By Shira Schoenberg
The biblical King David of
Israel was known for his diverse skills as both a warrior and a
writer of psalms. In his 40 years as ruler, between
approximately 1010 and 970 B.C.E., he united the people of
Israel, led them to victory in battle, conquered land and paved
the way for his son, Solomon, to build the Holy Temple. Almost
all knowledge of him is derived from the books of the Prophets
and Writings: Samuel I and II, Kings I and Chronicles I.
David was the eighth and
youngest son of Jesse from the kingly tribe of Judah. He was
also a direct descendent of Ruth the Moabite. David began his
life as a shepherd in Bethlehem. One day, the prophet Samuel
called him out of the field and anointed him without the
knowledge of the current king, Saul. David simply returned to
his sheep. His first interaction with Saul came when the king
was looking for someone to play music for him, and the kingís
attendant summoned the skilled David to play for him. Saul was
pleased with David and kept him in his service as a musician.
The first time David publicly
displayed his courage was when, as an inexperienced boy armed
with only a stick and a few stones, he confronted the nine-foot,
bronze armored Philistine giant, Goliath of Gath. After skilled
warriors had cowered in fear for 40 days, David made a
slingshot, invoked Godís name, and killed the giant. After this,
Saul took David on as commander of his troops and David formed a
close friendship with Saulís son, Jonathan.
David and Goliath, by
Caravaggio, c. 1599. Prado, Madrid
David was successful in battle
against the Philistines and this aroused the jealousy of Saul,
who tried to kill David by throwing a spear at him. David stayed
with Saul, however, and Saul offered him his own daughter, Merav,
as a wife. He later reneged on his promise, but offered David
his second daughter, Michal, in exchange for the foreskins of
100 Philistines, a price that David paid.
Saulís jealousy of David grew
and he asked his son Jonathan to kill David. Jonathan was a
friend of Davidís, however, and hid David instead. He then went
to his father and convinced Saul to promise not to kill David.
Saul promised, and David returned to his service. This promise
did not last and, after Saul attempted to kill David a second
time, Michal helped David run away to the prophet Samuel in
Ramah. David returned briefly to make a pact of peace with
Jonathan and to verify that Saul was still planning to kill him.
He then continued his flight from Saul, finding refuge with the
king of Moab. On the way, the priest Ahimelech of Nob gave David
a weapon. When Saul heard this, he sent Doeg the Edomite to kill
85 of the cityís priests.
In the course of his flight,
David gained the support of 600 men, and he and his band
traveled from city to city. At one point, in Ein Gedi, David
crept up on Saul while he was in a cave, but instead of killing
him, cut a piece from his cloak and confronted Saul. Saul broke
down and admitted that David would one day be king and asked
David to swear that he would not destroy Saulís descendants or
wipe out Saulís name. David swore to this, but it did not stop
Saul from continuing to pursue him. Finally, David and his
supporters joined the service of Achish, the Philistine king of
Gath who entrusted David with control of the city of Ziklag.
Under Achishís employ, David raided the cities of nomads who
harassed the Jews and gave the spoils as gifts to the leaders of
Judah to win their support for him against Saul.
Eventually, while David was out
battling a tribe called the Amalekites, Saul and Jonathan were
killed on Mt. Gilboa in a fight with the Philistines. David
mourned, and then began a new stage in his life, as king of
Judah. He moved to Hebron, along with his wives, Ahinoam of
Jezreel and Abigail of Carmel, and his followers. The people of
Judea were grateful to David for saving them from desert raiders
while he was in Ziklag, and they appointed David king.
Meanwhile, Abner son of Ner
crowned Ish-Boshet son of Saul king over the tribes of Israel.
The kingdoms of Judah and Israel fought, with Davidís dynasty
growing stronger as Saulís grew weaker. Finally, after Abner had
a fight with Ish-Boshet, Abner approached David and made a pact
with him, which allowed David to unite the two kingdoms and rule
over all of Israel. As Abner was leaving David, however, Davidís
advisor and army commander, Joab, killed Abner without Davidís
knowledge. Soon, Ish-Boshet was also killed and the tribes of
Israel anointed David as their king. David was 30 years old at
the time, and had ruled over Judah for seven years and six
months. Over the years, he had taken more wives and had many
children. He had also made pacts with kings of various
Davidís first action as king was
to capture what is now the City of David in Jerusalem, fortify
it and build himself a palace. When the Philistines heard that
David had been anointed king and was threatening their hegemony
over all of Palestine, they attacked, spread out over the Valley
of Raphaim and captured Bethlehem. David retaliated and, in
three battles, forced the Philistines out of Israel.
