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by Doug Ward

A human king was not an essential part of the government of ancient Israel. In the administrative laws recorded in Deuteronomy 17, the office of judge, important in safeguarding the covenant, is discussed before that of king. Moreover, the legislation about kings is permissive rather than prescriptive-that is, Israel was allowed to ask for a human king but was not required to have one (vv. 14-15). God Himself was already Israel's King (Exodus 15:18; Judges 8:23), and no other monarch was necessary. (For further discussion, see for example [4, pp. 207-210].)

Still, God in His wisdom chose to make the people's inevitable desire for a king ``like all the nations around us'' (Deut. 17:14; cf. I Sam. 8:5) into an additional opportunity to highlight the work of the coming Messiah. Israel's king was to be divinely-selected (Deut. 17:15). Unlike the kings of other nations, who exalted themselves above their subjects with large armies, harems, and treasuries (vv. 16-17), the king of Deut. 17 was to ``not consider himself better than his brothers'' (v. 20). Instead, he was to be a model Israelite, carefully learning and obeying the laws of God (vv. 18-19).

In this description of the ideal king, we can see several characteristics later exemplified by Jesus Christ. Jesus chose to come to earth as an ordinary Jew (Phil. 2:6-8; Isa. 53:2) and set an example of servant leadership (John 13:12-17; Luke 22:24-30), giving His life for the sake of all His subjects (John 10:11, 17; Heb. 2:14-18). He also upheld the principles of God's Torah in His teaching (Matt. 4:1-11; 5:17-20) and perfectly carried them out in His life (Heb. 4:15). 1

Among ancient Israel's kings, the one who best embodied the Deut. 17 ideal was King David. Specially chosen for his inner qualities of character (I Sam. 16:7), David proved to be ``a man after God's own heart'' (I Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22) despite serious flaws and sins. He loved Torah and immersed himself in it (Ps. 1:2; 19:7-14; 119), and he did not exalt himself above his subjects (see e.g. 2 Sam. 6:14-15; 23:15-17). Although he did accumulate great wealth, his purpose in doing so was to honor God through the construction of a beautiful temple (I Chron. 22:14).

It is fitting, then, that God chose to reaffirm and expand upon the promise of the Messiah through King David. In the present installment of this series of articles on Messianic prophecy, we will examine the promises God made to David. These promises constitute some of the greatest of all the Messianic prophecies.

A House for David and a House for God

When King Saul took his own life during a battle with the Philistines (1 Sam. 31), David did not rejoice in the death of the man who had often sought to kill him. Instead, he mourned the loss of Israel's king (2 Sam. 1:17-27). Here David's godly attitude foreshadowed that of Jesus (Matt. 23:37; Luke 23:34), who exhibited love for all even as he faced an agonizing death on the cross. And even though David had been anointed king years before by Samuel, he did not rush to take control of the twelve tribes by force after Saul's death. He chose instead to avoid unnecessary bloodshed and seek God's will (2 Sam. 2:1). In this action, too, he proved to be a type of the coming Messiah (Luke 22:42).

As it turned out, David waited patiently for another seven and a half years before taking his rightful place as ruler of all Israel (2 Sam. 2:11). By that time, the nation stood solidly behind him. Warriors from every tribe of Israel, some 339,600 in all, travelled to Hebron for a joyous three-day celebration of David's accession to the throne (I Chron. 12:23-40). Edersheim [1] compared the scene to the future time, after Messiah's return, when all nations will turn to Jesus in repentance and acclaim Him as King over all the earth (see Isa. 25:6-9).

With all Israel behind him, David took decisive action. He moved quickly to capture Jerusalem and set it up as his capital (I Chron 11:4-9). When the Philistines challenged his rule, he defeated them soundly (2 Sam. 5:17-25). Then, accompanied by much fanfare, he had the ark of the covenant brought to Jerusalem (I Chron. 15-16). God prospered David's efforts and gave Israel a period of peace (2 Sam. 7:1).

Now that his kingdom was at peace, David's dream was to build a great temple for God. Such a temple would provide a permanent resting place for the ark of the covenant and a location for the priests to carry out their duties. It would symbolize the fact that Israel was finally in firm control of the promised land. When David confided his plan to the prophet Nathan, Nathan voiced his initial approval.

However, God revealed to Nathan that night that He had even bigger plans in mind (2 Sam. 7:5-16). David, who had shed much blood as a military leader, would not build the proposed temple. Instead he would have a son, a man of peace, who would carry out the construction of God's house (I Chron. 22:8-9). Moreover, God would establish a ``house'' for David by giving him an everlasting dynasty (2 Sam 7:12-16).

