RULERS AND EMPIRES

The Davidic Monarchy—1 Chronicles 29:26

Origins. Israel established its kingship at a time when the previous system of judges (“deliverers” and rulers) no longer met people’s expectations (1 Sam. 8:1-5). Each tribe acted autonomously with little sense of a broader national identity. It made them weak when attacked by groups such as the Philistines who did work together in stronger confederations. The Israelites wanted someone who would lead all the tribes to stand up to such threats. Reluctantly acknowledging their demands, God instructed Samuel to anoint the first king, Saul of the tribe of Benjamin, in the presence of the assembled people (1 Sam. 8; 10:20-25). A 40-year reign (circa 1050–1010 BC) followed—one that the 12 tribes never formally disputed. Then the death of Saul and three of his heirs in a battle (1 Sam. 31:1-5) left the line of succession in question.

Internal conflicts. The army then enthroned Ishbosheth, another son of Saul (2 Sam. 2:8, 9), while David’s tribe, Judah, proclaimed him king over themselves (2 Sam. 2:4). A civil war broke out between the followers of David, of the tribe of Judah, and those of the son of Saul—the other tribes (2 Sam. 2:10, 11). It resulted in much blood before all the tribes acknowledged David as king. He reigned for seven years over Judah and 33 years over all of Israel, totaling 40 years, from around 1010 to 970 BC (2 Sam. 5:1-5). During the latter part of his reign, David again faced another civil war, instigated by one of his own sons, Absalom (2 Sam. 15:1-18:18). Other challenges showed that his monarchy, according to the biblical record a result of his disobedience, was severely weakened later in his reign (2 Sam. 12:19-12). After the death of his son, King Solomon, the kingdom permanently divided (1 Kings 12:1-20).

External conflicts. David sought to further unify the tribes by choosing a new location for the capital—a more centralized and strategic one as well as a neutral site when compared to his previous one of Hebron in the south. After the conquest of Mount Zion in Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:4-10), he continued fighting against Israel’s hereditary enemies. The Philistines were still present in the territory of Israel, but after defeating them (2 Sam. 5:17-25; 21:15-22), David began recruiting them as bodyguards (2 Sam. 15:18-22). He ruled over the Moabites and Arameans of Damascus as well as the Ammonites, Edomites, and Amalekites (2 Sam. 8:1-18; 10:1-19; 12:26-31; 1 Chron. 18:1-14) and his kingdom reached the maximum extent of the land promised to Israel (Gen. 15:18-21; Deut. 11:24). The Bible records that all the nations and people David dominated paid tribute to him, but does not explain how he maintained his control. According to Scripture, the peoples living in Canaan before the arrival of the Israelites (Exod. 3.8; Josh. 3:10), under Joshua in the fifteenth century BC, were still there during David’s rule and even five centuries later, at the time of Ezra (Ezra 9:1). The Phoenicians of Tyre became Israel’s trading partners, built a palace for David with materials from Lebanon, and contributed significantly to the development of the kingdom (2 Sam. 5:11, 12). Such collaboration with Tyre increased under the reign of his son Solomon (1 Kings 5:1).

Religious policy. The Bible does not mention much about the internal affairs of David’s administration. However, it does comment on his roles in the careful preparation for the future construction of the temple by his son Solomon, and in the organization of its leaders and worship rituals (1 Chron. 22:1–29:19). According to what we learn from the biblical texts, David’s monarchy did not have the resources and ability to make the internal reforms needed to change the quality of life of the general population significantly. He was too caught up in both internal and external political conflicts (1 Chron. 22:8). Unlike what happened under his son Solomon (1 Kings 11:4-10), idolatry did not flourish during David’s reign.

Historical and archaeological elements. Excavations frequently uncover things from the time of David’s reign, but reliable historical or archaeological evidence relating to his name is scarce. In 1993 archaeologists found the Tel Dan Stele at Tel Dan in northern Israel and dated it as being from the ninth century BC, the period of the Syrian king Hazael of Damascus (1 Kings 19:15). The stele appears to mention a house of David dynasty. But not all archaeologists agree with such an interpretation since the stele is not well preserved and some words are missing.

Similarly, on the Mesha Stele, the Moabite king of the same period (2 Kings 3:4-7) refers to David’s house or dynasty. During the first century AD, the emperors Vespasian, Titus (who had traveled to Judea), Domitian, and Trajan sought to eliminate the descendants of David to avoid a seizure of power in the region (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History, 3.12,19-20,32). It shows that the ancients did not regard the historicity of David as the founding king of an Israelite dynasty a myth.

Messianic symbolism. David’s faithfulness and victories over Israel’s enemies caused his kingdom, soon after his death, to symbolize the ideal of kingship (1 Kings 3:14). God Himself declared that He would preserve Judah only because of David’s faithfulness (1 Kings 11:13). From Judah the Messiah would come to save Israel (Gen. 49:10; Num. 24:17), further developed in the promise of the Messiah as a Son of David (e.g., Ps. 72; Isa. 9:6-7), originating through the prophet Nathan’s prediction of an eternal kingdom to David, which is repeated in the New Testament (2 Sam. 7:4-16; Luke 1:32, 33; 2 Tim. 2:8; Rev. 5:5; 22:16). At the time of Jesus’ ministry, Jewish people generally believed that the Messiah would continue David’s line and rid Israel of her enemies, the Romans (Luke 1:71, 74; 24:19-21; Act 1:6). As the New Testament makes clear, however, Jesus’ reign in glory comes only at the time of His second advent (Matt. 24:30; 26:64).

 

Finkelstein and Silberman, Les rois sacrés de la Bible. À la recherche de David et Salomon.

Kitchen, On the reliability of the Old Testament.