the Lord declares of David, “My faithfulness and My lovingkindness will be with him. . .”; and in verse 28: “My lovingkindness I will keep for him forever. . .” And again in verse 33: “. . .I will not break off My lovingkindness from him. . .” This was part of the covenant too. God would send Jesus through David's line; but there was more: In and through Jesus, God would deal with David according to His lovingkindness. And isn't this what we see throughout his life? David couldn't get away from God's favor and blessing. It was these mercies that he basked in as he penned those words: “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23:6).
So then, God's mercies would be sent through David, in the coming of Christ; but in and through the Christ, God's mercies would also be displayed to David. As a result of what the Christ would come and do, David would live all his days in this life under the blessing and favor of God; and when it was time for him to depart this life, he would dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This was part of the covenant too. And it brings us to our next passage. In Isaiah 55:3, we find the Lord making an open invitation to all men: “Incline your ear and come to Me. Listen, that you may live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, according to the faithful mercies shown to David.” What's going on here? What's the Lord saying? He's extending to us the very same covenant mercies He had shown to David. This is because the covenant that God made with David was the Covenant of Grace. And as such, the blessings and benefits of this covenant that God lavished on David weren't just for David. In Christ, all of God's people enter into the same mercies that followed David all the days of his life.3
We see this truth as well if we turn back to 2 Samuel 7 and Psalm 89. In 2 Samuel 7:14-15, the Lord had said of Solomon: “I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him. . .” What Scripture is telling us here is that God wasn't just going to deal with David according to His lovingkindness; the Lord would also deal with Solomon in grace. Even when Solomon sinned, God wouldn't take His mercies away from him. And we also saw that in Psalm 89, these same mercies are extended, not only to Solomon, but to all of David's true sons. As we read in verses 30-33: “If his sons forsake My law and do not walk in my judgments. . .Then I will punish their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with stripes. But I will not break off My lovingkindness from him, nor deal falsely in My faithfulness.” Notice that it says: Even if they go astray (speaking of David's sons), I will not break off My lovingkindness from him (David). What's the meaning? God's telling us He will never cut off His mercies from David's sons, but He's also telling us why. In effect, He's saying: Even if David's sons go astray, I won't break off My lovingkindness from them because of him. We belong to the Greater David; and God will never break off His mercies from us because of Him. In and through Christ, God will always and forever deal with us according to His mercies.4
So: What do we glean from all this about how it is that God's blessings flow to His covenant people?
God's blessings flow to His people BY GRACE ALONE: God deals with us in grace. What was true for David and Solomon is true for all of God's people. He deals with us according to the same “faithful mercies” that He showed to David (Isaiah 55:3). What was true of David in Psalm 89 is also true for us: The Lord's lovingkindness is with us (Psalm 89:24); and that lovingkindness He will keep for us forever (v28). Even when we fall into sin (2 Samuel 7:14ff; Psalm 89:30ff), He will never break off His lovingkindness from us (Psalm 89:33). Notice that the emphasis is on the fact that the Lord will continue to deal with us according to His mercies. The Psalm isn't telling us that God dealt with David in His mercy when He first saved him (IE, past tense); but that He will never stop dealing with him in His mercy (IE, looking to the future). See, we know that God saves us by grace. But it's so much more than that. Grace isn't just something we get at the beginning of our Christian life; it's how God has promised to deal with us forever. Receiving that grace for the first time is just the beginning.