Once David had established the
safety of his kingdom, he brought the Holy Ark, which had been
passed from city to city, to Jerusalem. He then wanted to build
a temple to God and consulted Natan the prophet. Natan replied
to David that God would always be with David, but it would be up
to Davidís son to build the Temple because David had been a
warrior and shed blood.
David then began fighting wars
against Israelís neighbors on the east bank of the Jordan. He
defeated the Moabites, the Edomites, the Ammonites and the
Arameans. These wars began as defensive wars, but ended with the
establishment of a Davidic empire that extended over both sides
of the Jordan River, as far as the Mediterranean Sea. David
enforced justice in his empire and established civil and
military administrations in Jerusalem, modeled after those of
the Canaanites and Egyptians. He divided the country into twelve
districts, each with its own civil, military and religious
institutions. He also established Jerusalem as the secular and
religious center of the country. Each district paid taxes to
Jerusalem and the people began to make pilgrimages to Jerusalem
each year on the holidays of Passover, Shavout and Sukkot.
Despite this flawless reign on
a national level, David had many problems in his personal life.
One day while the men were at war, David spied a beautiful
woman, Bathsheba, from his rooftop. He discovered that she was
married to Uriah the Hittite, but this did not stop him from
sending for her and getting her pregnant. He then recalled Uriah
from battle and pretended that Uriah was the father of
Bathshebaís baby. Uriah refused to go home to his wife, so David
sent Uriah to the front lines of battle, where he was killed.
David then married Bathsheba. When confronted by Natan the
prophet, David admitted his sin. In punishment, Bathshebaís
child died and David was cursed with the promise of a rebellion
from within his own house. Bathsheba and David soon conceived a
second son, Solomon.
Davidís personal strife
continued when his son Amnon raped Tamar, Amnonís half-sister.
Absalom, who was Davidís son and Tamarís brother, then killed
Amnon. Absalom fled, but David could not stop thinking about
him. Finally, Joab convinced David to allow Absalom to return.
Absalom was a handsome man and became popular with the people of
Israel. Then, 40 years after Samuel had anointed David king,
Absalom, along with 200 men, journeyed to Hebron with the
intention of rebelling against his father and taking over his
kingdom. He had the support of the men of Hebron who were
insulted by the removal of the kingdom from Hebron to Jerusalem,
the elders whose status was undermined by parts of Davidís
policy and the Benjamites who wanted to avenge Saulís family.
David feared that Absalom would
return and conquer Jerusalem, so he and all his followers fled
the city, leaving only 10 concubines to guard the palace. David
told the priests Zadok and Abiathar to remain in the city along
with his friend and now spy Hushai the Archite. Meanwhile,
Absalom reached Jerusalem, took over the city and slept with
Davidís concubines. Hushai befriended Absalom, advised him, and
told the priests to send messengers informing David of Absalomís
plans. David gathered his troops and then killed 20,000 of
Absalomís Israelite soldiers, including Absalom himself. David
returned to power. A second revolt broke out at the hands of
Sheba son of Bichri, but with the help of Joab, David succeeded
in crushing this rebellion as well, and in killing Sheba.
Eventually David grew old and had
to stop fighting. He constantly felt cold and could not get
warm. At this point, Adonijah, Davidís oldest son, declared
himself king. David, however, had promised Bathsheba that her
son Solomon would be king, and publicly anointed Solomon.
Fearful of retribution Adonijah ran to the altar in Jerusalem,
but Solomon pardoned him and sent him home.
David delivered a last set of
instructions to his son, telling him to follow the words of God
and to repay in kind specific people that had either wronged
David or helped him. David then died after 40 years as king, 33
of those in Jerusalem. He was buried in the City of David.
David was a poet and the rabbis
believe that David wrote the Book of Psalms, or at least edited
it. Throughout his life, David prepared for the construction of
the Holy Temple by setting aside the necessary physical
materials, commanding the Levites and others in their duties for
the Temple, and giving the plan for the Temple to Solomon. It is
then fitting that according to tradition, the Messiah, who will
build the third temple, will be from the Davidic dynasty. Today,
Jews pray daily for the coming of the "Messiah, son of David."
Abishag, Bathsheba, Solomon, and
tend to aging David, c. 1435