The promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 and the term “son of David” are important aspects of the gospel as the apostles taught it. But the meaning of the promise to David grew over time through the Old Testament to ultimately be about a Davidic Messiah – a hope crystallized in the inter-testament period.
The son of David and Davidic Covenant
That Jesus is the son of David is a key part of the gospel. The New Testament writers want us to understand Jesus as David’s son from the beginning. Jesus is introduced to us in Matthew 1:1 with a genealogy:
This is the record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of AbrahamMatthew 1:1
The son of David is clearly an important part of Jesus story – something Matthew immediately draws to our attention. In Luke 1 when the angel tells Mary she will have a child again the connection to David is identified as a critical part of the story of Jesus:
Listen: You will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.Luke 1:31-33
That Jesus is the son of David is part of the short creedal formula Paul reminds the Romans of:
This gospel he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, 3 concerning his Son who was a descendant of David with reference to the flesh, 4 who was appointed the Son-of-God-in-power according to the Holy Spirit by the resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our LordRomans 1:2-4
What is the gospel? Well it concerns Jesus, God’s son and the son of David naturally, who was appointed/declared/proven as the son of God in his resurrection. Jesus’ link with David is a fundamental part of the gospel.
Who was David?
David was the second king of the emerging nation of Israel around 1,000 BC at the start of Iron Age 2. Despite 3,000 years of intensive reuse and recycling there appears to be a modest amount of archeological support to hold back the fully skeptical – such as the Tel Dan Stele above which it is fairly certain mentions David.
David is presented in the Samuel/Kings record as the man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14) and despite a number of epic failures, David remained faithful and returned to God despite his failures and subsequent punishment.
The books we call 1 and 2 Samuel plus 1 and 2 Kings (probably one massive composition) really focus in hard on David. He is the second king but the first God really endorsed. He becomes the standard for all following kings. If they are good they are like David if bad they are nothing like their illustrious ancestor. He is therefore the exemplar leader – the template of what a good king should and could be, a king with God’s thinking and in partnership (mainly) with God for the good of the nation.
The relationship between David and God lead to a critically important promise in 2 Samuel 7:12-16. David was thinking about building a temple for God, a proposal God rejected but still pleased with David’s thinking this promise is made to David via Nathan the prophet:
When the time comes for you to die, I will raise up your descendant, one of your own sons, to succeed you, and I will establish his kingdom. He will build a house for my name, and I will make his dynasty permanent. I will become his father and he will become my son. When he sins, I will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings. But my loyal love will not be removed from him as I removed it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will stand before me permanently; your dynasty will be permanent.2 Samuel 7:13-16
What does this promise say? At it’s most basic it is God promising David an enduring dynasty in which God would continue to be intimately involved. The passage has a tremendous amount of Messianic expectation read back into it because of later development but let’s parse it back to the original meaning as David heard it.
How did David understand the promise?
v14 sounds significant “I will become his father and he shall become my son”. Did David understand this was promising a virgin birth son of David son of God? Probably not. Not yet anyway (Psalm 110 is a different story). The local and surrounding cultures provided plenty of instances of kings being called the son of a given god:
In Ugaritic literature, Keret, king of Khubur, is identified as the son of El, the chief god of the Canaanites. Among the Aramean kings the designation was even included in their throne names (Ben-Hadad means son of Hadad). In Mesopotamia, from Gilgamesh in the mid-third millennium through kings such as Gudea, Hammurabi, Tukulti-Ninurta and Ashurbanipal, just to name a few, it was part of the royal prerogative to claim divine heritage.
