King David’s Early Years

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The story of David and Solomon is inseparable from that of the rise of kingship in ancient Israel. Whoever aspired to rule all Israel in the 10th century BC faced two nearly insurmountable obstacles. Internally, the problem was a lack of unification among the tribes. The move from tribalism to monarchy carried enormous social, economic, political, religious and psychological ramifications, and was never completely made. Externally, the problem was weak borders, or, perhaps, a lack of realistic borders.

The imperialistic Pharaohs of the Egyptian New Kingdom, who pretty much had had their way in Canaan throughout the Late Bronze Age (c. 1550–1200 BC), were in decline, and in their wake regional peoples such as Edom, Moab, Ammon, Aram-Damascus, Phoenicia and Philistia, in addition to Israel, found opportunity to express their own political and territorial ambitions. There was no simple answer to the question of how the Israelite identity, grounded to no small extent in a shared religious experience, would respond to and survive the challenges of tribalism and nationalism.

Faceoff in the Elah Valley: David v. Goliath.
Image source: © Carta, Jerusalem

Over time the Philistines posed the most persistent external threat to several of the Israelite tribes, and heroes such as Samson, Eli and Samuel were generally effective in checking their advance into the central hill country (Judg 13–16; 1 Sam 4, 7:3–12). It was natural that Israel’s first king, Saul, was from the region of Benjamin, a Philistine “target” in the Israelite hills (1 Sam 9:1–10:27).

All told, Saul’s actions as a national leader were a good start, but largely ineffective to the overall task at hand – cf. the further Philistine incursion described in (1 Sam 13:1–14:23). At God’s prompting, the aging Samuel chose David, of the tribe of Judah, as the next king (1 Sam 16:1–13). David represented a growing southern power base that included, among others, Simeonites (Josh 19:1–9; cf. 15:21–32), Kenites, Jerahmeelites, Calebites, Cherathites and Kenizzites (Josh 14:6; 1 Sam 27:10, 30:14).