da'-vid (dawidh, or dawidh, "beloved"; Daueid, also in New Testament, Dauid, Dabid; see Thayer's Lexicon):



1. Shepherd

2. Slinger

3. Harpist

4. Poet

5. Psalmist

6. Tribesman


1. David First Meets Saul

2. His First Exploit

3. Envy of Saul and Flight of David

4. Jonathan and David


1. David as Outlaw

2. David Joins the Philistines


1. Civil War

2. Conquests Abroad

3. Political Situation

4. The Ark


1. His Wives and Children

2. Domestic Troubles


1. Prophets

2. Priests

3. Military Officers

4. Other Officials

5. Mutual Rivalry


1. Chronicles

2. Psalms

3. Complex Character

4. Physical Courage

5. Moral Courage

6. Prudence

7. Strategy

8. Nobility

9. David in Relation to His Family

10. David in Relation to His Friends

11. His Success

12. His Foreign Friends

13. Nemesis

14. References in the New Testament


See a list of verses on DAVID in the Bible.

I. Name and Genealogy.

This name, which is written "defectively" in the older books, such as those of Samuel, but fully with the yodh in Chronicles and the later books, is derived, like the similar name Jedidish (2Sa 12:25), from a root meaning "to love." The only person who bears this name in the Bible is the son of Jesse, the second king of Israel. His genealogy is given in the table appended to the Book of Ruth (2Sa 4:12). Here the following points are to be noted: David belonged to the tribe of Judah: his ancestor Nahshon was chieftain of the whole tribe (Nu 1:7; 2:3; 1Ch 2:10) and brother-in-law of Aaron the high priest (Ex 6:23). As no other descendants of Nahshon are mentioned, his authority probably descended to Jesse by right of primogeniture. This supposition is countenanced by the fact that Salma (Salmon), the name of the son of Nahshon and father of Boaz, is also the name of a grandson of Caleb who became "father" of Bethlehem, the home of Jesse (1Ch 2:51). David was closely connected with the tribe of Moab, the mother of his grandfather Obed being Ruth the Moabitess. Of the wife or wives of Jesse we know nothing, and consequently are without information upon a most interesting point--the personality of the mother of David; but that she too may have been of the tribe of Moab is rendered probable by the fact that, when hard pressed, David placed his parents under the protection of the king of that country (1Sa 22:3,1).

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

II. Early Years.

The home of David when he comes upon the stage of history was the picturesque town of Bethlehem.

1. Shepherd:

There his family had been settled for generations, indeed ever since the Israelite nation had overrun the land of Canaan. His father was apparently not only the chief man of the place, but he seems to have been chieftain of the whole clan to which he belonged--the clan of Judah. Although the country round Bethlehem is more fertile than that in the neighborhood of Jerusalem, the inhabitants joined to the cultivation of the soil the breeding of cattle (Lu 2:8). David's father, not only cultivated his ancestral fields, but kept flocks of sheep and goats as well. The flocks were sent out every day to pasture in the neighboring valleys attended by the herdsmen armed so as to defend themselves and their charge, not only against marauders from the surrounding deserts, but also from the lions and bears with which the country was then infested. David seems to have been in the habit of accompanying his father's servants in their task (1Sa 17:20,22), and on occasion would be left in full charge by himself. Nor was his post at such times a sinecure. He had not only to keep a sharp lookout for thieves, but on more than one occasion had with no other weapon than his shepherd's club or staff to rescue a lamb from the clutches of a lion or a bear (1Sa 17:34 ff). Such adventures, however, must have been rare, and David must often have watched eagerly the lengthening of the shadow which told of the approach of sunset, when he could drive his charge into the zariba for the night and return home. There is, indeed, no life more monotonous and enervating than that of an eastern shepherd, but David must have made good use of his idle time. He seems, in fact, to have made such good use of it as to have neglected his handful of sheep. The incidents of which he boasted to Saul would not have occurred, had his proper occupation taken up all his thoughts; but, like King Alfred, his head seems to have been filled with ideas far removed from his humble task.

2. Slinger:

David, like Nelson, does not seem to have known what it was to be afraid, and it was not to be expected that he could be satisfied with the lot of the youngest of eight sons of the now aged chief (1Sa 17:12; 1Ch 2:13 ff). In the East every man is a soldier, and David's bent was in that direction. The tribesmen of Benjamin near whose border his home was situated were famed through all Israel as slingers, some of whom could sling at a hair and not miss (Jg 20:16). Taught, perhaps, by one of these, but certainly by dint of constant practice, David acquired an accuracy of aim which reminds one of the tales of William Tell or Robin Hood (1Sa 17:49).

3. Harpist:

Another of the pastimes in the pursuit of which David spent many an hour of his youthful days was music. The instrument which he used was the "harp" (Hebrew kinnor). This instrument had many forms, which may be seen on the Assyrian and Egyptian monuments; but the kind used by David was probably like the modern Arabic, rubaba, having only one or two strings, played not with a plectrum (Ant., VII, xii, 3) but by the hand (compare 1Sa 16:23, etc., which do not exclude a quill). Whatever the nature of the instrument was, David acquired such proficiency in playing it that his fame as a musician soon spread throughout the countryside (1Sa 16:18). With the passing of time he becomes the Hebrew Orpheus, in whose music birds and mountains joined (compare Koran, chapter 21 ).

4. Poet:

To the accompaniment of his lyre David no doubt sang words, either of popular songs or of lyrics of his own composition, in that wailing eastern key which seems to be an imitation of the bleating of flocks. The verses he sang would recount his own adventures or the heroic prowess of the warrior of his clan, or celebrate the loveliness of some maiden of the tribe, or consist of elegies upon those slain in battle. That the name of David was long connected with music the reverse of sacred appears from the fact that Amos denounces the people of luxury of his time for improvising to the sound of the viol, inventing instruments of music, like David (6:5). (It is not clear to which clause "like David" belongs, probably to both.) The only remains of the secular poetry of David which have come down to us are his elegies on Saul and Jonathan and on Abner (2Sa 1:19-27; 3:33,14), which show him to have been a true poet.

