David was the founder of a dynasty that would rule in Jerusalem for over 350 years. His impact on the history of Israel is seen from the extensive interest in him and his successors as reflected in the Deuteronomic history, the prophets, the Chronicler's history, the psalms, and the New Testament.
David in the Deuteronomic History. The books from Joshua through Kings are often called the Deuteronomic history (DH) because the authors/compilers of these books used provisions and emphases unique to Deuteronomy in order to evaluate the history of Israel. Deuteronomy had authorized the nation to have a king (17:14-20), and the DH traces life in Israel both without a king (Joshua, Judges) and with a king (Samuel, Kings).
The majority of what we learn about David's life and times is contained in the accounts in Samuel. In Samuel the writer forges a contrast between Saul and David, "a man after his [God's] own heart" ( 1 Sam 13:14 ). D. M. Gunn's analysis of the narratives about David focuses on two primary themes: David as king and David as a man. In his first role as king, David acquires the kingdom and assures his tenure in office (the accounts about David and Saul, the rebellions of Absalom and Sheba) and founds a dynasty (the birth of Solomon, the rebellion of Adonijah, the elimination of other contenders and factions). These narratives are intertwined with the theme of David as a man: a husband and father (Michal, Bathsheba, Amnon, Absalom, Solomon, Adonijah). The accounts are overlaid with themes of sexuality and political intrigue. Sexuality is a motif in the accounts of the sin with Bathsheba, the death of the child from an adulterous union, one son's rape of a daughter, the competition for the father's bedmate Abishag, Uriah's refusal to visit his wife, the seizure of David's concubines, and the childlessness of Saul's daughter Michal. Violence and political intrigue are interspersed in the accounts of David's wars, Saul's attempts on David's life, the violence of Joab and his brothers, the murder of Uriah, fratricide among David's sons, the slaughter of the helpless Absalom, and David's plans for the deaths of his enemies soon after his own death. The account of David's relationship with Bathsheba not only prepares for the eventual accession of Solomon, but it also sets in motion a curse that will dog the remainder of David's life: death and sexual outrage will follow, and "the sword will never depart from [his] house" ( 2 Sam 12:10 ). The one word "sword" becomes a key term unifying aspects of the narrative from Samuel through Kings. The entire account of David is presented as the interplay of his public (kingship) and private (father, husband) roles as they impinge on the question of who will succeed him to the throne. Gunn also accents the themes of giving and grasping: whereas some accounts present David or other characters as somewhat passive in their roles, in others they seize or grasp at favor and power. For example, the king who will not seize the kingdom from Saul (2 Sam. 2-5) is nevertheless willing to seize a woman who is the object of his desire (Bathsheba); she who is seemingly passive in her seduction will later seize the kingdom for Solomon. Overall it is the story of how David gains the throne, loses it temporarily in the face of rebellions, only to regain it again, and then lose it in death. It is an intricate picture of human greatness and folly, of wisdom and sin, of faith and faithlessness, of contrasting perspectives and conflicting desires. The narratives about David also abound in irony. For example, the faithful Uriah unknowingly honors a king who has been unfaithful to him; Uriah retains his ritual purity during warfare by refraining from sexual intercourse during time of war, only to be sent to his death in battle by a king who enjoyed sexual congress with Uriah's wife instead of going to the battle ( 2 Sam 11 ).
Within the larger DH, the writer is concerned to trace the faithfulness of God in his promise to David that he would never lack a descendant sitting on this throne ( 2 Sam 7 ). This theme is played out in Kings: there were twenty kings in the southern kingdom, and twenty kings in the northern. But the northern kingdom lasted only two centuries while the southern kingdom endured for three and a half centuries. Why was life expectancy so much greater for a king in the South? In the North, there were nine different dynasties, most inaugurated by regicide or coup d'etat. In the South, by contrast, a single dynasty ruled until the Babylonian exile. God had indeed "maintained a lamp" for David ( 1 Kings 11:36 ; 15:4 ; 2 Kings 8:19 ).
