This paper is a continuation of two previous papers given to the study of regal (i.e., kingly) and messianic hope in the Old Testament. The reason we are studying Old Testament messianic expectations is because Jesus linked so much of his identity and ministry to messianic and regal hopes (e.g., Matt 22:44-45; cf. Luke 24:44-45). Therefore, a study of these ideas in the Old Testament is sure to give us a better understanding of Jesus’ teaching in this area. The reader is encouraged to read the previous two papers first. Both are on this website: 1) “A Star Will Come out of Jacob”: Early Regal Images in Numbers 24:15-19; 2) An Early Text for Later Messianic Conceptions: A Look at Genesis 49:8-12. The papers from this point forward will focus on Davidic messianic conceptions in the Old Testament.
This passage reveals several important ideas surrounding kingship in ancient Israel1: 1) it is connected to the blessing of dwelling in the land, which links it to the Abrahamic covenant (17:14; cf. Gen 12:1, 7)2; 2) the king must be the one whom God chooses (rj^b=y] 17:15a). Thus it will not be based on popularity or military prowess, but on the Lord’s decision3; 3) he must be an Israelite (;yj#a^ br#Q#m! 17:15b); 4) he must not acquire many horses4 or ever take Israel back to Egypt for whatever reason, e.g., for horses, etc. (17:16). The command not to return to Egypt is somewhat difficult to understand. It could be that the Lord does not want Israel to open up trade relations with Egypt, because of negative spiritual ramifications, or something more specific may be in mind. It may be, as Craigie suggests, that “what is in mind is trading men, i.e., mercenary Isrealite soldiers, in return for horses. The net result of such action, for the men involved, would be separation from the freedom of the Israelite community and a return to the old bondage in Egypt.”5; 5) he must not take many wives or acquire large amounts of wealth for that would result in his eventual apostacy (17:17)6; 6) he must be faithful to the Law which would undoubtedly be for him his source of wisdom and strength (hr*wT)h^; 17:18-20).7 There is also the idea of legitimate succession in the king being presented with his own copy of the Law. As Merrill states:
Part of the protocol of royal succession in the anicent Near Eastern world was the transfer of documents that legitimized the succession and provided standards by which the new king was to administer the affairs of his regime.This was the practice in Israel and Judah as well, a practice inaugurated by the Deuteronomic law (v. 18; cf. 1 Kings 2:3; 2 Kgs 11:12; 23:3).8
We may infer from this that he will be expected to be righteous; 7) he and his descendants will reign for many days (<ym!y` Eyr!a&y~) over his kingdom if they hold to the Torah, its commandments (hw`x=M!h^) and statutes (hL#a@h* <yQ!j%h^; 17:20). This anticipates the Davidic covenant and the pattern of royal succession through each kings’ sons.9
Thus we have in this brief passage, images of the king’s rule connected to the promise for the land. Further, the king must be an Israelite of God’s choosing. He shall not depend on his military for success, and he must not gain great wealth or numerous wives; he must trust wholly in God. His trust in YHWH is to be expressed in obedience to God’s Law and as one under the authority of YHWH he is to regard himself as equal to his fellow Israelites. There may also be the notion that he is to pursue his brothers’ well being in that he prohibits them from ever being sold as slaves again and that there is a recommitment to the Law at his succession to the throne.
Abigail states that David will have an “enduring house” because he was fighting the battles of the Lord (v. 28). Evil would not be found in him all his days (v. 28) and he would be appointed by the Lord as ruler over Israel (v. 30). David demonstrates his wisdom in his treatment of Abigail and Nabal. The Nathan oracle in Samuel 7 develops at length Abigail’s comments about David having an enduring house.
