The next few hundred years were very eventful for the descendants of Abraham. In the days of Jacob, Abraham's grandson, there was a severe famine over all the region of the eastern Mediterranean, and Jacob (Israel), with eleven of his sons and their wives and children, about 70 people in all, migrated from Canaan down to the land of Egypt. One of the sons, Joseph, had already gone into Egypt and had risen to become the king's prime minister. Due to the God-given foresight of Joseph, there was enough stored grain to tide the people over the effects of the famine.
After the drought was over the Children of Israel, as they were now called, remained in Egypt and under the care of Joseph grew so numerous that the Egyptians began to see them as a threat to the security of the country. After Joseph's death the policy towards the Israelites changed and they were forced to become slaves of the Pharaohs, suffering extremes of bondage and hardship as they built cities for the prestige and aggrandisement of their masters.
The second book of the Bible describes their deliverance from this bondage. God caused a series of dire plagues to come on the Egyptians with the effect that the slaves were freed, and they left the country under the leadership of Moses.
By God's direction Moses led this multitude of liberated slaves into the wilderness and they encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai. In a dramatic and frightening manifestation God
demonstrated to them His presence and invited them to become His own special people:
have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I
bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto myself.
Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and
keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar (i.e.
special) treasure unto me above all people: for all
the earth is mine: and ye shall be unto me a kingdom
of priests, and an holy nation(Exodus 19:4-6).
So at Sinai the children of Israel became God's own people. He was their King, and thus they became the Kingdom of God.
After journeying for some time through the wilderness between Egypt and Canaan, the new nation of Israel conquered the land in which their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had once been merely nomads. For the first few centuries after their conquest of the promised land they were ruled by non-hereditary rulers known as judges, but eventually at their request God permitted them to be ruled on His behalf by a king like all the surrounding nations. At this point in their history we are about 900 years on from the time of Abraham, and in the records of these early kings we see again the golden thread of the Kingdom of God.
The first king, Saul, did not prove very suitable, but David, his divinely chosen successor, put the kingdom on a sound military, economic and religious basis. It was to David that God revealed yet more about His plan with the earth and mankind, centred on the establishment of the Kingdom of God.
THE MAN AFTER GOD'S OWN HEART
David's excellent character is summed up by God's own description of him:
have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine
own heart(Acts 13:22).
Like his forefather Abraham, David possessed the outstanding quality of trust in God. This was demonstrated by his notable victory over the giant Goliath. This same bravery and trust endeared him to the people, and when Saul was killed in battle David was the popular choice to succeed to the throne of Israel. One of his first acts was to make Jerusalem his capital city, where he built himself a palace, from which he directed a series of campaigns that brought all the surrounding nations into subjection to him.
Throughout his life David had been concerned about the most sacred object Israel possessed-the Ark of the Covenant. This gold covered wooden chest with arching cherubic figures was the symbol of God's presence in the midst of His nation. David had brought the Ark into his new capital city, and housed it in temporary accommodation in a special tent. The king desired to build a suitably glorious edifice for this most holy piece of furniture. It did not seem right that he lived in a palace whilst God's emblem remained in a tent.
He expressed his concern to the prophet Nathan:
now, I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of
God dwelleth within curtains(2 Samuel 7:2).
The same night God gave Nathan a message for the king. David was not to build a house for God: rather God would build a house for David!
GOD'S PROMISE TO DAVID
Next morning Nathan came to the king with details of the divine promise:
the Lord telleth thee that he will make thee an house.
And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep
with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee,
which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will
establish his kingdom.
He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever.
I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: but my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee.
And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever(vv11- 16).
David immediately realised that this was a great and far-reaching promise that extended well beyond the immediate future. His first reaction was to seek God to thank Him for His kindness toward him:
am I, O Lord God? and what is my house, that thou
hast brought me hitherto? And this was yet a small
thing in thy sight, O Lord God; but thou hast spoken
also of thy servant's house for a great while to
THE PROMISE TO DAVID SUMMARISED
When we examine the promise in detail, we can see why David felt himself so honoured. God had pledged that:
- David would be the founder of a royal house, or dynasty, that would continue for ever.
