Theology

A Royal Story: Kingship Development in Samuel-Nehemiah & Luke/Acts

How does kingship/kingdom develop throughout the Bible, particularly in the historical books of Samuel through Nehemiah[1] and in the person and work of Christ Jesus?  A critical aspect of this analysis involves the question of the legitimacy of kingship in the nation of Israel, as there appears to be both pro-monarchical and anti-monarchical perspectives in 1 Samuel.[2]  Is this the result of different sources or editors of the biblical text, or can this seeming contradiction be explained in a simpler manner that demonstrates intra-textual consistency?  I argue for the latter position.  Additionally, I look at the nature of the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel, as to whether or not it is conditional or unconditional, or both.  Finally, I consider the significance of this development of kingship/kingdom in the person and work of Christ, and how this fulfillment applies to the ministry of the Church.

Kingship in the Historical Books

Chapters 8-15 of 1 Samuel describe both the beginning of Israel’s monarchy and God’s rejection of Israel’s first king, Saul.[3]  The remaining chapters focus on David’s rise as king and Saul’s demise.[4]  Chapters 1-7 of 2 Samuel describe David officially becoming king after Saul’s death and the struggle he had with the house of Saul.[5]  What is more, Chapter 7 records God’s covenant with David, promising that his house and kingdom will be established forever (vv. 12-17).  The remaining chapters, more or less, are accounts of David’s spotty record as king.[6]  Following is a brief analysis of these royal developments.

Samuel and his two sons, Joel and Abijah, were the last of Israel’s judges.  Whereas Samuel was a faithful judge, his sons “did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain,” taking bribes and perverting justice (1 Sam. 8:3).  Samuel’s old age and the injustice of his sons led the people of Israel to ask for a king to judge them like the other nations (8:4-5).  Their request certainly sounds reasonable, does it not?  After all, God had earlier given permission to Israel for a king, so long as the king was chosen by God, was an Israelite, and did not acquire many horses, wives, or gold and silver for himself (Deut. 17:14-17).  Additionally, the promise of a royal line – “kings shall come from you” – is bound up in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 17:6).  Yet, we are told that Samuel was displeased with Israel’s request for a king, and God Himself says that their request demonstrates their rejection of Him as king over them (1 Sam. 8:6-7).  The key to answering this seeming contradiction is found later in 1 Sam. 8: “But there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, and that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles” (vv. 19b-20).  In other words, although God had called them to be a holy nation (e.g. Ex. 19:6; Lev. 20:26; Deut. 7:6) – separate from the nations – they wanted to be like the nations.  Although God had previously gone before Israel and fought for them (Deut. 1:30; Josh. 10:14), now His people are saying they want a human king to go before them and fight for them, just like all the other nations.  In short, instead of trusting in the strong arm of the Lord, they began to trust in the fleshly arm of man.  It is not that God had not promised them a king; it is that they wanted to bring it about in their timing and their way.

The next major developments in Israel’s kingship are David’s anointment as king when God rejects Saul (1 Sam. 16), David officially ruling as king in Judah (2 Sam. 2) and Israel (2 Sam. 5), and, perhaps climactically, the covenant God makes with David in 2 Samuel 7.  Let us briefly consider this Davidic Covenant.

Whereas David desired to build God a house (i.e. temple), God says that He will build a house for David, meaning a dynasty.  The Hebrew bayit is used in both instances, drawing out the different usages of the word.[7]  Of special note is verse 15 where God promises to show steadfast love to David’s son in a way that He did not show to Saul: “but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.”  Here we see the grace of God bestowed on David’s house, perhaps further contrasting David’s kingship with Saul’s kingship, with David’s kingship being by the will of God, not the people.

It has been noted that, whereas 2 Samuel 7 seems to present an unconditional promise to David, passages like 1 Kings 9:4-5 seem to introduce conditionality.[8]  There is a sense in which conditionality applies to the Davidic Covenant, as David’s line and Israel as a whole would experience defeats and exile due to their idolatry, resulting in David’s throne being empty at times.[9]  Nonetheless, God would not ultimately cast-off David’s line and the Israelites.  When Solomon turned from serving God, for example, God said He would tear the kingdom from him (1 Kgs. 11:1-12).  However, God goes on to say, “However, I will not tear away all the kingdom, but I will give one tribe to your son, for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem that I have chosen” (v. 13).  This is reiterated again in verses 32 and 34.  This mercy of God for the sake of David His servant is stated elsewhere in reference to other kings.  In reference to Jehoram’s waywardness, it says, “Yet the LORD was not willing to destroy Judah, for the sake of David his servant, since he promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever” (2 Kgs. 8:19; cf. 19:34; 20:6).  We see, therefore, that God’s covenant with David was indeed unconditional in an ultimate sense.  Indeed, Psalm 132:11 says as much: “The LORD swore to David a sure oath from which he will not turn back: ‘One of the sons of your body I will set on your throne’” (emphasis added; cf. v. 10, 12).  This promise can only be understood as being fulfilled in Christ Jesus (see next section below).