In 1 Samuel 2:35 God says that he will raise up a faithful priest (/man /hk) who will do what he desires. The fact that God will make his house firm and secure (/man tyb wl ytynbW) reminds the reader of what was spoken about David in 2 Samuel 7:11 (;l hvuy tyb) and in 7:16 (;tyb /man).10 This faithful priest will serve YHWH’s anointed (yjyvm) which shows the close relation of priest and king (in particular, king David and the priest), in Israel’s theocracy (cf. also Ps 110:4 where the functions of king and priest appear to coalesce in one person).11
The promise to David outlined in 2 Samuel 7:8-16 can hardly be overstated in terms of its importance for shaping later conceptions of messianic hope in Israel.12 Brueggemann notes that it “occupies the dramatic and theological center of the entire Samuel corpus. Indeed, this is one of the most crucial texts in the Old Testament for evangelical faith.”13 Gordon says that “we shall not be exaggerating the importance of the Nathan oracle, therefore, if we see it as the matrix of biblical messianism.”14 We turn now to an examination of some of its important features
It is quite likely that the period of rest referred to in 7:1ff and the events of this section occurred some time after chapter 8:1-14 and 10:1-19 (cf. 1 Chron 17:1).15 It has been suggested that the promise pericope is placed here so as to give it greater importance than the wars of David16 and to show that David’s desire to build a “house” for YHWH and the resultant promise is a conclusion and crown of the whole.17 This is certainly true, but we must also note the theme of David’s worship which runs through chapters 6 and 7 and which must be touched on as the backdrop for the promise about to be inaugurated in chapter 7. The picture that we have here of David is one of complete submission to and love for YHWH. The juxta-position of David’s bringing of the ark to Jerusalem and his desire to build a “house” for YHWH18 indicates that wrapped up in kingship is the idea of the special access to Israel’s God enjoyed by the king (cf. Ps 2:7-8; 110:1; Jer 30:21). This is brought out in the “sonship” language of the promise. Further, we note that the position of the promise in the Samuel corpus may remind us “that David’s darker moments, yet to come, and known to the writer, will not obscure nor cancel the promises made to him and his house.”19 The reference to the chastening of David’s son in 7:12-14 and especially v. 15 contribute to that fact. In short, the promise is of the nature of royal grant20 and is thus, unconditional, though any one particular individual (and thus the nation) may suffer loss through disobedience (vv. 14-16). The nation is closely linked to the king in 2 Sam 7 and is assured by YHWH that they will ultimately possess their land with none to harm them (vv. 10-11).
There is no little discussion on the precise significance of the use of the Davidic traditions in 1 & 2 Kings.21 It is not our purpose here to evaluate whether the final author/redactor viewed the Davidic covenant as grounds for a future hope or not, but simply to cite a few ideas that are associated with the covenant as it is invoked.22 Von Rad summarizes well the overall tension in the books of 1 & 2 Kings between the view of Deuteronomy with its legal formula of blessings and curses (cf. Deut 28-30) and the enduring hope held out in the Davidic promise:
In the last analysis, what the deuteronomist has done in this respect arises simply from his faithfulness to the tradition which had been handed down to him. A part of this tradition was that principle of historical causality expressed in the Book of Deuteronomy as Yahweh’s curse on those who transgress his commandments. The deuteronomistic historian also found there the prophetic declaration of Yahweh’s promise under the Davidic covenant. He could not leave these two great principles out of account, and indeed he believes the shape and the course of the whole history of the kingdom of Judah to be determined by the mutual interplay of these forces.
We are thus led to the important conclusion that in the deuteronomic presentation of the matter Yahweh’s word determines the history of Judah, and that it does so under two particular forms: first, it is a law which controls and destroys; secondly it is as “gospel”, a continually self-fulfilling promise to David, which brings salvation and forgiveness. The promise made to David is a kind of katevcwn, the restraining force which runs through the history of Judah, warding off the long-deserved judgment from the kingdom “for David's sake.”23
Thus it is difficult to be certain about whether 1 and 2 Kings regard the Davidic promise as something to base one’s hopes on for the future. But, this is of no real consequence to someone at a later date who might choose to view it otherwise. What is important for our study is the kind of images and concepts associated with the covenant. To this we now turn.
