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Outlines Of Jewish History -Rev. Francis E. Gigot D.D.



              1. Rapid Consolidation of his Power.


              2. Final Recognition by all Israel.






              1. His Captial and Court:

              Comparison with Eastern princes.




              2. Political Administration:

              Military organization.


                            Social institutions.




              3. Ecclesiastical Arrangements:

              The Ark on Mount Sion.


                            Great religious functionaries.


                            Priestly and Levitical organization.




              4. Outward Relations:

              His wars: their character.


                            Pacific relations: their happy results




              5. Extension and Prosperity of his Empire.






              1. His Fall and its Punishment.


              2. His Restoration,—subsequent faults,—death.


              3. Character of David.


§ 1. First Years at Hebron

1. Rapid Consolidation of the Power of David. It was only at God’s bidding that after the death of Saul David removed with his band of men and his family from Siceleg to Hebron (2 Kings 2:1–3). This ancient city, the burial-place of the patriarchs, situated among the hills of Juda, some twenty miles southwest of Jerusalem, was well fitted for the capital of the kingdom soon to be started by David. For, as long as his pretensions to the Jewish crown were recognized only by the men of his tribe, Hebron was the most central as well as the strongest city of his dominions. Here the chiefs of Juda, who had probably opposed from the first the accession of a Benjamite to the throne, gathered around him, and at once elected him as their king, an election which David hastened to publish to the country not yet invaded by the Philistines (2 Kings 2:4–7).

Meanwhile, Abner, the general, and uncle of Saul, had proclaimed Isboseth king, at Mahanain, on the east of the Jordan—the modern Mukkumah, between Phanuel and Es Salt—where, after the defeat of Gelboe, the broken remnants of the Israelite army had probably gathered. From this place, celebrated in the history of Jacob (Gen. 32:2, 10), Abner crossed the Jordan, and gradually succeeded in clearing the country from the Philistines and in subjecting it, with the exception of the territory of Juda, to the rule of Isboseth (2 Kings 2:8, 9). He then endeavored to conquer Juda; hence a civil war, or rather a protracted series of skirmishes, the general result of which is described as “the house of Saul decaying daily, but David prospering and growing always stronger and stronger.” In point of fact, whilst David felt strong enough to secure to himself alliance through marriage with powerful families in the land, Isboseth became so weak and so entirely under the power of Abner that this all-powerful general finally took a public step which, in those days, was regarded as implying an open claim to the throne (cfr. 2 Kings 12:21; 3 Kings 2:21); and when rebuked for it by his master, swore that he would henceforth join David’s party and insure its success (2 Kings 2:10–3:11).

2. David Recognized by all Israel. After his irretrievable rupture with Isboseth, Abner opened negotiations with David, who accepted with joy his first advances and simply required, for a league between them, that Michol should be given back to her first husband. This was, of course, promptly done, and Abner and his companions were soon welcomed into David’s camp. Then rapidly followed, though without the consent of the King of Juda, the successive murders of Abner and Isboseth (2 Kings 3:12–30; 4).

The death of the latter made David’s way to the throne over all Israel absolutely clear, for the sole direct surviving heir of Saul was Miphiboseth, the infirm and young son of Jonathan, who could not be seriously thought of as a competitor for the crown. All things pointed to David as the only possible head of the nation. The Philistines were restless and disunion at this moment might be fatal. A leader was naturally found in David, a man of common descent, a tried and well-approved commander, the chosen of Jehovah. The ancients of Israel, who had long wished to make him king (cfr. 2 Kings 3:17), with their followers in very large numbers assembled at Hebron and “anointed David to be king over all Israel” (2 Kings, 5:1–3): he had reigned seven and one-half years in Hebron (cfr. DEANE, David, p. 94, sq.).

§ 2. Glorious Rule of David in Jerusalem

1. His Capital and His Court. David’s first care upon coming to the possession of the entire kingdom was to secure a capital which could not excite the jealousy of any tribe in Israel and yet would be worthy of this glorious destiny. This capital he found in Jerusalem, the strong city of the Jebusites, which, as it lay on the confines of the tribes of Juda and Benjamin, had never belonged to either (cfr. Judges 19:12), and of which he took possession through the heroic exertions of his men and of Joab in particular (2 Kings 5:6–8; 1 Paralip. 11:4–6).

