From humble beginnings as the youngest son of a Bethlehem shepherd named Jesse, David rose to become Israel’s greatest king. He established a dynasty out of which, according to God’s plan, came the great Messiah, the son of David, who was Jesus Christ, Saviour of the world (1 Sam 16:1,11; 2 Sam 5:3- 4,12; Isa 9:7; Luke 1:32-33; 2:11).

Early progress

After the failure of Saul as king, God directed Samuel to the young man David, whom Samuel marked out to be Israel’s next king (1 Sam 13:14; 15:28; 16:11-14). Many years passed before David became king, and during those years he steadily matured in mind and body. He became skilled in speech, writing and music, and grew into a brave fighter through having to defend his flocks against wild animals and raiding Philistines (1 Sam 16:18; 17:34-36; cf. Ps 23). David’s introduction to Saul’s court was as one whose music relaxed the king’s troubled nerves (1 Sam 16:16). After his victory over the Philistines’ champion fighter, he became Saul’s armour-bearer and full-time court musician (1 Sam 16:21; 17:50; 18:2). At this time a close friendship began to develop between David and Saul’s son Jonathan. It lasted many years, and was ended only by Jonathan’s tragic death in battle (1 Sam 18:1; see JONATHAN). David’s successes in battle won him promotion, but further successes and growing popularity so stirred up Saul’s jealousy against him that Saul tried to kill him (1 Sam 18:5-11). By this time David had no doubt begun the psalm-writing activity for which he is well known. The biblical book of Psalms contains many of the songs and poems he wrote during his long and eventful career. In these writings David gives his personal views of many of the incidents that another writer records in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel (see PSALMS, BOOK OF).

Flight from Saul

Unsuccessful in his direct attacks on David, Saul tried to have him killed in battle. He promised that if David could kill one hundred Philistines, he would give his daughter Michal to David for a wife. David again succeeded and, through marrying Michal, became part of the royal family (1 Sam 18:20-29). But Saul’s jealousy resulted in further attempts to kill him (1 Sam 19:1,10-11; Ps 59). After seeking temporary shelter with Samuel at Ramah (1 Sam 19:18), David returned in secret to find out from Jonathan whether it was safe for him to enter Saul’s court. Upon discovering it was not, he obtained provisions from a priest at Nob and fled (1 Sam 20:1,12-14; 21:1-9). When the Philistine city of Gath proved an insecure refuge (1 Sam 21:10-15; Ps 34; 56), David found a good hiding place in a cave at Adullam. Here he was joined by his family along with several hundred others, who for various reasons were dissatisfied with Saul’s administration (1 Sam 22:1-2; Ps 57; 63; 142). From these people David built himself a strong fighting unit, which in later times became the central force of his royal army (1 Sam 22:2; 23:13; 1 Chron 11:10,15; 12:8-18). But as long as Saul was king, David never allowed his men to attack him (1 Sam 24:7; 26:9).

Saul’s pursuit drove David increasingly into the semi-barren regions of Judah. David was pleased to use his fighting force to rescue the town of Keilah from the raiding Philistines (1 Sam 23:4), but he was angry when the people of another Judean town, Ziph, betrayed him to Saul (1 Sam 23:19; Ps 54). On two occasions when he had an opportunity to kill Saul, he refused to (1 Sam 24:3-7; 26:5,9). David supported his small army by protecting farmers against the raiding Philistines and then demanding food supplies as payment (1 Sam 25:7- 8; 25:16,21). When one farmer refused to pay, David was saved from rash retaliation only by the quick thinking and wise words of the farmer’s wife, Abigail. When the farmer died, David married Abigail (1 Sam 25:39). Tired at the cruel pursuit by Saul and his Benjaminite supporters, David fell to the temptation to give up defending his righteousness. He decided to avoid further hardship by going and joining the enemy Philistines (1 Sam 26:19; 27:1-2; cf. Ps. 7; 11). From Philistia David enriched himself by carrying out brutal raids on neighbouring tribal people, though he repeatedly deceived the Philistine king concerning his activities. It was a disgraceful sixteen months David spent in Philistia, and, so far as we know, no psalm of his comes from this period (1 Sam 27:7-11). Only after his own camp was cruelly raided did David stop his ungodly behaviour and return to the Lord (1 Sam 30:1-7). At this time the Philistines had gone to battle against Israel. David and his men had set out with the Philistines, but the Philistine leaders sent them back. They feared that David’s men might betray them and fight for Israel (1 Sam 29:1-4). In the battle that followed, both Saul and Jonathan died (1 Sam 31:1-5), and David composed a song in memory of them (2 Sam 1:17-27).

