A Brief History of God’s People
The Children of Israel left the land of Canaan and settled in Egypt, just as God predicted. They lived there four-hundred years, outside of the land that God had promised them. At some point during their sojourn in Egypt, the Pharaoh enslaved the Children of Israel and they served him with hard toil. Despite the hardship of that time, God had not forgot his Covenant with Abraham. When the appointed time had come, God sent a deliverer whose name was Moses. God used Moses to lead his people from the land of Egypt, through the dead sea, to Mount Sinai.
Mount Sinai was the place that God had chosen to officially incorporate the families of Israel into a Kingdom. He gave them a covenant through Moses and he set the Sabbath as a sign for that covenant. This covenant (called the Law or the Mosaic Covenant) established God as their King and they as the community over which He ruled. But yet they did not have the land. Thus, the Kingdom of Israel was not fully established in the wilderness.
After Forty Years, God brought them into the promised land. Moses handed the leadership of Israel over to Joshua and then he died East of the Jordan river. Joshua lead the people of Israel in the conquest of the land. They cut through the center of the land, dividing the Canaanite cities from each other. Then they conquered the major cities of the north and then the south. After gaining control of the land, they divided it up by lot and each tribe settled in its inheritance.
While Israel had complete control over the whole land, they did not cast out all the people which were in the land. Instead, they forsook the covenant that they had with their King, and pursued the gods of the Canaanites. When God judged them, they cried to Him. In His mercy He delivered them, but soon they left their King again. They all did what was right in their own eyes, because there was no human-king in Israel.
Under the pressure of international conflict, the nation of Israel demanded that God set a king over them. It was not that God did not want to give them a king, but that they demanded a king at the wrong time. God warned them that this king would not be good, but they would not listen. So he gave them Saul—a man who looked like a leader, but who was controlled by fear. Because Saul feared everyone else but God, his reign ended in disaster.
But God chose another king to take Saul’s place. This king was as man after God’s own heart. His name was David. Because David loved God, God promised to give David a dynasty that would last forever.
God kept his loyalty to David, but David’s sons were not loyal to God. Solomon seemed to love God at first, building a glorious temple. But His heart soon turned away from God, because he pursued the gods of his many wives. Because of Solomon’s wickedness, God rent the kingdom in two, leaving two tribes to the house of David. The ten tribes became the Northern Kingdom, and that kingdom never had a king that lead them in the paths of God. The Southern Kingdom did not fair much better, but they did have a few good Kings who lead them down the right path.
Because of their sins, God lead them into exile. He chastised them for seventy years. Through this time, the dynastic line of David was not lost, but in exile. Will the promises of God seemed to fail, God remembered his promises to David and he would not let his line be snuffed out.
God raised up Nehemiah, a descendant of David, to bring his people back into the land and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. While it was a happy time, only a remnant of the nation returned. Those who were old enough to remember Solomon’s Temple wept when they saw how small the new temple was. Through the work of Nehemiah and Ezra, the nation became devoted to God, and forsook the gods of the nations.
Even though the nation was back in the land, they did not have their own kingdom. For many years, they suffered under the hands of Persians and Greeks. When Antiochus Epiphanies forced the Jews to become Greeks, Mattathias and his sons called the Maccabees revolted and established their own dynasty in Israel. For a brief time, Israel had a kingdom, but not from the line of David. The Maccabees were from the line of Levi. The dynasty did not last long, for Rome came and spread their empire over the Israel. Again, the kingdom was gone.
But people still hoped for the restoration of the Kingdom. They were looking for someone, the Messiah, who would come and deliver the nation and restore the Kingdom to Israel. They were looking for victory over their enemies, just as God had promised. They were looking for God to rescue them from their plight.
The Covenants and the Kingdom
Despite the tragic history of the nation of Israel, God still covenanted with them several times. These covenants describe God’s relationship with Israel and with significant people in the nation. In some covenants, God requires that the nation or individual do certain things to maintain their obligations to the covenant. These covenants we call Conditional Covenants. Other covenants, God does not require the nation or individual to do anything to receive the benefits of the covenant. These covenants we call unconditional.
Document #1: Mosaic Covenant
The first covenant that God makes with the nation of Israel is called the Mosaic Covenant. God recorded the text for this covenant in two different places: Exodus 20:22-23:33 and Deuteronomy. In both places, God establishes a conditional covenant where Israel must keep her side of the covenant in order for the blessings of the covenant to come on them. God also promises that He will bless them, if they obey. But if they disobey, God will destroy them.
The setting of the Exodus covenant gives key information about the intent of the covenant. In Exodus 19 we read that the children of Israel approach Mount Sinai where God told the Israelites:
You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings, and brought you to Myself. Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
God begins by rehearsing his loyalty to the nation of Israel. He performed the miracles in Egypt, sending the ten plagues to cause the Egyptians to release them from captivity. He protected them from the armies of Pharaoh and saved them through the Red Sea. He provided for them in the wilderness and helped them to Mount Sinai.
