David (Hebrew דוד Dāwidh, David "Beloved") was one of the most well known kings of ancient Israel. He was the eighth and youngest son of Jesse, a citizen of Bethlehem. His father seems to have been a man in humble life. His mother's name is not recorded. Some think she was the Nahash of 2 Samuel 17:25. As to his personal appearance, we only know that he was rosy-faced, with beautiful eyes and a fair face (1 Samuel 16:12; 17:42).
Jesse (Hebrew ישי Yíšay, Yíshai, Yēšay, Yéshai "Gift"), King David's father, was the son of Obed, son of Boaz and Ruth the Moabite whose story is told at length in the Book of Ruth. They were of the tribe of Judah, and David's lineage is fully documented in Ruth 4:18-22. (The "Pharez" that heads the line is Judah's son, Genesis 38:29).
Historicity of David
See The Bible and history for a fuller description of the issues surrounding the Bible as a historical source.
Biblical minimalists hold that David and his united kingdom never existed, and that the stories told about his life were made up much later by Jewish nationalists. Others consider him a real historical figure, but like King Arthur, consider most of the traditions relating to him to have more myth than substance.
The details of David's life given in this article come from the Hebrew Bible and are not corroborated by other historical documents. However, an ancient inscription found at Tel Dan is generally considered to refer to a king of the "House of David", providing indirect evidence that David did exist as a historical king.
David's early life
His early occupation was that of tending his father's sheep on the uplands of Judah. From what we know of his later story, doubtless he frequently spent his time, when watching sheep, with his shepherd's musical instruments (flute and harp) , while he drank in the many lessons taught him by the varied scenes spread around him. His first recorded exploits were his encounters with the wild beasts. He mentions that with his own unaided hand he slew a lion and also a bear, when they came out against his flock, beating them to death in open conflict with his club (1 Sam. 17:34, 35).
While David, in the freshness of ruddy youth, was thus engaged with his flocks, Samuel paid an unexpected visit to Bethlehem, having been guided thither by divine direction (1 Sam. 16:1-13). There he offered up sacrifice, and called the elders of Israel and Jesse's family to the sacrificial meal. Among all who appeared before him he failed to discover the one he sought. David was sent for, and the prophet immediately recognized him as the chosen of God, chosen to succeed Saul, who was now departing from the ways of God, on the throne of the kingdom. He accordingly, in anticipation, poured on his head the anointing oil. David went back again to his shepherd life, but "the Spirit of the Lord came upon David from that day forward," and "the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul" (1 Sam. 16:13, 14).
Not long after this David was sent for to soothe with his harp the troubled spirit of Saul, who suffered from a strange melancholy dejection. He played his harp before the king so skilfully that Saul was greatly cheered, and began to entertain great affection for the young shepherd. After this he went home to Bethlehem. But he soon again came into prominence. The armies of the Philistines and of Israel were in battle array in the valley of Elah, some 16 miles south-west of Bethlehem; and David was sent by his father with provisions for his three brothers, who were then fighting on the side of the king. On his arrival in the camp of Israel, David (now about twenty years of age) was made aware of the state of matters when the champion of the Philistines, Goliath of Gath, came forth to defy Israel. David took only his sling, and with a well-trained aim threw a stone "out of the brook," which struck the giant's forehead, so that he fell senseless to the ground. David then ran to cut off Goliath's head with Goliath's own sword (1 Sam. 17). The result was a great victory for the Israelites, who pursued the Philistines to the gates of Gath and Ekron.
David's popularity following this heroic exploit awakened Saul's jealousy (1 Sam. 18:6-16), which he showed in various ways. He conceived a bitter hatred toward him, and by various stratagems sought his death (1 Sam. 18-30). The deep-laid plots of the enraged king, who could not fail to observe that David "prospered exceedingly," all proved futile, and only endeared the young hero the more to the people, and very specially to Jonathan, Saul's son, between whom and David a life-long warm friendship was formed.
David's time as a fugitive
To escape from the vengeance of Saul, David fled to Ramah (1 Sam. 19:12-18) to Samuel, who received him, and he dwelt among the novice prophets, who were there under Samuel's training. It is supposed by some that the sixth, seventh, and eleventh Psalms were composed by him at this time. This place was only 3 miles from the residence of Saul, who soon discovered where the fugitive had gone, and tried ineffectually to bring him back. Jonathan made a fruitless effort to bring his father to a better state of mind toward David (1 Sam. 20), who, being made aware of the fact, saw no hope of safety but in flight to a distance. We accordingly find him first at Nob (1 Samuel 21:1-9) and then at Gath, the chief city of the Philistines. The king of the Philistines would not admit him into his service, as he expected that he would, and David accordingly now went to the stronghold of Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1-4; 1 Chr. 12:8-18). Here in a short time 400 men gathered around him and acknowledged him as their leader. It was at this time that David, amid the harassment and perils of his position, cried, "Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem;" when three of his heroes broke through the lines of the Philistines and brought him the water for which he longed (2 Sam. 23:13-17), but which he would not drink.