As commentators have noted the language of being God’s son used here is culturally normal and:
The language used here …is adoption language …the model from which the language is drawn was the grant of land and/or “house” made by a king or lord to a loyal vassal. Such grants were made patrimonial, and thus permanent, by means of the legal adoption of the vassal as the son of the lord. Here the establishment of a “house” for David is legitimated in the same way. Israel becomes, in effect, the patrimonial estate of David’s family.)Anchor Yale Bible
So David and his children are being adopted by God in perpetuity. This reading makes sense of 2 Sam 7: 14b:
When he sins, I will correct him with the rod of men and with wounds inflicted by human beings.2 Samuel 7:14b
Read through an overly Messianic lens the promise is difficult – since Jesus didn’t sin. But read in the way David heard it – about his dynasty – it is again culturally consistent. As McCarter explains:
…adoption as sons of Yahweh that David’s heirs, if they are disobedient, will be chastened like wayward children. …the promise of kingship to David’s offspring is couched in the language of royal grants to faithful vassals in return for acts of loyalty and service. Such grants might be patrimonial, in that they were sanctioned by adoption of the vassal by the king, and—in special cases inalienable, in that they were not conditional upon the future behavior of the descendants of the grantee…Thus, in the present passage David’s heirs must expect to be punished if they do not behave respectfully toward their adoptive parent, but that punishment will not extend beyond the ordinary kinds of discipline administered by a father of disobedient sons (“the rod men use … the blows of human beings”), and the sons, however chastised, will not be alienatedAnchor Yale Bible
We have a specific example of an enduring and inalienable patrimonial grant:
The treaty of Hattušiliš III with Ulmi-Tešup of Dataša gives land and the house (dynasty) as unconditional gifts:
After you, your son and grandson will possess it, nobody will take it away from them. If one of your descendants sin (uastai) the king will prosecute him at his court. Then when he is found guilty … if he deserves death he will die. But nobody will take away from the descendant of Ulmi-Tešup either his house or his land in order to give it to a descendant of somebody else.Anchor Yale Bible
Regardless of the sin against the king that may have endangered the covenant, the grant was still operative. This is consistent with the covenant or grant being made to David. While sin would have consequences the grant/promise would continue.
One final comment on the promise – in verse 16 we read:
Your house and your kingdom will stand before me permanently; your dynasty will be permanent
Some translations follow the Masoretic Text in reading that the dynasty and kingdom would stand before David – i.e. he would be physically alive/present to see the kingdom despite being clearly dead according to v12. However the NET notes say:
A few medieval Hebrew mss read instead “before me,” which makes better sense contextually. (See also the LXX and the Syriac Peshitta.) The MT reading is probably the result of dittography (note the ך [kaf] at the beginning of the next form), with the extra ך then being interpreted as a pronominal suffix.
The LXX and Syriac both say “before me (God)” and it is suspected that the MT has been corrupted by misreading/transposing some letters.
The early understanding of the Davidic covenant
That the promise primarily relates to an enduring dynasty is confirmed by David’s reaction recorded in the rest of the chapter in detail in 2 Samuel 7:25-29:
So now, O Lord God, make this promise you have made about your servant and his family a permanent reality. Do as you promised, so you may gain lasting fame, as people say, ‘The Lord of hosts is God over Israel!’ The dynasty of your servant David will be established before you, for you, O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, have told your servant, ‘I will build you a dynastic house.’ That is why your servant has had the courage to pray this prayer to you. Now, O sovereign Lord, you are the true God! May your words prove to be true! You have made this good promise to your servant! Now be willing to bless your servant’s dynasty so that it may stand permanently before you, for you, O sovereign Lord, have spoken. By your blessing may your servant’s dynasty be blessed on into the future!”2 Samuel 7:25-29
So what did David hear in the promise as the key feature?
- “your servant and his family” v25
- The dynasty of David will be established v26
- A dynastic house v27
- Bless your servant’s dynasty v28
- Dynasty be blessed on into the future v28
It’s about a lasting dynasty.
This is again evident when we look at Psalm 89, written seemingly by Ethan the Ezrachite – probably a contemporary of Solomon’s (1Chron 15:17). The psalm in large measure reflects on the promise to David. Of interest is the reflections on the promise in Psalm 89:26-36
He will call out to me, ‘You are my father, my God, and the protector who delivers me.’ I will appoint him to be my firstborn son, the most exalted of the earth’s kings. I will always extend my loyal love to him, and my covenant with him is secure. I will give him an eternal dynasty, and make his throne as enduring as the skies above. If his sons reject my law and disobey my regulations, if they break my rules and do not keep my commandments, I will punish their rebellion by beating them with a club, their sin by inflicting them with bruises. But I will not remove my loyal love from him, nor be unfaithful to my promise. I will not break my covenant or go back on what I promised. Once and for all I have vowed by my own holiness, I will never deceive David. His dynasty will last foreverPsalm 89:26-36
So at the time the promise to David in 2 Samuel 7 was seen as having enduring significance but was primarily focused in the expectation of an enduring Davidic dynasty.
The development of the Davidic covenant in the OT
Over time we can see through the OT prophets that expectations for a brighter morrow were tied to not just the continuance of the Davidic line but a David like successor who would restore the fortunes.
