David(as) is highly respected in all of the Abrahamic faiths, as the great second King of the Kingdom of Jews, an ancestor of Jesus’ ‘adopted’ father Joseph, and as a spiritual leader. There are detailed accounts of key events in his life in both the Bible and the Holy Qur’an, and one of the divine books the Zabur, is also attributed to him. This article explores the circumstances of Judaism at the time of David(as) and his impact and legacy on Judaism, and also seeks to confirm the identities of Jalut and Talut as described in relation to David(as) in the Qur’anic account.
Before the advent of David(as), Judaism was splintered into the kingdoms of Israel to the north and Judah to the south. There was little unity amongst the various Jewish tribes. Moreover, they had gradually diverged from their monotheistic origins by incorporating Canaanite deities and practices (Wilson, p.103).
So Judaism, far from being a uniting and powerful force, was a fragmented and failing cluster of tribes, bickering with each other for land and worldly influence.
Amid this disunity, David(as) was born in 1040 BCE in the town of Bethlehem, the same town which would host Jesus(as), the Messiah of Judaism, a thousand years later. David(as) was the youngest son of Jesse and the Bible records Eliab, Abinadab and Shammah as being among his seven older brothers (1 Samuel 16:6-8). Ibn Kathir, a great 14th century Muslim historian from Syria, records his lineage back to Abraham(as) and cites according to a genealogist of the time, his full name as being; “David bin Jesse bin Aweid bin Aber bin Salmun bin Nahshun bin Amenadab bin Iram bin Hasrun bin Fars bin Judah bin Jacob bin Isaac bin Abraham.”
He was known as a great warrior and then became King of Judah, (a territory south of Jerusalem down to Beersheba and including Hebron), in 1010 BCE. At that time the unifying king of the greater Israel (including Judah), was Saul. This was in the context of trying to stop the attacks of the Philistines and Goliath.
The story of David(as) comes to life with the victory over Goliath, who was from one of the Philistine tribes at war with the Israelites. Many Jewish scholars believe that the Philistines were not a single tribe, but rather a collection of local tribes as well as sea peoples, from Crete and southern Turkey. These tribes had been raiding Egypt and the Middle East and had eventually settled at the start of the 12th century BCE, in the cities of Gaza, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. They were also at war with Ramesses III in Egypt (Shanks, p.86). They used the most advanced weaponry of their time.
In order to understand the situation in which David(as) found himself, we need to turn back two hundred years before his era, to the original conflict between the Israelites and Gideon, and the forces of Jalut (the same Philistine tribes).
Gideon was a mighty warrior, but also a spiritual man who wanted his people to return to the monotheistic belief in Yahweh (Jewish name for God). In an act reminiscent of a forefather Abraham(as), he destroyed the idol and altar of Baal (a regional pagan deity). Whilst reminding the Jews of their monotheistic origins and beliefs, this act also antagonised neighboring tribes who similarly worshipped Baal, and sparked a battle with the Midianites and their allies.
The Jews had a large army but most were reluctant to fight, and the following incidents related in both the Bible and the Qur’an, describe how the troops were reduced in number to those that believed in the unity and power of God:
So he (Gideon) brought the troops down to the water; and the Lord said to Gideon, “All those who lap the water with their tongues, as a dog laps, you shall put to one side; all those who kneel down to drink, putting their hands to their mouths, you shall put to the other side.” The number of those that lapped was three hundred; but all the rest of the troops knelt down to drink water. Then the Lord said to Gideon, “With the three hundred that lapped I will deliver you, and give the Midianites into your hand. Let all the others go to their homes.” (Judges 7:5-7)
The Qur’an describes the battle between Jalut and Talut (Gideon), and then the intervention of Dawud(as) (Arabic form of the name David(as)) as follows:
And when Talut set out with the forces, he said: ‘Surely, Allah will try you with a river. So he who drinks therefrom is not of me; and he who tastes it not is assuredly of me, except him who takes a handful of water with his hand.’ But they drank of it, except a few of them. And when they crossed it – he and those who believed along with him – they said: ‘We have no power today against Jalut and his forces.’ But those who knew for certain that they would one day meet Allah said: ‘How many a small party has triumphed over a large party by Allah’s command! And Allah is with the steadfast.’ And when they issued forth to encounter Jalut and his forces, they said: ‘O our Lord, pour forth steadfastness upon us, and make our steps firm, and help us against the disbelieving people.’ So they routed them by the command of Allah; and David slew Jalut, and Allah gave him sovereignty and wisdom, and taught him of what He pleased. And had it not been for Allah’s repelling men, some of them by the others, the earth would have been filled with disorder. But Allah is munificent to all peoples. (Ch.2:Vs.250-252)
In these verses Jalut (or Goliath) is not an individual, but a collection of the Midianite and Amelakite tribes described as ‘Jalut and his forces’. The trial of the water describes an incident in which the forces of Talut are asked to show self-control and faith in God, before their trial against Jalut. Although reduced to just 300 men Gideon (in the Bible) was successful, because those few men were charged with a unique Divine zeal. Interestingly, the Biblical account is similar to the Qur’anic account in describing the incident at the water or river as a means of refining the army, and identifying those with true faith from those without. The Qur’anic verse also proceeds to the later events about David(as), which we will explore in more detail here.
