Under the Theocracy the Jews were put in training for a higher stage of God's gracious revelation. The covenant relation established at Sinai was not the end, but a means to the end, — a preparatory step in the spiritual education of the people. When through the law, with its sacrificial and cleansing rites, they had come to a deeper knowledge of sin, and ardent longings had been awakened in them for higher degrees of holiness; when through the teaching of God they had learned in some measure His purpose in redemption, and were taught to render Him due obedience, — then they were prepared for a new revelation of Himself to be made in the Messianic Kingdom. Thus the Theocracy and the Messianic Kingdom stood to one another in very close moral relations. If the former failed of its purpose, if those under the law were not convinced of sin, if they were not taught obedience, if they were not made holy in heart and righteous in life, then could there be no true desire for the larger spiritual blessings which the latter would bring. Only those faithful under the Theocracy could be ready for the Messianic Kingdom; only as having the end of their calling in view, — that God might be sanctified through them in the eyes of all nations, — would they press on to reach it; only to the faithful could it be an object of hope.
We are to note that this preparation under the Theocracy must be a national preparation. The covenant was with the nation as such, and the end to be attained could be attained only through a nation. If the people, represented in their heads and rulers, sinned against Jehovah, and did not keep His statutes, His judgments upon them were not individual, but national, their end being to effect national repentance. If this was not effected, and individuals only were made repentant, it would not avail, since it was not as a ruler over individuals, but as seated on David's throne, and ruling over a holy people, that the Messiah could manifest Himself to the nations.
Thus the Jews as a people were put on trial whether they would or would not go on with God in His purpose, step by step, as He revealed it to them; and be found a people prepared when the appointed time of the Messianic Kingdom should come. The end for which God had chosen them was set before them, — to be "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation," — and it was their duty to press on from the lower to the higher, that His purpose in their calling might be accomplished.
As every new step which God takes in the execution of His work in redemption is a fresh test of the faith and obedience of His children who are workers together with Him, so was it in the Messianic covenant with David. Through this His people were put in a new position, and brought under new obligations. He would have the Messianic kingdom to be distinctly set before them, and its vision to inspire them to the more diligent discharge of present duties. Faithful use of all existing means of preparation alone could make them ready for the Messiah. It has been already noted, that for a long period after David there was little apprehension of His purpose in the election of the kingly family. Some there doubtless were in every generation who discerned that purpose, who saw clearly the relation of the present to the future, and knew that the new Kingdom could not come without greater faith and obedience and holiness. It was impossible for the people to stand still: they must go forward or backward. Whether they would go on to fulfill Jehovah's purpose in their election, or sink down from one stage of spiritual declension to another, and end in general apostasy, was to be determined by their own free action.
As the nation was on trial through the election of the house of David, so also was the royal family. Since the Messiah was to come of the Davidic line, a special responsibility lay upon its members ever to remember their high calling, and to keep themselves holy unto the Lord. As the high-priestly house of Aaron was to be most zealous and diligent in fulfilling His will in its sphere of worship, so was it to be with the kingly house of David in its sphere of rule. If its heads — the kings and princes — failed to recognize their relations to Jehovah as His servants; if they were not obedient to Him; if they abused their office, and were selfish, oppressive, cruel; and, above all, if they permitted or encouraged idolatry, — then would they most effectually oppose and hinder the Divine purpose, and expose themselves and the people to severest judgments. But if they were faithful in their place, trusting in Jehovah and serving Him, examples of obedience to the people, then would they be efficient helpers in preparing the way for His coming, whom God would set on His holy hill of Zion.
Thus with the Davidic covenant, the Jews, headed up in their king, entered upon a new stage, civil and religious, of their history. For this God had prepared them by a wonderful revival of spiritual life in the time of the prophet Samuel. Never had there been in the nation such energy and fullness of prophetic utterance, in which the kings themselves participated. All external circumstances were favorable to make the reign of David the starting-point of a new and glorious development. The conquest of Canaan, begun under Joshua, was now finished; the people had taken full possession of the land; and there were no enemies, far or near, to molest or make them afraid. And within the nation there was peace. Through the building of the temple, worship was celebrated in its completest and noblest forms. Jerusalem had become the holy city, where Jehovah dwelt and manifested His glory, and by the morth of many prophets He declared His will.
It only remained that both king and people should walk in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless, and await in hope the coming of the Messiah. That David himself felt the responsibility of his position and its high dignity, is shown in his history, and especially by his words in Psalm ci., which is generally ascribed to him: "I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way. . . . Mine eyes shall be upon the faithful <J the land, that they may dwell with me."