Amos 9:11 is one example of interest because it gets some play in the NT (albeit from the LXX rather than the MT version):
In that day I will rebuild the collapsing hut of David. I will seal its gaps, repair its ruins, and restore it to what it was like in days gone byAmos 9:11
The emphasis of a specific David like king, a special child is prominent in Isa 7:14 – the birth of Immanuel and in Isa 9:6-7 we have a description of the special Davidic ruler that would come:
For a child has been born to us, a son has been given to us. He shoulders responsibility and is called: Extraordinary Strategist, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 His dominion will be vast and he will bring immeasurable prosperity. He will rule on David’s throne and over David’s kingdom, establishing it and strengthening it by promoting justice and fairness, from this time forward and forevermore. The Lord’s intense devotion to his people will accomplish this.Isa 9:6-7
It is evidently all about the son of David as this exemplary king. Jeremiah continues the expectation of this Davidic ruler:
I, the Lord, promise that a new time will certainly come when I will raise up for them a righteous branch, a descendant of David. He will rule over them with wisdom and understanding and will do what is just and right in the landJeremiah 23:5
Of course things did not pan out well and the discipline on David’s house extended to terminating the kingdom under the hands of the Assyrians (in the north) and then the Babylonians for the southern Judean kingdom. Still the prophets spoke of the coming Davidic ruler – Ezekiel even calls this king “David”:
They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, in which your fathers lived; they will live in it—they and their children and their grandchildren forever. David my servant will be prince over them forever.Ezekiel 37:25
The expectations were high – God’s promise to David has kind of developed past a dynasty to an individual everlasting king. Zechariah – speaking after Ezekiel and after some of the Jews had returned from Babylon to resettle Jerusalem takes the function of this king past normal duties to have religious responsibility:
In that day there will be a fountain opened up for the dynasty of David and the people of Jerusalem to cleanse them from sin and impurityZechariah 13:1
So by the time we get to the end of the Old Testament we have a pretty high expectation of an individual descendant of David who will restore the dynasty, be an amazing ruler, live forever and remove sin. As a Christian I believe Jesus was – as the New Testament claims – the promised Davidic ruler. Matthew and Luke are keen for us to know this immediately in their accounts. The promise to David and the prophetic expansion on the coming new David in the OT are an essential part of the purpose and promise of Jesus.
That’s why Paul in Romans 1:3, even talking to Romans 3 – non Jews – includes Jesus’ link to David as one of the basic fundamentals of the gospel.
In the OT references the language is about David, or the dynasty of David, or raising up a king to David’s throne. The language is not specifically “a son of David”. Pretty much without exception – apart from a few rogue intermediate kids who weren’t in the line of succession – the expression “son of David” in the OT is reserved for Solomon. While everyone expected Messiah would be from David’s descendants, the expression “son of David” as a Messianic title really started to gather momentum in the first century BC.
The son of David in the NT
We can quickly summarise the few times “son of David” is used in the NT and it is pretty revealing. The below list focusses on the gospel of Matthew as the primary user of the expression:
- The genealogies (Matt 1 and Luke 3), once to Joseph emphasizing he is of David’s lineage in the infancy narrative (Matt 1:20)
- Matt 9:27 two blind men appealing for healing
- Matt 12:23 a question in the minds of the people seeing Jesus healing and casting out demons
- Matt 15:22 a Canaanite woman appealing for a demon to be cast out of her daughter
- Matt 22:30 Two blind men on the way from Jericho (incident and title repeated in Mark 10 and Luke 18)
- Matt 21:9 the crowds welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem
- Matt 21:15 the leaders complain about the use of the title (and general celebration), Jesus refers them to Psalm 8 and goes back to Bethany
- Mat 22:42 a dispute between Jesus and the leaders – he asks about Messiah, whose child? They reply with “the son of David” (this is also recorded in Mark 12:35 and Luke 20:41)
- Romans 1:3 where Jesus as David’s son is essential to the gospel
- Jesus being a descendant of David is core to Paul’s gospel in 2 Tim 2:8 (different words similar idea)
Interestingly in the gospels it is Jesus’ acts of healing that leads to people using the title “son of David”. This is despite healing not being part of the OT passages which speak of the coming Davidic ruler.
Where then did this association of healing come from? It came from Jewish myths about Solomon – the son of David per the OT:
with one exception, ben Dāwid/ υἱὸς Δαυίδ is always, in the OT, used of Solomon, who was later renowned as a mighty healer, exorcist, and magician. Especially significant in this regard is the Testament of Solomon (second century a.d.?). Its use of υἱὸς Δαυίδ in connection with Solomon the healer does not appear to be under Christian influence (cf. the title; 1:7; 5:10; 20:1; 26:9). Matthew, it seems reasonable to suppose, both knew the Jewish legends about Solomon’s powers and probably intended to present Jesus in their lightDavies
Perhaps to further support this we can read Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews saying of Solomon):
God also enabled him to learn that skill which expels demons, which is a science useful and Sanative to men. He composed such incantations also by which distempers are alleviated. And he left behind him the manner of using exorcisms, by which they drive away demons, so that they never returnJosephus
Josephus goes on to say that people were still using Solomon’s name like a magic spell to clear out demons in the first century AD. So Matthew in particular uses the term “son of David” in connection with healing – using the language and expectation of the day. More than Matthew we can say – the local population were asking this question seeking or responding to miracles.
