The heir to David’s throne.

by K.W. Leslie, 14 December 2018

2 Samuel 7.1-17.

In the 11th century BC the tribes of Israel grew tired of being led by head priests and judges. The previous head priest, Eli, had let his corrupt sons run amok; the current judge, Samuel, likewise had easily-bribed sons unfit to assume their father’s job. Clearly there are some serious problems with hereditary leadership, but the Hebrews stupidly didn’t recognize this (and therefore request democratically elected leaders with fixed terms—not that we elect our best people either). The descendants of Israel demanded Samuel procure them a king. Nevermind the LORD God being their king; Is 33.22, 43.15 they wanted a human king, like all the other nations had. 1Sa 8.5 So Israel got a king.

Kings suck, and Israel’s first two kings were typical rubbish. Like most politicians, Saul preferred pleasing the crowds to following God. His son Ishbaal was really just his uncle’s puppet. But the third king, the prophet David, was a standout: He was far from perfect, but he was bananas for the LORD, tried to follow him wholeheartedly, and the LORD figured this was a king he could work with. Not for nothing does the rest of the Old Testament compare every single king with David.

David conquered the Jebusite town of Jerusalem and made it his capital. He built himself a nice cedar palace in it. (Bit of a status symbol in a land where most houses were made of brick or stone.) Then one day he got to musing:

2 Samuel 7.1-3 KWL
1 This happened when King David sat in his house,
at a time the LORD gave him rest from all his enemies around.
2 King David told the prophet Nathan, “Please look: I sit in a cedar house.
And yet the God-box sits in the middle of sheets.”
3 Nathan told King David, “Whatever’s in your mind, go and do!—for the LORD’s with you.”

The arún ha-Elohím/“box of God,” which we more often call the Ark of the Covenant, was the gold box which contained the Ten Commandments, among other artifacts, representing the LORD’s formal relationship with Israel. He instructed Moses how to build the tent to keep it in, and the head priests had kept it in this tent ever since. And David felt it weird that he got a house, but the God-box got a tent. Shouldn’t it be the other way round? It’s just common sense.

But that night the LORD set Nathan straight: He never asked for a house.

2 Samuel 7.4-7 KWL
4 But this happened that night: The LORD’s word came to Nathan to say,
5 “Go tell my slave David the LORD says this:
You? You build a house for me to sit in?
6 From the day I brought Israel’s descendants from Egypt to this very day,
I’ve not sat in a house; I walk. In tent, in tabernacle.
7 In everywhere I walked with all Israel’s descendants, did I speak a word to one of Israel’s tribes?
When I instructed my people Israel’s pastor, did I say, ‘Why don’t you build me a cedar house?’ ”

See, that’s the downside of temples. Church buildings too. We too often think of them as our God-boxes. That’s where God is… and that’s where God stays. But I’m not discussing the validity of temples today; there’s a declaration the LORD makes in this prophecy which Christians love to apply to Jesus. It’s right here:

2 Samuel 7.8-17 KWL
8 “Now, tell my slave David the LORD of War says this:
I myself took you from the ranch, from following the flock, to become ruler over my people Israel.
9 I’m with you everywhere you go. I cut off all your enemies before your face.
I make you a name as great as the greatest names who live in the land.
10 I set a place for my people Israel, and plant a tabernacle under them.
They aren’t disturbed further. Iniquity’s children humiliate them, as they did at first, no more.
11 Like the days I commissioned judges over my people Israel,
I give you rest from all your enemies.
Now the LORD tells you he, the LORD, makes you that house.
12 When your days are complete and you rest with your ancestors,
I raise your seed after you, one who comes forth from your innards.
I establish his kingdom.
13 He builds a house for my name.
I establish the throne of his kingdom for eons.
14 I become a father to him, and he becomes a son to me.
When he commits evil, I correct him with mortal canes, with Adam’s descendants’ whips.
15 My love isn’t taken from him,
like I took it from Saul, whom I removed from your face.
16 Your house and kingdom are guaranteed, before your face, for eons.
Your throne becomes established for eons.”
17 Nathan spoke all these words, all this vision, to David.

