The Empires of the Bible from the Confusion of Tongues to the Babylonian Captivity

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CHAPTER X. THE EMPIRE OF ISRAEL—REIGN OF DAVID

DAVID was thirty years old when he began to reign,”—B. C. 1056—“and he reigned forty years.” During his reign the power of the kingdom of Israel was raised to the greatest height to which it ever attained; a height indeed which justified the title of Empire. King David’s conquests were began with the capture of the stronghold of Jerusalem, which was still held by the Jebusites of the original inhabitants of the place. They were so confident in their security that they thought it unnecessary to man the walls for serious defense; but in mockery put upon the wall the lame and the blind, and said, “Except thou take away the blind and the lame, thou shalt not come in hither.... Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion: the same is the city of David.” “And David dwelt in the castle; therefore they called it the city of David.” EB 173.1

2. After their great victory over Israel at Gilboa the Philistines had become very bold. Twice since David’s accession they had invaded his realm. Both times they had been repulsed; the second time with the loss of their gods. To prevent any more of their raids, David now took the initiative and invaded Philistia. He “smote the Philistines and subdued them.” He took “the bridle of the metropolis,” and captured Gath, their capital, with its dependent towns, and held them. He next invaded the land of Moab and totally subdued it, “so that the Moabites became David’s servants, and brought gifts.” He likewise conquered the countries of Amalek, and Ammon, and Edom. And “throughout all Edom put he garrisons, and all they of Edom became David’s servants.” These conquests embraced all the countries of the south and east, from the borders of Egypt to the Arabian desert. EB 173.2

3. In the north, on the eastern side of Mount Lebanon above Damascus, lay now the kingdom of Zobah,ruled by Hadadezer. By some means he had lost his border that lay on the Euphrates; and when he went up there to recover the lost territory, David overran his dominions, met him in battle, defeated him, and captured “a thousand chariots, seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand footmen.” Then the Syrians of Damascus came to the help of Hadedezer, and were likewise defeated with a loss of twenty-two thousand. “Then David put garrisons in Syria of Damascus: and the Syrians became servants to David, and brought gifts.” EB 174.1

4. On both sides of the River Orontes, immediately north of the country of Zobah proper,lay the kingdom of Hamath which was ruled by King Toi. The extension of the power of Hadadezer had seriously threatened the dominions of Toi; indeed Hadadezer had made more than one attempt upon the kingdom of Hamath. And now when Toi learned of the complete overthrow of Hadadezer by David, he was so much pleased that he “sent Joram his son unto King David, to salute him, and to bless him.” He freely made submission to David, sending as tokens of his submission presents of “vessels of silver, and vessels of gold, and vessels of brass.” As a firm friendship and alliance had existed from the beginning of David’s reign between him and Hiram, king of Tyre, the submission of Toi and the conquests of the other nations named, gave to the kingdom of Israel the supremacy over all the countries and peoples from the Euphrates at the thirty-sixth parallel to the river of Egypt. EB 174.2

5. Yet those nations were not willing to rest submissive under but one test of strength. At the call of the Ammonites, a powerful combination was formed against the kingdom of Israel. Nahash, the king of the Ammonites, died and was succeeded by his son, Hanun. To Hanun David sent ambassadors with a message of condolence. The princes of Ammon insisted to Hanun that the death of his father was only a pretext with David, and that the ambassadors were really spies. Hanun accepted this view and accordingly heaped gross indignities upon them and sent them back to their king. This insult was followed immediately with great preparations for war. “Hanun and the children of Ammon sent a thousand talents of silver” 1 to hire chariots and horsemen out of Mesopotamia, and out of Syria-maachah, and out of Zobah, of the Syrians of Beth-Rehob, and the men of Tob. 2 So they hired thirty and two thousand chariots, and thirty-three thousand footmen; who came and pitched before Medeba. And the children of Ammon gathered themselves together from their cities, and came to battle.” EB 174.3

6. As soon as David heard of this mustering of forces against him, he gathered an army and sent it under the command of Joab to meet them in their own country, rather than to have this great army enter his own land. Joab marched his army to Medeba, and in one decisive battle completely overthrew the Ammonites and all their mercenaries. The mercenaries fled to their own countries and the Ammonites took refuge in their city. Joab, without offering a siege, returned to Jerusalem. EB 175.1

7. Hadadezer, disgusted at the easy defeat of the Syrians in the battle of Medeba, decided that he would make an effort to wipe out the disgrace. Accordingly “Hadadezer sent and brought out the Syrians that were beyond the river” Euphrates: and gathered all his own army, and put the whole host under the command of Shobach, his own general-in-chief, at Helam. When David learned of it, “he gathered all Israel together,” and, with himself in command, “passed over Jordan, and came to Helam. And the Syrians set themselves in array against David, and fought with him.” The host of Hadadezer was defeated with a loss of more than forty thousand; and Shobach, the captain of the host, was slain. “And when all the kings that were servants to Hadadezer saw that they were smitten before Israel, they made peace with Israel, and served them. So the Syrians feared to help the children of Ammon any more.” EB 175.2

