I thought about buying up a bunch of stamps a while ago before the postal rates were set to increase, and I should have done it. The beauty of Forever stamps is that you buy them at the current rate for mailing a first-class letter and they are supposed to be good for mailing a first-class letter forever, no matter how much the price of a first-class stamp increases. But the truth is, I hardly ever mail first-class letters anymore. Most of my communication with people is via e-mail or telephone or cell phone, and I pay most of my bills online. And evidently I’m not alone. Reports are that the US Postal Service is on the brink of bankruptcy. And if that’s the case, maybe their promise of “forever” is really not all that reliable.
Speaking of forever, we’ve all heard the famous line “A diamond is forever.” But is it true? Evidently, for the last twenty-five years a team of scientists have been trying to find out. At a site in central Japan, scientists have been monitoring a huge underground water-filled tank, waiting patiently for signs that all matter eventually decays into sub-atomic dust. Evidently, most theorists believe it will show that protons—the building blocks of every atom—do not last forever but decay into other particles. That would mean nothing made from atoms—not even diamonds—lasts forever.1
The Bible, however, talks about some things that do last forever.
“The steadfast love of the Lord endures forever” (Psalm 136). Forever the Lord will love his own.
“His righteousness endures forever” (Ps. 111:3). Forever God will be doing what is right.
“The faithfulness of the Lord endures forever” (Ps. 117:2). Forever God will do what he has promised to do and be who has promised to be.
“The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever” (Isa. 40:8). Forever God’s Word will have the power to accomplish what it intends. Forever it will prove true.
The apostle John wrote: “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:17). Evidently God intends to share his “foreverness” with those who find their life under his loving rule now. Does this kind of forever sound good to you? Let’s face it; most of us have had experiences that felt like forever that we don’t particularly want to experience again. So before we buy into this forever being offered to us, we want to know what we can expect.
Over three thousand years ago, God put a king on the throne in his city to rule over his people as his representative. The king who sat on this throne was never supposed to be a king like other kings in this world who rule independently and often tyrannically. Unlike any other kingdom and any other throne, this kingdom and this throne were established to last forever. But what does that mean and why does it matter? Here in 2 Samuel, as we look at the king God put on the earthly throne over his people—the throne that was to be an earthy extension of his heavenly throne—we get a glimpse of the forever God intends to give to us. David was the king who was according to God’s own heart, the kind of king God wanted to rule over his people. As we listen in on the promises God made to his king, we’ll discover that these promises shape the forever that God is inviting us into.
The King’s City
David was a teenager when the prophet Samuel anointed him to be king over Israel. Twenty-five years later David was still not ruling on the throne. Instead he had spent those years leading armies into battle and ducking from Saul’s spears and living out in the wilderness and even in foreign countries. Second Samuel picks up the history of Israel immediately after Saul’s death. In chapter 2 we read that David was finally made king of Judah in the south while Ish-bosheth the son of Saul was made king of Israel in the north, a hint of the division in the kingdom that will come later. Second Samuel 3:1 tells us, “There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. And David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker.” All of the people who had followed Ish-bosheth had to decide if they would accept the king that God had chosen and anointed and submit to his rule for their lives (which is really the same decision we have to make). When we come to 2 Samuel 5, we read:
Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “Behold, we are your bone and flesh. In times past, when Saul was king over us, it was you who led out and brought in Israel. And the Lord said to you, ‘You shall be shepherd of my people Israel, and you shall be prince over Israel.’” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron, and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. (vv. 5:1–3)
So then David became king over all twelve tribes. But to effectively rule over all the tribes of Israel, David needed a capital city that would be centrally located amongst the tribes, a city that could become a fortress to withstand attack. And there was such a city. In fact, it had a royal history. A thousand years before the time of David, there was a city called Salem, in which a good king named Melchizedek ruled, who was also a priest of Yahweh (Gen. 14:18). Eventually Salem was taken over by the Jebusites who built a wall around the city and called it Jebus (1 Chron. 11:4). In David’s day, it was a fortress city set on a hill on the border between Judah and Benjamin, just the right location for ruling over all Israel. But there was a problem. Although it had been three hundred years since the Israelites crossed over the Jordan and began possessing the land God had promised to give to them, they still had not taken permanent possession of this great city. But this is now God’s king leading God’s people, and Jerusalem is about to become God’s place, a city that already had been and was going to become even more central to the purposes of God, not only for Israel but for the world, and not just in David’s day but forever.
