Robert Saucy on the Davidic Covenant

Robert Saucy attempts to provide a mediating position on the Davidic covenant between traditional and revised dispensationalism on the one hand and non-dispensationalism on the other in his chapter on the Davidic covenant in his book The Case for Progressive Dispensationalism.

Saucy first examines the Davidic covenant in its Old Testament context and summarizes the covenant around three major promises: a royal dynasty, an everlasting kingdom, and a future Messiah (60-62). Saucy demonstrates that a royal dynasty is in view when referring to David’s “house” because the term “house” is used synonymously with “seed” in other passages (cf. Ps 89:4, 29, 36) (60). A king will rule over Israel. Kingship within Israel does not nullify Yahweh being Israel’s kingdom, however (61). The Davidic king serves under Yahweh.

Not is David promised a lineage but also an everlasting kingdom. Saucy draws out the point that kingdom calls to mind an actual kingdom, a place with borders, rules, and a geo-spatial reality (61). Moreover, the everlasting nature of the kingdom is emphasized by the “eternal” nature of the covenant (2 Sam 7:13, 16; 23:5; Ps 89:4, 28, 26-27; cf. Ps 110:4) (65). Saucy agrees with Kaiser’s view that while individual kings could forfeit the blessing of the Davidic covenant, the lineage would not ultimately be forsaken (66). Saucy also argues that the Davidic covenant always pointed forward to Messianic fulfillment. The Old Testament hints at the fact that the king of Israel would be one person (62). In Genesis, the king of Israel is described as an individual “until he comes” (Gen 49:10) (62). Moreover, the prophets speak of a future “David” and “Branch” who would rule over the people (62).

The Davidic covenant doesn’t just have implications for Israel, but Saucy points out that his global ramifications as well. The king of Israel was always intended to rule over the whole earth (Ps 72:8) (62). David’s “tent” would one day be restored and “take possession of Edom,” which seems to indicate inclusion of Gentiles under the rule of the Davidic king (62). Other prophecies speak of his universal reign (63). Such promises also connect the Davidic covenant to the Abrahamic covenant. In a sense, the Davidic covenant administers the blessing of Abraham to the nations (64-65).

While the Old Testament picture of the Davidic covenant is fairly straightforward, how the Davidic covenant is fulfilled in the New Testament is the subject of much debate. It is one of the biggest dividing lines between dispensational and non-dispensational systems of theology. Many traditional and revised dispensationalists do not see any fulfillment of the Davidic covenant in the so-called “church age.” For most dispensationalists, the fulfillment of the promises of the Davidic covenant are solely future and will be fulfilled at Christ’s second coming. Many non-dispensationalists argue, on the other hand, that the Christ’s coming, resurrection and ascension fulfills these promises and the Davidic reign of Christ begins now in the “church age.”

Saucy argues for a “third way,” one where some of the promises are fulfilled in Christ’s first coming and also await further fulfillment in the future. Christ first fulfills the promise of a royal dynasty, a royal “seed,” because he is the Son of David promised by the prophets (67-68). Such a point really isn’t all that controversial as both dispensational and non-dispensational systems would agree with the identification of Christ as the Son of David.

But what about the “everlasting kingdom”? When is that fulfilled? Saucy argues that Christ has assumed the highest position of authority at God’s “right hand” (72). Saucy goes further to contend that “the eschatological era, including promises related to the Davidic covenant, was indeed inaugurated with the work of Christ at his first coming” (74). But Saucy also says that believing that Christ has inaugurated the promises of the Davidic covenant does not overturn the distinctly earthly characteristics of the Davidic kingdom. Moreover, Saucy thinks that Peter’s quote in Psalm 110 in Acts 2 merely speaks of Christ’s identity as the Messiah but that his actual reign as Davidic king was not inaugurated but awaits the future (75).

Saucy wants to have some form of inaugurated eschatology where Christ brings some of the promises of the Davidic covenant to fulfillment now and some await the future. It seems, however, that Saucy artificially splits up the the idea of identity as king and function as king. Both are bound up together. Could Christ really have the identity and authority of the Messianic, Davidic king and not rule?

It seems to me that a better conception of fulfillment is to see all the promises of the Davidic covenant fulfilled in an already/not yet away. Christ is already reign as king over his kingdom, but that kingdom is not yet here in all of its glory. Christ is already extending his rule over Israel and the nations as Jews and Gentiles believe in him, but it is not yet complete. Such already/not yet fulfillment does not call for a radical reinterpretation of the Davidic promises like some non-dispensational interpreters call for. Is Christ already reigning? Yes. Will he reign supremely one day? Yes, indeed.

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