Established as king

After Saul’s death there was confusion in Israel. David was declared king in Hebron, which was in the area of his own tribe Judah in the south, but one of Saul’s sons was declared king in the territory east of Jordan (2 Sam 2:3-4,8-9). After two years of conflict, the supporters of David overpowered their opponents. However, David executed the murderers of Saul’s son, to make it clear that he had no desire to gain Saul’s throne by murder (2 Sam 3:1; 4:9-12; cf. 1 :14-16). For the next five years David ruled from Hebron (2 Sam 5:3-5). Being deep in the territory of Judah to the south, Hebron was not a suitable place from which to rule all Israel. Therefore, in an attempt to ensure the allegiance of the northern tribes, David decided to make Jerusalem his capital. Jerusalem was on a well fortified hill and belonged to no tribe, for it had remained under the control of the enemy since the time of Joshua. David conquered Jerusalem and soon united all the tribes under his rule (2 Sam 5:5- 7,12).

David then set out to make Jerusalem the religious as well as the political centre of the nation. He brought the ark from the country house where it had sat neglected during Saul’s reign, and placed it in a special tent he had erected for it (2 Sam 6:2,17; cf. 1 Sam 7:1-2; 1 Chron 13:6). The conquest of Jerusalem and the arrival of the ark there are celebrated in some of David’s best known psalms (Ps 24; 68; 110). Further psalms show the ideals he aimed at in his government (2 Sam 23:1-7; Ps 101), and express his deep gratitude to God for all his gracious blessings (Ps 8; 103). When David expressed his desire to build God a permanent house (meaning a temple), Nathan the prophet told him that God had a better purpose, and that was to build David a permanent house (meaning a dynasty).

God had chosen David as the one through whose royal family he would bring the Messiah, the Saviour of the world (2 Sam 7:8-17; Ps 2:7-9; 89:19-37; Matt 22:42; Luke 1:68-70; Acts 13:22-23). As David’s military victories continued, Israel’s power grew, showing that God was strengthening David’s throne according to his promise. David’s power spread beyond the borders of Israel, so that he dominated all the neighbouring peoples, from the Nile River and the Red Sea in the south to the Euphrates River in the north (2 Sam 8:1-18; cf. Ps 18). Unfortunately, pride in his expanding power prompted David to carry out a census. He knew he deserved God’s punishment, but asked that it be mixed with mercy (2 Sam 24:10,14; cf. Ps 32). David’s military conquests had involved him in much bloodshed. Therefore, although God granted David’s request for a temple, he considered that he was not a fit person to build it (1 Chron 28:3,6). That privilege was given to David’s son, Solomon, though David helped him by preparing plans and setting aside money and materials for its completion (1 Chron 22:2-6; 28:11).

Family troubles

When he was at the height of his power, David committed a series of deliberate sins that affected the rest of his life. His sexual desire for Bathsheba led him to adultery and murder, as a result of which God assured him that his own family would be torn apart through adultery and murder (2 Sam 12:7-12). David confessed his sin and God in his mercy forgave him (2 Sam 12:13-14; Ps 51), but that did not remove the suffering and distress that David had brought upon himself and his family. David’s example of adultery and murder was followed in the family. One of the sons raped his sister, only to be murdered by another of the sons (2 Sam 13:11-14,28-29). The murderer, Absalom, fled into exile. Three years later he returned to Jerusalem, but a further two years passed before David allowed him back into the palace (2 Sam 13:38; 14:24,28,33).