At the time of its conquest by David, Jerusalem was but a very small town, the exact site of which has been only recently determined by a close examination of Scriptural passages (notably of Nehemias 3:1, sq.), and by careful excavations conducted in the Holy City itself. These recent investigations seem to prove conclusively that the fortress-town captured by David’s troops and enlarged by him—hence it was called “the City of David”—occupied only the hill between the Cedron and Tyropœon valleys, to the south of Mount Moriah, from which it was separated by a ravine which was filled up somewhat later on (cfr. PELT, Histoire de l’Ancien Testament, tome ii, p. 28, sq). On this hill—which is properly Mount Sion—David built himself a palace with the aid of the Phenician artists whom Hiram, King of Tyre, supplied to him. He then surrounded himself with a royal estate hitherto unknown to Israel, but resembling in many ways that of the great Eastern monarchs of the time. He conformed to Oriental opinion, which regarded the multiplication of wives as a necessary proof of the magnificence of the ruler, and hence to the several wives he had already taken in Hebron he added others after his settling down in Jerusalem. By thus acting, he indeed satisfied his own pleasure or political interests and added to the magnificence of his court (for each wife had a separate splendid establishment), but he also prepared for himself much family sorrow and trouble, and at the same time introduced into his palace a luxury and worldliness tending to assimilate the habits of his court and the sentiments of the courtiers to those of other Oriental potentates. In point of fact, he had his own royal mule especially known as such (3 Kings 1:33), and his royal seat or throne in a separate chamber or gateway in the palace (3 Kings 1:35). The highest officers of the court, even the Prophets, did not venture into his presence without previous announcement, and when they did enter it was with the profoundest obeisance and prostration (2 Kings 9:6; 14:4, 22, 23; 3 Kings 1:16, 23, etc). His followers who, up to the time of his accession, had been called his “young men,” “his companions,” henceforth became his “servants,” “his slaves” (2 Kings 10:2, etc). Finally, all used in addressing him magnificent titles which bear a striking resemblance to those we find applied to the Egyptian monarchs in the Tell el-Amarna tablets; compare for instance 3 Kings, 1:24, 36, with Records of the Past, new series, vol. v, p. 66, sq. (see STANLEY, Lectures on the Jewish Church, vol. ii).

2. Political Administration. Although David thus introduced into Israel a royal estate absolutely unknown under his predecessor, yet he did not change the predominant feature of the Jewish monarchy; his reign, as that of Saul, was to be spent in defending the country against its various enemies (3 Kings 5:3), and this is why one of the principal cares of his administration was to keep a standing army on an excellent footing. For this purpose, he divided the national forces into 12 divisions of 24,000 men, each division being liable to be called on to serve in their respective months (1 Paralip. 27:1–25), and placed the whole army under the command of Joab, who had obtained this most important dignity under the walls of Jerusalem. He no doubt realized that for the defence of a hilly country like Palestine, cavalry and numerous chariots would be of little avail; and hence, differently from the armies of the other nations, that of Israel remained under him made up exclusively of infantry and supplied with only a few chariots (cfr. 2 Kings 8:14). He, of course, maintained the body-guard, which had been instituted by Saul, and gave its command to the distinguished Levite, Banaias, son of Joiada (2 Kings 23:19, sq.). To this he added a kind of military order composed of 600 select men with the special title of Gibborim, heroes, or mighty men, under the command of Abisai, his nephew (2 Kings 23:8–39; 1 Paralip. 11:9–46).

Side by side with this military organization, David created or developed several social institutions. While he himself was the head of all government, civil and military, he did not supersede the time-honored authority of the heads and elders of tribes, but “he extended and improved it, especially by distributing a large portion of the Levites through the country, of whom no fewer than 6,000 were made officers and judges (1 Paralip. 23:4). For developing the material resources of the country, he had storehouses in the fields, in the cities, in the villages and in the castles; there were vineyards and wine-cellars, and cellars of oil, superintended each by appointed officers; in different valleys herds and flocks grazed under the care of royal herdsmen and shepherds; an officer, skilled in agriculture, presided over the tillage of the fields; the sycamore and olive trees were under the eye of skilful foresters,” etc. (1 Paralip. 27:25–31. BLAIKIE, Manual of Bible History, p. 254).

