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Monday, September 29, 2014

God's Promise to David

Herbert W. Armstrong and his followers have written extensively about God's promise to King David of an eternal throne. Many of their publications deal with this promise specifically and discuss it within the larger context of the United States and Great Britain in Bible prophecy. In brief, Armstrong taught that the throne of David has continued to exist down through the ages and is currently occupied by Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain. Although Grace Communion International (the former Worldwide Church of God) no longer accepts or teaches this doctrine, many of Armstrong's other followers still embrace it and teach it as part of their evangelistic outreach to the world.

In fact, as someone who formerly belonged to the Worldwide Church and continues to follow developments within that splintered community, I noticed that Gerald Flurry of the Philadelphia Church of God spoke on the subject again in his most recent appearance on their program The Key of David. In the program, Mr. Flurry underscored the central importance of this doctrine to the "descendants" of ancient Israel and the rest of the world. He even went so far as to assert that no other point of doctrine has the ability to reinforce one's faith in God and the Bible like this one! He invited his listeners to study the subject for themselves and receive the blessings that he claimed would be sure to flow from their receipt of this knowledge.

Well, what about these claims? Does Queen Elizabeth II occupy David's throne? Has David's dynasty continued to exist down through the ages to the present day? Did God break his promise to David? Let's take a brief look at the scriptural and historical evidence relative to these questions.

After rejecting David's plans to build a temple, God told Nathan to deliver a special message to the king. We read: "And it shall come to pass, when thy days be expired that thou must go to be with thy fathers, that I will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall be of thy sons; and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build me an house, and I will stablish his throne forever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son: and I will not take my mercy away from him, as I took it from him that was before thee [Saul]: But I will settle him in mine house and in my kingdom forever: and his throne shall be established for evermore." (I Chronicles 17:11-14, KJV, emphasis mine - compare to II Samuel 7:12-16) Notice that, in both of these passages, the promise appears to be without strings or conditions - an unbreakable promise of God.

We can all agree that this message was directed at King David, but who was God talking about in terms of fulfilling this promise to David? Was God talking about Solomon? Was "He" talking about Jesus Christ? Or was he talking about both of them? The context makes clear that the promise was to be fulfilled through an individual male descendant, but this passage alone does not make clear who that person was to be.

Did God ever discuss this promise with Solomon? As a matter of fact, "He" did. When Solomon built and dedicated the Temple for God in Jerusalem, we are informed that God appeared to him during the night and spoke to the young king. (II Chronicles 7:12) We read: "And as for thee, if thou wilt walk before me, as David thy father walked, and do according to all that I have commanded thee, and shalt observe my statutes and my judgments; Then will I stablish the throne of thy kingdom, according as I have covenanted with David thy father, saying, There shall not fail thee a man to be ruler in Israel." (II Chronicles 7:17-18) Notice here that Solomon's participation in the covenant that God had made with his father was conditional. Solomon would only share in that promise if he followed his father's example, followed God's instructions and obeyed God's laws.

What did Solomon do? We read: "For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father. Then did Solomon build an high place for Chemosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is before Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the children of Ammon. And likewise did he for all his strange [foreign] wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed to their gods." (I Kings 11:4-8) So we see that Solomon violated all three of the conditions that God had laid down for his eligibility to participate in the promises that "He" had made to his father David.

As a consequence, the kingdom was divided into two parts [Judah and Israel] upon Solomon's death. (I Kings 12 and II Chronicles 10) Thereafter, all of the kings of Israel were derived from tribes other than the tribe of Judah (David's tribe), which would seem to nullify Jacob's prediction that "the scepter shall not depart from Judah." (Genesis 49:10) Moreover, the Kingdom of Israel was eventually destroyed by the Assyrians (II Kings 17 & 18); and the Kingdom of Judah was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians (II Kings 25). In fact, we are told that Zedekiah [the last King of Judah] was forced to witness the execution of ALL of his sons before having his eyes gouged out and being carried away to imprisonment in Babylon. (II Kings 25:7)