David wrote perhaps most clearly about the blessings of the Covenant of Grace in Psalm 32:1-2, and Paul quotes his words in Romans 4:6-8, saying: “. . .David also speaks of the blessing on the man to whom God credits righteousness apart from works: 'Blessed are those whose lawless deeds have been forgiven, and whose sins have been covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account.'” There's a lot that could be said about this passage, but here we can just focus on two truths that help us understand what it means that God deals with us in grace: 1) Verse 6 tells us that God's covenant blessings flow to us apart from any good things we do (“apart from works”). What this tells us is that we can't earn it; and we don't deserve it. Sometimes as Christians if we have a season in our life when we're extra obedient, we find ourselves expecting more of God's blessing. Why? Because, deep down, we think it's something that we earn through our obedience. But what David is telling us is that God's blessing flowing to us actually has nothing to do with how much we're obeying the Lord; it flows to us freely, and continually, and eternally, by grace. 2) Verses 7-8 tell us that God's covenant blessings flow to us in spite of all the ugly sins we commit (the blessed man has his share of “lawless deeds” and “sins”). As Christians, we tend to think that our sins have the power to temporarily cut us off from God's blessing. But these verses tell us that God's mercies flow to us freely, despite our sin. Verses 7-8 don't say: Blessed are you when you don't have any lawless deeds; but rather, Blessed are those who do have lawless deeds—but they've been forgiven. As hard as it is to believe, God's blessing isn't contingent on whether or not we have sin—but on whether or not our sins have been forgiven.5
1) OBJECTION ONE: What about Scriptures that seem to say God's blessing was given to David because of his righteousness? There are certain passages of Scripture, especially in the Psalms, that seem to contradict what we've been saying here. David prays in Psalm 7:8, “Vindicate me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and my integrity that is in me.” And again, in Psalm 18:20-24, David says: “The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands He has recompensed me. For I have kept the ways of the Lord. . .and I did not put away His statutes from me. I was also blameless with Him, and I kept myself from my iniquity. Therefore the Lord has recompensed me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands in His eyes.” We've been saying that God dealt with David in grace; that the Lord's favor was upon him apart from any good that he did and despite the sins he committed. But now David himself seems to be telling us something very different. How do we understand these Scriptures? Well, we can begin by looking at the context. David wrote Psalm 7 in response to false accusations that had been raised against him (see verses 3-6); and it's in this context that David is pleading for God to vindicate him. David's not claiming to be perfect or sinless; that's not what he's saying. He's just asserting that he's innocent in this particular situation; he's declaring his innocence as it related to the charges that were being brought against him. And it's the same thing in Psalm 18; David had written this Psalm when the Lord had delivered him from all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. David's not saying that he had been blameless in everything—but that he was blameless as it related to the accusations against him. Before God, David was a sinner; it was before the lies of men that he protested his innocence.6
2) OBJECTION TWO: What about Scriptures that seem to say that God's blessing was taken away from David because of his sin? Again, we saw earlier that God's blessing flowed freely to David, and to us, despite our sins. But if that's true, how do we understand other Scriptures where David seems to be saying that the Lord took His blessing away from him when he sinned? David writes in Psalm 31:10, “For my life is spent with sorrow and my years with sighing; my strength has failed because of my iniquity, and my body has wasted away.” Here, David is experiencing a season in his life that we might well describe as being contrary to God's blessing, and he tells us it's all as a result of his sin. In Psalm 38:3-5, David says something similar: “there is no health in my bones because of my sin. For my iniquities are gone over my head; as a heavy burden they weigh too much for me. My wounds grow foul and fester because of my folly. . .”; and later in verses 17-18 David says again: “For I am ready to fall, and my sorrow is continually before me. For I confess my iniquity; I am full of anxiety because of my sin.” If it's true that God's blessing flows to us despite our sin, how do we understand these kinds of passages? What we need to realize is that there's a difference between God's blessing on the one hand and the enjoyment of His blessing on the other. God's blessing itself is what we can call EXISTENTIAL; it's always there; it never wanes or changes; and it's never taken away. In Christ, God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3); and His lovingkindnesses “never cease” (Lamentations 3:22). But at the same time, the degree to which we enjoy His blessing day to day is EXPERIENTIAL; and when we give in to sin, we miss out on some of that enjoyment. Every day, the sun shines with the same brilliance, but if there are clouds in the sky, you're not going to see it like you would on a clear day. The sun is still there—but the clouds obstruct your view of it. In the same way, God has promised to never cut off His lovingkindness from us. But the degree to which we're experiencing that lovingkindness can vary from day to day. This is why David's prayer in Psalm 51:12 (after he sinned) was, “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation.” It wasn't salvation itself that David had lost; it was the joy of his salvation that he needed God to restore. He hadn't lost God's blessing—he'd lost the enjoyment of it. When we sin, we're miserable; and when we follow the Lord, there's joy. But the difference isn't any change in God's blessing itself—it's in our enjoyment of it.7
Towards the end of his life, David recounts the Lord's covenant with him in this way: “the word of the Lord came to me, saying. . .'Behold, a son will be born to you, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon. . .and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.” (1 Chronicles 22:8-10). This is significant because David is telling us that even as the Lord was making this covenant with him, God knew about Solomon. The Lord knew Solomon by name long before he was born. Which also means that even as God made His covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, He knew about what David was going to do in 2 Samuel 11: It was Bathsheba, remember, that would give birth to Solomon. God knew about the sins David would commit in the future. David's sin didn't take God by surprise. But His grace would cover his sin. And not only that—He would turn his sin into something beautiful. Remember, Jesus would come from Solomon. Now, that never meant there wouldn't be consequences. There were. It is likely that his servants never looked at him the same again. In one moment of temptation, David lost what he would never be able to buy back with all the riches of his kingdom. The consequences David brought on himself were devastating, lasting, and irreparable. But even the strokes and stripes he bore for his sin—far from being a sign that God had left him—actually served to verify the promise He had made to him in the covenant: The Lord would indeed punish his sins with the rod and his iniquity with stripes. But He would never break off His lovingkindness from him (Psalm 89:30-33).