- David's throne and kingdom would continue for ever.
- He would have a seed or descendant that would reign on his throne and over his kingdom, also for ever.
- This son would build God's House.
- He would also be the son of God.
WAS THE SON SOLOMON?
David was succeeded by his son Solomon who thus did reign on David's throne. He also built a temple or house for God (1 Kings 2:12; 6:1). Can it be said therefore that the promise was fulfilled by Solomon's reign?
The answer must be
No. Solomon provided a foretaste
of the fulfilment of the promise, just as the nation
of Israel had been a limited fulfilment of the promise
to Abraham, but in no sense could he be said to have
reigned for ever over the kingdom of David. This
is confirmed when we find that long after Solomon had
died, the realisation of the promise to David was still
THE HOPE OF THE PROPHETS
A look at subsequent books of the Old Testament shows that the coming of a son of David to reign for ever on his father's throne was the predominant expectation of the Jews. These words of Isaiah which date from about three hundred years after David are an example:
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 for ever. The zeal of the Lord
of hosts will perform this(Isaiah 9:6-7).
If you refer back to God's statement of His promise to
David you will see that the prophet is here repeating
the very terms of the promise.
throne of David,
his kingdom, and
for ever, were all part of the divine message
that Nathan relayed to the king.
A little later in his prophecy Isaiah again alludes to this future ruler, using the metaphor of a branch of a tree:
shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots(Isaiah
Jesse was the father of David, so the branch growing from him is a clear reference to David's future son who, as the passage goes on to describe, will be a righteous ruler, bringing blessing to the whole world.
The next prophet, Jeremiah, lived at a sad time for the Jewish nation. Four hundred years after the time of faithful David the successors to his throne had deserted the worship of the true God for the idols of the surrounding nations. Time after time God had sent his inspired messengers to them, but they failed to respond. So God was about to punish them by temporarily bringing the kingdom of David to an end. All the might of the Babylonian army under its king Nebuchadnezzar was directed against Jerusalem, and Jeremiah records some of the horrors of the three year siege. Wooden towers were built around the city so as to command the walls, and huge battering rams pounded at the gates. Inside the city king Zedekiah, the last descendant of David to sit on his throne, presided over a city weakened by famine and disease, and it was obvious that the end of the kingdom was near.
At this time of despair God gave Jeremiah a message of hope. He had not forgotten His pledge to David, and despite the present appearances He would one day keep His word. Using the same figure as Isaiah, a branch, God assured him of the ultimate fulfilment of His promise:
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. In
those days shall Judah be saved, and Jerusalem shall
dwell safely(Jeremiah 33:14-16)
And to emphasise the certainty of this promise to David, God went on to give a guarantee that cannot possibly fail:
saith the Lord; 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
Two and a half thousand years later, each morning's sunrise is an assurance that God will not forget His promise to David.
UNTIL HE COME WHOSE RIGHT IT IS
Far away in Babylon, where some Jewish captives had already been taken, the prophet Ezekiel waited anxious weeks for news of Jerusalem's siege. He too had a message from God, this time for the evil king Zedekiah. He predicted the overthrow of David's throne and kingdom, but like Jeremiah, he also looked to the time when David's promised son would reign:
thou, profane wicked prince of Israel, whose day is
come, when iniquity shall have an end, Thus saith
the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the
crown: this shall not be the same .... I will overturn,
overturn, overturn, it; and it shall be no more, until
he come whose right it is; and I will give
it him (Ezekiel 21:25-27).
So the silver lining to this dark cloud hanging over the
kingdom of David was that its overthrow was only to
be temporary. When
He whose right it is
comes-the son promised to David-then God will give the
kingdom to him.