David in the Psalms. The historical books recall David's skill as a musician and his concern with music in worship ( 1 Sam 16:14-21 ; 1 Chron 25 ; 2 Chron 23:18 ; 29:25-30 ; 35:15 ). The many psalms assigned to David reflect this skill and interest. However, the psalms do not just record the compositions of David; they also celebrate the promises God made to him and his descendants ( 18:50 ; Psalms 78:70 Psalms 78:72 ; Psalms 89:3 Psalms 89:20 Psalms 89:35 Psalms 89:49 ). The royal psalms ( 2 , 45 , 72 , 84 , 89 , 110 ) join with the prophets in giving voice to Israel's messianic hopes for another king like David. The royal psalms center on a king who meets universal opposition, is victorious, and establishes righteous rule from Zion over the nations. His kingdom is peaceful, prosperous, everlasting, and faithful to the Lord. He is the friend of the poor and the enemy of the oppressor. He is the heir of the promises to David. He is himself divine ( Psalm 45:6 ); like the angel of the Lord, he is both God and distinct from God.
David in the Prophets. One of the recurring themes in the Book of Samuel is reference to the "Lord's anointed" ( 1 Samuel 16:3 1 Samuel 16:6 1 Samuel 16:12-13 ; 24:6 ; 1 Samuel 26:9 1 Samuel 26:11 1 Samuel 26:16 1 Samuel 26:23 ; 2 Samuel 1:14 2 Samuel 1:16 ; 3:39 ; 19:21 ). The term "messiah" means "anointed one, " and the idea of a messiah for Israel grows out of her ideology about a righteous king, one who would be like David. The messiah as a figure is integrally involved in Israel's unique understanding of her place in history: their awareness from the beginning that God had chosen them to bring blessing to the nations. God had raised up great leaders and deliverers for Israel during her history, and he would yet do so again in the person of a messiah. The failures of the kings who followed David set him in an increasingly favorable light, so that Israel's hopes crystallized around the coming of a future king like David ( Isa 16:5 ; 55:3-5 ; Jer 23:5 ; 33:17-26 ; 36:30 ; Ezek 34:23 ; Zech 9:9 ; Zechariah 12:8 Zechariah 12:10 ). In the book of Immanuel (Isa. 7-12), the prophet speaks about the appearance of a wonder child who will be deliverer, world ruler, and righteous king.
David in the Chronicler's History. Chronicles is among the latest books of the Old Testament; it was written no earlier than the later decades of the fourth century b.c. When comparing the Chronicler's account of David and Solomon with that in Samuel/Kings, perhaps the most striking difference is the material that the Chronicler has chosen to omit. With the exception of the account of David's census (1 Chron. 21 // 2 Sam. 24), the Chronicler has not recorded incidents that would in any way tarnish the image of David or Solomon. The Chronicler does not report the rival kingdom in the hands of a descendant of Saul during David's seven years at Hebron or David's negotiations for rule over the northern tribes. He omits any account of the rebellion of Absalom and Adonijah and the actions of Amnon and Shimei; he makes no mention of David's sins in connection with Bathsheba and Uriah. The Chronicler deletes the narrative of Solomon's taking vengeance on David's enemies (1 Kings 2) and does not report the sins of Solomon which, according to Kings, were ultimately the reason for the break-up of the kingdom (1 Kings 11). Even the blame for the schism is shifted from Solomon to Jeroboam ( 2 Chron 13:6-7 ).
In Chronicles David and Solomon are portrayed as glorious, obedient, all-conquering figures who enjoy not only divine blessing, but also the support of all the nation. Instead of an aged, bed-ridden David who only saves the kingdom for Solomon at the last minute due to the promptings of Bathsheba and Nathan (1 Kings 1), the Chronicler shows a smooth transition of power without a ripple of dissent (1 Chron. 21, 28-29). David himself publicly announces Solomon's appointment as his successor, an announcement greeted with enthusiastic and total support on the part of the people ( 1 Chron 28:1-29:25 ), including the other sons of David, the officers of the army, and others who had supported Adnoijah's attempted coup ( 1 Chron 29:24 ; 1 Kings 1:7-10 ). Whereas in Kings Solomon's sins are a reason for the schism and Solomon is contrasted to his father David (1 Kings 11), in Chronicles Rehoboam is commended for "walking in the ways of David and Solomon" ( 2 Chron 11:17 ).
