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Learn about the historical evidence for King David, the greatest king of Israel. Discover the Tel Dan Stela, the palace of David, and the fortress city on the border with the Philistines.
David is mentioned 1,079 times in the Hebrew Scriptures, including 75 times in the superscriptions of 73 psalms, and 59 times in the Greek New Testament. Only Moses and Abraham are mentioned more frequently.
David was a shepherd, musician, poet, soldier, statesman, prophet, and king. He was a fierce fighter on the battlefield who showed endurance under hardships. He was a strong and unwavering leader and commander, yet humble enough to acknowledge his mistakes and repent of his gross sins. He was capable of tender compassion and mercy, and he loved truth and righteousness. Above all, he had implicit trust and confidence in his God Jehovah.
David was a descendant of Boaz and Ruth, and his ancestry ran back through Perez to Judah. He was the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons, and he also had two sisters or half sisters. One of David’s brothers evidently died without having children and was thus dropped from later genealogical records. David’s mother’s name is not given.
David’s hometown was Bethlehem, which was located about 9 kilometers (5.5 miles) southwest of Jerusalem. Bethlehem was sometimes called “David’s city,” but it should not be confused with “the City of David,” which is Zion in Jerusalem.
David was a complex and multifaceted figure. He was a man of great faith and courage, but he was also capable of great sin. He was a flawed individual, but he was also a man of great accomplishment. He is remembered as one of the greatest kings of Israel, and his legacy continues to inspire people today.
David as a Youth
David was first introduced as a shepherd boy tending his father’s sheep in a field near Bethlehem. He was chosen by God to be the future king of Israel, even though his seven older brothers were passed over.
David’s years as a shepherd prepared him for the challenges of kingship. He developed skills in outdoor survival, such as throwing slingstones and rescuing sheep from predators. He also developed a love for music and poetry, which he would later use to praise God.
When David was not tending sheep, he served as a court musician to King Saul. He was also Saul’s armor-bearer.
One day, David was at the battlefield where the Israelites were facing the Philistines. He was enraged when he saw the giant Goliath taunting the Israelites and challenging them to fight him. David volunteered to fight Goliath, even though he was much smaller and younger than the giant.
David killed Goliath with a slingshot and a single stone. This act of bravery made David a national hero and helped to turn the tide of the battle.
The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, omits some verses from the story of David and Goliath. However, there is evidence to support the reading of the Masoretic text, which includes these verses.
- David was a shepherd boy who was chosen by God to be the future king of Israel.
- David’s years as a shepherd prepared him for the challenges of kingship.
- David was a skilled musician and poet who used his talents to praise God.
- David killed the giant Goliath with a slingshot and a single stone, which made him a national hero.
- The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, omits some verses from the story of David and Goliath, but there is evidence to support the reading of the Masoretic text, which includes these verses.
Sections Missing in the Greek “Septuagint”
Some sections of the book of 1 Samuel are missing from the Greek Septuagint, a translation of the Hebrew Bible. These sections are 1 Samuel 17:12-31, 55–18:6a.
Some scholars believe that these sections are later additions to the Hebrew text. However, other scholars argue that the Septuagint translators may have omitted these sections because they were not considered to be part of the original text.
There is no clear consensus on whether or not these sections are authentic. However, there are some arguments that can be made in favor of their authenticity.
First, the sections do not contain any contradictions with the rest of the book.
Second, the sections provide important information about the story of David and Goliath. For example, they explain how David came to be in the army, and they describe his conversation with Saul after he killed Goliath.
Third, the sections are consistent with the style and language of the rest of the book.
Overall, there is good reason to believe that the sections missing from the Septuagint are part of the original text of 1 Samuel.
Here are some additional thoughts on the matter:
- The Septuagint is a translation of the Hebrew Bible, and it is not always accurate. The translators may have omitted these sections because they did not understand them, or because they thought they were not important.
- The sections missing from the Septuagint are also missing from some other ancient manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible. This suggests that they may not have been part of the original text.
- However, there are also some ancient manuscripts that do include these sections. This suggests that they may have been part of the original text after all.
Ultimately, the question of whether or not these sections are authentic is a matter of scholarly debate. There is no clear consensus on the matter, and both sides of the argument have valid points.
