David, in Hebrew the name means «beloved» or possibly «chieftain,» was a gifted at playing the lyre (1 Samuel 16:18). Also he was conspicuous for valor as displayed with the killing of a lion and bear in protection of his father flocks. He was a shepherd, and became one of Israel’s most famous kings. He was born in Bethlehem, the youngest son of Jesse, a sheik, (1 Samuel 16:1; 2 Samuel 5:4) and apparently has seven older brothers.
His relationship with King Saul is prominently noteworthy. David’s first meeting with Saul occurred after the latter’s disobedience to divine command for which he was deprived of the kingship, and experienced melancholia, jealousy, and hatred. David was summoned when, with God’s permission, an evil spirit overcame Saul. David’s excellent playing improved Saul’s condition, and the spirit departed (1 Samuel 16:14-13). Afterwards, David returned to Bethlehem to continue his pastoral pursuits.
Later David visited his brethren who were fighting in Saul’s army against the Philistines, and he was appalled by the cowardice of the army when being defied by the Philistine giant-champion Goliath. Being inspired with divine courage, David with a simple shepherd’s sling-shot and pebbles which he got from a nearby stream killed the giant, which earned him national reputation. Following this Saul immediately investigated David’s family ties and admitted him to his court (1 Samuel 17:55-18:2).
When becoming a warrior-courtier David soon won the friendship of Saul’s son Jonathan (1 Samuel 18:1-4), and feats in further clashes with the Philistines only increased his reputation. This arouse Saul’s insane jealousy and hatred against David, and adding to Saul’s hatred was the song of the Israeli women, «Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands» (1 Samuel 18:5-9), which greeted the returning heroes. Saul still was not satisfied, he wanted to get rid of David, so he ordered him to kill one hundred Philistines and provide proof that he had. David did so and received Michal, Saul’s daughter. So David was spared from death only through the loyalty of Jonathan and Michal.
During the next several years David stayed away from Saul. Michal was given in marriage to another and was not returned to David until after Saul’s death. He fled as a fugitive going to Samuel, then to Nob, on the pretense of being on a secret mission from Saul, he received an answer from the oracle, along with food and the sword of Goliath. He then fled to Achish, king of Gath, where, as the slayer of Goliath, he pretended to be insane in order to escape death by the Philistines (1 Samuel 21:10-15). As an outlaw, a biblical Jesse James, David with a band of supporters made the Cave of Adullum their headquarters. In the mountainous region he and his band hunted like animals. Occasionally David had Saul within his sight, but out of mercy let him go.
Gradually David tired of this renegade life and crossed the Philistine frontier, though not as a fugitive as before, but with a sizeable force of 600 men (1 Samuel 27:3, 4). Achish, king of Gath, gave him, after the manner of Eastern kings, the city of Ziklag on the Philistine frontier (1 Samuel 27:6). It was from the Philistines that David learned much military knowledge. While absent from Ziklag, the Amalekites burned the city carrying off the women and children. David overtook these raiders and captured much of the spoils. Two days following this victory an Amalekite arrived announcing Saul’s death at Gilboa.
As a result of Saul’s death a crisis arouse in Israel’s political history initiating a period of civil war. David took up residence at Hebron in the hill country of Judah, some nineteen miles south west of Jerusalem. There he was anointed king of the house of Judah and reigned over that tribe for seven and half years (2 Samuel 2:1-11). In the mean time a long civil war between the houses of Saul and David waged on until the former was exterminated and David was anointed king over all of Israel (2 Samuel 2:5-8:5). The high mark of David’s early reign was his conquest of Jebusite Jerusalem by ascending its walls by grappling hooks, according to tradition, and making it the capital of the realm. This was an amazing city, according to archeological findings, with strong walls and an amazing underground water system. What was once «stronghold of Zion» subsequently became «the city of David» (2 Samuel 5:7). After conquering the city David showed great wisdom by making it his capital. By its location on the borders of Judah and Israel it tended to alleviate the jealousy between the northern and southern portions of his kingdom. Being liberated from the Canaanites opened a highway to the north greatly facilitating commerce and foreign intercourse, and was an important factor in the unification of the kingdom.