And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, but the blind and the lame will ward you off”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” Nevertheless, David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David. (2 Sam. 5:6–7)
The stronghold on Mount Zion, one of several mountains in Jerusalem, became the center of David’s kingdom. David established his palace and his center of government there. God established his great king in his great city.
And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him. And Hiram king of Tyre sent messengers to David, and cedar trees, also carpenters and masons who built David a house. And David knew that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for the sake of his people Israel. (2 Sam. 5:10–12)
David was the king, but he clearly didn’t rule like other kings of his day. Rather than ruling as a proud head of state exercising absolute control, David ruled humbly as vice-regent to Israel’s true King, God himself. He used his throne as a pulpit from which to preach God’s rule and reign. “The Lord reigns,” David wrote. “He is robed in majesty; the Lord is robed; he has put on strength as his belt. Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved. Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting” (Ps. 93:1–2).
The King’s Joy
So David was established in Jerusalem. But there was something very important that was not in Jerusalem. It was hidden far away. Decades before, the ark of the covenant had been taken into battle but had been left in the possession of the Philistines. It had been passed around from city to city because every place the Philistines took it got struck with plagues. So finally they took it across the border and left it in someone’s home in Israel. And there it sat for decades. This meant that for decades there was no ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place of the tabernacle for the priests to approach once a year and sprinkle with blood for the forgiveness of the people’s sins. And evidently nobody seemed to care. But David cared.
In their desire for a king, the people of Israel had wanted someone to lead them into battle, and David had proved many times, over his years as a commander under Saul, that he was a great warrior. But David was not only lead warrior for Israel; he was also lead worshiper. This meant that he could not stand for the symbol of God’s active presence with his people to remain far away from Jerusalem, the heart and headquarters of the people of God. David wanted to put God at the center of the city. He wanted God to be at the center of their lives.
The ark represented the throne of God, or more precisely his footstool. When David brought the ark to Jerusalem, it was his way of joining his throne to the throne of God or, more specifically, submitting his throne to the throne of God. The ark of God in the city served as a sign that David, as the king of Israel, was under the authority of the great King, that the Lord was the true king of Israel, not David. Evidently nothing could have made David happier than for his reign to derive its splendor from the presence of the ark of God.
So David had a city and a beautiful house in that city and was enjoying the presence of God with him in that city. The Philistines had been defeated, and peace had broken out all through the kingdom. After all those years of sleeping in caves and hiding from Saul and all the years of sleeping in tents on various battlefields, it must have felt good to wake up every morning in his own bed in his cedar-paneled bedroom. But one day, as David sat on the roof of his luxurious palace overlooking the city, he saw something terribly amiss. He caught a glimpse of the shabby four-hundred-year-old tent that housed the ark of God, the tabernacle. And the stark contrast between his royal dwelling and the rumpled dwelling place of the ark of God was simply embarrassing. David became determined to make things right. He wanted to do something for the God who had done so much for him.
The king said to Nathan the prophet, “See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.” And Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.” (2 Sam. 7:1–3)
There’s no indication that Nathan consulted or inquired of the Lord in this matter, as prophets were always to do before speaking with the authority of God. Evidently Nathan’s first response was not formed by revelation from God but was a common-sense reaction to a good idea presented by someone whom he knew wanted to honor God.
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan, “Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling. In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’” (2 Sam. 7:4–7)
This was the God who comes down to dwell with his people speaking. And as long as his people were wandering, which they had done for many years in the wilderness and throughout the years of taking possession of the land in Israel, he intended to wander with them. As long as they didn’t have fixed security, he was not interested in having a fixed place to dwell. Moses had told the people that when God gave them rest from all their enemies so that they were able to live in safety, then, in the place God chose, God would make his name dwell there (Deut. 12:10–11). And while there was much peace at this point under David’s rule, there were still enemies to be defeated. Only when his people were settled and secure would God be ready to move out of the traveling tent and into a permanent home.