As a Fugitive
David’s popularity and success as a warrior stirred up envy in Saul, who became obsessed with killing David. David was forced to flee for his life, living as a fugitive for several years.
He first took refuge with the prophet Samuel, but when that became unsafe he fled to the Philistine city of Gath. He was only able to escape by disguising himself as a madman.
David then fled to the cave of Adullam, where he was joined by his family and about 400 other men who were also fleeing from Saul. He continued to move from place to place, always one step ahead of Saul’s assassins.
At one point, Saul came close to capturing David, but David was able to escape to En-gedi. Saul then entered the cave to relieve himself, and David had the opportunity to kill him. However, David spared Saul’s life, saying that he would not harm the Lord’s anointed.
David’s years as a fugitive were a time of great hardship and danger. However, he remained faithful to God and continued to trust in Him. God protected David and delivered him from his enemies.
- David’s popularity and success as a warrior made him a target of Saul’s envy.
- Saul tried to kill David on several occasions, forcing David to flee for his life.
- David lived as a fugitive for several years, constantly moving from place to place.
- David never gave up hope or lost faith in God, even when things were at their darkest.
- God protected David and delivered him from his enemies.
Following Samuel’s Death
After the death of Samuel, David continued to live as a fugitive. He took up dwelling in the Wilderness of Paran and extended kindness to Nabal, a wealthy stock raiser. However, Nabal was a rude and ungrateful man, and David was forced to take action. Nabal’s wife Abigail was able to calm David down, and Nabal eventually died. David married Abigail, and he now had two wives.
David then took refuge in the Wilderness of Ziph, but Saul was still hunting him down. David and Abishai snuck into Saul’s camp and stole his spear and water jug. Abishai wanted to kill Saul, but David refused, saying that it was wrong to kill God’s anointed king.
David eventually settled in Ziklag, a Philistine city. He was able to raid towns of Israel’s enemies and secure Judah’s boundaries. When the Philistines were preparing to attack Saul’s forces, King Achish invited David to join them. However, the other Philistine lords rejected David, fearing that he would turn against them.
Meanwhile, the Amalekites attacked Ziklag and burned it down. They also took captive David’s wives and children. David and his men pursued the Amalekites and recovered everything that had been stolen.
Three days later, an Amalekite came to David with Saul’s diadem and bracelet. He claimed to have killed Saul, but David knew that he was lying. David ordered the Amalekite killed for falsely claiming to have killed God’s anointed king.
- After Samuel’s death, David continued to live as a fugitive.
- He took refuge in the Wilderness of Paran and then the Wilderness of Ziph.
- He settled in Ziklag, a Philistine city.
- He raided towns of Israel’s enemies and secured Judah’s boundaries.
- The Amalekites attacked Ziklag and burned it down.
- David and his men pursued the Amalekites and recovered everything that had been stolen.
- An Amalekite came to David with Saul’s diadem and bracelet, claiming to have killed Saul.
- David ordered the Amalekite killed for falsely claiming to have killed God’s anointed king.
David As King
David was deeply saddened by the news of Saul’s death. He was not so much concerned that his enemy was dead as he was that the anointed one of Jehovah had fallen. In his grief, David composed a dirge entitled “The Bow.” In it, he lamented the death of both Saul and Jonathan, his worst enemy and his best friend.
David moved to Hebron, where he was anointed king over the tribe of Judah. Saul’s son Ish-bosheth was made king of the other tribes. However, Ish-bosheth was assassinated two years later. His assassins brought his head to David, hoping to be rewarded, but they were put to death.
This event paved the way for the tribes who had supported Saul’s son to join Judah. In time, a force of 340,822 men rallied and made David king of all Israel.
- David was saddened by the news of Saul’s death.
- He composed a dirge entitled “The Bow” in mourning.
- David was anointed king over the tribe of Judah.
- Saul’s son Ish-bosheth was made king of the other tribes.
- Ish-bosheth was assassinated two years later.
- His assassins were put to death.
- This event paved the way for the tribes who had supported Saul’s son to join Judah.
- David became king of all Israel.