5. Psalmist:

Did David also compose religious verses? Was he "the sweet psalmist of Israel" (2Sa 23:1)? In the oldest account which we have, contained in the books of Samuel, David appears as a musician and as a secular poet only, for it is obvious the poetical passages, 2Sa 22:1-23:2Sa 7:1-29, do not belong to the original form of that book but are thrust in in the middle of a long list of names of David's soldiers. The position is the same in Am 6:5. It is in the later books and passages that sacred music and psalms begin to be ascribed to him. Perhaps the earliest instance is the passage just cited containing the "last words" of David (2Sa 23:1-7). The Chronicler (about 300 BC) seems to put parts of Ps 105:1-45; 96:1-13, and Ps 106:1-48 into the mouth of David (1Ch 16:7 ff), and Ne 12:36 regards him apparently as the inventor of the instruments used in the Temple service (1Ch 23:5), or as a player of sacred music. So too in the Septuagint psalter (Ps 151:2) we read, "My hands made an organ, my fingers fashioned a psaltery"; and gradually the whole of the Psalms came to be ascribed to David as author. In regard to this question it must be remembered that in the East at any rate there is no such distinction as that of sacred and secular. By sacred poetry we mean poetry which mentions the name of God or quotes Scripture, but the Hebrew or Arab poet will use the name of God as an accompaniment to a dance, and will freely sprinkle even comic poetry with citations from his sacred book. David must have composed sacred poems if he composed at all, and he would use his musical gift for the purposes of religion as readily as for those of amusement and pleasure (2Sa 6:14-15). Whether any of our psalms was composed by David is another question. The titles cannot be considered as conclusive evidence, and internal proofs of his authorship are wanting. Indeed the only psalm which claims to have been written by David is the 18th (= 2Sa 22:1-51). One cannot help wishing that the 23rd Psalm had been sung by the little herd lad as he watched his father's flocks and guarded them from danger.

6. Tribesman:

There are sayings of Mohammed that the happiest life is that of the shepherd, and that no one became a prophet who had not at one time tended a flock of sheep. What Mohammed meant was that the shepherd enjoys leisure and solitude for reflection and for plunging into those day dreams out of which prophets are made. If David, like the Arab poet Tarafa, indulged in sport, in music and in poetry, even to the neglect of his charge, he must have sought out themes on which to exercise his muse; and it must have been with no little chagrin that he learnt that whereas the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, Naphtali, Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun, Levi, Dan, and even the non-Israelite tribes of Kenaz and the debatable land of Gilead could boast of having held the hegemony of Israel and led the nation in battle, his own tribe of Judah had played a quite subordinate part, and was not even mentioned in the national war song of Deborah. As contrasted with the poets of these tribes he could boast in his verses only of Ibzan who belonged to his own town of Bethlehem (Jg 12:8). The Jerahmeelites were no doubt a powerful clan, but neither they nor any other of the subdivisions of Judah had ever done anything for the common good. Indeed, when the twelve pathfinders had been sent in advance into Canaan, Judah had been represented by Caleb, a member of the Uitlander tribe of Kenaz (Nu 13:6). He became apparently the adopted son of Hezron and so David might claim kinship with him, and through him with Othniel the first of the judges (Jg 1:13). David thus belonged to the least efficient of all the Israelite tribes except one, and one which, considering its size and wealth, had till now failed to play a worthy part in the confederacy. It is difficult to believe that the young David never dreamed of a day when his own tribe should take its true place among its fellows, and when the deliverer of Israel from its oppressors should belong for once to the tribe of Judah.

III. In the Service of Saul.

The earliest events in the career of David are involved in some obscurity.

1. David First Meets Saul:

This is due mainly to what appears to be an insoluble difficulty in 1Sa 16:1-23 and 1Sa 17:1-58. In chapter 1Sa 16:1-23, David is engaged to play before Saul in order to dispel is melancholy, and becomes his squire or armor-bearer (1Sa 16:21), whereas in the following chapter he is unknown to Saul, who, after the death of Goliath, asks Abner who he is, and Abner replies that he does not know (1Sa 17:55). This apparent contradiction may be accounted for by the following considerations: (a) 1Sa 16:14-23 may be inserted out of its chronological order for the sake of the contrast with the section immediately preceding--"the spirit of Yahweh came mightily upon David from that day forward .... the spirit of Yahweh departed from Saul" (1Sa 16:13-14); (b) the fact of David becoming Saul's squire does not imply constant personal attendance upon him; the text says David became an (not his) armor-bearer to Saul. The king would have many such squires: Joab, though only commander-in-chief, had, it seems, eighteen (2Sa 23:37 reads "armor-bearers"); (c) David would not play before Saul every day: his presence might not be required for a space of weeks or months; (d) Saul's failure to recognize David may have been a result of the `evil spirit from Yahweh' and Abner's denial of knowledge may have been feigned out of jealousy. If we accept all the statements of the dramatis personae in these narratives we shall not get very far.

2. His First Exploit:

The facts seem to have been somewhat as follows: It had become evident that Saul was not equal to the task to which he had been set--the task of breaking the Philistine power, and it became the duty of Samuel, as the vicar of Yahweh and as still holding very large powers, to look about for a successor. He turned to the tribe of Judah (the full brother of his own ancestor Levi), a tribe which was fast becoming the most powerful member of the federation. The headman of this clan was Jesse of Bethlehem. His name was well known in the country--Saul does not require to be told who he is (1Sa 16:18; 17:58)--but he was by this time advanced in years (1Sa 17:12). He had, however, many sons. Old men in the East often foretell a great future for a young boy (compare Lu 2:34). Samuel saw that David was formed of other clay than his brothers, and he anointed him as he had done Saul (1Sa 10:1). But whereas the anointing of Saul was done surreptitiously and for a definite purpose which was explained at the time (1Sa 10:1), that of David was performed before his whole family, but with what object he was not told (1Sa 16:13). His brothers do not seem to have thought the matter of much consequence (compare 1Sa 17:28), and all David could conclude from it was that he was destined to some high office--perhaps that of Samuel's successor (compare 1Ki 19:15-16). It would have the effect of nerving him for any adventure and raising his hopes high and steeling his courage. Whether by accident or by contrivance he became attached to Saul as minstrel (compare 2Ki 3:15) and subsequently as one of his armor-bearers. He would probably be at this time about twenty years of age. It must have been after an interval of some months that an event happened which made it impossible for Saul ever again to forget the existence of David. This was the famous duel between David and the Philistine Goliath, which saved the situation for Saul for the time (1Sa 17:1-58). In regard to this narrative it must be noted that 1Sa 17:12-31,41,50,55-58 and 1Sa 18:1-5 are lacking in the best manuscript of the Septuagint, that is, the sending of David from Bethlehem and his fresh introduction to Saul and Saul's failure to recognize him are left out. With the omission of these verses all the difficulties of the narrative vanish. For the reason why David could not wear the armor offered him was not because he was still a child, which is absurd in view of the fact that Saul was exceptionally tall (1Sa 9:2), but because he had had no practice with it (1Sa 17:39). It is ridiculous to suppose that David was not at this time full-grown, and that two armies stood by while a child advanced to engage a giant. The event gained for David the reputation won in modern times at the cannon's mouth, but also the devoted friendship of Jonathan and the enmity of Saul (1Sa 18:1-9).

