The Bible and Archaeology: King David's Reign—A Nation United

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The Bible and Archaeology

King David's Reign—A Nation United

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In earlier issues The Good News has examined archaeological discoveries that confirm and help us better understand the biblical accounts in the five books of Moses and Israel's history as recorded in Joshua and Judges. In this issue we focus on the beginning of the Israelite monarchy, the time of King David. The Bible discusses this period in the books of 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles.

When the period described in the book of Judges ended, a new age arrived with the kings of Israel, an era lasting more than 400 years. (It came to a tragic close with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah both being taken into captivity and exile.)

The monarchy lacked an auspicious beginning. God eventually rejected Saul, the first king, because of his continual disobedience. David, the son of Jesse, replaced Saul.

David's reign began the golden age of Israel. This powerful king wisely governed the tribes of Israel, forging them into a unified nation. God blessed this obedient and multitalented man. David was not only a valiant soldier, but a great military strategist, able administrator, diplomat, composer and musician.

Under David's inspired leadership, Israel soon became powerful, extending its northern frontiers to the River Euphrates and its southern borders to the Red Sea. “And David defeated Hadadezer king of Zobah as far as Hamath, as he went to establish his power by the River Euphrates … So David reigned over all Israel, and administered judgment and justice to all his people” (1 Chronicles 18:3 1 Chronicles 18:3And David smote Hadarezer king of Zobah to Hamath, as he went to establish his dominion by the river Euphrates.
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, 14).

After centuries of Israelite struggle against the Canaanites and Philistines, it was David who finally triumphed decisively over Israel's enemies. The ensuing peace freed the Israelites to make full use of the formidable natural resources of the area. This liberty produced great prosperity. From their humble beginning as a slave people, then as pastoral tribes, they ascended to great heights. David transformed Israel into a highly organized state that would later leave a lasting mark on Western civilization.

“The reign of David,” comments one authority, “marks-politically speaking-Israel's golden age. A power vacuum in both Egypt and Mesopotamia made it possible for the tribes that had entered Canaan under Joshua a few centuries earlier to become a mighty nation … David was king of an area extending from the Red Sea to the Euphrates” ( The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1982, Vol. II, p. 915).

With the flourishing of the material culture of Israel comes enough physical evidence of Israelitish presence to be confirmed by archaeology.

“The purpose of Biblical archaeology,” explains archaeologist Bryant Wood, “is to enhance our comprehension of the Bible, and so its greatest achievement, in my view, has been the extraordinary illumination of … the time of the Israelite monarchy, c. 1000-586 B.C.E. … [whereas] exploring that prehistory [the premonarchic age] is challenging: It requires tracing the archaeological record of a pastoral community, rather than an agrarian-based political entity [as in David's time] that built cities and made contacts with surrounding nations” ( Biblical Archaeology Review, May-June 1995, pp. 33, 35).