1 On 2 Samuel 23:5, the Westminster Annotations say: “for this is all my salvation, and all my desire: The only ground of all my hope concerning salvation, and all that I can wish and desire.” And on 2 Samuel 23:5, Roberts says: “As if David had said: This righteousness, holiness, royal splendor and prosperity promised to me and my family are most sweet and precious mercies. . .God's Covenant with me touching all these and like mercies is sure, ordered in all things, and everlasting. Therefore. . .I lay the whole stress of all my Salvation and delight upon this his covenant and this is my great stay and comfort now in my old age when I am going to my grave. . .” (pp1028-29). And again: “this covenant [with David] was. . .ordered in all things, sure, and everlasting; in all these regards it was exceeding[ly] comfortable. And upon these considerations David in his last words notably raised up his consultations upon this covenant, placing all his salvation, and all his delight thereupon. . .And this covenant was his comfort to his last breath, to his dying day. Oh! The covenant and promises of God in Jesus Christ are the safest, surest, sweetest, and most immovable comforts of believers both in life and death.” (Francis Roberts, p1081).
2 Francis Roberts. The full quote is: “God's Covenant with David, was his Gospel to David. For, this was a Covenant of Faith, preaching the glad tidings of life and salvation by Jesus Christ to all that believe in him, and particularly to David and all his believing seed. And this is pure Gospel. Oh how sweet was this Gospel Covenant to blessed David, saying of it; This is all my Salvation, and all my delight! As it was said of Jacob; that his life was bound up in his son's life, so it might be much more said of David, that his life, salvation and delight was bound up in this Covenant, and in Jesus Christ. . .When therefore we read God's covenant with David. . .we should still remember we are reading the gospel of God in Jesus Christ.” (pp1002-03).
3 The Hebrew of Isaiah 55:3 literally reads: “And I will make an everlasting covenant with you, the faithful mercies of David.” Commentators are divided over whether David here is referring to king David or to Christ as the Greater David. Personally, I believe the verse is speaking literally of king David, especially in light of the fact that in verses 1-3, Christ seems to be the One speaking to sinners (“Incline your ear and come to Me. . .”). But no matter how you interpret David in this verse, you end up with the same truth. If you take David as literal, the meaning is: I will extend to you the (same) benefits of the Covenant of Grace that were shown TO David (through Christ). If you take David as speaking of Christ, the meaning is: I will extend to you the benefits of the Covenant of Grace which are given THROUGH [the Greater] David, who is Christ. But in both cases, the blessings and benefits of the Covenant of Grace are freely offered to sinners in and through Jesus Christ. Calvin says: “by this phrase [the mercies of David] he declares that it was a covenant of free grace; for it was founded on nothing else than the absolute goodness of God. Whenever, therefore, the word 'covenant' occurs in Scripture, we ought at the same time to call to remembrance the word 'grace'. . .” Edwards likewise: “That this covenant, now established with David. . .was the covenant of grace, is evident by the plain testimony of Scripture. . .in Isaiah 55:3. . .Here Christ offers to poor sinners, if they will come to him, to give them an interest in the same everlasting covenant that he had made with David, conveying to them the same sure mercies. But what is that covenant, in which sinners obtain an interest when they come to Christ, but the covenant of grace?” (History of Redemption, Section 7). And Pink says: “These 'sure mercies' are extended by Isaiah unto all the faithful as the blessings of the covenant, and therefore may be understood to denote all saving benefits bestowed on believers in this life or that to come. . .Those 'mercies' were Christ's by the Father's promise and by His own purchase, and at His resurrection they became His in actual possession, being all laid up in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20); and from Him we receive them (John 1:16; 16:14-16). The promises descend through Christ to those who believe, and thus are 'sure' to all the seed (Romans 4:16).” The Reformation Heritage Study Bible says: “Sure mercies of David: The enduring or firm covenant loyalties and love given to David and his offspring (2 Samuel 7:12-16) and fulfilled in Christ (Acts 13:34).” Isaiah 55:3 is also quoted in Acts 13:34, which Calvin explains in this way: “For because Christ rose rather for our sake than for himself, the perpetuity of life which the Father has given him reaches unto us all, and is ours. Notwithstanding the place of Isaiah which is here cited, seems to make but a little for proof of Christ's immortality, I will give you the holy things of David (Isaiah 55:3). But it is not so. For seeing Isaiah speaks of the redemption promised to David, and affirms that the same shall be firm and stable, we do well gather by this the immortal kingdom of Christ, wherein the eternity of salvation is grounded. . .For this is Paul's meaning in sum: If the grace be eternal which God says he will give in his Son, the life of his Son must be eternal, and not subject to corruption.”
