THE PROMISE TO DAVID
Psalm 16:10-11, Isaiah 55:3 & Acts 13:34-35 NET
Last year, I spent a few weeks on the subject of the hope of a resurrection. I shared Job’s hope that even after he had died and decomposed in the dust that his Redeemer would come and he would see God in his flesh (Job 19).
Isaiah told the Israelites that their dead will live — that their dead bodies will rise (26:19). He told those dwelling in the dust to wake up and sing. Isaiah reminded them that their God does not fail. They could trust in the resurrection because it was something God was going to do for them.
Daniel sees a vision of the future, but he is also told that he will not live to see that time. Instead, he is told that he will rest in the dust as Job did and that one day he would rise from the dead and receive his allotted inheritance (12:1-3,13).
For this year’s Easter messages, I want to start by talking about another Old Testament saint who put his hope in a future resurrection.
God’s promise to David was life instead of death
Psalm 16:10-11 You will not abandon me to Sheol; you will not allow your faithful follower to see the Pit. You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.
Psalm 16 is interesting. In it, David prays for God’s protection, stability, prosperity, joy, and long life. He promises God that he will remain faithful to God alone, and not follow the other leaders of Israel in their hypocrisy and idolatry. But toward the end of the psalm, David says something that sounds ridiculous. He says that God will not abandon him to Sheol.
But the Bible teaches that everyone eventually dies, and when we die, we all go to Sheol. When our bodies go down to the grave, we go down to Sheol. The first time the term occurs in the Bible is when Jacob is told that his son Joseph has been killed. Jacob thought that Joseph had died and gone down to Sheol, and he refused to be comforted. He said he would die mourning and join Joseph there (Genesis 37:35).
The Bible uses the word Sheol as a synonym for death. The two terms go together. Lots of people think of Sheol as a location where disembodied souls go at death, but it is something different. It is the condition of being dead. The location for the dead (at least those who are buried) is the grave. Their condition is Sheol.
When the Bible compares Sheol with heaven, heaven is always the highest place, and Sheol is the lowest. You cannot get any higher than the place where God lives. You cannot get any lower than the place where the dead are. The death state is never synonymous with heaven. It is the exact opposite. This is true for believers and unbelievers alike. Nobody wants to die and go to Sheol. David didn’t want that. God promised him that he would not abandon him to Sheol.
Sheol is a place of silence where God is not praised. The dead go down to Sheol in silence. When Hezekiah was very sick, he prayed to God for healing because he would not be able to praise God in Sheol. David said the same thing. He said, “For no one remembers you in the realm of death, In Sheol who gives you thanks?” (Psalm 6:5). He described those who are dead as sitting in darkness (Psalm 143:3).
In Sheol people don’t sing, they don’t praise, they don’t play golden harps. Their bodies rot, and they sleep with their fathers. Sheol is a silent, dark state or condition in which everyone exists at death, and can only live again by a resurrection from the LORD. It is always contrasted with heaven, and never equated with it. It is not the hope of the saints; rescue from it is the hope of the saints. That is the Old Testament consensus.
When this psalm was made into a rhyming song for the Church of Scotland in 1883, verse 10 sounded like this: “Because my soul in grave to dwell, Shall not be left by thee; Nor wilt thou give thine holy one Corruption e’er to see.” 1 David does not say that he expects to avoid Sheol. He says that he will not be abandoned to Sheol. He will not be left there. In other words, God promised David a resurrection.
And he’s not the only recipient of that promise.
God’s promise to all who come to him is the same promise
Isaiah 55:3 Pay attention and come to me! Listen, so you can live! Then I will make an unconditional covenantal promise to you, just like the reliable covenantal promises I made to David.
Isaiah’s words are an invitation from the LORD to everyone hungry and thirsty to come to him for a banquet — and it is all free. David has been appointed a witness to the nations, calling on all the wicked to abandon their lifestyle, and sinful people to abandon their plans and seek the LORD while he is making himself available. “They should return to the LORD, and he will show mercy to them, and to their God, for he will freely forgive them” (Isaiah 55:7).
This is the gospel folks! Come to the LORD, repent of your sins, and he will forgive you. But that’s not all. The God who forgave David also promised him a resurrection. God made him an unconditional covenantal promise. Isaiah tells the rest of us the good news that we too can claim that promise. We will die and go to Sheol, but God is not going to abandon us there. He’s going to bring us back to life.
