I was asked a question recently about how to understand a well-known prophecy from 2 Samuel 7. David had been given rest from all his enemies and purposed to build a house for Yahweh. But Yahweh told David not to build a house for Him, but that Yahweh would build a house for David:
“…the LORD declares to you that the LORD will make you a house. 12 When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, 15 but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. 16 And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” (2Sa 7:11-16)
This prophecy is recognized in the New Testament as being fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Heb 1:5). And yet, this prophecy speaks of David’s son committing iniquity. So how can this prophecy really be about Jesus? There is no sense in which Jesus sinned, is there?
There are couple of things to keep in mind when we are considering Messianic prophecy. The first is that biblical prophecy often has both a near-term fulfillment and an ultimate fulfillment. For example, Isaiah 7:14 reads: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. This is understood by Matthew to be a reference to Jesus in Matthew 1:23. Yet, the surrounding context of Isaiah 7-8 seems to point to a nearer-term fulfillment in the birth of Isaiah’s son, Maher-shalal-hash-baz.
With both prophecies, 2 Sam 7 and Isa 7, there are elements that do not perfectly fit Jesus, but rather look more like Solomon and Maher-shalal-hash-baz, respectively.
This is not so troubling when we consider a second principle of biblical prophecy: the Old Testament shows a pattern of imperfect shadows pointing to the ultimate work of Jesus. These patterns are much easier to spot when either reading through the Old Testament very quickly or when intentionally looking at the big picture storyline. In Gen 1-3, we see God setting up a kingdom on earth in which man lived in fellowship with God and ruled as God’s steward. But Adam sinned, leading to a pattern of God approaching man to re-establishing the relationship but man not keeping his end of the deal.
Therefore, the Flood shows God wiping the slate clean and starting over with Noah. This is why we find language in Gen 9 that is just like language in Gen 1 (“Be fruitful and multiply…”). We see man asserting himself against God again in Gen 11 (the Tower of Babel), and God essentially starting over again with Abram in Gen 12. The nation of Israel then represents the most vivid and long-term picture of man’s inability to live in fellowship with God. The NT shows Jesus as the answer to this problem.
In a similar way, Solomon was an imperfect shadow of Christ in that he was the son of David and he did build a house for God (2 Sam 7:13, cf 1 Kings 6), yet, he was sinful and his legacy led to a rending of Israel into two kingdoms and eventually into exile and oppression under numerous foreign powers. Jesus is the more perfect and ultimate Son of David (Matt 1:1), who never sinned and who is building a glorious house for God, the church (Eph 2:19-22).
The ancient Near Eastern mind had no problem with this understanding of fulfillment, an understanding that is looser than our modern Western minds are comfortable with. We look for verbatim fulfillments. They looked for shadows and shapes. This is why New Testament authors had no qualms not only linking odd OT passages to Jesus, but also to quoting them imprecisely. If the apostles had not problem with this kind of interpretation of prophecy, neither should we! We should not impose our modern Western standards of fulfillment on ancient Near Eastern documents. Further, that there are near-term imperfect fulfillments gives us all the more reason to rejoice in the ultimate fulfillment in Christ!
If you ever have any questions about theology, bible interpretation, or Christian living, please let me know. Any question you have is most likely on the minds of others as well. If appropriate, I’ll be happy to answer that question here for the benefit of all.