Discuss the international and domestic strategies by which David attained kingship over Judah and Israel: what obstacles stood between him and his goal, and how successful was he in overcoming them?


(Main sources for the history of David: I Sam 16 – II Kings 2, supplemented by I Chronicles. Some mentioning of him elsewhere, but mainly referring to him as an emblem of the dynasty of Jerusalem. A number of Psalms has superscriptions referring to David.)

A number of obstacles stood in David’s way of attaining kingship; first and foremost Saul and his fear of David. David first became king in the town of Ziklag, as an appointee of Achish (probably Achaios, or "Achaean") of Gath but secrectly continued to champion the Israelites from there.

A domestic strategy was by marital diplomacy i.e. marriage to several strategically important women; supposedly Saul’s former wife and David’s own sister. His first wife, Ahinoam, was from Jezreel in the Jezreel Valley (the southern Jezreel was unoccupied). The Bible's only other Ahinoam was Jonathan's mother: David took her from Saul. Abigail, David's second wife, was probably David's sister. Her first husband, Nabal, was a man of parts in Judah (I Sam. 2:32; I Chr. 2:17). Marriages with Ahinoam and one of Saul's daughters (Michal/Merab) staked a claim on Saul's kingdom. Marriage with Abigail established a claim on Judah. A marital alliance with the king of Geshur (in the Golan) then surrounded Israel.

Initially when Saul began to fear the popularity of David, it was the friendship with Saul’s son Jonathan, which saved David and because of which he was able to escape and join the Philistine Achichish. It must perhaps be considered a strategy to keep a good relationship with people close to Saul’s circles of power, and so friendship with Jonathan and marriage with Michal/Merab insured David.

An international strategy was to strike useful deals and alliances with surrounding city-states fx the Ammonites and Tyre. This was a way to coerce other city states to join David, as they found themselves surrounded by David’s allies. David added appeals to Transjordan to defect from Ishbaal (II Sam. 2:5–7), made an early alliance with the Ammonites, and, late in his reign, made an alliance with Tyre. Combining the peripheral powers with alliances in Philistia, another border region, David engulfed the northern tribes. He enlisted Gibeonites north of Jerusalem and other mercenary elements, including "Gittites," some of whom stemmed from Kiryath-Jearim, a Gibeonite town. His coalition was directed almost exclusively against the denizens of Israel's heartland.

(Source: Halpern, Baruch, et al. "David." Encyclopaedia Judaica. Ed. Michael Berenbaum and Fred Skolnik. 2nd ed. Vol. 5. Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA, 2007. 444-458. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 29 Oct. 2013.)

PZ on David's Rise to Power. See below.

37. David's Rise to Power

Discuss the international and domestic strategies by which David attained kingship over Judah and Israel: what obstacles stood between him and his goal, and how successful was he in overcoming them?

Summary: There were many obstacles between David and his goal of acquiring kingship. First, he was not part of the royal family. But he solved this by establishing and strengthening his ties with Saul's court. He played the harp in Saul's court, he killed Goliath for Israel, he had a strong friendship with Jonathan, and he was willing to marry Merab and ended up marrying Michal, both daughters of Saul. Also, David married Aḥinoam, perhaps a former wife of Saul.  

Second, although David had been anointed as king, Saul remained king and could not be moved. Moreover, Saul continually hounded David to kill him. During this time, David was able to preserve his own life by forming a militia. With this militia, he demonstrated his power by fighting against Judah's enemies and by rescuing Judean cities. David also formed ties with non-Israelites near Judah which also protected him while he was hounded by Saul. He also formed ties with the Transjordanian area. 

Third, David had to gain legitimacy for the throne before the people of Judah and Israel. He did this by marrying Saul's daughters and by marrying Abigail. Thus, he gained legitimacy before Israel by marrying Saul's daughters and he gained legitimacy before Judah by marrying Abigail and by inheriting the wealth of Nabal. He also won the support of Judah by sending gifts to the elders of Judah. 

Finally, after Saul's death, David needed to solidify his power over Israel. He did this by destroying the house of Saul. Additionally, established his kingship over Judah and all Israel in Hebron. Later, he moves his capital to Jerusalem to rule from a center that is not tied to the north or the south.

I. The Texts

*The Biblical text is our source of information on David and his rise to the throne. Collins points out that the "History of David's Rise" is identified as 1Sam 16:14–2Sam 5; also, some will add 1Sam 16:1-13. This section recounts the David's initial anointing, his defeat of Goliath, his interaction/conflicts with Saul, his marriages, his contact with Philistines, death of Saul, David's suppression of Saul's heirs, and the establishment of David as official king over all of Israel. On the other hand, the material that follows (i.e., 2Sam 9–2Kgs 2) is known as the "Court History of David," aka, the "Succession Narrative." This is supposedly an apologetic to defend David's actions and his right to rule. For this essay, the "History of David's Rise" will be relevant. But some information will also be discussed form the "Succession Narrative."

