David and His City
Almost everyone has a home town. For many of us, it is the city of our birth. For others, it is the place where much of their lives has been spent. Most people are very proud of their hometowns and are ready to burst out with numerous superlatives as they describe the highlights of that place so special to them.
Jewish people live all over the world. New York, Paris, London, Miami, Buenos Aires and a host of other cities and towns are the homes of many of the seed of Abraham. They often are very proud of their city. They might speak of its culture, politics, shopping centers, sports, etc. However, no matter where they live and whatever place they call home, if you mention the city of Jerusalem, you will generally have their immediate attention.
The belt buckle I wear is a solid brass star of David. Many Jewish people are so intrigued by it that they stop me on the spot and often question, “Where did you get that?” “Jerusalem,” I reply. In most cases it leads to a lengthy conversation, and often a witness for my Lord. Just mention Jerusalem and you will usually gain a listening and anxious audience. Their eyes and ears are focused on that city.
Why is this so? What causes this to happen? These are several of the questions we will seek to answer on the following pages, as we consider the city of Jerusalem as it relates to the life of David.
THE MEANING OF JERUSALEM
The very Hebrew word for Jerusalem means, “possessor of peace.” Jerusalem, however, has never known this peace which it proclaims in its name! Beginning with the time of Joshua and the invading Israelites, this city has been a prized possession. It has changed ownership at least twenty-three times, mostly as the result of war. Death, starvation, siege and battle have been its trademarks. Nations have constantly vied for ownership of this little geographical speck on the vastness of the surface of the earth. It has never yet experienced any lasting peace.
THE BIBLICAL HISTORY OF JERUSALEM
The earliest biblical accounts refer to one of the four hills upon which the city now lies (Zion, Acra, Bezetha and Moriah). Abraham came to Moriah and planned to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice there, until God intervened.
In the Book of Judges we are told, “Now 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” (Jud. 1:8). However, this was only a temporary and partial victory, for the Scripture states, “. . . the children of Benjamin did not drive out the Jebusites, who inhabited Jerusalem; but the Jebusites dwell with the children of Benjamin in Jerusalem unto this day” (Jud. 1:21). Though the Israelites controlled most of the land, Jerusalem was not their city. The Canaanite people still possessed it.
Six times in the Scriptures Jerusalem is called by the name related to the people who dwelt there. It was called Jebus, and its inhabitants were called the Jebusites. From Joshua until the time of David, a period of several hundred years, the Jebusites still possessed and continued to live in this city. Israel, evidently, had not been able to keep it after they captured it.
DAVID’S CITY: BETHLEHEM
A surface reading of the Bible might result in an apparent contradiction as to the identity of “David’s city.” At the time of the birth of Jesus Christ, we read, “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem (because he was of the house and lineage of David)” (Lk. 2:4). Furthermore, the angel of the Lord told the shepherds, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Lk. 2:11). These New Testament accounts lead us to believe that Bethlehem would be called David’s city.
The phrase “city of David” is used thirty different times in the Old Testament. The amazing thing, however, is that in not one of these cases does it refer to Bethlehem. It always refers to Jerusalem. In 2 Samuel 5:7 we read, “. . . David took the stronghold of Zion; the same is the city of David.” Zion clearly refers to Jerusalem, never to Bethlehem.
In 1 Samuel 16:1-4, when the Lord instructed Samuel to find a replacement for King Saul, He told the prophet to go to Jesse, the Bethlehemite. Among his sons would be the next king. David was then anointed king in Bethlehem, the ceremony taking place in the midst of his brethren.
Both Bethlehem and Jerusalem, therefore, are said to be the city of David. Which, then, was it? It is very evident that Bethlehem was the city of David’s birth and early adolescence. As soon as he began tending his father’s flocks, he probably spent most of his time outside the city in the fields surrounding it. Bethlehem was his legal place of birth, but he took on a new city when God made him king over the combined nation of Israel and Judah. Jerusalem then became his adopted city.
DAVID’S WANDERINGS REVIEWED
David probably first left the Bethlehem area when Saul summoned him from the sheep to become his armor bearer. He undoubtedly west to Gibeah, where Sau lived. Part of his responsibility there was to play his harp for the wicked king when the evil spirit from the Lord came upon him (1 Sam. 15:14-23).
