What do we learn from the Davidic Covenant?
1. The FOUNDATION of the Covenant of Grace: We learn what is the only basis of our hope
We mentioned that there are both temporal and eternal components in God's covenant with David. It's always been this way.1 All the manifestations of the Covenant of Grace are about Christ and the gospel—but they're wrapped with an outer husk. Eternal truths are wrapped with a temporal shell. In the Noahic Covenant, God delivered Noah and his family from the waters of the flood. But the temporal salvation that Noah and his household found in the ark was always meant to point us forward to the eternal salvation God would provide in and through Jesus Christ. In the Abrahamic Covenant, God made promises to Abraham of a land, a seed, and blessing. But though at first glance these were only temporal things, we learned that ultimately these promises had to do with Christ. In His Covenant with Israel at Sinai, God gave His people all kinds of instructions about the tabernacle, the priesthood, certain feasts, and animal sacrifices. On the surface these things were only temporal and earthly; but they were always meant to teach us eternal truths—to point us to Jesus and the gospel.
We're going to see the same thing in God's covenant with David. The Lord makes several wonderful promises to David here in 2 Samuel 7, and we're going to see that each one of them is ultimately and most fully accomplished in Jesus. God's covenant promises to David are about Christ and the gospel. But they're also wrapped in an outer shell of the temporal and earthly. Let's take them one by one:
A) PREEMINENCE (2 Samuel 7:8-9): In 2 Samuel 7, the prophet Nathan comes to David with a message from the Lord. In verses 8-9, Nathan, speaking for God, declares: “Now 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, to be ruler over My people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth.” There are a few different elements we can see here, which are in turn expanded upon in other places of Scripture. In these two verses, the Lord rehearses His dealings with David and makes promises to him concerning his rule, his enemies, and his name.
1) David's RULE has been established: We see this in verse 8 in particular. The Lord tells David: “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, to be ruler over My people Israel.” We see the same truth expanded upon in Psalm 89:19-21, which says: “Once You spoke in vision to Your godly ones, and said, 'I have given help to one who is mighty; I have exalted one chosen from the people. I have found David My servant; with My holy oil I have anointed him, with whom My hand will be established; My arm also will strengthen him.” The Lord had chosen David, and established his rule.
2) David's ENEMIES are subdued: We see this in verse 9: “I have been with you wherever you have gone and have cut off all your enemies from before you. . .” The Lord also tells David in verse 11, “I will give you rest from all your enemies.” Again, there is a parallel passage as we continue to read in Psalm 89:22-23: “The enemy will not deceive him, nor the son of wickedness afflict him. But I shall crush his adversaries before him, and strike those who hate him.” God will subdue David's enemies.
3) David's NAME shall be enlarged: God tells David later in verse 9: “. . .and I will make you a great name, like the names of the great men who are on the earth.” Again, we're told in Psalm 89:24, “My faithfulness and My lovingkindness will be with him, and in My name his horn will be exalted.”
