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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

David

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DAVID (‘beloved’). The second and greatest of the kings of Israel; the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse the Bethlehemite; he belonged to the tribe of Judah. The details of his life are gathered from 1 Samuel 16:3 1 Kings 2:11 , 1 Chronicles 11:1 to 1 Chronicles 29:30 (besides some scattered notices in the earlier chapters of 1 Ch.), the Psalms which bear on this period, and Bk. VII of the Antiquities of Josephus, though this latter adds but little to our knowledge. It is necessary to bear in mind two points of importance in dealing with the records of the life of David: firstly, the Hebrew text is, in a number of cases, very corrupt (notably in the books of Samuel), and in not a few passages the Alexandrian (Greek) version is to be preferred; secondly, our records have been gathered together from a variety of sources, and therefore they do not present a connected whole; that they are for this reason sometimes at variance with each other stands in the natural order of things.

1. Early years . David was a shepherd by calling, and he continued this occupation until he had reached full manhood; the courage and strength sometimes required for the protection of flocks make it clear that he was more than a mere youth when he first appeared upon the scene of public life ( 1 Samuel 17:34-35 ). There are altogether three different accounts of David’s entry upon the stage of life.

(i) 1 Samuel 16:1-13 . David is here represented as having been designated by Jahweh as Saul’s successor; Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to anoint him; all the seven sons of Jesse pass before the prophet, but the Spirit does not move him to anoint any of them; in perplexity he asks the father if he has any more children, whereupon the youngest is produced, and Samuel anoints him. Graphic as the story is, it strikes one as incomplete. Samuel does not even know of the existence of Jesse’s youngest son; the future king of Israel is introduced as a mere stripling whom nobody seems to know or care about, and he is left as abruptly as he is introduced. From all we know of Israel’s early heroes, a man was not raised to be a leader of the people unless or until he had first proved himself in some way to be the superior of his fellows. It was, of course, different when the monarchy had been securely established and the hereditary succession had come into vogue; though even then there were exceptions, e.g. in the case of Jehu. This was clearly so in the case of Saul, who had the reputation of being a ‘mighty man of valour’ ( 1 Samuel 9:2 ); and in the parallel case of the anointing of one to be king while the throne was still occupied, viz. Jehu, it is not an unknown man who is anointed (see 1 Kings 19:16 , 2 Kings 9:3 ff.). The story, therefore, of David’s anointing by Samuel strikes one as being an incomplete fragment.

(ii) 1 Samuel 16:14-23 . In this second account, the servants of Saul recommend that the king should send for someone who is a ‘cunning player on the harp,’ in order that by means of music the mental disorder from which he is suffering may be allayed. The son of Jesse is proposed, and forthwith sent for; when Saul is again attacked by the malady said to be occasioned by ‘an evil spirit from the Lord’ David plays upon the harp, and Saul ‘is refreshed’ in spirit. In this account David is represented as a grown man, for it is said that Saul made him his armour-bearer.

(iii) 1 Samuel 17:1-58 . The Greek version omits a large part of this account ( 1 Samuel 17:12-31 ; 1 Samuel 17:55-58 ), which seems itself to have been put together from different sources. According to it, David’s first appearance was on the eve of a battle between the Israelites and the Philistines. His father is in the habit of sending him to the Israelite camp with provisions for his three eldest brothers, who are among the warriors of the Israelite army; on one such occasion he finds the camp in consternation on account of the defiance of a Philistine hero, the giant Goliath. This man offers to fight in single combat with any Israelite who will come out and face him, but in spite of the high reward offered by the king to any one who will slay him namely, great riches and the king’s daughter in marriage nobody appears to answer the challenge. David gathers these details from different people in the camp, and, feeling sure of the help of Jahweh, determines to fight the giant. He communicates his purpose to Saul, who at first discourages him, but on seeing his firmness and confidence arms him and bids him go forth in the name of Jahweh. David, however, finds the armour too cumbersome, and discards it, taking instead nothing but five smooth stones and a sling. After mutual defiance, David slings one of his stones; the giant is hit, and falls down dead; David rushes up, draws the sword of the dead warrior, and cuts off his head. Thereupon panic takes hold of the Philistine host, and they flee, pursued by the Israelites, who thus gain a complete victory (see Elhanan).