3. Ecclesiastical Arrangements. As David had made Jerusalem the centre of social and political life in Israel, so he resolved to make it the centre of religious worship by removing to Mount Sion the Ark of the Covenant, which was then at Cariathiarim. For this purpose he held a consultation with the Jewish elders, who readily approved his design. His first attempt met indeed with a mortifying defeat, when the priest Oza was smitten with instantaneous death for having even unwittingly touched the Ark (2 Kings 6:1–11; 1 Paralip. 13); but three months afterwards he succeeded in carrying this symbol of Jehovah’s favor and presence, in solemn procession and amidst hymns of triumph, into the Jewish capital. Perhaps, even at this time, he cherished the project of erecting a magnificent temple to the God of Israel, and thereby completing the work of religious centralization; it is only later on, however, when he had done with his various wars, that he saw his way to submit this undertaking to the approval of the prophet Nathan. At first the prophet encouraged, but afterwards, in God’s name, objected to David’s project, and told him that this glorious work was reserved for his son and successor. It is in connection with this announcement that Nathan revealed to David the great future which awaited his race. His house, he was told, should reign forever over Israel, and his seed would erect to Jehovah a temple and would be raised to Divine sonship. In this glorious announcement, Jewish and Christian traditions have ever seen a prediction of the Messias, the greatest Son of David, and the eternal Ruler over the house of Jacob; and St. Peter declares that David, being “a prophet,” understood it of Christ (Acts 2:30, 31). No wonder then that the Jewish monarch found in it an ample compensation for his disappointment at not being allowed to build a temple to Jehovah, and that his prayer before the Ark on this occasion expresses so fervently his thanks for the promise, and his desire for its fulfilment (2 Kings 7; 23:1, sq.; 1 Paralip. 17).

Having thus provided, as far as it lay in his power, for the unity of government and worship, David surrounded himself with four great religious dignitaries whose principal duty was to guide him in all ecclesiastical matters of importance. These were the prophets Gad and Nathan, his constant advisers, and the two high priests Abiathar and Sadoc, who represented the two rival houses descending from Aaron. These latter were especially charged to superintend Divine worship, the former in Jerusalem, where the Ark now rested, the latter in Gabaon, an ancient place of worship where the Tabernacle was still preserved. Naturally enough, there were in Israel at this time other religious functionaries inferior in rank to these four great dignitaries of David, and working under their direction; they probably formed two great classes: (1) that of prophets especially instructed in singing and music under Asaph, Heman the grandson of Samuel, and Idithun (1 Paralip. 25); (2) that of Levites or attendants on the sanctuary, who divided among themselves the functions directly connected with Divine worship. As a matter of fact, it is to this period of Jewish history that the first book of Chronicles refers the introduction of that system of courses further elaborated later on, whereby the whole sacerdotal body was divided into classes, named after their respective chiefs and presided over by them. They carried out their functions week by week, their particular duties being apportioned by lot. The rest of the Levites, to the number of 38,000, ranging from twenty years of age and upwards, received also a special organization (1 Paralip. 24; cfr. also 2 Paralip. 31:2).

4. Outward Relations. Whilst thus engaged at home in introducing into every department of administration something like system and order, David did not lose sight of what the circumstances of the time required of him in connection with the various surrounding nations. It was his mission to pursue and bring to a successful issue the great work of liberating his people from their enemies which had been begun by Saul; and, in point of fact, almost his entire life was spent in wars along all the borders of Israel. On the southwest, he fought against the Philistines, and took from these inveterate enemies of the Jews the town of Geth and a great part of their dominion. On the southeast, he conquered and established garrisons in the territory of Edom. On the east of the Jordan, he attacked and well-nigh exterminated the Moabites, whilst on the northeast, he overthrew the Syrians of Soba as well as those of Damascus who had marched to the defence of their kindred. Finally, he waged a protracted war against the Ammonites, who had entered into a defensive alliance with several of the Syrian princes, and wreaked upon them a frightful vengeance. Of course, of all these wars the Biblical narrative gives us little more than a brief mention; yet it is sufficient to make us feel how severe was the treatment which David inflicted upon the conquered. Thus we read of the Moabite prisoners that he put two-thirds to death, and granted life to only one-third (2 Kings 8:2), and of the Ammonite cities compelled to surrender, that “bringing forth the people thereof he sawed them, and drove over them chariots armed with iron, and divided them with knives and made them pass through brickkilns” (2 Kings 12:31). Efforts have been made in various ways to account for the peculiar barbarity of such treatment; it has been said, for instance, that David belonged to a barbarous age, that cruelty has ever been a part of Oriental tactics to strike enemies with terror, that in the case of Ammonites (and possibly also in the case of the Moabites), these cruelties were a retaliation for a gross provocation (2 Kings 10:2–4; 1 Paralip. 29:1, sq.), etc. It seems, however, that these excuses, either separately or collectively, do not cover the whole ground, and leave David’s character in regard to his treatment of the conquered, stained with unjustifiable atrocities (2 Kings 8:1, sq.; 1 Paralip. 18:1, sq.)

