The Covenant Made with David to be Realised in the Re-Establishment of the Kingdom of Israel Under Christ
We have seen that “the promises made unto the fathers,” in remote Old Testament times, form the groundwork of the scheme which God is developing through Christ.
Of these, orthodox religion takes no cognisance. Who ever hears of them in modern sermons, or religious tuition of any kind?
We now propose to consider another matter, having an equally essential reference to the scheme, and of which there is a similar entire absence in all systems of modern religion.
We refer to the covenant made with David, which may be considered in the light of a clause in the greater covenant established with the fathers, settling an important matter of detail which is covered by, but not expressed in, the older general promises on which the whole scheme of God’s purposed goodness towards mankind rests.
The fact that God made a covenant with David, having reference to Christ, is placed beyond all doubt by the statement of Peter on the day of Pentecost:—
“Therefore … being a prophet, and knowing that GOD HAD SWORN WITH AN OATH TO HIM, that of the fruit of his loins according to the flesh, HE WOULD RAISE UP CHRIST to sit on His throne” (Acts 2:30).
Preliminary to a consideration of the subject, we invite attention to the following further alusions to the oath referred to by Peter:—
“I have made a covenant with my chosen; I have sworn unto David my servant. Thy seed will I establish for ever, and build up thy throne to all generations” (Psa. 89:3, 4).
“The Lord hath sworn in truth unto David; He will not turn from it; Of the fruit of thy body will I set upon thy throne” (Psa. 132:11).
“My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. Once have I sworn by my holiness, that I will not lie unto David. His seed shall endure for ever, and HIS THRONE AS THE SUN BEFORE ME” (Psa. 89:34–36).
“Of this man’s (David’s) seed hath God ACCORDING TO HIS PROMISE, raised unto Israel a Saviour, Jesus” (Acts 13:23).
“And hath raised up an horn of salvation for US IN THE HOUSE OF HIS SERVANT DAVID, as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began” (Luke 1:69, 70).
These quotations of Scripture establish the fact—first, that God entered into some pledge or undertaking with David, king of Israel, to uphold His kingdom in an unlimited future; and, second, that the pledge, covenant, or oath had reference to Jesus. David’s “last words” (II Sam. 23:1–7), confirm this conclusion—“HE HATH MADE WITH ME AN EVERLASTING COVENANT, ordered in all things, and sure; for this is all my salvation and all my desire.” The identity of this covenant with that referred to in the Scriptures quoted above, is evident from the immediate context:—
“The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and His word was in my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me; HE THAT RULETH OVER MEN must be just, ruling in the fear of God. And he shall be as the light of the morning when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining, after rain. Although my house be not so with God, yet—”
Then follows the declaration first quoted.
David was an old man when he penned these words by the Spirit, and it is evident that, to the mind of the Spirit, the covenant was not realised in the state of things prevailing at the time. Solomon, a young man of promise, was about to ascend the throne, but although David himself recognised in this a preliminary fulfilment of the covenant, it is evident that this was not the event contemplated. The Spirit in David points forward to a period when it would be fulfilled in the rule of one who should rise upon the world, like a morning without clouds; and when “all David’s salvation and all his desire” would be accomplished in connection with that great event. This did not come to pass in David’s day. We have the testimony of the words immediately succeeding those quoted. David’s house was not at that time in the position guaranteed by the promise: “Although my house BE NOT SO WITH GOD, yet He hath made with me an everlasting covenant.”
Solomon’s reign was, doubtless, the meridian of Israel’s glory; but it was not a morning without cloud—it was not the realisation of the covenant. Solomon sinned and led Israel astray, and ultimately dealt injustice to the nation. David’s salvation was not in any sense secured in Solomon’s achievements. Contrariwise, his crown was tarnished and his kingdom rent, through the perversion of a son who departed from God, multiplied wives, and turned aside to the worship of heathen gods. His very name was brought into abhorrence with the bulk of the nation, through the oppressions of one who falsified the expectations created by the commencement of his royal career as the wisest of men.
It was not to such a feature that “the last (spirit) words of David” had reference as the consummation of “the everlasting covenant” in all David’s salvation and all his desire. There was visible to the mind of the spirit, in the dim distance, far beyond the days of Solomon, the form of one whose name should endure for ever—who should descend like the gentle rain upon the new-mown grass, diffusing life and fragrance, in whom men should be blest all the world over (Psalm 72:17), who, while the destroyer of the wicked, the conqueror of kings, the avenger of injustice, should be a refuge for the poor, a shadow from the heat, a covert from the tempest, and rivers of water in a dry place (Isaiah 32:2).
Let us now look at the covenant itself. We cannot do better than quote entire that passage in the history of David in which it occurs:—
“And it came to pass, when the king sat in his house, and the Lord had given him rest round about from all his enemies, that the king said unto Nathan the prophet, See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains.
“And Nathan said unto the kit the word of the Lord came unto Nathan, saying, Go, and tell my servant David, thus saith the Lord, Shalt thou build me a house for me to dwell in? Whereas I have not dwelt in any house since the time that I brought up the children of Israel out of Egypt, even to this day, but have walked in a tent and in a tabernacle. In all the places wherein I have walked with all the children of Israel, spake I a word with any of the tribes of Israel, whom I commanded to feed my people Israel, saying, Why build ye not me a house of cedar?
