COULD YOU EXPLAIN, “I WILL GIVE YOU THE SURE MERCIES OF DAVID?”
by Shawn Brasseaux
“I have a Bible question. Acts 13:33-35: ‘God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee. And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David. Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.’ In verse 34, where it says ‘he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.’ Is this God saying He will give Jesus Christ ‘the sure mercies of David?’ Or, is Paul going way out of context all of a sudden and speaking about ‘believers’ getting ‘the sure mercies of David?’ I know Isaiah 55 is being quoted, just wanted to see what you thought of this, and perhaps you could shed some light on this for me. Thanks.”
You are welcome, and thank you for that question! Let us see if we can find other verses that shed light on Acts 13:34.
By the way, this verse is a case in point why it is important to use a King James Bible instead of a modern English version. Older English differentiates between second-person singular (thee, thou, thine, thy) and second-person plural (ye, you, your). Since this is also true of the original Bible languages, Hebrew and Greek, older English (and thus, the King James Bible) instead of modern English conveys the sense that God intended. In other words, had we used an “easy-to-read” Bible written in “contemporary English,” it would have been much more difficult to answer your question.
Even the New King James Version, which boasts that it retains the “thought flow” of the King James Bible while eliminating its “archaic, hard-to-read language,” eliminates the very “cumbersome” words that help the reader! As the King James translators knew, we need “thee,” “thou,” “thine,” “thy,” “ye,” “you,” and “your” to understand the original sense of the Bible text. The first four pronouns (thee, thou, thine, thy) were not common English in 1611, but these Authorized Version scholars used those words because they knew that they precisely matched the Hebrew and Greek they were translating.
When using the King James Bible, always remember that the pronouns that begin with “th-” (thee, thou, thine, thy) are a reference to one person and the pronouns that begin with “y-” (ye, you, your) are a reference to two or more persons. For example, “Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10b) is saying Father God’s will be done—the will of one Person be done. To make the Bible say, “Your will be done…” is actually to leave room for polytheism (the belief in many gods!). Or, another famous verse, John 3:7, “Marvel not that I said unto thee [one man, Nicodemus], Ye [a group, all of Israel] must be born again.” If we make read, “I say to you, you must be born again,” you could not discern if this applied to Nicodemus alone or to a whole group.
Publishers of the modern English versions boast that they have replaced “thee, thou, thine, thy” with “you, your, yours” and thus made the Bible easier to read. No, they made it impossible for the English Bible reader to determine what the original Bible languages said (thus necessitating footnotes in the modern versions that differentiate between Hebrew/Greek second-person singular/plural pronouns)! Whenever you hear someone say that the modern versions read “closer to the originals” than our King James Bible, they are repeating something that is untrue concerning the second-personal pronouns! Using “you, your, yours” throughout is not a precise handling of the Hebrew and Greek second-person singular pronouns!
With the background laid, we can return to Acts 13:34: “I will give you the sure mercies of David” has an audience known as “you.” Considering our previous comments, is “you” singular or plural? This word “you” is indicative of a group of people, not an individual. Had God the Father spoken this to Jesus Christ, one Person, it would have read, “I will give thee the sure mercies of David.” Because our Authorized Version uses “you” in Acts 13:34 (and Isaiah 55:3), the Holy Spirit is showing us that He is speaking to a group. By the way, you cannot see this distinction in modern “bible” because it uses “you” for one person and for two or more.
As you pointed out, the Apostle Paul quoted Isaiah 55:3 in Acts 13:34. When Isaiah says, “I will give you the sure mercies of David,” He is quoting JEHOVAH God Who had promised Israel (a group) a future resurrection. They are “sure,” certain/reliable, and they are “mercies,” God’s gestures of kindness toward unworthy Israel. We know Isaiah 55:3 is discussing resurrection because Paul interprets it for us in Acts chapter 13 (the verse you are asking about).
Acts 13:33-37 explains Isaiah 55:3 for us: “ God hath fulfilled the same unto us their children, in that he hath raised up Jesus again; as it is also written in the second psalm, Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee.  And as concerning that he raised him up from the dead, now no more to return to corruption, he said on this wise, I will give you the sure mercies of David.  Wherefore he saith also in another psalm, Thou shalt not suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.  For David after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption:  But he, whom God raised again, saw no corruption.”