Obedience on the part of the king and nation was central to the covenant. Solomon and the nation must remain faithful to the Law of God, and if so, they would not fail to have a man on the throne (1 Kings 2:1-4; 9:4-6; 11:11-13).24 The fact that God was pleased to give Solomon wisdom in order that he might reign well, is evidence that wisdom is integral to the continued fulfillment of the Davidic covenant, lest the king walk in foolish and sinful ways, jeopardizing his reign in the eyes of the Lord (1 Kings 3:1-28; cf. 2 Sam 7:14-15).25 Assuming the throne involves dealing with threats and enemies to the throne. Thus Solomon, when he was established on the throne, put to death Adonijah (1 Kings 2:24-25) and several others including Joab (2:34) and Shimei (2:46).26 Further, his reign will be a time centered on the worship of YHWH, as the building of the temple highlights (1 Kings 5:1-9:1), and his superb ability to rule will become well known in foreign countries among the Gentiles (cf. e.g., 10:1-13, 24).27
The evil of certain kings could not render the covenant immediately void. Thus, implicit in the covenant is God’s willingness to humble kings and either forgive sins or overlook them for a time. The Lord was not willing to destroy Judah despite the evil of king Jehoram in Judah [848-841 B.C.E.]. He did this for the sake of his servant David since he had promised to give him a lamp for his descendants always (cf. 2 Kings 8:19; cf. 1 Kings 11:36; 15:4).28 Further, God said he would put his name, as he told David and Solomon, in the Temple in Jerusalem even though Manasseh had placed Asherah poles there (2 Kings 21:5-7).
1 Regarding the debate about the Siz im Leben of the tradition, and whether it fits better with a setting in the north versus one in the south, see, A. D. H. Mayes, Deuteronomy, The New Century Bible Commentary, ed. Ronald E Clements (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979), 270-71. W. E. Nicholson, Deuteronomy and Tradition (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1967), 80-81, regards the passage as written in the period of the monarchy, but Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy, The New American Commentary, ed. Kenneth Mathews, vol. 4 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1994) 263-65 argues quite strongly against such a reconstruction, holding to Mosaic authorship of the passage. For further literature on the passage see Andre Caquot, “Remarques sur la ‘loi royale’ du Deutronome (17:14-20),” Semitica 9 (1959): 21-33.
4 Horses represent wealth in the ancient Near East, and also military might. Thus the king was not to acquire horses so that he would cease trusting in the Lord for victory, but in his military might (cf. Judges 4-5). See Merrill, Deuteronomy, 265.
5 Craigie, Deuteronomy, 255-56. Craigie follows Gerhard Von Rad, Deuteronomy, The Old Testament Library, ed. G. Ernest Wright, John Bright, James Barr, and Peter Ackroyd (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1966), 119, who says, “the prohibition in v. 16 against procuring horses for a corps of military chariots seems to have something to do with an exchange transaction, namely, the supply of Hebrew soldiers in return for Egyptian horses, of which the king had been guilty (cf. 1 Kings 10:28).”
11 See Ralph W. Klein, 1 Samuel, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. John D. W. Watts, vol. 10 (Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1983), 28, who refers to the Israelites’ government as a “dyarchy” between priest and king.
12 See Robert D. Bergen, 1,2 Samuel, The New American Commentary, vol. 7, ed. Kenneth A. Mathews (Atlanta: Broadman & Holdman, 1996), 337, who says that “the covenant the Lord established with the house of David became the nucleus around which the messages of hope proclaimed by Hebrew prophets of later generations were built (Isa 9:1-7; 11:1-16; 16:5; 55:3; Jer 23:5-6; 30:8; 33:15-26; Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-25; Hos 3:5; Amos 9:11; Zech 12:7-8).” See also Jon D. Levenson, “The Davidic Covenant and Its Modern Interpreters,” CBQ 42 (1979), 205, 206.
15 See Bergen, 1,2 Samuel, 335; Anderson, A. A. 2 Samuel, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. John D. W. Watts, vol. 11 (Dallas, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1989), 112; see also C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, II Samuel, trans. J. A. Martin (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), 341, who refers the rest of 7:1 to a later date. He says, “It is true that the giving of rest from all his enemies round about does not definitely presuppose the termination of all the greater wars of David, since it is not affirmed that this rest was a definitive one; but the words cannot possibly be restricted to the two victories over the Philistines.”