“Now, therefore, so shalt thou say unto my servant David, thus saith the Lord of Hosts, I took thee from the sheepcote, from following the sheep, to be a ruler over my people, over Israel: and I was with thee whithersoever thou wentest, and have cut off all thy enemies out of thy sight, and have made thee a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth. Moreover, I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant them that they may dwell in a place of their own, and move no more; neither shall the children of wickedness afflict them any more, as before time; and as since the time that I commanded judges to be over my people Israel, and have caused thee to rest from all thine enemies.
“Also the Lord telleth thee that he will make thee a house. And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men. But my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee; thy throne shall be established for ever” (II Sam. 7:1–16).
Now, before proceeding to look narrowly at the significance of these words, it will be well to meet a preliminary objection which is sometimes urged with considerable force, viz., that as they were fulfilled in the reign of Solomon, they cannot be legitimately understood of Christ. That the things affirmed had a parallel in the events of Solomon’s reign cannot be denied. Both David and Solomon apply them in this way (see I Kings 5:5; 8:20; 11:38; I Chron, 22:7; 28:3). Solomon was David’s son; God, in a sense, was his Father, for He took him under His special care, and endowed him with a degree of wisdom that made him famous above kings. He sat on the throne of David “before” (that is, in the presence of) David, being elevated to the crown before David’s decease, by David’s own instructions, and continued after David was gathered to his fathers. He built the temple of God at Jerusalem, according to plans drawn out by David under the influence of inspiration (I Chron. 28:12, 19). He was a man of peace. He committed iniquity and was chastened in the divine displeasure by means of adversaries raised up toward the close of his reign; but God’s mercy did not depart away from him as it did from Saul, for he was allowed to reign till death removed him.
To this extent, the covenant with David was verified in the days of Solomon; but to say that this parallel was the substance of the things promised, is to go in the teeth of Scripture testimony, both Old and New. David and Solomon’s application of the covenant, as recorded in the Scriptures referred to, does not interfere with this testimony. David and Solomon may be presumed not to have known its full scope. The prophets generally did not understand the full effect of their words (I Peter 1:10–12). Paul applies the terms of the covenant to Christ in Heb. 1:5: “I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son.” Peter, as we have already seen, expressly says that the covenant had reference to him (Acts 2:30). Jesus applies David’s language to himself: “The Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Psa. 110:1), and furthermore, he says of himself, “I am the root and the offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16), and that he has the key of David for the purpose of opening that no man may shut (Rev. 3:7). In the days of his flesh, he was known and described as “the son of David”; the whole nation of the Jews looked for a son of David to be the Messiah; all the prophets speak of him as a descendant of David, variously styling him “a rod out of the stem of Jesse (father of David)” (Isa. 11:1); “a righteous Branch raised unto David” (Jer. 23:5); “a child born and a son given to sit upon the throne of David and his kingdom” (Isa. 9:6), and so on.
It is, therefore, a vain thing for anyone to attempt to avert the application of the “everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and sure,” to Jesus, David’s son and Lord, the “greater than Solomon,” on the mere strength of a view taken by David and Solomon, which does not exclude this application, but which merely declares that the covenant made with reference to Jesus was incipiently fulfilled in Solomon.
It may be a question for consideration how it is that a prediction can have two fulfilments, so far separated by time and the nature of the event. The fact is evidence of the comprehensiveness of the divine word, but no disproof of the fact that the prediction in its ultimate and complete bearing has reference to Jesus. This is proved in too many ways to leave room for a moment’s doubt.
Assuming this to be settled, let us see, first, how much of the covenant has been fulfilled in the career of Christ, as so far developed; and, second, what Christ will have to do at his future manifestation, in order to fulfil that part of the covenant which was, unquestionably, not realised at his first appearing.
The facts bearing on the first point may very briefly be summarised: David’s days having been fulfilled, and he being “asleep with his fathers,” Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the city of David, of Mary, a virgin, descended in the line of David, and espoused to a man named Joseph, who was of the house and lineage of David. The event was announced by an angel to shepherds in the neighbourhood, watching their flocks by night, in the following language:—
“Fear not; for, behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day, in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10, 11).
Zacharias, the father of John, notices the event in the following language:—
“Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for He hath visited and redeemed His people; and hath raised up an horn of salvation for us in the house of His servant David, as He spake by the mouth of His holy prophets, which have been since the world began” (Luke 1:68–70).
Jesus, as we have seen in a previous lecture, was born without human paternity; his conception was due to the power of the Holy Spirit overshadowing Mary. “Therefore,” said the angel, “he shall be called the Son of God.” Thus, in a sense far transcending the case of Solomon, were the terms of the covenant realised—“I will be to him a Father, and he shall be to me a Son.” In fact, the divine sonship of Jesus is the crowning feature of his position as the Messiah. No man can Scripturally believe that he is the Christ, while denying that he is the Son of God. A Scriptural confession of his name involves the recognition of the two facts expressed in the words of Nathaniel—“Thou art the Son of God; thou ART THE KING OF ISRAEL” (John 1:49). John says, “Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (I John 5:5). The divine testimony to Jesus, uttered at his baptism, and again at his transfiguration, was couched in these words—“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased: hear ye him” (Matt. 17:5). Hence, the most striking feature in the covenant made with David shines out in Jesus, who was both Son of God and Son of David and in view of it, it is easy to understand the language of David in the 110th Psalm, in reference to which Jesus confounded the Pharisees so that they could not answer again. He said:—
“What think ye of Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How, then, doth David in spirit call him Lord, saying, the Lord said unto my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool? If David then call hun Lord, how is he his Son?” (Matt. 22:42–45).