*How was it that David was able to rise to power despite the existence of a ruling monarch, namely, Saul? The following survey will present different events from David's life, as depicted in the Biblical text, which display certain strategies and techniques that David employed which eventually led him to become king over all of Israel.

II. Outline of 1Sam16–2Sam 5 (aka, "History of David's Rise")

*The following events are outlined as they are presented in the Biblical text. However, the analysis of these events in the following section will not be chronological but rather will be typological!

David anointed by Samuel (1Sam 16)

David defeats Goliath (1Sam 17)

Saul resents David; "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (1Sam 18:7)

David's marries Saul's daughter, Michal (1Sam 18)

Saul hounds David; Jonathan supports David (1Sam 19-20)

David's 400 Men; David Saves Keilah (1Sam 22-23)

David spares Saul (1Sam 24)

David Marries Abigail of Carmel (Southern Judah) (1Sam 25)

David spares Saul again (1Sam 26)

David Allies with Philistines and then Rejected by Philistines (1Sam 27, 29)

Amalekites Capture David's Wives and Spoil and David Regains Everything (1Sam 30)

Saul and Jonathan die in battle with Philistines (1Sam 31)

David anointed as King of Judah in Hebron (2Sam 2)

Ishboseth (son of Saul) is made king over Israel (2Sam 2)

Israel and Judah at War (2Sam 2)

Abner, general of Israel, joins David; Joab murders Abner (2Sam 3)

Ishboseth of Israel is murdered (2Sam 4)

David reigns over Judah and Israel (2Sam 5)

David conquers Jerusalem (2Sam 5)

Philistines defeated and Ark is brought to Jerusalem (2Sam 5-6)

III. Strategic Rise to Power

A. Domestic Strategies 

1) Early Heroism & Ties with the Saul's Court:

*Playing the harp (1Sam 16:23): When Saul had a distressing spirit, David was summoned to play the harp for him and so Saul's spirit was placated. Thus, David had access to Saul's court.

*Defeat of Goliath (1Sam 17): Although, it's difficult to know for certain whether or if this event occurred, nevertheless, it is quite possible that David defeated a giant of sorts and thus gained respect from Israelites. He was lauded with the words, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands" (1Sam 18:7). So his heroic military career began.

*Friendship with Jonathan: 1Sam 18:1 reads, "the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul." In 1Sam 19, we read that Jonathan "delighted greatly in David" and that he warned David of Saul's planned murder of David. In 1Sam 20, Jonathan vows loyalty to David because Jonathan "loved him as he loved his own soul" (1Sam 20:17). A cynical way to view David's friendship with Jonathan is to see it as one of David's tactics to gain a tie to Saul's court. Later, Jonathan's friendship with David was used by David for self-preservation. This is of course an interpretation of the text. The text does not intimate such a cynical view.

2) Political Marriages with Merab, Michal, and also Aḥinoam:

*Marriages in the ancient world were politically motivated. If someone claims the wives or concubines of the king, in essence, he is claiming the throne. Levenson points to several examples to show elsewhere in the Bible that the marriage could play an essential role in a man's rise to power. Two men in David's family, Absalom and Adonijah, attempt to gain power by means of claiming royal wives. Absalom sleeps with David's concubines (2Sam 16:21-22); this can be viewed as an attempt to win the throne of David. Adonijah asks to marry Abishag, wife of David inherited by Solomon. King Solomon even comments on Adonijah's request of Abishag –"You might as well ask for the kingdom!" (1Kgs 2:13-25). Thus, one can interpret David's marriages to Merab, Michal, Abigail, Aḥinoam, and Maacah as politically motivated (Abigail and Maacah discussed below).

Saul first offered Merab as wife to David, but then Saul gave her away to Adriel (1Sam 18:17-19). Instead, Michal, who loved David, was given by Saul to David and David accepted the offer (1Sam 18:20-21, 27). Michal rescued David from Saul (1Sam 19). Later, Saul gave Michal away to Palti as wife (1Sam 25:55). After Saul's death, and at the establishment of David's throne, David reclaimed Michal as a wife (2Sam 3:13-16). One can view David's initial marriage with Michal as an attempt to break into the royal family and thus have a right to the throne. Additionally, Collins views David's reclamation of Michal (2Sam 3:13-16) as not merely a romantic action but rather a political move done by David out of expediency since he was consolidating his power and validating his right to the throne. Thus, he reclaimed Michal just prior to being enthroned as king. This would have granted him more legitimacy over the throne of Israel.

