Monday, March 3, 2014

Conditional, Unconditional, David, Jesus

I watched the final lesson of The Unbreakable Promise: God’s Covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David With Michael Rydelnik yesterday, while I was eating my lunch.  My church has been going through this curriculum for its latest Bible study, but we did not get to do the final lesson.  The pastor was away, and, starting this coming Thursday, we will be doing another curriculum, one that is more relevant to the Easter season.  My pastor offered to lend the Unbreakable Promise DVD to anyone who was interested in watching the final lesson, and I took him up on that.

The final lesson was entitled “Looking for Fulfillment,” and it focused on David.  In this lesson, Michael Rydelnik was trying to argue that II Samuel 7 was about David’s dynasty, but also Jesus Christ.  In II Samuel 7, God promises David that God will establish David’s seed into an everlasting house, that God will discipline David’s seed when it sins rather than removing God’s mercy from it, and that David’s seed will build God a house.  Looking at II Samuel 7 by itself, I was not convinced by what Rydelnik was saying.  He seemed to be suggesting that the part about the everlasting house related to Jesus (but also God’s unconditional commitment to the dynasty itself), whereas the part about God disciplining David’s seed when it sinned concerned the others within the Davidic dynasty, as Jesus did not sin.  That interpretation struck me as rather arbitrary, and I doubt that it would convince someone who lacks Christian convictions (or even some with Christian convictions!).  Why can we not just say that II Samuel 7 is about Solomon and the Davidic dynasty, period, without believing that it somehow predicts a future perfect Messiah, Jesus Christ?

As Rydelnik commented on other passages of Scripture, however, I could see a bit more where he was coming from.  For example, whereas II Samuel 7 appears to present God’s covenant with the Davidic dynasty, God in I Kings 6:12 seems to condition God’s words to David on Solomon’s obedience to God’s commandments.   The problem was that Solomon and his descendants did not observe God’s commandments.  According to Rydelnik, that sets the stage for Jesus, the descendant of David who would keep God’s commandments.

This is not proof that the Hebrew Bible points to Jesus, but it does raise questions in my mind.  Within the Hebrew Bible are the views that God’s covenant with David is conditional and unconditional.  If a reader wants to hold both of those beliefs simultaneously, how could he or she do so?  Well, one way is to say that the unconditional and conditional aspects of the covenant were fulfilled in Jesus Christ: the Davidic dynasty would last forever because Jesus Christ fulfilled the conditions, God’s commandments.  Moreover, why does the Hebrew Bible spend so much time telling people that the Davidic kings sinned?  Is it because it is saying that something better will come, the Messiah?  Or maybe the Books of Samuel and Kings do not have a belief in a coming perfect Messiah, but one reason that canonizers included their books was to promote such a belief.

Of course, one could just say that the Hebrew Bible contains different sources: some believe in an eternal Davidic dynasty, whereas others think that God’s covenant with David was conditional on obedience.  Some may try to harmonize these two concepts in other ways.  One way is to say that no covenant or promise God makes is truly unconditional: God may have wanted to make David’s dynasty everlasting, but God eventually got so fed up with David’s descendants that God went back on the unconditionality of the covenant.  Another way is to say that God is still committed to the Davidic dynasty and will restore it in the future, while programming Israelites such that they do not sin, the sort of scenario that we see in Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel.  That way, the unconditionality and conditionality of the covenant are both met: the covenant continues, while the people obey.

Something else to note: in my review of Rydelnik’s The Messianic Hope, I talked about Rydelnik’s argument that Genesis 3:15 says that the serpent of the Garden will struggle with the woman’s seed, the Messiah.  Rydelnik was arguing against the idea that Genesis 3:15 is about the conflict between humans and snakes, saying that the serpent of Genesis 3:15 is not your ordinary snake if it lives long enough to fight the promised seed!  My response was that the snake could fight the woman’s seed through its descendants, that there are times in Scripture where people appear to be conflated with their descendants.  For example, when the prophets mention “David” ruling Israel in the future, they most likely mean that a descendant of David will rule, not that David himself will.  Well, on the DVD, Rydelnik made this point about David, saying that David in Hosea 3:4-5 referred to Jesus, the descendant of David, rather than David himself.

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