Covenant Promises (2 Samuel 7:1-17)

Jerusalem. Photo by Anton Petrus

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 house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent.”

Nathan replied to the king, “Whatever you have in mind, go ahead and do it, for the Lord is with you.”

But 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? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling. Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies.

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’”

Nathan reported to David all the words of this entire revelation. (New International Version)

What is a covenant?

A covenant is simply a contract or agreement between two or more parties. The Bible is a covenant document. The Old and New Testaments are really Old and New Covenants. The word “testament” is Latin for “covenant.” When God makes a covenant with people, it means they receive divine promises of what God will do; and, in response, the people have moral expectations or ethical responsibilities to follow. 

The ancient world operated on a covenant system. A nation or empire would conquer a city or territory and set up a covenant in which the conqueror promised protection, certain provisions, and left a military presence among them. In response, the conquered people were required to offer their allegiance and some of the goods and services of the land. 

God made a covenant with Abraham and promised that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. The only stipulation that God gave to Abraham was to leave and begin a new life in the land he would show him. (Genesis 12:1-3)

The Lord continued to work through Abraham’s descendants, the Israelites. They would be a kingdom of priests, testifying to the nations through a lifestyle of having God at the center of all they do. The people were expected to embody the Ten Commandments and be holy, thus reflecting the holiness of God.

The difference between earthly covenants and God’s covenant is that God saturates the divine covenant in love and grace – because the Lord cares about the divine/human relationship.

What do we learn about God through a covenant?

First and foremost: God never forgets nor reneges on divine promises. God was faithful to David by establishing a covenant, yet also spoke to him about his descendants. The Lord promised David a dynasty, a kingdom that would never end, a temple, and a father/son relationship with his progeny. 

Furthermore, God promised that divine love would never be taken away. The Lord shows continuous love to people, even when they go astray. Unlike the nations of the earth, the fickle nature of people, and the inconsistent commitment of others, God is a Being whose very nature is love.

In a world of broken families and severed relationships; of selfishness and trying to impose one’s will on another; of taking advantage of others; and in a world that is messed up and depraved because of sin and unfaithfulness, God stands as the consistent, never-changing Sovereign of Love who graciously blesses people. 

What sort of covenant is this?

Short answer: a covenant of grace. It’s demonstrated in how the tables are turned on David with grace. David intended on doing something for God. But the Lord completely turned it around and blessed him abundantly beyond what David could even ask or think. David had it in his heart to build a house for God, but God comes back and says that an enduring house (household and dynasty) will be built for David.

How does this covenant apply to Christians?

All the good and gracious promises given to Abraham, Moses, and David are all fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.  

The New Testament Gospels are steeped in the language and explanation that Jesus is the Son of David, the Promised One, Savior, Lord, Teacher, and Healer. He will save the people from their sins and bring them to a spacious kingdom full of the grace and love. 

Through the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ we are brought into union with God and participate fully in all the promises of the New Covenant of love. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. Love your neighbor as yourself. All this love is personified in Christ.

Where is the covenant?

The Davidic Covenant is not limited to a specific place or a building. God is present with people wherever they go. 

A common understanding in the ancient world was that there were local gods, not a universal God over all the earth. The Jews were unique in the belief that there is not one square inch of this entire earth where God is not present. The Lord does not need a permanent structure because God is everywhere. 

We, as New Covenant people, are God’s temple. The Lord takes up residence within our lives. We possess covenant loyalty and faithfulness, continually, in the person of the Holy Spirit.

What do we learn about ourselves?

Timing is important. David had a good idea and good motives for wanting to house the Ark of the Covenant in a temple. Yet, God let David know that the timing was off. So, David would need to be patient and let his vision of a temple come to fruition with his son. 

However, that didn’t mean David was idle. By the time he died, his son Solomon had most of the building materials already stockpiled and ready for the temple construction. Waiting does not necessarily mean passivity. 

A vision for life or for ministry rarely is implemented quickly. It needs to grow and mature before it will bear fruit. Two sage questions to ask, therefore, are:

  1. Is the future I am imagining, a future that God desires, or do I have my ladder leaning on the wrong building?
  2. If I am imagining a good and gracious future, is it the right time for it to happen? 

We also learn about ourselves that we must bank on the promises of God – and trust in the person and work of Jesus because all of God’s promises are fulfilled in Christ. In Christ we are taught how to live, and by his wounds we are healed. Jesus is the hope of the world. 

There is grace to be found; forgiveness to be had; and dreams to be realized, if we are attentive to the promises given to us in Holy Scripture. Do not let your sanctified dreams die, because they might not yet have come to full term.

God’s direction for our lives is needed. We have responsibilities as God’s covenant people to be faithful and uphold the ethics of the kingdom, as expressed by Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5-7)

Perhaps what we learn most about ourselves is to surrender our plans to God. My life is not all about me. Most of the Christian life is about weaning ourselves away from our own thoughts and ingenuity, learning to submit to God’s plans for our lives. We must pray and not make assumptions, because after a night of prayer, the prophet Nathan withdrew his building permit for David.

Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain.

Psalm 127:1, NIV

The Lord is gracious, loving, and loyal to covenant promises. We are to live into what God is building on this earth: an ethical kingdom with people characterized by mercy, purity, and peace-making. 

Soli Deo Gloria.

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