All these things the Lord did for David. But in these declarations and promises, we're also pointed to the Greater David; the One who would come forth from David; of whom David was but a type. It's ultimately in Christ that these things find their greatest fulfillment: David's rule had been established, but only as a picture of the future rule of the Son of David: The author of Hebrews tells us just this when he quotes Psalm 45:7: “You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above your companions.” (1:9). Here, he cites a passage that uses the same kind of language as in Psalm 89:20-21—but he tells us explicitly that it's speaking of the rule of Christ (1:8). Further, David's enemies were subdued in order to teach us that the same will be true for the enemies of Christ: The Royal Psalms are filled with the imagery of the Messiah ruling over His enemies (Psalm 2:9; 21:8-12; 45:5; 110:1-2); and Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:25 that Christ “must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet.” Lastly, David's name would be enlarged to a degree, but this promise would find its greatest fulfillment in Jesus: Solomon couldn't have been speaking of any other, lesser king, when he invoked this blessing in Psalm 72:17: “May his name endure forever; may his name increase as long as the sun shines; and let men bless themselves by him; let all nations call him blessed.” And Paul tells us that Christ has been given “the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow. . .and. . .every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Philippians 2:9-11). David's preeminence is meant to point us to the preeminence of Jesus: “He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be preeminent.” (Colossians 1:18, ESV):2
B) SHELTER (2 Samuel 7:10-11a): After the declarations and promises about David, the Lord goes on to make some promises about His people Israel in 2 Samuel 7:10-11. In these verses we read: “I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again, nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel. . .” In these two verses, we see three promises in particular: The Lord will place His people; He will plant them; and give them peace.3
1) PLACEMENT: We see this in verse 10, where the Lord tells David: “I will also appoint a place for My people Israel. . .” The place the Lord was referring to was Canaan in general, and Jerusalem in particular. And since God himself also had His dwelling in Jerusalem, as represented by the ark, we see that the place God had appointed for Israel was the same place He himself would dwell. This wasn't by accident! The Lord's desire was to dwell with His people. As Psalm 132:13-16 says: “For the Lord has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation. 'This is My resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it. I will abundantly bless her provision; I will satisfy her needy with bread. Her priests also I will clothe with salvation, and her godly ones will sing aloud for joy.'”4
2) PLANTING: We see this as we continue with verse 10: “I will also appoint a place for My people Israel and will plant them, that they may live in their own place and not be disturbed again. . .” Back in Exodus 15:17, Moses had prophesied that God would do this very thing for Israel: “You will bring them and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, the place, O Lord, which you have made for Your dwelling, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Your hands have established.” And later, Scripture tells us in Psalm 80:8, “You removed a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it.” Even before David's reign, Israel had been dwelling in the land; but they still had to move about at times when they were put to flight by outside forces.5 In a way they were like potted plants, staying in one place for a time but never putting down roots. Now, God would plant His people under David.6
3) PEACE: We read in verses 10-11: “. . .nor will the wicked afflict them any more as formerly, even from the day that I commanded judges to be over My people Israel. . .” In the past, Israel hadn't just been unsettled; they had been oppressed and afflicted. The Lord was saying that would change now under David. And, in a very real sense, it would change now because of David. Protecting God's people from their oppressors was a major part of what Israel's king was called upon to do. Solomon realized this; and so he prayed in Psalm 72:1-4: “Give the king Your judgments, O God, and Your righteousness to the king's son. May he judge Your people with righteousness and Your afflicted with justice. Let the mountains bring peace to the people, and the hills, in righteousness. May he vindicate the afflicted of the people, save the children of the needy and crush the oppressor.”7
All these things the Lord did for His people, and especially during the reigns of David and Solomon. But just as we saw in the preceding verses, the promises of verses 10-11 have their greatest fulfillment in gospel realities. Ultimately, all these things point us forward to what God would do for His people in Christ. The prophets picked up these same promises and applied them to what the Lord would do for His people in the new covenant. God spoke through Ezekiel: “I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever.” (37:26). And in describing the result of Jesus' earthly ministry, Isaiah tells us that God's people “will be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3). Similarly, the Lord says through Jeremiah: “I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul.” (Jeremiah 32:41). And again, Ezekiel prophesied saying: “They will no longer be a prey to the nations. . .but they will live securely, and no one will make them afraid. I will establish for them a renowned planting place, and they will not again be victims of famine in the land, and they will not endure the insults of the nations anymore.” (34:28-29). So, God would do these things to a degree for Israel in a physical and temporal sense, but only as a picture of what He would do for His Church in a lasting and eternal sense. In Christ, we have eternal security. Jesus did say, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matthew 15:13), but it's also true that no plant which has been planted by Him shall ever be removed. God's people are like His garden, and He says: “I, the Lord, am its keeper; I water it every moment. So that no one will damage it, I guard it night and day.” (Isaiah 27:3). The Lord knows how to keep His people. When He brings us into His kingdom, He plants us there forever. Israel was planted in the earthly Jerusalem. But in Christ, we have come to “the heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22), to “receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken” (12:28). Israel was planted in the Jerusalem below. But the Lord did this in order to help us understand that, in Christ, we have been planted in a lasting and eternal city, the Jerusalem above.8
C) DYNASTY (2 Samuel 7:11c-12): The whole context of the word that Nathan has been speaking to David was the desire that David had earlier expressed to Nathan. We're told in 2 Samuel 7:1-2: “Now it came about when the king lived in his house, and the Lord had given him rest on every side from all his enemies, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, 'See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains.'” This didn't feel right to David. Why should he live in a palace while God dwelt in a tent? He felt it only fitting to build a more permanent dwelling place for the Lord. That's where Nathan's next words to David come in. We read in 2 Samuel 7:11: “The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you.” There is a play-on-words here. David had wanted to build a house for God. But the Lord comes back to David through Nathan and tells him it's going to be the other way around: God is going to build a house for him. In these verses, the same word is being used, but in different ways. David lived in a house (meaning palace). And he wanted to build a house for God (meaning temple). But in response to that, the Lord declares that He is going to instead build a house for David (meaning dynasty). David had expressed the desire to build a temple for the Lord. The Lord comes back promising instead to build a dynasty for David.9
But what did it mean exactly that the Lord would build a dynasty for David? What would that look like? The Lord himself goes on to clarify and explain. We read in 2 Samuel 7:12, “When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom.” There are primarily two promises here in verse 12. God is promising: 1) to raise up for David a particular heir; and 2) establish his kingdom.