David was about to learn that “sometimes the purposes of God cut right across the desires of our hearts.”2 We have desires for things, and they are good things, even righteous things, and we are so sure that the Lord must have placed those desires in us. But we have to be careful that we are not confusing our desires with God’s direction or intention. Sometimes God says no, not because he wants to deprive us or disappoint us or because what we want is sinful or bad, but because he is working out his plans for the world and for us that we cannot see from our perspective. When God’s purposes cut across our desires, we can be sure that his purposes are better than ours and that his plans for our lives are better than our plans.
The King’s House
Clearly God had a plan for David that exponentially surpassed any plan David could ever have conceived.
Now, therefore, thus you shall say to my servant David, “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth.” (2 Sam. 7:8–9)
God honored the intention of David’s heart with an intention of his own heart, saying in essence to David, “You don’t provide for me; I provide for you.” God doesn’t operate on a quid pro quo basis but only on the basis of grace. If we think God is drumming his fingers, wishing we would come up with something creative to do for him, something impressive or costly, we have not yet understood grace. God was saying, “David, this life with me is not about doing for me; it is about receiving from me.” God reminded David who is taking care of whom. God is going to make David’s name great. And he’s going to do more than that.
Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall 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 forever. I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. (2 Sam. 7:11–15)
When David told God that he wanted to build God a house, he was talking about a temple to house the ark where the priests would offer sacrifices and mediate between God and his people. But God told David he wanted to build David a house. God wasn’t talking about a family dwelling or a temple but about a royal dynasty. The British royal family, for example, is “the house of Windsor.” God was promising David that his descendants would become an enduring dynasty of kings. His descendants would take his place on his throne over Israel.
The King’s Throne
But this wouldn’t be like any other dynasty the world had ever known.
And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever. (2 Sam. 7:16)
If we were identifying on a timeline of history the handful of high points, we would put our pencil point on creation and then go to the promise God made, after Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, of an offspring of the woman who would crush the Serpent’s head; and then we would skip to the promise made to Abraham that all nations would be blessed through him; and then to the time when God brought Israel out of Egypt and through the Red Sea; and then our line would ark toward this day, to these promises made to David. And we would be tracing not only the significant history of the world; we would be discovering what we need most to know about the future of the world. Tracing these significant events marked by promises of blessing would help us to see that the blessing God promised to pour out on the world through Abraham is going to come in the form of a kingdom. A descendant of David is going to be the King of this kingdom. The royal Son of David is going to bless the world by ruling over it for all eternity. That is the future of the world that has been fixed by the one who created and governs this world.
To understand all that God promised here to David, we have to understand that this prophecy did what a lot of prophetic messages in the Old Testament do. It takes an extended series of events and collapses it so that the near and distant events can appear from this vantage point to be only one event. Some aspects of promises and prophecies were fulfilled in Israel’s near future, and other aspects were to be fulfilled over the long-term future.
God promised that he would make David’s name great and give him a place of security for his people, and he did that in David’s day. God promised that he would establish a dynasty from David, that David’s son would sit on his throne and would build a house for God. God did that in Solomon’s day, when Solomon sat on David’s throne and built a temple in Jerusalem. God promised that when David’s son sinned, he would discipline him, which he did with Solomon and the other Davidic kings who followed him. But while the Davidic dynasty lasted longer than any other ancient dynasty—four hundred years—there came a day when there was no son of David sitting on the throne over God’s people in Israel. In fact, there was no throne in Jerusalem and hardly a people—just a small remnant of people worshiping in a tattered temple under the rule of a foreign king. They must have wondered, and we too might wonder, what happened to God’s promise that David’s house, kingdom, and throne would last forever? Was the promise of forever a mirage? A failure?
In Psalm 89, a psalm written long after the days of David when it seemed as if God’s commitment to the reign of his anointed king was in jeopardy, the psalmist asked the wrenching question that was likely on everyone’s mind and in everyone’s heart: “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” (Ps. 89:49). The psalmist was not just lamenting that there was no king and no throne; he was questioning whether God was proving faithful to his promise to David.