This was a question which the Pharisees could not answer from their point of view, because, on the supposition that the Messiah was merely to be a natural son of David, on no principle admissible in Jewish practice could David have addressed him as Lord, for that would have been to accord to him a position and a deference which could never be recognised as proper to be yielded to a son by a father. But in view of the truth, the question admits of an easy solution: Christ is the son of David by the flesh of Mary; but he is also David’s Lord, because of a higher parental origin than David; “God hath committed all judgment unto the Son; that all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father” (John 5:22, 23).
The next feature in the history of Christ corresponds to the next feature in the covenant made with David. He did not commit iniquity; but he was “chastened with the rod of men,” and with the stripes of the children of men. The original Hebrew of this part of the covenant, according to Dr. Adam Clarke, is more correctly translated as follows:—“Even in his suffering for iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the stripes of the children of men.” This is intelligible as applied to the death of Christ:—
“Surely he hath borne our griefs and carried our sorrows, yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed.… The Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isa. 53:4, 6).
But the mercy of God did not desert him as it did Saul, who was rejected, and as we might presume it did in the case of Solomon, whose last days, so far as we have any record, were spent in disobedience. Christ was forsaken on the cross; but it was only for a moment; God’s favour returned with the morning which saw his deliverance from the grave of Joseph of Arimathea, and was to him an eternal river of joy. His relation to Deity in the whole transaction cannot be better expressed than in the words of the 16th Psalm, which Peter, on the day of Pentecost, applied to him:—
“I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh, also. shall rest in hope. For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer three holy one to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life; in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psa. 16:8–11).
In Psalm 89 the covenant with David is repeated in substance, and here the following language is used, which could not be applied to Solomon:—
“Also I will make him my firstborn, higher than the kings of the earth; my mercy will I keep for him for evermore … his seed also will I make to endure for ever; and his throne as the days of heaven” (verses 27–29).
In no sense was Solomon Jehovah’s firstborn; while of Jesus, the following statements are made:—
“He is the Head of the body, the Church, who is the beginning, THE FIRSTBORN from the dead, that in all things he might have the preeminence” (Col. 1:18).
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren” (Rom. 8:29).
“Christ the FIRSTFRUITS” (I Cor. 15:23).
In this respect, he fulfils a condition of the covenant made with David, which is in no sense satisfied in Solomon. And he is indeed “higher than the kings of the earth,” for Paul says:—“God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name; that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil. 2:9–10).
But when we pass on to consider other things said in the covenant of the son promised to David, we find that Jesus has not yet fulfilled them. The first item may be stated in the words of Peter, “That he should sit upon the throne of David.” In no sense can Jesus be said to have done this. The throne of David is in ruins. Its condition is described in the following language:—
“Thou hast cast off and abhorred; Thou hast been wroth with thine anointed. Thou hast made void the covenent of thy servant; Thou hast profaned his crown by casting it to the ground. Thou hast broken down all his hedges; Thou hast brought his strongholds to ruin. All that pass by the way spoil him; he is a reproach to his neighbours. Thou hast set up the right hand of his adversaries; Thou hast made all his enemies to rejoice. Thou hast also turned the edge of his sword, and hast not made him to stand in the battle. Thou hast made his glory to cease, and cast his throne down to the ground” (Psa. 89:38–44).
This state of things was predicted by Ezekiel in the following terms:—
“And thou profane, wicked prince of Israel, whose day is come, when iniquity shall have an end, thus saith the Lord God, Remove the diadem and take off the crown; this shall not be the same. Exalt him that is low and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more UNTIL HE COMES WHOSE RIGHT IT IS, AND I WILL GIVE IT HIM” (Ezek. 21:25, 27).
This prediction was uttered in the reign of Zedekiah, the last Israelitish king in the line of David, 593 b.c.; and ever since that time the kingdom has been overturned. It was overthrown by Nebuchadnezzer in the lifetime of Zedekiah, and was afterwards trampled down by Greece and Rome. Since the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, it has had no existence. The land is in the possession of the enemy, and the people are scattered as fugitives throughout the earth.
In view of this, what conclusion is to be drawn from the covenant made with David, which expressly guarantees the perpetual continuance of David’s throne and kingdom, under that son of his who was to be the firstborn of Jehovah? There is only one conclusion admissible in the premises, and that is, that at some future time, Jesus must return and re-establish the kingdom of David, and preside therein for God, as David did: and to this agree the words of the prophets, as it is written: “After this I WILL RETURN, AND WILL BUILD AGAIN THE TABERNACLE OF DAVID, WHICH IS FALLEN DOWN; and I will build again the ruins thereof; and I will set it up” (Acts 15:16). The testimony confirmatory of this conclusion is very express. There are the well-known words of Isaiah:—
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder; and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end; UPON THE THRONE OF DAVID, AND UPON HIS KINGDOM, to order it and to establish it with judgment, and with justice, from henceforth even for ever” (Isa. 9:6–7).
