In a previous post, I wrote about the Messianic expectation of the Old Testament. In that post I tried to explain how the Messianic hope developed through the centuries. However, in that post I did not explain the origin and the complexity of that hope. As one reader wrote in a comment posted on Facebook, “the concept of Messiah varied greatly from group to group among the Jews. A variety of images appear in the literature describing a Messiah figure.”
His statement is true. It was not my desire in that post to describe the “variety of images” that were present in the Messianic expectation of Israel. These various images were the pieces of the puzzle I alluded to in that post. That would be the subject of another post.
In the present post, I want to discuss the origin of the Messianic hope in the Bible without going into the development of the idea. That, in brief, was the purpose of my first post.
The Messianic hope in the Old Testament begins with God’s covenant with David and God’s promise that David’s throne would be established forever. I consider 2 Samuel 7, the text dealing with God’s covenant with David, to be one of the most important passages in the Old Testament. In this text, God promised to make a house for David, that is, God guaranteed the perpetuity of David’s kingdom by establishing an eternal dynasty for him.
In this post, I will focus on God’s promise to David. God promised that he would be a father to every descendant of David who would sit on David’s throne. I will also deal with two other passages where God’s promise was reaffirmed to a descendant of David.
2 Samuel 7:14
“I will be his father, and he will be my son.”
God’s covenant with David is a unilateral covenant in which God established a new relationship with Israel through David. The Davidic covenant was based upon God’s promise to David that his throne would be established forever. It was an unconditional covenant because it was not based on human behavior. It was God who assured David that his throne would “be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). God’s promise to David would bring stability to the monarchy and hope for the permanency of his kingdom in spite of the fact that historical events would threaten the fulfillment of God’s promises.
The promise in 2 Samuel 7:14 was not a reference to Christ and his kingdom, as many interpreters in the past and in the present have understood the passage. In the context of God’s promise to David, the one who would inherit David’s throne and build a house for God’s name would be Solomon:
12 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.13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever.14 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 (2 Samuel 7:12-14).
Although the promise was made to Solomon and after him, to all the sons of David who became king of Judah, none of the kings who sat on the throne of David were able to meet the divine expectations for the ideal king. When Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 B.C. and the dynasty of David came to an end, many people believed that God’s promise to David had failed. However, the people of Israel had to wait many more years, even centuries, before the people could welcome another son of David:
“Hosanna to the Son of David” (Matthew 21:9).
“Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David” (Mark 11:10).
The concept of the Davidic king being the son of God helps to explain two very important texts in the Old Testament: Psalm 2:7 and Isaiah 9:6.
“I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.” I will tell of the decree of the LORD: He said to me, “You are my son; today I have begotten you.”
Psalm 2 is a Royal Psalm that was used for the celebration of the investiture of a new king. In this psalm God affirms the son of David to be his chosen one because he continues the kingly line of David. The king was proclaimed to be God’s son on Zion, God’s holy hill. God’s words reaffirmed the selection of a descendant of David to be God’s representative on earth and the election of Jerusalem, the city of David, as the place from which the new king would rule.
The “decree of the Lord” was the royal protocol which was given to the king during the investiture ceremony. This document endowed the new king with legitimacy and authority.
The statement, “You are my son; today I have begotten you” carries two important ideas. First, the expression “You are my son” says that on the day the descendant of David was crowned king, the king developed a new relationship with Yahweh, becoming his representative on earth. The day of the king’s coronation was the day when the divine decree took effect. The idea that the king was God’s son was common in the Ancient Near East. The idea of God as the Father and the king as the son also appears in other texts in the Old Testament (cf. Psalm 89:26-27; 1 Chronicles 28:6). Thus, in Judah, the king became the son of God on the day he ascended to the throne of David.
God’s covenant with David was considered to be an eternal covenant. God promised to David that “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:16). The divine declaration to the new king in Psalm 2:7 served as an affirmation of the divine promise and as a renewal of God’s relationship with the house of David in the person of the new king.
Second, the expression “today I have begotten you” expresses a symbolic “new birth,” a process by which the son of David became the son of God by adoption. Adoption outside of the royal realm was common in Israel. Rachel adopted Bilhah’s son as her own son and Jacob adopted Ephraim and Manasseh, Joseph’s sons, as his own sons (Genesis 48:5). By this process of investiture and adoption, the new Davidic king became an heir of the divine promise to David and a representative of Yahweh before the people.
God’s words in Psalm 2:7 express the adoption of a new king as God’s son the moment this descendant of David assumed the throne to carry out God’s promise to David and rule over God’s people.
“For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
This passage, Isaiah 9:5-6 (Hebrew 9:4-5) is a hymn celebrating the coronation of a new king. The rejoicing of the people in 9:3-4 (Hebrew 9:2-3) is the result of the celebration at the enthronement of a new king who will conquer the enemies who oppressed the people.
Verse 4 describes the situation of the oppressed people: “For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian.” In this verse, the oppressed people are treated like animals of burden. The people carry a heavy yoke upon their shoulders and are forced to labor hard by the rod which chastises them.
The day of the people’s redemption began the day the son of David was crowned king of Judah and ascended the throne of his father. The ascension of a new heir to the throne of David and his adoption by God was seen as the fulfillment of God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7:12-14, a promise which brought hope of deliverance from the oppression imposed upon the people of God by the heavy hand of Assyria.
This new king was Hezekiah and the words used by the prophet to describe the new king are the divine ideals for God’s representative and are meant to describe the rule of the one who would sit on David’s throne, but ideals which were never attained by Hezekiah or any other king. It was the failure of the kings of Judah to attain these ideals that forced the people to look to the future and hope for the coming of a new David.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary