9. The Davidic Covenant (2 Samuel 7)

Audio (26:57)

Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656), 'King David Playing the Harp' (1611), Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Holland.
Gerrit van Honthorst (1590-1656), 'King David Playing the Harp' (1611), 82x65cm, Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Holland. Larger image.

If you were to select ten of the most important chapters in the Old Testament, 2 Samuel 7 would be among them. The theme of the Davidic dynasty upon whose throne the Messiah would finally reign -- the true Son of David -- runs throughout the remainder of the Bible.

David Desires to Build a Temple for the Lord (7:1-3)

The story of the Davidic covenant begins with David's desire to build a temple to house the ark he has brought to Jerusalem. His motives are, no doubt mixed -- like most of ours.

  1. Love. David loves the Lord! He composes and sings love songs to the Lord that now comprise much of our Book of Psalms. He is overjoyed to have the ark in his capital city. He loves God's presence and wants to honor God.
  2. Guilt. But David feels guilty. Once he has conquered Jerusalem, Hiram, King of Tyre, offers to build him a suitable palace fit for a king (5:11). But, in the meantime, the earthly symbol of the presence of the Almighty and Glorious God dwells in a tent. No doubt it is a beautiful, fitting tent from David's perspective, but it is still merely a temporary structure -- not like the palace David inhabits. God's glory requires something more, David feels.
  3. Boredom. For all of his adult life David had been consumed with war -- fighting the Philistines, then protecting himself from Saul's army, then establishing his kingdom by defeating neighboring kingdoms that sought to encroach on Israel's territory. But for now, the fighting has settled down some and David has time on his hands.

The narrator sets the scene:

"1 After the king was settled in his palace and the LORD had given him rest from all his enemies around him, 2 he said to Nathan the prophet, 'Here I am, living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.'3 Nathan replied to the king, 'Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you.'" (7:1-3)

This is the first time we see Nathan the prophet. We know little about his past, except that he seems to have been from a priestly family (1 Kings 4:5). But from this point on, he serves, along with Gad, as a prophet of the Lord with access to the king. Later, he reproves David for his sin with Bathsheba (12:1-15), conveys God's name (Jedidiah) for their child (12:24-25), and later still, he helps Bathsheba put David's chosen successor, Solomon, on the throne (1 Kings 1:11-30). He is also a writer, recording the history of both David's and Solomon's reigns (1 Chronicles 29:29; 2 Chronicles 9:29). His sons later hold trusted positions in Solomon's court (1 Kings 4:5).

David expresses his desire to Nathan to build a temple for the Lord. David is seeking God's will, and thus discusses it with God's spokesman, the prophet. And Nathan, well aware of the spiritual anointing upon David, says, "Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the LORD is with you" (7:3). In other words, I know that you hear from God. Follow what God is telling you.

David Will Not Build the Temple (7:4-11)

But Nathan has spoken in the flesh, not in the Spirit. He was too quick to give a "word" from the Lord. Later that evening God corrects him.

:" That night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, saying: 5 'Go and tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD says:

"Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? 6 I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. 7 Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, Why have you not built me a house of cedar?"'" (7:5-7)

God's word to Nathan makes three points:

  1. Wrong person. David isn't the one God will choose to build him a temple. Much later, David explains to his son Solomon that God had told him about this:

  2. "You have shed much blood and have fought many wars. You are not to build a house for my Name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight." (1 Chronicles 22:8)

  3. Wrong time. God doesn't want a temple at this point. The tent is a symbol of God's ability to be with his people wherever they go -- it is portable.
  4. Wrong initiator. God hadn't commanded David or any previous shepherd or leader of God's people to build a cedar temple such as David is proposing. This is something for which God desires to provide the initiative -- not man.

So often -- especially when we are in places of power and authority -- we think somehow that whatever we want to do is okay with God. After all, we think, I am the leader God has put in this place. Our people might even rubber-stamp our ideas because they think we are spiritual. Often, if we are walking with God, our ideas will have been inspired by the Holy Spirit. But often we have just a portion of the idea, as David did.

There is no substitute for seeking God for his will, rather than going forward our own with what we've got, without his clear leadership. David's heart is right. And indeed, a temple is on God's mind, but not quite yet. And David isn't to be the builder. But as we'll see, David is to be both the architect and the supplier of the material for the temple built by Solomon.

Q1. (2 Samuel 7:1-7) Why is Nathan so quick to give David approval to build the temple? What should have Nathan done instead? What is the danger of leaders and followers too quickly approving major spiritual directions without really waiting upon the Lord? David's heart is partly right about building the temple though. Which part does David have right?

