The story of mankind is one of ongoing disappointment. Since the fall of man, we have tried every which way to reset this world, to diagnose ourselves, to find a long-term solution to our inability to always do what’s right apart from the revelation of God.
Mankind tried to build a tower to the heavens in Babel, thinking that if they kept to themselves and stayed together that they could do anything, and a massive temple-structure would prove it. So God scattered them throughout the world around them to show them that man is not saved by his own devices and inventions. And so they were disappointed.
The Israelites, God’s people, demanded their government look like the nations around them so that they would have a successful and prosperous nation. So instead of looking to God as their king who would appoint a prince under him to guide the people in right living and obedience to God, the people, without knowing what they were asking for, wanted a despot like Babylon, like Assyria, like Edom. So God gave them a king like those kings and let the consequences of forced service in the military, taxes paid to support the monarchy, and servants taken to minister to the king play out precisely as he said they would. And so they were disappointed.
In our own day, many look to a gospel message that promises riches and self-confidence. The contemporary gospel is about salvation from the sin of self-deprecation and emotional poverty. People look for inspiring messages, and too many churches and preachers are willing to pander to those who think their biggest problem in life, the source of all their trouble, is needing a boost of self-confidence. God is here for you, here to be with you in the hard times, here to make sure you know your self-worth. But not only does it avoid the reality of sin and guilt and the unrighteousness of man, it doesn’t offer any solutions. The contemporary gospel misdiagnoses the problem of mankind. Your home has been destroyed by disaster, and the world offers you a pat-on-the-back. James warned about those who see you lying stripped and dying in the streets and only offer a kind word, “Be warmed! Be fed!” (James 2:15-16). What good is that? The contemporary gospel preached by many churches is a clanging cymbal offering nothing but the illusion of temporary happiness and reprieve from depression. And so we are continually disappointed.
Now the passage of Scripture to which I want to draw your attention is found in 2 Samuel 7:1-17. In this passage, God offers not only the true diagnosis of mankind’s great spiritual illness but the only solution. Mankind needs a king, but not a tyrant under whom the nations suffer. Mankind needs a king who rules on behalf of our creator, under his rule and authority, who takes dominion over this world, who offers mercy and generosity and beneficence to his people, who does not inspire self-worship but worship directed to the one, true God of all creation.
2 Samuel 7:1-17
Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’ Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more. And violent men shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies. 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 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 forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.’” In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David.
In this passage, God makes a covenant with King David. David sees the military and national success with which God has blessed him. David has built a beautiful home for himself as Israel’s king. A king in a palace makes sense, and David struggles with living in a beautiful home while the ark of the covenant, the very presence of God among the people, still resides in the same tabernacle that he has since the time of the exodus and wandering in the wilderness for forty years. David proposes to God that he build a temple, or a house for God. It will be something more substantial and palatial than a structure made of curtains. However, if you read the detailed description of the tabernacle in the book of Exodus, you know that it was nothing if not awe-inspiring and an architectural feat in its own right.
But God tells David through his prophet Nathan that he does not need a house. God gave Israel the tabernacle, so why do they think they can do better? Is God served by human hands? In a fantastic turn, instead of requiring a house for the ark, God will build a house for David.
This is always how redemption takes place. God initiates and takes responsibility in redemption. What could David possibly build for God that would be equal in any way with his dignity, his righteousness, and his majesty? God initiates and takes responsibility when we are unable to offer him anything he deserves.
Now that David desires to build a house for God, God tells David that he will build a house for him. God is not speaking of brick and mortar but of descendants. It is in this passage that God once again narrows the family tree of those who would ultimately bring about the seed of the woman, who would then come from Abraham’s descendants, who would then come from Jacob’s sons, who would then come from Judah’s offspring, who will now be a son of David. It would be a son of David who would rule once-for-all, who would finally rule not only over the nation of Israel but all the world.
It is here that God diagnoses the problem: we are pitiful self-rulers who need God to rule over us. We cannot do anything of our own apart from him. We can build nothing for him apart from his provision. We can offer up no obedience that is not through the gift of faith. We can show him no love and adoration that does not come through the new heart which he provides.
