2 Samuel 7 – The Davidic Covenant
The following essay exegetes 2 Samuel 7. It maintains that the passage concerns the theological issues raised in the book of Samuel of Kingship and ‘rest’ and provides a theological program for them. The reasons for David’s desire to build the temple are explored, and are found to be based upon a secular understanding of temple, contrary to Yahweh’s covenantal purposes for Israel. The rejection of David’s proposal was due to its timing which leads to Yahweh gently rebuking David and places the notion of ‘temple’ within a covenantal theology which requires the manifestation of ‘rest’. While the author of Samuel seeks to demonstrate that the requirement for rest was fulfilled by David, the final fulfilment of the promises will not realised by a political figure. Rather, these promises find their realisation in Christ.
Throughout the book of Samuel (referring to 1 and 2 Samuel in their original form) the transition from tribal league to monarchy takes place in Israel’s nationality. In this, any theological issues are raised. The main one being the fate of the previous covenants – Noahic (Genesis 9:9-17), Abrahamic (Genesis 15:18-19); Sinai (Exodus 19:3-6). Since Israel has rejected Yahweh as their King (1 Samuel 8:7), will his purposes as expressed in the previous covenants be fulfilled?
It is this question that the Davidic covenant seeks to answer forming the theological pinnacle of the book (2 Samuel 7:1-16). Although the word ‘covenant’ does not appear in the account, the dialogue between Yahweh and David is nonetheless regarded as a covenant by other parts of Scripture (2 Samuel 23:5; Psalm 89:3, 34-36; 132:12; Jeremiah 33:21) and therefore 2 Samuel 7:1-16 needs to be regarded as a covenant.
The speech by Yahweh (vv6-16) was primarily intended as a rejection of David in response to his desire to build the temple. It is within this rejection that Yahweh’s covenantal purposes are preserved, and a theological program for Israel’s king is developed. By examining in detail Yahweh’s speech to David, and David’s response in prayer, the theological program for Israel and her monarch will be made clear. To understand David’s motives for wanting to build the temple, the events in chapter 6 leading up to the forming of the covenant need to be briefly examined.
Chapter 6 records David’s capture of Jerusalem. Jerusalem was a well fortified Canaanite city in the middle of the territory occupied by Israel. Although Jerusalem (or Jebus) had been conquered previously, Israel had failed to eradicate the inhabitants or sufficiently populate it themselves (Joshua 15:8; Judges 1:8; 19:11) thereby allowing it to become a Canaanite stronghold (2 Samuel 5:6). The capture of Jerusalem provided an ideal place for David to rule both northern and southern tribes as opposed to Hebron in the south. The bringing of the ark to Jerusalem was also advantageous in preserving the old traditions, and helped to ensure tribal loyalties. Historical, the ark had been involved with Israel in the wilderness and finding places to ‘rest’ (Numbers 10:33; Deuteronomy 1:32-33). Therefore, the movement of the ark into Jerusalem would have seemed to indicate a new stage of ‘rest’ for Israel (6:12-15).
It is this manifestation of rest which seems to motivate David to want to build a temple (2 Samuel 7:2). Even though his desires are not made explicit in 2 Samuel 7, they are made explicit in 1 Chronicles 28:2 and 2 Chronicles 6:7. Baldwin asserts that it was the monarch’s duty to build a temple for the god – “… anything less would be a snub to the god who had given him his victory.” In this, Gordon says that David wanted “… to crown his external achievements with the erection of the temple to Yahweh who has granted him his victories.” However, the ‘rest’ mentioned in v1 was not permanent, secured ‘rest’. Notably, ‘rest’ in the unsecured sense is mentioned in other parts of Scripture (Joshua 11:23; 14:15). David’s task in this stage of Israel’s history was to make that rest permanent, as would be prophesied in the latter half of Nathan’s oracle.
It is because permanent rest had not been achieved that Yahweh refuses David as he asks the rhetorical question “Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in?” Understood with 1 Chronicles 17:4, the rhetorical question carries with it negative connotations against David, emphasising his inadequacy to build. The answer to Yahweh’s rhetorical question begins in v11b where the theme of ‘house’ is raised again. However, before the answer to the rhetorical question is given, a historical survey is given (vv6-9a), along with a covenantal theology in which the new covenant between Yahweh and David can be set.
