Who Was King David?

The Ruler of a United Israel

King David in Prayer, by Pieter de Grebber (c. 1640)
King David in Prayer, by Pieter de Grebber (c. 1640). WikiCommons

One of the most well-known kings of ancient times is the diverse and skillful David, whose life and experiences are gathered in Tanakh throughout the Prophets (Nevi'im) and Writings (Ketuvim) in Samuel I and II, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles. 

The Early Years

David (דָּוִד, meaning "beloved") was the eighth and youngest son of Jesse of the tribe of Judah, the grandson of Boaz and the convert Ruth.

He began his life as a shepherd boy in Bethlehem (Beit Lechem in Hebrew), where he was anointed as the future king of Israel by the prophet Samuel at the command of God:

And Jesse presented his seven sons before Samuel; and Samuel said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen these." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Are these all the young men?" And he said, "The youngest still remains, and behold, he is tending the sheep." And Samuel said to Jesse, "Send and bring him, for we shall not sit down until he comes here." And he sent and brought him, and he was ruddy, with beautiful eyes, and handsome appearance. And the Lord said, "Arise, anoint him, for this is he" (1 Samuel 16:10-12). 

As a youth, he gained notoriety for killing the much-feared Philistine giant Goliath with his slingshot and for playing music for King Saul to cure his melancholy. David became quick friends with King Saul's son and heir Jonathan (Yonatan in Hebrew), which led Saul to make David his armor-bearer and son-in-law when he married Michal

Unfortunately, David's successes led Saul to become incredibly jealous and a plot to kill David arose, so he fled deep into southern Judah as an outlaw.

David quickly became a man of the people, where anyone in need could depend on him:

"And every man who was in distress, and every man who had a creditor, and every man of embittered spirit, gathered themselves to him, and he became a chief over them; and there were about four hundred men with him" (1 Samuel 22:2). 

As he had been anointed as a child, over time, David won the hearts of rulers and regular individuals alike as he awaited to take the reins as the anointed king of Israel. 

King David's Rule

After both Saul and Jonathan were killed in battle against the Philistines on Mount Gilboa, Saul's son Ishba'al was crowed king -- but so, too, was David proclaimed king in Hebron. However, Ishba'al was quickly murdered by his own courtiers and David was announced king of all Israel. 

Although Saul is considered the first king to rule over a united Israel, it is King David who truly united the kingdoms of Judah and Israel from 1,000 to 962 BCE (some say 1040-970 BCE), establishing Jerusalem as its capital and placing the Ark of the Covenant (Aron haBrit) there. He is considered to be the first successful ruler over all of Israel, establishing a mighty dynasty that was followed up by his son Solomon, who established and built the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem

In addition to his kingly successes, it is believed that David was a poet and that he is either the editor or author of the Book of Psalms (Tehillim). 

Personal Struggles

Although his kingship was considered a great success, King David's personal life and familial woes were abundant.

He fell for a woman named Bathsheba and had her husband killed so he could marry her, but God's punishment was that David and Bathsheba's first child died and David was cursed with an internal rebellion. Beyond rebellions by his son Absalom, King David witnessed his son Amnon rape his half-sister Tamar and Tamar's brother Absalom kill Amnon. 

Bonus Fact

The term used in 1 Samuel when David is anointed as the future king of Israel is the Hebrew verb mashiach (משיח), which translates as "to anoint." In ancient times, this terminology specifically referred to one who was anointed as a priest, a prophet, or a king. 

In modern times mashiach is the term used to refer to "the messiah," and one of the requirements for "the messiah" is that he will be anointed, of the house of David.

Interestingly, in Isaiah 45:1, the Persian King Cyrus is called God's "anointed one," making him the only non-Israelite/Jew to receive the honor.