God's Plan for David (7:8-11a)

What follows is known as the Davidic Covenant that God gave by prophetic word through Nathan. The first three promises (7:9-11a) are to find realization during David's lifetime:

1. A great name (7:8b-9; cf. 8:13).

"8b This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. 9 I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth." (7:8-9)

Indeed, in Lesson 10 David achieves great renown as emperor and overlord over most of the Eastern Mediterranean, an amazing rise for one who began as the youngest boy in a family of shepherds.

2. A secure homeland for his people (7:10-11a).

"10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel." (7:10-11a)

The kingdom under Saul and Ish-Bosheth had been insecure, with frequent need to secure the borders from the Philistines on the west, the Moabites on the east, the Edomites and Amalekites to the south, and the Aramean kings to the north. Saul seems to have developed friendly relations with only a few of his neighbors -- perhaps the Phoenicians and Geshur.

3. Peace (7:11b).

"I will also give you rest from all your enemies." (7:11b)

Saul's whole reign was spent in constant wars. David's first few years are also consumed with war. In Lesson 10 we'll see David rise to his zenith of international power -- and a period of relative peace.

Yahweh's Promise of a Perpetual Throne for David's Descendants (7:11c-17)

These three promises constitute a wonderful blessing that will be experienced by David and his people. But the next three promises talk about what God will grant David's descendants in the future -- and these promises bring wonderful blessings to you and me, as we will see.

4. A Dynasty (7:11c).

"The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you." (7:11c)

The term "house" in Hebrew has a double meaning -- as it does in Greek and English. David uses it in a material sense, a physical "house" for the Lord -- a temple. But God through Nathan uses the word in a figurative sense as dynasty, household, descendants -- the House of David.

5. A Son Who Will Build the Temple (7:12-13).

"12 When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name." (7:12-13a)

God now speaks concerning David's natural descendant, in particular one of his own sons, who will build the temple. This promise is fulfilled in Solomon, a son not yet born, the second son of David and Bathsheba.

6. An Everlasting Kingdom (7:13).

"... And I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever." (7:13a)

The final -- and amazing -- provision of this covenant is a kingdom that will last forever. Most dynasties don't last more than a few centuries at the most. But this kingdom that God reveals will be eternal.

Ten psalms presuppose this covenant with David, the so-called Royal Psalms (2, 18, 20, 21, 45, 72, 89, 101, 110, 144).

Q2. (2 Samuel 7:8-13) What are the main promises of the Davidic Covenant? Are these promises conditional or unconditional? Why does conditionality make a difference? Which of these promises is most important to you as a Christian?

A Father's Discipline (7:14-16)

The next verses spell out the terms of the everlasting kingdom. David and his descendants don't get a "blank check" to do whatever they want without reprimand. God will act towards them as a Father. Seldom in the Old Testament is God referred to as a personal Father, but here is an exception. God will treat David's descendants as his special sons.

"14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever." (7:14-16)

With sonship comes a Father's discipline. Perhaps you recall a passage in Proverbs (quoted in Hebrews 12:5-6):

"My son, do not despise the LORD's discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the LORD disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in." (Proverbs 3:11-12)

God will not reject David's dynasty because of one of his descendant's sins. He will punish him severely, but he will not remove David's dynasty from the kingship as he did Saul's dynasty.

We see in David's life an example of God "punishing him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men." In David's case, the chastisement came in the form of family problems and suffering from a coup by his son Absalom.

Nevertheless, the result of the David Covenant is rather remarkable. The kingdom split under Solomon's son Rehoboam. The split-off Northern Kingdom went through nine different royal dynasties before it ended in exile by the Assyrians in 722 BC. The Southern Kingdom of Judah, on the other hand, experienced just a single dynasty throughout the approximately 400 years between David ascending the throne until the final exile to Babylon in 587 BC. You can read about the sad end of the kings of Judah in 2 Kings 24-25.

Q3. (2 Samuel 7:14-16) There is a conditional aspect in the Davidic Covenant -- that God will discipline David's descendants when they sin. How did God discipline David and his descendants?

Did God Forsake His Covenant with David? (Psalm 89)

But what happened during and after the exile when the princes of David's dynasty were no longer upon the throne? Zerubbabel, grandson of Jehoiachin (one of the last kings of Judah), was governor of Judah during the exile and the restoration of the temple. But after 587 BC there were no sons of David upon the throne.

Did God's promise fail? The writer of Psalm 89 poses this tragic question by reciting God's promise to David, then comparing it to his present reality:

"35 'Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness --
and I will not lie to David--
36 that his line will continue forever
and his throne endure before me like the sun;
37 it will be established forever like the moon,
the faithful witness in the sky.'