To this point, God was an unknown deliverer to the nation of Israel. They did not know him or have a relationship with him. But here at the foot of Sinai, God desired to begin a relationship by covenant. If they kept the covenant God declared that he would continue to be loyal to them. If the nation would keep the covenant, the God would create a special relationship with them. They would be God’s personal possession among the nations. While God cares for the rest of the world, He would choose Israel to be his personal possession.
His relationship is like a man who owns an orphanage. Suppose that he cannot have children of his own, so he decides to adopt a child from his orphanage. While he still tends and cares for all the children of the orphanage, the adopted child is the only one who receive special attention from his father. So too, God chose Israel among the nations of the earth to be in a special relationship with him.
But how was that relationship to be governed? God made a covenant with his people. The covenant the founding document for the kingdom of Israel. It was the constitution which was the basis for the laws of the nation. Just like the American Constitution should direct how the nation is function, so to the Mosaic Covenant was to direct how the nation of Israel was to function.
The covenant breaks down into two major parts. There is Israel’s responsibility and God’s responsibility. Each party was obligated to the other under narrowly prescribed laws. The text of the covenant is in Exodus 20:1-23:33. Israel’s obligation is from 20:1 to 23:19. God’s obligation is from 23:20 through verse 33.
How does this document establish the kingdom? Remember that the definition of the Kingdom is that there must be a King, a people, and a territory. Let’s trace each one of these three parts through the Mosaic Covenant.
God: The King of the Covenant
First, God is the King of the kingdom as manifested by his actions. In Exodus 19:4, God states that he delivered Israel and tended them. In Chapter 23:20 and follow, God is the one who will fight for them. Also, from Exodus 20:1-23:19, God regulates every aspect of their life from their feasts, to what they could eat, to how they plowed their fields. God was the one in charge.
Second, God is the King because he receives worship. Before we discuss how this makes God King, we must first define what the word worship means. The word worship today is kind of an ambiguous word. The Oxford Dictionary defines worship as “the feeling or expression of reverence and adoration for a deity.” Worship today often means some sort of feeling or mental state, focused on God. We go to a worship service where we focus our minds on God. We sing worship music which is dedicated to God. We have a worship guide, which focuses our will and emotions on how we will interact with God.
However, this definition is not what the Bible means when we read the word worship. It is not so much a religious term but a regal term. At its root, the word means “bow down deeply, do obeisance.” It is the action of paying homage to a king. It is the action of getting on your face before an almighty God. And when you worship or pay homage, you are showing your devotion to that King.
For example, God when David was on his way to kill Nabel, Abigail came to David and interceded for Nabel and her family. First Samuel 25:23 says, “And when Abigail saw David, she hasted, and lighted off the [donkey], and fell before David on her face, and bowed herself to the ground.” That word bowed in the verse is the same word translated worship. She was not just having respectful thoughts to David, she was on the ground paying homage to someone greater than her. While this word does have many nuanced meanings, the root idea is the idea of paying homage to a greater person.
The way the Bible uses the word worship is much stronger than the way we use the word. We use it to express feelings; the Bible uses it to express an action. We use it to express general thoughts about God; the Bible uses it to express physical action of submission to a king. We use it in an exclusive religious context; the Bible uses it in regal circumstances. A better rendering of the word worship in the Bible would to “to pay homage.” I am not arguing that the way we use worship is wrong, but when you read it in the Bible, make sure you use the proper definition.
We see an example of worship in Exodus 24. After God gave the words of the covenant to Moses, Israel sealed the words of the covenant with the blood of a bulls—they were now bound to the covenant. God commanded Moses to “Come up to the Lord, you and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and seventy of the elders of Israel, and you shall worship at a distance. Moses alone, however, shall come near to the Lord, but they shall not come near, nor shall the people come up with him.” If the normal use of the word is applied here, God commanded these people to come up and bow before him. As they bow down, they are declaring God to be their King.
God also jealously demands the worship of his subjects. He demands that they destroy the idols of the land so that they do not worship them at all. Worship of false deities is more than just a passive religious experience, it is an act of direct rebellion to God. It is taking the submission that God demands and giving it to another being who is the true God. It means that you no longer submit to God, but to this other deity. Therefore, God demanded that his people be devoted to him and worship him alone.
Israel: The Servants of the Kingdom Covenant
The People of Israel were a kingdom of priests. This priestly kingdom means that everyone in the nation was to be a priest. A priest is a mediator that brings two parties together—God and man. But if the everyone in the kingdom is a priest, who is there to bring to God? That nation was not just to bring themselves to God, but also the other nations as well. As a prophet put it, they were to be “a light to the nations.” As so, if they obeyed God, they would mediate God’s kingship to the world.