According to the analysis of Walter C. Kaiser [3, p. 79], God's momentous announcement included seven notable provisions [3, p. 79]:

(a)``I will make your name great'' (v. 9). By repeating a promise that He had earlier made to Abraham (Gen. 12:2), God showed that He would be carrying on that promise through David and his descendants.
(b) ``I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them'' (v.10). Here God reaffirmed a second promise that He had originally made to Abraham: the promise of a land for His people (Gen. 15:18; Deut. 11:24-25; Joshua 1:4-5).
(c) ``I will also give you rest from all your enemies'' (v. 11). The promised land is often pictured in the Bible as a place of rest (Deut. 12:9; Joshua 21:44-45; Ps. 95:11), symbolic of the world to come (Hebrews 4).
(d) ``I will raise up your offspring to succeed you'' (v.12). Again, this continues promises made to Abraham (Gen. 17:6-10, 19).
(e) ``He ... will build a house for my Name'' (v.13) This promise was carried out by David's son Solomon (I Kings 8:18-20).
(f) ``I will be his father, and he will be my son'' (v. 14) When this promise is described in Ps. 89:26-27, the offspring of David is called God's ``firstborn,'' implying a position of preeminence. In Ex. 4:22-23, God refers to Israel as His firstborn.
(g) ``Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever'' (v. 16). The poetic account of this promise in Psalm 89:36-37 states that David's dynasty will last as long as the sun and the moon.

In the prophecies that we have considered so far in this series, we have observed several examples of the principle of ``corporate solidarity''. Prophecies about a person's offspring often include the promise of one particular descendant who represents and embodies the hopes of the entire group. This male individual would crush the head of the serpent (Gen. 3:15) and bring a blessing to all nations (Gen. 22:18; 28:14). A member of the tribe of Judah, he would rule over the whole earth (Gen. 49:10).

God's promise to David in 2 Sam. 7 makes a significant addition to this chain of prophecies. Included are provisions about David's offspring, especially his son Solomon. But the promise goes beyond Solomon to an individual who would have a unique relationship to God, as implied by his designation as God's firstborn son. Christians believe that this individual is Jesus of Nazareth, who is a descendant of David (Matthew 1:1). The Gospel of Luke records that the angel Gabriel identified Jesus as the fulfillment of the promise to David:

``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, NIV).

Elsewhere Jesus is called God's firstborn (Heb. 1:6), and Christians believe that He will return to reign over the whole earth in peace.

The Charter for Humanity

David was overwhelmed by the news that he had been chosen to have such an integral part in God's plan. His subsequent prayer of thanksgiving and praise is recorded in the second half of 2 Samuel 7. It begins with these words:

``Then went king David in, and sat before the LORD, and he said, Who am I, O Lord GOD? and what is my house, that thou hast brought me hitherto? And this was yet a small thing in thy sight, O Lord GOD; but thou hast spoken also of thy servant's house for a great while to come. And is this the manner of man, O Lord GOD?'' (2 Samuel 7:18-19, KJV).

In his prayer, David addressed God by the name ``Lord God'' (Adonai Yahweh in Hebrew). This double designation for God appears only a handful of times in the Hebrew scriptures (Gen. 15:2,8; Deut. 3:24; 9:26; Joshua 7:7; Judges 6:12; 16:28; I Kings 2:26; 8:53). Most of these verses occur in heartfelt prayers offered at critical junctures in the working out of God's promise and plan. In particular, Abraham entreated God in this manner with regard to the question of his promised heir and inheritance (Gen. 15:2,8). David's use of ``Lord God'' in his prayer may signal his awareness that God had chosen him to follow in Abraham's footsteps and play a crucial role in the purpose for which Abraham had been called.

The final phrase of verse 19 (``And is this the manner of man, O Lord GOD?'') has posed a difficult puzzle for translators. For one thing, the phrase can be rendered either as a question (as in the KJV and NIV) or as an exclamation. The Hebrew words (wezot tôrat ha'adam) literally say, ``This is the law of [or `instruction for'] mankind.'' Hebrew phrases like this occur often in the Pentateuch in the introduction of particular types of laws. For example, three such instances appear in Lev. 7: ``...this is the law of the trespass offering'' (v. 1); ``...this is the law of the sacrifice of peace offerings'' (v. 11); ``This is the law of the burnt offering...'' (v. 37).

But what is the antecedent of the word ``this'' in 2 Sam. 7:19? Translators (e.g., KJV, NIV) have often interpreted the phrase as a reference to the gracious manner in which God had dealt with David. On the other hand, ``this'' could also mean the substance of what God had promised for David's descendants. Walter C. Kaiser [2, 3] favors the latter interpretation and suggests that the final phrase of 2 Sam. 7:19 be translated, ``This is the charter for humanity!'' In Kaiser's view, David was marvelling here at God's promise, recognizing full well the fact that this promise held the key to the entire future of mankind.

The foregoing discussion raises an important question: How much did David know about the future coming, death and resurrection of his descendant Jesus Christ? Christians, beginning with the apostles, have always asserted that David was aware of these future events (see Acts 2:29-31). Walter Kaiser's translation of 2 Sam. 7:19 supports this fundamental claim of Christian apologetics.