Then there are the words of the other prophets, of which the following are only a meagre sample:—
“In those days, and at that time, will I cause the branch of righteousness to grow up unto David, and he shall execute judgment and righteousness in the land, ” etc. (Jer. 33:15).
“Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will sow the house of Israel, and the house of Judah with the seed of man, and with the seed of beast. And it shall come to pass, that like as I have watched over them, to pluck up, and to break down, and to throw down, and to destroy, and to afflict; so will I watch over them, TO BUILD AND TO PLANT, saith the Lord” (Jer. 31:27, 28).
“For thus saith the Lord; like as I have brought all this great evil upon this people, so will I bring upon them ALL THE GOOD THAT I HAVE PROMISED THEM” (Jer. 32:42).
“Behold the days come, saith the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah” (Jer. 33:14).
“In that day, saith the Lord, will I assemble her that halteth, and I will gather her that is driven out, and her that I have afflicted; and I will make her that halted, a remnant, and her that was cast off, A STRONG NATION; and the Lord shall reign over them in Mount Zion from henceforth even for ever” (Mic. 4:6, 7).
“Thus saith the Lord God, Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side and bring them into their own land. And I will make them ONE NATION in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and ONE KING shall be King to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all” (Ezek. 37:21, 22).
“And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations” (Isa. 61:4).
These predictions will not be realised in the absence of Jesus Christ from the earth. This appears upon the face of the testimonies themselves, but is proved in a way that excludes the possibility of mistake, by Peter’s declaration, recorded in Acts 3:20–21:—
“He shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you; whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, WHICH GOD HATH SPOKEN BY THE MOUTH OF ALL HIS HOLY PROPHETS SINCE THE WORLD BEGAN.”
From this it follows that the work of restoration so abundantly described by the prophets does not occur till Jesus returns and reappears on earth. This will account for Paul’s connecting Christ’s appearing AND kingdom as coincident events, in the words “Jesus Christ shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom” (II Tim. 4:1). When he appears, his kingdom will come; for it is his return to the earth that causes his kingdom to be established. Hence we can understand the statement that “when the Son of man shall come in his glory, THEN shall he sit upon the throne of his glory” (Matt. 25:31). This statement Jesus repeats in another form, which only makes its identification with the re-establishment of the kingdom of Israel more certain. He said to his disciples:—
“Verily, I say unto you, that ye which have followed me, in the re–generation (which is equivalent to the restitution spoken of by Peter) when the Son of Man shall sit in the throne of his glory, ye also shall sit upon twelve thrones, JUDGING THE TWELVE TRIBES OF ISRAEL” (Matt. 19:28).
When this comes to pass, there will be fulfilment of the words addressed to Mary: “And he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end” (Luke 1:33). And when these words are verified, the covenant made with David will find a fulfilment over which no obscurity can be cast.
The covenant guarantees the Messianic establishment of David’s kingdom in David’s presence. The words are, “Thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee.” As we have seen, this was partially fulfilled in David witnessing Solomon’s ascension to the throne before his own death; but it is easy to see how much more completely and substantially it will be fulfilled in the kingdom of David in the hands of Jesus. The kingdom of Israel, as ruled by Christ, will be the kingdom of God. The promise to all the faithful is that they shall inherit the kingdom of God (Luke 22:29, 30; Matt. 19:28; James 2:5; Luke 13:28, 29; 12:32, 36; II Peter 1:11). Hence David, who was a man after God’s own heart, will be among those of whom Jesus says, in one of the foregoing list of references, that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets—of whom David was one—will be seen in the kingdom of God.
This cannot mean heaven; for Peter expressly says, “David is not ascended into the heavens” (Acts 2:34). It is the kingdom to be set up in the territory of the Promised Land, when the little stone descends from heaven to break in pieces all other kingdoms. David, looking forward to this time, said in prayer, immediately after hearing the words of the covenant, “Thou hast spoken also of Thy servant’s house for a great while to come.… Therefore now let it please Thee to bless the house of Thy servant, that it may continue for ever before Thee” (II Sam. 7:19, 29). This prayer is answered in the words of Jeremiah (chapter 33:17, 25, 26); “For thus saith the Lord: DAVID shall never want a man to sit upon the throne of the house of Israel … If my covenant be not with day and night, and if I have not appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth, then will I cast away the seed of Jacob; and DAVID MY SERVANT, So that I will not take any of his seed to be rulers over the seed of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. For I will cause their captivity to return, and have mercy on them.”
The time for this is now not far off, and David himself will be in the land, rejoicing in the greatness of his Son, who will be a triumphant witness of the truthfulness of Jehovah’s word. Every nation will come to an end, except the nation of Israel (Jer. 30:11), and every royal family will disappear and be forgotten, except the family of David, which will be in everlasting remembrance, because an everlasting and glorious institution, by the ransomed inhabitants of the globe. Thus will be fulfilled the promise that the house of David shall continue for ever.
We have next to observe a feature of the covenant which few modern readers of the Bible have been able, in any sense, to apply to Jesus. We refer to the first clause of the thirteenth verse; “He shall build an house for my name.” Understanding this to mean the erection of a place in the earth for the worship of Jehovah, it may be considered incredible that such a performance should form any part of Christ’s work. At first sight, such a thing may seem preposterous and degrading to the dignity of Christ, but, looking closely into the subject, we discover a different complexion in it. We shall see that not only is the building of a temple, to which nations may periodically repair for worship, one of the incidents of the age to come, but that the performance of this work is connected with the noblest mission of the kingdom of God.
