The Sinful Origin of the Son of David
From Gospel Translations
By John Piper
About Redemptive History
Part of the series Spectacular Sins and Their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ
This is the sixth message in a seven-part series called Spectacular Sins and their Global Purpose in the Glory of Christ. This message is called “The Sinful Origin of the Son of David.” The point is this: The kingship of Israel—the fact that Israel had kings—was owing to sin. It was a spectacular sin for the people of God to say to their Maker and Redeemer, “We want to be like the nations. We do not want you to be our king. We want a human king.” That is a spectacular sin. Samuel calls it, in verse 17, a great wickedness. Nevertheless, if Israel had had no kingship, Jesus Christ would not have come as the king of Israel and the Son of David and King of kings. But Christ’s kingship over Israel and over the world is not an afterthought in the mind of God. It was not an unplanned response to the sin of Israel. It was part of his plan.
Why Do It This Way?
So our question is: If God saw this spectacular sin coming and he knew that he would permit it and thus made the kingship of Israel part of his plan to glorify Christ as the King of kings, why not just make kingship part of Israel’s governance from the beginning? Why not make Moses the first king? Then Joshua and so on? Why plan for a more direct kingship at the beginning and only bring human kingship into Israel’s history later through a spectacular sin?
Abraham and the Coming Kingship
Let’s begin with the story itself. God chose Abram as the father of the people of Israel in Genesis 12 and promises him that through his offspring all the families of the world will be blessed (Genesis 12:1-3). The Messiah, Jesus Christ, will come through this line.
One of the first things that happens to Abram is that he meets a strange figure named Melchizedek in Genesis 14:18. He is called “priest of God Most High” and “king of Salem.” His name means “king of righteousness.” The writer of the book of Hebrews, in the New Testament, sees Melchizedek as a type or a prefiguring or foreshadowing of Christ, because Psalm 110:4 says that the coming messianic king is also “a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.” So Hebrews says, “Melchizedek . . . is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace . . . resembling the Son of God . . .” (Hebrews 7:1-3).
Hannah and the Coming Kingship
So already in the purposes of God, the coming Messiah will be a priest-king. The decision for him to be a king did not come later. We see this again in the story of Samuel’s birth and dedication. You recall that his mother Hannah was barren. Then Eli prophesied that she would have a child. Samuel was born and Hannah brings him to the temple and dedicates him to the Lord. Among the amazing things that Hannah says is this in 1 Samuel 2:10—and remember, this is decades before there was any king in Israel (only when Samuel is an old man do the people press him to give them a king). She says, “The adversaries of the LORD shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The LORD will judge the ends of the earth; he will give strength to his king and exalt the power of his anointed.”
Moses and the Coming Kingship
Back in Deuteronomy 17:14-20 Moses had given instructions about the kingship if the people ever went in that direction. And Deuteronomy 28:36 foretold the exile of the people and their king if they were to rebel against the Lord. So I conclude that what happened in 1 Samuel 12 was not a surprise to God. He knew that this spectacular sin would happen, and he knew that he would permit it. And when God intends to permit a thing, he does so wisely, not foolishly. Therefore, this spectacular sin is part of God’s overarching plan for the glory of his Son.
How the Kingship Came
Let’s see how it came about before we ponder why he would do it this way. The demand for a king started back in chapter 8 of 1 Samuel, but we will pick it up here in chapter 12. Verse 8b: The Lord “brought your fathers out of Egypt and made them dwell in this place.” Verse 9: “But they forgot the LORD their God. And he sold them into the hand of Sisera, commander of the army of Hazor, and into the hand of the Philistines, and into the hand of the king of Moab. And they fought against them.” Verse 10: “And they [the people of Israel] cried out to the LORD and said, ‘We have sinned, because we have forsaken the LORD and have served the Baals and the Ashtaroth. But now deliver us out of the hand of our enemies, that we may serve you.’” Verse 11: “And the LORD sent Jerubbaal and Barak and Jephthah and Samuel and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side, and you lived in safety.”