Over the next four years Absalom strengthened his position, till he was able to launch a surprise rebellion. David was forced to flee Jerusalem, and Absalom seized the throne (2 Sam 15:1-7,14; Ps 3). In the battle that followed, Absalom was killed, in spite of David’s instructions that no harm be done to him (2 Sam 18:5,14). Only after the people had shown they wanted David back as their king did he return to Jerusalem (2 Sam 19:9-15). The peace of former times never returned to David’s throne. Soon he had to deal with another rebellion, this one led by a man called Sheba, who tried unsuccessfully to lead the northern tribes to break away from David (2 Sam 20:1,22). David’s closing years were saddened by conflict in the palace concerning which son would succeed him as king. His choice was Solomon, but the ambitious Adonijah tried to seize the throne for himself before David died. Again the rebellion failed. These stirring events gave the weak and aged David renewed strength, and with great haste he had Solomon anointed as the new king (1 Kings 1:5-8,16- 18,38-40). In due course he arranged a second anointing, this one public and with full regal ceremony, where he presented Solomon to the people as the divinely chosen successor (1 Chron 28:1-10; see ADONIJAH; SOLOMON).

Hope for the future

In spite of his failures, David was one of the greatest men that Israel produced. In the centuries that followed, when Israelites looked for the coming of the Messiah, the best example by which they could imagine an ideal king was that of David (Hosea 3:5). The Messiah was, as it were, a greater David (Ezek 34:23-24; 37:24-25). Being of David’s family, he was known as David’s son and he sat on David’s throne (Isa 9:7; Jer 23:5; 33:15; Matt 12:23; 20:31; 21:15; Luke 1:32; John 7:42). Yet he was also David’s Lord (Matt 22:42-45; cf. Ps 110:1).

As to his humanity, the Messiah Jesus was descended from David, but as to his divinity he was the eternal Son of God (Rom 1:3-4; Rev 22:16; see MESSIAH). Because many of David’s psalms celebrate his victories and express the ideals that he looked for in his kingdom, the New Testament sometimes quotes them in relation to the Messiah Jesus (cf. Ps 2 with Acts 4:25; 13:33-34; 1 Cor 15:24-25; Heb 1:5; 5:5; Rev 12:5; 19:15; cf. Ps 110 with Matt 22:42-45; Heb 7:15-17,21-22). Other psalms speak of David’s sufferings, and the New Testament quotes these also in relation to Jesus (cf. Ps 22 with Matt 27:39-43,46; John 19:24; Heb 2:12; cf. Ps 69 with Matt 27:34,38; John 2:17; 15:25; Rom 15:3). Not all David’s psalms, however, may be quoted as applying to Jesus, for many reflect David’s wrongdoings. The reader’s first consideration must be to consider the psalms in relation to the immediate circumstances about which David wrote (Ps 38:3; 41:4; 51:1-2). (For further details concerning the use of David’s psalms in the New Testament see PSALMS, BOOK OF.) According to the titles in the book of Psalms, David wrote 73 of the 150 in the collection. His poetry appears in 2 Samuel also (2 Sam 1:17-27; 3:33-34; 22:1-51; 23:1-7). His exceptional abilities as a musician and a poet were well known (1 Sam 16:17-18,23; 2 Sam 23:1). He used those abilities in organizing the services for the proposed temple and in setting up official groups of singers and musicians (1 Chron 6:31-32; 15:16-28; 16:7; Ezra 3:10; Neh 12:24,36,45-46). David served God faithfully in his own generation, and through his music and psalms has been of service to God’s people throughout succeeding generations (Acts 13:36).

Privacy Policy