I would love to sit down and chat with King David. Particularly, I would ask him about Psalm 16. Because in verse 10 (ESV) he makes this earth-shattering statement: You will not let your holy one see corruption.
If you don’t see what I’m getting at, try the New Living Translation: “You will not allow your holy one to rot in the grave.” I know that you know that Jesus rose from the dead, but David didn’t know that story yet. This is the Old Testament. David, what were you thinking!
When David and I sit down for our tête-à-tête, he will probably remind me of some equally incredible statements that God himself has made. For example, when God made a covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7, he gave him this astounding promise (verses 12-16):
“I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… Your throne will be established forever.”
To you and me this might sound like God is promising a continuous dynasty, from father to son, for the rest of history. But in Psalm 16 David gives us a hint that he understands this promise even more radically than that: God has promised him a descendant who will live forever!
This sounds crazy, but God has a history of making seemingly crazy promises. He told Noah that he would cover the whole earth with a flood but save Noah’s family—and he did it. He told Abraham that Sarah would have a son in her old age—and she did. Then he told Abraham that he would liberate his descendants from slavery and bring them to the land he had promised him. He did that too.
When God makes such bold promises, it leads his people to do and say incredible things. Abraham was willing to sacrifice his son because he trusted that God would raise him from the dead. Because of God’s promises, and because of his track record of keeping them, Moses left shepherding to go challenge the most powerful dictator in the world and lead God’s people out of Egypt by walking through the Red Sea; Joshua brought down the walls of Jericho by blowing trumpets and shouting; David concludes with absolute confidence that his descendant will be immortal!
These aren’t isolated cases involving super-spiritual prophets; this is just God being himself. He makes promises that change the course of your life. He keeps them. If you’re serving a God that does not make specific, life-changing promises, then you’re not serving the true God. God goes out on a limb. He puts his reputation on the line. He says things that are either going to prove delusional, or prove that he is the true, and truly radical, loving God.
My good friend and Bible student, Adam, followed his ancestral religion faithfully. Then one day he heard that Jesus promises his Holy Spirit to those who follow him. He hasn’t looked back—and hasn’t been the same—ever since. Through his promises, God obligates himself to you, to come through for you in a huge way.
I’ve ministered on three continents and engaged many religions, but there is only one God who makes promises to his people. Even religions like Islam, that trace their origins back to so-called “Abrahamic faith,” essentially ignore and erase God’s promises to his people. God, to them, is sovereign, but he is no longer faithful to anything or anyone in particular. Our God, on the other hand, makes big promises—to us.
As Mary sang in the Magnificat before Jesus’ birth, “He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors” (Luke 1:54-55). Never before, and never again since, was a virgin pregnant. But the angel told her that her child would be given “the throne of his father David” (1:32). So this child is the One referred to in Psalm 16:10. It was unprecedented, unbelievable, impossible, strange, ridiculous, scandalous—and Mary sang, “This is God’s promise.”
There’s something else in Psalm 16 (ESV) that makes me squirm. In verse 9, David says: “Therefore my heart is glad, And my whole being rejoices; My flesh also dwells secure…” “My flesh dwells secure…” I can handle spirituality that stays on the metaphysical plane, but this is intimate, literal, molecular. He proceeds with verse 10: “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.”
It’s as if David is looking at his hand as it guides his reed pen across the calfskin, and he knows that it’s the same blood, muscle and bone, designed with the same DNA in his descendant, that will not decay, but reign forever. The closer we look, the crazier it looks! Shall we look some more?
It’s the same thing that makes me squirm when I read Luke 22:19, and when I hear the words read at Communion: “And [Jesus] took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, ‘This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.’”
It just feels so intimate, literal, molecular… I don’t even have a category for it! Is it a coincidence that both David and Jesus seem to fixate on their physical bodies to express God’s faithfulness? I don’t think so. This is not just one more crazy promise from an eccentric God. This is the fulfillment of God’s promises that were all specific and physical: “your descendant…!” All those promises are summarized in the last two words of Jesus’ statement: “This is my body given for you.”
He doesn’t give you a dead body. He gives you a particular, promised, risen body, every single time you come to his table. So now you are alive, in every single one of his amazing promises.
Nathanael S. serves with his wife Carrie on behalf of Lutheran Brethren International Mission and the Church of the Lutheran Brethren as a missionary in Chad, Africa.