King David and God's Promises

My thanks to Revd Roger Mills, my vicar, for allowing me to write out his Sunday sermon for you.

David and God’s Promises 14.6.09

2 Samuel 7; Luke 1:26-33

We live in a world of non-stop news – 24 hr news channels, everything can be beamed directly to your ipod or your mobile, etc., etc.

But do you ever feel a tension when you listen to the news, and then think about the promises that God makes in the Bible? War in the Middle East, famine in Africa, economic and financial woes, huge social problems in our country, often right on our doorstep. In the light of all the promises that God makes to his people why do things seem so wrong? Why is the world still so messy? Why are there so many famines and wars? Why do we still have to fight against our sinful nature? Why is life just sometimes so hard? I thought being a Christian would solve my problems, we might say. And we can begin to wonder – will God really keep his promises?

This is the situation that God’s people found themselves almost exactly 3000 years ago. We heard in our reading about all the promises that God made to David, whose progress we have been con­sidering over these last few Sunday mornings. As Israel’s history progressed they would have been wondering whether God would keep the promises that he had made to David. Look at the start of our first reading, 2 Samuel 7:1: ‘After the king was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, “Here I am living in a palace of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”’

After all of David’s previous adventures, we have reached a high point in Israel’s history. As we see from v1 it is a time of peace. Under the leadership of King David, God has granted them vict­ory over all the surrounding nations. And life is pretty good. But David still has a dilemma. Here he is living in his elegant palace but the Ark of God was still in a tent. The Ark, you may know, was where the law written on stone tablets at Sinai was stored and the ark lived in the most sacred place of the tabernacle, the forerunner to the temple. The place where God symbolically dwelt with his people. So do you see David’s problem? He had an elegant house but God didn’t.

And being a good king he decided to build a house for God. It seemed like a good idea, and the even the prophet Nathan thought so. But here comes the surprise, as we see in v4: ‘That night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, saying: “Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?”’ God says to David through the prophet Nathan a resounding No. David is not to build a house for God. It had seemed like a good idea, but God has other plans in mind. We see from further on in the reading, verses 8-11, that it was indeed God who chose David to be king. It was God who gave them the land that they dwelt in. It was God who had given them rest from their enemies. Who was David to be so presuming to build a house for God? After all, God had other plans.

And sometimes that is the way God acts. We make plans. They seem good plans, made with good intentions. But sometimes our plans come to nothing, because God in his sovereignty knows better. And that is certainly the case here with David. And God’s plans are far grander and more important than anything David can think of. For God goes on to reveal his plan to David and he makes some huge promises to him. So we read in v11: “‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you”’.

So rather than David building a house for God, God is going to build a house for David. We’re not talking about a literal house. David already has his palace. It’s talking about a dynasty, a line of kings. Much like today our Queen is from the House of Windsor, which I gather is a simplified name, chosen in 1921, to replace the clunking House of Saxe-Coburg & Gotha. It must have been a pain to have to write that on all those forms, especially the online ones which never give you quite enough space (although come to think of it, George V would not have had that particular pro­b­lem in 1921).

So what’s this dynasty going to be like? We are told something about the identity of David’s off­spring from v 12 onwards, and can say four things:

First his heir will be from David’s line. From ‘his body’. This seems an obvious point to make, but as we shall see later on it is quite important. And it would have been an important promise to David then. Because after all as verse 15 reminds us the kingdom had been taken away from Saul, his predecessor. Do you remember all that business about Saul’s envy of David, because Saul knew that God had chosen David to succeed him, rather than his own son Jonathan? So it would have been a great comfort for David to know that not only would the throne not be taken away from him, but neither would it be taken from his family.

Secondly, it is David’s heir and not David himself who will build a house for God.

Thirdly, as a result of this God will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.

And finally God will be like a father to him and he will be like a son. And this will include fatherly discipline.

Maybe some of this promise material is familiar to us – but the danger is that the nature of these promises could just wash over us, without us really grasping the magnitude of what is being said here. God has promised to David that his house will last forever. So, unlike Saul who had the throne taken away from him when it was given to David, David will never have the throne taken from this family.

And it’s no wonder then that David responds the way he does in the rest of the chapter. Basically the rest of chapter 7, as we heard, is one big ‘Wahey’. It’s like the Fusion service, but cubed – or to speak more theologically, David is praising God for his amazing plan. David prays in the light of what God has just told him. He has complete confidence in what God is going to do. After all, it was God’s sovereign plan to choose David and to make these promises to him.

And God’s people are no different today. Just as God has revealed his plan to David, he has re­vealed it to us. Except we are at a huge advantage – because after the first Easter we can see God’s plan more fully. But David didn’t have that advantage. So I think the question we need to ask ourselves on this cloudy Sunday morning in KP is this: do we have confidence in God’s pro­mises? Do we believe that God will accomplish all that he says he will? I hope that we will be encouraged to trust God’s promises, as we think for a moment of how God kept his promises to David.

The big question then is: Who is this promised king? Ever since the time of David the Israelites were waiting for this promised king, all down the centuries before Jesus came. The one who would rule them. Who would give them rest from their enemies. Who would make a house for the Lord’s Name. The one who would be an even greater king than David had been.