After David killed Goliath and defeated the Philistines, Saul became jealous and the lad became a fugitive from the king, running from place to place. He went from Rama to Naioth, Nob, Gath, the cave of Adullam, Mizpeh, Judah, the forest of Hareth, Keilah, the wilderness of Ziph, the wilderness of Maon, south of Jeshimon, Engedi, the wilderness of Paran, the hill of Hachaliah and to Gath again. He certainly was a man without a city as he sought refuge. It is certain that neither Bethlehem nor Jerusalem was his ”city” at this point. His home was either in a cave or out under the stars.
King Saul finally ceased his pursuit of David (1 Sam. 26:21, 25). Having married at least three wives by this time, David was almost ready to settle down. Still not trusting Saul, however, he moved in among the Philistines at Gath. He asked King Achish if he could have permission to dwell permanently in that country. The king gave him the city of Ziklag, where David dwelt for sixteen months (1 Sam. 27:5-7).
David experienced some very difficult days while in Ziklag. He used it as headquarters and home as he and his troops went out to do battle with the enemy. During one of his ventures, the Amalekites came, captured Ziklag, burned it with fire and took his wives and children, as well as those of his warriors.
Returning from battle, David had to face the situation and fight the enemy who had destroyed their homes and taken their families. Under the Lord’s direction, he won the battle and regained their families along with the spoils. But neither would Ziklag become his home.
Shortly after these events occurred, David inquired of the Lord whether he should move his home to one of the cities of Judah. The Lord directed him to go up to Hebron (2 Sam. 2:1). It was here that David was anointed king over Judah (2 Sam. 2:4a). He ruled in Hebron over Judah for seven and one-half years. Hebron, however, was not destined to be the city of David.
While David faithfully served as king over Judah, there was continued warfare between the house of Saul in the north and the house of David in the south. These battles continued over an extended period of time. As the years went by, David gained strength while the house of Saul grew weaker (2 Sam. 3:1). Finally, in desperation, the leaders of all the tribes of Israel came to Hebron to ask David to reign over the combined people. There they anointed him king over the entire nation (2 Sam. 5:1-5).
The new king needed a centralized capital. Hebron was too far to the south. He certainly did not want to locate in Gibeah, Saul’s home. Immediately David set out to take Jerusalem. This was the place to which God had taken Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, the city where the Temple would be built, the city to which the Messiah would eventually come to be crucified, the city from which one day the Son of David would rule. It must become David’s city.
JERUSALEM BECOMES DAVID’S HOME
However, there was one problem. The Jebusites, a branch of the Canaanites, were firmly entrenched in this city which God had promised to the Jews. They taunted David, for in their eyes the city was an impregnable fortress. They let David know the only way he could ever take the city was if only the blind and lame fought against him (2 Sam. 5:6).
David issued a challenge: “Whosoever getteth up to the water shaft, and smiteth the Jebusites, and the lame and the blind, who are hated of David’s soul, he shall be chief and captain” (2 Sam. 5:8). Joab knew the water supply system of the city. He was able to get into the city and open the way for David’s men to move in and capture Jerusalem. The city finally belonged to the nation of Israel.
Even though we are not told many of the reasons David took the city, it is very evident that the Lord was in what he did. “And David went on, and grew great, and the Lord God of hosts was with him . . . And David perceived that the Lord had established him king over Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel’s sake” (2 Sam. 5: 10, 12). David’s decision to take the city and move his capital there was certainly of the Lord.
After David moved into his city, he was recognized by the leaders of other nations. Without fully developing this, perhaps it is sufficient to say that Hiram, king of Tyre, certainly recognized the leadership of David. He sent artisans from Tyre, both masons and carpenters, along with all the materials, and built a home for David (2 Sam. 5:11). So, as David came to Jerusalem, he received outside recognition as a king, just as the Son of David will be recognized by the nations when He establishes His millennial kingdom in Jerusalem (Zech. 14:16-19; Isa. 2:2-4).
THOSE EVER-PRESENT PHILISTINES: THE CHALLENGE TO THE NEW CAPITAL
The establishment of David as king over the entire land with the unification of the people and the development of a capital must have really frightened the Philistines. In their minds, David’s ruling as king in Jerusalem numbered their days in the area. An immediate attack was aimed to hit Israel before they further strengthened their military forces (2 Sam. 5:17).
When this attack came, David responded by asking the Lord for help and direction. The Lord guaranteed his victory (2 Sam. 5:19). This battle was so decisive that the Philistines left their idols behind in their hasty retreat. David and his men quickly burned them. Soon, however, they renewed the assault. David was told by the Lord not to have a direct frontal attack, but to go behind the enemy and wait for a stirring in the tops of the mulberry trees. Apparently here, as in 2 Kings 7:6-7, the Lord let the enemy hear the sound of the army of the Lord of Hosts in the treetops. Frightened, the enemy was totally routed (2 Sam. 5:20-25).
