The Story of Israel
Although the dates are uncertain, David was probably on the throne in Jerusalem around 1000 BC. Skeptics of the Bible have long doubted the existence of David and his kingdom, saying he was only a national fable, someone like King Arthur in England. No evidence pointing directly to David’s kingdom has been found by archaeologists in Jerusalem.
However, an inscription which mentions the house (or dynasty) of David was discovered in 1994 during excavations in the ancient tribe of Dan in northern Israel. It is the first reference to David found outside the Bible, and thus one of the most important archaeological finds to support the historical accuracy of scripture. The House of David Inscription appears to be a fragment of a victory monument erected by the king of Damascus during the 9th century BC, some 150 years after King David’s reign. (Israel museum, Jerusalem)
Read 2 Samuel 1-4
In 1 Sam 31, Saul commits suicide by falling on his sword. An Amalekite reports his death to David, claiming falsely to have killed him, perhaps hoping for a reward. However, David mourns the death of his enemy because he was God’s first anointed. He does not rejoice at his enemy’s death. He has the messenger killed as an example to others. David writes a song of mourning dedicated to Saul and Jonathan.
David’s first center of authority is in Hebron, the ancient home of Abraham. This town is located at the highest point in the country, important both for its religious and military significance. Hebron lies 19 miles south of Jerusalem. David reigned from here for 7 years. He had a rival, however, in Ishbosheth, Saul’s surviving son, whom Abner, the commander of Saul’s army, supported. Ishbosheth means “man of shame” and was probably a nickname given by his enemies. The civil war between David and Ishbosheth lasted about two years.
A rivalry develops between Abner and Joab, David’s nephew, because Abner reluctantly kills Joab’s brother. Eventually Abner changes sides and joins David, because Ishbosheth denied him a concubine. In return, David marries Saul’s daughter Michel, who was promised to him earlier but married to someone else. David’s claim to the throne becomes stronger. Joab, however, suspects that Abner is a traitor and a spy, and kills him treacherously. David swears that the death of Abner falls entirely on Joab.
Two men assassinate Ishbosheth, but again David does not reward them but has them killed because of their unlawful murder of royalty. Although this death made David the undisputed king over Israel, he did not approve of the crime.
Read 2 Samuel 5-7
After seven years in Hebron, David conquers the city of Jerusalem, held by the Jebusites. Joab finds a secret passage through a water shaft that provided the city with access to water during a siege. For this feat, David made Joab his commander-in-chief (1 Chronicles 11:6). In 1867 an archeologist named Warren discovered what many believe to be this water shaft in Jerusalem.
The part of the city today known as Old Jerusalem, surrounded by walls built during the Crusades in the middle ages, is larger than the city in David’s time. In the 10th century BC, Jerusalem included just the area south of the Temple mount. Below is an artist’s reconstruction of what the city might have looked like shortly after Solomon built the temple (seen at the crest of the hill, top right corner), and a photo outlining this area in the city today, covering a few neighborhoods. In the modern photo, the Muslim Dome of the Rock (the gold dome) sits where the Temple stood which Solomon built.
The text mentions the king of Tyre sending cedar to build David’s palace. Actually this event took place toward the end of David’s reign.
Ancient cities differed in several ways from our modern idea of a city. Most people continued to live in the countryside in small, unprotected villages; only royalty, court officials and prosperous merchants had homes within the walls of the city. The people crowded into the city only during times of war. Archaeologists have discovered some city walls which were 30 feet thick and 50 feet high. The city gate was strategically important, serving as the entrance into the city but also its weakest area to defend. Ancient gates consisted of an inner and outer gateway with four to six chambers on either side of the passage between the gates in which defenders were stationed to fight off invaders. During peacetime the city gate served several purposes: merchants set up stalls to sell their wares (2 Kings 7:1), judges held court and conducted trials (Deut. 21:18-21), and the king would hear petitions from the people (2 Sam. 15). Below is a photo and diagram of the six-chambered gate of Gezer, possibly the one which Solomon had built (1 Kings 9:15).
With great ceremony David arranges to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem. However, he carelessly disregards God’s instructions on how the ark should be transported. Only priests were allowed to carry the ark on long poles, and no one could ever touch it. On the way to Jerusalem the cart carrying the ark almost falls off the cart, and Uzzah reaches out to steady it. God strikes him down, which seems harsh perhaps to us, but indicates that human beings cannot take God’s commandments for granted. Sometimes today we become too comfortable around God, thinking of him as our best friend, almost a “buddy.” We must never forget that God is holy and we are unholy. We are allowed in His presence only because of His grace and the sacrifice of Jesus.
One student wrote this insightful comment: “The New International Version says they were ‘celebrating with all their might.’ Other translations say ‘played,’ ‘danced,’ etc, but I am curious as to what they were celebrating. If they were celebrating God, the author might have used the word ‘worshipped,’ but maybe the author is letting us know that, in fact, they were celebrating what they believed to be their own accomplishments, that they had defeated the Philistines by their own hand, even though God had said that He would be the one to deliver them (2 Samuel 5:19). They may have been so caught up in the celebrating that they forgot whom they were celebrating. It is a very applicable warning to us today, reminding us not to worship God’s blessings (money, people, health, etc.) or just His forgiving, merciful and gracious side, but we are to worship God in His entirety, remembering that He is also jealous, holy and righteous as well.”