We will first call the reader’s attention to the evidence which proves that what is affirmed in the covenant made with David will be realised in the kingdom of Christ. It begins with a statement in Zech. 6:12, to the following effect:—
“Behold the man whose name is the Branch, and he shall grow up out of his place, and he shall build the temple of the Lord … and he shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon his throne. And he shall be a priest upon his throne.”
The applicability of this to Jesus might be doubted from the context were it not that the statement cannot be understood of any other than he who bears the title occurring in it. The Messiah is uniformly described as THE BRANCH, and he alone is to be “a priest upon his throne,” combining in himself, like Melchizedek, the double function of rule in temporal matters and intercession in things pertaining to God. Were this the only consideration, however, to justify the application of the prophecy to Jesus, it would fall short of proving the point. We therefore proceed to weightier considerations.
It is said of the time when Jesus shall reign on the throne of his father David, that “many people and strong nations shall come to seek the Lord of Hosts in Jerusalem, and to pray before the Lord” (Zech. 8:22). This is expressed by Jeremiah as a gathering of the nations to the name of the Lord to Jerusalem; in consequence of which they walk no more in the imagination of their evil heart (Jer. 3:17); and by Isaiah, as the going of many people, saying, “Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths,” etc. (Isa. 2:3). Zechariah describes this in the following language:—
“And it shall come to pass that every one that is left of all the nations which came against Jerusalem shall even go up from year to year, to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, and to keep the feast of tabernacles” (Zech. 14:16).
That these things are true of Christ’s reign on earth and nothing else, must be evident from the fact that they are associated with a time when the nations shall cease from war, and when men shall no longer follow the bent of their evil inclinations. Such a state of things has never been realised in the history of the world. If, then, nations are to go periodically to Jerusalem for the purpose of worship, it stands to reason that there will be a place in which this act can have suitable effect. It is not to be imagined that a motley assemblage of people could conveniently, comfortably, or profitably bring their devotion to bear without those customary means of approach, which, in all past times God has furnished to those whom He has invited to do homage to Him. Why should nations come to Jerusalem, if there were no temple there? If their worship was simply to consist of the sentiment of devotion, this could as well be cultivated in the countries they inhabit as at the holy city.
The necessity of the case requires that there should exist a machinery of worship adequate to the grandeur of the dispensation, in which Jerusalem is the religious metropolis of the whole world. It is evident from attention to the limited testimony quoted, that this will exist. Mark, for instance, the expression, “Let us go up to the house of the Lord.” Again, “the pots in the Lord’s house shall be like the bowls before the altar” (Zech. 14:20). “The glory of THIS LATTER HOUSE shall be greater than of the former, saith the Lord of Hosts; and IN THIS PLACE will I give peace” (Hag. 2:9). “Then shall Jerusalem be holy.… And a fountain shall come forth of the house of the Lord, and shall water the valley of Shittim” (Joel 3:17, 18).
We quote these indirect evidences not so much to prove the point in question as to introduce the great and crowning evidence before which all others pale into insignificance. We now refer to the vision of Ezekiel, contained in the last nine chapters of the book bearing his name. This portion of the Scripture has baffled all Bible commentators, for the simple reason that popular theology can make no use of it. To what purpose is the establishment of a temple ritual at Jerusalem, if death sends men for final weal or woe, to God or the devil, and if the presumed millennium is simply to be a prevalence of “evangelical religion”?
The chapters referred to were written after the destruction of Solomon’s temple by Nebuchadnezzar, and disclose a state of things which has never since that time existed under heaven. The temple was rebuilt at the return of the Jews from Babylon. But Ezekiel’s prophecy was not realised in that event, as may be seen by a comparison of Ezekiel’s prophecy with the facts connected with the second temple. The rebuilt temple, so far from being greater than the first, was vastly inferior to it. This cannot be better proved than by quoting the following passage from Ezra 3:12, 13:—
“But many of the Priests and Levites, and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, WEPT WITH A LOUD VOICE; and many shouted aloud for joy; so that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people; for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.”
Ezekiel’s temple is to be contemporary with a division of the promised land to the twelve tribes of Israel (Ezekiel 48). The educated reader does not require to be informed that this has never taken place since the day of the Babylonish captivity. The restoration from Babylon was but a return of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and but a small portion of them. The ten tribes constituting the Kingdom of Israel, were removed by Shalmaneser the king of Assyria, to countries beyond the river Euphrates, and have never returned. The conclusion is self-evident; the land has never been divided to the twelve tribes of Israel, as it is to be when Ezekiel’s temple is reared.
Another fact proving the futurity of the prophecy, is, that at the time foreseen by Ezekiel a portion of the country, measuring at the least forty miles by forty, is to be set apart for divine purposes as “a holy oblation” (Ezek. 45:1, 4). In this stand the temple, the holy city, and the habitation of the priests. Such a thing, as everyone knows, has never happened in the history of the Holy Land; from which it follows that the state of things depicted in the chapter under consideration lies in the future. This conclusion is established beyond all question by the concluding statement of the prophet; that “the name of the city from that day shall be, THE LORD IS THERE.”