David(as) and Goliath
Having survived a lengthy war and internal strife, in which the Philistines had killed thousands of Israelites and captured the Ark of the Covenant (sacred tablets of the Jews), the Israelites desperately sought a new and powerful King. Samuel the last of the Judges, anointed Saul as the King, but despite battles with the Philistines, Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, the King of Zobah and Amalekites (1 Samuel 14:47-48), Saul and his 3 sons were unsuccessful and died near Mount Gilboa.
David(as), under persecution from Saul who had seen him as a rival, had previously fled to Gath and fought the enemies of the Philistines, in a pact with them. He later returned to Hebron to become the King of Judah. In 1003 BCE, after the death of Saul, he became the second and the greatest King of the United Kingdom of Israel, a position he held until his death more than thirty years later. As King of Israel the Philistines now saw him as their enemy, and tried to attack him but failed twice, since the ability of his troops had greatly advanced with Divine guidance.
The Qur’an also mentions David(as) as having been given Divine knowledge of how to make armour from softened iron:
And remember David and Solomon when they exercised their respective judgments concerning the crop when the sheep of certain people strayed therein by night, and We were witness to their judgment. We gave Solomon the right understanding of the matter and to each of them gave We wisdom and knowledge. And We subjected the mountains and the birds to celebrate God’s praises with David. And it is We who shall do all such things. And We taught him the making of coats of mail for you, that they might protect you from each other’s violence… (Ch.21:Vs.79-81)
The Bible describes Goliath as a Philistine giant, the champion of their army, whom the young and fearless David(as) struck down with a slingshot:
When the Philistine (Goliath) drew nearer to meet David, David ran quickly toward the battle line to meet the Philistine. David put his hand in his bag, took out a stone, slung it, and struck the Philistine on his forehead; the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground. So David prevailed over the Philistine with a sling and a stone, striking down the Philistine and killing him; there was no sword in David’s hand. Then David ran and stood over the Philistine; he grasped his sword, drew it out of its sheath, and killed him; then he cut off his head with it. And when the Philistines saw their champion was dead, they fled. (1 Samuel 17:48-51)
David(as) is mentioned as the Prophet Dawud(as) 16 times in the Holy Qur’an in Chapters 2, 4, 5, 6, 17, 21, 27, 34 and 38. The Qur’an describes David(as) as dealing the final blow to Jalut (Holy Qur’an, Ch.2:V.252) two hundred years after Talut (Gideon). Interestingly in this case also, the leader of the warring tribes is given the name Jalut (Ahmad, vol.1, p.318-320). It is noteworthy that the Bible story of the fight with Goliath does not appear at all in the Qur’an. Furthermore, the account later in the Bible (2 Samuel 21:18-20) is with various relatives of Goliath being killed.
The incidents at the time of David(as) happened because of the weakness shown by Saul. After his death, David(as) was given permission to annihilate the forces of Jalut, because of their continued assaults and denial of God.
David(as) as King of Israel
In his new role as King, David(as) moved his capital from Hebron to Jerusalem, taking the Ark with him. He united all of the Jewish tribes into a single force and restored a single Jewish faith, worshipping the one God Yahweh. This proved to be a wise decision. Jerusalem was centrally located and not associated with his old kingdom of Judah, nor the tribes to the north, so Jerusalem became a new neutral city, through which all the tribes could be united (Wilson, p.109). One of the significant verses is:
…And We subjected the mountains and the birds to celebrate God’s praises with David… (Ch.21:V.80)
But this verse is not to be taken literally. The Arabic terms used for mountains and birds can be interpreted as great men with the power and strength of mountains, and spiritual men who ascended great spiritual heights. Some commentators have suggested that David(as) literally gained control of mountain tribes around the city of Tyre. Nevertheless, the verse is likely to have the metaphorical meaning described above.
The truth of this verse is evident if one reflects the extent to which David’s empire grew.
David(as) led his armies to combat injustice and defeated the Moabites, Ammonites and Edomites. He grew his united Kingdom from the Dead Sea to the south, up to the bend of the Euphrates covering Syria, Lebanon and parts of modern Iraq.