Who could this king be? Could it be David’s son Solomon? Was he the promised king? Well to a certain extent, the answer is Yes. Solomon is an answer to these promises. If we read on in the next book of the Bible, 1 Kings, we find that Solomon is a great king. And under Solomon’s reign Israel was a great nation. Surrounding nations paid tribute to Solomon, who is certainly from David’s line. And in the early chapters of the book we see that it is Solomon who builds a temple for the Name of the Lord. 1 Kings 8:17: Solomon says, “My Father David had it in his heart to build a temple for the Name of the LORD, the God of Israel. (then verse 20) The Lord has kept the promise he made: I have succeeded David my father and now sit on the throne of Israel, just as the Lord promised, and I have built the temple for the Name of the Lord, the God of Israel.”

So, Yes, Solomon is the fulfilment of the promises that God made to David. Yet there something not quite right here. For as we read on in the book of Kings, not all is as it should be. For within a few chapters of Solomon having built the temple to the Lord, we see that his heart turns away from God. His wives, who are many, turn his heart away to other supposed gods and goddesses. I re­ckon Solomon had it coming – who in their right mind would have 300 wives and 700 concub­in­es? As a friend of mine once observed – just think, a thousand mothers-in-law! No disrespect to my mother-in-law, you understand – she fed me very well just last night. But as a result of this God disciplines Solomon, as he promised to David. He does this by saying that after Solomon’s death part of the kingdom will be taken away from the line of David. And for the rest of Solomon’s reign he faces rebellion from some of his subjects, and after his death, just as God promised, the kingdom splits – into a reduced Israel in the north and Judah in the south.

Now can this really be the big promise that God had made to David? Is this really what drove Dav­id to his knees in praise and adoration of his Lord, as we read in 2 Samuel chapter 7? It doesn’t seem quite right does it? And as we read about the kings of Judah who followed Solomon we read the sad words ‘He did evil in the sight of the Lord’ again and again. So surely this can’t be the ful­filment of the promise, especially when after many years of rebellious kings both Israel in the north and Judah in the south are taken into exile. After the year 587, Jerusalem and – horror of horrors – the Temple itself are destroyed. David’s line is no longer on the throne. Have God’s promises been broken? Was Solomon the real fulfilment of the promise?

It’s midsummer day next Sunday, so where better to turn now but to a Bible passage well-known from being read at Christmastime, read as our second reading today. Luke 1:29, where the angel Gabriel is visiting Mary: Mary was greatly troubled at his word and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name 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 for ever; and his kingdom will never end.’

This is stupendous news, astonishing, breathtaking. The angel Gabriel was telling Mary that the baby she was going to have is the promised king. Jesus is the perfect fulfilment of what God had promised to David almost one thousand years earlier. And we can note this:

Firstly, he is from the line of David. Jesus was descended from David.

Secondly, he will build a house for the name of the Lord. John’s Gospel tells us how Jesus had said to the Jews, ‘Destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days.’ And that the disciples had remembered that Jesus was talking about his body. Jesus was the temple, the house for the name of the Lord. In Jesus God dwelt with his people not in a symbolic way but in a physical way. Jesus was God with a human face.

Thirdly, we’re told in Luke’s Gospel, in the words of Gabriel, that Jesus’ reign will never end. Just as God had promised to David. Jesus’ kingdom is a never-ending kingdom. What an encourage­ment that it is for God’s people. Never will this kingdom be overturned. Jesus will always be on the throne, and he will always rule. The mistake was that over the centuries the Jewish people had been expecting a new leader like David – a strong warrior. But Jesus was not that type of king – not the anticipated military leader who would free them from the hated Roman occupation.

So what type of king was he? Here is where we come to the fourth and final part of God’s promise to David, in 2 Samuel 7:14: I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. So the promise included fath­er­ly discipline when the king went astray (as Solomon did). But surely that can’t be speaking about Jesus? After all, he lived a perfect life. Of course, that is true. But I think that in the 2 Samuel pas­sage we see a glimpse of the cross – flogging certainly makes me think of the innocent suffer­ings of our beloved Jesus. For it was on the cross that God did in fact discipline his son. Jesus was himself without sin, but bore the weight and punishment of our sin and wrong – all that we de­served.

So there is, after all, plenty of connection between our world and David’s world of 3000 years ago. David received God’s gracious promise – a dynasty would flow from him, his heir would build a house for God, this throne would be established for ever, and God would deal with him as with a son, discipline included.

All these things, fulfilled in David, and yet more gloriously fulfilled in the Son of David, the Lord Jesus Christ – the king who served his people, died for his people, and in his resurrection conquered all the powers of sin and death for his people.

But there’s still a quibble, isn’t there, very quickly to finish with? You might say, if Jesus reigns then why do we still feel that tension that I mentioned at the beginning – a tension when you listen to the news, and then think about the promises that God makes in the Bible.

Why does it appear that so much of the world is not yet subject to God and his ways? The answer is the same as it was in the days of David’s son Solomon, as we saw before. Yes, the promise is fulfilled but only incompletely. Solomon was a great king but went off the rails. Similarly, God has inaugurated his new kingdom through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – the promise is fulfilled but only incompletely. In his mercy God is giving the human race time, and more time, to turn to him.

But let us be certain. The day will come at the end of human history, when the curtain will be rung down, and all will be subject to the Lord Jesus Christ and all will bow the knee to him. I look forward so much to that day, but in the meantime, God calls all of us who know and love him to share the good news of Jesus with others – in the confidence that God’s promises were – and are – being fulfilled.