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DAVID (r.1010-970 B.C.E.).

Second king of Israel. A shepherd lad, David, youngest son of Jesse, was taken from grazing his father’s sheep near Bethlehem in Judah and brought to court to soothe King Saul. David played his harp to calm the king when he was depressed by an “evil spirit,” and Saul took a liking to him. A deep friendship also developed between David and Saul’s son, Jonathan. When the Philistine giant Goliath taunted and challenged Saul’s army, David killed the giant with a stone from his slingshot. He distinguished himself in battle and married Saul’s daughter Michal. The king grew jealous of David’s popularity and repeatedly tried to kill him. David became a refugee, hiding from Saul in the mountains and later among the Philistines. Yet he managed not to fight for the Philistines when they faced Saul in battle on Mt. Gilboa and defeated him. David mourned the death of Saul and his beloved friend Jonathan in a beautiful elegy (II Sam. 1:17-27).

Long before Saul’s death, the prophet Samuel anointed David secretly, and now his own tribe, Judah, chose him king. The other tribes had crowned Saul’s son Ishbaal, and the civil war that resulted lasted two years. On the death of Ishbaal, David was acclaimed king over all Israel and ruled for 40 years.

Under David’s reign, the tribes of Israel were united and became a nation. He defeated the Philistines so soundly that they were not heard from again for centuries. He subdued the surrounding Canaanite peoples, including Aram and its capital Damascus in the north. By defeating the Edomites in the south, David gave the Israelites an outlet to the Red Sea at Ezion-Geber. David’s crowning achievement was the capture of Jerusalem from the Jebusites; he made this ancient city, sitting up on the rocky heights of Zion, the capital of Israel. There he built a splendid new tabernacle to which he brought up the Ark of the Covenant. Thus, David made Zion the center of worship and the holy city of religious pilgrimage. Jerusalem came to be called the City of David, the heart of his kingdom. David extended the boundaries of Israel to an area never again attained, except for a short period under the Hasmoneans.

King David suffered much grief. His greatest sorrow was the rebellion and death of his beloved son Absalom. David died at the age of 71, the beloved hero of his people leaving the throne of Israel to his son Solomon. He is remembered as a great warrior, as a loyal friend, and as the erring king who bowed with meekness to the prophet’s reprimand.

David is remembered as the “sweet singer of Israel”; author of the Psalms, or Tehillim; and the son of Jesse from whose stem the Messiah would spring to lead a scattered Israel back to Zion.

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