The next years of David's life were spent in the service of Saul in his wars with the Philistines. David's success where Saul had failed, however, instead of gratifying only inflamed the jealousy of the latter, and he determined to put David out of the way. More than once he attempted to do so with his own hand (1Sa 18:11; 19:10), but he also employed stratagem. It came to his ears that his daughter Michal, as well as his son Jonathan, loved David, and Saul undertook to give her to David on the condition of his killing one hundred Philistines.

3. Envy of Saul and Flight of David:

The gruesome dowry was paid, and David became Saul's son-in-law. The Hebrew text states that Saul first offered his elder daughter to David, and then failed to implement his promise (1Sa 18:17-19,21Sa 1:1-28b), but this passage is not found in the Greek. David's relation to Saul did not mitigate the hatred of the latter; indeed his enmity became so bitter that David determined upon flight. With the help of stratagem on the part of Michal, this was effected and David went to Samuel at Ramah for counsel and advice (1Sa 19:18). There Saul pursued him, but when he came into the presence of the prophet, his courage failed and he was overcome by the contagion of the prophetic ecstasy (1Sa 19:24) as he had been on a previous occasion (1Sa 10:11). David returned to Gibeah, while the coast was clear, to meet Jonathan, but Saul also returned immediately, his hatred more intense than before. David then continued his flight and came to Ahimelech, the priest at Nob (1Sa 21:1). It is sometimes supposed that we have here two inconsistent accounts of David's flight, according to one of which he fled to Samuel at Ramah, and according to the other to Ahimelech at Nob; but there is no necessity for such a supposition, and even if it were correct, it would not clear up all the difficulties of the narrative. There is evidently much in these narratives that is left untold and our business should be to fill up the gaps in a way consistent with what we are given. That Saul made sure that David would not return is shown by the fact that he gave his daughter Michal to a man of the tribe of Benjamin as wife (1Sa 25:44).

4. Jonathan and David:

The relation existing between Jonathan and David was one of pure friendship. There was no reason why it should not be so. A hereditary monarchy did not yet exist in Israel. The only previous attempt to establish such an institution--that of Gideon's family (Jg 9:1-57)--though not of Gideon himself (1Sa 8:22)--had ended in failure. The principle followed hitherto had been that of election by the sheikhs or caids of the clans. To this Saul owed his position, for the lot was a kind of ballot. Moreover, behind all national movements there lay the power of the prophets, the representatives of Yahweh. Saul was indebted for his election to Samuel, just as Barak was to Deborah (Jg 4:6). Like the judges who preceded him he had been put forward to meet a definite crisis in the national affairs--the rise of the Philistine power (1Sa 9:16). Had he succeeded in crushing these invaders, the newly-established kingdom would in the absence of this bond of union have dissolved again into its elements, as had happened on every similar occasion before. He was the only judge who had failed to accomplish the task for which he was appointed, and he was the only one who had been appointed on the understanding that his son should succeed him, for this constitutes the distinction between king and judge. Moreover, not only was Saul aware that he had failed, but he saw before him the man who was ready to step into his place and succeed. His rival had, besides, the backing of the mass of the people and of Samuel who was still virtual head of the state and last court of appeal. It is not to be wondered at that Saul was hostile to David. Jonathan, on the other hand, acquiesced in the turn things had taken and bowed to what he believed to be the inevitable. Such was his love for David that he asked only to be his wazeer (vizier) when David came to the throne (1Sa 23:17). David's position was perhaps the most difficult imaginable. He had to fight the battles of a king whose one idea was to bring about his ruin. He was the bosom friend of a prince whom he proposed to supplant in his inheritance. His hope of salvation lay in the death of his king, the father of his wife and of his best friend. The situation would in ordinary circumstances be intolerable, and it would have been impossible but for the fact that those concerned were obsessed by a profound belief in Fate. Jonathan bore no grudge against David for aiming at the throne, because to the throne he was destined by the will of Yahweh. To David it would never occur that he had the choice of declining the high destiny in store for him. Had he had the power to refuse what he believed to be the decree of Fate, he would hardly escape censure for his ambition and disloyalty.

IV. David in Exile.

1. David as Outlaw:

From the moment of his flight David became an outlaw and remained so until the death of Saul. This period of his career is full of stirring adventures which remind us of Robert Bruce or William Wallace of Scotland. Like King Arthur and other heroes he carried a famous sword--the sword of Goliath (1Sa 21:9). Having obtained it of Ahimelech, he for the first time left Israelite territory and went to the Philistine city of Gath (1Sa 21:10). Not feeling safe here he left and took up his abode in the cave of Adullam (1Sa 22:1) in the country of Judah, almost within sight of his native Bethlehem. This cave was admirably suited to the outlaw's purpose and no doubt David had many a time explored its recesses when a boy. Here he was joined by his parents and brothers, with their servants, as well as by all sorts of persons who were at war with the government, debtors, fugitives from justice, and discontented persons generally. David thus became the chief of a band of outlaws who numbered about 400. Of such stuff some of his bravest soldiers were made (2Sa 23:13 ff). He had an augur, too, to direct his actions, and, after the massacre of the priests at Nob, a priest, Abiathar, carrying an ephod with which to cast lots (1Sa 22:5; 23:6). During this period he supported himself and his men by making raids on the Philistine outposts and levying blackmail on his own countrymen (1Sa 25:2 ff) in return for giving them his protection from the Philistines (1Sa 23:1 ff). Hard pressed both by Saul and the Philistines (who had established themselves even in Bethlehem) he committed his parents to the keeping of the king of Moab, and began to rove as a freebooter through the country (1Sa 23:5,15,25,29). On two occasions David had Saul in his power, but refused to seize the opportunity of taking his life (1Sa 24:1-22-1Sa 26:1-25). Here again there are no adequate grounds for supposing we have two accounts of one and the same incident. During his wandering David's followers increased in numbers (compare 1Sa 22:2; 23:13; 25:13). His chief lieutenant was his nephew Abishai, the son of his sister Zeruiah, but his brothers, Joab and Asahel, do not seem to have joined David yet. Another of his nephews, Jonathan the son of Shimei (Shammah), is mentioned (2Sa 21:21; compare 1Sa 16:9) and the Chronicler thinks many other knights joined him during this period (1Ch 11:10 ff). The position of David at this time was very similar to that of the brigand Raisuli of late in Morocco. That there was some stability in it is shown by his taking two wives at this time--Ahinoam and Abigail (1Sa 25:42-43).