Chronicles, a post-exilic text, is unique in that, distinct from Samuel-Kings, it is essentially a theological presentation of Israel’s history, with particular focus on three kings – Saul, David, and Solomon – and the temple.  The Chronicler especially draws out the strong association of the temple and kingship as depicted in 2 Samuel 7 (David’s request to build a temple for God) and 1 Kings 6-8 (Solomon actually building the temple and dedicating it).  Chapters 22-29 of 1 Chronicles details David’s preparation of the temple, such as the gathering of materials and establishing divisions among the priests, Levites, and musicians for temple service.  David is also said to establish peace in the land through warfare so that Solomon could build the temple (1 Chron. 22:18-19).[10]  Second Chronicles 2-7 details Solomon’s role in building the temple.  In short, a strong connection is made between Israel’s king and Israel’s worship centered in the temple.

The striking thing about Ezra-Nehemiah, also post-exilic books, is its lack of emphasis on Davidic kingship.  As Satterthwaite and McConville remark, “David is mainly referred to in connection with temple worship (e.g. Ezra 3:10; Neh. 12:24, 36-37, 45).”[11]  There are difference of opinions as to why this omission exists; but, at the very least, it sets up a contrast between the other historical books and makes us wonder as to where God’s promise to David stands, especially since Israel was still under foreign rule.

Kingship Fulfilled in the Person and Work of Christ

The New Testament is replete with references to the kingship and kingdom of Jesus Christ, and this in fulfillment of what has been articulated above, especially with reference to the Davidic Covenant.  Indeed, the “New Testament authors saw Jesus as the fulfillment of every hope that the book of Samuel placed in David’s house.”[12]  We can think of Jesus’s kingship and kingdom in three stages: 1) inauguration, 2) continuation, and 3) consummation.[13]  Due to space limitations, and because of a desire to trace out a focused narrative of these three stages of fulfillment in the life of Christ, I will limit my analysis to Luke’s account, both in his Gospel and the book of Acts.[14]

Kingdom Inauguration.  Luke’s Gospel establishes Jesus as the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant.  This is seen in the angel Gabriel’s words to Mary when foretelling her of Jesus’ birth: “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” (Lk. 1:32-33).  This is in fulfillment of God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 of a son whose kingdom will be established forever.  The unconditional nature of this covenant is therefore understood as being realized in Christ.

Zechariah’s prophecy, upon the birth of John, parallels a prophecy in the Davidic Psalm 132:17-18, with John preparing the way for the Davidic king.

Fast-forwarding, Jesus does not deny that He is the King of the Jews when questioned by Pilate (Lk. 23:3).  The irony of Jesus’ crucifixion, of course, is seen in the mockery of the Romans by placing an inscription over Him that reads, “This is the King of the Jews” (23:38).  What is meant to be a taunt against the Jews is actually a prophetic reality; it was according to the plan of God (Acts 2:23).

After Jesus’ resurrection, He appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus.  Jesus’ words to them are further testimony to His fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant: “Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” (Lk. 24:26).  His glory is best understood as His kingdom, as can be seen in 9:26-27, where the glory of Christ, God, and the angels is paralleled with the kingdom of God.  It may also be seen as a fulfillment of Psalm 24, a psalm of David, which speaks of “the King of glory,” He who is of “clean hands and a pure heart,” ascending the hill of Yahweh to take His seat on the throne.  This King of glory is none other than “The LORD [Yahweh] of hosts” (v. 10).

Further, Luke shines light on the significance of Jesus’s resurrection with reference to His kingship in the book of Acts.  In Acts 2:24-36, the apostle Peter speaks of Jesus’ resurrection as fulfillment of Psalms 16 and 111.  Note especially vv. 30-31: “Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him [i.e. David] that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.”  Peter therefore sees Jesus’ resurrection as fulfillment of God’s promise to David to seat one of his descendants on his throne.  The apostle Paul makes the same connection in Acts 13:30-37, including a tying of Jesus’ resurrection to God’s anointed king in Psalm 2.

The inauguration of Jesus’s kingship/kingdom, therefore, pertains to His first advent – His life, death, resurrection, and ascension.  Christ is enthroned!

Kingdom Continuation.  The continuation of Christ’s kingship/kingdom pertains to the period in-between His ascension and return.  We just saw that Jesus obtained His messianic kingdom through the cross, and we also see in Scripture that He continues to reign as king.  Christ’s kingdom is therefore associated with His work of redemption: “God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31; cf. Col. 1:13-14; 2:13-15).  The redemptive nature of Christ’s kingship – both accomplished and applied – certainly parallels David’s victories over Israel’s enemies.

We see Jesus reigning as king throughout the book of Acts, for example, when He pours out His Spirit upon His disciples (Ch. 2), in the miracles His disciples perform in His name (e.g. 3:6), in Stephen’s vision of Jesus standing at the right hand of God (7:55-56), in Saul’s miraculous encounter with Jesus on the Damascus road, resulting in his conversion (9:1-19), and in the success of the word of God being preached (2:41; 6:7; 12:24; 19:20).