In view of the certainty that Ezekiel’s prophecy is unfulfilled, it becomes interesting in the highest degree to glance at what Ezekiel describes. He says, in the visions of God he was brought into the land of Israel, and set upon a very high mountain, from which he beheld the frame of a city to the south. He finds himself in the company of a man, “whose appearance was like the appearance of brass, with a line of flax in his hand, and a measuring reed.” This man, whom he sees standing in the entrance gate of the temple enclosure, addresses him as follows:
“Son of man, behold with thine eyes, and hear with thine ears, and set thine heart upon all that I shall shew thee; for to the intent that I might shew them unto thee, art thou brought hither; declare all that thou seest to the house of Israel” (Ezek. 40:4).
Ezekiel then becomes attentive to his guide’s operations, and beholds him proceed with a series of measurements which he records with great minuteness, in the first five chapters. Without following the intricacies of these, let us briefly state that Ezekiel is shown a temple exceeding anything ever realised in the history of Israel or any other nation. The temple is a gigantic building, with every appliance required in the worship of which it is the centre. The outside wall (measuring about a mile-and-a-quarter each way), is pierced with many gates, each gate being flanked with chambers for the temple service, and entered by an upward flight of steps. Mounting the steps, the prophet sees an inner wall, about 150 feet nearer the temple; the space lying between the inner and the outer wall being described as “the outer court,” and forming a spacious promenade or pavement. The inner wall has gates after the pattern of those in the outer wall. These gates open by eight steps into the inner court, in which stands THE TEMPLE—an immense circle of lofty arched and latticed building, capable of holding a million worshippers. This is the centre-piece of the vision. For height, breadth, and elaborateness, it exceeds anything devised in human architecture, and is only surpassed in interest by the event which the prophet witnessed after surveying the external approaches to the building. This event, which he saw from the eastern gate of the outer wall, he describes in the following language:—
“Behold the glory of the God of Israel came from the way of the east, and His voice was like a noise of many waters, and the earth shined with His glory … And the glory of the Lord came into the house by the way of the gate whose prospect is toward the east” (ch. 43:2, 4).
Ezekiel is then conveyed by the spirit into the inner court, standing in which he beholds the house filled with the glory of the Lord. He then hears the divine voice addressing him as follows:—
“Son of Man, the place of my throne, and the place of the soles of my feet, where I WILL DWELL IN THE MIDST OF THE CHILDREN OF ISRAEL FOR EVER, and my holy name shall the house of Israel no more defile; neither they nor their kings, by their whoredom, nor by the carcases of their kings in their high places” (verse 7).
Afterwards, Ezekiel is taken back by the way of the eastern gate, and observes that it is shut, in reference to which the following explanation is given:—
“This gate shall be shut, it shall not be opened, and no man shall enter in by it; because the Lord, the God of Israel, hath entered in by it, therefore it shall be shut; it is for the prince; the prince, he shall sit in it, to eat bread before the Lord. He shall enter by the Way of the porch of that gate, and shall go out by the way of the same” (ch. 44:2–3).
At a later stage, Ezekiel received the following information in reference to the same gate:—
“The gate of the inner court that looketh toward the east shall be shut the six working days; but on the Sabbath it shall be opened and in the day of the new moon it shall be opened. And the prince shall enter by the way of the porch of that gate without, and shall stand by the post of the gate. And the priests shall prepare his burnt offering and his peace offerings; and he shall worship at the threshold of the gate; then he shall go forth; but the gate shall not be shut until the evening. Likewise the people of the land shall worship at the door of this gate before the Lord, in the Sabbaths and in the new moons” (ch. 46:1, 2, 3).
The temple, we are informed, stands in the centre of an area of country measuring forty-two miles from east to west, and about seventeen miles from north to south; which is to be occupied by a class described as “the sons of Zadok,” who were faithful in ancient times. To the south of this, there is a similar tract of country measured off for the Levites, whose duty it will be to perform the menial and laborious duties connected with the temple worship. Again, to the south of this, measuring forty-two miles from east to west, and between nine and ten miles from north to south, a strip of country is allotted for the city and land for fields and gardens.
The measurements of the city show it to be the most extensive and magnificent that has ever been built. Lying four-square, it will occupy an area of about eighty square miles. Each wall, east, west, north, and south, measures about nine miles, the total circumference being, therefore, about thirty-six miles. In each wall, there are three gates, at equal distances, each gate being named after one of the tribes of the land. The land lying east and west of the city, appropriated for the raising of produce, contains about two-hundred-and-seventy square miles, forming an adequate provision for the wants of the stupendous city, which will be known from that day by the name—Jehovah-shammah, the Lord is there.
The temple stands on the site of ancient and modern Jerusalem, crowning the hill of Zion; of which it is testified in Psalm 132:13–14:—“The Lord hath chosen Zion; He hath desired it for His habitation. This is my rest for ever; here will I dwell, for I have desired it.” The city lies about thirty-two miles to the south of the temple. The whole territory apportioned is a magnificent square, measuring about forty-two miles each way, and forming the tabernacle of Jehovah, as it will be pitched in the age to come.
These details leave no doubt as to the reality of the temple to be erected in the day when the fallen tabernacle of David is upreared by the Son of David. The reason that orthodox interpreters are unable to see this, is, that they are ignorant of the kingdom of which the temple and its service form a part.
