Returning to chapter 7 of 2 Samuel, verse 13 speaks of David’s son building “a house for My name” with the addition of the pledge of an everlasting dynastic kingdom. Walter Kaiser has commented on the connection between the establishing of a kingdom and the right to erect a temple. He writes,
[A]ccording to 2 Samuel 7:13…the “house” of David had to be first established by Yahweh before a temple could be built. Temple building could only be the completion and crowning effect of Yahweh’s creation of a kingdom.1
If this is right then David could not begin his reign by ordering the construction of a temple to Yahweh. Why not? Because peace in the kingdom was not attained during David’s reign, either through having to impose his reign over dissidents, or through his own disastrous breaking of the law he was supposed to be upholding via the incident with Bathsheba and Uriah (2 Sam. 11).
As Niehaus reminds us, the covenants of God,
… are unconditional and they are also conditional. They are unconditional in that the Lord will not let any vassal disobedience annul any of “God’s covenants. They are conditional in that every one of them contains one or more conditions for the vassal.2
So King David was really in no state to build a temple on the grounds of God’s covenant with him. But it is interesting that God Himself told David that he was not the right man to build the temple. Such a temple to such a God had to be built in peace, since it symbolized ultimate shalom in Creation.
The Durability of the Davidic Covenant
As the history of the Davidic line unfolds it doesn’t take long until the wisdom of making it unconditional is confirmed. The precariousness of making a covenant’s success depend upon men is once again established. Solomon began so well, with all that a king might need to rule in line with the Law. A man given wisdom who became the fool; what a commentary on the human race!
The division of the kingdom which followed was inevitable. The result was a foregone conclusion so long as a son of Adam was in charge. If God’s covenant was to mean anything in the long run then, just as much as the Noahic, Abrahamic, and Priestly covenants, it had to seek its fulfillment in the New covenant ushered in by the Promised One: the Seed, the Branch, the Servant, the King who is the also Prince of Peace.
Even though mercy was shown to David’s line (e.g. 1 Kings 11:39), the main point is this: so long as any of these covenants was linked to the Mosaic covenant, they were incapable of fulfillment. They had to be allied to a different covenant; one that was free of demands upon the sons of men to rise to an ethical standard which they were simply powerless to attain. Therefore the sustainability of the covenant with David would depend upon its association with the New covenant.
After the break-away of the ten northern tribes under Jeroboam of Ephraim (1 Kings 11 – 12), the northern kingdom (which kept the name “Israel”) had no kings who followed God. These tribes went into Assyrian exile in 722 B.C., although representatives from them all trickled down to “Judah” both before and during those tumultuous years, as several passages make clear (see e.g. 2 Chron. 11:16-17; 19:4; 30:1, 5; 35:17-19).3
Again, God Means What He Says
There are numerous instances in the historical books where the two main foci of this biblical theology can be sampled. Here are just a few examples:
Covenant Oaths Mean What They Say: Solomon’s recalling of Shimei’s oath in 1 Kings 2:41-43; Solomon reminds the people of God’s faithfulness in 1 Kings 8:1, 21, 24, 26 (with more to fulfill);
God’s Words Equal His Actions: 1 Kings 8:24; the naming of Josiah in 1 Kings 13:2, 3, 5; the death of Jeroboam’s child in 1 Kings 14:12, 17; Elijah’s doom upon king Ahaziah in 2 Kings 1:3-4, 16-17; Elisha feeding a hundred men in 2 Kings 4:42-44; the healing of Naaman in 2 Kings 5:10, 13-14; Elisha’s promise of an abundance of food to the starving people in 2 Kings 7:1, 18; Isaiah’s prediction of Sennacherib’s defeat in 2 Kings 19:32-33. All were fulfilled literally. God means what He says.
What we might call “the code of the prophet” is found in Micaiah’s testimony in 1 Kings 22:14: “As the LORD lives, whatever the LORD says to me, that I will speak.” This consistency in the pronouncements of God make Him worthy of our trust.
1 Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., The Promise-Plan of God, 118
2 Jeffrey J. Niehaus, Biblical Theology, vol. 2. 415. Perhaps it would be better not to refer to the recipients of God’s covenants as “vassals” since the Noahic, Abrahamic, Priestly, and Davidic covenants are not strictly Suzerain-vassal treaties. Only the Mosaic covenant is, although these treaties do “lie on a continuum” (Ibid, 424-425 n.12).
3 “A subsequent attempt at religious and perhaps political unification of the whole people of Israel was perhaps also undertaken in the immediate aftermath of the fall of the northern kingdom, before Sargon II’s control over Syria-Palestine was fully established and the situation in the new province of Samerina fully regularized after 720 B.C.” (Iain Provan, et al, A Biblical History of Israel, 272).
Paul Martin Henebury is a native of Manchester, England and a graduate of London Theological Seminary and Tyndale Theological Seminary (MDiv, PhD). He has been a Church-planter, pastor and a professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics. He was also editor of the Conservative Theological Journal (suggesting its new name, Journal of Dispensational Theology, prior to leaving that post). He is now the President of Telos School of Theology.