Rule at Jerusalem
After ruling at Hebron for 7.5 years, David moved his capital to Jerusalem, a Jebusite stronghold, at Jehovah’s direction. He built the City of David on Zion and continued to rule there for another 33 years.
While living at Hebron, David took more wives and had more children. After moving to Jerusalem, he acquired even more wives and concubines.
When the Philistines heard that David was king of all Israel, they came up to overthrow him. However, David inquired of Jehovah and was told to go up against them. Jehovah gave David a great victory, and David called the place Baal-perazim, meaning “Owner of Breakings Through.”
David also attempted to bring the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, but this failed when Uzzah touched it and was struck down. Three months later, with careful preparations, the ark was brought to Jerusalem. David danced and leaped in joy, but his wife Michal chided him for acting like “one of the empty-headed men.” For this, Michal was barren for the rest of her life.
David arranged for expanded worship of Jehovah at the Ark’s new location. He assigned gatekeepers and musicians, and he saw to it that there were “burnt offerings . . . constantly morning and evening.”
David also wanted to build a temple-palace of cedar to house the Ark, but Jehovah said that he was not permitted to do so because he had “spilled a great deal of blood on the earth before me.” However, Jehovah made a covenant with David promising that the kingship would everlastingly remain in his family.
Jehovah also permitted David to expand his territorial rule from the river of Egypt to the Euphrates. David battled and conquered opponents on all sides, including the Philistines, Syrians, Moabites, Edomites, Amalekites, and Ammonites. These God-given victories made David a most powerful ruler.
David was always conscious that his position as king was from Jehovah. He knew that he had not earned it by conquest or inheritance.
Sins Bring Calamity
David committed a number of serious sins, including adultery and murder. These sins led to calamity in his life, including the death of his child, the rape of his daughter, and the rebellion of his son Absalom.
David’s adultery with Bath-sheba led to the death of her husband, Uriah. David tried to cover up his sin by having Uriah killed in battle. However, Jehovah saw what David had done and punished him.
David’s other sins also led to calamity. His son Amnon raped his half sister Tamar, and he was subsequently murdered by her brother. David’s son Absalom rebelled against him and tried to take the throne. The civil war that resulted led to the death of Absalom, much to David’s grief.
Despite his sins, David always showed the right heart condition by repenting and begging Jehovah’s forgiveness. He wrote Psalm 51, in which he acknowledged his sin and begged for God’s mercy.
David’s story is a reminder that even God’s chosen people are not immune to sin. However, if we repent and turn to God, he will forgive us.
- David committed adultery and murder, which led to calamity in his life.
- Jehovah punished David for his sins, but he also forgave him when David repented.
- David’s story is a reminder that even God’s chosen people are not immune to sin.
- If we repent and turn to God, he will forgive us.
Purchase of Temple Site
After David was punished for taking a census of the Israelites, he purchased the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite and offered it as a sacrifice to Jehovah. It was on this site that Solomon later built the temple.
David had always wanted to build the temple himself, but Jehovah told him that he was not permitted to do so because he had shed too much blood. However, David was allowed to gather the materials and make the preparations for the temple.
David contributed a large amount of gold and silver from his own personal fortune to the temple project. He also provided the architectural plans, which he had received by inspiration.
David organized the Levites into their many divisions of service, including a great chorus of singers and musicians. He also made sure that they were properly equipped for their duties.
David’s preparations for the temple were a testament to his faith and devotion to Jehovah. He knew that the temple would be a place where Jehovah could dwell among his people, and he wanted to make sure that it was built in the best possible way.
- David purchased the threshing floor of Ornan to build the temple.
- He was not permitted to build it himself, but he was allowed to gather the materials and make the preparations.
- David contributed a large amount of gold and silver from his own personal fortune.
- He also provided the architectural plans and organized the Levites into their many divisions of service.
- David’s preparations for the temple were a testament to his faith and devotion to Jehovah.
End of Reign
In the closing days of David’s life, the 70-year-old king, now confined to his bed, continued to reap calamity within his family. His fourth son, Adonijah, attempted to set himself up as king without the knowledge or consent of his father and, more seriously, without Jehovah’s approval. When this news reached David, he moved quickly to have his son Solomon, Jehovah’s choice, officially installed as king and sit upon the throne.