It is worthy of note that each of these three accounts which introduce David to history connects with him just those three characteristics which subsequent ages loved to dwell upon. The first presents him as the beloved of Jahweh (cf. his name, ‘beloved’), who was specially chosen, the man after God’s own heart, the son of Jesse; the second presents him as the harpist, who was known in later ages as the ‘sweet psalmist of Israel’; while the third, which is probably the nearest to actual history, presents him as the warrior-hero, just as, in days to come, men would have pictured him whose whole reign from beginning to end was characterized by war.

David’s victory over Goliath had a twofold result; firstly, the heroic deed called forth the admiration, which soon became love, of the king’s son Jonathan; a covenant of friendship was made between the two, in token of which, and in ratification of which, Jonathan took off his apparel and armour and presented David with them. This friendship lasted till the death of Jonathan, and David’s pathetic lamentation over him (2 Samuel 1:25-27 ) points to the reality of their love. But secondly, it had the effect of arousing Saul’s envy; a not wholly unnatural feeling, considering the estimation in which David was held by the people in consequence of his victory; the adage assuredly one of the most ancient authentic fragments of the history of the time

‘Saul hath slain his thousands,

And David his ten thousands’

was not flattering to one who had, in days gone by, been Israel’s foremost warrior. For the present, however, Saul conceals his real feelings (1 Samuel 18:10-11 are evidently out of place), intending to rid himself of David in such a way that no blame would seem to attach itself to him. In fulfilment of his promise to the slayer of Goliath, he expresses his intention of giving his daughter Michal to David for his wife; but as David brings no dowry, according to Hebrew custom, Saul lays upon him conditions of a scandalous character ( 1 Samuel 18:25-26 ), hoping that, in attempting to fulfil them, David may lose his life. The scheme fails, and David receives Michal to wife. A further attempt to be rid of David is frustrated by Jonathan ( 1 Samuel 19:1-7 ), and at last Saul himself tries to kill him by throwing a javelin at him whilst playing on his harp; again he fails, for David nimbly avoids the javelin, and escapes to his own house. Thither Saul sends men to kill him, but with the help of his wife he again escapes, and flees to Ramah to seek counsel from Samuel. On Samuel’s advice, apparently, he goes to Jonathan by stealth to see if there is any possibility of a reconciliation with the king; Jonathan does his best, but in vain ( 1 Samuel 20:1-42 ), and David realizes that his life will be in danger so long as he is anywhere within reach of Saul or his emissaries.

2. David as an outlaw . As in the case of the earlier period of David’s life, the records of this second period consist of a number of fragments from different sources, not very skilfully put together. We can do no more here than enumerate briefly the various localities in which David sought refuge from Saul’s vindictiveness, pointing out at the same time the more important episodes of his outlaw life.

