An Amalekite brought news of the death of Saul and Jonathan on the battlefield to David in Ziklag. The Amalekite reported that Saul had already fallen on his spear to end his own life, but he was still alive when the Amalekite found him. According to Saul’s request, the Amalekite finished the job and then went to report to David, bringing Saul’s crown and wristlets. David rent his clothes, went into bitter mourning and then slew the messenger for killing the king. Why did David slay this messenger?
“The whole account which this young man gives is a fabrication: in many of the particulars it is grossly self-contradictory . There is no fact in the case but the bringing of the crown , or diadem , and bracelets of Saul; which, as he appears to have been a plunderer of the slain, he found on the field of battle; and he brought them to David, and told the lie of having despatched Saul, merely to ingratiate himself with David.” (Clarke, Bible Commentary, 2:308.)
After a period of mourning, David asked the Lord whether he should go up to Judah. The Lord answered in the affirmative and told him to go to Hebron. He took his two wives (Ahinoam and Abigail) and all his men, and they dwelt there (2 Samuel 2:3). There, the men of Judah anointed David king of Judah, the largest of the Israelite tribes. David made overtures toward the men of Jabesh-gilead, because they had buried Saul with honors, but they anointed a king of their own, Ish-bosheth the son of Saul. He ruled for two years over the tribes of Ephraim and Benjamin and a few other followers. Meanwhile, David ruled over Judah seven and a half years. David did not go up against Ish-bosheth. Remember that he had promised Jonathan that he would never go up against the house of Saul.
There was a skirmish between David’s men and the men of Benjamin commanded by Avner. Nineteen of David’s men perished, and one other, a swift runner named Asahel. Avner lost hundreds in the battle, but convinced all that they should lay down their arms rather than continue to fight.
2 Samuel 3 begins with the words, “Now there was long war between the house of Saul and the house of David: but David waxed stronger and stronger, and the house of Saul waxed weaker and weaker.” Avner actually came over to David’s side, but was slain by Yo’av, who was avenging the death of Asahel. David caused all of his house to mourn over the death of Avner, who had promised to help unify the tribes under David as king. “David went to great lengths to demonstrate to the people that he had had nothing to do with Abner’s death (see vv. 28–38 ). This move was important politically, for those whom Abner had persuaded to change their loyalty to David could easily have gone back to Ishbosheth at the news of Abner’s death.”
In Hebron, David had taken other wives — Maacah, Haggith, Avital, and Eglah. In Hebron, David’s wives bore him six sons: Amnon, Chileab, Absalom, Adonijah, Shephatiah, and Ithream. When Avner was attempting to make peace with David, he requested the presence of Saul’s daughter Michal, who had been David’s first wife, but who had been taken from David and awarded to a man named Phaltiel. David commanded that she be brought back to him, but Phaltiel came after her weeping. Nevertheless, she remained with David.
Ish-bosheth, Saul’s son, began to fear, because David’s legions were becoming so strong. He was right to be afraid. Two of his captains slew him and carried his head to David. True to his past behavior, David had them slain.
In 2 Samuel 4, we are introduced to Mephibosheth, the son of Jonathan. He was 5 years old when Jonathan was slain. When his nurse was carrying him to safety, he fell and became lame.
“So all the elders of Israel came to the king to Hebron; and king David made a league with them in Hebron before the Lord: and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. In Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months: and in Jerusalem he reigned thirty and three years over all Israel and Judah” (2 Samuel 5:3 – 5).
David went up against the Jebusites and took what is called “The City of David,” or “Zion,” on the southwest side of what is now the Old City of Jerusalem. There, he built his capital. “David wisely chose this city as his capital, for Jerusalem was a city between the northern and southern tribes of Israel but it belonged to neither of them because it was still held by the Canaanite Jebusites. The manner of conquering the city has been much discussed because of the problematical word rendered “gutter” ( 2 Samuel 5:8 ). The word most likely designates a channel or a shaft, as it is similarly used in Mishnaic Hebrew. The shaft running up perpendicularly from a water conduit cut into the rock fifty feet west from Gihon, discovered by Sir C. Warren in 1867, would have given people inside the city walls access to water in time of siege and would have made a possible avenue for invaders to enter and open the gates of the city from within. Joab is said to have accomplished that initial entry” (see 1 Chronicles 11:6 ).
