Introduction to the Bible: An Introduction to the Bible
by Rev. Ralph A. Smith
The Davidic Covenant
Just as God's people were oppressed by a Pharaoh "which knew not Joseph" at the end of the patriarchal era, so they were oppressed by a king who apparently knew not the LORD at the end of the Mosaic era. Saul was a transitional figure -- the first king of Israel, and, yet, because of his sin, not altogether a "true king" -- not as evil as Pharaoh in many ways, but from another perspective, even worse than Pharaoh, for he sinned against greater light. Furthermore, as king of Israel he massacred eighty-five priests and destroyed the priestly city of Nob, killing men, women, and children in Israel (1 Sm. 22:18-19), though he had spared the pagan king, Agag (1 Sm. 15). He also sought to slay David whom he knew to be God's anointed one.
It was only with David that Israel truly had a king from the LORD, a man "after His own heart" (1 Sm. 13:14), one to whom the Lord gave a new covenant. God's new covenant with David did not abrogate the law of Moses or the promise to Abraham. On the contrary, it augmented and fulfilled them both, especially in three matters, the final conquest of the land, the establishment of a hereditary kingship, and the provision for a new place of worship. The first of these is often forgotten, though Scripture specifically calls attention to it. To Abraham God had said, "Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates" (Gn. 15:18). Finally, after hundreds of years, the promise was fulfilled: "And Solomon reigned over all kingdoms from the river unto the land of the Philistines, and unto the border of Egypt: they brought presents, and served Solomon all the days of his life" (1 Kg. 4:21).
The kingship is spoken of in the law of Moses, but no king is provided. This is in part because of the curse of God on the seed of Judah, most of whom were the children of bastards (cf. Gn. 38) and, therefore, not qualified for kingship until the tenth generation (cf. Dt. 23:2). Even if the family of Judah had been qualified, however, Israel was not, during the Mosaic era, mature enough for the institution of the kingship. Only when she had developed, culturally and spiritually, would the kingship, central government, and a central place of worship be established.
Thus, the same covenant that established the family of David as the royal family also gave to Israel a central place of worship, the city of David, Jerusalem. The law of Moses alluded to a central sanctuary, but only with the Davidic covenant was it actually provided. Planned by David and built by Solomon, the temple system brought about important changes in the law and worship of Israel. Again, this is often forgotten. The ceremonial aspects of the Mosaic system, though not the ethical, are significantly revised to fit the new covenant situation.
In addition to fulfilling certain promises of the Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants, the Davidic covenant further developed the most important aspect of the promise of the covenant, the doctrine of the Messiah. The Abrahamic covenant had promised that the seed of Eve who would save the world would be of the family of Abraham. The prophecy of Jacob had pointed to the tribe of Judah (Gn. 49:8-11). The Mosaic covenant had foretold of a prophet like Moses (Dt. 18:15). Now, the new kingly covenant developed that promise further by declaring that Messiah would be a royal descendent of David through his son Solomon (2 Sam. 7:8-29; Ps. 89).
In the days of David and Solomon the world destroyed by the Noahic flood was finally rebuilt. Once more there was a central world sanctuary to which men could come to worship God. David apparently understood from the book of Genesis that Jerusalem, the home of Melchizedek, the priest-king like the Messiah, was to be the city for God's temple (cf. Heb. 7 and Ps. 110, written by David). In the holy city the king dwelt beside God's house, the idea being that the human king is a representative of the divine king. There was a holy land around the sanctuary through which the influence of the holy place was to flow to all the world. With the reestablishment of the threefold division of sanctuary, land, and world, the world was finally rebuilt. The destruction of the flood had been overcome by the grace of God.
The provision of a king to rule the holy land and to serve as a symbol and representative of the heavenly King evidenced the growth of the covenant. The kingdom of God was much more visible and powerful in the days of Solomon than it had ever been since the fall.
David, a godly king, was naturally responsible to promote the rebuilding of the worship system that had been broken down through the sin of the priest Eli, who dishonored God by not judging his wicked sons (1 Sm. 2:22-36; 3:11-14). God graciously granted to David the honor of preparing the building of His house and to David's son the blessing of building the new Temple-sanctuary, a more mature and glorious Eden model than the tabernacle. God also directed David and Solomon to change the priesthood to fit the new covenant situation (cf. Heb. 7:12). First, David redesigned the priesthood by appointing them to serve the temple in courses (1 Chr. 23-24; 28:11-13; 20-21). Second, Solomon expelled Abiathar the high-priest and appointed Zadok in his place, in fulfillment of the prophecy against the house of Eli (1 Kg. 2:27, 35).
A new temple in the center of the land that had been promised to Abraham and a glorious king to represent the true God -- this is the kingdom situation in the days of David and Solomon. Israel was at the height of her power and glory as God graciously fulfilled the covenant promises He had made to her fathers.