One example of his superior judgement came when he needed to appoint a chief priest. As with his choice of Jerusalem, he also appointed two priests: Abiathar (Samuel 23:9) descended from Moses(as) lived in the north in Shiloh, and Zadok (2 Samuel 8:17) descended from Aaron(as), lived in the south in Hebron (Wilson, p.112). This was again a wise decision as it prevented regional factions from forming during such a turbulent time. Whilst being aware of the needs of the various tribes, he had also proven himself to be decisive and ruthless in key policies, such as when he sent an army to utterly destroy the Edomites. At the same time, he allowed the Philistines to retain a token presence on the coast. David(as) was also able to build strategic alliances with the Phoenicians and other tribes with whom the Israelites established successful trade links, as is mentioned in the Holy Qur’an:
And We strengthened his kingdom, and gave him wisdom and decisive judgement. (Ch.38:V.21)
So this verse describes his attributes of strength, wisdom and judgement. It was in his reign that Israel reached its zenith due to his vision, religious conviction, leadership qualities and his ability to dispense justice fairly, to all people under his leadership. Thus, it was during the reign of David(as) that through its spiritual and secular development Israel enjoyed its golden age.
David(as) is also portrayed in the Qur’an as a great spiritual leader. In the Qur’an, David(as) is described as being given the Zabur (Psalms) through divine revelation (Ch.4:V.164). Hence, according to Islamic tradition it would be incorrect to claim that he wrote the Psalms through his own authorship. The Bible names his scribe as Jehoshaphat (2 Samuel 8:16), who recorded these revealed verses and poems for the wider Jewish population.
The Arabic name Zabur is similar to the Hebrew names Zamir or Zimra (song) and Mizmor (melody), which could be used to describe the Psalms. In the Qur’an, the Zabur is described as one of the revealed books of the Jews, alongside the Torah of Moses(as) and the Injeel (Gospel) of Jesus(as). All three of these are elements of the modern Bible, supplemented by letters and other historical texts, incorporated into the Bible at various stages of history.
The Qur’an repeatedly mentions the Psalms and even quotes them:
And already have We written in the Book of David, after the exhortation, that My righteous servants shall inherit the land. (Ch.21:V.106)
Interestingly, this verse validates the authenticity of the Psalms, as Psalm 37, verse 29 in the Bible reads:
The righteous shall inherit the land, and live in it forever. (Psalm 37:29)
In the modern Bible, at least 73 of the 150 Psalms are directly attributed to David(as), although older Bibles lack a lot of these references. Thirteen also carry additional contextual information before the Psalms, describing the events when the Psalms were written. David(as) was known for his beautiful singing voice when reciting from the Psalms.
The Hadith (sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw)) recorded by Imam Bukhari, record a Tradition narrated by Adbullah bin ‘Amr(ra) in which the Holy Prophet(saw) said:
‘The most beloved fasting to Allah was the fasting of (the Prophet) David who used to fast on alternate days. And the most beloved prayer to Allah was the prayer of David who used to sleep for (the first) half of the night and pray for 1/3 of it and (again) sleep for a sixth of it.’ (Bukhari, vol.4, ch.34, Hadith no.631)
This illustrates another side of David(as)’s character, for whilst he is often depicted as strong and brave, his spiritual devotion here is considered exemplary. His reciting of the Zabur is described here as the most beloved prayer.
David(as) died in 970 BCE at the age of 70, in the city of Jerusalem. On his death, he passed his kingdom to his son Solomon(as). The Tomb of David(as), lies just outside the Sion Gate in Jerusalem (Murphy-O’Connor p.93).
Much folklore has evolved around David(as). However, it is indisputable that he united the Jewish tribes into a single Kingdom, ruled with strength and justice, and restored the Jewish monotheistic faith to its original, spiritual level. This would not have been possible for a purely secular ruler, so there is no doubt that he was bestowed with a divine mission.
A thousand years later the Jewish Messiah Jesus(as) was born both as the son of God and of Davidic descent. His followers claim that he was born in Bethlehem, (although this may have been recorded in the Bible in order to reinforce his credentials as being from the Davidic family line). Many other notable figures have claimed their lineage back to David(as), including the Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie 1st, and Maimonides, the great 12th century Spanish philosopher of Andalucia. There is no doubt that all notions of a great Jewish nation and state originate from his time.
What is evident is the cycle of history. The Jews and their nation of Israel always prospered when they became spiritual and acted with justice, equity and mercy. This is apparent when they escaped bondage from Pharaoh in Egypt and repelled the Philistines, and later at the hands of Cyrus the Great. But whenever they moved away from their faith and became tyrants, ignoring the several opportunities to change God gave them over many decades, their lands and power were taken away from them, as happened notably at the hands of the Persians and Romans.
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