The Global Message of 2 Samuel

Second Samuel in Redemptive History

The reign of King David in 2 Samuel represents a breakthrough in God’s plan to redeem the world. The covenants that God had already made with his people, first with Abraham (Gen. 12:1–3; 15:1–21; 17:1–21) and then with Israel (Exodus 19–24), culminate in God’s promise to give David an eternal kingdom (2 Sam. 7:8–16). The later kings of Israel and Judah will be far from perfect—their unrighteousness eventually leads to God’s punishment through exile to a foreign land. But God’s promise of an eternal kingdom means that David’s family will ultimately bring a worldwide blessing for all peoples, most notably in the last and greatest Son of David, Jesus Christ.

The Israelites asked for a king. That was what they got. But their kings were plagued with the same fundamental problem that afflicted the people—sin. What the people needed most desperately was not a king to reign over them as a fellow sinner and to lead them to victory over other nations. What they needed was a king to lead them in victory over sin itself, and to bring that victory to other nations.

Blessing the Nations

The covenant with Abraham. God’s covenants with Abraham and Israel paved the way for his covenant with David. Back before Abraham’s time, rebellious humanity had plotted to “make a name for ourselves” (Gen. 11:4). Such sinful rebellion was thwarted when God chose an unlikely man, Abraham, and sent him on a rather different road to greatness: “I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing” (Gen. 12:2). God planned to bless Abraham so that he would be the channel through whom “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Gen. 12:3). The Abrahamic commission to bless the world is later extended to Abraham’s descendants, Israel, a people chosen by God to be “a kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6). Thus the covenant God made with Israel at Sinai commissions a people who will mediate between a righteous God and a sinful world.

The covenant with David. The Davidic covenant joins together the ideas of divine election, kingship, priesthood, and blessing for the nations, all of which are found in God’s earlier covenants with Abraham and Israel. After God has given rest from Israel’s enemies (2 Sam. 7:1), King David desires to build God a “house” (7:2), that is, a temple like those of other deities in the ancient world. But the God of Israel does not need such a house, since his presence is not confined to a single place (7:4–7). As in the promises to Abraham, God promises David a “great name” (7:9; compare Gen. 12:2) through building him a “house” (2 Sam. 7:11–12)—that is, an eternal kingdom through David’s descendants (7:13). Unlike other kings, the “house” of David will remain even when his descendants fall into sin. God will forgive them and establish this dynasty forever (7:14–17).

Understanding the global significance of God’s promises to him, David responds with words of gratitude and amazement (2 Sam. 7:18–29). This guarantee of a future dynasty must serve as “instruction for mankind” (7:19), a truth that all nations must know (see also 22:50–51). David receives “greatness” (7:21) so that he might declare to the nations that God is “great” (7:22). The mighty God who promises David a “great name” (7:9) has been working since the days of the exodus to make a name for himself among the nations of the world (7:23, 26).

A Sure Promise

David’s sin. God’s promise of an everlasting kingdom is quickly jeopardized by the sinful behavior of David and the later kings of Israel and Judah. David commits adultery with Bathsheba and then manipulates the death of her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11–12). David’s son Absalom attempts to seize the throne (chs. 13–18). Solomon walks away from God, and the Davidic kingdom splits in two (1 Kings 11–12). And the last of numerous evil Davidic rulers, King Zedekiah, is taken into exile when Jerusalem is destroyed by Babylon (2 Kings 25). Kingship, then, appears to work out poorly in the long run for God’s people. Yet David could assert at the end of his life that God would preserve his throne forever: “He has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure” (2 Sam. 23:5). But how can David’s royal line endure in light of his family’s tendency to rule sinfully like other earthly kings?

The Messiah’s suffering. The answer lies in the way the Bible speaks of the coming Messiah more broadly than as a Davidic king of military power. For all his virtues, David was typical among ancient rulers for maintaining his kingdom with military might (e.g., see 2 Sam. 22:35, 38). The New Testament transforms the expectation of a coming king by joining the military dimensions of Davidic kingship with other messianic foreshadowings such as the “suffering servant” of Isaiah 40–55. Jesus is not only a king who will one day rule over his enemies in perfect justice. He is also a king who suffers for the sake of God’s people (Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:33–34). Indeed, Jesus’ “weakness” in suffering is precisely what overcomes the powers of the world and crowns him as the rightful king (Phil. 2:5–11; Col. 2:14–15). The cross of Jesus redefines true greatness.

The Global Message of 2 Samuel for Today: True Kingship

In his suffering, then, Jesus Christ is crowned as the last and greatest king, fulfilling the Davidic covenant. It is in Jesus that God’s promise of an eternal kingdom is fulfilled. Yet this promise is clinched in two stages. His first crowning as a suffering king occurs through his death on the cross in the middle of history (Matt. 27:29; Mark 15:12–13; John 19:19). His second crowning as a triumphant king will occur when Jesus returns to earth at the end of history to claim and vindicate his own people, a people from every tribe and language and people group (Rev. 5:5, 9).

Around the globe today, many different forms of government exist. Some are more healthy than others. Leaders within various governmental systems vary widely in terms of integrity, virtue, and wisdom. Throughout the world, believers are to submit to the government God has placed over them (Rom. 13:1–7; 1 Pet. 2:13–17), while always remembering that their first loyalty is to God (Acts 4:19–20; 5:29).

We must work for justice and peace in the various governments that are over us, yet not place our final hope in human government. Whatever the specific political situation of global believers, we take heart in the hope of a coming leader and king who will reign one day in perfect integrity, virtue, and wisdom. This is the final Son of David, Jesus himself. “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and uphold it with justice and with righteousness” (Isa. 9:7).