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17 For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel,

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The Prophet had spoken of the restoration of the Church; he now confirms the same truth, for he promises that the kingdom and the priesthood would be perpetual. The safety of the people, as it is well known, was secured by these two things; for without a king they were like an imperfect or a maimed body, and without a priesthood there was nothing but ruin; for the priest was, as it were, the mediator between God and the people, and the king represented God. We now, then, perceive the object of the Prophet, why he speaks expressly here of the kingdom and the priesthood, for the people could not otherwise have any ground to stand on. He therefore declares that the condition of the people would be safe, because there would always be some of the posterity of David, who would succeed to govern them, and there would always be some of the posterity of Levi, to offer sacrifices.

But this passage ought to be carefully noticed, for we hence gather, that though all other things were given to us according to our wishes, we should yet be ever miserable, except we had Christ as our head, to perform the office of a king and of a priest. This, then, is the only true happiness of the Church, even to be in subjection to Christ, so that he may exercise towards us the two offices described here. Hence also we gather, that these are the two marks of a true Church, by which she is to be distinguished from all conventicles, who falsely profess the name of God, and boast themselves to be Churches. For where the kingdom and priesthood of Christ are found, there, no doubt, is the Church; but where Christ is not owned as a king and a priest, nothing is there but confusion, as under the Papacy; for though they pretend the name of Christ, yet, as they do not submit to his government and laws, nor are satisfied with his priesthood, but have devised for themselves numberless patrons and advocates, it is quite evident that, notwithstanding the great splendor of the Papacy, it is nothing but an abomination before God. Let us, then, learn to begin with the kingdom and the priesthood, when we speak of the state and government of the Church.

Now we know that in David was promised a spiritual kingdom, for what was David but a type of Christ? As God then gave in David a living image of his only-begotten Son, we ought ever to pass from the temporal kingdom to the eternal, from the visible to the spiritual, from the earthly to the celestial. The same thing ought to be said of the priesthood; for no mortal can reconcile God to men, and make an atonement for sins; and further, the blood of bulls and of goats could not pacify the wrath of God, nor incense, nor the sprinkling of,water, nor any of the things which belonged to the ceremonial laws; they could not, give the hope of salvation, so as to quiet trembling consciences. It then follows, that that priesthood was shadowy, and that the Levites represented Christ until he came.

But the Prophet here speaks according to the circumstances of his own time, when he says, Cut off shall not be from David a man, who may sit on the throne of the house of Israel; and then, cut off shall not be from the priests, the Levites, a man who may kindle burnt-offerings burn an oblation, etc. 9292     It is better to adopt the secondary meaning of the verb, rendered “cut off,” as it is done by the Syr. and the Targ., which is that of failing or wanting, —
   17. For thus saith Jehovah, — Not wanting to David shall be a man, Sitting on the throne of the house of Israel;

   18. And to the priests, the Levites, Not wanting shall there be a man before me, Burning a burnt-offering, And perfuming an oblation, And making a sacrifice all the days.

   — Ed.
Why does he not speak in general of the whole people? Why does he not promise that the twelve tribes would be saved? for this would be, a matter of greater moment. But as we have said, we ought to understand this principle, that every kind of blessing is included here, so that men are always in a miserable state unless they are ruled by Christ and have him as their priest.

But it may be asked here, how does this prophecy agree with facts? for from the time Jeremiah promised such a state of things, there has been no successor to David. It is true, indeed, that Zerubbabel was a leader among the people, but he was without a royal title or dignity. There was no throne, no crown, no scepter, from the time in which the people returned from their Babylonian exile; and yet God testified by the mouth of Jeremiah that there would be those from the posterity of David, who would govern the people in continual succession. He does not stay that they would be chiefs or leaders, but he adorns them with a royal title. Some one, he says, will ever remain to occupy the throne. I have said already that there has been no throne. But we must bear in mind what Ezekiel says, that an interruption as to the kingdom is not contrary to this prophecy, as to the perpetuity of the kingdom, or continued succession, (Ezekiel 21:27) for he prophesied that the crown would be cast down, until the legitimate successor of David came. It was therefore necessary that the diadem should fall and be cast on the ground, or be transverted, as the Prophet says, until Christ was manifested. As, then, this had been declared, now when our Prophet speaks of kings succeeding David, we must so understand what he says as that that should remain true which has been said of the cast down diadem. God, then, did cast down the diadem until the legitimate successor came. Ezekiel does not only say, “Cast ye it down transverted,” but he repeats the words three times, intimating thereby that the interruption would be long. There was, therefore, no cause of stumbling, when there was no kind of government, nor dignity, nor power; for it was necessary to look forward to the king, to whom the diadem, or the royal crown, was to be restored.

We now then see how it was that there have been always those of David’s posterity who occupied the throne; though this was hidden, yet it may be gathered from other prophetic testimonies. For Amos, when he speaks of Christ’s coming, makes this announcement,

“There shall come at that time one who will repair the ruins of the tabernacle of David.” (Amos 9:11)

It was therefore necessary that the kingdom should be, as it were, demolished when Christ appeared. We further know what Isaiah says,

“Come forth shall a shoot from the root of Jesse.”
(Isaiah 11:1)

He does not there name David, but a private person, who was content with a humble, retired, and rustic life; for a husbandman and a shepherd, as it is well known, was Jesse the father of David. In short, whenever the Prophets declare that the kingdom of David would be perpetual, they do not promise that there would be a succession without interruption; but this ought to be referred to that perpetuity which was at length manifested in Christ alone. We have said elsewhere, how the time of return ought to be connected with the coming of Christ. For it is not necessary nor expedient to introduce an anagogical sense, as interpreters are wont to do, by representing the return of the people as symbolical of what was higher, even of the deliverance which was effected by Christ; for it ought to be considered as one and the same favor of God, that is, that he brought back his people from exile, that they might at length enjoy quiet and solid happiness when the kingdom of David should again be established.