38 But you have rejected[204], you have spurned[205],
you have been very angry with your anointed one.
39 You have renounced[206] the covenant with your servant
and have defiled his crown in the dust....

46 How long, O LORD?
Will you hide yourself forever?
How long will your wrath burn like fire?" (Psalm 89:35-39, 46)

It certainly seemed like God had forgotten the Davidic Covenant -- at least from the perspective of the person who wrote this psalm, probably either during or after the exile.

Renewing God's Promise Regarding David's Heir (Jeremiah 33)

But God had not renounced the covenant, as he clearly spoke to the prophet Jeremiah, who lived during the period of the last Davidic kings and the exile. The fulfillment was sure, but it would be in the future. The promise was of the Messiah whom God would send in the last days.

"14 'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

   15 In those days and at that time
   I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line;
   he will do what is just and right in the land.
   16 In those days Judah will be saved
   and Jerusalem will live in safety.
   This is the name by which it will be called:
   The LORD Our Righteousness.'

17 For this is what the LORD says:

'David will never fail to have a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, 18 nor will the priests, who are Levites, ever fail to have a man to stand before me continually to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings and to present sacrifices.'

19 The word of the LORD came to Jeremiah:

20 'This is what the LORD says: If you can break my covenant with the day and my covenant with the night, so that day and night no longer come at their appointed time,
21 then my covenant with David my servant -- and my covenant with the Levites who are priests ministering before me -- can be broken and David will no longer have a descen­dant to reign on his throne.

22 I will make the descendants of David my servant and the Levites who minister before me as countless as the stars of the sky and as measureless as the sand on the seashore.'" (Jeremiah 33:14-22)

Other prophets also look to the future Son of David, the Messiah whom God will send. Consider Isaiah's prophecy of the Child who is to be born:

"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. " (Isaiah 9:7)

Daniel spoke of "a kingdom that will never be destroyed" (Daniel 2:44). Later, Daniel shares his vision of the Son of Man that Jesus referred to concerning himself (Matthew 26:64):

"In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed." (Daniel 7:13-14)

John the Baptist's father Zechariah prophesied about 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 1:32-33)

The Davidic Covenant

Jeremiah refers to the Lord's "covenant" with David. Indeed, the term covenant (berît) and related terms are used a number of times to describe the promises of God toward David and his descendants (1 Chronicles 7:18; 2 Chronicles 21:7; 2 Samuel 23:5; Psalm 89:3, 28, 34; Psalm 132:11-12; Isaiah 55:3; Jeremiah 13:14, 20-21; cf. Acts 2:30; 13:34).

But what kind of covenant was this? Scholars have demonstrated convincingly that the Mosaic Covenant had its roots in the suzerain-vassal treaties of the ancient Near East. But attempts to find precursors of the Davidic Covenant have met with less success. Clearly, the Mosaic Covenant is conditional; the blessings of the covenant only come through the obedience of the vassal.

But the Abrahamic and Davidic Covenants are different. They are unconditional promises rather than conditional. The Davidic Covenant is clearly unconditional.[207] If David's descendants sin, they will be punished, but that won't terminate God's promise of "an everlasting covenant (berît), arranged[208] and secured[209] in every part?" (2 Samuel 23:5a).

The sacred authors clearly saw this as an authentic covenant, sealed by God's solemn oath to David (Acts 2:30; Psalm 89:3; 132:11).

Q4. The Davidic kingdom did end in 587 BC -- temporarily. How did God fulfill his promises in the Davidic Covenant? In what ways is it fulfilled in Christ?

David's Prayer of Humility and Thanks (7:18-29)

David's response to God's promise is moving in its humility. I encourage you to read it aloud to catch something of its pathos and love. It begins: "Then King David went in and sat before the LORD" (7:18a). Apparently, he went into the tabernacle that housed the ark and sat in God's presence there. First, he is awestruck by God's grace -- undeserved and unmerited:

"18b Who am I, O Sovereign LORD, and what is my family,
that you have brought me this far?
19 And as if this were not enough in your sight, O Sovereign LORD,
you have also spoken about the future of the house of your servant.
Is this your usual way of dealing with man, O Sovereign LORD?
20 "What more can David say to you?
For you know your servant, O Sovereign LORD.
21 For the sake of your word and according to your will,
you have done this great thing and made it known to your servant." (7:18b-21)

Now, he gives praise to God for his greatness.

