Saturday, December 24, 2022

The Line of the Forever King

“To you in David’s town this day
 Is born of David’s line
 A Savior, who is Christ the Lord
 And this shall be the sign …”

— from While Shepherds
    Watched Their Flocks

The Messiah of Israel had to be from the tribe of Judah. Not just that, he had also to be of the specific line of David, Israel’s greatest king, and the “man after [God’s] own heart”.

Not that David was perfect. Not nearly. In fact, if you remember the little incident with Uriah, David could behave in a really ungodly way, inciting the wrath of God — which he did, on more than one occasion. But these things were irregular for David. Much of the time, David seemed to have an intuitive grasp of what the Lord would want. Think of his standing up to Goliath, or his dancing before the ark, or his providing for the temple, or his purchase of the threshing floor of Araunah. Most of the time, his heart was in the right place.

And this is the key: when he sinned, David always repented. Anything can be forgiven if repentance is sincere.

Forever, or Not Forever?

Meanwhile, God had promised David that his kingly line would last forever. However, when God repeated the promise to David’s son Solomon, he did not guarantee that all his promises to David would be fulfilled through Solomon’s descendants. That depended on how Solomon conducted himself: “If you listen to all that I command you and walk in my ways, and do what is right in my sight by keeping my statutes and my commandments, as my servant David did.” And that’s odd: how could the same promise to Solomon be conditional, if the promise to his father, David, was absolute?

And things got worse. For not only did most of Solomon’s descendants not follow the Lord, but some behaved so badly that they brought curses on themselves and on Israel; all culminating with Jehoiachin (who was also called “Jeconiah” and the even shorter “Coniah”), a king so godless that the Lord declared this through the prophet Jeremiah:

“Write this man down as childless, a man who will not prosper in his days; for no man among his descendants will prosper sitting on the throne of David or ruling again in Judah.”

Virgins and Firstborn Sons

I wonder if a great cheer went up from the enemies of God when Jeremiah wrote down those words. I’m speaking about the spiritual enemies, the powers in high places that are opposed to God; for probably no ordinary person realized what was at stake. But it meant that David’s line was cursed. There would be no inheritor of the Davidic line, no Messiah, because there was no longer a line into which he could be born … right?

But God is wiser, far wiser than all his adversaries — be they supernatural beings or mere men. Perhaps the enemies of God would not have been so glib if they had thought at all about the confluence of two factors that must have seemed, at the time, totally unrelated.

One was Isaiah 7:14: “The virgin shall conceive, and give birth to a son, and they shall name him Immanuel, which means ‘God with us’.” The other is the fact that in scripture the firstborn son, the inheritor, was appointed by the father (see Genesis 48:14, 49:3-4), not simply born into that role automatically. In fact, the line of kings through Judah was a product of this very fact. Once the father had given the blessing of the firstborn, it could not be taken back, and that son could not be disinherited.

The Genealogies of Christ

There remains much scholarly debate around the genealogical lists in Matthew and Luke’s early chapters (legal versus physical, Joseph’s versus Mary’s). We need not sort all that out in order to notice that there are two different ones. Both lines descend from David. But the one in Matthew descends through Solomon and Jehoiachin. The one in Luke descends from David, but not the other two. The first is evidently indicating the right of kingship, and the second, something else. But if modern, conservative scholars are right, then the purpose of Matthew’s genealogy is to identify the right of Jesus Christ to Messianic kingship and the fulfilling of God’s promise to David, and the purpose of the second to achieve something else, since it does not include the kingly line.

The purpose of both is clearly this: to establish the history and legitimacy of the Lord’s claim to be the Messiah: son of Judah, son of David, of the kingly line by law, and yet untouched by the curse against Jehoiachin. For while our Lord had legal title to the kingship through adoption by Joseph, his physical lineage came only through Mary. Thus, he fulfills perfectly the plans of God to establish the kingdom through David forever, but also his righteous determination not to establish it through the line of the wicked kings that culminated in Jehoiachin.

The Beloved Son

I wonder if the enemies of God saw that coming. I doubt it. For it was not until just before the temptation in the wilderness, at his baptism, that God the Father declared him publicly his firstborn, saying, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Satan’s subsequent testing only confirmed the truth of that claim.

So, our Lord was king, but our Lord was free of the curse, declared firstborn of Joseph, actual firstborn of God the Father. Moreover, in his nature he was free, not just from the curse against Jehoiachin’s line, but the curse of sin-in-the-flesh itself. Indeed, God the Father would later have to “make” (i.e. to “treat him as”) a curse for us, since he was in no way cursed in his own nature and actions.

No comments :

Post a Comment