David has become king. He has conquered the capital city of Jerusalem. He has brought the ark of Yahweh into the city and placed it in a tent. He has stationed Levites at the tent to offer sacrifices of praise. An anomaly hits him: He has a cedar-paneled palace, and the Lord is still enthroned within tent curtains. He consults the prophet Nathan, who endorses his desire to build a house for the Lord: “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you” (1 Chronicles 17:2).
It’s a typical thing for an ancient king to do: Conquer, and then build a house for the god who gave victory. Nathan’s is a typical reaction for an ancient prophet in a king’s court. Ahab wants to go to war with the Arameans, and his prophets assure him of success. Prophets are there to give a divine stamp to “whatever is in the king’s heart.”
But the God of Israel is not like other gods, and His prophets are not like other prophets. The Lord comes to Nathan with a message for David that corrects both David and Nathan. It shows Nathan that his job is not to comfort the king, but to confront him with the word of Yahweh. As prophet, he’s not to rubber-stamp but to guide.
In correcting Nathan concerning David’s plan, the Lord also corrects Nathan concerning Himself. Yahweh has moved from tent to tent; He has walked with Israel; He has subdued enemies before David and shepherded Israel. He delivered them from Egypt, gave them the land, raised judges, took David from following the sheep. He has been the God of Israel, and He has done mighty acts, without having a house. That might lead us to conclude that building a house for Yahweh is a bad idea in itself. It isn’t. David will spend much of his reign preparing for Solomon’s temple-building project. God doesn’t need a house, but He will eventually have one.
But the fact that God doesn’t need a house isn’t the most important correction. It’s a correction about God’s character. Yahweh is the sovereign Lord, the God of Israel, but He uses that sovereign power not to secure a luxurious cedar-paneled house for Himself. He uses that power to build a house for His people, and specifically for David. “You shall not build a house for me to dwell in,” the Lord tells David. Rather, “Yahweh will build a house for you.” That house is a house of living stones, the house of Israel.
The Lord will allow a future king, a descendant of David, to build Him a house. And that future king will not simply be a servant, a slave, to build a house. Yahweh will be Father to him, and the king will be His son (v. 13). The king will be bound to Yahweh not be ties of ownership, not by contract or voluntary pledges. The king will be bound to Yahweh by family bonds. Yahweh will build a household of people, and the king will be a son in that household. In fact, Yahweh is already building a house and a kingdom, and He is placing David and David’s seed in that house (v. 14). The house of David is the “sacrament” of God’s rule on the earth, the effective sign of Yahweh’s sovereignty (William Johnstone, 1 & 2 Chronicles).
This is the lesson that Nathan and David have to learn. Lord of heaven and earth, the God of Israel glorifies Himself by glorifying His servants. He build His name by building His people as a house. He displays His power by giving gifts, by elevating Israel’s king to be a member of God’s own family.
All this takes place at night, “the same night” after David proposes the building project (v. 3). Time in the Bible moves from darkness to light, from evening to morning. Nighttime is the beginning of the day, and day moves toward light. Many of God’s great acts of deliverance begin at night. Jacob escapes from Laban at night. Passover occurs at night. Sleepless in Susa, King Ahasuerus listens to the chronicle of his reign and remember Mordecai. In his night visions, Zechariah sees the high priest Joshua cleansed and the temple rebooted. And Nathan receives this message about David and his descendants at night.
The nighttime message points to a new exodus setting, and the rest of the chapter confirms that. The word “house,” referring to the house of Israel and the house of David and the temple-house, is used fourteen times, and brings to mind Yahweh’s deliverance of the house of Israel from the house of bondage in Egypt (Hahn, The Kingdom of God as Liturgical Empire, 71). As Yahweh brought Israel to Sabbath rest in the exodus, so He is leading them to share in His own rest, when He is enthroned in His house. The word “servant” is used twelve times, the number of Israel, and reminds us of Israel’s hard yoke of service in Egypt and the easy yoke that the Lord places on them. But Israel is not finally the “servant” of Yahweh. Rather, Israel is Yahweh’s “son.” That is the reason Yahweh demands that Pharaoh let Israel go: “Israel is My firstborn son. Let My son go that he may serve me” (Exodus 4:23). In his prayer of grateful response, David makes an explicit reference to the deliverance from Egypt, which displayed God’s uniqueness, and Israel’s, when He took one nation from another by doing great and terrible things (v. 21). It’s a new exodus, a renewal and specification of the covenant at Sinai, focused now on a specific clan within Israel, the family of David.
But the roots of this promise extend all the way back to creation. David prays to Yahweh God, Yahweh Elohim, using the name used throughout Genesis 2, the account of the Lord’s creation of Adam, Eve, and the garden of Eden. The promise goes beyond David’s imagination, and that it involves more than his own house. “Who am I, Lord God, and what is my house, that Thou hast brought me this far?” (v. 16). But this is “a small thing in Thine eyes.” Yahweh’s promise is not merely about David’s immediate descendants, but about “the distance” (v. 17). It doesn’t just pertain to one people or nation. It involves all humanity. The word for “man” in verse 17 is adam, and the verb is ‘alah, “ascend.” Yahweh regards David as “an Adam ascended” (v. 17). By his elevation to kingship, his elevation to sonship, membership in Yahweh’s own household and family, David is not only a new Moses but a new Adam, and through David Yahweh pledges to bring humanity as a whole to its fulfillment.
The gospel announces the fulfillment of this promise. Jesus comes as the son of David, the Son of God, to take the throne, to fulfill Yahweh’s pledge to David. From the perspective of the Davidic covenant, the gospel is about God keeping His commitment to the house of David, to make David’s house great, to build a house for David, a house out of David, to display His glory among the nations. It’s about the ascent of Adam, the glorification of humanity in Jesus, the Son of David. The gospel not merely about escaping from hell. It’s not merely about being delivered from sin and punishment. It’s not merely about spending eternity in the presence of God. It is about all those things, but it is equally about God’s commitment to build a house of living stones and to raise humanity to the throne.
This is the good news: Adam, the Last Adam, has ascended. Adam, the Last Adam, is enthroned as son of David and son of God. And He is ascended and enthroned so that we might become a kingdom of priests and reign with Him on earth.
Peter J. Leithart is President of Theopolis. This essay was delivered as a chapel talk at Southeastern Bible College, Birmingham, Alabama, on October 19, 2016.