The prophetic message itself now follows: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land” (2 Sam. 23:3–4). The trope of sun for king is a fairly common one throughout the ancient Near East—Hammurabi comes readily to mind—and the morning dew probably refers to the fruitfulness that comes from the meeting of just leadership and an obedient people.
To be sure, the classical philosophical tradition placed great emphasis on the indispensability of upright rule. One needs only to think of Plato’s philosopher-king or Aristotle’s just monarch who reigns for the sake of the common good. But what is most interesting in this context is how the line functions as a summary of the entire Davidic narrative, which has been a sustained meditation on kingship.
From the time of Adam, the human race has required good leadership. Without rightly ordered kingship, the garden devolves into a desert, and human beings become the victims of threatening powers. David’s emergence as a righteous king, ruling in accord with divine purposes, was the condition for the possibility of Israel’s flourishing as a prosperous empire. And his devolution into unrighteous leadership led by a short road to disaster both political and religious. When law, governance, and power become simply the means for the king’s aggrandizement or tools by which he can manipulate the people, the nation falls into deep dysfunction.
If Plato’s criterion for measuring right rule is the realm of the forms and Aristotle’s the intuition of virtue, the Bible’s criterion is none other than the lordship of God. Next, the singer makes another reference to the Nathan prophecy: “Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure” (2 Sam. 23:5). The tragedy, of course, is that the well-ordered kingdom began to fall apart in David’s own lifetime and definitively splintered during the reign of his son. The only house that fulfills the expectation expressed here is the house of Christ’s body, which proves across time that the God of Israel is eternally faithful to his promises.