1) HEIR: This is the first promise: “I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you. . .” (verse 12). Who is this heir that the Lord would raise up from David, whose kingdom the Lord would establish in such a remarkable way? Well, at first glance, Solomon seems to be the easy answer. David had lots of sons, but we know that Solomon was the one who would reign in the place of his father. And the Lord established his kingdom in a powerful way. Scripture describes the grandeur of his reign in the book of 1 Kings: “Judah and Israel were as numerous as the sand that is on the seashore in abundance. . .Solomon ruled over all the kingdoms from the River to the land of the Philistines and to the border of Egypt. . .” (4:20-21). And again: “King Solomon became greater than all the kings of the earth in riches and in wisdom. . .The king made silver as common as stones in Jerusalem, and he made cedars as plentiful as sycamore trees that are in the lowland.” (10:23,27). Further, the passage goes on to tell us that this same descendant would be the one to build the house of the Lord (verse 13). And we know that though David had desired to build a house for God, it was Solomon who would build the temple. Besides, Scripture tells us plainly that Solomon was indeed the heir being spoken of here. In 1 Chronicles 22:7-10, David says to his son Solomon, “My son, I had intended to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. But the word of the Lord came to me, saying. . .'you shall not build a house to My name, because you have shed so much blood on the earth before Me. Behold, a son will be born to you. . .and I will give him rest from all his enemies on every side; for his name shall be Solomon. . .He shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son and I will be his father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.”
So, in 2 Samuel 7:12, the Lord was speaking of Solomon. But what we find out elsewhere is that He was never speaking only of Solomon. In fact, a great number of Scriptures force us to conclude that the Lord was speaking primarily of someone else. We get our first hint of this in David's subsequent prayer. As he recalls the promises God had just made to him, he responds in prayer, saying: “You have spoken also of the house of Your servant concerning the distant future.” (7:19). The question arises: Was the time of Solomon really what we would call the distant future? Well, distant or not, Solomon's reign came; he ascended the throne and built the temple. But soon he too was replaced and others sat on the throne. And yet, the astonishing thing is that hundreds of years after Solomon had lived and died, the prophets continued to speak of the mighty reign of this particular descendant of David as an event still yet to come. Even 200 years after Solomon's time, Isaiah was still looking to the future as he wrote: “Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse, and a branch from his roots will bear fruit. . .The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him. . .and He will not judge by what His eyes see. . .But with righteousness He will judge the poor, and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth. . .” (11:1-4). Jeremiah prophesied, saying: “'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the Lord, 'When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.'” (23:5; cf. 30:9; 33:14-16). And Zechariah prophesied, saying: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, 'Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne.'” (6:12-13). The prophets had used the imagery of a branch. Psalm 132:17 uses different language: “I will cause the horn of David to spring forth. . .” The horn of an animal denoted its strength; the imagery is different but the truth is the same: Scripture's telling us that Solomon was just the beginning of the fulfillment; his life was meant to serve as a picture or type of another and Greater Son of David who was still yet to come.10