The Five Points of the Covenant
1) Transcendence: When David had defeated his enemies and established his authority, he called the prophet Nathan and declared his intention to build a house for God. But God had a different plan. He would build a house for David, "thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever" (2 Sm. 7:16). God took the initiative in setting up David as the head of a dynasty of kings that would culminate in Christ the Messiah, King of kings and Lord of lords.
2) Hierarchy: David and his seed were established as the human representative leaders of the kingdom of God. The Levitical system, established by the law of Moses, would continue to function, though it would be modified to fit the new kingdom situation and the new house of God. Twenty four courses of priests were appointed to serve the temple in turn. The high-priesthood was taken away from the family of Eli and given to Zadok, according to the prophetic word of judgement spoken through Samuel.
The family and the land inheritance system remained as it was under the law of Moses, though by the time of David, with the increase of rural population, the natural migration of families from farms and villages to larger cities must have begun. Godly culture reached its height under David and Solomon. Later, when the northern kingdom turned from God in the days of Jeroboam and afterwards, godly families from the north relocated in the south, preserving a remnant from each tribe.
The kingdom of Israel was ruled by a God-given king who, though he committed very serious sins against God, sincerely sought the glory of God and the growth of His kingdom. David, the king, and Solomon, his son, were both prophetically inspired to write Holy Scripture that accorded with their particular dispositions and gifts: David, Psalms, and Solomon, Wisdom literature.
3) Ethics: The law of God given through Moses was modified significantly. A new sanctuary in a set location with a new family as the high priests are not small changes. Choirs too were appointed. In its civil aspects, however, there would have been little change in Moses' law. The king, as the supreme judge of the land, was to manifest the spirit of the law in his rule so that the meaning of the law would become more clear to God's people over time. David ate of the showbread that was reserved only for the priests, an apparent act of disobedience that God not only blessed, but our Lord used to teach the Pharisees the true meaning of the law (Mk. 2:25-27). Solomon the supreme judge of the land demonstrated such wisdom in the application of God's law that the queen of Sheba traveled to Jerusalem to meet him.
4) Oath: The king in Israel represented God to the people, as did the prophet and the priest. Just as God dealt with the land primarily through the priests during the Mosaic priestly age, so He dealt with the land through the kings during the Davidic royal age. When kings were righteous, they brought God's blessing on the whole nation and when they were sinful, they brought God's curse on the nation also. David's sin in numbering the people was not dealt with as a private sin (2 Sm. 24). Nor was Solomon's sin of idolatry (1 Kg. 11). However, Judah's kings were often better than the people, seldom worse. As the nation grew more corrupt, the people were cursed with evil rulers, whose moral character reflected the character of the people.
5) Succession: The office of the king was to be inherited by David's descendents, eventuating in the Messiah. But Solomon's idolatry destroyed the united kingdom, dividing the land into north and south. The northern kingdom from the beginning worshipped idols, never enjoying even a single godly king. The southern kingdom, by the grace of God, had some godly kings, but in the end, was overwhelmed with wickedness and idolatry worse than the north. Because of its sins, the house of David appeared to have lost the Messianic promise. God cursed the royal line, swearing that no one from the descendents of Coniah would ever rule the land (Jer. 22:28-30). The inheritance of the kingdom was lost, apparently forever.
Man's Covenantal Response
The same history of apostasy and judgment followed by repentance that we have seen in previous eras re-occurred during the period of the monarchy. David himself sinned against God by committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering Uriah the Hittite. Though he repented, he later sinned again by numbering the people. Solomon sinned by marrying non-Christian wives who turned his heat away from God. Then, the son of the wisest king of Israel, listening to the younger advisers rather than the older wise men, foolishly insisted on his authority when he should have been gracious (1 Kgs. 12). Because of sin and folly, the kingdom was divided into two, Israel and Judah.
The remaining history of both kingdoms is the story of progressive apostasy. Both Israel in the north and Judah in the south turned away from God, Israel shortly after the division of the kingdom, Judah more gradually over a longer period of time. In the end, they were the same. They both became apostate, idolatrous kingdoms that brought upon themselves the wrath of God.
God's Covenantal Judgment
God took away Israel's status as an independent kingdom. Never again would she regain the glory of the Solomonic kingdom. Taken into captivity to Assyria, the apostates of the northern kingdom disappeared from history. The southern kingdom was led to Babylon for seventy years but by God's grace Judah, which by the time of the exile already included within her borders a remnant from all twelve tribes, was allowed to return to the land and rebuild the temple. The people of God had once again broken the covenant, but God's grace brought them back into the land to give them a new beginning.
The Covenantal Structure of the Bible: Introduction to
Berith.org is dedicated to applying the covenantal worldview to modern-day issues. It is a ministry of the Covenant Worldview Institute and the Mitaka Evangelical Church of Tokyo, Japan. The essays and books at Berith.org are (mostly?) written by Reverend Ralph Allan Smith, who has laboured as a teacher, pastor, and missionary in Tokyo since 1981, and as the director of the Covenant Worldview Institute since 1988. All feedback is welcome. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.