The son of David as Messiah
There was another association with the term “son of David” in addition to the healing. By the time of Jesus, Jewish expectation linked the son of David with the expectation of Messiah – God’s anointed – the saviour. This linkage is faint – at best – in the OT. Regarding the Hebrew word Messiah/anointed:
the concept of the māšiyaḥ, meaning Messiah, as a Savior is not fully developed in the Old Testament. The closest that one comes to this in the Old Testament is Daniel 9:25, 26. This concept is developed later, during the New Testament period and fits better with the parallel Greek word christos.The Complete Word Study Dictionary
It was writings between the OT era and the appearance of Jesus where the connection between Messiah, son of David and salvation became pretty concrete:
while first-century Jewish sources often disagree about exactly how God would ultimately save the people, there was a “dominant notion” that God would send a royal deliverer from the line of King David. On multiple occasions, the scriptures of Israel attest that the Lord God had sworn that David’s kingdom would endure “forever” (2 Sam 7:13–16; 1 Chr 17:11–14; Ps 89:3–4, 35–37). By the time of Paul in the first century AD, even though it had been centuries since a Davidic king sat on the throne and ruled, the hope for the restoration of the Davidic kingdom endured. As a result, Jewish texts written in and around the time of Paul express expectations of a coming “anointed one”—“messiah” (mashiyach) in Hebrew, christos in Greek—from the line of David
The link is very clear in the Dead Sea Scrolls – that community was very keen on the idea.
Psalms of Solomon
It is not just in the Dead Sea Scrolls that we see the connection. There is a non-canonical book called Psalms of Solomon which has the clearest pre Christian link between the son of David and an anointed future messiah that we have:
The title ‘Christ,’ ‘Anointed One’ (Χριστὸς, מָשִׁיחַ) is here [in Psalm of Solomon 17] perhaps used for the first time in literature of the expected Deliverer of Israel. ‘It is not a characteristic title of the promised Saviour in the O.T. It is not even specifically applied to Him, unless perhaps in Dan. 9:25 f., a passage of which the interpretation is very doubtful’ (Westcott, Ep. of St John, p. 189). Three times over this name, destined to play so unique a part, occurs (17:36, 18:6, 8) in our book. Repeatedly as the word has occurred before in other writings, it has always had reference to actual monarchs then reigning, never to an ideal monarch who was to come.
The Psalms of Solomon are:
Eighteen noncanonical psalms from the 1st century b.c.e. which are preserved in Greek and Syriac
While not considered canonical, the works were popular or common enough to get included in the Codex Alexandrinus and some 10th to 16th century bibles in some traditions. Here is an excerpt from the Psalm 18 of the Psalm of Solomon:
Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of David, in the time which thou, O God, knowest, that he may reign over Israel thy servant; And gird him with strength that he may break in pieces them that rule unjustly. Purge Jerusalem from the heathen that trample her down to destroy her, with wisdom and with righteousness. He shall thrust out the sinners from the inheritance, utterly destroy the proud spirit of the sinners, and as potter’s vessels with a rod of iron shall he break in pieces all their substance. He shall destroy the ungodly nations with the word of his mouth, so that at his rebuke the nations may flee before him, and he shall convict the sinners in the thoughts of their hearts. And he shall gather together a holy people, whom he shall lead in righteousness; and shall judge the tribes of the people that hath been sanctified by the Lord his God. And he shall not suffer iniquity to lodge in their midst; and none that knoweth wickedness shall dwell with them. For he shall take knowledge of them, that they be all the sons of their God, and shall divide them upon the earth according to their tribes. And the sojourner and the stranger shall dwell with them no more. He shall judge the nations and the peoples with the wisdom of his righteousness. Selah. And he shall possess the nations of the heathen to serve him beneath his yoke; and he shall glorify the Lord in a place to be seen of the whole earth; And he shall purge Jerusalem and make it holy, even as it was in the days of old. So that the nations may come from the ends of the earth to see his glory, bringing as gifts her sons that had fainted, And may see the glory of the Lord, wherewith God hath glorified her. And a righteous king and taught of God is he that reigneth over them; And there shall be no iniquity in his days in their midst, for all shall be holy and their king is the Lord MessiahPsalms of Solomon 18:23-36
There are clear echoes of Psalm 2, Psalm 72, Isa 66, and Isaiah 11 in these verses – and more again.