In his rage at the failure of all his efforts to seize David, Saul gave orders for the massacre of the entire priestly family at Nob, "persons who wore a linen ephod", to the number of eighty-five persons, who were put to death by Doeg the Edomite, because the High Priest Ahimelekh failed to betray David to Saul, assuming David was still in the king's favor. The news of the massacre were brought to David by Abiathar, a son of Ahimelech, the only one who escaped; compare Psalm 52.
Hearing that Ke'ilah, a town on the western frontier, was harassed by the Philistines, David with his men relieved it (1 Sam. 23:1-14); and then, for fear of Saul, he fled to the strongholds in the "hill country" of Judah; compare Psalm 31. While encamped there, in the forest in the district of Ziph, he was visited by Jonathan, who spoke to him words of encouragement (1 Sam. 23:16-18). The two now parted never to meet again. Saul continued his pursuit of David, who narrowly escaped from him at this time, and fled to the crags and ravines of Ein Gedi, on the western shore of the Dead Sea (1 Sam. 23:29). Here Saul, who still pursued him with his army, narrowly escaped, through the generous forbearance of David, and was greatly affected by what David had done for him. He returned home from pursuing him, and David betook himself to Maon, where, with his 600 men, he maintained himself by contributions gathered from the district. Here occurred the incident connected with Nabal and his wife Abigail (1 Sam. 25), whom David married after Nabal's death.
Saul again went forth (1 Sam. 26) in pursuit of David, who had hid himself "in the hill Hachilah, which is before Jeshimon," in the wilderness of Ziph, and was a second time spared through his forbearance. He returned home, professing shame and penitence for the way in which he had treated David, and predicting his elevation to the throne.
David in the service of the Philistines
Harassed by the necessity of moving from place to place through fear of Saul, David once more sought refuge among the Philistines (1 Sam. 27). He was welcomed by the king, who assigned him Ziklag as his residence. Here David lived among his followers for some time as an independent chief engaged in frequent war with the Amalekites and other tribes on the south of Judah.
Achish summoned David with his men to join his army against Saul; but the lords of the Philistines were suspicious of David's loyalty, and therefore he was sent back to Ziklag, which he found to his dismay had been pillaged and burnt during his brief absence. David pursued after the raiders, the Amalekites, and completely routed them. On his return to Ziklag tidings reached him of Saul's death (2 Sam. 1). An Amalekite brought Saul's crown and bracelet and laid them at his feet. David and his men rent their clothes and mourned for Saul, who had been defeated in battle near Mount Gilboa. David composed a beautiful elegy, the most beautiful of all extant Hebrew odes, a "lamentation over Saul and over Jonathan his son" (2 Sam. 1:18-27). It bore the title of "The Bow," and was to be taught to the children, that the memory of Saul and Jonathan might be preserved among them. "Behold, it is written in the book of Jasher".
David as king over Judah
David and his men now set out for Hebron under divine direction (2 Sam. 2:1-4). There they were cordially welcomed, and he was at once anointed as king. He was now about thirty years of age.
But his title to the throne was not undisputed. Abner took Ish-bosheth, Saul's only remaining son, over the Jordan River to Mahanaim, and there crowned him as king. Then began a civil war in Israel. The first encounter between the two opposing armies, led on the one side by Abner, and on the other by Joab, took place at the pool of Gibeon. It resulted in the defeat of Abner. Other encounters, however, between Israel and Judah followed (2 Sam. 3:1, 5), but still success was on the side of David. For the space of seven and a half years David reigned in Hebron. Abner now sided with David, and sought to promote his advancement; but was treacherously put to death by Joab in revenge for his having slain his brother Asahel at Gibeon (3:22-39). This was greatly to David's regret. He mourned for the death of Abner. Shortly after this Ish-bosheth was also treacherously put to death by two Canaanites of Beeroth. The murderers approached David for a reward for the deed, but he had them executed as traitors instead. Now with no rival, David was anointed king over all Israel (4:1-12).
The period of David's reign at Hebron lasted seven years and six months (2 Sam. 5:5).
