David's rise to power was not a smooth ride. It was fraught with danger, setbacks, risks, and near escapes. Yet the LORD's faithfulness to David, and David's to the LORD, brought him safely through all these problems. All the while, his fame spread, and he was highly regarded by the population long before he ascended the throne.
David was just a boy when God endowed him with great abilities in the martial and musical arts. His defining moment came when, at 16 years of age,* he fought and defeated the giant soldier Goliath. Following this victory, David enjoyed a summer of unmitigated success.
The happy times were short-lived, however. By fall, King Saul had grown jealous of David, and dedicated the rest of his life to trying to kill him, ignoring the normal duties of a king. David spent this time — probably 15 years or so — living as a fugitive, hunted by the king, his future in doubt.
Even when King Saul died, David didn't immediately take his throne. David became king of his own tribe, Judah, while Saul's son Ishbosheth ruled the rest of the nation. Finally, Ishbosheth died, and David was invited to be king of all Israel.
As king, David's most notable contributions were religious. Always in love with the LORD, David coordinated worship, installing priests and musicians who worked in shifts, all day long. He himself wrote many psalms to the LORD, and he arranged those written by others into psalters. Forbidden by God from building a temple, he instead amassed a great amount of building materials, so his son could build the temple, as the LORD had said. As a result of this long-term accumulation of supplies, Solomon's temple was one of the most impressive works of architecture in the ancient world.
God Chooses David to be King
King Saul, though a talented king, had stopped obeying God early in his career, and had begun turning selfish and evil. So God told the prophet Samuel he would remove Saul from being king, and replace him with “a man after his own heart,”1 a man who is “better than [Saul].”2 Saul remained king for a long time, but declined steadily for the rest of his life.
To identify Saul's successor, the LORD sent the prophet Samuel on an unpublicized mission to Bethlehem, to look for a man named Jesse. One of his sons was to be the next king.
Jesse was a rich farmer, and his sons were all impressive and capable young men. When Jesse introduced his oldest son Eliab, he was so well built and confident that Samuel thought, “Wow! What a great king God chose!” But God told Samuel not to be impressed with his good looks, because “man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”
Similarly, God rejected all of Jesse's six oldest sons. Samuel was puzzled. God had told him one of these young men would be king, and then God had rejected every one. What could be wrong? He asked Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” Jesse answered that he had forgotten about his youngest son, David, who was too young to be included in important meetings, and was tending the sheep. Samuel insisted that David be summoned.
When David arrived, the LORD told Samuel to anoint him king. He did. Then Samuel went home, and David returned to his chores. However, he was not the same. From that day, “the Spirit of the LORD came upon David,” enabling him to do great things. For example, while protecting his sheep, he killed both a lion and a bear with his bare hands. He also became so musically gifted that soon he performed for the king.
Source: 1 Samuel 16:1-13
1 1 Samuel 13:14
2 1 Samuel 15:28
The Battle with Goliath
King Saul wanted a private musician, and one of his men, who knew Jesse, suggested his son David, who was a skilled harpist, singer, and songwriter. So David, probably 16 years old now, got a part time job with the king.
David was also skilled in martial arts, and developed a good rapport with Saul's soldiers. And he began training to be an armor-bearer for the king.
The ongoing war with the Philistines had been going badly in recent times. This summer, the Philistine army and the Israelite army faced each other deep in Israelite territory. For weeks, nothing happened; each army was afraid to engage the other. During this lull, a huge Philistine soldier named Goliath, probably over nine feet tall, occupied his time by pacing the no-man's-land between the two armies, taunting the Israelites. He challenged any comer to one-on-one combat. King Saul had put a big price on Goliath's head, but the Israelites scattered in fear on his approach.
It was into this scene that David arrived, reporting for his part-time duties with King Saul, while also running errands for his father, since three of David's older brothers were in the military. David was embarrassed by the cowardice of the Israelite soldiers, allowing this pagan to mock the LORD's army. All his life he had heard stories of victories the LORD had given his people in situations just like this, and David was certain the LORD wouldn't let his people down now.
David began asking who he had to talk to to volunteer to fight this giant, and soon he was introduced to King Saul. Saul began to dismiss this naive boy, but soon David's confidence and charisma won him over, and he permitted David to fight. He supplied David with armor and weapons, but David wasn't used to them, and insisted on fighting this well-equipped giant with only a shepherd's sling, with which he was an expert marksman.
As David advanced toward Goliath, the giant was enraged that the enemy had sent not a great warrior, but only an unarmed boy. In fury he screamed curses at David. David confidently replied that the LORD would defeat Goliath without the benefit of a sword, spear, or javelin, and beyond that, the entire Philistine army would be slaughtered by the God of Israel.
David approached Goliath on the run, sling in hand. His first shot penetrated the giant's forehead, and he fell facedown, dead. David proceeded to take the Philistine's own sword, and cut off his head with it.
Seeing their great hero thus felled by an unarmed boy, the Philistines panicked. As they fled, the Israelites chased them, slaughtering them all the way to the Philistine border and beyond.
And so David didn't just kill the giant; his bravery was responsible for a great victory that day, and it set the momentum for the rest of that battle season. David himself commanded many successful raids that summer.
But Saul couldn't even remember who David was. As he walked toward Goliath, Saul asked general Abner, “Who is that kid?” and Abner answered, “I don't know.”
Note about calculating David's age when he fought Goliath — David had six older brothers (1 Chronicles 2:15) and two sisters, whose birth orders are unknown. The three oldest brothers were in the military. The age of military service in those days was 20 (Numbers 1:3 & others). So if we assume David's mother had a baby a year — probably true, more or less — David's three oldest brothers were 22, 21, and 20 years old. The next three brothers were 19, 18, and 17, making David 16. But, depending on the birth order of his two sisters, David may be been only 15 or 14.
Source: 1 Samuel 16:14 - 17:58
Saul Turns on David
David was just an obscure farm boy and musician before he fought Goliath, but no more. During that summer battle season, his continuing victories made him famous.
When the war season ended and the soldiers returned home, the civilians met them with great celebration, because this summer, unlike recent years, had been a great success. The Philistine invaders had been beaten back in battle after battle.
It was customary for artists to write songs to commemorate events, and this successful summer inspired some songs. One had the line, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.” This was intended as flattery, but King Saul took it as an insult — they loved David more than Saul. Probably by now Saul had heard that Samuel had anointed David king. In any case, from that time on, Saul considered David a rival to the throne, and therefore an enemy. This was irrational because, as we shall see, David was forever loyal to Saul.
His train of thought plunged Saul into a terrible mood. When he became moody, his advisors supplied music to calm him. So on this day after homecoming, his advisors, not realizing his thoughts about David were the cause of his melancholy, called David to play the harp for Saul. Saul listened, all the time fondling his spear and ruminating hateful thoughts about David. Suddenly he hurled his spear to kill him. David narrowly dodged the weapon and fled the room.
However, faithful David remained in Saul's employment. Saul decided it wouldn't be proper to murder David outright, so he tried to kill him indirectly. He sent him on the most dangerous military assignments, hoping he would be killed in action. But David frustrated him by completing each one successfully. This made everyone love David more, but fed Saul's insane jealousy.