The overt immediacy of Messiah, the son of David throwing the foreigners out of the land is striking. This would have resonated with the Jews who had suffered first under Greek and now Roman rule. No wonder they struggled with a servant Messiah rather than an immediately conquering Davidic ruler. However when they were calling out save now (Hosanna) to the son of David in Matt 21 as Jesus was approaching Jerusalem it does give you some insight. They saw their expectations, their national aspirations about to be immediately fulfilled. No wonder they were excited.
The gospel is “Jesus Christ the son of David”
While Jewish expectation was one thing, Matthew is quite happy to pick up on the title and Paul makes Jesus’ Davidic lineage part and parcel of the gospel.
As we saw earlier, the angel said to Mary in Luke 1:31-33 that Jesus is destined to reign as the Davidic king. He would take the promise to David that “I will become his father and he will become my son” to a whole new level and literally stand as king forever on the throne.
One of the favoured proof texts about Jesus was Psa 110:1 (the most referenced OT passage in the NT, quoted some 14 times) where David wrote that God said to David’s Lord, “sit at my right hand”. This text was understood to be speaking of the son of David, the Messiah. Jesus and the apostles use the text to point out that the only way the son of David could be David’s Lord was if the Messiah was also God’s son. Christ/Messiah is understood to be the son of David and the son of God. All the prophecies of the Davidic ruler are interpreted as applying to Jesus for example Paul applies Isaiah 11:10 to Jesus in Romans 15:12.
Paul saw a direct connection between the gospel about Jesus and the Davidic Messianic hopes of the OT. Jesus was to be the coming King and judge – functions he will carry out when he returns according to 2 Timothy 4:1
The symbolic book of Revelation picks up the David motif a few times. Jesus is described as having the key of David (Rev 3:7) i.e. bearing authority. In Revelation 5:5 he is the lion of Judah and the root of David, an idea repeated in Rev 22:16 where he is the root and descendant of David.
The gospel was understood by the earliest believers to be about the restoration of the Davidic throne. In Acts 1 when Jesus is about to ascend to heaven, his disciples ask him:
“Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.Acts 1:6b-7
The disciples expected Jesus as the son of David, as the messiah, to finally bring the return of the Davidic dynasty and reign from Jerusalem. Jesus’ only response is to tell them their timing is amiss.
At the conclusion of the book of Acts the understanding and message is the same. In Acts 28:20 Paul seeks to preach the gospel to the Jewish community in Rome while himself a prisoner under Roman guard. He tells his audience:
I am bound with this chain because of the hope of IsraelActs 28:20
So why is Jesus called the son of David?
Scripturally he is better called the descendant of David. He is the focal point, the culmination of the prophets’ promise of a future ideal king, a new David. The term was used in second temple Judaism with the word Messiah/Christ to express the ideas presented in the OT.
Jesus is presented to us in the NT as the son and descendant of David. There is a fundamental significance to Jesus being a descendant of David and as Christians we firmly believe it will be through Jesus that the promise to David and the subsequent revelations of the prophets in the OT will be fulfilled. We are waiting for the message of the angel to Mary to be fulfilled:
32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and his kingdom will never end.”Luke 1:32-33
by Daniel Edgecombe
 Michael J. Caba, “David: Man or Myth?,” ed. Bryant G. Wood, Bible and Spade 24, no. 1–4 (2011).
 Victor Harold Matthews, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament, electronic ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 2 Sa 7:14.
 P. Kyle McCarter Jr, II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary, vol. 9, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 207.
 P. Kyle McCarter Jr, II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary, vol. 9, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 208.
 P. Kyle McCarter Jr, II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary, vol. 9, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 208.
 Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2005).
 P. Kyle McCarter Jr, II Samuel: A New Translation with Introduction, Notes, and Commentary, vol. 9, Anchor Yale Bible (New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 2008), 195.
 W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to Saint Matthew, vol. 2, International Critical Commentary (London; New York: T&T Clark International, 2004), 135–136.
 Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 214.
 Warren Baker and Eugene E. Carpenter, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: Old Testament (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2003), 680–681.
 Brant Pitre, Michael P. Barber, and John A. Kincaid, Paul, a New Covenant Jew: Rethinking Pauline Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2019), 96–97.
 Herbert Edward Ryle and Montague Rhodes James, Psalms of the Pharisees, Commonly Called the Psalms of Solomon (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1891), liv.
 Joseph L. Trafton, “Solomon, Psalms of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 115.