David took more wives and concubines and had more children while he dwelt in Zion. David gained strength, and all perceived that the Lord was with him. The Lord guided him through his victories over the Philistines. David determined to bring the ark of the covenant up to Jerusalem from Gibbeah. Uzzah lifted his hand to steady it upon the wagon and fell dead. “The ark of the covenant was a sacred vessel that housed some of the holiest objects in Israel’s history. To touch the ark or its contents was strictly forbidden by the Lord. Only authorized Levites, and they only under certain specified conditions, could handle the sacred instruments (see Numbers 4:15 ). Uzzah may have exhibited some bold presumption when he sought to touch that which God had forbidden to be touched. Even if Uzzah’s intention was simply to keep the ark from falling, it should be remembered that God was fully capable of steadying His own ark had He wished to do so. While much of the story is not known, it is an excellent example that the commands of God are sacred and must be observed precisely as the Lord decreed.”
Eventually, the ark was brought up to Jerusalem. A great celebration, along with sacrifices and worship, accomanied the arrival of the ark. David was a musician, and he danced with the people when the ark was brought up. His wife, Michal, was not impressed by David’s behavior: “Then David returned to bless his household. And Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, How glorious was the king of Israel to day, who uncovered himself to day in the eyes of the handmaids of his servants, as one of the vain fellows shamelessly uncovereth himself” (2 Samuel 6:20)!
David answered her, “It was before the Lord, which chose me before thy father, and before all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the Lord, over Israel: therefore will I play before the Lord”.
“. . . The proud daughter of Saul was offended at the fact, that the king had let himself down on this occasion to the level of the people. She availed herself of the shortness of the priests’ shoulder dress, to make a contemptuous remark concerning David’s dancing, as an impropriety that was unbecoming in a king. . . . With the words ‘who chose me before thy father and all his house, ’ David humbles the pride of the king’s daughter. His playing and dancing referred to the Lord, who had chosen him, and had rejected Saul on account of his pride. He would therefore let himself be still further despised before the Lord, i.e. would bear still greater contempt from men than that which he had just received, and be humbled in his own eyes [see Psalm 131:1 ]: then would he also with the maidens attain to honour before the Lord. For whoso humbleth himself, him will God exalt [ Matthew 23:12 ].” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 2:2:336–38.)
It appears that from then on Michal was as a widow in her own house, for she bore no child after that.
After awhile, David desired to build a house, or temple, to house the ark of the covenant. He said to Nathan the prophet, “…I dwell in an house of cedar, but the ark of God dwelleth within curtains” (2 Samuel 7:2). However, the Lord did not will that David should build a temple as a house of God. No reason is given in 2 Samuel. “In the account in Chronicles, however, David told Solomon that it was revealed to him that he had seen too much war and bloodshed to build the house of the Lord” (see 1 Chronicles 22:8 ).
2 Samuel 7:16 contains prophetic information for David. “This verse is an example of a dualistic prophecy, that is, a prophecy with a double meaning. It promised that David’s lineage would continue on the throne, and unlike Saul’s lineage, would not be overthrown after his death. But it is clearly a Messianic prophecy as well. Jesus, the Messiah, was called David, He would hold the key of David, and He would sit upon the throne of David (see Reading 26-1 ). Clearly, only one person can sit upon the throne of David (that is, rule over the house of Israel) forever and ever, and that one is Christ. He came into mortality as a descendant of David and as an heir to his throne both physically and spiritually. Elder James E. Talmage explained the significance of the genealogies of Jesus given by Matthew and Luke as establishing Jesus’ right to the throne.
“At the time of the Savior’s birth, Israel was ruled by alien monarchs. The rights of the royal Davidic family were unrecognized; and the ruler of the Jews was an appointee of Rome. Had Judah been a free and independent nation, ruled by her rightful sovereign, Joseph the carpenter would have been her crowned king; and his lawful successor to the throne would have been Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” ( Jesus the Christ, p. 87.)
David’s conquests are enumerated in 2 Samuel 8. David was able to extend the borders of the kingdom of Israel to those promised to Abraham by the Lord. He conquered up into Syria and east into Moab. “And David reigned over all Israel; and David executed judgment and justice unto all his people” (2 Samuel 8:15).
In order to honor the house of Saul, David located Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth, and brought him into his own household. He restored to Mephibosheth all of Saul’s land. David caused Ziba, Saul’s servant, to bring his entire household onto the property to till and care for it, but he invited Mephibosheth to always eat at the king’s table.
The Ammonites’ king died, and David decided to send gifts and representatives to the new king, because the Ammonites had shown him kindness in the past. However, the messengers were treated with suspicion and abuse. Thus, David ended up at war with the Ammonites (who were helped by Syria), and triumphed over them.
The Fall of David
We are introduced to Bathsheba in 2 Samuel 11. David stayed behind rather than go out to war with his men. The dwellings of the time (and, indeed, currently in some areas) had flat roofs that were used not only to collect rainwater which would then run off into a cistern, but which were used as rooms or for storage in good weather. David’s palace was probably at a height from which he could view the roofs of many other dwellings. David saw Bathsheba and summoned her.