It is only to the northwest of Palestine, that we find David keeping up carefully pacific relations. It seems that the Phenicians, having helped the Philistines in their first wars against him, soon reversed their policy and showed themselves anxious to be on friendly terms with the young and growing nation of the Jews; and it is certain that the Jewish monarch was no less anxious to cultivate the friendship of a people whose aid as to materials and workmen he needed so much for the various buildings the erection of which he either carried out or contemplated. This contact with the heathen outside Jewish territory, which David was not so prone to seek as his son and successor, led to good results. The Israelites learned therefrom something of the useful and ornamental arts, and this prepared the way for the positive achievements of the age of Solomon (1 Paralip. 22).

5. Extension and Prosperity of the Empire. As the outcome of his successful wars, David had succeeded in extending the frontiers of Israel’s dominions to the very limits promised to Abraham long centuries before (Gen. 15:18). His empire included besides Eastern and Western Palestine several tributary kingdoms, and extended from the Great Sea to the Euphrates and from the mountains of Lebanon to the eastern arm of the Red Sea. Its area was about 60,000 square miles, and its population nearly 5,000,000. This was probably the largest empire in the Oriental world at the time, and it had been obtained by faithfulness to theocratic principles, as is suggested by what we read in 2 Kings 7:9, that Jehovah “made him (David) a great name, like unto the name of the great men that are in the earth.” David’s own feelings of gratitude to God for so much glory are expressed in that noble psalm of thanksgiving, which is found in both the second book of Kings (chap. 22) and the book of Psalms (Ps. 17).

As might naturally be expected, the nation at large felt proud of the numerous conquests which had been achieved by its leader, but more particularly did it feel grateful for the unexampled prosperity which prevailed throughout the land before the great crime of David with Bethsabee. Up to that fatal moment, the public mind was united in promoting the welfare of the country, and under the wise direction of a strong, centralized government, agriculture and industry soon reached a flourishing condition.

§ 3. Fall and Last Years of David

1. His Fall and its Punishment. It was during the war with the Ammonites that David fell into those most aggravated sins of adultery and murder, which compromised almost entirely the unity and prosperity of his empire because of the long series of family, personal and public calamities with which God visited him (2 Kings 6–12:14).

The first disgraceful transaction which followed in the line of judgment upon David’s house, was the incest of Amnon, followed two years later, by the death of that worthless prince, through the agency of Absalom (2 Kings 13:1–29). For this offence, Absalom himself so tenderly loved by the king, was obliged to take to flight, and actually spent three years with the Syrian king of Gessur (2 Kings 13:30–39).

The next punishmeut fell heavily upon the entire kingdom. Absalom, having been recalled and restored to favor, started a rebellion and usurped the throne. Accordingly, David flying from his capital, passed east of the Jordan, where he made a stand against his unnatural son, whilst the latter entered Jerusalem in triumph (2 Kings 14, 15. HIBBARD, Palestine, p. 258, sq.).

2. David’s Restoration, Subsequent Faults and Death. It can hardly be doubted that if Absalom had not followed the insidious advice of a secret friend of David,—thereby wasting precious time in striving to collect a large army from the whole nation,—but had at once pursued his “weary and weak-handed father” with a comparatively small body of men, he would have secured the final success of his revolt. Absalom’s delay saved David, around whom a powerful army soon assembled, east of the Jordan. A severe battle was fought which resulted in Absalom’s defeat and death, in the break up of his insurrection and in the restoration of his father (2 Kings 16–18).

Scarcely was David restored when a new revolt broke out. The northern tribes took it ill that the men of Juda should have presumed to reinstate the king without their concurrence. In consequence there followed an insurrection headed by Seba, a Benjamite, which for some time threatened more evil to David than even the revolt of Absalom, but which was ultimately quelled by the valiant, though most unscrupulous Joab (2 Kings 19, 20).