"22 How great you are, O Sovereign LORD!
There is no one like you,
and there is no God but you,
as we have heard with our own ears.
23 And who is like your people Israel --
the one nation on earth that God went out
to redeem as a people for himself,
and to make a name for himself,
and to perform great and awesome wonders
by driving out nations and their gods from before your people,
whom you redeemed from Egypt?
24 You have established your people Israel as your very own forever,
and you, O LORD, have become their God." (7:22-24)

Now he calls on God to keep this wonderful and hard-to-believe promise -- though he knows that God will keep his word!

"25 And now, LORD God, keep forever the promise
you have made concerning your servant and his house.
Do as you promised, 26 so that your name will be great forever.
Then men will say, 'The LORD Almighty is God over Israel!'
And the house of your servant David will be established before you." (7:25-26)

Finally, he asks God for the blessing upon him and his descendants forever.

"27  O LORD Almighty, God of Israel,
you have revealed this to your servant, saying,
'I will build a house for you.'
So your servant has found courage to offer you this prayer.
28 O Sovereign LORD, you are God!
Your words are trustworthy,
and you have promised these good things to your servant.
29 Now be pleased to bless the house of your servant,
that it may continue forever in your sight;
for you, O Sovereign LORD, have spoken,
and with your blessing the house of your servant
will be blessed forever." (7:27-29)

Disciple Lessons

There are several lessons in this chapter for us as disciples:

  1. Partial Revelation. We may have a glimmer of what God's plan is, but we must be patient until he reveals it and confirms it to us.
  2. Quick to Speak. Don't be too quick to confirm someone else's vision, like Nathan was. Rather say, "Let me pray about that." Then seek God and listen for his voice. Don't speak before God speaks.
  3. Patience. Don't be discouraged if God's promises don't seem to come to pass. If he has indeed promised something, he will fulfill it in his time.
  4. Jesus Christ. Jesus the Messiah is the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, which will be complete when he returns.

The Davidic Covenant Is Fulfilled in Christ

David's heart is to build a "house," a temple for the Lord, but to his surprise, Nathan tells him that the Lord wants to build a "house," a dynasty for him. Solomon built a temple that was indeed glorious. But this temple, in all its glory, was destroyed and its treasures dispersed more than 2,500 years ago. That "house" is gone. But the more important "house" is still reigning over the Kingdom of God in the person of Jesus the Messiah, Son of David, and King of kings and Lord of lords.

Life of David, Discipleship Lessons in 1 and 2 Samuel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available as a book in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

The fulfillment of the Davidic covenant shall be complete when the angel shall proclaim at the Messiah's coming:

"The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever." (Revelation 11:15)



Thank you, Lord, for this amazing promise you made to David. We enjoy the fulfillment of this promise in Jesus Christ, Son of David and Son of God. Thank you! In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth." (2 Samuel 7:8-9)

"The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.... Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever." (2 Samuel 7:11-13, 16)

"I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you." (2 Samuel 7:14-15)

[204] "Rejected" (NIV), "spurned" (NRSV), "cast off" (KJV) is zānaḥ, "'reject, spurn, cast off.' Related to an Arabic root meaning 'be remote, repelled,' zanaḥ carries the basic meaning of strong dislike or disapproval" (Leon J. Wood, TWOT #564).

[205] "Spurned" (NIV), "rejected" (NRSV), "abhorred" (KJV) is māʾas, "reject, despise" (Walter C. Kaiser, TWOT #1139).

[206] "Renounced" (NIV, NRSV), "made void" (KJV) is nāʾar, "abhor, spurn" (TWOT #1276). Derek Kidner believes this rare verb means something like "disdained" or "held cheap" (Psalms 73-150, Inter-Varsity Press, 1975, p. 324).

[207] In the 1970s Moshe Weinfeld of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem attempted to show that the Davidic covenant was modeled on royal land grants known from the Hittite and Mesopotamian realms (Moshe Weinfeld, "The Covenant of Grant in the Old Testament and in the Ancient Near East," Journal of the American Oriental Society, 90/2 (1970), pp. 184-203). But Knoppers pointed out enough weaknesses in Weinfeld's work that some scholars conclude, "the model probably should be abandoned" (J.J.M. Roberts, "Davidic Covenant," DOTHB pp. 208-209).

[208] "Arranged" (NIV), "ordered" (NRSV, KJV) is ʿārak, "a verb of preparation, arranging (so its Phoenician cognate), setting in order; often used in martial contexts of drawing up in battle order" (TWOT #1694).

[209] "Secure/d" (NIV, NRSV), "sure" (KJV) is shāmar, "keep, guard, observe, give heed.... The basic idea of the root is 'to exercise great care over'" (TWOT #2414).

Copyright © 2024, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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