YOUR SHARE IN GOD'S PROMISES (3)
God’s oath to Israel
At Mount Sinai, the angel of the Lord made another covenant, this time with the whole people of Israel. Sealed by the blood of sacrifices, it gave them the key to the land of Israel, so long as they kept the wise commandments of God’s Law. Years later, as they stood on the brink of the Promised Land, Moses reminded them that God, after hundreds of years, was about to keep His word. “It is because the LORD loves you, and because he would keep the oath which he swore to your fathers, the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand … Therefore know”, he went on, “that the LORD your God, he is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and mercy for a thousand generations with those who love him and keep his commandments” (Deuteronomy 7:8,9).
That was a staggering statement to make. A typical generation spans something like a quarter of a century. A thousand generations would require up to 25,000 years of promise-keeping! So utterly reliable is God’s word. Certainly a number of God’s promises came unshakeably true, as the Israelites crossed the Jordan for the hills and pastures of their Fatherland.
We pass over several hundred fairly unfruitful years to the time of Israel’s monarchy. King David, well known for his authorship of the Psalms, was, like Abraham, a giant of faith. Something of his love for God and his insistence on truth and right comes out in his writings. Abraham is often referred to in scripture as “the friend” of God. David was called by the Lord “a man after my own heart”. Both epithets mark off these men as exceptional characters.
During the wilderness journey and their subsequent occupation of the land, the Israelites had worshipped God at the tabernacle, a tent-like portable building. Now the nation was firmly established with a king and a capital at Jerusalem, David felt it would be a good idea to build for the Lord a more permanent sanctuary of stone. When he suggested this to the prophet Nathan, he was disappointed to be told that the project must be shelved until his son came to the throne. However, said Nathan, the Lord was touched by David’s concern for His honour, and in return He proposed a magnificent promise for David and his family, very like the one made with Abraham.
The covenant with King David
In fact it was so solemn a promise, it is referred to as the covenant with David. And like the promises to Abraham, it combined plain, practical ideas with cryptic statements that must have puzzled David for years. Here is a sample, taken from 2 Samuel 7: “The LORD tells you”, said Nathan, “that he will make you a house” (verse 11). It sounded an odd statement, for it was David who wanted to build God a house. But as the prophet continued, it became obvious that the Lord had in mind a different kind of house: “I will set up your seed after you, who will 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 for ever” (verses 12,13).
So far, the promise could fit neatly David’s son Solomon, who succeeded him on the throne. But God continued, “I will be his Father, and he shall be my son” (verse 14). Here was a poser. How could the person referred to be David’s son, and yet have God for his father as well? It was very mysterious. The climax of the promise came at the end: “Your house and your kingdom shall be established for ever … your throne shall be established for ever” (verse 16). The house of David was clearly his family or dynasty.
But what a promise – to have your family line guaranteed a continuous succession to the throne, not just for a hundred years, but for ever! It was a covenant David rejoiced over for the rest of his life: “I will sing of the mercies of the LORD”, he writes in Psalm 89. “My covenant I will not break”, God had insisted, “Once I have sworn by my holiness; I will not lie to David. His seed shall endure for ever, and his throne as the sun before me” (verses 1,34-36).
Once more, God had made a promise which, upon His honour, He could not break, and King David, like Abraham, died believing the eternal God would keep His word.
We must press on quickly now through five more centuries, pursuing the drama of what the Apostle Peter calls God’s “exceedingly great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4). It is a trail with a happy ending.
The restoration promises
David’s son Solomon did build a house for God, a magnificent and costly temple at Jerusalem that stood for hundreds of years. When he died, a tragic civil war divided the country, and the nation was ruled by two rival kings. As time passed, the spiritual vigour of the people declined and God’s laws fell into disuse. There were revivals from time to time, mainly amongst the tribes of Judah and Benjamin who retained the temple and the capital Jerusalem. But slowly moral standards declined, and God’s patience became exhausted. Israel’s right to the land depended on their obedience to Him, and they had flagrantly broken the terms of their tenancy. This was the era of the prophets. True to His name, the Lord showed infinite compassion, raising up special messengers, inspired by the Holy Spirit to warn the people that the way they were following would lead to disaster.
The warnings had no effect. Eventually the ten tribes were invaded by the Assyrians and deported bodily from the land, to be followed a century and a half later by the two tribes, taken away to Babylon. It really looked like the end. As the beautiful temple was burnt and the palace destroyed, Zedekiah, the nineteenth king to sit on David’s throne, was blinded and taken captive, never to return. What of the promise to Abraham that his descendants would possess the land? And how about the covenant to David that there would always be someone to occupy his throne? Had God forgotten His promise? Or worse, was He less powerful than the heathen gods of Babylon? The people badly needed guidance.
In that very hour, when Israel’s light seemed to be flickering out, astonishingly, there came the most tremendous outpouring of promises from the lips of the prophets. They insisted the calamities that had come were not accidental, but were the judgement of God. There could be no escape from punishment. But still, in the future, there was hope. The nation would not die out. There would be a king to reign on David’s throne. And one day God would send them Messiah, a mighty deliverer, who would bring them back to the land they had left and rule over them in peace for ever.
David M Pearce
(to be continued)