2. David Joins the Philistines:

David now, abandoning all hope of ever conciliating the king (1Sa 27:1), made a move which shows at once his reckless daring and consummate genius. He offered the services of himself and his little army of 600 men to the enemies of his country. The town of Gath appears to have been an asylum for fugitive Israelites (1Ki 2:39). David's first impulse on his flight from Saul had been to seek safety there (1Sa 21:10-15). Then, however, he was the hero of Israel, whose assassination would be the highest gain to the Philistines; now he was the embittered antagonist of Saul, and was welcomed accordingly. Achish placed at his disposal the fortified town of Ziklag in the territory of the now extinct tribe of Simeon, and there he and his followers, each of whom had his family with him, took up their quarters for sixteen months (1Sa 27:6-7). The advantages to David were many. He was safe at last from the persecution of Saul (1Sa 27:4); he could secure ample supplies by making raids upon the Amalekites and other tribes hostile to Israel toward the South (1Sa 27:8); and if the opportunity presented itself he could deal a serious blow at the Philistine arms. The position was no doubt a precarious one. It could last just as long as David could hoodwink Achish by persuading him that his raids were directed against his own tribe (1Sa 27:10). This he succeeded in doing so completely that Achish would have taken him with him on the campaign which ended in the decisive battle of Gilboa, but the other chiefs, fearing treachery, refused to allow him to do so. David was forced to return with his followers to Ziklag, only to find that town razed to the ground and all the women and children carried off by his old enemies the Amalekites (1Sa 30:1-2). By the time he had recovered the spoil and returned in triumph to Ziklag the battle of Gilboa had been fought and Saul was slain. The conduct of David in his relations with the Philistines was not more reprehensible than that of the Cid who allied himself with Al-Mu'taman of Saragossa, or of Coriolanus who went over to the Volsci. David composed upon the death of Saul and Jonathan an elegy every sentence of which has become classic.

V. David as King.

1. Civil War:

David immediately removed from Ziklag and took up his quarters at Hebron, where he was at once anointed king over his own tribe of Judah. Thus began the cleavage between Judah and Israel. Here he was joined, apparently for the first time, by his nephew Joab. Abner, however, loyal to his former master, had Esh-baal (1Ch 8:33), son of Saul, anointed king over the remaining tribes at Mahanaim, a fortified town East of the Jordan. War continued between David and Abner for several years, fortune always favoring David. Seeing things were going against him Abner forced Esh-baal into a personal quarrel with himself and then transferred his allegiance and persuaded his side to transfer theirs to David (2Sa 3:21). He did not reap the fruit of his defection, as he was immediately after assassinated by Joab in revenge for the death of Asahel whom Abner had killed in self-defence (2Sa 3:27). Deprived of his chief support Esh-baal also fell a victim to assassination (2Sa 4:2 ff). David denounced both crimes with apparent sincerity. He composed an elegy and fasted for Abner (2Sa 3:33 ff) and avenged the death of Esh-baal (2Sa 4:9 ff). Yet these acts of violence laid the sovereignty of all Israel at his feet. Of the male heirs of Saul there remained only a son of Jonathan, Merib-baal (1Ch 8:34) who was a crippled child of 7. David was therefore elected king over the nation (2Sa 5:1 ff). His sovereignty of Judah is said to have lasted 7 1/2 years and that over the undivided people 33, making a reign of 40 years, beginning from David's 30th year (2Sa 5:5; 1Ch 3:4; in 2Sa 2:10 the text is probably corrupt). These are round numbers.

2. Conquests Abroad:

King of all the Israelite tribes, David found his hands free to expel the foreigners who had invaded the sacred territory. His first step was to move his headquarters from the Southern Hebron, which he had been compelled at first to make his capital, to the more central Jerusalem. The fort here, which was still held by the aboriginal Jebusites, was stormed by Joab, David's nephew, who also superintended the rebuilding for David. He was in consequence appointed commander-in-chief (1Ch 11:6,8), a post which he held as long as David lived. The materials and the skilled workmen for the erection of the palace were supplied by Hiram of Tyre (2Sa 5:11). David now turned his attention to the surrounding tribes and peoples. The most formidable enemy, the Philistines, were worsted in several campaigns, and their power crippled (2Sa 5:17 ff; 2Sa 8:1). In one of these David so nearly came by his death, that his people would not afterward permit him to take part in the fighting (2Sa 21:16-17). One of the first countries against which David turned his arms was the land of Moab, which he treated with a severity which would suggest that the Moabite king had ill-treated David's father and mother, who had taken refuge with him (2Sa 8:2). Yet his conduct toward the sons of Ammon was even more cruel (2Sa 12:31), and for less cause (2Sa 10:1 ff). The king of Zobah (Chalkis) was defeated (2Sa 8:3), and Israelite garrisons were placed in Syria of Damascus (2Sa 8:6) and Edom (2Sa 8:14). The sons of Ammon formed a league with the Syrian kingdoms to the North and East of Palestine (2Sa 10:6,16), but these also had no success. All these people became tributary to the kingdom of Israel under David (2Sa 10:18-19) except the sons of Ammon who were practically exterminated for the time being (2Sa 12:31). Thus, Israel became one of the "great powers" of the world during the reign of David and his immediate successor.