After a 40-year reign David died and was buried in the City of David. He was a man of faith and an inspired prophet of God. The prophets often referred to David and his royal house, sometimes in connection with the last kings of Israel who sat on “the throne of David” and sometimes in a prophetic sense.
In certain Messianic prophecies attention is focused on Jehovah’s kingdom covenant with David. For example, Isaiah says that the one called “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace” will be firmly established on “the throne of David” to time indefinite.
In telling Mary that she would have a son called Jesus, the angel declared that “the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David.” Jesus Christ, son of David, was both the legal and the natural heir to the throne of David. The common people also identified Jesus as the “Son of David.”
The resurrected Jesus himself also bore witness, saying: “I, Jesus, . . . am the root and the descendant of David.”
- In the closing days of his life, David’s fourth son, Adonijah, attempted to set himself up as king.
- David moved quickly to have his son Solomon, Jehovah’s choice, officially installed as king.
- David died after a 40-year reign and was buried in the City of David.
- David was a man of faith and an inspired prophet of God.
- The prophets often referred to David and his royal house.
- In certain Messianic prophecies, attention is focused on Jehovah’s kingdom covenant with David.
- Jesus Christ, son of David, was both the legal and the natural heir to the throne of David.
- The common people also identified Jesus as the “Son of David.”
- The resurrected Jesus himself bore witness that he is the “root and the descendant of David.”
The Historical and Archaeological Evidence
There is strong historical and archaeological evidence to support the existence of King David.
- The Tel Dan Stela, an inscription from the 9th century BC, refers to the “house of David.” This is the earliest extra-biblical reference to David, and it suggests that he was a historical figure.
- Recent archaeological excavations in Jerusalem have uncovered structures that date to the time of David, including a palace-like building. This evidence supports the biblical account of David’s reign as king of Israel.
- The excavation of a fortress city on the border with the Philistines also corroborates the biblical account of David’s conflict with the Philistines.
Although the evidence is not conclusive, it is nonetheless persuasive. There is no reason to doubt that King David was a real person who played a significant role in the history of Israel.
The historical and archaeological evidence for King David is somewhat circumstantial, but it is nonetheless quite persuasive. The Tel Dan Stela, the palace-like structure in Jerusalem, and the fortress city on the border with the Philistines all point to the existence of a powerful king named David who ruled Israel in the 10th century BC.
A Counter-narrative: The inscription is unique because it provides an external, non-biblical perspective on the political situation in ancient Israel and Judah. It offers a counter-narrative to the biblical account, which is invaluable for historians attempting to reconstruct the history of this period.
The Aramaic Language: The stela is written in Aramaic, which tells us something about the linguistic and cultural milieu of the time. Aramaic became increasingly important in the centuries that followed, eventually becoming one of the lingua franca of the Near East and the language of certain portions of the Hebrew Bible.
Affirmation of Biblical Figures: The mention of “the king of Israel” and “house of David” is pivotal. Prior to this discovery, there was limited extrabiblical evidence confirming the existence of the Davidic dynasty. Skeptics often questioned David’s historical existence and considered him more a figure of legend than a genuine historical personality. The Tel Dan Inscription offered a rebuttal to that skepticism, being a non-Israelite source that mentioned the Davidic line.
Clues to the Political Situation: Although the stela itself is fragmentary, its context and the events it describes give us clues about the political and military activities of the time. It suggests that the geopolitical tension between Israel and its neighbors was complex and fraught, corroborating the biblical narrative’s portrayal of constant battles and shifting alliances.
Paleographic Insights: The style of the writing, known as paleography, also provides scholars with important data on the evolution of the script, which can further aid in dating and interpreting not just this inscription but other texts from this period.
Theological Implications: From a religious viewpoint, the inscription can be seen as a tangible, extrabiblical affirmation of the biblical narrative, thereby strengthening the credibility of the Scriptures. It doesn’t prove the theological claims, but it does lend weight to the historical aspects of the biblical narrative.
In summary, the Tel Dan Inscription serves as a keystone piece of evidence in the historical and archaeological dialogue about the ancient Near East. While it raises as many questions as it answers, its discovery has provided significant insights into the complex world of Israel and its neighbors during the Iron Age.