David as king over all Israel
(2 Sam. 5:1-5; 1 Chronicles 11:1-3). The elders of Israel now repaired to Hebron and offered allegiance to David in name of all the people, among whom the greatest enthusiasm prevailed. He was anointed king over all Israel, and sought out a new seat of government, more suitable than Hebron, as the capital of his empire. At this time there was a Jebusite fortress, "the stronghold", on the hill of Zion, called also Jebus. This David took from the Jebusites, and made it Israel's capital, and established here his residence, and afterwards built for himself a palace by the aid of Tyrian craftsmen. The Philistines, who had for some time observed a kind of truce, now made war against David; but were defeated in battle at a place afterwards called, in remembrance of the victory, Baal-perazim. Again they invaded the land, and were a second time routed by him. He thus delivered Israel from their enemies.
David now resolved to bring up the Ark of the Covenant to his new capital (2 Sam. 6). It was in the house of Abinadab at Kirjath-jearim, about 7 miles from Jerusalem, where it had been for many years, from the time when the Philistines had sent it home (1 Sam. 6; 7). In consequence of the death of Uzzah (for it was a divine ordinance that only the Levites should handle the ark, Numbers 4), who had put forth his hand to steady the ark when the cart in which it was being conveyed shook by reason of the roughness of the road, David stayed the procession, and conveyed the ark into the house of Obed-edom, a Levite (1 Chr. 15:21) from Gath. After three months David brought the ark from the house of Obed-edom up to Jerusalem; compare Psalm 24. Here it was placed in a new tent or tabernacle which David erected for the purpose. About seventy years had passed since it had stood in the tabernacle at Shiloh. The old tabernacle was now at Gibeon, at which Zadok ministered. David now (1 Chr. 16) carefully set in order all the ritual of divine worship at Jerusalem, along with Abiathar the high priest. A new religious era began. The service of praise was for the first time introduced into public worship. Zion became henceforth "God's holy hill".
David now entered on a series of conquests which greatly extended and strengthened his kingdom (2 Sam. 8). In a few years the whole territory from the Euphrates to the Brook of Egypt, and from Gaza on the west to Thapsacus on the east, was under his sway (2 Sam. 8:3-13; 10).
He had now reached the height of his glory. He ruled over a vast empire, and his capital was enriched with the spoils of many lands. But in the midst of all this success he fell, and his character became stained with the sin of adultery (2 Sam. 11:2-27). It has been noted as characteristic of the Bible that while his military triumphs are recorded in a few verses, the story of his fall is given in detail. This crime, and the attempt to conceal it, led to another murder. Uriah the Hittite, whom he had foully wronged, an officer of the Gibborim, the corps of heroes (23:39), was, by his order, "set in the front of the hottest battle" at the siege of Rabbah, in order that he might be killed by the enemy. Nathan the prophet (2 Sam. 7:1-17; 12:1-23) was sent by God to bring home his crimes to the conscience of the guilty monarch. He became a true penitent. He bitterly bewailed his sins before God. The thirty-second and fifty-first Psalms are traditionally interpreted as revealing the deep struggles of his soul, and his spiritual recovery.
Bathsheba became his wife after Uriah's death. Her first-born son died, according to the word of the prophet. She gave birth to a second son, whom David called Solomon, and who ultimately succeeded him on the throne (2 Sam. 12:24, 25).
David's time of peace
After the successful termination of all his wars, David formed the idea of building a temple for the ark of God. This he was not permitted to carry into execution, because he had been a man of war. God, however, sent Nathan to him with a gracious message (2 Sam. 7:1-16). On receiving it he went into the sanctuary, the tent where the ark was, and sat before the Lord, and poured out his heart in words of devout thanksgiving (7:18-29). The building of the temple was reserved for his son Solomon, who would be a man of peace (1 Chr. 22:9; 28:3).
A cloudy evening. Thitherto David's carrer had been one of great prosperity and success. Now cloudy and dark days came. His eldest son Amnon, whose mother was Ahinoam of Jezreel, was guilty of a great and shameful crime (2 Sam. 13). This was the beginning of the disasters of his later years. After two years Absalom terribly avenged the crime against Tamar, and put Amnon to death. This brought sore trouble to David's heart. Absalom, afraid of the consequences of his deed, fled to Geshur beyond Jordan, where he remained for three years, when he was brought back through the intrigue of Joab (2 Sam. 14).
After this there fell upon the land the calamity of three years' famine (2 Sam. 21:1-14). This was soon after followed by a pestilence, brought upon the land as a punishment for David's sinful pride in numbering the people (2 Sam. 24), in which no fewer than 70,000 perished in the space of three days.
