The Making of a King
The Festival of Shavuot is intimately connected with King David. Firstly because King David passed away on Shavuot, but also because the story of his great grandmother, Ruth happened during the harvest time of Shavuot. The story of David however started a long, long time ago, way back at the beginning of history…
The making of a King
Adam gave 70 years of his life to a boy that was supposed to live only a few hours. Adam passed away at 930 years. David lived for 70, so the Midrash explains. And so arose one of the mightiest heroes in history.
The narrative of King David starts extremely gloomy, almost hopeless. The Bible hints to this. Why does he speak of such abandonment in the Psalms, times when he could only rely on God, even from his birth? Why is he hidden as a shepherd boy away from his well-known father and amazing brothers? The Talmud casts some light on this: His mother, an extremely righteous woman, for most of his childhood was known for “apparently” conceiving him in shameful conditions after his father divorced her having doubts to his own ancestry. His grandmother was from one of the most abhorred nations, her conversion to Judaism casted a questionable halachic shadow over the lineage. And so the boy grew up – a child of disgrace, not only from the community, but also from his famous father and brothers. Rewind even a few hundred years earlier when his great-great grandfather had relations with an apparent prostitute, honing in on him at the cross roads. In fact, she totally framed him*.
This was the background and foundation of the greatest and most beloved king of Jewish history. Warrior and musician, but above all, a man after God’s heart.
The secret behind the making of this righteous monarch is a culmination of deeply developed dynamics – strands that could only have been weaved together by the Highest Wisdom. One of these dynamics would be the hidden truth underlying the apparent shameful narrative leading up to the anointing of a shepherd boy – a discussion that is too long to enter into in this specific article. Another is his well-known unconditional devotion to his Maker. But perhaps the most difficult dynamic to execute was David’s mastery of unifying two completely juxtaposed character traits making up what is called “malchut” or kingship. These traits are called “hitnasut” (exaltedness) and “shiflut” (humility). Before God he moved with complete humility, before his enemies he was fearless.
The Faces of Lions
David’s skill as a warrior became renowned after he killed Goliath and the rest regarding him as a formidable warrior is history, as we say. But David also gathered around him a formidable force of warriors who rallied around his leadership and dedicated themselves to his command, long before he was crowned king. We are talking about a loyalty so strong that these men broke through enemy lines just to bring David water. Not because he was thirsty or because there was no water in the vicinity. Because David longed for water from a specific well – a well that happened to be at that specific time under enemy rule.
The Tanach describes David’s men: “they were armed with bows and were able to shoot arrows or to sling stones right-handed or left-handed…They were brave warriors, ready for battle and able to handle the shield and spear. Their faces were the faces of lions, and they were as swift as gazelles in the mountains.”
1 Chron 12:2 and 8
His army concentrically surrounded him with utmost camaraderie. Close to him were the most skilled and fearsome warriors and confidants known as “The Three”. They were Adino the Eznite, Eleazar, son of Dodo the Ahohite and Shammah, son of Agee the Hararite.
Their exploits were impressive. Adino, the first in rank, “killed eight hundred men at one time”. Shammah, ranking third, defended a field of lentils single-handedly against a troop of Philistines, killing them all while he stood in the middle of the field. The second man, Eleazar was an outstanding warrior. When the Philistines defied Israel and gathered for an epochal battle against them, Eleazar found himself in a critical position as all the men of Israel had “gone away” as described in the Bible. Eleazar stood against the enemy alone. He pressed the battle against the Philistines, attacking them with his sword. He fought so long and hard that Bible describes that his hand and sword became one – his hand “froze” to the sword. 2 Samuel 23 recalls these stories. These three were followed by what was known as the “Thirty”, forming the nucleus of his formidable army.
The Pen, more formidable than the sword
David undauntedly led his armies and subdued his enemies. But this mighty warrior is even more known for his musicality and the immense spiritual force behind his Psalms. When examined closely in Hebrew, these psalms consist of carefully chosen, mindfully organized and intricately woven words shaking the heavenly and earthly realms. They are as relevant today as they were 3000 years ago and part of the building blocks of our daily prayers.
David’s history in a nutshell
Born: Beit Lechem (907-837 BCE)
Father: Yishai ben Oved
Mother: Nitzevet bat Adael
Great Grandmother: Ruth the Moabite
David was the 8th son to Yishai and grew up a shepherd boy. He was anointed by the Prophet Samuel after all seven of his other brothers were presented. It is only after Samuel inquired if there is another son that David was brought in from the field. He was described as ruddy and handsome with beautiful eyes. This occasion wasn’t made public yet and David only rose to fame after killing the giant Goliath, the hero of the Philistine armies. David became an overnight house hold name and led Saul’s armies with great success. This led to unmeasured jealousy from the present King fearing the loss of his already fading fame to that of the new hero of Israel. David became a fugitive for many years until the death of King Saul.
He was crowned King of Judah at the age of 30. He ruled seven and a half years in Hevron, the capitol of the Tribe of Judah before he was crowned king of all Israel. He reigned for 35 years as king of Israel.
Jerusalem, the City of David – Eternal Capital of the Jewish people
After a seven and a half year reign in Hevron, representatives of all the tribes of Israel gathered to call upon David to lead a United Israel as King. As David agreed, he made a strategic move different from all the judges as well as King Saul who preceded him. Up till then these leaders led the nation from their homes within their tribal territories. David however chose the stronghold of Zion as the new Capital of the Tribal Confederation of Israel. At that time Jerusalem, known as Jebus, was the last Caananite stronghold not yet under Israelite rule since the conquest of the Land of Israel by Yehoshua.
There are many theories to why David chose Jerusalem as the capitol. The major reasons are that it stood central within all the tribal territories, it had a constant water supply from the Gihon spring as well as its geographical position in terms of defense as a high ridge towering over the enclaving valleys. But even more important, according to Jewish tradition the fortified city bordered the mountain where Avraham bound Yitzchak and where Yaakov saw the ladder, the meeting place of Heaven and Earth – the place that God chose as His abode among His people. David fused the holy site with the political seat of power, unifying the spiritual and political culture of Israel.
The answer to a millennia old conundrum – right in front of your eyes…
The conquest of the city and the secret behind David’s victory over it remains a riddle within the context of the Bible. Most obvious reason is that even David himself after conquering the city, was not willing to record the strategy in the Chronicles of the kings, as it would have served counterproductive if such a secret would fall into the wrong hands. And so the amazing discoveries that were made during the excavations of the City of David, casted some light on the 3000 year old secret of how the city was eventually conquered. A tour of the City of David offers pure indulgence to the curious who wishes to see how the physical layout of the city hints towards the answer of this ancient old riddle.
*The Story of Judah and Tamar can be found in Genesis 38