Jerusalem, City of David
The amply fortified city of Jerusalem would not have fallen to any man, but only to a war leader of exceptional skill. And such was David, but he was also much more: poet, musician, shepherd, and a lover of many women. A man of contradictions, David was a terror to the Philistines in battle, yet in his Psalms he yearns for peace. He built a magnificent palace for future kings, but not the Holy Temple of his dreams. David’s notorious adultery with Bathsheba tainted his name, yet he is still regarded as Israel’s ideal king. His conquest of Jerusalem marked its transformation into the City of David, which would someday become known throughout the world as the Holy City.
Before David, Israel was torn by war with the Philistines, who inflicted massive casualties. King Saul, Israel’s first king, was only partly successful against the Philistines, for it was said that the spirit of God had abandoned him. In contrast, David’s victory over the Philistine giant Goliath with only a slingshot instantly became the stuff of legend.
The youngest of a shepherd’s seven sons, David did not possess a kingly appearance, yet in Scripture God orders the prophet Samuel to anoint him as the next king.
As Saul’s war leader and personal musician, David had a complex relationship with the Israelite king, a fateful amalgam of love, betrayal, and fatal jealousy. David’s ethereal harp-playing soothed the nerves of the deeply depressed Saul, until Saul’s jealousy of the successful David overtook him, and he cast a spear at David from the height of his throne.
David was forced to flee the wrath of Saul, to live as a fugitive. His many adventures during this period of his life are chronicled in Scripture, including a stint in which he pretended to be a madman before Akhish, king of the Philistines. Ultimately he married the king’s daughter Michal, and took other women as concubines. A man of strong passions, David’s ballad of grief for the loss of Jonathan, Saul’s son, is remarkable in its intensity.
David was beloved of the people for his skill in battle, as they said: “Saul has slain his thousands, David has slain tens of thousands.” They anointed him king of Judea in the city of Hebron.
A Holy Capital in Jerusalem
But David aspired to rule all the land as one kingdom. For this reason historians believe that he conquered Jerusalem from the Jebusites and made it the new capital. In the newly named City of David, the king built a palace of cedars from Lebanon, as well as the Tower of David, which stands to this day. But David’s greatest dream was to build the First Temple in Jerusalem, and to that end he brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city.
But the prophet Nathan informed David that alas, the Temple was not for him to build, for he had shed too much blood in his lifetime. The Temple must be a symbol of peace, and for that reason would be built by David’s son, Solomon, whose name means peace.
For comfort and to attune his soul, it is said that David arose at midnight every night and composed poetry, which would later be known as the Psalms of David. Legend tells that David left his harp by the window, and at precisely midnight the wind would stir melody from the strings, awakening him in his Jerusalem palace.
Though David’s reign is now seen as a golden age, it was in fact a tempestuous time of war and betrayal. One of the greatest catastrophes to befall David was the betrayal of his favorite son, the charismatic and handsome Absalom.