Jerusalem as Israel's new capital

David was originally headquartered in Hebron, in southern Judah, but now, with all 13 tribes accepting his rulership, he needed a central base from which to govern. An ideal place was on the northern border of Judah, the city of Jebus, also called Jerusalem, but it was in the hands of the Jebusites, a remnant Canaanite tribe that had heavily fortified the city. “And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, which is Jebus, where the Jebusites were, the inhabitants of the land” (1 Chronicles 11:4 1 Chronicles 11:4And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, which is Jebus; where the Jebusites were, the inhabitants of the land.
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A few centuries earlier, Joshua had attempted to conquer the city of Jebus but had failed. “As for the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem to this day” (Joshua 15:63 Joshua 15:63As for the Jebusites the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the children of Judah could not drive them out; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Judah at Jerusalem to this day.
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After Joshua's death the Israelites briefly conquered Jerusalem. “Now the children of Judah fought against Jerusalem and took it; they struck it with the edge of the sword and set the city on fire” (Judges 1:8 Judges 1:8Now the children of Judah had fought against Jerusalem, and had taken it, and smitten it with the edge of the sword, and set the city on fire.
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). Yet the surviving inhabitants soon rebuilt the city. From that moment they successfully resisted Israelite attacks until the time of David. “But the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites who inhabited Jerusalem; so the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day” (Judges 1:21 Judges 1:21And the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites that inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem to this day.
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The city was built on a mount in the midst of a large valley in the Judean mountains. It seemed impenetrable. When the Jebusites noticed David and his men were ready to attack them, they mocked their feeble efforts. “And the king and his men went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who spoke to David, saying, 'You shall not come in here; but the blind and the lame will repel you,' …” (2 Samuel 5:6 2 Samuel 5:6And the king and his men went to Jerusalem to the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land: which spoke to David, saying, Except you take away the blind and the lame, you shall not come in here: thinking, David cannot come in here.
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Yet David did not attempt a frontal attack on the fortress. Instead, he found the Achilles' heel of the Jebusite defenses, a hidden water shaft that wound its way up into the city. Such a shaft for transporting water was a common feature of many fortified cities of that time. “As was characteristic of all the great walled cities of Canaan,” notes Eugene Merrill, “Jerusalem had a vertical water shaft connecting with a tunnel leading to an underground water supply outside the walls. As necessary as these systems were for the survival of a city under siege, they also constituted a major weakness in that they provided access into the city for anyone who could find the entrance” ( Kingdom of Priests, Baker Book House Co., Grand Rapids, 1987, p. 236).

When David discovered the entrance, he realized it was a way to secretly enter the city and open its gates. “Whoever climbs up by way of the water shaft and defeats the Jebusites,” he told his men, “shall be chief and captain” (2 Samuel 5:8 2 Samuel 5:8And David said on that day, Whoever gets up to the gutter, and smites the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind that are hated of David’s soul, he shall be chief and captain. Why they said, The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.
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In 1 Chronicles 11:6-7 1 Chronicles 11:6-7 6 And David said, Whoever smites the Jebusites first shall be chief and captain. So Joab the son of Zeruiah went first up, and was chief. 7 And David dwelled in the castle; therefore they called it the city of David.
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we find who gained the honor: “And Joab the son of Zeruiah went up first, and became chief. Then David dwelt in the stronghold; therefore they called it the City of David.”

More than a century ago Charles Warren, a British officer, found a water shaft in Jerusalem with features similar to those described in the Bible account. Charles Pfeiffer, a professor of ancient literature, explains the significance of the discovery. “The capture of Jerusalem by David is of interest to archaeologists,” he wrote, “since he used a strategy which involved the Gihon Spring, on the eastern slope of Mount Zion … Joab went up first and was rewarded by becoming commander of David's army…

“This tunnel has been identified with Warren's Shaft. The shaft was dug through the limestone above the Gihon Spring all the way up to the surface, a distance of 24 meters … The discovery of a Jebusite wall farther down the slope toward the Gihon Spring increases the possibility that Joab could have secretly entered the city … through Warren's Shaft” ( The Biblical World: A Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology, 1966, Baker Book House, Grand Rapids, p. 373).

King David's Jerusalem

After David conquered the Jebusite fortress, it became known as the City of David. As his reign prospered he soon began building to extend the city. “Then David dwelt in the stronghold, and called it the City of David. And David built all around from the Millo and inward. So David went on and became great, and the LORD God of hosts was with him” (2 Samuel 5:9-10 2 Samuel 5:9-10 9 So David dwelled in the fort, and called it the city of David. And David built round about from Millo and inward. 10 And David went on, and grew great, and the LORD God of hosts was with him.
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The mount on which the Jebusite fortress stood was called Mount Zion. “Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion (that is, the City of David)” (verse 7). Close by, to the north, was a hill called Mount Moriah, which David bought from Ornan the Jebusite.

“Therefore, the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David that David should go and erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite… So David gave Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the place. And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on the LORD; and He answered him from heaven by fire on the altar of burnt offering” (1 Chronicles 21:18 1 Chronicles 21:18Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar to the LORD in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
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, 25-26).