Jesus “has pledged Himself to accomplish for all who trust in Him a victory similar to His own.” 2
From that Old Testament prophet, we go now to a New Testament apostle. Paul explains that…
Jesus is the first to receive that promise. We are next.
Acts 13:34-35 But regarding the fact that he has raised Jesus from the dead, never again to be in a state of decay, God has spoken in this way: ‘I will give you the holy and trustworthy promises made to David.’ Therefore he also says in another psalm, ‘You will not permit your Holy One to experience decay.
Paul knew his Bible. He had read David’s last words as recorded in 2 Samuel 23. He read David’s dying charge to his son Solomon in 1 Kings 2. He said to his son that he was about to die and that Solomon would be king after him. He also told him that the LORD would fulfill his promise to him.
Paul boldly stood in a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch and told his fellow Jews that “David, after he had served God’s purpose in his own generation, died, was buried with his ancestors, and experienced decay, but the one whom God raised up did not experience decay. Therefore let it be known to you, brothers, that through this one forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by this one everyone who believes is justified from everything from which the law of Moses could not justify you” (Acts 13:36-39).
Here is the gospel sequence. God promises David a resurrection. David dies. David waits. Jesus comes and dies. But he is not abandoned to Sheol. He is raised to life. All those who put their trust in him will be raised to a new, permanent life as well.
Peter, at Pentecost, had also talked about David. He said “Brothers, I can speak confidently to you about our forefather David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. So then, because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath to seat one of his descendants on his throne, David by foreseeing this spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did his body experience decay. This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it. So then, exalted to the right hand of God, and having received the promise of the Holy Spirit from the Father, he has poured out what you both see and hear. For David did not ascend into heaven, but he himself says, ‘The Lord said to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.”‘ (Acts 2:29-35).
Peter mentions two tombs. David’s tomb was there, and Jesus’ tomb was also there. The difference was that David was still in his tomb. Jesus’ tomb was empty. That is the message of Easter.
David knew that he was not going to be the first to be raised from the dead. He heard the Father talking to the Son. The Father will raise the Son, empower the believers in the Son with the Holy Spirit, defeat all the enemies of the Son, and then raise all the believers to permanent life. That’s the gospel sequence.
God did not promise David that he would survive death. He said he would not be abandoned to Sheol. As a minister of the gospel, I am responsible to God not to tell you what you might want to hear, but to tell you what God’s word says. God’s word to you is that death is real, and if Jesus does not return in your lifetime, you are going to go to Sheol. You are going to sleep with your ancestors. God’s good news about those who are asleep is that Jesus is going to come back to wake them up. David will be in that number. God’s good news to us is the same good news he promised David. You will die, but you will not be left dead.
The same power that raised our Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise from the dead all who are currently asleep in him. The same love that refused to abandon David has also refused to abandon us. That love is unconditional covenantal love and it has given us an unconditional covenantal promise.
Paul told the Thessalonian believers “Now we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve like the rest who have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also we believe that God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep as Christians. For we tell you this by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will surely not go ahead of those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a shout of command, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be suddenly caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will always be with the Lord. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Our encouragement comes from the faithfulness of God to fulfill his promise to David. Our encouragement reminds us that we have hope that the rest of the world does not have. That hope is not based on our ability to survive death. That hope is based on the fact that Jesus died and rose again.
Easter is a time for us to reflect on that hope. Our Lord triumphed over death, not by surviving it, but by being raised to life again. His resurrection is proof that God’s promise to David will be fulfilled. His resurrection is the source of our comfort. The empty tomb is the promise that our tombs will be emptied as well one day.
Jesus told his followers that his resurrection was just the beginning. He said “Because I live, you will live too” (John 14:19 CSB).
Easter is special for us because Jesus was raised from the dead. It is also special because every time we think of his resurrection, we are reminded of the biblical hope of our resurrection.
1 Church of Scotland, and David McLaren. The Book of Psalms in Metre: According to the Version Approved by the Church of Scotland. Edinburgh: D. Douglas, 1883. p. 23.
2 Bertram, R. A., and Alfred Tucker. A Homiletical Commentary on the Prophecies of Isaiah. London: Dickinson, 1884. p. 121.