Rebellion of Absalom
The personal respect for David was sadly lowered by the incident of Bathsheba. There was a strong popular sentiment against the taking of the census, and the outburst of the plague in connection with it deepened the feeling of jealously that had begun to manifest itself among some of the tribes against David. Absalom, taking full advantage of this state of things, gradually gained over the people, and at length openly rebelled against his father, and usurped the throne. Ahithophel was Absalom's chief counsellor. The revolt began in Hebron, the capital of Judah. Absalom was there proclaimed king. David was now in imminent danger, and he left Jerusalem (2 Sam. 15:13-20), and once more became a fugitive. It was a momentous day in Israel. The incidents of it are recorded with a fulness of detail greater than any other day in Old Testament history. David fled with his followers to Mahanaim, on the east of Jordan. An unnatural civil war broke out. After a few weeks the rival armies were mustered and organized. They met in hostile array at the wood of Ephraim (2 Sam. 18:1-8). Absalom's army was defeated, and himself put to death by the hand of Joab (18:9-18). The tidings of the death of his rebellious son filled the heart of David with the most poignant grief. He "went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept" (18:33), giving utterance to the heart-broken cry, "Would that I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" Peace was now restored, and David returned to Jerusalem and resumed the direction of affairs. An unhappy dispute arose between the men of Judah and the men of Israel (19:41-43). Sheba, a Benjamite, headed a revolt of the men of Israel. He was pursued to Abelbeth-maachah, and was there put to death, and so the revolt came to an end.
The end of David's life
After the suppression of the rebellion of Absalom and that of Sheba, ten comparatively peaceful years of David's life passed away. During those years he seems to have been principally engaged in accumulating treasures of every kind for the great temple at Jerusalem, which it was reserved to his successor to build (1 Chr. 22; 28; 29), a house which was to be "exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries" (22:5). The exciting and laborious life he had spent, and the dangers and trials through which he had passed, had left him an enfeebled man, prematurely old (1 Kings 1). It became apparent that his life was now drawing to its close. A new palace conspiracy broke out as to who should be his successor. Joab favoured Adonijah. The chiefs of his party met at the "Fuller's spring," in the valley of Kidron, to proclaim him king; but Nathan hastened on a decision on the part of David in favour of Solomon, and so the aim of Adonijah's party failed. Solomon was brought to Jerusalem, and was anointed king and seated on his father's throne (1 Kings 1:11-53). David's last words are a grand utterance, revealing his unfailing faith in God, and his joyful confidence in his gracious covenant promises (2 Sam. 23:1-7).
After a reign of forty years and six months (2 Sam. 5:5; 1 Chr. 3:4) David died (965 BC) at the age of seventy years, "and was buried in the city of David." His tomb is alleged to be on the hill now called Mount Zion, though it actually contains the body of a Roman soldier.
Both in his prophetical and in his regal character David was a prototype of the Messiah (1 Sam. 16:13). The book of Psalms commonly bears the title of the "Psalms of David," from the circumstance that he was the largest contributor (about eighty psalms) to the collection.
"The greatness of David was felt when he was gone. He had lived in harmony with both the priesthood and the prophets; a sure sign that the spirit of his government had been thoroughly loyal to the higher aims of the theocracy. The nation had not been oppressed by him, but had been left in the free enjoyment of its ancient liberties. As far as his power went he had striven to act justly to all (2 Sam. 8:15). His weak indulgence to his sons, and his own great sin besides, had been bitterly atoned, and were forgotten at his death in the remembrance of his long-tried worth. He had reigned thirty-three years in Jerusalem and seven and a half at Hebron (2 Sam. 5:5). Israel at his accession had reached the lowest point of national depression; its new-born unity rudely dissolved; its territory assailed by the Philistines. But he had left it an imperial power, with dominions like those of Egypt or Assyria. The sceptre of Solomon was already, before his father's death, owned from the Mediterranean to the Euphrates, and from the Orontes to the Red Sea.", Geikie's Hours etc., iii.
David in Christianity
In Christianity, David is mainly important as the ancestor of the Messiah. Several Old Testament prophecies state that the Messiah will come from David's line; the Gospels of Matthew and Luke make an effort to trace Jesus' lineage to David to fulfill this requirement.
Daud in Islam
In the Quran, David is known as Daud, and considered one of the prophets of Islam, to whom the Zabur (Psalms) were revealed by God. As in Judaism, he is said to have killed Goliath (Jalut) with a rock from his slingshot. In his reign, he is generally believed to have laid the foundations of the Dome of the Rock.