Canaan: The Location of the Kingdom Covenant
The last aspect of the covenant which we will cover is the land as it relates to the covenant. God promises that if Israel obeyed, He would help them possess the land. In Exodus 23:23, God specifically named the people in the land that He would drive out. While driving them out, God would send confusion before His people so that the enemy would be routed (Ex. 23:27). After God cleared out the land, He promised that Israel would multiply in it (25-26) so that they could completely conquer the land (30). God promised that he would send the hornet to drive out the Canaanites, but only little by little (28-29).
God promised that He would give them all the land which he promised to the patriarchs. He gave them specific boundaries: the red sea, the Mediterranean Sea, the edge of the wilderness toward Egypt, and up to the Euphrates river. These bounderies are precisely the same bounderies that God spoke to Abraham. So it was, that if Israel obeyed God, they would inherit all the promised land.
Document #2: The Davidic Covenant
Built into the constitution of Israel, God incorporates these three parts of the kingdom definition: a king, a people, and a land. But wile God was their heavenly king, God also intended to give them a human king. There are to major passages which describe the human king: Deuteronomy 17:14-20 and II Samuel 7.
The Responsibilities of the Human King
Here, God predicts that Israel will desire a king when the settled in the land. God directs Israel in how they would choose their king. Their King was to be divinely appointed, that is, chosen by God (17:15). He was to be an Israelite, and not a stranger. A stranger would not know God the true ruler of Israel, and he might introduce the strange gods into the nation of Israel. Therefore, God required the king to be an Israelite.
There are a few things he was not to do. First, he was not to multiply horses to himself and he was not to go to Egypt to gather horses. In the Ancient Near East, Egypt was an excellent location for breading horses. The lush Nile delta provided ample room for horses to grow strong and powerful. These strong horses, then, were harnessed to chariots and suffered fought in battles as the pinnacle of ancient military might. Israel was not to go to down to Egypt to get theses horses. God did not want them to return to the land from which they came.
Second, the kings were not to multiply wives to themselves. Multiplying wives was more than just moral issue, it was an international affair. When international commerce and trade, like the sale of horses, occurred, often there was a covenant or treaty signed by both nations. To seal the treaty, the king of one nation would marry a daughter or a sister of the king of the other nation. Thus, the extange of wives was to ensure the international treaty. But when the wives came from the other land, they also would bring their gods with them and introduce them to the land. God did not want his people to be perverted away from Him, so he banded this practice among the kings of Israel.
Third, the king was not to multiply gold and silver. Riches are yet another thing that leads the heart of a king away from God. They give a false sense of security, turning the king from trusting God. They could inflate the king’s view of himself, so that his heart would be lifted up over his brothers. God prohibited the king from becoming filthy rich so that he would remain humble.
On the other hand, there were some things that God commanded the king to do. At the beginning of his reign, he was to write his own copy of the law and read in it every day of his life so that his heart would not be lifted up above his brothers. The laws that he was to give not his own. He was subject to the same laws that he imposed because he did not create the laws. God created the laws and he would ultimately enforce them. God was to be the King behind the king. The man was only God’s representative. When he submitted to God’s laws, He would no be proud.
The Covenant of the Davidic Dynasty
The best king that Israel ever had was David who kept what God prescribed in Deuteronomy 17. Even though he had multiple wives, he did not have international marriages which the law prohibited. We are not told if He read the law every day. But we do know that he meditated often on the Law, as evidenced by his Psalms.
Because David followed God with His whole heart, God gave David a covenant. The text of the covenant is in II Samuel 7. David finally had victory over his enemies on every side and he just brought the ark to Jerusalem. He wanted to build a temple for God, but God sent Nathan the prophet to tell David that He was not the one to build the House of God. Instead, God promised to build the House of David in the Davidic Covenant.
God begins the covenant by recounting His relationship with David in verses 8-9. God declares that chose David and gave him victory. After God rehearses how he protected David he addressed the state of the nation of Israel. God promised that He will give the nation peace in the land, unlike the period of the judges. This promise was partially fulfilled in the reign of David when God gave him victory over all his enemies. Additionally, Solomon had peace in the land and “Judah and Israel dwelt safely, every man under his vine and under his fig tree, from Dan even to Beer-sheba.”
At the end of verse 11 through 16, God makes a covenant with David. Even though it is not called a covenant here, we know from Psalm 89:3-4 that this passage is a covenant. God swore to David that He would give to him a House, that is, a dynasty. The dynasty would come from David’s own offspring.
