The New Testament commences with the statement that Jesus Christ is “the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Mat 1:1). Abraham was the patriarch to whom God first promised the land of Canaan (Gen 15:7), and David was the man to whom God promised the throne of Israel, with a dynasty destined to succeed him (1Ch 17:11). A descendant of David and Abraham, our Lord Jesus Christ will be given “the throne of his father David” (Luk 1:32). He will be universally supreme, but in particular, He will reign over His people Israel. By that time, they will be resettled in their land, with its territory extending to the frontiers promised to Abraham centuries ago. The Throne and the Land are His.
The background to the Davidic Covenant is found in the early verses of 2 Samuel 7, with its parallel passage, 1 Chronicles 17. David had hinted to Nathan that he was keen to provide a permanent structure to house the Ark, and without consulting heaven, the prophet gave the go-ahead. That night God instructed him to reverse the faulty advice. He relayed that revelation to David verbatim (2Sa 7:17), and enshrined in it are the details of God’s covenant with him. Before outlining the covenant, God gave a résumé of His dealings with David, recounting His choice of him as king and His presence with him in giving him victory and fame. The continued security of Israel in the land was also assured (vv8-11a). While this is in the preamble to the covenant, it is crucial, because in the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise, the Messiah will rule in an environment where peace will pervade every sphere of life. He is King of Salem, King of Peace.
Having recounted past blessings, God made a promise about the future of David and his “house” – “he will make thee a house” (v11b). This was huge compensation after the crushing disappointment of being denied the privilege of building the temple. Obviously, the usage of the word “house” does not relate to a material structure, for chapter 5:11 recounts details of the building of David’s luxurious house in that physical sense, and our chapter finds him comfortably settled there. So the English word “dynasty” would better convey the sense of what is being promised; David would head a dynasty that would run forever, for the One who “shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever” (Luk 1:33) is “of the seed of David according to the flesh” (Rom 1:3). This usage of the word “house” meaning family or household is fairly common in the Bible, and indeed there was another occasion when God granted a family line as a reward: of faithful midwives Scripture says, “[God] made them houses” (Exo 1:21).
A settled posterity was of considerable importance to people in ancient times. For example, Jonathan elicited a promise from David, under oath, that even after his decease David would never eliminate his family (1Sa 20:14-17). He kept that promise right to the end of his reign (2Sa 21:7).
Initially, the promise of “an house” for David takes in the next generation: “I will set up thy seed after thee” (2Sa 7:12). Then the promise is extended at verse 16: “thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee” (KJV). Hence David’s response to the Lord: “thou hast spoken also of thy servant’s house for a great while to come” (v19 KJV). His immediate successor would be responsible for building the temple (v13), and God would treat him as a son, which would involve discipline if necessary. However, the experience of being deposed from the kingdom as Saul was would never be replicated (vv14-15). In fact, the throne would never depart from the line of David (v16).
After the nation was divided, there was never an established dynasty in the northern kingdom; perpetual military coups resulted in power being transferred from kings to generals. Things were different in the south. The Covenant with David held, and the throne of Judah was constantly occupied by his descendants. The one exception was when Athaliah “arose and destroyed all the seed royal” (2Ki 11:1), and for seven years she headed a menacing administration. The baby Joash was rescued from the carnage, and although David’s dynasty hung by a thread, it held, for God’s purposes can never be thwarted; He will always fulfill His word.
At the Babylonian captivity the dynasty seemed to go into oblivion, and David’s throne has never been occupied since. Yet God knew exactly who David’s descendants were – unremarkable people living in obscurity, but all named in the Messiah’s genealogy. The last of them was just a carpenter at Nazareth, but known in heaven as “Joseph, thou son of David” (Mat 1:20). The dynasty was like a tree cut down to the roots, and yet a strong, vigorous Branch would shoot from these roots (Isa 11:1). The Davidic Covenant will be fully implemented when Messiah reigns.
The words “the terms of the covenant” are inappropriate, because it was another of God’s unconditional agreements without any “terms” to be fulfilled either by the nation or individuals within it. The word “provisions” is more fitting. In his celebrated treatment of prophetic themes, Things to Come, J. Dwight Pentecost quotes John Walvoord as he summarized the provisions of the Davidic Covenant (pp101-102):
“The provisions of the Davidic covenant include, then, the following items: (1) David is to have a child, yet to be born, who shall succeed him and establish his kingdom. (2) This son (Solomon) shall build the temple instead of David. (3) The throne of his kingdom shall be established forever. (4) The throne shall not be taken away from him (Solomon) even though his sins justify chastisement. (5) David’s house, throne, and kingdom shall be established forever.”
Some of these provisions had their fulfillment historically, but full implementation of the covenant awaits the future, when the Lord Jesus takes the throne. Key words in 2 Samuel 7:16 relating to this future aspect of the covenant are as follows: “House” – He is “of the seed of David” (2Ti 2:8); “Kingdom” – there will be a people over whom He will reign; “Throne” – He will exercise sovereign and absolute authority (Psa 72:8); “For ever” – Isaiah sums it up, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom … for ever” (9:7 KJV). Jeremiah corroborates when prophesying that the Lord will raise to David “a righteous Branch” who will administer wisely and justly, and who is identified as Jehovah Tsidkenu; David’s son is David’s Lord (Jer 23:5-6; Psa 110:1).