David also married a certain Aḥinoam, the Jezreelite (1Sam 25:43). It is interesting that Saul was also married to a Aḥinoam (1Sam 14:50)! Levenson has argued that this is perhaps the same Aḥinoam. Thus, if David claimed Aḥinoam, the wife of Saul, this is clearly an attempt to ascend the throne and rule over Israel.

3) Formation of a Private Militia & Demonstration of Military Force:

*Militia of 400/600 Men (1Sam 22-30): 1Sam 22:2 reads, "And everyone who was in distress, everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him (i.e. David). So he became captain over them. And there were about four hundred men with him." In essence, David formed a opposing militia to the militia of Saul. All those who were not entirely loyal to Saul, joined with David. Thus, he was able to protect himself. In addition, his prominence among those devoted to him grew.

*David Saves Keilah (1Sam 23): The Philistines attacked Keilah which was a city in the western hills of Judah. The Philistines were robbing Keilah. David went to Keilah and attacked the Philistines and took their livestock. Thus he saved Keilah. 

*Nabal episode (1Sam 25): In short, Nabal was a rich powerful guy in the territory of Carmel, just south of Hebron. David came to this territory. His men apparently protected the shepherds of Nabal (we hear of this later in the story). In return, David asked for goods. Nabal refused. David decides to kill Nabal and destroy his men. Abigail, Nabal's wife, hears of this and comes to David and asks him to relent. He relents. Later Nabal dies of fear.  David marries Abigail.

David's marriage to Abigail seems to be a political move to gain legitimacy to the throne over Hebron (see below). On the other hand, David's demonstration of military force in the Nabal episode was an attempt to also gain power over the territory by means of placing fear on Nabal and his territory.

Collins paints an even more cynical view of the Nabal episode. He views David's actions as nothing less than extortion (Collins p.229). That is, David's men protected the shepherds of Nabal in return for goods. When those goods weren't offered to David, he was willing to kill Nabal and his men. Perhaps this may be too cynical. Still, David's military force was clear in the episode and Nabal quickly realized that he was dealing with a militarily powerful figure. 

*David's raids against non-Israelites (1Sam 27): In 1Sam 27:2, we learn that David's 400 men have increased to 600 men. With them, he joined the Philistines in order to be protected by them from Saul. While with the Philistines, David continued to demonstrate his military/guerilla force in the surrounding regions and thus gain power and prominence. He fought against the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites. He fought in southern Judah, or against the southern region of the Jerahmeelaites (near Beersheba), or against the southern area of the Kenites (near Beersheba). David killed all, including men and children, but took spoil for himself. While David raided these non-Israelites and non-Judeans, he was able to gain respect and prominence among his Judean kin!

*Defeat of Amalekites (1Sam 30): We read that the Amelikites capture David's wives and spoil and take them away with them. But David regains everything. David's 600/400 men pursued the Amelikites and attacked them, destroying them and recovering everything, including his two wives, Abigail and Aḥinoam. He also captured flocks of spoil from the Amalikites.

4) Political Marriage with Abigail & Ties with Judean Elders:

*David also married Abigail, the widow of the powerful Calebite chieftain Nabal (1Sam 25). It's important to note that Hebron was in the area of the Calebite people. Thus, David's marriage to Abigail is also strategic. Nabal was rich and powerful and we can infer that Abigail was in a place of very high social standing in the Calebite community. Levenson refers to her as a prominent Calebite woman. Marrying Abigail would help David gain legitimacy among the Calebite people, a group that may not have been easily accepting of David's kingship otherwise. The fact that he assumes the kingship in the Calebite capital of Hebron is significant. In 2Sam 2:1-4, we read that David assumed the throne in Hebron. Levenson seeks to understand how it is that David could all of a sudden gain the throne of Hebron! He explains that his marriage with Abigail and his inheritance of the wealth of Nabal granted him the legitimacy to gain the throne in Hebron.

*After David plundered the Amalekites, he regained everything that they had taken. But he also captured their spoil. And David gave portions of this plunder to various regions of Judah! We read in 1Sam 30:26-31–"And when David came to Ziklag, he sent of the spoil unto the elders of Judah, even to his friends, saying, Behold a present for you of the spoil of the enemies of the LORD; To them which were in Bethel, and to them which were in south Ramoth, and to them which were in Jattir, And to them which were in Aroer, and to them which were in Siphmoth, and to them which were in Eshtemoa, And to them which were in Rachal, and to them which were in the cities of the Jerahmeelites, and to them which were in the cities of the Kenites,  And to them which were in Hormah, and to them which were in Chor-ashan, and to them which were in Athach, And to them which were in Hebron, and to all the places where David himself and his men were wont to rove."

