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David - Feast Day December 26th

An icon of David

David means beloved. He was the son of Jesse and second king of Israel. His life falls into several distinct periods:

I. His youth, which was passed at Bethlehem of Judah. He was the youngest of 8 brothers. In the registry of the tribe of Judah only 7 of these sons of Jesse are named, probably because one died without issue. David's mother was tenderly remembered for her godliness. His ancestral history was picturesque, inspiring, and generally praiseworthy, yet at times tainted by sin. In person he was ruddy and beautiful to look upon. As youngest son, he was charged with the care of his father's sheep, and he displayed his fidelity and courage in this occupation by slaying both a lion and a bear which attacked the flock. He possessed musical gifts of high order, at this period playing skillfully on the harp and later composing psalms. When King Saul had been rejected by God, the Prophet Samuel was sent to Bethlehem and directed to anoint David as Saul's successor. There was no public proclamation of David, lest the hostility of Saul should be aroused. At most, the act was performed in the presence of the elders of the town, and, so far as appears, no word concerning the purpose of the anointing was spoken to the audience, though Jesse and David were doubtless informed. It was a crisis in David's history. "The Spirit of Jehovah came mightily upon David." Still he did not despise his humble, daily work.

II. His service under Saul. Saul, forsaken by God, distressed by an evil spirit, and subject to melancholy and insanity, was advised by his attendants to attach a harpist to his person to soothe him by music when disturbed; and one recommended David as a cunning musician, a man of valor and ready for war by reason of age, skill, and courage, even though perhaps not as yet experienced in battle, discreet, comely and pious. Saul summoned him, was benefited by his music and pleased with his character, asked Jesse that he might remain, and appointed him one of his armor-bearers. The service thus begun proved a school for David. He learned war and government, had learned with able men, and saw the dark and bright side of court life. David did not, however, as yet remain continuously with Saul. The king's condition evidently improved, and David returned frequently to Bethlehem to have an oversight over his father's sheep. While he was on a visit home the Philistines invaded Judah and encamped about 15 miles west of Bethlehem. Saul led forth the army of Israel to meet them. The 3 eldest brothers of David were with the army, and after they had been absent from home about 6 weeks, their father sent David to inquire about their welfare. Goliath's challenge stirred his spirit. He felt certain that God through him would remove the reproach from Israel, and he asked who the Philistine was that defied the armies of the living God. His words were reported to Saul, who perceiving the spirit by which the young man was animated entrusted the single combat to him. David put off the armor with which Saul had armed him, urging that he had not proved it. He showed true genius. Goliath was rendered slow of motion by weight of armor; the kind of weapon he carried obliged him to fight at close quarters; and he was vulnerable only in the face, which under the circumstances was out of reach. David approached him, unhampered in movement by any armor, with a sling, in the use of which he was proficient, with 5 stones that could be hurled from a distance, with the consciousness of the righteousness of his cause and with implicit confidence in God. The taunts between the two champions are characteristic of ancient battle. Goliath fell, struck by a stone from David's sling. After the combat, David, on his way to Gibeah of Benjamin where Saul held court or to the tabernacle at Nob, displayed the head of the giant at Jerusalem, apparently in defiance to the Jebusites, who held the stronghold, and put the armor in the tent which he thenceforth occupied. The sword was deposited in the tabernacle. When David had gone forth to meet Goliath Saul, amazed at his spirit, asked Abner whose son such a youth could be; and when David returned triumphant the king put the same question to him, only to receive the simple answer, "I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Beth-lehemite." This reply formed the sum and substance of the interview; David's ancestors were not notable for heroic achievement. The question of the king had also reference to the rank and material condition of the family, for Saul had promised to accept the victor as son-in-law and to free his father's family from taxation. He found that he had no occasion to be ashamed of the birth of his son-in-law. The victory over Goliath was a second crisis in David's life. The valor, modesty, and piety, which he displayed won for him the disinterested and enduring love of Jonathan. He was no longer permitted to repair periodically to his father's house, but he remained continuously at court. The ovation which he received aroused the jealousy of Saul, who thenceforth was David's enemy. Saul saw that Samuel's prediction of the transfer of the kingdom from him to one better than he approached fulfillment in David, and he attempted to prevent it. He endeavored to slay David with his spear. Failing in this, he reduced David in military rank and power. He gave his daughter, whom he had promised to David for a wife, to another. He endeavored to entrap him to death through his love for Michal. As David grew in favor, Saul's fear increased, and he no longer concealed his purpose to slay David. This purpose was never after allowed by Saul's adherents to be abandoned, but was fostered by a party at court. Appeased for a time, jealousy soon revived, and he again attempted to smite David with his spear. Then he would have arrested David, who, however, escaped through Michal's subtlety. David wrote Psalm 59 at this time. He fled to Samuel at Ramah, whither Saul sent to seize him, fled next to Jonathan, who inquired and informed him that there was no longer safety for him at court.

