King David’s Early Years

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It is clear that David’s early experiences, both as a young shepherd and as a leader of men, strengthened his abilities, character and resolve to meet the more difficult challenges that he would face later in life. Many of the Psalms attributed to David speak of rough terrain, mighty rocks, strongholds and deliverers. David drew on a number of very tangible personal experiences to express his dependence on the power and provision of God in times of intense need (e.g., Psalms 18, 23, 31, 32, 37, 55, 61, 62, 63).

Image source: © Carta, Jerusalem

Israel’s King Saul and Crown Prince Jonathan both lost their lives in an action designed to push the Philistines, who were bent on assuming the role of Egypt’s heirs in Canaan, out of the Jezreel Valley (1 Sam 28:1–31:13). Worse yet, the Philistine action had cut the fledgling Israelite nation in two. With Israel on the brink of chaos, David pressed to seize control.

First he was anointed king over Judah at Hebron by popular acclaim—one might say in triumph—and reigned from there for seven and one-half years (2 Sam 2:1–4, 11). Meanwhile, in Gilead Saul’s general Abner orchestrated the royal line of succession by proclaiming Ish-bosheth (Esh-baal); (1 Chron 8:33), the dead king’s son, as king “over Gilead, over the Ashurites, over Jezreel, over Ephraim, and over Benjamin, even over all Israel” (2 Sam 2:8–10). This list of place-names is telling: the house of Saul maintained control over the block of hills on either side of the Jordan River, but the northern tribes (Issachar, Zebulun, Naphtali and Asher), if ever under Saul’s command, were gone, as was Judah. David responded by waging a prolonged, and ultimately successful, civil war against the remnants of the house of Saul (2 Sam 2:12–4:12).