“David’s Fallen Tent”

After this I will return and rebuild David’s fallen tent.

Its ruins I will rebuild, and I will restore it,

that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,

even all the Gentiles who bear my name,

says the Lord, who does these things’  —

things known from long ago. (Acts 15. 16-18)

The number of commentators who regard this clause as referring to a pilgrimage tent is surprising. Some think it refers to eschatological Israel. Perhaps I do not have access to more cogent works. Never the less, an alert bible reader is attuned to the concepts of the text and not merely its overt terms.

James obviously saw Jesus as the fulfilled inheritor of the Davidic Covenant since Amos is saying that as a result of the covenant’s completion (rebuilding its ruins and restoring it) would result in the Gentiles trusting the Messiah and be joined to God’s community. Isaiah says the same thing: I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles (49.6). When David’s Son appears he would give His blood in the New Covenant for both Jews and Gentiles.

“Tent” a cipher for “house” which originally was used and understood in an ambiguous manner itself. 2 Samuel 7 and 1Chron. 17 gives the account of David receiving what became known as the Davidic Covenant and is universally recognized by believers in referring to the Messiah as its ultimate fulfillment.

The ambiguity in the promise is that the word “house” can refer to a structure or dynasty. In the account when David speaks to Nathan the prophet, he wanted to build a more permanent structure than the existing tabernacle (which was essentially a tent). When God used the term “house” He meant a dynasty that continued forever through one of David’s descendants. This word-play is typical of how important, if cryptic, promises are often given. The parable is another example of cryptic revelation and used extensively in both testaments. I am suggesting that the term “tent” in Amos 9. 11-12, and quoted by James in Acts 15.15-18, refer to this same “dynasty” that “house” means when originally given in 2 Samuel 7 that speaks to the promise of the Messiah and the fulfillment of His work.

James (the half-brother of Jesus) was a descendant of David also through both his father and mother (Lk. 3 gives Mary’s line through David’s son Nathan). James would have undoubtedly recognized the “tent” reference in Amos. The language God gives is unusual (perhaps a clue): How can a tent have “ruins” and be “restored?” A tent collapses when fallen; it doesn’t consist of any permanent structures. Obviously, the Amos text signals elements when the promise was given that God said he moved around in a tent all those years (the Mosaic Tabernacle) and this figure is equated with the promised “house” (dynasty) when David received the prophecy recorded in 2 Samuel 7.

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