III. The fugitive hero. Without confidence in God and sunk in despair David fled from Saul. Stopping at Nob, without faith, he told a lie; then hurried to Gath and sought protection of Saul's enemy Achish. The lords of the Philistines, however, refused to harbor him who had formerly humiliated them, and they seized David. He feigned madness and made himself despicable, and Achish drove him away. He regained his faith in Jehovah, returned to Judah, and abode in the cave of Adullam, but placed his parents in Moab. A motley company, mostly of unemployed and desperate men, numbering 400 at first, increasing eventually to 600, began to join him. Among these were Abiathar, the surviving priest of Nob, who brought an ephod with him, and the Prophet Gad, whom David had probably met at Ramah. David thus had religious aid and companionship. From Adullam he went to the relief of Keilah and delivered the town out of the hands of the Philistines. On Saul's preparing to attack him there, he tied to the wilderness of Judah, whither Saul, at the instigation of the Ziphites, pursued him until compelled to desist by an incursion of the Philistines. That trouble being settled, Saul sought David in the wilderness near Engedi, but was for the time conquered by the kindness of David, who had the king in his power in the cave, but spared his life. David and his band of armed followers protected the exposed property of the Israelites from thieving marauders, and naturally enough expected some return in gifts of food. He did not levy tax or demand regular contributions of provisions. Nabal's scornful rejection of his request incensed him, and he was saved from shedding blood in his fury only by the wisdom and address of Nabal's wife, whom David married after the death of her husband. David again came into the neighborhood of Ziph, and the Ziphites again informed Saul, who marched against David. David showed his magnanimity by not slaying the sleeping king, but merely carrying away from his side his spear and cruse of water. Despairing of always escaping Saul, David left Judah and obtained permission from Achish to occupy Ziklag, a frontier town toward the southern desert. Here he remained a year and 4 months, protecting the Philistines by warring with the desert tribes, yet sometimes wasting a remote village even of Philistia. When the Philistines went to Gilboa to war with Saul, David was prevented from accompanying them by the lords of the Philistines. Upon his return he found Ziklag in ruins. He pursued the retreating invaders and recovered the spoil. When he heard the result of the battle of Gilboa, he mourned the fate of Saul and Jonathan in an elegy.

IV. King of Judah. On the death of Saul, the tribe of Judah, to which David belonged; elected him king, and he began to reign In Hebron, being then about 30 years old. The rest of the tribes, under the leadership of Abner, one of the ablest men of the time, set up Ish-bosheth, Saul's son, at Mahanaim, and for the next 2 years civil war raged between his partisans and those of David. It ended by the assassination, sorely against David's will, both of Abner and of Ish-bosheth. David's reign at Hebron continued for 7 years and 6 months. He had already several wives, and among the sons born to him at Hebron were Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah.

