The Bible’s Failed Covenant

In the entire Old Testament, there are no verses more significant than the ones in which Yahweh establishes his covenant with the Jewish people. He pledges to make the Israelites his chosen, to show special favor to them above all other nations and races, and to grant them a peaceful and prosperous home in the promised land. Even today, after several millennia, these passages still play a pivotal role in shaping Jewish identity, consciousness, and culture, as well as exerting a major influence on politics and world affairs.

These verses are also, indisputably, false. The Bible’s covenant was broken. The promise was not kept. The pledge is void.

This isn’t even a close call, scripturally speaking. No subtle exegesis or nuanced interpretation is required to see that it’s true. All that it takes is to read the plain and simple language of the text establishing the covenant, observe that it makes a clear and unmistakable promise, and then look at the world and see for yourself that this promise failed to hold true.

According to Yahweh, the instrument by which he would keep his covenant was the dynasty descended from King David. These kings would rule over the Jewish people, protect them from invaders, and ensure that the law was kept. If the king or the people strayed into sin, God threatened to punish them, but he never threatened to put an end to the kingdom or the monarchy. To the contrary, he explicitly promised that both would be established in perpetuity. Consider this critical verse laying out the terms of the covenant:

“And when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shalt sleep with thy fathers, I will set up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build an house for my name, and I will stablish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men: but my mercy shall not depart away from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away before thee. And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established for ever before thee: thy throne shall be established for ever.”

—2 Samuel 7:12-16

This passage is presented as “the word of the Lord” which came to the prophet Nathan and which he was instructed to deliver to King David. Note what it explicitly says: the house, the kingdom and the throne of David “shall be established for ever”. If the king does wrong, God promises to punish him, but he explicitly says he will not take the kingdom away from him, as he did to David’s predecessor Saul. The pledge is unconditional and unambiguous.

So that’s the promise; now look at the world. Were the terms of the covenant kept? The answer, of course, is no. There is no kingdom, no throne, and no Davidic dynasty; the line of descent was broken, the “house of David” no longer exists. The ancient kingdom of the Israelites was conquered and utterly destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 BCE, and it’s never been reestablished. There is a modern state of Israel, it’s true, but that state is a secular democracy, not a divine-right monarchy ruled by a king descended from David. It fails to meet the terms of the covenant. (Many modern-day Orthodox Jews refuse to give their allegiance to Israel for precisely that reason.) According to the Bible, this was God’s single greatest promise to the Jewish people, and it has completely failed.

What really happened, of course, is that no god ever spoke to the Israelites in the first place. Verses like the one quoted above were written not by a deity, but by a human being, some ancient scribe or historian in a fit of nationalistic fervor. Whoever the author was, he was convinced that his kingdom was divinely favored, so much so that he believed God would cause it to endure forever on the Earth.

Of course, this is nothing unique: most ancient empires believed themselves to be the beneficiaries of the gods’ special favor, and without exception, all of those empires were toppled and now exist only in ruins and memory. The only thing that makes this case special is that we still have the written records of one particular people in which they told themselves these patriotic myths.

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About Adam Lee

Adam Lee is an atheist writer and speaker living in New York City. His new novel, Arc of Fire, is available in paperback and e-book. Read his full bio, or follow him on Twitter.