Another reason is probably to be found in the fact, that the sacrifices superseded by the death of Christ are in this temple found restored; burnt offerings and sin offerings, of “bulls and goats,” are required with all the minute ceremonial observed under the law of Moses. This, to the majority of people, is a great stumbling block. They reason against the possibility of sacrifices being restored after the accomplishment of the anti-typical sacrifice of “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.”
A little reflection, however, will dissipate the force of this difficulty. It is evident that the reign of Christ on earth is a priestly one. This is stated in the testimony that “he shall be a priest upon his throne”; and is further evident from the statement in Rev. 1:6: “He hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father,” a double function which appears from Rev. 5:10, to have reference to the time when Christ shall reign on earth: “Thou hast made us unto our God kings and priests; and we shall reign on the earth.” If, then, the millennial dispensation is a priestly one, it is according to the fitness of things, that the people should have somewhat to offer in token of their obedience; and the priests, something to present on their behalf.
But it will be asked, how can the sacrifice of animals be revived, when he who was slain is present in the earth as a perfected mediator between God and man? and since Christ’s priesthood is in force even now, without the use of material sacrifices on the part of those for whom he officiates, viz., his own household, why need there be material sacrifices in the age to come, when his priesthood is but transferred from his own household to the world?
The answer to this must take a general form. As the sacrifices under the law of Moses pointed forward to the death of Christ, so the sacrifices under the “prophet like unto Moses,” may point backward to the death of Christ. In the law of Moses, the sacrifices were prospective and typical of that which was to come. Under the law of Christ, they may be retrospective and commemorative of that which has been: after the manner of the Lord’s supper, which, in Christ’s absence, is a standing memorial of his broken body and shed blood. Whatever explanation of the fact may be suggested, there can be no doubt of the fact itself, that sacrifices form part of the institution of the age to come. We gather this, not only from Ezekiel, but from a variety of Scripture testimony, of which we cite the following examples:—
“For from the rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same, my name shall be great among the Gentiles; and in every place incense shall be offered unto my name, and a PURE OFFERING; for my name shall be great among the heathen, saith the Lord of Hosts” (Mal. 1:11).
“The multitude of camels shall cover thee, the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah; all they from Sheba shall come, they shall bring gold and incense; and they shall shew forth the praises of the Lord. All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered together unto thee; the rams of Nebaioth shall minister unto thee; they shall come up with acceptance on mine altar, and I will glorify THE HOUSE OF MY GLORY” (Isa. 60:6, 7).
“And the Lord shall be known to Egypt, and the Egyptians shall know the Lord in that day, and shall do sacrifice and oblation; yea, they shall vow a vow unto the Lord, and perform it” (Isa. 19:21).
“For the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice, and without an image, and without an ephod, and without teraphim. AFTERWARD shall the children of Israel return and seek the Lord their God, and David their king, and shall fear the Lord and His goodness in the latter days” (Hosea 3:4, 5).
“Yea, every pot in Jerusalem and in Judah shall be holiness unto the Lord of Hosts; and all they that sacrifice shall come and take of them and seethe therein; and in that day there shall be no more the Canaanite in the House of the Lord of Hosts” (Zech. 14:21).
“God is the Lord, which has shewed us light. Bind the sacrifice with cords, even unto the horns of the altar” (Psa. 118:27).
At first sight, it may appear incongruous that the glorious administration of power and righteousness characteristic of the reign of Christ should be mixed up with a ritual which has been obsolete for centuries, and between which and the truth there scarcely exists the element of affinity. There is, however, a view of the matter which reveals wisdom in the arrangement.
It is part of eternal truth that without faith and trial, it is impossible to be accepted with God. This principle is unaffected by time or circumstances; it will be as true in the future age as now. Men and women, who live as subjects of the Messiah’s kingdom, will have to obtain a right to eat of the tree of life by faith and obedience, as much as those who now have to struggle in the absence of an open vision. But how can their faith be exercised, and how can their obedience be tested in the presence of the overpowering fact of God’s visible government of the nations through Jesus and the saints? Does it not seem as if all scope for faith would be shut out by the sublime and incontestable facts of the time? And as if obedience would be eclipsed and superseded by the practical compulsion brought to bear upon men by the existence and supervision of divine government?
As it appears to us, the restitution of sacrifice supplies an answer to the question. Called upon to perform acts in the worship of God, which in themselves appear needless and unsuitable, the faith and obedience of men will be put to as powerful a test as in ancient days, when similar things were required at the hand of Israel. Their minds will be educated to submit to the divine will, and to have faith in the divine intentions by a ritualism unreasonable enough to have no hold upon the mind, except such as arises from a recognition of divine authority; while, at the same time, their intellects will be enlightened by the lessons taught by it in allegory. We must remember that in the age to come, the nations subject to Christ and his people will be composed of men and women constituted as men and women are now: and, therefore, standing in need of spiritual education.