Now. This is obviously a prophecy about Solomon, the son of David who built the first temple of YHWH in Jerusalem, who hadn’t been born yet. It also applies to David and Solomon’s descendants: The rest of the house of David, which ruled Jerusalem till the Babylonians invaded—and briefly ruled Jerusalem again when the Persians made David’s direct descendant Zerubbabel governor of Jerusalem.

But by Jesus’s day, David’s house wasn’t in charge anymore. The Maccabees, a family of head priests, stepped into the power vacuum after they overthrew the Seleucids; they evolved into the Hasmoneans; then Herod overthrew them; then the Caesars overthrew the Herods. The Davids hadn’t been in charge for centuries. But according to Nathan’s prophecy, the Davids would be in charge ad-olám/“for time,” which most folks interpret as “for all time,” i.e. forever. So… if God promised David the throne forever, at some point one of the house of David had to retake the throne, right?

And as both Jesus’s genealogies clearly state, Jesus is from the house of David. The gospel of Matthew even begins,

Matthew 1.1 KJV
The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.

God made sure his Son had a biological claim to the throne. And since Jesus literally rules forever, in so doing, David’s house also literally rules forever. Looks like the LORD wasn’t just being hyperbolic.

Fulfilling some of the prophecy about Solomon.

Christians frequently like to take the bit about Solomon, and claim it’s also about Jesus. Because Jesus fulfills some of those ideas. But to remind you, fulfillment in the bible isn’t about prophecy coming to pass; it’s about how one thing is like another thing. Jesus has a lot of incidental similarities to Solomon. He’s a descendant of David, obviously (and in one of his genealogies, a descendant of Solomon too Mt 1.6-7). God establishes his kingdom for eons; for a millennium and longer. God literally is Jesus’s Father, and not just in an adoptive way. God never takes his love from him. And Jesus is building a house for his Father… out of his church, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. 1Co 3.16

Of course the part, “When he commits evil”: That can’t apply to Jesus. 1Pe 2.22 Solomon committed evil, and had to suffer the consequences, as God foretold. Jesus committed no evil, and though he suffered our consequences for us, it had nothing to do with his own sins, ’cause he had none. That’s how we know this part of the prophecy isn’t about Jesus, resemblances aside.

Not that this stops Christians from claiming anyway that the whole prophecy pertains to Jesus. Because people of the present day don’t know what fulfillment means, and are far too willing to stretch the bible to suit their connect-the-dots interpretations. The embarrassing part is when they tell unbelievers, “Check out 1 Samuel 7; it’s totally a prophecy about Jesus!” and those unbelievers do check it out, and find out the Christians stretched the meaning way beyond what a clear reading properly tells us.

The part which is legitimately and wholly about Jesus, I remind you, has to do with David’s house established forever. Y’see Samuel was written as part of the Deuteronomistic history, four books (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings) which explained why the LORD permitted the Babylonians to conquer his people. At the time of Samuel’s composition, the Davidic line had just ended. Zedekiah, the last king of the line, was blinded, overthrown, and dragged off to Babylon by Nabú-kudúrri-usúr (NIV “Nebuchadnezzar”). The cedar house Solomon had built for the LORD was set afire, its pillars knocked down, its gold melted and stolen. By all accounts this prophecy appeared to be undone. Yet the author of Samuel kept it in the book anyway. Because who says David’s line wouldn’t someday be restored?

Well it was. Pharisees expected a “son of David” to come reclaim David’s throne; a Messiah like David who’d overthrow the head priests, overthrow the Romans, rule even better than David did, conquer more territory than David had—conquer the world, really. All these expectations were achieved by Jesus. All except returning to reign personally. And we look forward to that during advent as well.