Saul's daughter Michal was in love with David. When Saul found out, he decided again to kill David with subtlety. He offered Michal to David in marriage, provided David would kill 100 Philistines. Saul, of course, hoped David would die trying. David was so thrilled with this opportunity to become the king's son-in-law that he killed 200.
Finally, Saul decided his plots weren't working, and he had to resort to outright murder. He ordered his top men to hunt David down and kill him. However, Saul's son Jonathan, who was a war hero in his own right, had developed a wonderful friendship with David the giant-slayer. Jonathan argued David's case with Saul, and convinced him — for the moment, at least.
Again Saul became depressed, and again David played the harp for him. And again, Saul threw his spear, and David narrowly dodged. David finally decided he wasn't safe, and left town that night.
This opinion was confirmed with the help of David's best friend Jonathan, who confronted Saul and pled David's case, as he had once before. This time, though, Saul became enraged and hurled his spear to kill Jonathan. Jonathan had previously defended his father's motives, but this convinced him of his evil intentions toward David. He told David about it, and David went into hiding.
Source: 1 Samuel 18 - 20
David in Exile
On the lam and lacking supplies, David also didn't want to implicate anyone for helping a fugitive. Where could he run? He decided to visit the high priest, who would be above suspicion. He left immediately, so he would be sure to arrive before any messenger. The priest was suspicious, but David was able to calm his fears and obtain food and a sword.
Unfortunately, when King Saul found out about this, his paranoia overruled his intelligence. He executed not only this priest, but all the priests and their families as traitors. Only one man escaped — the high priest's son Abiathar. The high priesthood was handed down from father to son, and so Abiathar now became the high priest. But he was a wanted man, and so he fled to join David, another wanted man.
This event figured heavily into Saul's downfall and David's rise. In those days, a priest could ask God a question and God would answer. Saul no longer had a priest, having murdered them all. But now David had a priest — and he used him often to inquire of the LORD, obtaining excellent advice from God.
David placed his parents in asylum with distant relatives in neighboring Moab, lest irrational Saul kill them as traitors. Other relatives stayed with David as he fled.
David's first instinct was to leave Israel and defect to the Philistines. But when he made his appeal to the Philistine King Achish, his advisors remembered the song, “David has slain his ten thousands” — of Philistines, that is — and they advised Achish to kill him. Realizing his danger, David feigned insanity in the presence of superstitious Achish, who hurried David away, exclaiming to his men, “Did you bring him here because I have a shortage of madmen?” Once again, David narrowly escaped death.
Back in Israel, David wandered the wilderness, living in caves. Many other fugitives sought him out, and soon he had a community of 400 families in his care, and after a while, 600.
David heard the Philistines were running raids on the town of Keilah, deep in Israelite territory. David saw this as an opportunity to win friends and thereby provide for his community. After seeking the LORD's advice, he and his men went to Keilah and inflicted heavy losses on the Philistines and rescued Keilah. They obtained much plunder from the defeated enemy, and this helped them survive.
When Saul heard about this rescue — which should have been Saul's responsibility as king — he didn't see David as a rescuer of Israel; instead, he saw this as an opportunity to capture and kill the traitor. He set out immediately for Keilah. But David, being warned by God, took his men and fled for the desert, where he lived for some time.
During this exile, David's best friend Prince Jonathan was able to visit him once, and the two had a wonderful reunion. Jonathan expressed great support for David, declaring “Someday you will be king, and I will be your right hand man.” This was a great encouragement, coming from the heir-apparent to the throne.
Source: 1 Samuel 21 - 23
David Spares King Saul
By now, everyone knew King Saul had put a price on David's head, and David wasn't safe in any settlement. So he lived in the desert, far from civilization. Even so, some desert dwellers didn't like having a community of refugees in their neighborhood, and informed Saul of David's whereabouts. Saul immediately assembled a posse of 3,000 of his best men, and set out to capture David. But just as they were closing in on them, Saul received a report of a Philistine attack on his territory, and had to break off the chase to defend his kingdom. So once again, David narrowly escaped death at Saul's hand.
David moved on, but after the battle Saul and his elite troops again set off in pursuit.
David and his men were hiding in caves, while Saul and his men marched around the area looking for them. As it happened, Saul's army stopped for a break right in front of the cave where David was hiding with some of his men. This must have caused intense fear among David's men.
Then the king left his men and walked right into David's cave. While David's men held their breath, Saul laid down his weapons and robe, and went further in, to relieve himself in privacy.
Saul was nearly blind, having just come in from the desert sun. David and his men had spent hours in the cave, and their eyes were adapted to the dark, so they could see clearly. Saul had dropped his weapons, and was unarmed. David and his men had their weapons in their hands. Saul was alone. David had a small army with him.
Speaking in whispers and gestures, David's men urged him to take this heaven-sent opportunity to rid themselves of an evil man who was hunting them down without reason. But David refused, remembering that it was the LORD who had made Saul king — and anyone who attacked the LORD's king was attacking the LORD. David was determined to use this as an opportunity to show his faith in God, and to display that faith in front of everyone present.
So David went to where Saul had left his robe, and quietly cut off the hem. Then he waited until Saul left the cave.
As Saul was returning to his men, David came to the mouth of the cave, and bowed to the ground, as people in his culture did to show deep respect for someone. With great charisma, he told his story — he had just passed up a chanced to kill Saul, out of respect for the LORD, and he displayed the hem of Saul's robe as evidence. He furthermore promised he would never harm the king the LORD had chosen.
By now Saul's conscience stung him. He announced he was calling off the chase, and he returned home.
But David knew this was only a reprieve — Saul was committed to evil, and virtually insane besides. David would never be safe while Saul lived. So he and his men returned to their cave, and before long moved on to hopefully safer grounds.
Source: 1 Samuel 23:19 - 24:22
One summer, David and his men lived in the neighborhood of a rich rancher named Nabal, whose herds numbered in the thousands. David's men provided valuable service to Nabal, hunting predators that fed on his flocks, and guarding against thieves. Nabal's employees were well aware of the benefits provided by David.
However, David and his men worked without a contract, hoping only to receive necessary food in consideration for services rendered.
At shearing time — or as we might say, “payday” — David sent men to request a tip from Nabal's profits, and carefully provided evidence that those profits were much enhanced by the services of David's men.
Nabal, however, showed extremely poor judgment. He insulted David's men, and sent them away with nothing.
Take a moment to consider the stress under which David lived at that time in his life.
First, he was responsible for a community of 600 families. Perhaps you know the stress of providing for a family. David had to provide for a “family” of thousands of people.
Second, he was in constant danger of death, hunted by a powerful and irrational king.
Third, being a fugitive, he couldn't settle down for long, establish a business or employment, or build a base of repeat customers. While providing for this community, many times he had to drop everything and start over again in a new location.
Fourth, his strongest supporter, the prophet Samuel, had just died. Being a fugitive, he wasn't even able to attend the funeral.
That's a lot of stress.
It was against this backdrop that David, expecting to receive only a few weeks worth of food in return for valuable services provided, received nothing but insults instead.
None of this excuses David's sinful response. But anyone who has faced stress can sympathize with his reaction, doing something rash that he wouldn't have done in his better moments.