In v.14, God says the most remarkable thing to David. God tells David that the son of David would also be a son of God. “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” Of course God is speaking immediately about Solomon, the son of David who would build a temple for God. But David’s throne would be everlasting, long beyond Solomon and then Rehoboam; he would always have a son who would sit on his throne. God’s promise goes far beyond the next generation. It looks forward to the son of David who would bring all things to their consummation—the restoration of creation and the redemption of lost sinners.
At creation, God formed man and woman, Adam and Eve. They were created in God’s image and likeness, meaning they were to take dominion over God’s creation and rule on his behalf. They were to subdue the unruly land and waters outside the garden. Should they continue in faithfulness and righteousness, they would have eternal life. Because of their duties, the gospel of Luke identifies Adam as a son of God (Luke 3:38). But Eve was deceived and Adam was disobedient. They fell from that state of perfect righteousness and sent the earth into darkness. They were cast out of the garden. Their descendants would never know what it was like to have dominion over the world and live in perfect peace with their creator.
Many generations before David, when God sent Moses to Pharaoh in Egypt and commanded him to release his covenant people, Moses tells Pharaoh, “Thus says the LORD, Israel is my firstborn son” (Exodus 4:22). To be a son of God, like Adam was, is to be in close communion with him; it is to be sent by him, to rule on his behalf. It is to be made in his image and likeness. It is to hold dominion over his creation. God sent Israel to be his son, to take up the responsibility where Adam failed. They were to be a light to the nations and a beacon of righteousness. Israel was to be a sign that God is redeeming lost sinners and reconciling his enemies to himself. God is merciful and gracious, abounding in steadfast love. He is just and will not let those who persist in rebellion go unpunished, but he rejoices over those who repent of their sins and come to him.
“For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:33).
And now God calls David his son—not only David but his descendants, as well. The king of Israel, a son of David, will take up the mantle that Israel was given. He will rule in the image and likeness of God. He will uniquely be a light to the nations and a beacon of righteousness. Israel’s true hope is none but God himself, not a human king who imposes his own will upon the people, but one who administers the will, law, and rule of God faithfully. The importance of God calling David a man after his own heart is that David will not rule the people from his own desires and will but after the rule and law of God. And this covenant with David establishes not only the diagnosis of our problem but the solution as well: a greater son of David who rules with the heart of God.
With the problem and solution righty identified, we see more accurately the place of Jesus in our redemption. You would be forgiven for wondering why so much time has been given to a passage in Israel’s history books during the Christmas season. But without it, we make all the common mistakes, deadly mistakes, of seeing Jesus as anything less than the God-man.
Listen to how the gospel of Luke introduces Jesus to his mother, Mary.
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin's name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
Here, finally, we have the son of David who would rule forever and ever. There were many kings before him, but there will be none after him. Not only is this child a son of David, but he is also the Son of the Most High, the man of heaven. This remarkable man is more than a man. Jesus Christ is both son of God and son of David.
The Spirit of God would come upon Mary so that Jesus would not be conceived in any ordinary way. He would not inherit any sin from his mother. He would be born perfectly righteous. His entire life would be about keeping the law of God, about instructing others on doing the same, and how redemption would only be made possible by his substitutionary sacrifice. It would not be until he willingly went to the cross and had our sins imputed on to him that he would bear any sins at all. He would be the son of God that Adam, Israel, and David could not be because of their sin.
The prophets of the Old Testament were shown future truths, some direct and others indirect, that would identify the son of God and the son of David. One of these was the prophet Isaiah who prophesied to King Ahaz, himself a descendant of David. Samaria wanted to invade Judah, the territory of David. But God told Ahaz that it would not happen, that Ahaz would be safe, and he would confirm that promise with a sign. That miraculous sign was that a virgin would bear a son. “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel” (Isaiah 7:14). The gospel authors recognized that God was doing far more than promising a failed enemy invasion and short-term national security; he was also creating an expectation that true redemption, final redemption, would not come from a man of ordinary birth. Luke recognizes this and makes clear that the angel Gabriel was sent to a virgin, even before we’re given her name. Only after we’re given this important fact connecting Isaiah’s expectation and Luke’s fulfillment do we finally hear her name—Mary.