4 This is how traditional theologians have understood Psalm 89:30-33. Calvin says: “God, unquestionably, is speaking of the household of his Church. . .in the promise which he makes of pardoning their offenses. . .the pardon which is here promised belongs to the spiritual kingdom of Christ; and it may be equally gathered from this passage, that the salvation of the Church depends solely upon the grace of God. . .we must understand the passage as amounting to this, that although the faithful may not in every instance act in a manner worthy of the grace of God, and may therefore deserve to be rejected by him, yet he will be merciful to them, because remission of sins is an essential article promised in his covenant. . .Thus the promise is fulfilled, that he does not withdraw his lovingkindness from his people. . .It is, however, to be observed, that there is a change of person in the words. After it is said, If his children shall forsake my law, etc, it is at length subjoined, My lovingkindness or mercy will I not withdraw from Him. It ought surely to have been said, them instead of him, since it is children in the plural number who are before spoken of. But it is very probable that this form of expression is purposely employed to teach us that we are reconciled to God only through Christ; and that if we would expect to find mercy, we must seek for it from that source alone.” And Spurgeon notes: “the seed of the Son of David are apt to start aside, but are they therefore cast away? Not a single word gives liberty for such an idea, but the very reverse. . .Jesus still enjoys the divine favor, and we are in him, and therefore under the most trying circumstances the Lord's lovingkindness to each one of his chosen will endure the strain. . .This passage sweetly assures us that the heirs of glory shall not be utterly cast off.” Gill also writes: “the spiritual seed of mystical David, are here designed, who may sin, and do sin. . .Nevertheless my lovingkindness will I not utterly take from him: not from Christ. . .nor from all those that are in him. . .” And Matthew Henry likewise says: “Though David's seed be chastened, it does not follow that they are disinherited; they may be cast down, but they are not cast off. God's favor is continued to his people. . .for Christ's sake; in him the mercy is laid up for us, and God says, I will not take it from him (verse 33). . .”
5 So, this passage teaches that God's blessing is neither upheld by our obedience nor nullified by our sin: “the blessed man is not the man who has good works laid to his account but whose sins are not laid to his account.” (Murray, Romans, p134).
6 On Psalm 7:8, Gill says: “he speaks not of his justification before God, in whose sight he well knew no flesh living could be justified by their own righteousness (Psalm 143:2); nor of the righteousness of his person, either imputed or inherent; but of the righteousness of his cause (Psalm 35:27); not of his righteousness God-ward, for he knew that he was a sinner with respect to him; but of his righteousness towards Saul, against whom he had not sinned, but had acted towards him in the most righteous and faithful manner (1 Samuel 24:11); and therefore desired to be judged, and was content to stand or fall according to his conduct and behavior towards him.” And Plumer writes: “The appeal to his own innocence is confined to the matter respecting which David had been slandered. It has nothing to do with his standing in the sight of God as a sinful man. Before God none more earnestly cried for mercy: 'Enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight shall no man living be justified' (Psalm 143:2).” And on Psalm 18:20-24, Calvin says: “When [David] presents and defends himself before the judgment-seat of God against his enemies, the question is not concerning the whole course of his life, but only respecting one certain cause, or a particular point. . .The state of the matter is this: his adversaries charged him with many crimes. . .David, in opposition to these accusations, with the view of maintaining his innocence before God, protests and affirms that he had acted uprightly and sincerely in this matter. . .It would be absurd to draw from this the inference that God is merciful to men according as he judges them to be worthy of his favor. Here the object in view is only to show the goodness of a particular cause, and to maintain it in opposition to wicked calumniators. . .” And Spurgeon: “Viewing this psalm as prophetical of the Messiah, these strongly-expressed claims to righteousness are readily understood, for his garments were as white as snow; but considered as the language of David they have perplexed many. Yet the case is clear, and if the words be not strained beyond their original intention, no difficulty need occur. . .David's early troubles arose from the wicked malice of envious Saul, who no doubt prosecuted his persecutions under cover of charges brought against the character of 'the man after God's own heart.' These charges David declares to have been utterly false, and asserts that he possessed a grace-given righteousness which the Lord had graciously rewarded in defiance of all his calumniators. Before God the man after God's own heart was a humble sinner, but before his slanderers he could with unblushing face speak of the 'cleanness of his hands' and the righteousness of his life. . .It is not at all an opposition to the doctrine of salvation by grace, and no sort of evidence of a Pharisaic spirit, when a gracious man, having been slandered, stoutly maintains his integrity, and vigorously defends his character. . .” (Calvin).
7 This truth unlocks several passages in the Scriptures. It's how we can explain the tension that Scripture tells us on the one hand that God “has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3), and that “The Lord's lovingkindnesses indeed never cease” (Lamentations 3:22); but how on the other hand Jesus tells us in John 13:17, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them”, and Paul reminds the elders at Ephesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). God's blessing is poured out upon us in Christ to the full and in and through and because of Him, it's never taken away or cut off from us. But at the same time, our enjoyment of that blessing can vary from day to day.