So far we have looked at the two great promises to the Jewish 'fathers', Abraham and David, and seen that both of them foretold the coming of an outstanding man who would bring a time of blessing for Israel and the world. This person would possess the earth, and rule over mankind whilst sitting on the restored throne of David in Jerusalem. It was the custom in those days, as it is now, to initiate rulers by an anointing ceremony. This future ruler was therefore called by them 'The Anointed One', or in Hebrew the 'Messiah'. The belief in the coming Messiah was the very foundation of the original Jewish hope. The Messiah is also referred to in the New Testament but by the time this section of the Bible was written, Greek was the common language, so the equivalent term in the New Testament is the 'Christ'.
Long dark ages of captivity followed the end of the Jewish kingdom, and although after 70 years some Jews returned to their land, it was only to be ruled by foreigners. Throughout all this time they still looked forward to the coming of the promised Messiah to re-establish David's throne in Jerusalem, to deliver them from their enemies and to bless them in the various ways that all their prophets had foretold.
So we come to the opening of New Testament times.
JESUS WAS THE MESSIAH
In view of this grand Old Testament theme of the coming of the Messiah, or the Christ, how significant are the opening words of the New Testament:
book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son
of David, the son of Abraham(Matthew
Could anything be clearer? Matthew was in effect saying to
the Jews of his day:
You are looking for the Messiah,
the son promised to Abraham and David? Then here
The splendid theme of the coming of the Messiah to establish the Kingdom of God on earth continues unchanged as we go from the Old Testament to the New. Having traced the golden thread through Genesis, Samuel and the books of the Prophets we now see it again in the incidents connected with the birth of Jesus.
THE ANGEL GABRIEL'S MESSAGE TO MARY
About the time of the birth of Jesus there was a general air of expectancy among Jewish people. Many of them knew such Bible predictions as the prophecy of the seventy weeks which we considered in chapter 4, and they understood that the coming of their Messiah could be at any time. No doubt there were many young women who day-dreamed that they would become the mother of the one who would restore the fortunes of Israel. But they realised that the choice for such an honour would fall upon one of a fairly small group of maidens. Whilst all Jewesses were daughters of Abraham they were not all in the line of David through whom the Messiah was to come.
We do not know if Mary, who was directly descended from king David, ever entertained thoughts like these, but we cannot doubt her immense surprise when the angel Gabriel suddenly appeared to her with startling news:
thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee:
blessed art thou among women .... Fear not, Mary;
for thou hast found favour with God. And, behold,
thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a
son, and shalt call his name JESUS(Luke 1:28-31).
Gabriel went on to describe the mission God had ordained for this child, but before quoting his words I would like to remind you of the main provisions of the promise to David. God told him that he would have a descendant who would:
Reign on David's throne.
Rule over the kingdom of Israel for ever.
Be the son of God.
Keeping these in mind, and remembering that the alternative name for Israel is Jacob, now read the words of Gabriel. Can there be any doubt that they refer to the promise to David?
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 for ever; and of his kingdom there
shall be no end(vv32-33).
It would be difficult to put the promise to David more succinctly, and Gabriel told Mary that her son was to be the one through whom it would be fulfilled.
We can imagine the excitement among God-fearing Jews at the birth of Jesus. Now at last were the promises to Abraham and David about to be accomplished! After centuries of expectation and longing, the hope of all faithful Israelites was about to become a reality! This is how Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist, assessed the situation. His words embrace all the sources of information in the Old Testament that we have examined in learning about the coming Kingdom of God:
be the Lord God of Israel; for he hath visited and
redeemed his people, and hath raised up an horn of
salvation for us in the house of his servant David;
as he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets,
which have been since the world began: that we should
be saved from our enemies, and from the hand of all
that hate us; To perform the mercy promised to our
fathers, and to remember his holy covenant; the oath
which he sware to our father Abraham
Our studies in this chapter lead us inescapably to the conclusion that thirty years later, when Jesus set out on his mission of preaching, he did so as the long expected Jewish Messiah who would fulfil the promises to Abraham and David. He was believed to be the one who would convert into glorious reality the predictions of the Old Testament prophets concerning the Kingdom of God.