Eventually David moved the ark properly with the help of the priests. In celebration David danced, and Michel his wife (Saul’s daughter) was embarrassed by his public display. After that time, David had no sexual relations with Michel, and she died childless.
Ch. 7 records the very important promise that God made to David. David wanted to build a “house” for God, meaning a permanent temple to replace the tabernacle. However, God said that David was not the one to build this temple, since he was a warrior and had shed too much blood (1 Chronicles 22:8, 28:3). Instead, God promises to build a “house” for David, meaning a royal dynasty. His sons would remain on the throne for many years after David’s death. Eventually, this promise led to the coming of the messiah, as Jesus is described as the son of David, reigning over an everlasting kingdom (Luke 1:32-33).
Read 2 Samuel 11-12
Notice how the narrative sets up expectations (“At the time of year when kings go forth to battle”), then an unexpected twist as David stays behind in Jerusalem. This is surprising since from earlier verses we know that kings were measured by their ability to wage war (1 Sam 8:19); Saul was jealous of David’s military reputation. The narrative generates interest by arousing our curiosity — why does he stay in the city?
From his high palace, David sees a a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing on an adjacent roof. He summons her to the palace and sleeps with her. When she becomes pregnant, David tries to cover up by allowing her husband army leave, hoping he will sleep with her and think that this is his child. However, Uriah the Hittite does not go to his wife but stays on guard at the palace gates. David then treacherously plans to have Uriah killed on the battlefield.
David tells Joab (in a literal translation): “Do not let this death be evil in your eyes” (11:25), but a few verses later the text says, “This thing was evil in the Lord’s eyes” (27). God sends the prophet Nathan to David, who tells him a parable of a man who stole someone’s sheep. David reacts zealously and says that the man deserves to die, to which Nathan responds boldly, “You are the man.” David now admits his sin and asks for forgiveness which God grants, but still David must face the consequences of his actions, and his first born child dies.
The story of David is not about a saint. He had many faults, numerous sins throughout his life. As John Walton writes, “God has not given us the Bible with the intention that we put the heroes of the faith up on pedestals of awe and reverence. In contrast, we find that the characters portrayed in the text are shown to share many of the human weaknesses with which all of us struggle. … We cannot view them as superhuman. … Instead, their stories are in the Bible because God worked through their successes as well as their failures. … They are part of God’s story.” God had plans for David, who was “at times an instrument and at times an obstacle” (Old Testament Today, 2004, 200, 205).
Notice that the Bible seems to place the blame on David, not Bathsheba. In those days, if a king ordered you into his bedchamber, a defenseless woman didn’t have much of a choice. She is as much a victim in this story as Uriah.
Read Psalm 51, which David wrote at this time expressing his sorrow for his sin. He recognizes that his sin was actually against God. This is a beautiful psalm of repentance.
Read 2 Samuel 13-15, 18
Because of David’s sin, Nathan had prophesied that “the sword will never depart from your house” (12:10). These next chapters describe the subsequent discontent within David’s family, leading to his son Absalom taking the throne in open rebellion. Absalom wins the people’s hearts, refusing to let them bow to him, and promising justice for everyone. Absalom goes to Hebron, the former capital, to declare himself king over Israel. Fearing the uprising, David and his followers flee Jerusalem. David leaves a spy, Hushai, behind to learn of Absalom’s plans, and to give him bad advice. Hushai convinces Absalom not to pursue David at this time which probably saved David’s life.
Absalom takes his father’s throne in Jerusalem and sleeps openly with his concubines, publicly declaring his kingship (16:21-22). Eventually during a battle Absalom’s long hair becomes entangled in a tree, and David’s commander Joab kills him. Although his son tried to overthrow him, David mourns Absalom’s death deeply.
The OT never explains why God allowed men such as Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon to have multiple wives, but He never seems to condemn it in scripture. As for wives and concubines of the king, most were probably considered royal property of the state, given by other rulers for political alliances (1 Kings 3:1). It’s likely that the king never slept with most of them, perhaps never even saw them face to face. The king’s harem was an indication of his power, not his sex drive.
Despite this lack of explanation, the Bible clearly teaches that having multiple spouses was not God’s original intention. In Matt. 19:4-5, Jesus affirms the divine plan for marriage from the beginning in Genesis 2: “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?”
Read 2 Samuel 24
This chapter raises some difficult questions. God becomes angry at Israel for their sins (not identified here but probably idolatry) and uses the pride of David to punish them. David commands that a census be taken to see how many people he ruled. In 1 Chronicles 21 the parallel text says that Satan tempted David. Apparently his advisers recognized the foolishness of this action as Joab tries to talk him out of it. Once the census has been taken, God tells David that the people will be punished, but he gets to choose the punishment. At first reading it may seem that God punishes the people for David’s sin, but the first verse explains that God was angry with Israel for their many sins. In any case, it remains a difficult challenge to believers to see God’s wrath displayed in such a way. We can only be grateful that this wrath has been taken away for those who are in Christ (Romans 8:1).