Yahweh begins the historical survey by appealing to the fact that he had never dwelt in house, nor had he commanded at any stage for a house to be built (vv6-7). Dumbrell states that “For some, the refusal is a prophetic affirmation of Israel’s conquest faith. The older nomadic faith could not entertain the proposal of a fixed residence for the Deity.” However, such an understanding of the verses fails to take into consideration the entirety of the passage that goes on to anticipate the building of the temple, as Dumbrell goes on to point out (v13). This understanding also ignores Scripture’s great care not to locate God, as such that he may be contained. For instance, while Scripture declares that Yahweh’s throne is in heaven (Psalm 103:19), it also maintains that Yahweh is above heaven (Psalm 8:1; 57:11; 113:4). Therefore, just as the heavens cannot contain Yahweh (1 Kings 8:27; 1 Chronicles 2:6; 6:8) yet his throne is in heaven, so to the enthronement of Yahweh in a temple built by man must be considered.
The problem was not the temple itself. Rather, it was the timing of David’s proposal. Yahweh had not commanded a house to be built because the time had not yet come. Beale, with his theology of temple, perceives before a temple can be built, the opposition must be defeated. Though David had just defeated the Jebusites in chapter 6, there was much more land that needed to be subdued in fulfilment of the Abrahamic Covenant. As noted before, the ‘rest’ mentioned in v1 was only a temporary rest which needed to be made permanent. This is the reason behind the rejection of David which is made clear in other parts of Scripture as being one who was preoccupied by war (1 Kings 5:3; 1 Chroniclers 22:6).
Yahweh then goes to review David’s rise to power (vv8-9a). What is characteristic of these verses, along with the previous verses, is the reoccurrence of the personal pronoun ‘I’ followed by an event that has transpired. In this, Yahweh demonstrates that he is the one who has initiated everything that has happened. None of it can be put down to human initiative. Therefore, neither would the building of the temple come as a result of human initiative. Yahweh would need to initiate the building of the temple, just as he initiated everything else. It is in the following verses that the prerequisites for building are expounded and the program for the continuation of kingship is given.
The prerequisites for the building of the temple are given in vv9b-11. The allusions to the Abrahamic and Sinai covenants by mention of a great name, place and subjugation of enemies incorporate kingship into the covenantal framework. These promises are expounded further by the Psalmist in Psalm 89. The psalmist perceives the implications of what has been promised at this point in the covenant in declaring that Yahweh will sustain him, Yahweh’s anointed, against his enemies and subdue them (vv20-23). The mention of the exaltation of ‘his horn’ (v25) would also appear to be a reference to his strength and reputation. It would be through David that the promise of land given to Abraham would be fulfilled along with the anticipation of security in the Deuteronomic narratives (Deuteronomy 33:28). Through David, Yahweh would bring an end to the afflictions that Israel had suffered from the nation around her (Judges 2:18; 4:3; 6:9; 10:12). That David would be the fulfilment is evidenced by his actions against neighbouring nations, thereby providing national security and laying the foundation for a permanent rest (2 Samuel 8:1-14; 10). Only in such a political climate can consideration be given to the building of the temple as a symbol of permanency.
Having established that the building of the temple will be as a result of Yahweh’s provision, and David’s responsibility is to make the ‘rest’ secure, Yahweh now returns to the question of ‘house’ (or temple. vv11b-16). In addressing the question, Yahweh declares that he will build David a house (v11b). In this, the word ‘house’ is played upon to give it the meaning of ‘dynasty’. Yahweh is indicating that he will build a dynasty, a royal line, for David in contrast to Saul’s whose line was cut short (1 Samuel 13:13-14). David is to have a son, and through this son, Yahweh’s promise to David of a dynasty will be fulfilled. His dynasty will have a permanence that will permit the building of the temple, as Yahweh declares “He is the one who will build a house for my Name…” (v13a)
It is important to pause here and consider the phrase “for my Name”. In this phrase, Yahweh is asserting a correct theology of temple. The temple would not be where Yahweh would dwell. Rather, only his Name would dwell. This expression carries with it connotations of ownership thereby asserting Yahweh’s kingship over the land. Within this understanding, Yahweh’s imminence can co-exist with his transcendence. So much so that Yahweh’s transcendence upon his temple does not always warrant the use of the formula of Yahweh’s Name. For instance, when David’s son, Solomon, built the temple as Yahweh had ordained, he spoke of Yahweh dwelling in the temple, only to later acknowledge the impossibility of Yahweh dwelling in the temple (1 Kings 8:13, 17).
It is also important to consider the identity of David’s offspring (or ‘seed’ AV). As a reader under the covenant of Christ, the references to an everlasting throne and kingdom (vv13, 16), and the relationship between God and David’s offspring (v14), make it easy to the mistake ‘offspring’ is an exclusive reference to Jesus. However, it is difficult to see how the references of wrong doing and punishment apply with this understanding (v14). In Psalm 89, the Psalmist makes references to David’s offspring in plurality and not in the singular – “If his sons forsake my law…” (vv30-32). As Baldwin asserts “… the original implies not one generation but many.” Therefore, ‘offspring’ needs to be understood as David’s descendants collectively, inclusive of Jesus.
