A Shadow of Him That Should Come

From City of God, 17.8 (426)

When many things had gone prosperously with king David, he thought to make a house for God, even that temple of most excellent renown which was afterwards built by king Solomon his son. While he was thinking of this, the word of the Lord came to Nathan the prophet, which he brought to the king.

In this word, after God had said that a house should not be built unto him by David himself, and that in all that long time he had never commanded any of his people to build him a house of cedar, he says, “And now thus shalt thou say unto my servant David, ‘Thus says God Almighty, I took you from the sheep that you might be a ruler over my people in Israel: and I was with you wherever you sent, and I have cut off all your enemies from before your face, and have made you a name, according to the name of the great ones who are over the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel, and will plant him, and he shall dwell apart, and shall be troubled no more; and the son of wickedness shall not humble him anymore, as from the beginning, from the days when I appointed judges over my people Israel.

‘And I will give you rest from all your enemies, as the Lord [has told] thee, because thou shall build an house for him. And it shall come to pass when thy days be completed, and thou shall sleep with thy fathers, that I will raise up thy seed after thee, which shall proceed out of thy loins, and I will prepare his kingdom. He shall build me a house for my name; and I will order his throne even to eternity. I will be his Father, and he shall be my son. And if he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the sons of men: but my mercy I will not take away from him, as I took it away from those whom I put away from before my face. And his house shall be faithful, and his kingdom even for evermore before me, and his throne shall be set up even for evermore.’”

He who thinks this grand promise was fulfilled in Solomon greatly errs; for such a person attends to the saying, “He shall build me a house,” but he does not attend to the saying, “His house shall be faithful, and his kingdom for evermore before me.” Let him therefore attend and behold the house of Solomon full of strange women worshipping false gods, and the king himself, aforetime wise, seduced by them, and cast down into the same idolatry: and let him not dare to think that God either promised this falsely, or was unable to foreknow that Solomon and his house would become what they did.

But we ought not to be in doubt here, or to see the fulfillment of these things save in Christ our Lord, who was made of the seed of David according to the flesh, lest we should vainly and uselessly look for some other here… Indeed, even in Solomon there appeared some image of the future event, in that he built the temple, and had peace according to his name (for Solomon means “pacific”), and in the beginning of his reign was wonderfully praiseworthy; but while, as a shadow of him that should come, he foreshowed Christ our Lord, he did not also in his own person resemble him.

For this reason, some things concerning him are so written as if they were prophesied of himself, while the Holy Scripture, prophesying even by events, somehow delineates in him the figure of things to come. For, besides the books of divine history, in which his reign is narrated, Psalm 72 also is inscribed in the title with his name, in which so many things are said which cannot at all apply to him, but which apply to the Lord Christ with such evident fitness as makes it quite apparent that in the one the figure is in some way shadowed forth, but in the other the truth itself is presented. For it is known within what bounds the kingdom of Solomon was enclosed; and yet in that psalm, not to speak of other things, we read, “He shall have dominion from sea even to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth,” which we see fulfilled in Christ. Truly he took the beginning of his reigning from the river where John baptized; for, when pointed out by him, he began to be acknowledged by the disciples, who called him not only Master, but also Lord.

Nor was it for any other reason that, while his father David was still living, Solomon began to reign, which happened to none other of their kings, except that from this also it might be clearly apparent that it was not himself this prophecy spoken to his father signified beforehand, saying, “And it shall come to pass when thy days be fulfilled, and thou shall sleep with thy fathers, that I will raise up thy seed which shall proceed out of thy bowels, and I will prepare his kingdom.”

How, therefore, shall it be thought on account of what follows, “He shall build me an house,” that this Solomon is prophesied, and not rather be understood on account of what precedes, “When your days are fulfilled, and you shall sleep with your fathers, I will raise up your seed after you,” that another pacific one is promised, who is foretold as about to be raised up, not before David’s death, as he was, but after it? For however long the interval of time might be before Jesus Christ came, beyond doubt it was after the death of King David, to whom he was so promised, that he chose to come, who should build a house of God, not of wood and stone, but of men, such as we rejoice he does build. For to this house, that is, to believers, the apostle says, “The temple of God is holy, which temple you are.”

StAugustine (354-430) was a theologian and philosopher who served as Bishop of Hippo Regius in North Africa. He was a voluminous author, whose writings about God’s grace, the Sacraments, and the Church have been profoundly influential in the development of Western Christianity The City of God, his magnum opus, considers the relationship between human history and Divine Providence. His feast day is August 26.


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