There was never anyone like King David. For a few years, God’s kingdom thrived through God’s king, in keeping with God’s word. David did what no one before him had ever managed to do: he united all the tribes of Israel. Under him, the house of Israel became the kingdom of Israel. His leadership ability was off the charts. His military prowess was legendary. His spiritual life was inspirational.
He was God’s man, and part of the line through which God’s Son would come. After David had assumed the throne, God sent a message to him through the prophet Nathan. It is one of the key passages in the entire Old Testament: 2 Samuel 7. “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 fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, 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. . .Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.”
That promise was recorded and published, and it left an indelible impression on the minds of the house of Israel. And I say “the house of Israel” again because it was only a few hundred years after David that the “kingdom of Israel” was a kingdom no more. The kingdom was shattered from within, and then crushed from without. David’s descendants were sent into exile. The royal line vanished in a faraway land.
It was a horrible time in the history of Israel. The promise that David’s throne would be established forever had not been forgotten, but the throne had been destroyed, and the kingdom was dust in the wind. They had lost the promised land and the promised king in one blow. And where was God while all this was happening? That’s what the psalmist wanted to know.
In Psalm 89, Ethan the Ezraite recalls the story of how God found David and anointed him king. He then repeats God’s covenant promise to David: “I will also appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever, his throne as long as the heavens endure.” For emphasis, God’s promise of faithfulness is then restated: “I will not violate my covenant or alter what my lips have uttered. Once for all, I have sworn by my holiness – and I will not lie to David – that his line will continue forever and his throne endure before me like the sun; it will be established forever like the moon, the faithful witness in the sky.”
But David’s line went into exile and Israel’s kingdom no longer existed. What had happened to God’s promise? What good was God’s word, if he didn’t stand behind it? And it certainly didn’t seem to the Israelite people that he was standing behind it. So, the Psalmist goes on in accusatory tones: “You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the dust. You have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins. You have put an end to his splendor and cast his throne to the ground.”
If God had gone back on his word, if he was unreliable, then there really was no hope. Those were dark days for Israel. The majority of people had given up on God and turned elsewhere for relief. But a few voices kept calling out: “Don’t forget God’s promises. God will keep his word. The king will return.”
One of those voices belonged to the prophet Isaiah. He wrote: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. . . For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.”
When we hear those verses, we think of Christmas. When Israel heard those verses, they thought of God’s promise to David. Don’t give up on God. Don’t forget his promise. He will make his word good.