3. Political Situation:

There is no doubt that the expansion of the boundaries of Israel at this period almost to their ideal limits (De 11:24, etc.) was largely due to the fact that the two great empires of Egypt and Assyria were at the moment passing through a period of weakness and decay. The Assyrian monarchy was in a decadent state from about the year 1050 BC, and the 22nd Dynasty--to which Shishak belonged (1Ki 14:25)--had not yet arisen. David, therefore, had a free hand when his time came and found no more formidable opposition than that of the petty states bordering upon Palestine. Against the combined forces of all the Israelite tribes these had never been able to effect much.

4. The Ark:

It had been the custom of the Israelites on setting out upon expeditions in which the nation as a whole took part to carry with them the sacred box or "ark" which contained the two stone tables (Jos 4:7, etc.). When David had secured the fortress of Jebus for his metropolis one of his first thoughts was to bring into it this emblem of victory. It was then lying at Kiriath-jearim, possibly Abu Gosh about 8 miles Northwest of Jerusalem (compare Ps 132:1-18). Owing to the sudden death of one of the drivers, which he interpreted as indicative of anger on the part of Yahweh, David left the ark at the house of a Philistine which happened to be near at hand. Since no misfortune befell this person, but on the contrary much prosperity, David took courage after three months to bring the sacred chest and its contents into his royal city. The ceremony was conducted with military honors in 2Sa 6:1 and with religious dancing and music (2Sa 6:5,14) and festivity (2Sa 6:18-19). A tent was pitched for it, in which it remained (2Sa 7:2), except when it was sent with the army to the seat of war (2Sa 11:11; 15:24). David, however, had already built for himself a stone palace, and he wished now to add to it a chapel royal in the shape of a small temple, such as the neighboring kings had. He was the more anxious to so do since he had much of the material ready at hand in the precious metals which formed the most valuable part of the plunder of the conquered races, such as bronze from Chalkis (2Sa 8:8), gold and silver (2Sa 8:11) and the vessels which he had received as a present from the king of Hamath (2Sa 8:10). He was persuaded, however, by the prophet Nathan to forego that task, on the ground of his having shed much human blood, and to leave it to his successor (1Ch 22:8; 28:3).

VI. Domestic Life.

1. His Wives and Children:

In accordance with the practice of the kings of his time, David had several wives. His first wife was Michal, the younger daughter of Saul. When David fled from Saul she was given to Phaltiel, but was restored to David after Saul's death. She does not appear to have borne any children. In 2 Sam 21:8 "Michal" should be Merab (1Sa 18:19). During the period of separation from Michal, David took to wife Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail the wife of Nabal (1Sa 25:43,12), who accompanied him to Ziklag (1Sa 27:3 ff), when they were among those captured by the Amalekites (1Sa 30:5). A fourth wife was the daughter of Talmai of Geshur, Maacah, whom he had captured in war (1Sa 27:8; 2Sa 3:3). When he removed to Hebron Ahinoam bore him his oldest son Amnon, and Abigail his second son Chileab or Daniel (2Sa 3:2-3; 1Ch 3:1); his third son was Absalom, whose mother was Maacah, and his fourth Adonijah. His mother's name was Haggith; nothing is known about her. Two other sons, Shephatiah and Ithream were also born in Hebron (2Sa 3:2-5; 1Ch 3:1-4). When David added the kingdom of Israel to that of Judah, he, in accordance with custom, took more wives with a view to increase his state and dignity. One of these was Bathsheba, who became the mother of Solomon (2Sa 5:13 ff; 1Ch 3:5 ff; 1Ch 14:3 ff). David's sons discharged priestly functions (2Sa 8:18; compare Nathan in Zec 12:12).

2. Domestic Troubles:

It was perhaps inevitable that in so large a household the usual dissensions and crimes of the harem should have sprung up in plenty. A most unvarnished account of these is given in 2Sa 11:1-27 through 2Sa 20:1-26--it has been suggested by Abiathar the priest in order to avenge himself on Solomon for his disgrace (1Ki 2:26-27), Solomon's mother being Bathsheba (2Sa 11:1-27; 12:1-31). 1Ch 13:1-14 recounts the wrong done to Tamar, the daughter of David and Maacah, and sister of Absalom, and how the last named, having avenged his sister's honor by killing Amnon, his oldest brother, fled for asylum to his mother's father, the king of-Geshur. Thence after two years he returned (chapter 14), only to foment rebellion against his father (chapter 15), leading to civil war between David and Judah on the one side and Absalom and Israel on the other (chapters 16; 17), and ending in the death of himself (chapter 18) and of Amasa, David's nephew, at the hands of his cousins Joab and Abishai (20:7 ff), as well as nearly precipitating the disruption of the newly founded kingdom (19:43). The rebellion of Absalom was probably due to the fact of Solomon having been designated David's successor (compare 12:24; 1Ch 22:9), for Absalom had the best claim, Amnon being dead and Chileab apparently of no account.

VII. His Officials.

As David's circumstances improved he required assistance in the management of his affairs.

1. Prophets:

The beginning of his good fortune had been the friendship of the prophet Samuel (1Sa 16:13; 19:18). The prophet or seer was keeper of the king's conscience and was not appointed by him, but claimed divine authority (2Sa 7:3,1 ff; 2Sa 12:1 ff; 2Sa 24:11 ff). Among the persons who discharged this duty for David were Gad the seer (1Sa 22:5) and Nathan the prophet (1Ki 1:11 ff). All these are said to have written memoirs of their times (1Ch 29:29; 2Ch 9:29).

2. Priests:

Next to the prophet came the priest. The kohen (priest) was, as the name indicates, a soothsayer or diviner. The duty of Abiathar, David's first priest (1Sa 22:20 ff), was to carry the ephod--an object used for casting lots (1Sa 23:6 ff), in order to decide what to do in cases where there was no other way of making up one's mind (1Sa 30:7). It is not to be confused with the dress of the same name (1Sa 2:18). Later, at Hebron, Abiathar was given a colleague, Zadok (1Ch 12:28), and it became their duty to carry the ark in expeditions (2Sa 15:24). Shortly after the death of David, Abiathar was deposed by Solomon for his part in Adonijah's attempt to seize the throne (1Ki 2:26-27), and Zadok remained sole priest to the king (1Ki 2:35). David's sons also acted in the same capacity (2Sa 8:18). An extra private priest is mentioned in 2Sa 20:26 (compare 2Sa 23:26,38).

