His Reign over Judah. The reign of David is divided into two parts. The first part was over Judah, with the capitol at Hebron, and lasted seven and one-half years. During this period Ishbosheth, son of Saul, reigned over Israel in the North. It is probable that both of these kings were regarded as vassals of the Philistines and paid tribute. On account of rival leaders, there was constant warfare between these two rival kings. The kingdom of Judah, however, gradually gained the ascendancy. This is beautifully described in the Scripture "David waxed stronger and stronger, but the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker" (2 Sam.3:1). Seeing this, Abner undertook negotiations looking to the onion of the two kingdoms, but was treacherously killed by Joab. The act of Abner in coming to David was in reality one of secession. It was soon followed by the murder of Ishbosheth and the utter failure of Saul's kingdom.
His Reign Over All Israel. Saul's kingdom having fallen, Israel assembled in great numbers at Hebron and asked David to become king over all the nation. Upon his ascendancy to the throne of the united nations the Philistines sent an army into the Hebrew country. The brief record of these wars shows that they were very bitter and that at one time David was forced to take refuge in the Cave of Adullam and carry on a sort of guerrilla warfare. But finally in the valley of Rephaim he was enabled to strike such a crushing blow to the Philistines as to compel a lasting peace and leave him free to develop his kingdom. This reign of David, lasting thirty-three years after he became king of all, was the ideal reign of all the history of the Hebrews.
The element of success and chief acts of his reign may be summed up somewhat as follows: (1) His capture of Jerusalem (formerly called Jesub,) a Canaanitish stronghold that had resisted all attacks from the days of Joshua, and making it his capitol. This choice showed great wisdom. (2) His foreign relations. David's foreign policy was one of conquest. He not only defended Israel but subdued other nations. Besides the subduing of the Philistines and capture of Jebus, already mentioned, he conquered the Moabites. the Syrians, the Edomites and the Ammonites. He also made an alliance with Hiram, the king of the Phoenicians, who became his lifelong friend. (3) His home relations and policies. His policy at home may be said to be one of centralization. One of his first acts was to bring up the ark and place it on Mount Zion and to center all worship there. This would tend to unite the people and to make more powerful his authority over all the people. In line with this plan he conceived the idea of building the temple and during the years he gathered materials and stored riches with which to build it. He acted with a wise consideration for the rights of his subjects and in every way sought to promote their happiness. As a ruler, he differed very widely from the kings of other countries. He possessed none of their selfish aims. He did not oppress his subjects with heavy taxes, nor spoil them of their possessions, nor seize them for soldiers against their will. He recognized that the king was for the people and not the people for the king.
His Great Sin and Its Bitter Consequences. David's high ideals and noble chivalry could not withstand the enervating influence of his growing harem. The degrading influence of polygamy with its luxury, pleasure seeking and jealousies was soon to undermine his character. His sins and weak indulgencies were destined to work family and national disaster. These sins reached a climax in his trespass with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. In this crime he fell from his exalted position to the level of an unprincipled eastern monarch. It stands out as one of the darkest crimes of all history and "shows what terrible remnants of sin there are in the hearts even of converted men". Primitive society followed the course of nature in condemning adultery as worthy of more severe punishment than murder itself. And "no crime today involves more sudden and terrible consequences in the individual; no crime is capable of exerting as malign an influence upon the innocent family and later descendants of the culprit; no crime leaves in its wake as many physical and moral ills."
The Bitter consequences of this sin soon became apparent. Nathan brought to him a worthy rebuke and he showed himself different from other kings of his time by the bitter repentance with which he bewails his iniquity in the fifty-first Psalm. God forgave his sin but its evil consequences in his family and nation could not be removed. The nature of his chastisement is suggested in the following incidents: (1) The death of his child born to Bath-sheba. (2) Ammon, his oldest son, one of the pitiable products of his oriental harem, shamefully treated his sister, Tamar, in the gratification of his brutal lusts. (3) Absalom treacherously murdered Ammon as a matter of revenge for the outrage upon his sister, Tamar. (4) The rebellion of Absalom, his son, which almost cost David the throne and led to the destruction of Absalom. (5) The rebellion of Shebna and following events, which almost destroyed the empire. (6) Many incidents in the family and kingdom of Solomon, his son.
While David must always be judged by the social standards of his age it must be remembered that his own generation did not hesitate to condemn his act and we must not excuse in the least this awful sin. The message it has for us is supremely applicable to our present age in which social evil threatens to undermine our boasted Christian civilization.