The kingdom of God, in its millennial phase, is an adaptation to this necessity. By the aid of this fact, we are enabled to see the wisdom of a dispensation which would be out of keeping in a generation spiritually perfect. Nations will have to be disciplined in first principles, and exercised continually in a divine direction. Left without external stimulus or object of occupation, the human mind becomes listless and retrogressive. The most brilliant moral impressions will fade in a state of inactivity. Degeneration of this description will be effectually prevented by a system of universal compulsory religion, which will require the presence of every man once a year at the centre of divine government and worship, and which, for every offence against the laws, will exact the token of penitence afforded in the sacrifice of an animal of his property. The mind of all the world will be kept in continual motion in a spiritual channel. By this means, mankind, as a whole, will be turned from the ways of ignorance and evil, while the powerful hand of governmental repression, brought to bear upon everything antagonistic to the temporal and spiritual welfare of the people, will secure a situation admitting of the full and effective operation of these ameliorating influences.
Thus we see a beauty and a force in that clause of the covenant made with David, which assigns to the Messiah the duty of building a house to the Lord of all the earth. The mechanical part of the process will, of course, be performed by the alien. The manual labour required to elaborate the splendid and spacious architecture exhibited to Ezekiel, will be furnished by the stranger; but the work will be executed under the supervision of Christ, as the temple of Solomon was built to David’s directions:—
“The sons of strangers shall build up thy walls and their kings shall minister unto thee; for in my wrath I smote thee, but in my favour have I had mercy on thee … The sons also of them that afflicted thee shall come bending unto thee, and all they that despised thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of thy feet; and they shall call thee the city of the Lord, the Zion of the Holy One of Israel. Whereas, thou hast been forsaken and hated, so that no man went through thee, I will make thee an eternal excellency, a joy of many generations” (Isa. 60:10, 14, 15).
“And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your ploughmen, and your vine-dressers” (Isa. 61:4, 5).
“Thus saith the Lord God, Behold I will lift up mine hand to the Gentiles, and set up my standard to the people: and they shall bring thy sons in their arms, and thy daughters shall be carried upon their shoulders. And kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers: they shall bow down to thee with their face toward the earth, and lick up the dust of thy feet: and thou shalt know that I am the Lord: for they shall not be ashamed that wait for me” (Isa. 49:22, 23).
It will be the peculiar honour of Jesus to bring all nations to worship before God: and this he will do in virtue of the covenant made with David.
Little remains to be said in illustration of the remaining provisions of the covenant. That God will establish the throne of His kingdom for ever, in the hands of Jesus; and, under Him, give to Israel the sure dwelling-place from which they shall never be removed, has been made evident in other lectures. These two conclusions are amongst the most copiously attested doctrines of the Word of God. In the light of them all prophecy is intelligible; without them, the Old Testament is what orthodox people practically find it to be—a dark vision, and a dead letter.
For this, the Apostasy is responsible. By intermixing pagan dogmas with the doctrines of revelation, it has succeeded in mystifying the oracles of God to an extent which is hopeless as regards the majority of people. It’ has drawn a thick veil over their faces; it has made the Bible unintelligible, and brought it into ridicule and contempt with many who, with a better understanding, would bow before the sublimity and splendour of the scheme it unfolds for the redemption of this fair planet from the evil that now reigns. This lamentable result cannot be remedied to any material extent at present. A few here and there will surrender to the power of judgment and testimony; but the great majority will continue in bondage to the power of error numerically supported.
Seduced by the deception practised upon their senses by the circumstances existing in society, they are deaf to the voice of reason; they look around them, and behold a crowd walking in the stereotyped ways of popular religion; and, though, taken man by man, they could estimate their opinions at their proper value—which, in the majority of cases, from the ignorance that prevails, is no value at all—yet the mere deadweight of numbers gives the collective sentiment a power which they cannot resist, and they allow themselves to be dragged like manacled slaves at the chariot wheels of a system of faith which will not stand for a moment when tried on its own merits. Every one man in the crowd sees the rest as a crowd, and overpowered by the sight of the crowd, he bows to the collective opinion, though it be but a mere traditional bias, and not a conviction on evidence. In this way, each man in the great orthodox communities, is held in bondage by all the rest, and the bondage is rivited hard and fast by the influence of the church, chapel, college, vestry, school, bazaar, tea party, private interest, and the whole machinery of the system.
Nothing will break into this intellectual slavery but the iran rod of the Son of David. When he comes to vest, in his single person, the authority now exercised by all the kings and parliaments of the world; when he lays hold, with unsparing hand, upon the vested interests which obstruct the path of general progress; and shivers to atoms the rotten fabrics of respectable superstition; when he overturns the institutions which foolish crowds fall down and worship, through the mere power of antiquity; when he sends forth to all the world the decrees of a divine and omnipotent absolutism; when he sets up a system of worship to which he will command conformity on pain of death; and demands the allegiance of every soul to be personally tendered at Jerusalem, the city of the great king; when he comes to sweep, from the face of the earth, the tangled cobweb of existing institutions which shelters ignorance, vice, and misery; while professedly based on right, religion, and morality; and to deal, with even hand, the swift and powerful awards of unerring justice; when he, in fact, breaks in pieces the whole constitution of human society, as now put together, and substitutes for it a new order of things, having the revived kingdom of David, in the land of Palestine, as its centre and basis of operations—then, and not till then, will mankind see their folly, and “come from the ends of the earth, and say, Surely our fathers have inherited lies, vanity, and things wherein there is no profit” (Jer. 16:19). There is no hope till then. He will “judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth” (Psalm 67). “In that day there shall be one Lord, and his name One.” (Zech. 14:9).