The kingdom promised to David’s son is to be an everlasting kingdom (vv14, 16). Initially, this seems to be contrary to the historical reality that the kingdom of Israel divided in 930 B.C., and the fall of Israel in 722 B.C. followed by the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. However, it needs to be understood that what is being promised here in not a continual succession of Davidic kings. Rather, that Yahweh will always maintain the throne of Yahweh. As to what extent Israel’s king will enjoy the blessings of the promise will depend upon obedience (vv14-15).
This aspect of accountability is reinforced by the father/son relationship the king was to enjoy with Yahweh. Again, this incorporates Israel’s kingship further into the Sinai Covenant. Historically, Israel has been addressed as Yahweh’s ‘son’ (Exodus 4:22; Deuteronomy 14:1), and these terms of sonship are now being applied to Israel’s King. Just as Israel was liable to observe the Torah on account of exile (Deuteronomy 28:15, 25; 30:1-5), even though the nation of Israel was a fulfilment of Abrahamic Covenant which was also everlasting (Genesis 17:7), so to will the throne of Israel’s king be everlasting, though the king himself will be punished should he fail to observe the Torah as the Psalmist recognises (Psalm 89:30-32).
It is this aspect of the promise of an everlasting throne that forms the basis for a hope of a return to the Davidic ideals. Despite having been taken into exile, the major prophets anticipated the day when Yahweh will set a descendant of David to rule over Israel (Isaiah 9:7; Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15:16). However, such prophecy is not fulfilled by a King who merely restores the political status of Israel. Rather, the prophecies anticipate Christ who is the fulfilment of all covenantal theology (Matthew 5:17).
In his response in prayer, David recognises the significance of what has been promised him. David understands that the ramifications of what has been promised go far beyond national Israel. In response, David can only awe the magnificence of what Yahweh proposed to do through him, leading up to the perplexing statement “You have spoken also of your servant’s house for a great while to come, and this is instruction for mankind, O Lord God!” (ESV v19).
Psalm 110, which is consistent with the time of David, can be helpful in understanding this verse. The Psalm is introduced as Yahweh speaking to a superior of David (cf. Matthew 22:44-45; Mark 12:36-37; Luke 20:42-44; Acts 2:34-35) who “…will guarantee the political extension of Israel…” in fulfilment of the covenant (Exodus 19:3b-6). In this, the unique and privileged identity of Israel is preserved as Yahweh’s covenant people (vv23-24), along with Yahweh’s kingship of Israel (vv24-26).
The Davidic Covenant therefore addresses the issues that have risen out of a diversion from Yahweh’s kingship to a secular state. The covenant incorporates the secular institution of kingship into the purposes of Yahweh paving the way for the Christ who would fulfil Yahweh’s covenant purposes.
‘Old Testament Chronology’ in The NIV Study Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985.
Anderson, A. A. Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989.
Dumbrell, W. J. Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.
Beale, G. K. The temple and the church’s mission: a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God. New studies in biblical theology, 17. Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004.
Carlson, R. A. David the chosen king: a traditio-historical approach to the second book of Samuel, Stockholm, Sweden: Almvist & Wiksell, 1964.
Dumbrell, W. J. Covenant and creation, Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984.
Dumbrell, W. J. ‘The Davidic Covenant’, The Reformed Theological Journal, 39 May – August 1980, 40-47.
Gordon, Robert P. I & II Samuel: a commentary Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986 Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988.
Soatini, Temanu. ‘The Relationship of the Davidic covenant to the Sinai covenant’. Disservice Exit Thesis. Presbyterian Theological Centre, 1997.
© The Student’s Desk, 2007.
 Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary (Great Britain: Paternoster Press, 1986), 19 Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 230 Joyce Baldwin, Tyndale Old Testament commentaries, 1 and 2 Samuel (Great Britain: Inter-Varsity Press, 1988), 213-214 Robert P. Gordon, I & II Samuel: a commentary, 236
 A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, (United States of America: Word, Inc. 1989), 118
 W. J. Dumbrell, Covenant and creation, (Grand Rapid, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1984), 147
 G. K. Beale, The temple and the church’s mission: a biblical theology of the dwelling place of God. New studies in biblical theology, 17. (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 63-64
 R. A. Carlson, David the chosen king: a traditio-historical approach to the second book of Samuel, (Stockholm, Sweden: Almvist & Wiksell, 1964), 118-119
 A. A. Anderson, Word Biblical Commentary: 2 Samuel, 122
 Joyce Baldwin, 1 and 2 Samuel, 125
 ‘Old Testament Chronology’ in The NIV Study Bible, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1985)
 W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, The Reformed Theological Journal, 39 (May – August 1980), 45
 W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, 46
 W. J. Dumbrell, ‘The Davidic Covenant’, 46