3. Military Officers:

When still an outlaw David required the services of a henchman to take command of his men in his absence. This post was held at first by different persons according to circumstances, but generally, it seems, by his nephew Abishai (1Sa 26:6). It was only after the death of Saul that his brother Joab threw in his lot with David. His great military talents at once gave him a leading place, and as a reward for the capture of Jebus he was given the chief command, which he held against all rivals (2Sa 3:27; 20:10) during the whole reign. David's special body-guard of Philistine troops--the Cherethites and Pelethites--were commanded by Benaiah, who in the following reign, succeeded Joab (1Ki 2:35).

4. Other Officials:

The office of recorder or magister memoriae was held during this reign and in the following by Jehoshaphat (2Sa 8:16); and that of secretary by Seraiah (2Sa 8:17), also called Shavsha (1Ch 18:16) or Shisha (1Ki 4:3). There were also the counselors, men noted for their great acumen and knowledge of human nature, such as Ahithophel and Hushai.

5. Mutual Rivalry:

It was natural that there should be much mutual jealousy and rivalry among these officials, and that some of them should attach themselves to one of David's many sons, others to another. Thus, Amnon is the special patron of David's nephew Jonadab (2Sa 13:3; compare 2Sa 21:21), and Absalom is backed by Amasa (2Sa 17:25). The claim of Adonijah to the throne is supported by Joab and Abiathar (1Ki 1:7), as against that of Solomon who is backed by Nathan, Benaiah, Zadok (1Ki 1:8) and Hushai (compare Ant,VII , xiv, 4). Ahithophel sides with Absalom; Hushai with David (2Sa 15:12,32).

VIII. Personal Character of David.

1. Chronicles:

We would obtain a very different idea of the personal character of David if we drew our conclusions from the books of Samuel and Kings or from the books of Chronicles. There is no doubt whatever that the former books are much truer to fact, and any estimate or appreciation of David or of any of the other characters described must be based upon them. The Chronicler, on the other hand, is biased by the religious ideas of his own time and is prejudiced in favor of some of those whose biographies he writes and against others. He accordingly suppresses the dark passages of David's life, e.g. the murder of Uriah (1Ch 20:1-8), or sets them in a favorable light, e.g. by laying the blame of the census upon Satan (1Ch 21:1). David's success, especially as against Saul's misfortune, is greatly exaggerated in 1Ch 12:2,22. Ceremonial functions are greatly elaborated (chapter 16; compare 2Sa 6:1-23). The various orders of priests and singers in the second temple have their origin traced back to David (2Sa 16:4 ff,37 ff; 1Ch 23:1-32 through 1Ch 27:1-34), and the temple of Solomon itself is to all intents and purposes built by him (chapters 22; 28). At the same time there may be much material in the shape of names and isolated statements not found in the older books, which so long as they are not tinged with the Chronicler's pragmatism or "tendency," may possibly be authentic records preserved within the circle of the priestly caste, e.g. we are told that Saul's skull was fastened in the temple of Dagon (1Ch 10:10). There is no doubt that the true names of Ish-bosheth, Mephibosheth and Eliada (2Sa 2:8; 4:4; 5:16) were Ish-baal (Esh-baal), Merib-baal and Beeliada (1Ch 8:33; 9:39; 8:34; 9:40; 14:7); that the old name of Jerusalem was Jebus (1Ch 11:4-5; compare Jg 19:10-11); perhaps a son of David called Nogah has to be added to 2Sa 5:15 from 1Ch 3:7; 14:6; in 2Sa 8:8 and 2Sa 21:18, for Betah and Gob read Tebah (Tibhath) and Gezer (1Ch 18:8; Ge 22:24; 1Ch 20:4). The incident recounted in 2Sa 23:9 ff happened at Pasdammim (1Ch 11:13). Shammah the Harodite was the son of Elika (2Sa 23:25; compare 1Ch 11:27), and other names in this list have to be corrected after the readings of the Chronicler. Three (not seven) years of famine was the alternative offered to David (2Sa 24:13; compare 1Ch 21:12).

2. Psalms:

If we could believe that the Book of Psalms was in whole or in part the work of David, it would throw a flood of light upon the religious side of his nature. Indeed, we should know as much about his religious life as can well be known about anyone. Unfortunately the date and authorship of the Psalms are questions regarding which the most divergent opinions are held. In the early Christian centuries all the Psalms were ascribed to David and, where necessary, explained as prophecies. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the Book of Psalms simply as "David" (Heb 4:7). The Greek text, however, of that book ascribes only some 87 of the poems to David, and the Hebrew only 73. Some of these are not David's, and in the whole book there is only one which professes from its contents to be his, namely, Ps 18:1-50 (= 2Sa 22:1-51). The occasion on which a psalm was composed is stated only in the case of thirteen psalms, all of which are ascribed to David. Each of these is referred to some incident recorded in the books of Samuel, although sometimes the citation is erroneous (see PSALMS). The Septuagint supplies occasions to two or three more psalms; but all such statements are merely the conjectures of readers and scribes and are of no historical value.

3. Complex Character:

To form a correct opinion of anyone is much more difficult than to state the facts of his life; to form an opinion which will be generally accepted is impossible. Of David's character the most opposite estimates have been formed. On one hand he is extolled as a saint, and yet few men have committed worse crimes. The character of David must remain, like that of everyone, an insoluble enigma. A person is to be judged by his motives rather than by his actions, and one's true motives are unknown even to oneself (Jer 17:9). There are several sides of David's nature in regard to which there cannot be two opinions.

4. Physical Courage:

Perhaps the feature of his character which stands out most prominently in his earlier years, at any rate, is his boundless physical courage. He never shirked danger (1Sa 17:28,34 ff) and delighted in hairbreadth escapes in 1Sa 26:6. Like most Semites he was fond of gambling and liked to take risks (1Sa 18:26; compare 1Sa 23:9; 30:7), even when modesty would have led him to decline them (1Sa 17:32; compare Jg 8:20). A native indifference to the shedding of blood grew into a liking for it, giving rise to acts of gross cruelty (1Sa 27:9; 2Sa 8:2; 16:7, etc.). He had need, indeed, to be a brave man, considering the character of the men whom he ruled (1Sa 22:2). Yet he could rule them by gentleness as well as by force (1Sa 30:23). All classes had unbounded confidence in his personal courage and soldierly qualities (2Sa 18:3), and were themselves driven to restrain his military ardor (2Sa 21:17).