Now how do we reconcile that with what we read in the eighty-ninth psalm? In speaking of David, Ethan wrote: "My mercy will I keep for him for evermore, and my covenant shall stand fast with him. His seed also will I make to endure forever, and his throne as the days of heaven. If his children forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments; If they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments; Then will I visit their transgression with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes. Nevertheless my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever as the moon, and as a faithful witness in heaven." (Psalm 89:28-37) Now that seems like a pretty air-tight promise or covenant to me - something that doesn't give God any wiggle room! So, I ask again, how do we reconcile that with the destruction of David's dynasty that is clearly recorded in the books of II Kings and II Chronicles?

Herbert Armstrong claimed that the prophet Jeremiah took one of Zedekiah's daughters to Ireland and arranged for her to marry one of the tribal kings on that island. Leaving aside the question of whether such myths and legends can or should be trusted, wouldn't such an arrangement still violate the terms of the Davidic covenant? After all, the princess was not a prince and she did not reign in her own right - her husband was the king. Hence, even if we concede that their son reigned after them, wouldn't that suggest that one Davidic generation had been skipped? And what about the years in between Zedekiah's fall and his daughter's marriage to the Irish king? What about the women who have occupied the Scottish and English thrones since then? Didn't the scripture indicate that David's son(s) would reign on his throne? What about the period known to history as the Interregnum [meaning between the reigns]? There were over eleven years [1649-1660] between the execution of Charles I and the accession of his son [Charles II] to the throne of England. In the intervening years, England was ruled by the Lord Protector as a Commonwealth or Republic.

In the light of this claim about the prophet Jeremiah, it is interesting to note what that prophet had to say about this whole affair. We read: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah. In those days, and at that time, will I cause the Branch of righteousness to grow up unto David; and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land...For thus saith the Lord; David shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel...If ye can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, and that there should not be day and night in their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David my servant, that he should not have a son to reign upon his throne..." (Jeremiah 33:14-21) In other words, Jeremiah clearly points to the Messiah as the fulfillment of this promise to David!

This message is further reinforced by what the other prophets wrote about the Messiah. Isaiah wrote: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder...of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to order it, and to establish it with judgment and with justice from henceforth even forever. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this." (Isaiah 9:6-7) Likewise, we read: "And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse [David's father], and a Branch shall grow out of his roots...But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth...And righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins, and faithfulness the girdle of his reins...They shall not hurt nor destroy in all my holy mountain: for the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord...And in that day there shall be a root of Jesse, which shall stand for an ensign of the people; to it shall the Gentiles seek: and his rest shall be glorious." (Isaiah 11:1-10) Finally, in the book of Amos, we read: "In that day will I raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen, and close up the breaches thereof; and I will raise up his ruins, and I will build it as in the days of old..." (Amos 9:11) One question here: If David's dynasty continued to exist after its fall, then why would there be any need to someday resurrect it in this fashion?

This interpretation of these prophecies is further reinforced by the New Testament. We read in "The Gospel According to Matthew" that Jesus Christ was the son of David. (Matthew 1:1 & 16) Indeed, Christ is referred to as the "son of David" throughout the pages of this account of his life. When the angel Gabriel announced Christ's birth to his mother Mary, we are told that he said: "Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name Jesus. He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Highest: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: And he shall reign over the house of Jacob forever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end." (Luke 1:30-33) The Gospel of Luke also includes another genealogical table demonstrating Christ's connection to King David. (Luke 3:23-31) And, since the gospels all make clear that Jesus was a Jew, Jacob's prediction about the scepter never departing from Judah would also be fulfilled through Christ.

Hence, to suggest that God's promise to David was fulfilled through Solomon (or by any other physical means) seems almost blasphemous to this writer. To me, Scripture (both Old and New Testament) makes very plain that Jesus Christ is considered by God to be the fulfillment of "His" covenant with David. What do you think?

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