The United Kingdom of David

The United Kingdom of David

The Israelites of all the people of the Near East are the most familiar to our Judeo-Christian culture because of their role in Bible history. Islam’s roots are also in that same tradition.

Ancestral patriarchs and their descendant nomadic clans entered Canaan where they made a covenant with Yahweh who promised them this land. Then they moved to Egypt and were enslaved. They fled under Moses leadership and reentered Canaan. God revealed his law at Sinai and renewed the covenant which called for exclusive worship.

They took roots in the “promised land” and they requested of the priest prophet Samuel, ‘that we have a king as other nations have” (1 Samuel 8:5). A short time before this the Philistines who it is believed came from the Aegean Isles, settled on the south coast and became a military threat to the Israelite settlements.

The two books of Samuel deal with a period when prophetism and kingship first enter Israelite history. This history is formed from two different sources, one early which was in favor of having a king (1 Samuel 9:1-10, 16; 11:13-14), one later (post exilic) that disapproved (1 Samuel 8:1-22; 10:17-27, 12:15).

1 Samuel opens with a sketch of Samuel’s background and his dramatic call to be priest and prophet (ch. 3). There is also a history of the ark at Shiloh until it is installed in Jerusalem by David (1 Samuel 4:1-7:1).

Saul, the First King

At the end of the eleventh century BCE, Israel turned to a war lord named Saul of the tribe of Benjamin who became their first king. “He was handsome, stood head and shoulders above the people” (1 Samuel 9:2). During his troubled reign the Philistines and other incursors were held in check.

The historian presents a negative picture of Saul who displeases God in the early source by offering sacrifice prior to battle, which was the duty of Samuel the priest and prophet (1 Samuel 13:10-14). The later source attributes Saul’s falling out with God because in winning a battle with Amalek, he spared the king and everything that had value, contrary to God’s command (1 Samuel 15:8-11). Saul was never successful in uniting all the diverse tribes into one federation.

The Rise of David

The last part of 1 Samuel portrays Saul’s decline and how David’s influence grows. While tending his father Jesse’s flocks, he is secretly anointed king to be by 1 Samuel (17:15). There are two different sources that tell of David’s entrance into the court of Saul. In the early one Saul suffers a depression that only music could soothe. David, a harpist, becomes the court musician (16:14-18).

The other, a later source, shows how his defeat of Goliath (17) and other military successes increased his fame. “Saul laid claim to David that day and would not let him return to his father’s house” (18:2). David married Saul’s daughter, Michal, which also gave him claim to the throne (18:20-29).

The bards proclaim David’s greatness: “Saul has slain his thousands and David his ten thousands” (18:7). Saul in his jealousy attempts to kill David several times, who is finally forced to flee with a number of his followers. He becomes a fugitive leader. The historian makes it clear that David could have killed Saul on several occasions but did not because “he refused to lay a hand on God’s anointed” (24:7).  Saul and three of his sons, including Jonathan, die in battle with the Philistines.

David Is Crowned King

While David was a fugitive Saul gave his daughter, Michal, who was David’s wife, to Paltiel. During that time David added Abigail and Ahinoam to his harem (25).  “There followed a long war between the house of Saul and that of David in which Saul grew weaker” (2 Samuel 3:1). David demanded the return of his wife Michal, which would be his only claim to the throne.

2 Samuel presents the history of David’s reign which was for 7 1/2 years over Judah at Hebron, and then he ruled over Israel at Jerusalem (1000-962 BCE). The first eight chapters show how he consolidated his power. 2 Samuel 9 to 1 Kings 2 presents the famous court history of David which has been called the prose masterpiece of the Old Testament.

David subdued the Philistines and extended the kingdom from “the river of Egypt to the Euphrates” (Genesis 15:18). His next tactical move was the capture of Jerusalem from the Jebusites which then was called the city of David. He moved the ark of the covenant into the city where it was enshrined in a tent. This way Jerusalem would acquire a religious as well as a political and military significance.

David wanted to build a temple for the ark. However, Nathan the prophet said: “The Lord revealed that your son shall build a house and I will make his kingdom firm. Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever” (2 Samuel 7:12, 16).  This promise is celebrated by the Psalmist and the prophets. David is seen by later generations as the ideal king, God’s anointed.

The Human Side of David

David was no plaster saint! The Bible portrays him as an opportunist who used any available method to gain power. His ruthlessness was depicted in how he arranged the death of Uriah in battle so that he could add Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife, to his harem (2 Samuel 11).

After this adulterous relationship ending in murder, David is confronted by Nathan.  “The Lord says the sword shall never depart from your house because you have despised me in taking the wife of Uriah to be your wife… I will bring evil upon you out of your own house” (2 Samuel 12:10-11). David acknowledged his guilt. “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied “the Lord has forgiven your sin. You shall not die.”

As Nathan promised, David’s house was a victim of evil. His son Amnon rapes a half -sister, Tamar, and in turn Tamar’s brother Absalom slays Amnon. Later Absalom, David’s favorite son, tries to seize the throne from his father and is forced to flee. He is pursued by Joab, David’s loyal general, who thrusts three darts into the fugitive’s hart. David, when told cries out, “Absalom, my son, Absalom, would I have died instead of you” (18:33). David, enfeebled by age, has another son, Adonijah, who attempted to take the throne and Nathan along with Zadok, the priest, intervened in behalf of Solomon, Bathsheba’s son, who had been chosen by David. 

We do not know the identity of this historian other than he had intimate knowledge of the family scandals in David’s court. His narrative makes it clear that sin brings suffering even for the high and mighty. Beyond this, although David was forgiven, he still had to pay. This dramatic history using the words, thoughts, and deeds of real human beings, is presented as a morality lesson for all generations. It was not erased by 1 Chronicles written later that portrays David as virtually sinless.

"The United Kingdom of David" is one of the pamphlets on the biblical foundations of the Catholic Church written May 2008 to Nov 2010 by Deacon Paul Carlson of Minneapolis, Minnesota's St Lawrence Catholic Church / Newman Center, a Paulist Foundation. (St Lawrence is the Catholic Church of Southeast Minneapolis and is right in the heart of "Dinkytown USA".)

This blog post is a memorial serialization of those pamphlets written by Deacon Paul Carlson at the request of than Pastor/Director Fr John J. Behnke, who asked Deacon Paul to write brief answers to questions University students often encountered as Catholics.

At couple of weeks before Deacon Paul's death, he said: "If there are any financial gains made from the blog serialization of my pamphlets, please have the money given to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers, because what they do is so important." If you can, send memorials to St. Lawrence Parish and Newman Center or Paulist Fathers at 1203 Fifth Street, S.E., Minneapolis, MN 55414. 

Remember Deacon Paul Carlson in your prayers, as well as all the other souls of the faithful departed, who have died in the grace of Jesus Christ.