5. Moral Courage:

Whether David possessed moral courage to an equal degree is another matter. Had he done so he would hardly have permitted the execution of seven sons of Saul (2Sa 21:1 ff), and that, too, at the cost of breaking his plighted word (1Sa 24:21); he would not have stood in awe of the sons of his sister Zeruiah (2Sa 3:39), and would have punished Joab instead of weakly invoking an imprecation on his head (2Sa 3:29), however much he might have felt the loss of his services. But in many matters his natural sense of justice was blunted by the superstitions of the age in which he lived.

6. Prudence:

But David was even more prudent than courageous. He is so described by the person who recommended him (somewhat eulogistically) to Saul (1Sa 16:18). Prudence or wisdom was indeed what his biographer most remarks in him (1Sa 18:5,30), and situated as he was he could not have too much of it. It shows itself in the fact that he consistently made as many friends and as few enemies as was possible. His wonderful foresight is shown in such acts as his conciliating the Judean chiefs with gifts taken from his spoil (1Sa 30:26 ff), in his commendation of the men of Ja-besh-gilead (2Sa 2:5-7), and in his reception of Abner (2Sa 3:20). Yet it must be confessed that this constant looking forward to the future takes away from the spontaneity of his virtue. His gratitude is often a keen sense of favors to come. His kindness to Merib-baal did him no harm and some advantage (2Sa 9:1-13; 19:24 ff), and his clemency to Shimei helped to win him the tribe of Benjamin (2Sa 19:16 ff). Even in his earliest youth he seems to have preferred to attain his ends by roundabout ways. The means by which he obtained introduction or reintroduction to Saul (1Sa 17:26 ff) afford some justification for the opinon which his oldest brother held of him (1Sa 17:28). Perhaps nothing proves the genius of David better than his choice of Jebus as the capital of the country--which it still continues to be after a lapse of three thousand years.

7. Strategy:

Yet it must be confessed that David's prudence often degenerates into cunning. With true oriental subtlety he believed firmly in keeping one's secret to oneself at all costs (1Sa 21:2). The manner in which he got himself out of Gath after this first visit there (1Sa 21:13) and the fact that he hoodwinked Achish during sixteen months (1Sa 27:1-12; 28:1; 29:1-11) may excite our admiration but not our respect. The Oriental, however, delights in a display of cunning and makes use of it without shame (2Sa 15:34), just as the European does in secret. There is something curiously modern in the diplomacy which David employed to ensure his own return in due state (2Sa 19:11 ff). We must remember, however, that David lived among persons hardly one of whom he could trust. Joab accuses Abner of deceit, while he himself was faithful to none except David (2Sa 3:25). Ziba accuses Merib-baal of treachery, and Merib-baal accuses Ziba of falsehood, and David cannot tell which is speaking the truth (2Sa 16:1 ff; 2Sa 19:24 ff). David himself is out-witted by Joab, though with a friendly purpose (2Sa 14:1 ff). The wonder, therefore, is, not that David was guilty of occasional obliquity, but that he remained as straightforward and simple as he was.

8. Nobility:

David was, indeed, a man very much ahead of the times in which he lived. His fine elegies upon the death of Saul and Jonathan, Abner and Absalom show that his nature was untainted with malice. It was no superstitious fear but a high sense of honor which kept him back from putting out of his way his arch-enemy when he had him in his power (1Sa 24:1-22-1Sa 26:1-25). He even attempts to find an excuse for him (1Sa 26:19), while depreciating himself (1Sa 24:14; 26:20) in phrases which are more than a mere oriental metonymy (2Sa 9:8). It was the ambition of his life to be the founder of a permanent dynasty (2Sa 7:29), yet he was willing that his house should be sacrificed to save his nation from destruction (2Sa 24:17). Like most Orientals he was endowed with a refinement of feeling unknown in the West. His refusal to drink of water obtained at the cost of bloodshed has become classic (2Sa 23:17). And he seems to have been gifted with the saving sense of humor (1Sa 26:15). That he was a religious person goes without saying (2Sa 7:1-29; 8:11). He probably did not believe that outside the land of Israel Yahweh ceased to rule: the expression used in 1Sa 26:19 is not a term of dogmatic theology. Like other Hebrews David had no theology. He believed in Yahweh alone as the ruler, if not of the universe, at any rate of all the world known to him. He certainly did not believe in Chemosh or Milcom, whether in the lands of Moab and Ammon or out of them (2Sa 12:30; for "their king" read Malcam (Milcom)).

9. David in Relation to His Family:

David discharged, as most Orientals do, his duty toward his parents (1Sa 22:3). To Michal, his first wife, his love was constant (2Sa 3:13), although she did not bear him any children. In accordance with the custom of the times, as his estate improved, he took other wives and slave-girls. The favorite wife of his latter days was Bathsheba. His court made some show of splendor as contrasted with the dwellings of the peasantry and the farmer class (2Sa 19:28,35), but his palace was always small and plain, so that it could be left to the keeping of ten women when he removed from it (2Sa 15:16). David and Michal seem to have lived on terms of perfect equality (2Sa 6:20 ff). In this he contrasts somewhat with Ahab (1Ki 21:5 ff). David's chief weakness in regard to his family was his indulgence of some of his sons and favoring some above others, and want of firmness in regard to them. He could refuse them nothing (2Sa 13:27). His first favorite was his oldest son Amnon (2Sa 13:21, Septuagint). After the death of Amnon, Absalom became the favorite (2Sa 18:33), and after the death of Absalom, Adonijah (1Ki 1:6). Yet David lived for two whole years in Jerusalem along with Absalom without seeing him (2Sa 14:28), and he was succeeded not by Adonijah, but by Solomon, whose mother was the favorite wife of his later years.