Psalms 89 and 132

So important is the promise God made to David that two psalms-numbers 89 and 132-reflect upon and rejoice in its implications. These psalms shed further light on the messianic character of the promise.

Psalm 89 was written by Ethan the Ezrahite, whose life seems to have overlapped with King Solomon's (I Kings 4:31). Judging from verses 38-51, Ethan wrote this psalm at a time when the future of David's dynasty was threatened-perhaps at the beginning of Rehoboam's reign when Israel split into two nations.

The major theme of Psalm 89 is God's faithfulness, especially to His covenant with David (vv. 1-8). Even though some of David's descendants might stray from God and thus fail to participate in the blessings of the covenant, God would not abandon the line of David or forget the unconditional promises He had made (vv. 30-37).

Verses 19-28 describe God's wonderful promises to David and his line. The exalted language of these verses suggests that they apply not just to David himself, but also to a future Messiah. Particularly notable in this regard are verses 26-27, which describe the close relationship between God and the Davidic king:

``He shall cry unto me, Thou art my father, my God, and the rock of my salvation. Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth.''

Verse 25 (``I will set his hand also in the sea, and his right hand in the rivers.'') implies the expansion of Israel, perhaps from ``the sea'' (the Mediterranean) to ``the rivers'' (the Euphrates) as in Gen. 15:18. This verse shows the continuity of the Davidic covenant with the earlier Abrahamic one.

Psalm 132 is one of the ``songs of ascent'', a group of Psalms (120-134) traditionally associated with the journeys Israelites made to Jerusalem three times a year for the annual festival seasons of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles. This psalm begins with a prayer (verses 1-10) that God will honor David's earnest desire to find a resting place in Jerusalem for the ark of the covenant (and thus for God's presence). Since verses 8-10 are taken from Solomon's prayer at the dedication of the temple (2 Chron. 6:41-42), it is possible that this prayer also was first offered at the temple dedication.

In the second half of the psalm, God affirms His covenant with David and expresses His desire to dwell among His people. The psalm closes in verses 17-18 with three symbols that picture a coming Messiah:

(a) ``There will I make the horn of David to bud'' (verse 17). A ``horn'' is a biblical symbol for a powerful king (see for example Dan. 7:24). Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, referred to the Messiah as a ``horn of salvation'' in Luke 1:68-69:
``Blessed be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and redeemed his people, And hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David.''

The imagery of the horn ``budding'' is similar to other Messianic symbolism, as we will see in later articles in this series (see Isa. 11:1; Jer. 23:5; 33:15).

(b) ``I have ordained a lamp for mine anointed'' (verse 17). David is elsewhere pictured as ``the lamp of Israel'' (2 Sam 21:17, NIV; see also I Kings 11:36). Just as the menorah continually burns in God's presence, so David's line would continue. The Hebrew word for ``mine anointed'' is mashiyach, from which we obtain the word ``messiah.''
(c) ``...upon himself shall his crown flourish'' (verse 18). The crown is a symbol of kingship. In addition, Israel's high priests wore a diadem (Ex. 29:6). Kaiser [3, p. 90] points out that the Hebrew verb for ``flourish'' in Psalm 132:18 is a cognate to the noun used for the gold plate, engraved with the words ``holiness to the Lord,'' that was worn by the high priest (Ex. 28:36). Here we have a hint, then, that the Messiah would be both a king and a priest.


King David, who is several times referred to in the Bible as God's anointed one, is one of the foremost biblical types of the Messiah. Reaffirming and expanding upon His previous promises, God pledged to David that his line would rule over Israel forever. Furthermore, one unique individual from that line would be called God's son or firstborn and would rule as a king and priest.

David correctly understood that this special individual, identified by Christians as Jesus of Nazareth, would be the hope of all mankind. In future articles in this series, we will examine further the many things that David and the Hebrew prophets were inspired to write about the Messiah.


1. Alfred Edersheim, Bible History, Volume 4, Fleming H. Revell Company, New York, 1885-1887.
2. Walter C. Kaiser, ``The Blessing of David: The Charter for Humanity,'' pp. 298-318 in The Law and the Prophets: Old Testament Studies Prepared in Honor of Oswald Thompson Allis, John H. Skilton, ed., Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., Nutley, NJ, 1974.
3. Walter C. Kaiser, The Messiah in the Old Testament, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 1995.
4. Christopher J.H. Wright, Deuteronomy, New International Biblical Commentary, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1996.


1According to one Jewish tradition, two Messiahs will come: Messiah ben Yoseph, a suffering servant as described in Zech 9:9 and Isa. 52-53; and Messiah ben David, a conquering king. Deut. 17:14-20 shows that kingship and servanthood are not separate, but go hand in hand. Christians believe that Jesus fulfills both these aspects of the work of the Messiah in His first and second comings.

 Issue 11



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