David, who was raised in a brutal culture, constantly surrounded by war and death, told his 600 men to ready their weapons. They were going to attack Nabal's ranch in revenge, killing every male they found. That David's actions were considered normal in their culture is shown by a servant's reaction.
Back at Nabal's ranch, a servant who had seen Nabal's treatment of David's men, and who was fully aware of services provided by David, panicked. Immediately sizing up the situation, he realized David would do something savage, and Nabal, his family, and his employees, were in serious trouble.
Nabal was not a man who could be talked to about this. Stubborn and insensitive, he wouldn't take advice from anyone. So the servant talked to Nabal's wife, Abigail, who was very intelligent, alert, and capable. Hearing the servant's story, she agreed something had to be done, and fast.
In a flurry of activity, she gathered food supplies, loading it on donkeys, and assigning servants to escort the gifts to David. After she had dispatched several donkey-loads of supplies, she herself followed them to meet David.
Meanwhile, David was leading his men into battle, raging in fury over their wasted efforts and ill treatment. As he ranted, Abigail approached him, bowed to the ground to show deep respect, and made a beautiful appeal. She pointed out that Nabal was mentally challenged — his name means “retarded” — and his insults shouldn't be taken to heart. She added that the LORD was at this moment saving David from doing something foolish, something that would be a skeleton in his closet later, when he became king. And of course, she presented the gifts of food.
David was deeply moved by her words. He humbly acknowledged her wisdom, and praised God for his mercy in sending her to him. He and his men returned to their camp.
Abigail returned home too. Nabal was drunk, and she couldn't talk to him in that state, so she waited till morning. Then, when she told him the whole story, he was struck with terror at his folly, had a stroke, and was paralyzed. Ten days later, he died.
David decided a woman like Abigail would be a valuable asset. A proper interval after the funeral, David proposed marriage to her, and she enthusiastically accepted.
Source: 1 Samuel 25
David Again Spares King Saul
David and his men continued living in the wilderness in the southeast of Judah. And again, certain residents reported his location to King Saul. And again, Saul and his 3,000 elite troops went on a mission to find and kill David.
In his desert hideout, David heard about Saul's renewed effort, and decided that in order to be prepared, he needed to gather military intelligence about Saul's forces. He invited his nephew Abishai, and the two of them went on a nighttime patrol into Saul's camp.
When they arrived, to their surprise, they found the night watchman asleep — the entire camp was unguarded. Quietly, they found their way to the center, where Saul was sound asleep, his spear standing in the earth near his cot.
Abishai saw this as a wonderful God-given opportunity to solve all their problems with a single stroke of a spear, also conveniently provided. He asked David for the honor, promising he wouldn't require a second stroke.
But as before, David said no, reminding his nephew that the LORD had made Saul king, and therefore no one who rebelled against him would be held innocent. Instead, he offered Abishai the honor of retrieving Saul's spear and canteen, and the two of them retreated to a nearby hill to await daybreak.
As morning dawned on Saul's camp, David began calling out to Abner, Saul's right hand man and bodyguard. Eventually Abner answered, and David taunted, “You deserve the death penalty! Someone came to kill the king, and you didn't protect him!” He pointed out Saul's missing spear and canteen as evidence of the crime.
As David and Abner argued across the sand, Saul recognized David's voice, and realized that David had again spared his life. David chided the king for sending him away from the LORD, who had a special presence in the heart of the promised land. David loved the LORD, and this exile was painful for that reason. He again promised to do nothing against the king, and Saul, faced with incontrovertible evidence, was again smitten with conscience and called off his murderous hunt.
But again, David knew Saul's repentance was not dependable. Even more, he realized he was unsafe even here in Judah's wilds. He would have to leave the country.
Source: 1 Samuel 26
David in Foreign Exile
Realizing that he could not hide from King Saul anywhere in Israel, David looked for asylum elsewhere. The Philistines were ruled by five kings. David had met one of them, King Achish, and now sounded him out. Achish offered David the border town of Ziklag, and David and the 600 families with him moved there.
In Philistine Ziklag, David lived a dangerous double life. He dared not do anything to offend the Philistines. But he also refused to harm his own people, the Israelites.
He made his living by running raids on enemies of Israel, carrying off plunder. To keep favor with the Philistines he lied, reporting to Achish that he had actually plundered towns in Judah, his former home. To keep Achish from learning the truth, David ran his raids far from Philistine territory, to the east of Israel. Furthermore, his attacks were carefully planned, and he left no survivors to report on him. Achish believed David's attacks on Judah made him forever an enemy of Israel, and forever faithful to Philistia.
When David had been with the Philistines for over a year, they planned a major invasion of Israel. David saw this as a wonderful opportunity, made special plans, and took heavy risks to execute his plans.
The exact nature of David's plans isn't given in scripture. He prepared his men to fight with the Philistine army against Israel. But we can be sure, from David's history, that he would never fight against King Saul or the LORD's forces. And we have already seen that David was leading a double life, pretending to aid Philistia by plundering Israel, while in fact attacking Israel's enemies. So exactly what was David planning?
When the five Philistine kings met for a counsel of war, they figured out David's scheme. Though King Achish trusted David, the other four kings didn't. They believed that during the battle, he would change sides, fight against the Philistines, turn an Israelite defeat into victory, and return home to Israel as a great hero.
Concluding that David couldn't be trusted in this situation, the other four kings overruled Achish and sent David home to Ziklag. David was furious, or pretended to be, over this insult, and over the frustration of the plans on which he had placed his hopes of returning to the land of his birth.
David's normal practice was to take 400 men on his raids, leaving 200 home to defend the families.1 But this opportunity had been so enticing that David had taken an extreme risk to bring it about — he had taken all 600 men to the battlefield, leaving their families undefended. This error stung him dearly.
When the men returned to Ziklag, they found the city burned to the ground, and the wives and children missing — all had been taken as slaves. David's men were crushed with grief. They cried and cried. Then, blaming this loss on David's poor judgment, they began planning to execute him by stoning.
In the meantime, David was praying, and as he did, God encouraged him. Calling for his priest Abiathar, he asked the LORD if they could find the raiding party. The LORD promised they would, and the rescue would be successful.
As David's army followed the trail, they came upon a man dying in the desert. They fed him, his strength revived, and he told his story. He was a slave who had accompanied a raiding party that had burned Ziklag, taking its inhabitants as slaves. Then he became sick, and his master abandoned him to die in the desert. After securing a promise of safety, he agreed to lead David to the raiding party.
They found them partying and drinking. Attacking at dusk, they kept the battle up for 24 hours, leaving no survivors, except for a group that escaped by camel. All their lost wives and children were rescued; none was missing. They also captured a huge amount of plunder.
David took the plunder and sent it as gifts to many people back in Judah who had helped him survive while in exile there.
Source: 1 Samuel 27, 29, 30
1 For example, 1 Samuel 25:13
King Saul Dies in Battle
Meanwhile, the Philistine offensive against Israel proceeded on schedule. It was a great victory for Philistia and a defeat for Israel. Prince Jonathan and two of his brothers were killed in the battle. King Saul was mortally wounded, and fearing that his enemies would capture and torture him, he took his own life.
A fellow who saw all this thought it would give him a perfect opportunity to fall into favor with the new king; by now everyone knew David would succeed Saul. This fellow confiscated Saul's crown and fled to David's hideout.
Meeting David, he reported that the battle had gone badly, and that both King Saul and his heir-apparent, Prince Jonathan, had died. When David asked for details about their deaths, the fellow made up this story: Saul had been mortally wounded, and fearing that his enemies would capture and torture him, had asked this fellow to kill him — so he did. Thinking like the people of his culture, he assumed David would consider this good news. He didn't understand how David would think.
Twice before, David had passed up opportunities to kill Saul, reasoning that because the LORD had made Saul king, anyone who killed Saul was attacking the LORD. David said to this fellow, “Why weren't you afraid to kill the LORD's anointed?” He sentenced the murderer to death, declaring, “Your blood is on your own hands.”
Source: 1 Samuel 28, 31; 2 Samuel 1; 1 Chronicles 10
David, King of Judah
Now that King Saul was dead, David was out of danger. Calling for his priest, he asked the LORD if he should return to Israel, and the LORD said he should go to Hebron, a town in Judah.
There at Hebron, the local leaders of the tribe of Judah agreed to make David their king. The other eleven tribes of Israel, however, followed Saul's right hand man Abner, who made Saul's son Ishbosheth their king. And so Israel was divided for seven and a half years.
During this time, there was ongoing war between the two halves, Israel and Judah. Under David's powerful leadership, Judah grew stronger and stronger. Under Ishbosheth's incompetence, Israel grew weaker and weaker.
At length Abner grew impatient with Ishbosheth's weakness. After one particularly offensive incident, Abner decided to withdraw his support from Ishbosheth, and campaign to make David king of Israel.
Abner sent a message to David expressing his intentions. David needed to find out if Abner was influential enough to be useful or not. To this end, David replied that he would work with Abner under one condition. King Saul, in order to hurt David, had given David's first wife Michal to another man. David demanded that Abner return her to him. If Abner couldn't extract a princess, he was obviously unable to move the kingdom.
Abner did this with ease, however, and so he and David met to plan their work. Abner had already lobbied throughout Israel, having built a network of local leaders who would transfer their support to David on Abner's signal. Their plans made, Abner set out for home.
However, David's nephew Joab, who was now his right hand man, was furious over David's meeting with Abner. Joab and Abner had been at war for some time now, and Joab was suspicious of Abner. Beyond that, he held a grudge, because Abner had killed Joab's brother in battle. So now, Joab secretly chased Abner and murdered him. So his efforts to make David king of Israel ended.
Source: 2 Samuel 2, 3
David, King of Israel
When Abner was assassinated, King Ishbosheth and Israel were thrown into panic and confusion. Ishbosheth was incompetent, and Abner had run things all along. Now Israel was leaderless. Two of Ishbosheth's men conspired and murdered him. He had been king two years. The assassins fled to David, expecting him to reward them for eliminating his enemy. But like Saul's would-be killer, they thought like people in their culture, and not like David. He had them executed as common murderers.
Israel was now truly leaderless, and remained so for five more years. After that time, all the local leaders met together and agreed to make David their king.
Early in David's reign he made it his goal to capture Jerusalem, a splendid city which, though in the center of Israel's territory, was occupied by hostile foreigners, who arrogantly considered their city impregnable. David was determined, however, and an advance party of his men snuck into the city via a drainage culvert, and Jerusalem was taken. David made it his capital, and it remained so as long as Israelites occupied the land.
David's rise to national power shocked the Philistines into action, for they were well aware of his history of military exploits against their invasions of Israel. They launched two major campaigns, with the objective of killing David and leaving the throne in less capable hands. Both times, however, using military strategies supplied by the LORD, David defended his borders, inflicting heavy casualties among the Philistines.
David's military prowess became legendary. He converted many nearby nations from aggressors into subdued vassalages. By the end of his life, his empire was so powerful that there was peace, and his son Solomon never had to fight a war.
Source: 2 Samuel 4, 5, 8, 10; 1 Chronicles 11:1-9, 18:1 - 19:19
The Ark of the Covenant
David's life-long love was the LORD. His years of exile were so painful, not because of privation, but because he was banished from the public services of worship to the LORD. When he became king, his greatest joy and his most memorable contribution was elaborating the LORD's worship.
Once Jerusalem became David's capital, he determined to establish public worship there, with reformed methods and grand scale. One of his first goals in this regard was to bring the Ark of the Covenant of the LORD to Jerusalem. This was an artifact built at the LORD's command in Moses' day. Throughout Israel's history, the LORD resided on the Ark, in the form of a bright glowing presence, hanging in mid-air above the Ark, between the two angels sculpted on its surface. Sometimes the glowing was so bright it filled the area, even occasionally driving worshippers back with its splendor.
David hosted an elaborate celebration to accompany the great moment the Ark was ushered into Jerusalem. The whole nation gathered. To the accompaniment of a marching band, the procession began. The Ark itself was on a newly built cart, drawn by oxen. A handful of men of Levi, the tribe made responsible by God for religious affairs, walked alongside.
Foolishly, however, no one had inquired about proper handling of this most sacred symbol of the LORD's presence. Levites were to carry the Ark on their shoulders, never touching it, but raising it upon poles loosely attached to the Ark. Violation of these regulations was punishable by death.1
But no one had bothered to read the LORD's regulations. Instead of carrying the Ark as prescribed, they followed the example of the Philistines, placing it on a cart. Then at one climactic moment, the oxen stumbled, the cart was upset, and the Ark was in danger of falling to the ground. One of the Levites, named Uzzah, reached out to steady the Ark, ignoring the prohibition against touching it. For this offense, the LORD instantly struck him dead.
Suddenly, the great celebration ended. The people became somber. Quite likely, at first no one knew why Uzzah was dead — until someone remembered the LORD's law about the Ark.
At first, David was furious with the LORD. He cancelled the celebration and sent the people home. He left the Ark in the care of a Levite sheik who lived nearby, afraid of what might happen if he dared continue to Jerusalem.
After a time, David got over his anger and dismay. Learning that the Ark's new host was prospering, he took that as a sign that the LORD would bless him if he renewed his attempt to bring the Ark to Jerusalem.
This time he took great care. The Levites handling the Ark, hundreds of men, were fully trained in their duties. Again the nation was invited for the celebration, which was intense. King David had a gift for every citizen present, adding to the jubilation. The event was a great success, and David's love for the LORD was contagious, infecting his people too.
There was a sad note, though — an argument between David and his wife Michal. During the celebration, he had danced vigorously, and she noticed other women admiring him. She also found fault with his attire. Perhaps his gymnastics left him immodest at times, or perhaps she simply found his chosen wardrobe — priestly rather than royal garb — demeaning. In any case, when he returned home, they argued, and the argument never really ended — Michal died childless, implying an end to their intimate relations over this argument.
Source: 2 Samuel 6; 1 Chronicles 13, 15, 16
1 Numbers 4:15
Preparations for the Temple
By this time, David rarely had to fight, having built an empire that dominated the region. He himself had a luxurious palace, and it bothered him that the LORD didn't have a proper temple. The Ark of the Covenant was housed in a tent.
David consulted his prophet friend Nathan, who advised him to go ahead with his intention to build the LORD a temple.
The LORD, however, had different plans. He told Nathan to go back to David and tell him he was not the one to build a temple. Instead, after David's death his son would be king in his place, and he would build the temple.
Furthermore, David's throne would endure forever — that is, a descendent of David would be king forever — though if David's successors sinned, they would be punished harshly.
David was thrilled to have this excellent promise from God. Still, he couldn't make himself stand by while the LORD had no temple. Though he was not permitted to build the temple, he could prepare for its construction.
He applied his considerable wealth and influence to the project. Workers dressed stone for masonry. Vast supplies of cedar logs were imported and put into storage. Large amounts of gold, silver, bronze, and iron were on hand. Architectural plans were drawn up. Furnishings were designed, staffing planned. Workers were recruited, donations solicited.
All throughout this process, David inspired and instructed the people to be faithful to the LORD, enthusing them with sermons about God's greatness, and their great privilege of being his people.
When David's son King Solomon eventually undertook the construction, he was so well supplied, trained, and aided with expert help, that the completed temple was admired throughout the region.
Source: 2 Samuel 7; 1 Chronicles 17, 22, 28, 29
Somewhere in his middle years, David committed a horrible sin. Much evil resulted from this misdeed, and most notably, David himself was badly affected. Up to this point, he had shown great maturity and expert judgment. After his sin, he often failed to grasp important issues. Before, he handled great moments of crisis with courage and wisdom. After, he handled several crises so poorly that they nearly undid him.
After David's sin, he let one of his sons get away with rape, and another with murder. One son publicly planned to overthrow him, lobbying for public support on the platform of justice reform, thereby showing how badly the courts were managed in David's administration. David could have easily and bloodlessly foiled this plot. Instead, he took no action, with the result that he fought an expensive civil war. After the war, he would have pardoned the rebel son (hoping for another civil war later?) but his staff refused to allow it. And in the aftermath of the war, David humiliated the soldiers who had just protected him, and thereby nearly threw his kingdom into anarchy. After this, as David was negotiating with the nation to restore him to his throne, he committed a faux pas, throwing the nation into yet another civil war.
Yet in spite of all the troubles that resulted from David's sin, we cannot fail to note that David's repentance was pure and complete. He took the punishment God inflicted on him without complaint, made amends where possible, and protected the innocent when he could.
David's unflagging repentance is a model for believers everywhere, and undoubtedly a factor that caused God to call David “a man after his own heart.”
One spring when all the men went off to war, and Jerusalem was therefore full of women, King David made a foolish choice — he stayed home. David knew — or should have known — that romance was a temptation for him. By this time he had at least seven of his wives;1 the later total was in two digits, plus 10 concubines. This doesn't happen because a man is immune to temptation. Yet inexplicably, this man who loved God and was normally faithful chose to stay in a town full of temptation.
David's palace was near the women's bath house. Homes didn't have showers in those days. Instead, there were public bath houses. For privacy, the bathhouses had high walls surrounding them. However, this bath house had no roof. David's palace was quite high, and one evening, from the terrace on his roof, he looked over the wall of the bath house and saw a woman. She was quite a beauty, and David sent someone to find out who she was.
She was Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of the top 30 men in David's cabinet. Uriah was, of course, in the field with the army, and wasn't expected home for months. David summoned Bathsheba, they had an intimate conversation, and in the end they slept together. Bathsheba went home, and David seems to have forgotten about her.
But after a time, she sent David a message saying she was pregnant. Suddenly, David had a scandal on his hands. This was the kind of thing that could ruin a king's administration. David, normally in love with the LORD, didn't seem to give thought to how God would view things. The scandal was an emergency.
To cover his tracks, David decided to call the woman's husband home. If Uriah spent a night with his wife, everyone would assume the baby was his, and David's crisis would be over. The whole issue would die quietly.
David sent a messenger to the battlefield to summon Uriah, on the pretext of debriefing him for military intelligence. Faithful Uriah arrived, King David interviewed him, and when the interview was over, David sent him to go home and relax. To assure Uriah and his wife had a good night together, David sent a romantic gift to their home.
But Uriah never went home. The soldiers who served under him were sleeping in tents or under the stars, living the spartan lives of men at war, and Uriah thought it would be hypocritical of him to enjoy a pleasant evening with his wife while his men were in the fields. So he slept in the palace, in the servants' quarters.
When David found out about this, he again panicked. He scolded Uriah for thus failing to solve David's problem. But David was determined to solve the problem, so he detained Uriah for another day of military briefings. That evening he invited him to a party to put him in a good mood. Then, to assure that he performed as expected, David gave Uriah drink after drink, until he was drunk.
But even in his inebriated condition, Uriah retained his sense of integrity. When David sent him home to his wife, he again refused to do what the men under him were unable to do, and Uriah again slept in the servants' quarters.
David realized he could not possibly solve his problem the way he had hoped — Uriah simply could not be corrupted. What could he do? Bathsheba was with child and soon everyone would know David was the father.
David decided that to prevent a scandal that might ruin him, he had to eliminate Uriah and marry Bathsheba. He wrote a message to general Joab telling him to place Uriah in a dangerous battle position and arrange for him to be killed by the enemy. He sealed the letter and placed it in Uriah's hand, knowing that he could be trusted to deliver it unmolested.
Some time later David received a battle report from general Joab telling of a disaster. Joab had mounted an attack using an obviously poor strategy, and a number of men were killed. Joab, who had known David all his life, knew he would lose his temper when he heard about this foolish battle, but he didn't want to commit the actual reasons for the loss to writing. So he gave the messenger an off-the-record verbal comment for the king's ears only: Uriah died in this battle.
When David heard this comment and realized why the loss had occurred, he calmed down and sent Joab a message of congratulations in spite of the disaster.
When Uriah's funeral was over and a proper time elapsed, David asked Bathsheba to marry him, and she did. So when the baby was born, everyone assumed he was David's legitimate offspring — or so David thought.
But what David had done displeased the LORD.
The LORD sent David's friend, the prophet Nathan, to expose David's sin. To win David's sympathy and make his point, Nathan approached David with a story, which he presented as true. In our day, if someone wants to get justice, they hire a lawyer and file court papers according to the lawyer's advice. In those days, a citizen would appeal to the king for justice. If you didn't know the king, you might get someone who did to talk to the king for you. So as David heard this story, he assumed this was a legal action being brought by a citizen in his kingdom.
Here is Nathan's story: There was a certain poor man who had very little, but his prize possession was a lamb. He had bought the lamb as a baby, not for meat, but as a pet. He treated her like one of the family. The children loved the lamb. She ate at their table, drank from the man's cup, and slept in the man's embrace.
The poor man had a rich neighbor, a rancher who had large flocks of sheep. One day this rich man found himself in need of some meat. But rather than slaughter one of his own sheep, he took the poor man's lamb, killed and served it.
As David listened to Nathan's story, he became furious. How could anyone commit so callused an act? David told Nathan the man who did this deserved to die! But David didn't order the death sentence2 — instead, David ordered the man to reimburse his victim four times the lamb's value, in keeping with the law of Moses.3
At that, Nathan told David, “You are the man!” He recounted David's sins of adultery and murder, a rich king with many wives preying on a common citizen; and he pronounced God's punishment: David's family would be full of violence, and one of David's sons would one day lie with David's wives in full public view.
It is at this critical and abysmal moment in David's life where his integrity shines. Most of us, when our sins are exposed, resort to either denying it happened or blame-shifting. David certainly had opportunity to deny the murder; after all, Uriah had died honorably in battle. And he could have blamed his deeds on someone or something else. But he didn't.
Instead, David simply said, “I have sinned against the LORD.” He didn't excuse or justify his actions. He didn't pass the blame. In grief, he simply admitted the truth.
The moment he did, the prophet Nathan gave the LORD's response: “The LORD has forgiven your sin.” The moment David confessed, God forgave.
Even so, the sin had its consequences. The baby died, to David's deep regret. David's home was full of violence from then on, and one of his sons staged a rebellion that nearly sacked David's administration. Even worse, David himself seems to have suffered the loss of his previously excellent judgment, and made many severe mistakes after this.
Source: 2 Samuel 11, 12
1 Six pre-Jerusalem wives are listed in 1 Chronicles 3:1-6; his first wife, King Saul's daughter Michal, is missing from this list.
2 According to the King James translation, he did order the death sentence.
3 Exodus 22:1
David's son Amnon fell in love with his half-sister, David's daughter Tamar. In those days it was quite common for a man to marry his half-sister, and if Amnon had tried to arrange marriage, he would no doubt have succeeded.1 However, Amnon knew his father had taken advantage of a woman and suffered no great punishment so far, so Amnon decided not to marry Tamar, but to seduce her.
But a prince couldn't just walk up to a princess and carry on a conversation — they were too strongly chaperoned for that. So Amnon carried on an elaborate scheme. He pretended to be ill, and asked that his beautiful sister be allowed to serve him a meal. She came to his house and cooked a meal for him. But he lay in bed, pretending to be too sick to eat it. He demanded that all the servants leave, so Tamar could feed him without distraction.
When they were alone, Amnon invited her to his bed. She refused, eloquently appealing to him about how this act would affect her, and insisting that he could arrange marriage if he wanted to. But he refused to listen, and raped her.
As Tamar cried over her treatment, Amnon's attitude changed. He no longer saw a beautiful princess; instead, he saw an abused and wounded girl. And he hated her. He sent her away by force.
David's handling of this crime shows his loss of good judgment since his own similar crime. The king lost his temper. He probably screamed at Amnon, but that was all.
The law of Moses required a penalty for rape of either a shotgun marriage or death, depending on the circumstances. However, David, who had properly exercised justice before, and was well familiar with the law of Moses, did nothing.
In modern times, it has become customary for the court to interview a crime's victim, taking their wishes into account in deciding the sentence. The victim of this crime clearly expressed her wishes. She didn't hate Amnon, even after what he had done to her. She believed the outcome that gave her the best future was marriage to Amnon. But David never asked for her opinion. He never took a single step to punish his son's crime.
But someone else did.
Source: 2 Samuel 13:1-21
Alan's Comment (added on 14 Dec 2015): 1 A visitor to the site brought Leviticus 18:9 to my attention and raised the doubt that King David would have allowed Amnon to marry Tamar. The nakedness of your sister, either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter, whether born at home or born outside, their nakedness you shall not uncover. The marriage of half-brothers and sisters was permitted in patriarchal times (Gen. 20:12), but was expressly forbidden by the Mosaic law (Lev. 18:9,11; 20:17). Tamar's suggestion (in 2 Sam. 13:13) that King David would permit such a marriage implies either the Mosaic law was not strictly observed at this time, or her desire to stop the rape.
When Amnon raped Tamar and then got away with it, leaving Tamar in disgrace, her brother Absalom was incensed. He was determined to have his revenge. But he could see how the system worked — the courts would never give him justice. Absalom didn't even try to raise a case, knowing what the outcome would be.
Absalom wanted to kill Amnon, but a prince couldn't just walk up to another prince, weapon in hand — the royal family was well guarded. So Absalom bided his time, waiting for his opportunity. After two years, he made his move.
Absalom enlisted the aid of a group of servants and friends, promising he would protect them by taking the blame himself. Absalom threw a big party and invited all the king's sons. But how could he be sure Amnon would come? Absalom personally invited King David, knowing he would refuse — if the king wanted a party, he would throw it himself. He pled for a while, and when the moment seemed right he said, “If you won't come, will you at least send all the princes?” He took special care to include Amnon in the group. Finally, David agreed. Under orders from the king, Amnon attended Absalom's party.
When the party was under way, Absalom gave a signal, and all his co-conspirators drew their weapons and killed Amnon. The other guests left in a panic, assuming Absalom intended to kill all the princes, making himself the certain heir to the throne.
Absalom was now a murderer deserving capital punishment. To escape death, he left the country and lived in exile.
King David was brokenhearted, not over the loss of Amnon, but of Absalom. Long after Amnon's funeral, David was so distraught over Absalom that he couldn't concentrate on his work. Important tasks were left undone. The kingdom was going to the dogs.
David's right hand man, Joab, tried to cover for him, but certain tasks require the king's attention, and David just wasn't there. Realizing fully what was on David's mind, Joab tried to convince David to pardon Absalom, so he could be comforted and then hopefully return to normal, but the king refused.
When this had gone on for three years, Joab decided to try something extreme to bring the king to his senses. He hired a clever actress to bring a fictional court case to the king.
The woman dressed the part and told her story to David: she was a widow with two sons. They got into a fight one day, and as it happened, one son killed the other. The townspeople were now demanding that the murderer be put to death, as the law required. But they were only doing it to get her property — with her husband and one son dead, if the other son were killed, there would be no heir, and they could confiscate the woman's real estate. She came here to beg the king for the life of her son.
King David was deeply moved by this woman's story. He sent her away, promising to issue a court order protecting her son. But the woman pressed for more certain protection. David promised that if anyone troubled her, he would personally put a stop to it. Still she pressed: would the king swear an oath in the name of the LORD? David swore the requested oath.
The woman asked, “May I say something else?” and David, intrigued with the woman, agreed. She said, “Since you feel that way about my son, shouldn't you feel the same way about your own son Absalom? Why don't you pardon him?”
A light went on in David's mind. He said, “Did Joab put you up to this?” She answered, “You are as wise as an angel of God!”
David was convinced. He pardoned Absalom and sent Joab to retrieve him from exile. Finally, his mind at ease, David could relax and do his job again.
Absalom returned to Jerusalem, but his father didn't restore his princely position. He lived as a commoner, unwelcome with the royal family. David didn't even see him. Even so, David felt much better, and affairs of state improved.
Source: 2 Samuel 13:22 - 14:24
Almost as soon as Absalom returned to Jerusalem, he began conspiring to overthrow his father King David and take his throne.
But at first, he wasn't even admitted to the palace. His first step, therefore, was to regain his position in the royal family. Two years after his return, he decided to seek this concession.
He sent a message to David's right hand man Joab, who had arranged his return from exile in the first place, asking Joab to arrange a meeting with the king, so he could appeal for his restoration. Joab had had enough trouble on Absalom's account, and refused to even answer the message.
But Absalom wouldn't take “no” for an answer, and he looked for a way to force Joab's hand. As it happened, Absalom had a crop field adjacent to Joab's. So he ordered his servants to set Joab's field afire, burning down his crops.
Guess who came to visit Absalom? Joab knew how the king doted on Absalom. He couldn't take any action against him. So Absalom made his demand, and Joab arranged a meeting with David who, of course, granted his request and restored his place in the royal family. Returned from exile, and now restored to his position as prince, Absalom had literally gotten away with murder.
Next Absalom appealed to the public to support him as king. This campaign involved several methods. He obtained a chariot, horses, and 50 men to run alongside, and paraded in public places. People have always loved to gape at royalty, and Absalom gave them what they wanted. When someone approached Absalom, they would act with the proper protocol for a commoner approaching royalty. But Absalom would ignore protocol, treating them as royals treat each other. The commoners loved this. Absalom would sit along the path leading to the palace, and whenever someone passed to approach the king for a legal petition, Absalom would bemoan the deplorable condition of the courts, and tell people, “If I were in charge, things would be different around here!” His popularity increased greatly.
This behavior was treasonous. In a democracy, we encourage people to express their views, and to run for office. But in a monarchy, the same actions undercut the king's authority, and are not to be tolerated. As Absalom was doing these things in full public view, David's people certainly knew what was happening, and must have told David. He could have stopped Absalom's rebellion easily, by many methods. He didn't even have to resort to action against Absalom. For example, David could have ordered Absalom to reform the court system, since he was campaigning on that platform. This would have kept him too busy to conspire, and might even have won his good will.
But after his famous sin, David's judgment was impaired. He did nothing, and Absalom continued his rebellion.
After four years, Absalom decided the moment had come to strike. He traveled from Jerusalem to Hebron, where he set up his headquarters and began his conspiracy in earnest. He assembled an army, appealed to important people to join him, and then began his march on Jerusalem. In order to make himself king, he had to capture Jerusalem and kill his father David.
Absalom set out with his army in the morning, expecting to reach Jerusalem around noon. David learned of Absalom's approaching army only a few hours before it arrived. He and his advisors decided that rather than fight with insufficient forces or risk a siege, David and his top people would evacuate, knowing Absalom would take the city with ease but would not harm the population. They set out at once, with the goal of reaching the Jordan River by night and crossing over the next morning.
David's faithful priests brought the Ark of the Covenant of God, and prepared to join the exodus. But here David's integrity shined. He recognized that God was punishing him; this disaster was the fulfillment of Nathan's prophecy because of David's sin. How could David take the Ark — we might as well say, how could he take God — hostage? David determined to endure God's punishment without trying to strong-arm God by kidnapping his Ark. So he instructed the priests to return the Ark to its place, and to remain with it. They made arrangements for secret communication, so that if they discovered anything David should know, they could send him a message. So the priests returned.
As David and his party fled eastward, they were met by a distant relative of dead King Saul, named Shimei. Shimei held a grudge because Saul had lost the throne in favor of David. So as David trudged on through Shimei's neighborhood, Shimei shouted insults and threw stones. This was not very smart. David, even though in flight, was surrounded by many valiant men, who would have been very happy to vent their frustration by removing Shimei's head.
David, however, couldn't help remembering that this rebellion was his punishment for sin, and he refused to fight against God's punishment. He kept his men under control, saying, “the LORD told him to curse David.” And he continued his march, bearing with insults and stones.
David had on his staff two advisors who were considered godlike in their wisdom. Their names were Ahithophel and Hushai. Ahithophel had joined Absalom's conspiracy early, but now Hushai, an old man, joined David in his flight. David, however, told feeble Hushai he could help David more by returning to Jerusalem, pretending to join Absalom, but actually giving bad advice. David knew if Absalom followed Ahithophel's advice, his chances of success were great, but if Hushai could sell bad advice, David had a chance. So Hushai went to meet Absalom as a secret agent.
Absalom entered Jerusalem with no resistance, secured the palace and important buildings, and then held a staff meeting to decide what to do next. Ahithophel, David's godlike-wise advisor, gave this advice: the conspiracy's biggest weakness is that people are afraid David and Absalom will be reconciled. If that happens, Absalom would be safe — everyone knows how much David loves Absalom — but what about the other conspirators? They would be executed as traitors. Because of this, the people are afraid to commit themselves.
To solve this problem, Ahithophel said, Absalom must do something so repugnant that everyone would know there could be no reconciliation. His suggestion: David had left his ten concubines behind to care for the palace, certain no one would dare molest them. Erect a tent on the terrace above the palace, and rape David's concubines, in full public view. That, even David could never forgive. The people would know there could be no danger of reconciliation, and they would pour their whole hearts into the rebellion. This act further fulfilled Nathan's prophecy against David.
By the time virile Absalom completed this chore, it was early evening. He held a second meeting to ask, “What next?” Ahithophel gave this advice: you have an army of 12,000 troops. The king has no army, only a few guards and a body of civilians. Set out immediately. Overtake him while he is defenseless. Concentrate your full efforts on killing just one man — David. With him dead, the rest of the leaders and population will have no one to turn to except you, and the takeover will be completed this very day. Absalom's advisors agreed that this plan was sound.
Absalom, however, wanted to hear from his other expert, Hushai, not realizing Hushai was determined to aid David. Absalom explained Ahithophel's plan. Hushai realized that if this advice was taken, David was probably doomed. David needed to cross the Jordan into safer territory, and Hushai wanted to buy him time. So Hushai told Absalom that Ahithophel's advice was not good this time. David and his men had a solid reputation as fierce fighters, who would not be easily defeated. David was too smart to camp with his men, and would be hiding in a cave somewhere. A premature attack would probably fail to net David, thereby doing more harm than good. Besides, David was likely laying an ambush, expecting exactly the attack Ahithophel recommended. In that case, there would be early casualties among Absalom's men, and the remainder would lose heart, and the entire conspiracy would be in danger.
Instead of Ahithophel's plan, Hushai recommended this: Absalom should take the time to amass a huge army, recruited from the entire nation. This army would cover the region like dew covers the grass, engulfing David's inferior force. Escape would be impossible.
Hushai left Absalom not knowing whether he would take Ahithophel's advice or his. So he found David's priests, and through them sent this urgent message to David: Don't stop and rest for the night! Cross the Jordan into safer country, because if Absalom launches his attack tonight, and catches you before you've crossed, all will be lost.
But as night fell, no army was assembled, and so Ahithophel and Hushai could both see that Absalom had taken Hushai's advice. Wise Ahithophel realized from this that Absalom's conspiracy was doomed. David's men were invincible — experienced and successful men of war. If Absalom failed to strike now when David was weak, he couldn't possibly win later, after David had time to regroup his forces. When the battle was over, David might possibly exonerate Absalom, but no one else. Ahithophel, realizing that both the cause and he himself were doomed, went home, set his affairs in order, and hung himself, one of only five suicides recorded in the Bible.
David and his community crossed the Jordan, found a suitable place to headquarter their forces, and prepared for the inevitable civil war. General Joab, however, knew that David would never harm Absalom — he had already proven he would preserve his son, regardless of any offense. Joab couldn't bear this — he knew security could only be achieved if its greatest enemy, Absalom, was dead. But, of course, Joab couldn't say this to David. So he quietly looked for a way to disobey orders.
