King David, 1005-965 BCE
“David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.”
- Samuel 5:2-4
- 2 Samuel 12:7-10
Second King of Israel; according to I Chron. ii. 15, the youngest of the seven sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite; or, according to I Sam. xvi. 10 et seq., xvii. 12, the youngest of eight sons. His adventurous career before he became king was evidently a popular theme in Israel; and so many incidents were woven around his early years that it is now impossible to construct a strictly historic account from the traditions preserved. David kept his father's sheep, and found opportunities to prove himself a dauntless defender of his charges. He was further noted for his poetic and musical talents; and these determined his future. When Saul fell into an incurable melancholy, David was summoned to court to cheer the despondent king by playing upon the harp; and Saul became so fond of the young man that he selected him as his armor-bearer.
During the wars with the Philistines, which occupied most of Saul's reign, David distinguished himself so highly that he attracted the attention of all Israel. Saul gave him his daughter Michal for a wife; and the king's eldest son, Jonathan, became his intimate friend. David, however soon incurred the anger of the suspicious king, and had to flee in peril of his life. Thereupon the priests of Nob, who had innocently aided the fugitive, had to bear the brunt of the sick king's anger, and all but one —who escaped to David—were executed as traitors. David then placed himself at the head of a band of men daring and desperate. Eager to be of use to his countrymen, he relieved the city Keilah, which was threatened by the Philistines; but when Saul, regarding him as a rebel, advanced against him, David could make a stand only for a very short time.
After various adventures, during which he magnanimously spared the life of the king, David fled into the land of the Philistines, and became a vassal of King Achish of Gath, who assigned to him the city of Ziklag for a residence. He ruled here a year and four months, when the disastrous battle near the mountains of Gilboa ended the life and reign of Saul. These are the bare facts of David's early history, which in the second Book of Samuel are developed into a charming picture.
The unfortunate battle of Gilboa completely changed the situation. Saul and three of his sons lay dead on the field; Israel was prostrate; and the country west of the Jordan was again under Philistine rule. East of the Jordan, in Mahanaim, Abner, Saul's general, founded a small kingdom for Saul's only surviving son, Ishba'al, or Ishbosheth, as the name is changed in Samuel; but this kingdom, too, was probably under Philistine suzerainty. David then determined upon returning to his own country; and after having opened negotiations in Ziklag with the tribes and families of Judea, he had himself anointed at Hebron as tribal King of Judea, without, however, giving up his relations as a vassal of the Philistines. This state of affairs lasted for seven years and six months; and when Abner attempted to conquer David's little kingdom for Saul's son, he was defeated at Gibeon by David's general, Joab. Afterward, owing to aquarrel between them in connection with Rizpah, one of Saul's concubines, Abner left Ishba'al and went over to David, but was killed by Joab on pretext of a vendetta. Ishba'al, also, was murdered soon afterward. Since Mephibosheth, a young lame son of Jonathan, was now the only surviving male descendant of Saul, the districts lately ruled over by Ishba'al offered David—as the heir of Saul through his marriage with Michal—the throne made vacant by death; and, after a solemn election, David was anointed at Hebron as King of all Israel.
The duties of the newly anointed king were marked out for him by the conditions of the country. His first task was to shake off the suzerainty of the Philistines and again make Israel an independent state. This undertaking was brilliantly accomplished by David. In a long series of fierce battles he "smote the Philistines and subdued them," and took Metheg-ammah out of their hands (II Sam. viii. 1), so that they were no longer a menace to Israel. David's next solicitude was to provide another center for his new kingdom; for, aside from the ancient rivalry between Judah and Joseph, the position of Hebron, in the extreme south, made it impossible for David, as King of all Israel, to remain there. He therefore selected Jerusalem for his capital, that city being still in possession of the Canaanite tribe of the Jebusites, and consequently on neutral ground. Notwithstanding its almost impregnable position, he conquered the city, and made it the political as well as the religious center of Israel by transferring to it the old national shrine, the Ark of the Covenant, in a solemn procession with sacrifices, in which he himself figured prominently as a worshiper and celebrant. In memory of its migrations in the wilderness, the Ark was at first placed in a tent. According to II Sam. vii. 1-17, David thought of building a magnificent temple for it at Jerusalem, but was dissuaded by the prophet Nathan.
Concerning David's military and political achievements, there is but meager information: a few isolated facts, however, are known; and the interrelation of these can only be conjectured. David subdued and made tributary to the new Israelitish kingdom the cognate tribes of Moab, Ammon, and Edom, as well as their neighbors on the northern frontier of Israel, the Arameans, who had joined the Ammonites in a war against David and his kingdom. Scanty as is the record of these wars, it indicates that they were not instituted for plunder or conquest; nor can it be proved that David was in a single instance the instigator. The Syrian-Ammonite war, the only conflict of which there is a detailed account, was occasioned by a frivolous provocation, the messengers of David having been wantonly insulted when on an errand of good-will and friendship (II Sam. x.).
David waged his wars vigorously, and did not hesitate to employ stern measures. His punishment of Moab and Edom was especially severe; but his alleged cruelties against the Ammonites rest on a misinterpretation of II Sam. xii. 31.
Thus, through David, the people of Israel, who only a generation before had submitted to the insults of the Ammonites (I Sam. xi. 2), became the ruling nation between the Nile and the Euphrates; and it seemed as if their king was to end his days in peace and in the enjoyment of the position he had attained. In the prime of life, however, and at the height of his fame, David sinned; and the inexorable consequences of his transgression plunged him into misery, and threatened even the stability of his kingdom. David's sinful connection with Bath-sheba, whose husband he indirectly assassinated, encouraged his eldest son, Amnon, to deal wickedly with his beautiful stepsister, Tamar; whereupon he was slain by Absalom, her full brother. Absalom had to flee, but was recalled at the intercession of Joab. Stung, however, by the ill-timed severity of his father, Absalom instigated a rebellion in David's former capital, Hebron. David, taken completely by surprise, had to flee across the Jordan; but gaining time through Absalom's fatal delay, he gathered his old, well-tried troops about him, and easily dispersed Absalom's undisciplined bands at Mahanaim. Joab, with his own hand, killed the fleeing Absalom, against the king's express command.
David irritated the Israelites by unwise and onesided negotiations with the Judeans, whose defection had evidently been a heavy blow to him; and this bitterness resulted in a conflict between the Israelites and the Judeans on the return march. This conflict, which took place at the Jordan, became so bitter that the Benjamite Sheba ben Bichri succeeded in urging Israel to a revolt, which Joab, however, immediately quelled. Sheba fled to the city Abel Beth-maachah, on the northern boundary of the kingdom; but the inhabitants seized him, cut off his head, and throw it over the wall to Joab.
The remaining years of David's life and reign were peaceful. The question of his successor, however, brought up new difficulties. Adonijah, the eldest of David's sons after Absalom's death, was generallyregarded as his heir, and David allowed him to appear officially as crown prince. The ambitious and intriguing Bath-sheba tried to secure the succession for her son Solomon, the youngest of David's children, and David, infirm and completely under Bath-sheba's influence, believed a report—whether true or false—that Adonijah, unable to a wait his father's death, had already proclaimed himself king and had received the oath of allegiance. David, therefore, solemnly presented Solomon to the people as his successor and had him anointed. Soon afterward he died, at the age of seventy, having reigned for seven years and six months at Hebron as tribal King of Judah, and thirty-three years at Jerusalem as the second King of all Israel.