“Things were getting too easy for David; he had leisure to stay at home while Joab and his men were out fighting Ammonites and Syrians. In his leisure he looked from his rooftop at his neighbor’s wife. Leisure and lust led to adultery and then to murder, which sins had eternal repercussions, as well as tragic earthly results. It is one of the shocking and serious warnings of the Old Testament that a man may be ever so good and great and eminent and still have weaknesses which can lead to deeds that entirely overshadow and defeat the better self!” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:185.)
When Bathsheba became pregnant. David sought to cover up their sin. He summoned Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, home from the battlefield, hoping he would lie with her, and Bathsheba could claim the baby was Uriah’s. However, Uriah never returned to his own house; his heart was with his fellow soldiers. His plan thwarted, David sent Uriah to the front lines, and as planned, Uriah was killed. The Lord revealed David’s sins, adultery and murder, to Nathan the prophet.
“As happens too frequently, it is only when a sinner knows that his sin is known that he begins to repent! The figure of Nathan boldly accusing the king to his face by an allegorical parallel is impressive, though not as surprising in Bible stories as it would be in accounts of other peoples where the will of God was not such a recognized factor in determining the morality of men and in specifying the results. Nathan’s allegory was skillfully drawn, and his climatic ‘ Attah ha ish!’ (‘Thou art the man’) must have crashed in upon the conscience of David like the harbingers of doom’s day.
“His repentant feelings were no doubt sincere, but he could not repent enough to restore the life of his friend, Uriah, nor the virtue of his wife. Though he later hoped and prayed that his soul would not be left forever in hell (the spirit prison), yet the eternal destiny of doers of such twin sins does not look good” (Rasmussen, Introduction to the Old Testament, 1:185).
In Psalm 16 David rejoices that the Lord will not always leave his soul in hell, and in Psalm 51 , he describes his repentance. In Hebrews 6:4–6 and Doctrine and Covenants 132:27 and 76:31–37 is described the “sin against the Holy Ghost,” which is the only sin that can keep us from inheriting a kingdom of glory in the afterlife. It is a sin against knowledge. David was a revelator, the Lord spoke with him directly, and blessed him immensely. David sinned against that knowledge, but he is not a son of perdition.
The Lord has shown the kingdoms of heaven to his modern prophets. (See Doctrine and Covenants, Section 76.) The Lord has also shown a modern prophet a vision of the Spirit World. (See Doctrine and Covenants, Section 138.) In the spirit world, there are two domains, paradise for the righteous, and spirit prison for the wicked. In the spirit world, the spirits of the deceased await resurrection and judgment. The spirits in spirit prison suffer for their own sins, but they can also repent and learn. David learned from the Lord that he would only suffer for his sins in the spirit world, but that his time of suffering would not be eternal. However, he did lose his opportunity to inherit the highest, called the Celestial, kingdom. Only in the Celestial kingdom are marriages eternal. Joseph Smith enquired of the Lord regarding David, and received an answer, recorded in D&C, Section 132:
“Verily, thus saith the Lord unto you my servant Joseph, that inasmuch as you have inquired of my hand to know and understand wherein I, the Lord, justified my servants Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as also Moses, David and Solomon, my servants, as touching the principle and doctrine of their having many wives and concubines— (verse 1)
“David also received many wives and concubines, and also Solomon and Moses my servants, as also many others of my servants, from the beginning of creation until this time; and in nothing did they sin save in those things which they received not of me (v. 38).
“As to crimes for which no adequate restoration is possible, I have suggested . . . that perhaps the reason murder is an unforgivable sin is that, once having taken a life—whether that life be innocent or reprobate—the life-taker cannot restore it. He may give his own life as payment, but this does not wholly undo the injury done by his crime. He might support the widow and children; he might do many other noble things; but a life is gone and the restitution of it in full is impossible. Repentance in the ordinary sense seems futile.
“Murder is so treacherous and so far-reaching! Those who lose their possessions may be able to recover their wealth. Those defamed may still be able to prove themselves above reproach. Even the loss of chastity leaves the soul in mortality with opportunity to recover and repent and to make amends to some degree. But to take a life, whether someone else’s or one’s own, cuts off the victim’s experiences of mortality and thus his opportunity to repent, to keep God’s commandments in this earth life. It interferes with his potential of having ‘glory added upon [his head] for ever and ever.’ ( Abraham 3:26 .)” ( Miracle of Forgiveness, pp. 195–96.)