10. David in Relation to His Friends:

Not only did David know the value of having many friends, but he was capable of sincere attachment. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of his love for Jonathan, although it is not so completely cut off from all suspicion of self-interest as is that of Jonathan for him. David, indeed, had the faculty of winning the confidence and love of all sorts and conditions of people, not only of Jonathan (1Sa 18:1 ff; 1Sa 20:1-42; 23:16 ff), but of Jonathan's sister Michal (1Sa 18:20), of the whole people (1Sa 18:28 Septuagint; 2Sa 19:14), and even of his people's enemies (2Sa 17:27 ff). His friendship lasted as long as the object of it lived (2Sa 1:17 ff; 2Sa 10:1 f). In the case of his officers this was partly due to his faculty for choosing good men (2Sa 8:16 ff), so that the same persons often held the same offices during David's life (2Sa 20:23 ff). Yet the services of one of them at least were retained more by compulsion than by choice (2Sa 3:39). He seems, indeed, to have continued Joab in his post because he felt he could not do without him. Joab was devoted to David with the devotion of Caleb Balderstone to his master, and he was as utterly unscrupulous. He did not hesitate to commit any crime that would benefit David. The latter dared not perpetrate these atrocities himself, but he did not mind taking advantage of such a useful instrument, and never punished Joab for them, save with an impotent curse (2Sa 3:29). He dealt otherwise with malefactors who could be better spared (2Sa 1:14 ff; 2Sa 4:9 ff). Indeed, a suspicious juryman might find that David put both Abner and Amasa, in the way of Joab (2Sa 3:23 ff; 2Sa 19:13; 4 ff). It does not say much for David that he fell so low as to fear losing the good opinion even of Joab, this ready instrument of his worst crime (2Sa 11:25).

11. His Success:

One reason for the high position David held in the popular estimation was no doubt his almost uninterrupted success. He was regarded as the chosen of Heaven, by friend and foe alike (1Sa 23:17). Fortune seemed to favor him. Nothing could have been more timely than the death of Saul and Jonathan, of Ishbaal and Abner, of Absalom and Amasa, and he did not raise his hand against one of them. As a guerrilla chief with his 600 bandits he could keep at bay. Saul with his 3,000 picked men (1Sa 24:2; 26:2), but he was not a great general. Most of the old judges of Israel did in one pitched battle what David effected in a campaign (1Sa 18:30; 19:8; 23:1 ff; 2Sa 5:17 ff; 2Sa 21:15 ff). Most of his conquests were won for him by Joab (1Ch 11:6; 2Sa 11:1), who willingly accorded David the credit of what he himself had done (2Sa 12:27-28; compare 2Sa 8:13; 1Ch 18:11 with the title of Ps 60:1-12). And to crown all, when he came to turn his arms east and west, he found his two most formidable opponents in these directions crippled and harmless. That he ever survived Saul he owed to a timely incursion of the Philistines (1Sa 23:24 ff), and his whole career is largely to be explained by the fact that, at the moment, the tribe of Judah as a whole was passing from insignificance to supremacy.

12. His Foreign Friends:

In the prosecution of his military achievements David employed everyone who came to his hand as an instrument without any question of nationality. This is not to impugn his patriotism. Eastern peoples are united not by the ties of country but of religion. Still it does seem strange that two of David's best friends were two enemies of his nation--Nahash, king of the sons of Ammon (1Sa 11:1; 2Sa 10:1 ff) and Achish, lord of Gath (1Sa 21:10; 27:1-12; 28:1 ff; 1Sa 29:1-11). He appears to have found the Philistines more reliable and trustworthy than the Hebrews. When he became king, his personal body-guard was composed of mercenaries of that nation--the Cherethites and Pelethites--with whom he had become acquainted when at Ziklag (1Sa 30:14; 2Sa 8:18; 20:23). It was to a native of Gath that he committed the care of the sacred ark on its passage from Kiriath-jearim to Jerusalem (2Sa 6:10-11). When the rebellion broke out under Absalom, he committed one-third of his forces to a banished soldier of the same town, who had come to him a little while before with a band of followers (2Sa 15:19 ff; 2Sa 18:2). Some of the soldiers in whom he placed the greatest confidence were Hittites (1Sa 26:6; 2Sa 11:6), and his commissariat was furnished by persons outside of Israel (2Sa 17:27; the Machir tribe were half Syrian; Gilead is the son of Machir, 1Ch 7:14). The threshing-floor of a Jebusite became the site of the temple of Solomon (2Sa 24:18 ff).

13. Nemesis:

David was a strong believer in the power of Nemesis, and that daughter of Night played a considerable part in his life. He felt a peculiar satisfaction in being undeservedly cursed by Shimei, from a conviction that poetic justice would in the end prevail (2Sa 16:12). He must have felt that the same unseen power was at work when his own oldest son was guilty of a crime such as his father had committed before him (2Sa 13:1-39 and 2Sa 11:1-27), and when the grandfather of the wife of Uriah the Hittite became the enemy whom he had most to fear (2Sa 11:3; 23:34; compare Ps 41:9; 55:12 f). And David's own last hours, instead of being spent in repose and peace following upon a strenuous and successful life, were passed in meting out vengeance to those who had incurred his displeasure as well as commending those who had done him service (1Ki 2:5 ff).

14. References in the New Testament:

Even as early as Ezekiel, David became the ruler who was to govern the restored people of Israel (34:23,14; 37:24). If there were to be a ruling house, it must be the Davidic dynasty; it did not occur to the Jews to think of any other solution (Am 9:11; Ho 3:5; Jer 30:9; Zec 12:8). That Jesus was descended from David (Mt 9:27, etc.) is proved by the fact that his enemies did not deny that he was so (Mt 22:41 ff). In the New Testament, David is regarded as the author of the Psalms (Ac 4:25; Ro 4:6; Heb 4:7). He is also one of the Old Testament saints (Heb 11:32) whose actions (unless otherwise stated) are to be imitated (Mt 12:3); but yet not to be compared with the Messiah (Ac 2:29 ff; Ac 13:36) who has power over the life to come (Re 3:7) and who is "the Root of David" (Re 5:5; 22:16).


See the commentaries on the books of Samuel, Kings, Chronicles, and Psalms, and histories of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, especially Wellhausen and Kittel. A sketch of the life and historical position of David from the modern Continental point of view will be found in G. Beer, Saul, David, Salomo, published by Mohr, Tubingen, 1906.

Thomas Hunter Weir

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