Kingdom Consummation.  I briefly mentioned Lk. 9:26-27 above, which can be seen, at least in part, as referring to the consummation of Christ’s kingdom, as Christ speaks of coming in judgment in v. 26.  The resurrection of Jesus, which is directly connected to Christ’s enthronement, as we have seen, is proof that Christ will judge the world one day in righteousness (Acts 17:31).  Indeed, the disciples were assured at Christ’s ascension that Jesus would come again (1:11).

The Application of Kingship for the Church

In keeping with the focus on Luke’s Gospel and Acts, we can draw out some important implications of Jesus’ kingship/kingdom for the Church and her ministry today.  In fact, the central theme of the book of Acts, as I see it, is kingdom conquest or expansion through the gospel of the kingdom.[15]  Not only does the book of Acts open with Jesus teaching on the kingdom (1:3), it concludes with the apostle Paul teaching on the kingdom and of Jesus Christ as Lord (28:31).  In-between, we see Philip preaching the kingdom and Christ (8:12), Paul reasoning and persuading people concerning the kingdom (19:8), etc.  All of this is framed by the mentioning of the fruit that resulted from this preaching of the gospel of the kingdom, as mentioned above (2:41; 6:7; 12:24; 19:20).  All of this is the result of Jesus’ commissioning His disciples to proclaim “repentance for the forgiveness of sins” because of His fulfilled work and resurrection (Lk. 24:45-49).

As king, Jesus subdues His enemies and protects His Church.  The fact that Christ has the victory should give us strength of heart in the ongoing gospel ministry, trusting in our sovereign to bless our efforts for His glory.  Another important implication of the kingship of Christ for the Church’s ministry pertains to the way in which we evangelize.  The book of Acts is again informative on this issue.  It is far too common for Christians today to proclaim a watered-down gospel of a beggarly Jesus.  But what do we see in Acts?  The Christians proclaimed a victorious Jesus who has all authority as the exalted Lord.  Indeed, Peter, after proclaiming Jesus as Lord of all (10:36), proclaims Jesus as the one who will judge the living and the dead; but to everyone who believes in Him, they will receive the forgiveness of sins (vv. 42-43).  It is this kingly emphasis of Jesus that we must return to if we desire to rightly honor and represent Him and see the same fruitfulness in our ministries of genuinely converted souls.

Conclusion

The development of kingship/kingdom in the historical books contrasts God’s king (David) with man’s king (Saul).  The Davidic Covenant is in fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham of a royal line, and this royal covenant is ultimately fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  As the Church proclaims the gospel of the kingdom throughout the world, Christ subdues His enemies and brings repentant sinners into His kingdom of peace.  This is the good news that we herald as ambassadors of Christ.  The story of the Bible can therefore be thought of as a royal story.


[1] This includes 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 1 Chronicles, 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Nehemiah.  Space limitations only allow for a brief treatment from each of these books.

[2] Philip E. Satterthwaite and J. Gordon McConville, Exploring the Old Testament: A Guide to the Historical Books (IL: InterVarsity Press, 2007), 110-113.

[3] Ibid., 108.

[4] Ibid., 115.

[5] Ibid., 122.

[6] Ibid., 127-134.

[7] “The Book of Samuel,” Lesson 7: King David (FL: Third Millennium Ministries, 2019), 8.

[8] Satterthwaite and McConville, 127.

[9] 1 Kings 9:6-9 shows the close relationship between the king and the people, with the king representing the people and playing a large role in influencing them, either for good or for evil.

[10] Satterthwaite and McConville, 273.

[11] Ibid., 256.

[12] ThirdMill, “The Book of Samuel,” 20.

[13] For a detailed explanation of how these three stages relate to the Old Testament history and teaching on kingship, particularly in relation to the development of kingship in the book of Samuel, see Third Millennium’s series on “The Book of Samuel.”  https://thirdmill.org/seminary/course.asp/vs/sam. Last accessed on June 16, 2021.

[14] It seems to me that Luke structured his writings on Jesus being the fulfillment of the Davidic Covenant, drawing out the strong relation between the Davidic king and temple.  The word “temple” appears 20 times in Luke, more than any other Gospel, and it appears 27 times in Acts.  The words “king” and “kingdom” appear 56 times in Luke, twice as much as in Mark and John, only being beat by Matthew at 72 times; but they appear 28 times in Acts.  See also ThirdMill, “The Book of Samuel,” 21.

[15] See my post, “The Centrality of the Word in the Church’s Kingdom Mission,” https://thethinkistcom.wordpress.com/the-centrality-of-the-word-in-the-churchs-kingdom-mission/.  Last accessed on June 18, 2021.

About Drew Mery

Drew is a husband, father, Reformed Christian, blogger, and business intelligence developer, living just outside of Tampa, FL. He has a BS in Religion from Liberty University and is currently working on a MA in Humanities from American Public University (based on the Great Books program). He is a board member of Pietas Classical Christian School in Brevard County and a Charlotte Mason education advocate. Upon completing his degree, he desires to teach, write, and develop curriculum.

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