Between verses 12-16, God promises four times to make David’s throne last forever. God did not just promise to David a spiritual throne, but a physical one. When God used the words throne and kingdom, David was most likely thinking of physical Kingdom, just like we defined it: A king, a people, and a land.
Some people argue, however, that God used literal words with David because that was all he could understand. But what God really meant was something else. They argue that God used literal/physical terminology about a kingdom, but what He really meant was a spiritual kingdom.
This reasoning is wrong in two ways. First, it assumes that David was ignorant, or unable to grasp abstract concepts. However, we find in Scripture that David easily grasped abstract constructs. For example, Psalm 139 brilliantly portrays the omnipresence and omniscience of God—both abstract, spiritual concepts. Not only does he describe these attributes, but he uses poetry—a very difficult medium—to effectively communicate these concepts. To this day, both scholar and musician look to David’s work to describe God. David knew spiritual concepts and could understand the concept of a spiritual kingdom.
Second, this reasoning that God could not communicate spiritual kingdom truths to David slights God’s ability to explain things. God is omniscient and omnipotent. He is the creator of languages and the designer of intelligence. He made the human brain and he made David personally. How could this God be unable to communicate spiritual truths to David? God is the master teacher and could have easily taught David new revelation.
But God used physical terminology to describe this kingdom to David—a physical seed, a physical throne, and physical people to rule. A spiritual kingdom is not beyond human conception. We understand the idea today, and David could have understood it in his day. But God did not speak of a spiritual kingdom, but a physical kingdom.
The Davidic Covenant Today
Today, however, we do not see David’s kingdom. We do not see God keeping his covenant. In fact, we cannot see how God will reestablish a monarchy in Israel. For Thousands of years, there was no nation of Israel. No there is, but they do not submit to God alone. How do make sense of God’s promises not being fulfilled? Certainly, the answer is not to reinterpret God’s promise. But how do we wrestle with God’s promises seeming to be unfulfilled?
Ethan the Ezrahite wrestled with the same question in Psalm 89. He apparently lived during the captivity, when there was no king in Israel and the line of David seemed extinct. In verse 1-18, he wrote of the power of God and God’s loyalty to Israel. He spoke of the deliverance of Israel from Egypt and in verse 18 he declares that God, the Holy One of Israel, is the King of Israel. Verse 19 begins a repetition of the Davidic Covenant, detailing the David would have victory over his enemies and an eternal throne. Verses 34-36 pronounce that God will fulfill the promise and that He would not lie to David.
After praising God’s for His loyalty, Ethan questions if God will be faithful, starting in verse 38. He says, “But thou hast cast off and abhorred, Thou hast been wroth with thine anointed.” Looking about at the ruin of his people, Ethan only sees a depressing end to God’s promise. No more line. No more hope. He turned to God and asked, “How long, Lord? wilt thou hide thyself for ever? Shall thy wrath burn like fire?” God was gone, or at least, that’s what his surroundings made him believe.
Although confused by his surroundings, Ethan did not seek a “deeper” meaning to God’s promises, nor some kind of spiritual fulfillment to the physical prophecy. Rather, he turned to God and asked, “Lord, when will you make good on your promises?” In the Psalm, he prayed God’s promises back to him.
It is easy for us to look at Ethan and judge him for questioning God. But we know the end of the story: Jesus fulfills the Davidic Covenant. But today, we have our own struggles with the promises of God. Will God’s kingdom have physical land as he promised or will it not? Will God still use the Hebrews in the future or has He cast the off? Many theologians argue that the land is a symbol of greater spiritual things and that Israel has replaced the church. But if we take God at his, word, we do not have to spiritualize his promises, but trust that somehow God will fulfill his promises exactly as he says.
In conclusion, what can we take away from this brief lesson? Israel did not keep her side of the Mosaic Covenant nor could she. Because she trespassed the covenant, God had to punish her. But God in his faithfulness would not see his eternal covenants broken. Even though at times his promises seemed to fail because of man’s unfaithfulness, God still moved through time to make sure his promises came to be.
The same is true in our day. Sometimes, God’s promises seem far away. We suffer. We sin. And We turn from God. But God has covenanted with us in the New Covenant—which is dependent upon him. He will ensure His blessing on us, because Jesus already took the price that we owe for breaking the covenant. Therefore, we can fully claim all of the promises in God as our own. We can boldly enter God’s throne room and plead for help. And when it seems that God does not care about us, we can trust that he is working behind the scenes to affect what he has promised.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ex 19:3–6.
 William Lee Holladay and Ludwig Köhler, A Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament (Leiden: Brill, 2000), 97.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 1 Sa 25:23.
 New American Standard Bible: 1995 Update (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995), Ex 24:1–2.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), 1 Ki 4:25.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ps 89:38.
 The Holy Bible: King James Version, Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version. (Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 2009), Ps 89:46.