Clearly, David had ties with the Judeans. His ties with the Judeans was strengthened when he married Abigail. Thus, he was able to gain the support of the region surrounding Hebron. His ties continued as is clear from this passage which states that he gave them gifts that he and his men "roved" in the areas of Hebron.

5) Tactful Sparing of Saul's Life

*In 1Sam 24 and 26, we read of David's two opportunities to kill Saul, but David choses to spare his life. During this time, Saul is of course hounding David to kill him because Saul is convinced that David will take the throne from him and from Jonathan (1Sam 20:30-31). If we take the events of 1Sam 24 and 26 as historically reliable (McKenzie doesn't!), then David's sparing of Saul's life can be explained as a tactful attempt to gain respect both by Saul and by the people of Israel and Judah. In both events, David is made to look as patient and as a righteous person. Thus, he gained respect before the Israelites.

B. International Strategies

1) Ties with non-Israelites for Self-Preservation

*Ties with Moab (1Sam 22): David is on good terms with Moab. In fact, he leaves his parents with Moab for safe-keeping. Moab protected his parents while Saul was hounding David. David's ties did not directly help him rise to the Judean throne. Nevertheless, the haven Moab provided for David and his parents helped preserved him and his family until the time that he could rise to power.

*Ties with the Philistines (1Sam 27, 29): David became a mercenary of the Philistines, particularly of Achish of Gath. Achish granted him and David's 600 men the area of Ziklag. David was even willing to go into battle against Israel, but the Philistines mistrusted him. While with the Philistines, David raided surrounding territories in southern Judah, or the area of the Geshurites, Girzites, or Amalekites. David's time with the Philistines protected David from Saul and thus David was preserved until he came to power.

2) Political Marriage with Non-Israelite Maacah

*Political Marrige with Transjordan: David also married Maacah, daughter of the Transjordanian king of Geshur (2Sam 3:2-5). This also seems to have been a political marriages to strengthen his ties with the Transjordanian area (Lemaire 94; in H. Shanks, Ancient Israel).

IV. Strategic Actions After Becoming King

1) Consolidation of Power over Israel & Execution of Remaining Saulides:

*2Sam 3:1 reads, "Now there was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David. But David grew stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker." This, of course, reveals the political struggle that David was in with the remaining Saulides. One can assume that the house of David killed the Saulides. This is certainly the case for Ishbosheth, son of Saul and king of Israel (2Sam 4). David does not actually kill him; in fact, David executes the killers of Ishboseth. Nevertheless, the king of Israel is killed and the only remaining Saulide is a cripple is left alive by David (2Sam 9).

Even Abner, general of Ishboseth, offers to side with David in order to "transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul, and set up the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan to Beersheba" (2Sam 3:10). Abner is murdered, however, by Joab (2Sam 3:22-30).

2) Brief Reign in Hebron & Establishment of Jerusalem as Capital and Religious Center

*Hebron (king of Judah, king of Israel): David was anointed as king of Judah in Hebron (2Sam 2). After destroying the house of Saul, and after consolidating his power over Judah, he was also hailed as king of Israel in 2Sam 5. He reigned in Hebron over all of Israel for 7 years. Again, this shows David's strategic moves to first gain control over Judah, and then over Israel.

*Jerusalem: David conquers Jerusalem (2Sam 5). Collins states that, "Jerusalem was an ideal capital for David because it was easy to defend and it had not hitherto been associated with any Israelite tribe, although it was in the territory of David's own tribe, Judah" (p.232). Clearly, David strategically chose a place that would be seen as legitimate both by Judah and by Israel. After reigning in Hebron for 7 years, he reigned in Jerusalem for 33 years.

*Ark of Covenant: David later defeated the Philistines and brought the Ark to Jerusalem (2Sam 5-6). This was a strategic move to centralize the religious worship of all of Israel within the capital of Jerusalem. Although this may have aroused disagreement, David was clever to establishes two priests in Jerusalem, one from the North and one from South (2Sam 8:17)! The Mushite priest (Abiather) from the North (Shiloh); and the Aaronid priest (Zadok) from the South (Hebron). This would placate both Judah and Israel to some degree since both parties are represented in the priesthood. Thus, David was able to both consolidate his power of Jerusalem and to gain support from both parts of his kingdom.

V. Conclusion

See summary above.


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