King David

Warrior + yahwist + expansionist + administrator = model king

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David went to Hebron in the territory of Judah and his two wives also, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. And David brought up his men who were with him, every one with his household; and they dwelt in the towns of Hebron. And the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. (2 Samuel 2:2-4)

A long war ensued between the house of Saul and the house of David (2 Samuel 3:1). But in the meantime, a disagreement soon split Abner [commander of Saul's army] and Ishbosheth (Eshbaal) [Saul's son]. Both of them were killed, apparently as a result of personal vengeance (2 Samuel 3-4). The way was open for David to become king of all Israel […]

King David, the Warrior

The Philistines could no longer remain indifferent in the face of the unification of their longtime enemy. They attacked twice in the central hill country... But David defeated them both times ( 2 Samuel 5:17-25). The Philistines then gave up their efforts at military expansion.

After driving off the Philistines, David was free to attack the Jebusites of Jerusalem and take the city which until then had remained in Canaanite hands. "And David dwelt in the stronghold [of Jerusalem] and called it the City of David" (2 Samuel 5:9).

King David, the Yahwist

Jerusalem soon became not only the political capital of Judah and Israel, but also the religious center of all Israel. To accomplish this, David brought the Ark of the Covenant to the City of David (2 Samuel 6). This was the Ark that, according to tradition, had accompanied Israel in the Sinai, that had rested in the tabernacle at Shiloh before being captured by the Philistines and that had remained in storage at Kiriath Yearim after being returned by the Philistines. When David brought the Ark to Jerusalem, the religion of Yahweh became a unifying factor, strengthening the bond between Judah and Israel.

From the beginning of his career, David showed himself to be a fervent Yahwist. His religious devotion was confirmed by the presence in his retinue of the priest Abiathar and the prophet Gad. David's devotion to Yahweh probably made it easier for the leaders of Israel to accept him as their king.

King David, the Expansionist

David cemented his relations with various political and national groups through marriage. His wives included Abigail of Carmel; Ahinoam of Jezereel; and Maacah, daughter of the Transjordanian king of Geshur (2 Samuel 3:2-5).

Militarily, David had already developed a cadre of well-trained troops when he fled from Saul. These devoted soldiers were ready to follow him anywhere, and in fact did follow him from the wilderness of Judah to Gath, Ziklag, Hebron, and finally Jerusalem. These troops became his personal guard and the core of his regular army. His nephew Joab served as chief of the army.

ancient history quizAfter checking the Philistine advances on Israel's western border, David was free to expand his kingdom to the east. There he defeated the Moabites, who then became a vassal state, paying tribute to David (2 Samuel 8:2). David also fought with the Ammonites, although the precise sequence of these wars is unclear.

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Andre Lemaire

Andre Lemaire is director d'etudes at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, History and Philology Section, of the Sorbonne, in Paris.