David’s unification of his kingdom greatly provoked the fear and jealousy of the Philistines whom he decisively defeated and effectively nullified their power (2 Samuel 5:17-25; 1 Chronicles 18:1; 2 Samuel 21:15-22). Among David’s other conquests were the Moabites, Arameans, Ammonites, Edomites, and Amalekites (2 Samuel 8:10; 12:26-31). This vast empire, reaching from Ezion-Geberon the Gulf of Aqabah in the south to the region of the Hums bordering on the city-state of Hamath in the north, David was able to leave Solomon, his son (Albright, p. 131).
The efficient organization of his kingdom was principally due to David’s outstanding administrative skills (Cf. 1 Chronicles 22:17-27:34). His officialdom was organized partially on Egyptian models (Albright, p. 120). The knowledge of the Egyptian institutions that he copied probably came through Phoenician or other channels. David principally employed the divisions of the functions between the «recorder,» mazkir, and the «scribe,» sopher (2 Chronicles 8:16, 17), and the Council of Thirty (Cf. 1 Chronicles 27:6). His army, which he also efficiently organized, contained a special personal bodyguard of mercenaries, presumably of Philistine extraction, called Cherethites and Pelethites (2 Samuel 8:16, 18)
Some cities, including the cities of refuge (Numbers 35), were Levitical cities were provided for by Moses and by Joshua after conquest (Joshua 21:2), other cities not among these but later conquered by David were also included. In doing this David strengthened the Israelite confederation. Recognizing that there would be criminals, including those involved in tribal and blood feuds, within the confederation, David quickly took advantage of the Mosaic provision of the six refuge cities, three on each side of the Jordan River, to contain the criminal element and maintain peace.
David established Jerusalem as the religious center. His most important act toward this goat was the transfer of the ark back to Jerusalem from Keriath-jearim, where the holy chest of the Israelites had been kept except for a brief period since about 1050 BC. The transfer required two attempts since on the first attempt the ark was not carried according to prescribed Mosaic regulations (Numbers 4:5, 15, 19). David then resorted to the Philistine expedient of a new oxen drawn cart (Cf. 1 Samuel 6:7, 8), which led to the death of Uzzah. Finally after four months and with great religious celebration the ark reached the city of David (2 Samuel 6:12-14) where David is said to have «danced before the Lord…girded with a linen ephod» (2 Samuel 6:14). Illustrations of the ephod were provided by Assyrian and Ugaritic texts, it was an ordinary garment apparently first worn especially by women. Only later did it become restricted to religious and subsequently priestly use. However, in Israel the ephod early became a distinctive part of the dress of the Levitical priesthood. Apparently David’s wearing of the ephod on this occasion marked his capacity as Yahweh’s anointed king and his special representative. The Davidic tent was certainly copied after the specifications of the Mosaic prototype, as the one that had existed at Nob (1 Samuel 21:1, 9).
Many proclaimed David organized Hebrew sacred music. Despite critical denials of this there is nothing inconsistent with such a claim to be found in the evidence describing the Near East during the period of 1000 BC, the Biblical Davidic period. Palestinian ancient musician were well-known in antiquity as shown by Egyptian and Mesopotamian monuments in the early 19th century BC. Some of the statures showed Semitic craftsmen carrying musical instruments with them as they entered Egypt, notably is the relief from Beni-Hasan , 169 miles above Cairo. In epic religious literature discovered at Ras Shamra is portrayed the singers, sharim, as forming a special personnel class at Ugarit as early as 1400 BC. Archeological and linguistic give evidence of musical guilds among the Canaanites. All preceding evidence give credence to the Biblical material that David possessed and fostered musical ability.