Eventually David moved the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant to this area, and later King Solomon built his magnificent temple on Mount Moriah. “Now Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (2 Chronicles 3:1 2 Chronicles 3:1Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD at Jerusalem in mount Moriah, where the Lord appeared to David his father, in the place that David had prepared in the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
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In Solomon's time the Israelites finally completed an earthwork that filled the area between the two mounts, making them one. The whole area was then called Mount Zion and was no more known as Moriah. “With the establishment of the ark first in the Jebusite fortress and then in the newly built temple,” according to one source, “Zion became known as the sacred dwelling place of Israel's Lord, the One 'who dwells in Zion' (Psalms 9:11 Psalms 9:11Sing praises to the LORD, which dwells in Zion: declare among the people his doings.
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)” ( The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1982, Vol. 4, p. 1198).

Eventually Zion would be used not only to denote the temple area, but as a symbol for Jerusalem, its inhabitants and, finally, the people of God.

Confirmation of David's existence

Some historians and critics have questioned the existence of King David and have relegated Old Testament accounts about him to the status of mythology. “I am not the only scholar,” remarks Philip Davies, “who suspects that the figure of King David is about as historical as King Arthur” ( Biblical Archaeology Review, July-August 1994, p. 55). Such professors cast doubt on the reliability of the biblical record and undermine the faith of others. They also rarely acknowledge the many discoveries that have corroborated the biblical account.

For instance, in 1993 archaeologists discovered the names of David and Israel in an inscription carved in stone only 100 years after David's death. Reports Biblical Archaeology Review: “It's not often that an archaeological find makes the front page of the New York Times (to say nothing of Time magazine). But that is what happened last summer to a discovery at Tel Dan, a beautiful mound in northern Galilee, at the foot of Mount Hermon beside one of the headwaters of the Jordan River.

“There Avraham Biran and his team of archaeologists found a remarkable inscription from the ninth century B.C.E. that refers both to the 'House of David' and to the 'King of Israel.' This is the first time that the name David has been found in any ancient inscription outside the Bible” ( Biblical Archaeological Review, March-April 1994, p. 26). More and more extrabiblical evidence involving Bible names and places is being discovered as the years go by. The skeptics are gradually having to retreat.

Later another scholar found the name “House of David” in the inscriptions of the famous Moabite Stone, also called the Mesha stela, dated to the ninth century B.C., about 100 years after David's reign. It is hard to understand how David's name could appear in historical records if he were nothing but a later literary creation.

Anson Rainey, professor of ancient Near Eastern cultures, cautions the unwary about believing that the accounts of David and other biblical characters are but legends. “As someone who studies ancient inscriptions in the original, I have a responsibility to warn the lay audience that the new fad, the 'deconstructionist school,' … is merely a circle of dilettantes. Their view that nothing in Biblical tradition is earlier than the Persian period [540-330 B.C.], especially their denial of the existence of a United Monarchy, is a figment of their vain imagination. The name 'House of David' in the Tel Dan and Mesha inscriptions sounds the death knell to their specious conceit. Biblical scholarship and instruction should completely ignore the 'deconstructionist school.' They have nothing to teach us” ( Biblical Archaeology Review, November- December 1994, p. 47).

Although some critics will not admit as much, the accumulating physical evidence confirms rather than denies what is written in God's Word. But, for those who have faith in what God has said in the Bible, it is not necessary to find material remains to corroborate these accounts. The apostle Paul boldly affirms that God “cannot lie” (Titus 1:2 Titus 1:2In hope of eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began;
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However, in some cases physical evidence of the events and people described in the Scriptures has survived the ravages of time and serves as a witness to His faithfulness. This comforts and consoles us in our faith, as Paul wrote, “for whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4 Romans 15:4For whatever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
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The Good News will continue to examine archaeological finds that verify the accuracy of the Bible and help us better understand the biblical record. GN