King David of Israel: History & Overview

Instructor: Christopher Sailus

Chris has an M.A. in history and taught university and high school history.

In this lesson, we will explore King David of Israel. The first king to successfully unite all 12 Israelite tribes, David's reign and works laid the groundwork for a prosperous kingdom.

Patriarchs and Heroes

For every country or social group, there seems to be one person recognized as a father figure. One person who, regardless of the contributions of hundreds or even thousands to a movement, encapsulates the entity as the man who proverbially 'started it all.' For the U.S., that figure is undoubtedly George Washington. Basketball fans have a few choices, such as James Naismith (the creator of the game) or its most storied coach, John Wooden.

For the ancient Kingdom of Israel, there is little discussion as to the patriarch; it is King David, the biblical Goliath-slayer and first successful king of Israel.

Who Was David?

Though in truth, David was the second king of the Kingdom of Israel, he was the first to reign successfully, uniting all twelve of the Israelite tribes. He took his seat on the throne at some point between 1010 and 1000 B.C.

Though the story of David slaying Goliath may be apocryphal (of questionable authenticity), the real David certainly was an able commander. Soon after taking the throne, David defeated the Philistines once and for all and expanded Israelite territory to cover all of Canaan and most of the territory previously held by the Philistines.

David also made a solid alliance with Egypt, ensuring his new kingdom would face no future threats from the west. He campaigned east into modern-day Syria and Jordan, though most of the gains in those territories were achieved through conquest by his son and successor, Solomon.

In addition to expanding Israelite territories, David also greatly improved the infrastructure within the kingdom. Though he was a generally well-liked king, his methods for finding labor to build his roads, walls, and forts were not. David instituted forced labor conscription, where all citizens of Israel were required to serve at least a few days out of the week on building and labor crews. Previously, this work had been done only by slaves, and the citizens of the twelve tribes had been exempt. David's egalitarian and totalitarian approach to labor may have been unpopular, but it laid the foundations necessary for further expansion and a more prosperous kingdom in the following reign.

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