In a few days, Christians all over the world will celebrate the birth of Christ. The faith of the New Testament believers proclaimed that the baby born in the manger of Bethlehem was the promised Messiah of Israel. This was the song the angels proclaimed the night Christ was born:
Then an angel of the Lord stood before the shepherds, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see — I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah” (Luke 2:9-11 NRSV).
The people of Israel, like the aged Simeon, were “looking forward to the consolation of Israel,” the one who would be “the Lord’s Messiah” (Luke 2:25-26 NRSV). Christmas time is the most appropriate time to learn the origin of the Messianic hope in Israel.
The Messianic hope of the Old Testament, the hope that found its fulfillment in the birth of Christ, had its origin in the covenant of God with David (2 Samuel 7:1-29). From the perspective of God’s redemptive purpose for the world, God’s covenant with David is one of the most important theological statements of the Bible.
The occasion for the establishment of God’s covenant with David was David’s desire to build a house for God in Jerusalem. The proper understanding of God’s promise to David requires a review of the use of the word “house” in 2 Samuel 7.
The Hebrew word בַּיִת (bayît) appears fifteen times in 2 Samuel 7, seven times as part of God’s promise to David (7:11, 16, 19, 25, 26, 27, 29). The word “house” appears with four different meanings in 2 Samuel 7:1-17. In 2 Samuel 7:1, when the text says that the king dwelt in his house, the word means “the king’s palace.” In 7:5 when the LORD said: “Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” the word means “a temple.” In 7:11, when the prophet Nathan told David that “the LORD will make you a house,” the word means a dynasty that would begin with Solomon and end with Zedekiah. When David spoke of “your servant’s house also for the future” (2 Samuel 7:19), the word refers to a lasting dynasty.
Thus, David’s desire to build a house for the Lord was rewarded with a promise that would transcend David’s expectation. The Lord said to David:
Moreover the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men; but I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from him who was before you, And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure for ever before me; your throne shall be established for ever (2 Samuel 7:11-16).
God made three important promises to David: that David’s throne would be established forever; that a son of David would build a house for God’s name; and that David’s son would become God’s son. These three promises became the basis of all Messianic prophecies in the Old Testament.
Part of God’s promises found fulfillment during David’s lifetime. Solomon, his son, built a majestic house of worship in Jerusalem. David’s descendants became God’s sons by adoption (Psalm 2:7; Isaiah 9:6). But Solomon and the descendants of David who sat on the throne of Jerusalem did not meet all the criteria of God’s promises to David, since God’s promise was that David’s dynasty would be an everlasting dynasty.
With the destruction of the Temple and the deportation of the people of Judah to Babylon, including the members of the royal house, some people believed that God’s promise had failed. In desperation, the people said: “We have become old, dry bones – all hope is gone. Our nation is finished” (Ezekiel 37:11 NLT).
But all was not lost. The prophet Jeremiah promised that after the exile, the people of Israel would again “serve the LORD, their God, and David, their king, whom I will raise up for them” (Jeremiah 30:9). The hope of Israel for the future was based on the birth of a new David who would be born in Bethlehem, just as the first David was born there. The Lord said that from Bethlehem “a king will emerge who will rule over Israel on my behalf” (Micah 5:2).
Several oracles of the prophet Ezekiel speak of the coming of a New David:
Ezekiel 34:23: “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.”
Ezekiel 37:24: “My servant David will be their king, and they will have only one shepherd. They will obey my regulations and be careful to keep my decrees.”
Even the prophet Hosea speaks of the coming of a new David in the last days: “Afterwards, the people of Israel will return and seek the LORD their God and David their king. They will come with awe to the LORD and to His goodness in the last days” (Hosea 3:5).
All of these oracles connect this coming David with the promise God made to David. Even after the tree of David was fallen, God promised to raise a branch for David: “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch” (Jeremiah 23:5).
The hope expressed by Jeremiah was not a new insight gained by the prophet in the seventh century B.C. Nor was Ezekiel’s hope for a new David a new theology developed in exile. The coming of an offspring of David was an integral expectation of the restoration of Israel. This is what David expressed in his last words: “Is it not my family God has chosen? Yes, he has made an everlasting covenant with me. His agreement is arranged and guaranteed in every detail. He will ensure my safety and success” (2 Samuel 23:5).
Thus, in the fulness of time, God’s promise to David became a reality. According to the genealogy of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus Christ was a descendant of David (Matthew 1:1). The angels proclaimed that Messiah was born in the city of David (Luke 2:11). And eventually, even the people of Jerusalem recognized that Jesus was a son of David: “Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9) and that he was the one bringing back David’s kingdom: “Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:10).
God’s covenant with David found its realization in Solomon and all of David’s descendants through the end of the monarchy in Judah. However, God’s promise to David found its culmination in Jesus Christ, because only in him does David’s throne become an eternal throne.
Thus, as Christians celebrate the coming of the son of David, they join with Simeon praising God for the arrival of the consolation of Israel:
I have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared for all people.
He is a light to reveal God to the nations,
and he is the glory of your people Israel!”
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Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary