(well-beloved), the son of Jesse. His life may be divided into three portions:
- His youth before his introduction to the court of Saul
- His relations with Saul
- His reign
- Early Life—The early life of David contains in many important respects the antecedents of his future career. It appears that David was the youngest son, probably the youngest child, of a family of ten, and was born in Bethlehem. The first time that David appears in history at once admits us to the whole family circle. The annual sacrificial feast is being held when Samuel appears, sent by God to anoint one of Jesse’s sons as they pass before him (1 Samuel 16:6-10). Samuel sends for the youngest, David, who was “keeping the sheep,” and anoints him (1 Samuel 16:11-13). As David stood before Samuel we are enabled to fix his appearance at once in our minds. He was of short stature, with red or auburn hair, such as is not unfrequently seen in his countrymen of the East at the present day. In later life he wore a beard. His bright eyes are specially mentioned (1 Samuel 16:12), and generally he was remarkable for the grace of his figure and countenance (“fair of eyes,” “comely,” “goodly,”) (1 Samuel 16:12, 18; 17:42), well made, and of immense strength and agility. His swiftness and activity made him like a wild gazelle, his feet like hart’s feet, and his arms strong enough to break a bow of steel (Psalms 18:33-34). After the anointing David resumes his accustomed duties, and the next we know of him he is summoned to the court to chase away the king’s madness by music (1 Samuel 16:14-19), and in the successful effort of David’s harp we have the first glimpse into that genius for music and poetry which was afterwards consecrated in the Psalms. After this he returned to the old shepherd life again. One incident alone of his solitary shepherd life has come down to us—his conflict with the lion and the bear in defence of his father’s flocks (1 Samuel 17:34-35). It was some years after this that David suddenly appears before his brothers in the camp of the army, and hears the defiant challenge of the Philistine giant Goliath. With his shepherd’s sling and five small pebbles he goes forth and defeats the giant (1 Samuel 17:40-51).
- Relations with Saul—We now enter on a new aspect of David’s life. The victory over Goliath had been a turning point of his career. Saul inquired his parentage and took him finally to his court. Jonathan was inspired by the friendship which bound the two youths together to the end of their lives. Unfortunately David’s fame proved the foundation of that unhappy jealousy of Saul towards him which, mingling with the king’s constitutional malady, poisoned his whole future relations to David. His position in Saul’s court seems to have been first armor-bearer (1 Samuel 16:21; 18:2), then captain over a thousand (1 Samuel 18:13), and finally, on his marriage with Michal, the king’s second daughter, he was raised to the high office of captain of the king’s body-guard, second only, if not equal, to Abner, the captain of the host, and Jonathan, the heir apparent. David was not chiefly known for his successful exploits against the Philistines, by one of which he won his wife, and drove back the Philistine power with a blow from which it only rallied at the disastrous close of Saul’s reign. He also still performed from time to time the office of minstrel, but the successive attempts of Saul upon his life convinced him that he was in constant danger. He had two faithful allies, however, in the court—the son of Saul, his friend Jonathan, and the daughter of Saul, his wife Michal. Warned by the one and assisted by the other, he escaped by night, and was from thenceforward a fugitive. He at first found a home at the court of Achish, among the Philistines, but his stay was short. Discovered possibly by “the sword of Goliath,” his presence revived the national enmity of the Philistines against their former conqueror, and he only escaped by feigning madness (1 Samuel 21:13). His first retreat was the cave of Adullam. In this vicinity he was joined by his whole family (1 Samuel 22:1), and by a motley crowd of debtors and discontented men (1 Samuel 22:2), which formed the nucleus of his army. David’s life for the next few years was made up of a succession of startling incidents. He secures an important ally in Abiathar (1 Samuel 23:6), his band of 400 at Adullam soon increased to 600 (1 Samuel 23:13), and he is hunted by Saul from place to place like a partridge (1 Samuel 23:14, 22, 25-29; 24:1-22; 26). He marries Abigail and Ahinoam (1 Samuel 25:42-43). Finally comes the news of the battle of Gilboa and the death of Saul and Jonathan (1 Samuel 31). The reception of the tidings of the death of his rival and of his friend, the solemn mourning, the vent of his indignation against the bearer of the message, the pathetic lamentation that followed, will close the second period of David’s life (2 Samuel 1:1-27).
- David’s reign—David was king of Judah at Hebron 7 1/2 years (2 Samuel 2:1; 2 Samuel 5:5). Here David was first formally anointed king (2 Samuel 2:4). To Judah his dominion was nominally confined. Gradually his power increased, and during the two years which followed the elevation of Ish-bosheth a series of skirmishes took place between the two kingdoms. Then rapidly followed the successive murders of Abner and of Ish-bosheth (2 Samuel 3:30; 4:5-7). The throne, so long waiting for him, was now vacant, and the united voice of the whole people at once called him to occupy it. For the third time David was anointed king, and a festival of three days celebrated the joyful event (1 Chronicles 12:39). One of David’s first acts after becoming king was to secure Jerusalem, which he seized from the Jebusites and where he fixed the royal residence. Fortifications were added by the king and by Joab, and it was known by the special name of the “city of David” (2 Samuel 5:9; 1 Chronicles 11:7). The ark was now removed from its obscurity at Kirjath-jearim with marked solemnity and conveyed to Jerusalem. The erection of the new capital at Jerusalem introduces us to a new era in David’s life and in the history of the monarchy. He became a king on the scale of the great Oriental sovereigns of Egypt and Persia, with a regular administration and organization of court and camp, and he also founded an imperial dominion which for the first time realized the prophetic description of the bounds of the chosen people (Genesis 15:18-21). During the succeeding ten years the nations bordering on his kingdom caused David more or less trouble, but during this time he reduced to a state of permanent subjection the Philistines on the west (2 Samuel 8:1); the Moabites on the east (2 Samuel 8:2); by the exploits of Benaiah (2 Samuel 23:20); the Syrians on the northeast as far as the Euphrates (2 Samuel 8:3); the Edomites on the south (2 Samuel 8:14); and finally the Ammonites, who had broken their ancient alliance and made one grand resistance to the advance of his empire (2 Samuel 10:1-19; 12:26-31). Three great calamities may be selected as marking the beginning, middle and close of David’s otherwise prosperous reign, which appear to be intimated in the question of Gad (2 Samuel 24:13), “a three-years famine, a three-months flight or a three-days pestilence.” a. Of these the first (the three-years famine) introduces us to the last notices of David’s relations with the house of Saul, already referred to. b. The second group of incidents contains the tragedy of David’s life, which grew in all its parts out of the polygamy, with its evil consequences, into which he had plunged on becoming king. Underneath the splendor of his last glorious campaign against the Ammonites was a dark story, known probably at that time only to a very few—the double crime of adultery with Bath-sheba and the virtual murder of Uriah. The clouds from this time gathered over David’s fortunes, and henceforward “the sword never departed from his house” (2 Samuel 12:10). The outrage on his daughter Tamar, the murder of his eldest son Amnon, and then the revolt of his best-beloved Absalom, brought on the crisis which once more sent him forth as wanderer, as in the days when he fled from Saul (2 Samuel 15:18). The final battle of Absalom’s rebellion was fought in the “forest of Ephraim,” and terminated in the accident which led to the young man’s death, and, though nearly heartbroken at the loss of his son, David again reigned in undisturbed peace at Jerusalem (2 Samuel 20:1-22). c. The closing period of David’s life, with the exception of one great calamity, may be considered as a gradual preparation for the reign of his successor. This calamity was the three-days pestilence which visited Jerusalem at the warning of the prophet Gad. The occasion which led to this warning was the census of the people taken by Joab at the king’s orders (2 Samuel 24:1-9; 1 Chronicles 21:1-7; 27:23-24), which was for some reason sinful in God’s sight (2 Samuel 24). A formidable conspiracy to interrupt the succession broke out in the last days of David’s reign; but the plot was stifled, and Solomon’s inauguration took place under his father’s auspices (1 Kings 1:1-53). By this time David’s infirmities had grown upon him. His last song is preserved—a striking union of the ideal of a just ruler which he had placed before him and of the difficulties which he had felt in realizing it (2 Samuel 23:1-7). His last words to his successor are general exhortations to his duty (1 Kings 2:1-9). He died, according to Josephus, at the age of 70, and “was buried in the city of David.” After the return from the captivity, “the sepulchres of David” were still pointed out “between Siloah and the house of the mighty men,” or “the guard-house” (Nehemiah 3:16). His tomb, which became the general sepulchre of the kings of Judah, was pointed out in the latest times of the Jewish people. The edifice shown as such from the Crusades to the present day is on the southern hill of modern Jerusalem commonly called Mount Zion, under the so-called “Coenaculum,” but it cannot be identified with the tomb of David, which was emphatically within the walls.