This idealization of the reigns of David and Solomon could be dismissed as a kind of glorification of the "good old days." Yet when coupled with the Chronicler's emphasis on God's promise to David of an enduring dynasty ( 1 Chron 17:11-14 ; 2 Chronicles 13:5 2 Chronicles 13:8 ; 21:7 ; 23:3 ), the Chronicler's treatment of David and Solomon reflects a "messianic historiography." David and Solomon in Chronicles are not just the David and Solomon who were, but the David and Solomon of the Chronicler's eschatological hope. At a time when subject to the Persians the Chronicler still cherished hopes of a restoration of Davidic rule, and he describes the glorious rule of David and Solomon in the past in terms of his hopes for the future.
David in the New Testament. David's sins do not seem that much greater than Saul's. How is it that David can be described by the narrator as "a man after his [God's] own heart" ( 1 Sam 13:14 )? Israel had looked at Saul's height and build there was no one like him among all the people ( 1 Sam 10:24 ); although God had chosen Saul, he knew what was in his heart. Human beings might look at appearance and height, but God saw David's heart. David's heart was such that he would face Goliath virtually unarmed and would triumph through his faith, while Saul cowered in his tent ( 1 Sam 17 ). The central demand of life in covenant with God, both from the mouth of Moses and Jesus, was to love him with the whole heart ( Deut 6:5 ; Mark 12:30 ).
Yet something happened to David along the way. When we first meet him in Samuel he has taken a club to kill a bear and a lion for the sake of sheep ( 1 Sam 17:34-35 ), but by the end of the book, he has decided that the sheep should die for him, although this time the sheep were people ( 2 Samuel 24:14 2 Samuel 24:17 ). David will not be the good shepherd who will give his life for the sheep.
The writers of the New Testament see in Jesus the embodiment of a righteous king for Israel. They take pains to point to his descent from David ( Matthew 1:1 Matthew 1:6 Matthew 1:17 ). The crowds and even the demons recognize him as the son of David, the Messiah of Israel ( Matt 12:23 ; 20:30-31 ; Matthew 21:9 Matthew 21:15 ). The title "Christ" is a Greek translation of the Hebrew anointed one or messiah. Jesus comes like David, as "the Lord's anointed."
Hannah's longing for a child and for a righteous king and anointed one ( 1 Sam 2:10 ) is heard again in Mary's own magnificat as she anticipates the birth of Israel's king and Messiah ( Luke 2:32-33 Luke 2:46-55 Luke 2:69 ). David had become the heir of God's promise to Abraham that he would give him a great name ( Gen 12:2 ; 2 Sam 7:9 ). David's greater son receives a names above all others ( Php 2:9-10 ). Just as David had once gone into singlehanded combat with the great enemy of Israel so Jesus would singlehandedly triumph over the enemy of our souls. He would establish an everlasting kingdom.
Raymond B. Dillard
See also Jesus Christ, Name and Titles of
Bibliography. J. Flanagan, David's Social Drama: A Hologram of Israel's Early Iron Age; J. P. Fokkelman, Narrative Art and Poetry in the Book of Samuel, 3 vols.; K. R. R. Gros Louis, Semeia8 (1977): 15-33; D. M. Gunn, The Story of King David; J. A. Wharton, Int35 (1981): 341-54; R. N. Whybray, The Succession Narrative: A Study of II Sam. 9-20 and I Kings 1 and 2.
Copyright © 1996 by Walter A. Elwell. Published by Baker Books, a division of
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Bibliography InformationElwell, Walter A. "Entry for 'David'". "Evangelical Dictionary of Theology".