V. King of all Israel. On the death of Ish-bosheth, David was elected king over all the tribes, and he at once set to work to establish the kingdom. Various towns in the territory of Israel were garrisoned by the Philistines, and others were held by the Canaanites. David began a siege of the Jebusite stronghold at Jerusalem. It was deemed impregnable by its inhabitants, but David took it by storm. He wisely made it his capital, and erected a palace there by the skill of Tyrian artificers. The new capital stood on the border of Judah and Israel. Its situation tended to allay the jealousy between north and south. Its deliverance from the hands of the Canaanites opened the highway between Judah and the north, facilitated intercourse, and tended further to cement the kingdom. The Philistines twice invaded the land, and twice suffered defeat near Jerusalem. The king followed up the second victory by invading the country of the Philistines, took Gath, and by this conquest and by brief campaigns later so completely subjugated the Philistines that these hereditary enemies ceaced to trouble Israel for centuries. The kingdom being established, David turned his attention to religious affairs. He brought the Ark, with ceremony, sacrifices, and rejoicing, from Kiriath-jearim, and placed it within a tabernacle which he had pitched for it in the city of David. Next he organized the worship on a magnificent scale and planned a splendid temple. Through the divine favor he now became very prosperous. To insure the safety of the nation, to keep it from idolatrous contamination, and to avenge insult offered to it, he waged war with surrounding nations, and subdued the Moabites, the Aramaeans of Zobah and Damascus, the Ammonites, the Edomites, and the Amalekites thus extending his kingdom to the limits long before promised to Abraham. It was during the Ammonite war that David committed his great sin in the matter of Uriah the Hittite, for which God rebuked him through Nathan the prophet, and imposed the penalty that the sword should never depart from his house. David sincerely repented but the child of the union died. Lawless lust and lawless vengeance were manifested in his own family. Lawless and unfilial ambition triumphed for a time in his family and led to civil war. The spirit of dissatisfaction and tribal jealousy fomented by Absalom showed itself after the suppression of Absalom's rebellion once more in the revolt of Sheba and solemnly satisfied justice, according to the ideas of that age. In avenging Saul's bloody violation of the treaty rights of the Gibeonites, he committed a sin of pride in numbering the people, and was punished by a pestilence. He was much occupied during his reign with the organization of internal affairs and with the preparation of material for the erection of the Temple. He closed his reign by securing the succession to Solomon and by providing that the guilt of some who had escaped justice in his day should not go unpunished. He died in his seventy-first year, after having reigned 40 (or, more precisely, 40-½) years, 7-½, at Hebron and 33 at Jerusalem.

David was early regarded as the sweet singer of Israel. Ancient Hebrew tradition, much of which was unquestionably current about David's own time and shortly after, ascribed the composition of psalms to him both directly and indirectly. His fondness for music is recorded in the historical books; he played skillfully on the harp and he arranged the service of praise for the sanctuary, composed a lament over Saul and Jonathan, and over Abner, and a song of deliverance and last words. His musical activity is referred to by Amos, Nehemiah and the son of Sirach. Such work on the part of David accorded with the times, for poetry and music had long been cultivated by the Hebrews as well as by the Egyptians and Babylonians. Seven-three psalms are designated as David's in their Hebrew titles; and as in many cases the intention is to indicate that he is the author, is possibly always the intention. Psalm 59 and perhaps Psalm 7 are assigned to the time of his sojourn at Saul's court; Psalms 34; 52; 54; 56; 57; 63; 142 to the period of distress when he was a fugitive; and Psalms 3; 18; 30; 51; 60 to the years of varied experiences when he was king.

Though at times David committed deep-dyed sins, for which the early and comparatively dark period of the Church's history in which he lived and his own deep penitence are his only defense, yet his general fidelity to Jehovah was such that he was called the man after God's own heart. Speaking generally, he did that which was right in the eyes of the Lord, save in the master of Uriah the Hittite. He served his generation by the will of God, and then fell asleep. His influence on mankind can scarcely be overestimated. He, rather than his predecessor Saul, was the founder of the Jewish monarchy. His psalms; sung throughout Christendom century after century, revive his spiritual influence. He was an important link in the chain of ancestry of Him who was at once David's son and David's Lord.

Condensed from Westminster Dictionary of the Bible, by John Davis & Henry Gehman, The Westminster Press, Philadelphia 1944

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