The Davidic Covenant—God’s individual covenant with King David and his heirs—came into being in response to Israel’s need for protection against enemies. Although God had promised his protection under the collective Sinai Covenant, it required his entire people’s obedience to his commandments that are the terms of the covenant. That obedience had been achieved during Israel’s wilderness wandering under the leadership of Moses and Joshua. It quickly faded, however, after Israel settled the Promised Land.
Instead of remembering their God, “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6). Consequently, God withdrew his protection and Israel’s enemies began making inroads against them. In spite of this, God had mercy on them. He raised up judges from time to time who rallied local tribes to banish them. By the time of the prophet Samuel, however, the Philistines threatened Israel’s very existence. Israel’s elders realized the people needed a king who could unite all the tribes against their enemies.
After Saul’s short-lived tenure as king, God chose David, “a man after his own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). David succeeded in overthrowing Israel’s enemies and uniting the tribes (2 Samuel 5:1–25). When David proved loyal to him, God made an individual covenant with him in the pattern of ancient Near Eastern emperor–vassal covenants: “I have made a covenant with my chosen, I have sworn to David my servant: Your offspring will I establish forever and build up your throne to all generations.” (Psalms 89:3–4)
As in emperor–vassal covenants, after a vassal proves loyal to his emperor under all conditions, the emperor makes an unconditional covenant with him, granting him and his descendants a permanent right to the throne: “My covenant I will not break, nor alter the thing that has gone from my lips. I have sworn by my holiness that I will not lie to David. His offspring shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before me. It shall be established forever as the moon, as a faithful witness in heaven.” (Psalms 89:34–37)
God’s covenant with David proved to be a great benefit to his people Israel as now God would protect them for David’s sake: “I will appoint a place for my people Israel and plant them that they may dwell in a place of their own and move no more. Nor will the children of wickedness afflict them anymore as before.” (2 Samuel 7:10) Instead of the entire people of Israel being required to keep God’s commandments that are the terms of the Sinai Covenant, all that was now required of them was loyalty to their king.
As in ancient Near Eastern emperor–vassal covenants, when a vassal king keeps the law of the emperor and the people of the vassal keep the law of the vassal, the emperor is bound by the terms of his covenant to protect both the vassal king and his people. Under that arrangement, the vassal king answers to the emperor for the loyalties of his people to the emperor. In other words, the vassal stands in for his people before the emperor, becoming their surrogate or proxy in matters of loyalty to the emperor.
For the people of Israel, maintaining loyalty to their king constituted a lesser law than loyalty to their God. Hence, the prophet Samuel protested that “Jehovah your God is your King” (1 Samuel 12:12). If they had remained loyal to him as a people, God would have protected them, obviating their need for a king. For the king, on the other hand, maintaining loyalty to Israel’s God—his emperor—constituted a higher law than that of the Sinai Covenant. He was now answerable to God for the loyalty of his people.
(Taken from the Isaiah Institute website www.IsaiahProphecy.com.)