After a long famine and a severe war with the Philistines which followed soon afterwards (2 Kings 21), David, moved probably by some ambitious design contrary to the theocratic character of a Jewish king, had a military census taken by his officers. This was a serious and public fault against the essential character of the Constitution of Israel, and was therefore punished by a fearful pestilence which carried away no less than 70,000 Israelites. At length the prayer of the humbled monarch arrested the destroyer (2 Kings 24; 1 Paralip. 21).

The declining years of David were also marked by factions, which on the question of the royal succession soon to be opened, divided the army, the royal household and even the priesthood. Adonias, the eldest surviving son of David, upheld by Joab and Abiathar, took measures to procure for himself the right of succession, and caused a powerful diversion in the public mind in his favor. This roused Bethsabee, the mother of Solomon, and Nathan, the prophet, who immediately induced David to have Solomon inaugurated king and successor with due form and solemnity (3 Kings 1). To him alone, the aged monarch intrusted the charge of building a house to Jehovah (1 Paralip. 22), the materials of which he had himself gathered in great quantity during the last ten years (1 Paralip. 27, 29). After Solomon’s coronation David lived but a short time: his rule had lasted forty years, thirty-three of which were spent in Jerusalem (3 Kings 2:11).

3. Character of David. Few rulers have been more sincerely admired and more universally praised than David the great founder of the Jewish monarchy. It is, indeed, im possible to justify all his acts or to regard him as a perfect character, for even a brief study of his life as described in the Biblical narrative discloses faults numerous and considerable, in truth those very faults which one might naturally expect to find in the chieftain of an Eastern and comparatively barbarous people. Thus, in his exile from the court of Saul, he appeared at times not much better than a freebooter, who had recourse, when he deemed it expedient, to craft or even falsehood. In Hebron and in Jerusalem he had his harem, like other Eastern kings. He waged war and revenged himself on his foreign enemies with merciless cruelty, like other warriors of his age and country. Adultery and murder and the unlawful numbering of his people were three deep stains on his character and memory, and his parting advice to his son not to spare Joab and Semei is not perhaps absolutely excusable.

These are so many dark shadows which can be noticed in the Biblical picture of David’s reign, because Holy Writ presents to us not the panegyric, but the truthful record of the deeds of an Oriental monarch. But they should not make us lose sight for a moment of the bright and lovely and holy features of the character of David as drawn in the inspired narrative. Before he reaches the throne he stands before us adorned with the perfect innocence of his lonely shepherd life, with that bravery and trust in Jehovah which makes him meet Goliath with his rustic weapons; with that deep respect for the anointed of the Lord which causes him to spare time and again the life of Saul, his unjust and fierce persecutor. Called to the throne by the will of God and the free choice of his nation, he assumes the reins of government with a vigor which contrasts with the long years of weakness of the preceding ruler, and which soon introduces system and order into all the branches of public administration. Never any complaint is heard against his manner of rendering justice; and he is remarkable by his valor in an age of warriors, no less than by his piety and constant adherence to the exclusive worship of God in a time and nation whose bent was towards sensual idolatry. His inspired canticles—for he composed many psalms despite the negations of destructive critics—whilst revealing his poetical genius, make us acquainted with the inward feelings of his soul, and have caused Jewish and Christian traditions to consider him as the royal prophet of Israel. His lamentable falls he more than expiated by the depth of his sorrow and the humility of his resignation under God’s punishments. In a word, he was the great man of his age, and in almost all respects, the model of a theocratic ruler, “an example worthy of the imitation of his successors, and according as these appear on comparison with him, the sacred writers estimate their characters” (JAHN, Hebrew Commonwealth, p. 76; cfr. also 3 Kings 15:3, 11; 4 Kings 14:3; 16:2; 18:3, etc.).

Finally, through almost “all the circumstances of his life, David has been regarded as typical of his great Son. His birth at Bethlehem, his private unction there, his victory over the giant foe who had defied the army of the living God, his sweet music which put to flight the evil spirit, the persecutions that he endured, the compassion and forgiveness which he exhibited, his zeal for the House of God, his wars and triumphs over heathen nations, his rejection by his own people, the treachery of his tried comrade, his final victory over all opposition—all these and such like details have a prophetic and typical import and speak to the Christian of the love and sufferings and triumphs of Jesus” (DEANE, David, p. 221).

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