But while the psalmists wondered aloud about God’s fulfillment of his promise, they also celebrated their certainty that their true king, God himself, was on his throne. And the prophets continually encouraged the people that God was going to do something in the future to fulfill his promise to David. Isaiah wrote: “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Isa. 11:10). Isaiah was saying that though the seed of David might have gone underground, it had not been cut off for good. Amos spoke for God, saying: “In that day I will raise up the booth of David that is fallen and repair its breaches, and raise up its ruins and rebuild it as in the days of old” (Amos 9:11). Jeremiah prophesied: “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land (Jer. 23:5). The prophet Ezekiel wrote of a day when the exiled people of Israel would be gathered to their own land. “They and their children and their children’s children shall dwell there forever, and David my servant shall be their prince forever” (Ezek. 37:25). And Zechariah seemed to see into the future by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, saying:
Behold, your king is coming to you;
righteous and having salvation is he,
humble and mounted on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey...
and he shall speak peace to the nations;
his rule shall be from sea to sea,
and from the River to the ends of the earth. (Zech. 9:9–10)
Yes, the Old Testament prophets continually called the people of God to hold on to their confidence in the promises God made to David. But then the prophets stopped prophesying. There was only silence—hundreds of years of silence. But just as the death of David and all of his descendants who sat on his throne could not kill the promise, and just as the sin of David and Solomon and all of the other kings could not annul the promise, so time could not exhaust God’s promise. The day came when God sent his angel Gabriel to a young girl living in Israel at a time when a cruel puppet king sat on the throne over Israel. The angel told Mary that she was going to have a son. But this wasn’t going to be just any baby. This was going to be the Son, the King that generations had been longing for and waiting for ever since God made his covenant with David. The angel said:
He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end. (Luke 1:32–33)
When Jesus was born in a stable in Bethlehem, the promise God made to David was fulfilled. Finally, David’s son had come to take David’s throne. When Jesus began his ministry and people saw his miracles, they were so astonished that they said, “Could this be the Son of David?” (Matt. 12:23). And as his ministry continued, more and more people hoped that he really would be a great warrior king like his ancestor David, one who would defeat all of their enemies. Crowds lined the street when Jesus entered into David’s great city, Jerusalem, riding on a donkey, just as Zechariah had prophesied.
So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13)
But Jerusalem did not ultimately receive her King. It became clear that this King did not intend to establish a political kingdom. So instead of receiving him, they rejected him and conspired against him and handed him over to their foreign ruler, the Roman governor Pilate, to be crucified like a criminal. Rather than bowing to their King, they mocked him and spat on him. Instead of putting a crown of honor on his head, they pressed a crown of thorns into his head.
And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands... Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.... Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” (John 19:2–3, 15–16, 19)
All those years of longing and waiting, and when the Son of David came, they didn’t want him. Like the people of Saul’s day who had wanted a warrior king who would lead them into battle, the people of Jesus’s day wanted a warrior king who would free them from the rule of Rome. But Jesus came the first time not as a warrior king but as a shepherd king—a good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep that he might take it up again (John 10:17). Just as God had lifted David from tending sheep in Bethlehem to sit on the throne, so God raised Jesus from the grave to sit on the throne. That’s where he sits now, which is what God had always intended when he put David on the throne. And evidently David knew this. The Holy Spirit revealed to David that the very purpose of David’s ascension to the throne was to establish it for the Christ who would come to reign on it forever. That’s what Peter said in his first sermon at Pentecost:
Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, [David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ.... This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses. Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God.... Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified. (Acts 2:29–36)
Peter made clear that not only had the Son of David come to David’s city, but also, by his resurrection from the dead and his ascension to the right hand of God, he is now seated on David’s throne. And because Jesus lives forever, his throne will last forever.
It wasn’t long after Peter preached at Pentecost that the emperor Domitian sat on the Roman throne and demanded to be addressed as “lord” and “god.” Those, like Peter, who called Jesus “Lord” and “God” were being severely persecuted and put to death. The Roman throne was a source of fear and anxiety as well as of unparalleled suffering. But the apostle John was one of many who just couldn’t keep from talking about his true King, Jesus, and so he was arrested and imprisoned on Patmos. And while he was there, he was invited to see who is truly on the throne of this world, a vision he recorded in Revelation.