The Inspiring Career of David. The life of David is so varied and beautiful that one finds difficulty in outlining any study of him in the space allowed here. There are several ways of studying his career. Sometimes it may be profitable to consider him from two viewpoints, (1) His character, (2) His life after he became king. For our purpose, however, it would be better to look at him somewhat as follows: (1) As a shepherd lad, where he laid the foundations of his great career. (2) As a servant at the court of Saul, where he became the object of a bitter jealousy and suffered great indignities. (3) As a refugee from Saul, during which time he exhibited his unwillingness to do wrong even against one who was doing him great injustice. (4) As a friend, especially shown in his relation to Jonathan. By it he was influenced throughout his whole career and was caused after becoming king to extend kindness to the house of Saul, his enemy.2 Sam. ch.9. (5) As a musician. His accomplishments in this field are witnessed both by his ability in the use of the harp and in the great body of psalms which he left us. (6) As a loyal subject. In no other place, perhaps, did he show more fine qualities than in this. To him Saul was God's anointed, and, though wronged by Saul and though himself already anointed to be king in Saul's stead, he remained perfectly loyal to Saul as king. (7) As a ruler. He knew how to govern both his own people and those whom he had subdued. He also succeeded in forming friendly alliances with other kings and changed the enfeebled and divided tribes into a mighty empire. (8) As a military leader. Through his skill he organized a most successful army (1 Chron.27:1-5; 2 Sam.23:8-9), and defeated at least five surrounding nations and so impressed the great world powers beyond that they did not oppose the growth of his kingdom. (9) As a servant of God. Though making his mistakes, he was a "man after God's own heart." He made Jerusalem the great center of religion and organized the priests and Levites so that their work could be done effectively and with order. The key-note of his life seems to have been expressed to Goliath (I Sam.17:45). (10) As a type of Christ. Of all the human types of Jesus in the Old Testament David is probably the most eminent. This fact makes the study of his life and experiences of great interest and profit to the Christian.
His Last Days. The last days of David are made sad because of his own weakness. The memory of his guilt and disgrace had led him to withdraw more and more from the public life and, therefore, to neglect the duties of judge and ruler. His court became the scene of plotting concerning his successor, whose name he had apparently not announced. It was only by the valuable help of Nathan that he succeeded in having his wish in the matter.
The dying words of David have in them much that is prophetic of the Messiah and points out to Solomon, his beloved son, who was to reign in his stead, the way of all success and blessing. It, however, contains what has been designated as "the greatest blot on David's character"-His charge to Solomon to put to death Shimei and Joab. Such vindictiveness does not seem to comport with his spirit manifested in the sparing of Saul in the days of his jealous hatred and in his kindness to the house of Saul (2 Sam. Ch.9). Nor does it comport with this patience formerly shown to Shimei (2 Sam.16:5-13). We can not explain these charges of hatred upon any other grounds than that of an old man in his dotage. He is "no longer his manful self."
Psalms. While the time covered by the collection of the Psalms is more than a thousand years, reaching from the time of Moses to the period of the exile, it is probably best to study them in this period. The majority of them are ascribed to David and the whole collection early became known as the Psalms of David. Reference should be made to "The Bible Book By Book" for an introduction to their study.
The Lessons of the Period. (1) Divine appointment to a great task does not guarantee one against falling into evil. (2) Luxury and the indulgence of the appetites tend to degradation. (3) The personal forgiveness of sin does not remove its evil consequences. (4) Our sins are often as harmful to others and even more so than to ourselves. (5) Righteousness exalteth a nation. (6) God controls the issues of wars.
For Study and Discussion. (1) The location of the several nations conquered by David and how the victories were won, especially the capture of Jebus. (2) David's plan to build the Temple and God's message to him II Sam. Ch.11. Point out the different elements in it. (3) Absolom's conspiracy and final defeat, II Sam. Chs.15 and 18. (4) The death of the child of Uriah's wife, II Sam. Ch.12. (5) The different times David showed kindness to his enemies, II Sam.9, 10, 16, and 19. Learn the details of each case. (6) The organization of his kingdom, II Sam.8:l6-18, 15:37, 16:16, 20:23-26; I Chron.27:33. (7) Tie rebellion of Sheba, II Sam.20:1-22. (8) The story of Adonijah, I K. Ch.1. (9) List David's last commands to Solomon, I K.2:1-9. (10) Nathan's parable to David, II Sam.12:1-9, 13-15. (11) The greatest fault of Absalom, of Joab. (12) Joab, the avenger, II Sam.2:17-32, 3:22-30, 18:9-15, 20:4-10.