This was a significant victory for·David. It established the fact that the capital was secure and that Israel was a nation to be reckoned with. David’s ability as their leader was recognized, and Jerusalem was firmly established as the political capital of God’s people.
JERUSALEM BECOMES THE SPIRITUAL CAPITAL
Now that the Lord had established David as king and Jerusalem as his political capital, David planned for Jerusalem to be the spiritual capital as well. To make this happen, he had to bring the ark of the covenant into the city. The ark had remained in the town of Kiriath-jearim during the reign of Saul. To carry it to his city, David had a new cart made. With a great host of thirty thousand men and all sorts of musical instruments playing, the ark began its journey to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:1-5).
When they came to Nacon’s threshing floor, the ark tottered. Uzzah reached out to touch it, but was immediately struck dead by the Lord (2 Sam. 6:6-7). No one was to touch this dedicated object, for it signified the presence of the Lord with His people (Num. 4:15). After some delay because of the divine intrusion, the Lord convinced David to continue to bring the ark on into the city. David did so after many sacrifices and with much music and dancing. It was set up in the Tabernacle in Jerusalem, making it the spiritual capital of the land (2 Sam. 6:12-15, 17). The presence of the Lord was then in the midst of the city.
THE TEMPLE REFUSED
To complete his task of establishing Jerusalem, David spoke to Nathan the prophet about building a permanent worship center for the Lord. Nathan’s first word was to go ahead and do it (2 Sam. 7:2-3). That night, however, the Lord spoke to the prophet and made it very clear that David should not build the Temple. Because he was a man of war, such a task would be left for his son, Solomon (2 Sam. 7:4-13). Perhaps Jerusalem was not yet secure enough in David’s day. “Thou knowest how that David, my father, could not build an house unto the name of the Lord his God because of the wars which were about him on every side, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet” (1 Ki. 5:3).
ABSENCE: IS IT BEST?
The Word of God tells us that David ruled from Jerusalem for thirty-three years, yet he must have been gone for a good bit of that time. He extended his kingdom, but to do so he had to go out and defeat the Philistines, Moab, Syria, Ammon and Edom. His usual place was leading the troops, so he must have been absent from Jerusalem for long periods of time.
Sin: The Mistake of Staying in Jerusalem
For many years David had led his armies into battle. Now his successes had made it possible for him to stay home, which is where he was during a certain spring. This led to lust, adultery, murder and tragedy that followed him all the days of his life. Yes, Bathsheba was a beautiful woman, but was she worth the price he had to pay? Certainly, in his latter years, David must have wished he had left Jerusalem and gone to fight on the battlefield.
Revolt: The King Forced to Flee His City
As much as David loved Jerusalem, it must have been very difficult to watch as his son, Absalom, endeared himself to the people. He criticized his father’s administration and made boastful campaign promises. Through his personal charm and flattery he literally stole the hearts of the people away from his father.
David was forced to flee from his city through the Kidron Valley, up the Mount of Olives and onward, weeping as he went. His heart was broken, having been forced out of his city by his own son.
It is hard to imagine the burden David must have carried as he fought the armies of his own son. Finally, after much fighting, and the murder of Absalom by Joab, the rebellion was put down. A mournful king returned to reclaim his city once again. Time and diplomacy were required to restore David in the eyes of his countrymen.
It took many years for David to get to Jerusalem, and then he had to fight for it. He must have carried a heavy burden over this city for many years. But he conquered it, lived in it, and brought the ark into it. He prepared the way for this to be the city where God would make His presence known.
Jerusalem: possessor of peace. David never knew the peace that is the meaning of Jerusalem’s name, but he knew God’s promises. He was assured by Nathan that the Lord would use his son Solomon to build His house there. David prepared the way.
“And thine house and thy kingdom shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). That eternal throne will be established in Jerusalem, the city of David, by the One “that is born King of the Jews” (Mt. 2:2). Only then will the city be the possessor of peace. Though David never experienced that peace or all the blessings that will come through it, he laid the foundation for them. That city has a noble heritage and a glorious future. Is it any wonder that you can see a gleam in the eye of any Jew or any true child of God at the mention of the city of Jerusalem? It is home. It is the Lord’s “home town.”