The People Rejected God’s Kingship
The point of those verses is to show that God was faithful as their divine king. When they cried to him, he saved them. He gave them safety. That’s what a king is for—to provide peace for the people. And what was their response? Verse 12: “And when you saw that Nahash the king of the Ammonites came against you, you said to me [Samuel], ‘No, but a king shall reign over us,’ when the LORD your God was your king.”
You can hear the disbelief in Samuel’s voice: You asked for a king, when God was your king! What should Samuel do? The Lord had already told him in 1 Samuel 8:7-9, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them. . . . Now then, obey their voice; only you shall solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.”
Spectacular Sin: “Your Wickedness Is Great”
So Samuel says in 1 Samuel 12:13b: “Behold, the LORD has set a king over you.” Then he calls on the Lord to give them a sign in thunder and rain, and he describes their sin as a great wickedness. Verse 17: “Is it not wheat harvest today? I will call upon the LORD, that he may send thunder and rain. And you shall know and see that your wickedness is great, which you have done in the sight of the LORD, in asking for yourselves a king.”
And just to make sure we don’t miss the holy work of God through this unholy wickedness, Paul, in Acts 13:20-22, makes explicit that it was God who gave Israel her first king. “[God] gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king, and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king.” We have seen this repeatedly in the spectacular sins of history. Man meant it for evil, and God meant it for good.
What Are We to Learn from This?
So the question is this: If God saw this spectacular sin coming and he knew that he would permit it and thus made the kingship of Israel part of his plan to glorify Christ as the King of kings, why not just make kingship part of Israel’s governance from the beginning? Why not make Moses the first king? Then Joshua and so on? Why did God start with himself as the king, and then bring human kingship into Israel’s history later through a spectacular sin? What are we to learn from this?
At least six things.
1) We Are Stiff-Necked, Rebellious, and Unthankful.
We should learn from this how stiff-necked and rebellious and unthankful we are. That’s why 1 Samuel 12 begins the way it does reminding the people how God saved them from Egypt and then gave them the promised land and then rescued them from evil kings. And each time they forget God and go after other things. That is not just the story of Israel. It’s the story of humanity. It’s the story of my life and your life. Even as Christians, we are not steadfast in our affections for God. We have thankful days and unthankful days. And even our thankful days are not as thankful as they should be. Just think of how joyful and thankful you would be if your heart responded to God himself and his ten thousand gifts with the admiration and gratitude that he is worthy of. So God gives us pictures of ourselves in stories like this. He allows his people to drift into this kind of ungrateful and idolatrous seasons so that every mouth may be stopped and the whole world held accountable before God (Romans 3:19).
2. God Is Faithful to His Own Name.
We should learn from this how faithful God is to his own name. Look at verse 22: “It has pleased the LORD to make you a people for himself.” What is the deepest foundation of God’s faithfulness? His allegiance to his own name. His jealousy and zeal for his own glory. Read the verse slowly and thoughtfully: “The LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake.” It does not say for “their great name’s sake” but for his great name’s sake. God is totally committed to upholding the worth and truth and righteousness of his own name. So stories like this are in the Bible to teach us that God’s ways are governed by an infinite wisdom guided by the infinite worth of the name of God.
3) Grace Flows to Sinners from God’s Supreme Allegiance to His Name.
We should learn from this how amazingly grace for sinners like us flows from God’s supreme allegiance to his own name in the midst of sin. Look at the amazing illustration of this in verses 19-22. In verse 19, the people are terrified at the spectacular sin they have committed against God. They say, “Pray for your servants to the LORD your God, that we may not die, for we have added to all our sins this evil, to ask for ourselves a king.” The words that follow this are a picture of free gospel grace to sinners. Samuel said to the people (v. 20), “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.”
Stop right there and be amazed. “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.” Isn’t that a misprint? Shouldn’t it say, “Be afraid; you have done all this evil.” But it says, “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.” That is pure grace. God’s grace treats us not the way we deserve: “Be afraid; you have done all this evil.” But better than we deserve: “Do not be afraid; you have done all this evil.”