David organized his forces, and during a council of war, stated his intention to personally lead them in battle. Joab saw his opportunity. He convinced the other two generals that David's life was so valuable, David must stay safely in the city. Only the generals and troops would face Absalom's forces. So Joab forced David into retirement, knowing this would make it possible to disobey David's order and kill Absalom.
During the battle, Joab's men found and chased Absalom. He became trapped in the branches of a tree. The men, unwilling to disobey David's order to protect Absalom, summoned Joab, who killed Absalom himself. The rest of the conspirators gave up all hope and returned to their homes when they realized Absalom was dead. And so the rebellion was over.
David, however, was crushed when he learned of his son's death. Being a very emotional man, he howled in agony all afternoon, in his room above the city gate. The triumphant soldiers returning to the city heard the king's wailing and stopped their celebrations. All became quiet. None of the victorious soldiers wanted to be associated with the cause that had caused the king all this grief. They began going AWOL.
Joab was furious. With Absalom's army dispersed to their homes, and David's army quickly doing the same, the nation would be left defenseless, completely vulnerable to the slightest threat. Joab, ignoring protocol, interrupted the king and ordered him: after a successful battle, a king's job is to congratulate the troops. Instead, these men risked their lives for you, and you have humiliated them. If you don't get a grip on yourself, and go say a few appropriate words to your men, by tonight we will be vulnerable to disaster worse than any you've ever faced.
So David obediently got a grip on himself and spoke encouragingly to his men. The army reassembled itself, and a semblance of security was achieved.
Source: 2 Samuel 14:28 - 19:8
During his rebellion, Absalom had been the de facto king over much of Israel. He was dead, and those portions of Israel now had no king. David, having abdicated the capital and left his nation in disarray, wasn't king again yet. He had to negotiate with the network of local leaders to regain the kingship.
From early on, Israel had naturally divided itself into two portions: the tribe of Judah, and the rest of the tribes. So David began separate negotiations with the two groups.
Negotiations with Israel were going along nicely, and David became afraid they would be completed before negotiations with David's own tribe, Judah. So David took steps to expedite his case with Judah.
Unexpectedly, the leaders of Judah immediately lent David their support. David should have then completed negotiations with Israel, so he could show equal respect for both parties. Instead, David returned to Jerusalem and took his throne without waiting for Israel's blessing.
In their culture, with so much emphasis on saving or losing face, this was a huge insult to Israel. The leaders of Judah and those of Israel quarreled, and in the end the nation was divided.
One of the leaders in the bickering, a man named Sheba, declared himself king of Israel, exclusive of Judah. He raised an army, and civil war began once again.
But Sheba's forces were no match for David's men, under Joab's leadership. As Joab chased and Sheba retreated to the north, his men abandoned his cause. By the time Sheba reached the fortified border town of Bethmaachah, his army was so tiny that the residents there seemed not even to realize he was their king. And when Joab began building siegeworks, they didn't understand why they were under attack.
The citizens of Bethmaachah were not prepared for war. While they fretted about how to handle this crisis, a wise woman stood on top of the city wall and got Joab's attention. “We are peaceful people,” she shouted. “Why are you attacking faithful citizens?”
“That's not the way it is,” Joab answered. “We're after a man named Sheba, a traitor against King David. Hand over this one man, and I will withdraw from your city.”
“Give me a few minutes,” she said. Soon Sheba was dead, Bethmaachah was safe, and the kingdom was once again secure.
Source: 2 Samuel 19 - 20
When King David was old, he lost awareness of much that happened around him. He seems, in fact, to have become a little senile. God had chosen Solomon,1 and David had privately promised that Solomon would succeed him as king. But in his feeble condition he was losing control of his kingdom, and his ability to control who succeeded him was in doubt.
At this moment David's son Adonijah decided to make himself king. To feel out his father, he set himself in a chariot surrounded by 50 men on foot, and paraded in public, as his brother Absalom had done to make himself king. David never challenged this treasonous behavior, and Adonijah took his silence for approval. He secured the aid of David's lifelong right hand man Joab, and some other important people.
He decided the moment had come. Adonijah held a great festival just outside the city, inviting many important people who he knew would be sympathetic. He named himself king, and there was a great celebration.
Not everyone celebrated, though. David's good friend the prophet Nathan knew David had chosen Solomon, and he agreed with his choice. If something wasn't done soon, Adonijah would be in control, and it would be too late.
Knowing he would have to approach the king delicately yet convincingly, he enlisted the support of Solomon's mother, Bathsheba. She and Nathan each made an appeal to David. Bathsheba went first, reminding David he had promised Solomon would be king, and she feared if Adonijah was allowed to make himself king, after David died she and Solomon would be killed as rivals to the throne.
Immediately Nathan entered and made his appeal to King David, asking whether David had changed his plans, making Adonijah king, without notifying his loyal friend. He pointed out that Adonijah had rejected David's most loyal supporters, among them Nathan and Solomon.
This double appeal brought David out of his stupor and into action. He immediately and publicly made Solomon king, with full procession and formality. Solomon ascended the throne while David still lived, a very unusual arrangement, but a wise one.
As Adonijah and his party were returning to Jerusalem, they heard the noise of a celebration. Learning Solomon was king, Adonijah's party dispersed in fear. Adonijah himself, now a recognized traitor to the crown, begged King Solomon for his life. Solomon sent Adonijah home with the warning that if he ever showed the slightest sign of treason again, he would die.
Later, Adonijah schemed to obtain one of now-dead David's assistant girls for his wife. This seemed innocent enough, but it reminded Solomon vividly of similar schemes Adonijah's brother Absalom had used in his treasonous bid for the throne. Solomon interpreted this as the first step in Adonijah's renewed effort to overthrow Solomon, and ordered him put to death, along with some of the top people in Adonijah's original conspiracy.
Source: 1 Kings 1 - 2
1 1 Chronicles 28:5
When Samuel looked for the future leader of God's people, he was impressed with Jesse's sons, who were handsome, strong, and charismatic — perfect for the job. But the LORD rejected them in favor of someone too young and inexperienced to even be invited to the meeting. When we select leaders and workers, should we select the most qualified, or those whose hearts are right with God? When David was anointed king, he was probably about 15 years old. When he became king, he was 30. In between, he experienced years of hardship and injustice, often wondering if he would even survive to be king. Are we willing to faithfully endure long times of hardship while we wait for God's promises to be fulfilled? Although David had done nothing wrong, Saul tried time after time to kill him. The injustice of this must have grated on David. Then he had two opportunities to kill Saul. No one would have blamed him — it was a clear case of self-defense. Yet David refused, reasoning that since God had made Saul king, rebelling against Saul was equal to rebelling against God. Are there people God has placed around us, who treat us unjustly? How does God want us to treat them? When David committed his famous sin, involving adultery, murder, and the incidental killing of innocents, a friend later came to him and pointed out that what he did was wrong. David didn't deny what he had done, he didn't make excuses, he didn't pass the blame. With deep grief, he simply said, “I have sinned.” As soon as he did, God responded, “Your sin is forgiven.” What should be our attitude when we become aware of our sin? How will God react when we admit what we have done, without excuses?
StevieRay Hansen The Shepherd...
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