David flies first of all to Nob , the priestly city; his stay here is, however, of short duration, for he is seen by Doeg, one of Saul’s followers. Taking the sword of his late antagonist, Goliath, which was wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod, he makes for Gath , hoping to find refuge on foreign soil; but he is recognized by the Philistines, and fearing that they would take vengeance on him for killing their hero Goliath, he simulates madness (cf. Psalms 34:1-22 title), a disease which by the Oriental (even to-day by the Bedouin) is looked upon as something sacrosanct. By this means he finds it easy enough to make his escape, and comes to the ‘ cave of Adullam .’ Here his relations come to him, and he gathers together a band of desperadoes, who make him their captain. Finding that this kind of life is unfitted for his parents, he takes them to Mizpeh and confides them to the care of the king of Moab. On his return he is advised by the prophet Gad (doubtless because he had found out that Saul had received information of David’s whereabouts) to leave the stronghold; he therefore takes refuge in the forest of Hereth . While hiding here, news is brought to him that the Philistines are fighting against Keilah; he hastens to succour the inhabitants by attacking the Philistines; these he overcomes with great slaughter, and thereupon he takes up his abode in Keilah . In the meantime Saul’s spies discover the whereabouts of the fugitive, and David, fearing that the men of Keilah will deliver him up to his enemy, escapes with his followers to the hill-country in the wilderness of Ziph . A very vigorous pursuit is now undertaken by Saul, who seems determined to catch the elusive fugitive, and the chase is carried on among the wilds of Ziph, Maon , and Engedi . [Some portions of the narrative here seem to be told twice over with varying detail (cf. 1 Samuel 23:19 ff. with 1 Samuel 26:1 ff., and 1 Samuel 24:1 ff. with 1 Samuel 26:4 ff.).] It is during these wanderings that Saul falls into the power of David, but is magnanimously spared. The episode connected with David’s dealings with Nabal, and his taking Abigail and Ahinoam for his wives, also falls within this period ( 1Sa 24:1-22 ; 1 Samuel 25:1-44 ; 1 Samuel 26:1-25 ). At one time there seemed to be some hope of reconciliation between Saul and David ( 1 Samuel 26:24-25 ), but evidently this was short-lived, for soon afterwards David escapes once more, and comes with six hundred followers to the court of Achish, king of Gath. This time Achish welcomes him as an ally and gives him the city of Ziklag . David settles in Ziklag, and stays there for a year and four months ( 1 Samuel 27:7 ), occupying the time by fighting against the enemies of his country, the Geshurites, Amalekites, etc. At the end of this time, war again breaks out between the Israelites and the Philistines. The question arises whether David shall join with the forces of Achish against the Israelites; David himself seems willing to fight on the side of the Philistines ( 1 Samuel 29:8 ), but the princes of the Philistines, rightly or wrongly, suspect treachery on his part, and at the request of Achish he returns to Ziklag . On his arrival here he finds that the place has been sacked by the Amalekites, and forthwith he sets out to take revenge. This is ample and complete; part of the spoil which he acquires he sends as a present to the elders of Judah and to his friends ( 1 Samuel 30:26-31 ), a fact which shows that there was a party favourable to him in Judah; and this was possibly the reason and justification of the mistrust of the Philistine princes just mentioned. In the meantime the war between Israel and the Philistines ends disastrously for the former, and Saul and Jonathan are slain. David receives news of this during his sojourn in Ziklag. With this ends the outlaw life of David, for, leaving Ziklag, he comes to Hebron, where the men of Judah anoint him king ( 2 Samuel 2:4 ).

3. David as king

( a ) Internal affairs . For the first seven years of his reign David made Hebron his capital. In spite of his evident desire to make peace with the followers of Saul ( 2 Samuel 9:1-13 ), it was but natural that a vigorous attempt should be made to uphold the dynasty of the late king, at all events in Israel, as distinct from Judah (see Ishbosheth). It is therefore just what we should expect when we read that ‘there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David’ ( 2 Samuel 3:1 ). The final victory lay with David, and in due time the elders of Israel came to him in Hebron and anointed him their king. As ruler over the whole land David realized the need of a more central capital; he fixed on Jerusalem, which he conquered from the Jebusites, and founded the royal city on Mt. Zion, ‘the city of David’ ( 2 Samuel 5:7 ). Thither he brought up the ark with great ceremony ( 2 Samuel 6:1 ff.), intending to build a permanent temple for it ( 2 Samuel 7:2 ), but the prophet Nathan declares to him that this is not Jahweh’s will. David’s disappointment is, however, soothed, for the prophet goes on to tell him that though he may not build this house, Jahweh will establish the house of David ( i.e. in the sense of lineage) for ever ( 2 Samuel 7:11 ). David then enters in before Jahweh and offers up his thanksgiving ( 2 Samuel 7:18-29 ).