How can this be? What is the basis of this grace? Not us! We have only done evil. What then? We’ve seen it already. Verse 22: Don’t be afraid “for the LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake.” God’s allegiance to his own name is the foundation of his faithfulness to you. If God ever forsook his supreme allegiance to himself, there would be no grace for us. If he based his kindness to us on our worth, there would be no kindness to us. We are stiff-necked, rebellious, and ungrateful. Free, unmerited grace is our only hope to be otherwise. And the basis of that grace is not the worth of our name, but the infinite worth of God’s name. Recall 2 Timothy 2:13: “If we are faithless, he remains faithful—for he cannot deny himself.” God means for us to learn from this spectacular sin that the grace of our salvation is ultimately based not on our value to him, but his value to himself.
4) Kingship Belongs Only to God.
We should learn from God’s way of bringing about the kingship in Israel that kingship belongs only to the Lord. God inaugurates his relationship with Israel with no human king in order to make crystal clear that that only God should be the king of Israel. Only God is king. When Israel asked for a king, they were rejecting this truth. God says it plainly in 1 Samuel 8:7: “They have rejected me from being king over them.” If God had begun the history of Israel with Moses and Joshua being the first kings, it would not be clear that only God can be the king of Israel. He will have no human competitors.
5) A God-Man Must Be King.
Therefore, we should learn from God’s way of installing a human king that his purposes are to inaugurate a line of human kings who would all fail until the king came who was not only man but also God, for only God can be king of Israel. In giving Israel a human king, God did not change his mind about only God being the rightful King of Israel. The point is that God alone is King of Israel, and there is coming a king, a Son of David, who will not fail like the others. He will not be just another sinful man. He will be the God-man.
The last question on the lips of Jesus that silences the Pharisees is based on Psalm 110:1, where David says, “The LORD [Yahweh] says to my Lord [the coming king and Messiah]: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’” Jesus quotes this and then asks his adversaries, “If then David calls him Lord, how is he his son?” In other words, for those who have ears to hear, Jesus is more than the son of David. He is more than a merely human king. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . . And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:1, 14). Only God can be the final rightful king of Israel. That’s the way it began. That is the way it ends. Jesus Christ is divine-human king of Israel.
6) The King Died for His People.
Finally, we should learn from the way God brought a human king to Israel that there needed to be a human king. Only God can be the rightful king of Israel. But there needed to be a human king. Why? Because for God to have a people to rule and to love, who were not in hell because of their sins, the king had to die for the people. And God can’t die. Man can die. So God had planned not only that only God can be the rightful king of Israel, but the rightful king of Israel must die in the place of the people. So the king of Israel is the God-man so that the king can be God, but he is also the God-man so that the king can die.
When Samuel said, “Do not be afraid, you rebellious, stiff-necked, ungrateful sinners; you have done all this evil” (1 Samuel 12:20), what was the basis of this grace? It was value of God’s name. “The LORD will not forsake his people, for his great name’s sake” (v. 22). The upholding and the vindication of God’s name is the basis of grace. And where was that vindication most decisively and finally displayed? Answer: in the cross of Christ. Romans 3:25: “God put [Christ] forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”
At the Cross, For His Name’s Sake
Indeed he had. On this very day when the people deserved to be destroyed for asking for a king, God forgave them and passed over their sins—for his name’s sake. But you can’t sweep sin under the rug of the universe and still uphold your name as a righteous and holy God. Sin must be dealt with. It must be punished. And it was, when Jesus died.
The only reason that sinful people like us can have a king as great and glorious and powerful and good and holy and wise as Jesus without being consumed for our sin is that God planned for the king to die for his subjects and rise again. In every Gospel, Jesus is asked just before he dies, “Are the king of the Jews?” And he answers, “You have said so” (Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:2; Luke 23:3; John 18:33).
The Coming King of All
And not just the king of the Jews, but the king of all—especially those who trust him. He is seated at the right hand of the Father today until all his enemies are put under his feet and all his elect are gathered in from the all the peoples of the earth. Then the end will come. And Christ “will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28). And “on his robe and on his thigh he has a name written”—not king of the Jews, but “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16). Amen. Come, King Jesus.