The angel Gabriel was sent to the virgin Mary to announce to her that God has chosen her and favored her to carry the son of God and son of David who would save his people from their sins and reign over his Father’s kingdom forever. Gabriel begins by calling Mary the favored one. This identification always sets someone apart as one whose righteousness is a gift of God and not of their own. Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord and so was called to build an ark that would save eight people out of the entire world population (Genesis 6:8). God tells Moses that he knows Moses by name and has found favor in his sight and so was able to see the veiled glory of God (Exodus 33:17). In his final sermon to those who would end up taking his life, Stephen reminded them that David found favor in God’s sight and so was able to collect the material that Solomon could us to build a house for God (Acts 7:45). Mary is a recipient of God’s favor, having her faith counted to her as righteousness, and she would be used by God in a way greater than Noah, Moses, and even David.
The house of David will rule over the house of Jacob. Jacob was a patriarch of Israel. Abraham’s son was Isaac, and Isaac’s son was Jacob. The house of Jacob is synonymous with the nation of Israel. Under the old covenant, Israel was a nation, but only one nation. They were governed by the law of Moses. Their national borders grew or shrank based on the faithfulness of the people, led first and foremost by their king at any given moment. God would send foreign invaders and oppressors to discipline the nation and to make them turn from idolatry and rebellion. Obedience led to blessings and disobedience led to curses, all outlined in detail in the law of Moses. So goes the king, so goes the nation.
Israel’s prosperity depended entirely on living faithfully before God as their true king. The earthy monarch was there to lead God’s people in obedience. The son of David’s primary responsibility was to form a people, under his leadership, that were holy and righteous. The priests of Israel administered the sacrifices that looked forward to a proper atonement, a reconciliation between God and man, and the king ensured the religious life of God’s people were focused on obeying the laws of the God whose special presence resided in the temple.
When Gabriel announces to Mary that God will give her son the throne of his father David, Gabriel is saying in no uncertain terms that Jesus will be the one who forms a people who are holy and righteous, who have the law of God written on their hearts, who makes atonement for them, and keeps the law of God for them. Jesus Christ did so by taking our sins upon himself. He was born 2000 years ago, at the proper time, at the culmination of the ages, to live obediently and die willingly. But his resurrection would break the curse and dominion of death. He was justified in God’s sight, and he was no longer under the curse.
Because of that, he saves sinners from the same fate. The curse of sin, the power of death, is broken. The Christmas season is an annual reminder, amidst all the parties, glitter, and cold, that Jesus Christ is the promised son of David and the son of God who was born that he might die, defeat death, and will one day return to put a final end to his enemies.
There are times when the Bible speaks metaphorically. God does not have a body, yet he saved us with a strong arm. Jesus is not a mother hen, yet he wanted to spread his wings over Jerusalem and protect her. But when the Scriptures speak of Jesus as a king, it is speaking clearly. It is no symbol or image. It is a statement of fact. He is a ruler, a prince, a sovereign. He is king over all.
In his Revelation, John saw Christ returning a second time, riding a white horse of victory and conquering his enemies. On the robe which Christ wore was his name, “King of kings and Lord of lords.” The beast and the false prophet are defeated, “And the rest were slain by the sword that came from the mouth of him who was sitting on the horse” (19:21a). The child born of the woman who laid in the manger is coming again to judge the living and the dead and put an end to all those who have rebelled against God.
The only question that remains is, “What is the proper response to the King of kings?”
He is to be worshiped. He is to be obeyed. He is to be adored.
We are to deny ourselves. We set our priorities to align with the kingdom’s. We live in such a way that people are unable to know where our joy and peace come from. We give him thanks for the sacrifice of himself, that our king gave himself for us. He has called us to respond to his call in faith and repentance, and we receive the gift of everlasting life. Our sins are as far as the east is from the west, and like Noah, Abraham, David, and Mary, our faith is counted as righteousness.
Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your heart. Be reconciled to God.