I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven.... At once I was in the Spirit, and behold, a throne stood in heaven, with one seated on the throne. (Rev. 4:1–2)
As John peered into the heart of ultimate reality beyond the time and space of this world we live in now, what did he see? Amidst everything else that John saw, what stood out the most, at the center of everything, was a throne. And not just a throne, but an occupied throne, occupied by one who calls himself “the root and the descendant of David” (Rev. 22:16). There on the throne is the one who both preceded David in his deity and descended from David in his humanity.
John wrote about what he saw, pulling back the curtain for us so that we can see what is most important, what really matters. My friends, the centerpiece of heaven is not mansions with many rooms or streets of gold, though the city will be magnificent. The wonder of heaven is not choruses of angels, though they will sound glorious. And I say this gently to those of you, who, like me, look forward with longing to seeing those you love one day in heaven: the most compelling part of heaven will not be seeing those who have gone before us. The centerpiece of heaven, the focal point of this universe, the reality that all of history has been driving toward, is the Son of David on the throne of the universe—ruling and reigning, providing a safe place for his people to rest, giving to them all the benefits of his kingdom, refusing to let anything ever harm them again.
And since Jesus is on the throne, you can stop trying to rule the world. You can stop all of your worrying and your vain attempts to control everything about your life and your family. The one who is seated on the throne is not only able to supply your needs and provide your protection; he has at his disposal everything needed to fulfill all of his promises to you. Because he is on the throne, your joy doesn’t have to be so tied to your circumstances, and your sense of security doesn’t have to be so easily shaken. The Lord reigns.
The latest report on cable news about the state of the world does not define the future. That’s why we probably shouldn’t begin our days with the morning news on the television or radio or Internet. Instead, we should begin in the Word of God. Every day should begin and end by being reminded from the Scriptures: The Lord God Omnipotent reigns. He reigns over my difficult circumstances. He reigns over my ongoing conflict. He reigns over my carefully crafted plans. And he can be trusted. He is a good King.
The Lord who reigns is so good that he actually invites us to approach his throne with the confidence that, when we do, we will not be shamed or condemned or turned away. Instead, we will find grace and mercy. We can pour out all of our concerns to him who sits on the throne, saying, “Jesus, you are king over all of this. Forgive me for feeling so free to question you, blame you, even disregard you. Give me eyes to see you on your throne. Give me a heart willing to trust that you will do what is best. Give me the spiritual strength to bend to your righteous rule in my life. Help me to live out this day in peace, confident that you are on your throne.”
We can live this way today because we know there is a day coming, a day when our ears will hear what John’s ears heard. On that day, we will enter the New Jerusalem. The presence of God will be there radiating the glory that will penetrate into the deepest part of us. There in the center will be the throne occupied by the Son of David. We’ll hear loud voices saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rev. 11:15). And it will be the best news we’ve ever heard.
This world—your world—is not ruled by the forces of random chance. King Jesus is on his throne. And he will reign forever and ever.
Crown Him with many crowns, The Lamb upon His throne.
Hark! How the heav’nly anthem drowns all music but its own!
Awake, my soul, and sing of Him who died for thee,
And hail Him as thy matchless King through all eternity.3
1. Robert Matthews, “Diamonds Aren’t Forever,” Focus, January 17, 2008.
2. Iain Campbell, “Who Am I?,” sermon (Point Free Church, Isle of Lewis, Scotland, October 4, 2009).
3. Matthew Bridges, “Crown Him with Many Crowns,” 1852.
Taken from The Son of David: Seeing Jesus in the Historical Books, by Nancy Guthrie. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.
What kind of king and what kind of kingdom are we asking for when we pray this prayer Jesus taught us to pray? A study of the Old Testament Historical Books—Joshua through Esther—enables us to see the kingdom of God not only as it once was, but also as it is now, and as it will be one day. Over ten weeks of guided study, relevant teaching, and group discussion, seasoned Bible teacher Nancy Guthrie traces the history of the people of God from the time they entered the Promised Land through a series of failed kings, exile, and finally their return to await the true King.