18 David’s desire to build a “house” for his God was typical of kings in the ancient Near East, and was at once both an act of homage to YHWH as well as an attempt to prevent Israel’s God from being exposed to charges of cultic inferiority. So Gordon, 1 & II Samuel, 1986. The fact that it appears here in 2 Samuel may also reflect an attempt to legitimate the Davidic house in Israel against any usurpers. See Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, 253- 54.
19 See Bruce K. Waltke, “The Phenomenon of Conditionality Within Unconditional Covenants,” in Israel's Apostasy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, ed. Avraham Gileadi (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 131, who says “The irrevocable and conditional aspects of YHWH’s grant to David are brought together under the evocative imagery of sonship…The phrase ‘I will be his father, and he shall be my son’ forms an adoption formula that provides the judicial basis for the gift of the eternal dynasty (compare Pss 2:7-8; 89) and the qualification that disloyal sons will lose YHWH’s protection (compare 1 Kgs 6:12-13; 9:4, 6-7). YHWH granted both Abraham and David an eternal fief. Loyal sons would fully enjoy the fief; disloyal sons would lose YHWH’s protection and, if they persisted in their wrongdoing, the possession of the fief itself. The fief, however, would never be confiscated—a promise that opens up the hope that YHWH would raise up a faithful son.”
21 For discussions of the date and historical situation in which the books of 1 and 2 Kings were written see Paul R. House, 1, 2 Kings, The New American Commentary, ed. Kenneth A. Mathews, vol. 8 (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holdman, 1994), 29-39; and Simon J. DeVries, I Kings, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. John D. W. Watts, vol. 12 (Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1985), 19-29. The date for the book is probably ca. 550 B.C.E. So R. K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1969), 731. So also Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 204.
22 For a discussion of the enduring value of the Davidic covenant in 1 & 2 Kings, see, Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History, trans. D. Orton, JSOTSS 15 (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1981), 98, who argues that the relevant texts suggest no future expectation with regard to the Davidic covenant; Gerhard von Rad, “The Deuteronomistic Theology of History in 1 and II Kings,” in The Problem of the Hexateuch and Other Essays (London: Oliver & Boyd, 1966), 219-21, who argues that the Davidic promise was ground for a future hope, and the release of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 25:27-30) indicates that despite the sin of the nation, “the line of David has not come to an end” (p. 220). So much of the discussion of this issue is plagued by complicated and difficult to substantiate arguments about the literary nature of the work of Chronicles and the number of editions of the work before its final form.
26 Adonijah represented, as the elder brother of the king, a threat to the throne. It appears that Solomon viewed Adonijah’s request for Abishag as such (2:22). Solomon also felt that Joab was a pro Adonijah supporter, as well as the priest Abiathar. He had Adonijah killed by Benaiah (2:25) and Abiathar removed from the priesthood (2:27). Shimei too was regarded as a threat, so after his disobedience, Solomon had him put to death as well (2:36-46). See Richard D. Patterson and Herman J. Austel, “1, 2 Kings,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 4 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1988), 37-40; G. H. Jones, 1 & 2 Kings, The New Century Bible Commentary, ed. Ronald E. Clements (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 110-19.
27 Patterson and Herman, “1 & 2 Kings,” 100, state: “the visit of the queen of Sheba is a graphic illustration of the fame of Solomon and of the awe that the reports of his wisdom and splendor inspired. The many legends and highly embellished accounts that have grown around this visit among Arabs, Jews, and Abyssinians attest to the widespread knowledge of the event and to the interest it created.” The question of the authenticity of the account is of no importance to us here. See Jones, 1 & 2 Kings, 220-21, who regards its canonical form as exaggerated and legendary. It is enough, however, that such a “legend” was connected with a Davidic king and seen as fulfillment of the promise of having a great name (2 Sam 7:9).
28 See House, 1, 2 Kings, 171. See also comments on 1 Kings 11:34 by DeVries, I Kings, 151. On 2 Kings 8:19 see, T. R. Hobbs, 2 Kings, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. John D. W. Watts, vol. 13 (Waco, TX: Word Books, Publisher, 1985), 103.