Next David was desirous to construct a temple to house the ark. He told his desire to the prophet Nathan who without waiting to consult God told him, «Do all that is within thine heart; for God is with thee.» But this was not God’s intension; on the same night Nathan received a message that David was not to build the house for God to dwell in; that he (David) had been a man of war; that God would first establish his house; and that his son would build the temple (2 Samuel 7; 1 Chronicles 17). Encouraged and inspired by this divine approbation David made it a major objective of his reign to gather the means and materials for this important undertaking.
After taking up residence in Jerusalem, David inquired whether any of Saul’s descendants remain. Through an old servant of Saul, Ziba, he learned of Mephibosheth, a son of Jonathan. David sent for Mephibosheth, returned Saul’s possessions to him, and gave him a place at the king’s table (2 Samuel 9:13).
About this time Israel suffered a three-year famine, which terrified the country. David did not know the cause so he consulted God. The Lord replied, «It is for Saul, and for his bloody house, because he slew the Gibeonites.» This fact remained unclear. The Gibeonites were sent for, and upon their requisition David surrendered to them two sons of Rizpah, a concubine of Saul, and five sons of Merab, whom she had borne to Adriel. When they were crucified, and bodies left uncared for to be watched over by Rizpah, David was told, and he ordered their bodies along with Saul’s and Jonathan’s, which were brought from Jabesh, to be honorably placed with the family tomb at Zelah, in the tribe of Benjamin. This was around the time he was nice to Mephibosheth (2 Samuel 21:1-14).
A harem, kept in princely courts, has almost always been a custom in the Eastern World. This led to a dangerous fall for David. One night when walking on his roof he saw a beautiful woman bathing which excited him. When inquiring of her identity he was informed that the woman was Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, and wife of Uriah the Hittite. He sent for her and she obeyed him. In order to conceal his sin of adultery, and secure Bathsheba for his wife, David sent Uriah into a dangerous battle situation where he was killed, thus adding murder to his other crime. From this time forward trouble overshadowed David; the outrage of his daughter Tamar, by his oldest son Ammon, and the murder of the latter by the servants of Absalom (2 Samuel 11:1-13:29)
Afterwards Absalom fled to Talmai where he was befriended and remained for three years. Then being recalled to Jerusalem, he stayed in his personal residence. Absalom then aspired to take over the throne; gaining permission he journeyed to Hebon when he had more support. Learning od Absalom’s activities David left Jerusalem crossed the Jordan, going to Mahanaim, the same capital where Saul took up exile. David eventually defeated Absolam, his death occurred in the «forest of Ephraim,» as well as his hereditary enemies of the tribe of Benjamin, after which he reigned peacefully again in Jerusalem (2 Samuel 17-20).
There were other battles as well, for as mighty as David was he created many enemies wishing to see him dethroned. But, to the Hebrew people David was one of their finest kings, holding their esteem until the present. Dying at seventy, his tomb became the sepulcher for the kings of Judah, presently located on a southern hill called Mount Zion, it has been visited by thousands since the Crusades.
The Hebrew people and others remember David for his bravery and leadership, both military and civil, and his ability to enlarge the land of Israel, but they remember him mostly for his steadfast faith in God Jehovah. It is believed that he had unshakable trust in Jehovah, and the brightest and most spiritual views of creation and government of the world, together with a constant, tender, and sensitive of the Holy One of Israel, and a strong desire to loyally return to him even after all of his errors and transgressions.
In the aggadah, David is exalted as a great poet, one credited with writing the Psalms, and a scholarly king. The unique status of the Davidic line of kingship is particularly emphasized: It was said that even God «looks forward to David’s being king until the end of the generations» (Gen. R 88. 7). However, on earth, the Davidic reign continued with Solomon, David’s son borne of Bathsheba.
In Islam, David is called Dawud. A.G.H.
Unger, Merrill F., Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Chicago, Moody Press, 1966, pp. 242-248
Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 260