One of the darker traits of David’s character is illustrated by the detailed account of the Bathsheba episode (2 Samuel 11:2 ; 2 Samuel 12:25 ); so far from seeking to curb his passion for her on hearing that she is married, he finds ways and means of ridding himself of the husband, after whose death Bathsheba becomes his queen. The marriage was destined to influence materially the history of Israel (see Adonijah). But the most serious event in the history of the reign of David, so far as the internal affairs of the kingdom were concerned, was the rebellion of his son Absalom. Of an ambitious nature, Absalom sought the succession, even at the expense of dethroning his father. How he set about preparing the ground for the final coup is graphically described in 2 Samuel 15:1-6 . After four [forty in the EV [Note: English Version.] should be read ‘four’] years of suchlike crafty preparation, the rebellion broke out; a feast at Hebron, the old capital, given by Absalom to the conspirators, was the signal for the outbreak. At first Absalom was successful; he attacked Jerusalem, from which David bad to flee; here, following the advice of Ahithophel, he took possession of the royal harem, a sign (in the eyes of the people of those days) of the right of heritage. The most obvious thing to do now would have been for Absalom to pursue David before he had time to gather an army; but, against the advice of Ahithophel, he follows that of Hushai a secret friend of David who succeeds in inducing Absalom to waste time by lingering in Jerusalem. Ahithophel, enraged at the failure of his plans, and probably foreseeing what the final result must be, leaves Absalom and goes to his home in Giloh and hangs himself ( 2 Samuel 17:23 ). In the meantime David, hearing what is going on in Jerusalem, withdraws across the Jordan, and halts at Mahanaim; here he gathers his forces together under the leadership of Joab. The decisive battle follows not long after, in the ‘forest of Ephraim’; Absalom is completely defeated, and loses his life by being caught in a tree by the head whilst fleeing. Whilst thus hanging he is pierced by Joab, in spite of David’s urgent command that he should not be harmed. The touching account of David’s sorrow, on hearing of Absalom’s death, is given in 2 Samuel 18:23-33 . A second rebellion, of a much less serious character, was that of Sheba, who sought to draw the northern tribes from their allegiance; it was, however, easily quelled by Joab (ch. 20).

The rebellion (if such it can be called) of Adonijah occurred at the very end of David’s reign. This episode is dealt with elsewhere (see Adonijah), and need not, therefore, be described here.

( b ) External affairs . Unlike most of his dealings with foreigners, David’s first contact, as king, with those outside of his kingdom, viz. with the Syrians, was of a peaceful character. Hiram, king of Tyre, sent (according to 2 Samuel 5:11 , 1 Chronicles 14:1 ) artificers of different kinds to assist David in building. But this was the exception. One of the characteristics of David’s reign was its large number of foreign wars. It is, however, necessary to bear in mind that in the case of a newly-established dynasty this is only to be expected. The following is, very briefly, a list of David’s foreign wars; they are put in the order found in 2Sam., but this order is not strictly chronological; moreover, it seems probable that in one or two cases duplicate, but varying, accounts appear: Philistines ( 2 Samuel 5:17-25 ), Moabites ( 2 Samuel 8:2 ), Zobah ( 2 Samuel 8:3-4 ), Syrians ( 2 Samuel 8:5-13 ), Edomites ( 2 Samuel 8:14 ), Ammonites, Syrians ( 2 Samuel 10:1 , 2 Samuel 11:1 , 2 Samuel 12:26-31 ), and Philistines ( 2 Samuel 21:15-22 ). David was victorious over all these peoples, the result being a great extension of his kingdom, which reached right up to the Euphrates (cf. Exodus 23:31-33 , Deuteronomy 11:23-25 ). Wars of this kind presuppose the existence of a, comparatively speaking, large army; that David had a constant supply of troops may be gathered from the details given in 1 Chronicles 27:1-34 .

While it is impossible to deny that the rôle of musician in which we are accustomed to picture David is largely the product of later ages, there can be no doubt that this rôle assigned to him is based on fact (cf. e.g. 1 Samuel 1:17-27 , 2 Samuel 22:2-51 = Psalms 18:1-50 , Amos 6:5 ), and he must evidently be regarded as one of the main sources of inspiration which guided the nation’s musicians of succeeding generations (see art. Psalms).

The character of David offers an intensely interesting complex of good and bad, in which the former largely predominates. As a ruler, warrior, and organizer, he stands pre-eminent among the heroes of Israel. His importance in the domain of the national religion lies mainly in his founding of the sanctuary of Zion, with all that that denotes. While his virtues of open-heartedness, generosity, and valour, besides those already referred to, stand out as clear as the day, his faults are to a large extent due to the age in which be lived, and must be discounted accordingly.

W. O. E. Oesterley.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'David'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdb/d/david.html. 1909.

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