To answer your question, the context of Acts 13:33-37 is Jesus’ resurrection. Paul is not using Isaiah 55:3 in its original sense (the resurrection of Jewish believers); the Apostle is saying that Jesus’ resurrection paralleled, not fulfilled, Isaiah 55:3. There is a similarity between Jesus’ resurrection and Isaiah 55:3, but not a fulfillment. Jesus’ resurrection fulfilled other verses (Paul quoted Psalm 16:10 and Psalm 2:7 as direct fulfillments). Note Psalm 2:7 said, “Thou art my Son, this day have I begotten thee” (the older English second-person pronouns affirm that this is spoken to one Person, Jesus Christ).
As an interesting side-note, where does David fit in all of this? Why did Isaiah write “the sure mercies of David?” What is so special about David in this respect? As we saw above, Acts 13:35 quotes Psalm 16. Psalm 16 is a portion of Scripture that David wrote, about 300 years before Isaiah. In this psalm, David wrote about his bodily resurrection, as well as Messiah’s bodily resurrection centuries later (cf. Acts 2:25-28).
The Holy Spirit moved David to write in Psalm 16:8-11: “ I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall rest in hope.  For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.  Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.” (Note the second-personal plural pronouns here: “Thou,” “thy,” and “thine” are all references to Father God, one Person.)
According to prophecy (cf. Psalm 2:6-9), Jesus Christ would be raised again (or resurrected) “to sit on David’s throne.” The Apostle Peter, quoting Psalm 16, preached in Acts 2:30-32: “ Therefore being a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him, that of the fruit of his loins, according to the flesh, he would raise up Christ to sit on his throne;  He [David] seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.  This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.” (See the larger context, Acts 2:22-32, for a fuller treatment.)
Jesus’ resurrection would bring to pass Israel becoming a kingdom of priests (Jesus being the King over Israel). Jews would be raised spiritually (regenerated by God’s Spirit) and resurrected physically in order to be priests in that Millennial Kingdom. The context of Isaiah chapter 55 is Israel’s spiritual resurrection, given new life spiritually (redeemed, or saved/delivered, from their sins). The Bible says in Isaiah 55:3: “Incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of David.” The “everlasting covenant” God will make with believing Israel is that He will raise them from the dead physically, going all the way back to David and even to Father Abraham (re-read Psalm 16:8-11). That spiritual and physical resurrection will enable Israel’s believing remnant to be pure enough to enter the Millennium and serve JEHOVAH God in His earthly kingdom (Revelation 20:1-6)!
Isaiah 55:3 is God’s promise to one day spiritually resurrect Israel (her believing remnant). That verse did not apply to Jesus Christ. Still, Paul quoted it and said that Jesus Christ’s resurrection was similar. Unbelieving Jews had great difficulty believing in Jesus’ Messiahship and resurrection (cf. Romans 10:1,9), so it was necessary for Paul to establish that fact using Israel’s “Old Testament” scrolls (hence, he quoted Psalm 2:7, Psalm 16:10, and Isaiah 55:3). Paul validated his message there in the synagogue of Antioch of Pisidia, by appealing to the writings of the holy prophets of old. The Holy Spirit through Paul wanted these lost Jews to see that Father God had promised to resurrect His Son one day. Since Jesus was resurrected, He was the fulfillment of the Old Testament Messianic prophecies, and thus He was God’s Son (Christ/Messiah).
Paul did not say Jesus Christ fulfilled Isaiah 55:3 at His resurrection; Jesus’ resurrection was similar to the resurrection of Isaiah 55:3, but not a fulfillment of it. There are many places where the New Testament quotes the Old Testament, not as fulfillments, but as parallels in thought or similarities to reinforce themes. This is the case of Acts 13:34 quoting Isaiah 55:3.
» Which Bible version should I use?
» What happened to those saints raised from the dead in Matthew 27:52-53?
» When will the Old Testament saints be resurrected?