8. The next year David sent his army, under the command of Joab, into the country of Ammon, and they besieged Rabbah, and the capital city. When they had almost taken the city, at the request of Joab David himself came down and led the final attack and the assault, and the city was taken. “And he took their king’s crown from off his head, the weight whereof was a talent of gold with the precious stones: and it was set on David’s head. And he brought forth the spoil of the city in great abundance. And he brought forth the people that were therein, and put them under saws, and under harrows of iron, and under axes of iron, and made them pass through the brick-kiln: and thus did he unto all the cities of the children of Ammon. 3 So David and all the people returned unto Jerusalem.” EB 176.1

9. After these successive defeats of the most powerful forces that could be gathered, the supremacy of the kingdom of Israel was assured over the all the countries and people from the Red Sea and the river of Egypt to the River Euphrates at the thirty-sixth parallel. And the empire which David had thus built up, and which he was enabled to transmit in peace to his successor, “was the largest,” the most wealthy, and the most powerful, “in the Oriental world at that time.” 4 EB 176.2

10. No sooner was peace assured abroad, however, than conspiracy, rebellion, and war, occurred at home, both in David’s own personal, and his official family. And it was all the result of the one great sin that mars the life record of David. It was while the siege of Rabbah was being carried on, that David committed his great sin in the case of Bath-sheba, the wife of Uriah, the Hittite. It was in that siege that the treachery was practised upon the brave Uriah by which he, one of the most valiant men in all the army of Israel, was slain with the sword of the enemies of the Lord—and this as an expedient to conceal the wrong already done to him in the sin which had been committed with his wife. So deceitful is sin; so dreadful is the service of Satan. EB 176.3

11. Bath-sheba was the daughter of Eliam, who was the son of Ahithophel, who was the chief counselor of King David. 5 Bathsheba being thus the grandchild of Ahithophel, David’s deed had wounded in the tenderest place possible, the most influential man in the kingdom. Absalom, restless, ambitious, and unprincipled, having already incurred the displeasure of his father, the king, determined to use this train of circumstances to put himself upon the throne. To attract the attention of the people he “prepared him chariots and horses and fifty men to run before him.” David’s sin had weakened his own standing with the people. His overwhelming disgrace caused him to seek retirement rather than publicity, so that his personal and powerful influence was in a great measure lost from the administration of affairs, and “judgment and justice unto all his people” was not executed as formerly. EB 177.1

12. This condition of things Absalom used to gain for himself a material governmental standing in the estimation of the people. He took up a position at the side of the way that led to the gate of justice; hailed every man that was on the way to the gate, and assured him that his cause was good and right, but that from the king downward no one would hear him; and then would exclaim: “O that I were made judge in the land, that every man which hath any suit or cause might come unto me, and I would do him justice! And it was so, that when any man came nigh to him to do him obeisance, he put forth his hand, and took him, and kissed him. And on this manner did Absalom to all Israel that came to the king for judgment: so Absalom stole the hearts of the men of Israel.” EB 177.2

13. When his plans had become sufficiently matured, under pretense of fulfilling a vow, Absalom obtained permission of the king to go to Hebron. He also sent emissaries throughout all the tribes, and instructed them that as soon as they should hear the sound of the trumpet, they were to proclaim everywhere in the land, “Absalom reigneth in Hebron.” As soon as he arrived at Hebron, “Absalom sent for Ahithophel, the Gilonite, David’s counselor, from his city, even from Giloh, while he offered sacrifices. And the conspiracy was strong; for the people increased continually with Absalom.” EB 178.1

14. To save Jerusalem and its people from the blood of battle or the horrors of a siege, David chose to flee. “And Absalom, and all the people the men of Israel, came to Jerusalem, and Ahithophel with him.” “And the counsel of Ahithophel, which he counseled in those days, was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God: so was all the counsel of Ahithophel both with David and with Absalom.” Ahithophel advised that he be given twelve thousand men with whom to pursue David that same night, to overtake him while his people were “weary and weak handed,” and he would kill David and bring back all the people to Absalom. The friends of David in Jerusalem immediately sent to him tidings of what Ahithophel had counseled, with advice that he should not stop till he had crossed the Jordan. “Then David arose, and all the people that were with him, and they passed over Jordan: by the morning light there lacked not one of them that was not gone over Jordan.” However the counsel of Ahithophel was not followed; so that there was really no danger to David from that source. But when Ahithophel saw that his counsel was disregarded, he knew that the cause of Absalom was lost: and fearing the results of his own treason he at once went home to his own city and hanged himself. EB 178.2

15. David halted at Mahanaim, and organized his forces there. Absalom with his army followed after, and “Israel and Absalom pitched in the land of Gilead.” The battle was joined “in the wood of Ephraim.” Absalom’s forces were defeated with a loss of twenty thousand. Absalom himself was caught by his head in the thick boughs of a great oak, and his mule went from under him and left him hanging there. And there he was found and slain by Joab. EB 178.3

16. As David was returning to Jerusalem, a quarrel sprang up between the men of Israel and the men of Judah as to who had the most right in the king. “And the words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.” Then “Sheba, the son of Bichri, a Benjamite, ... blew a trumpet, and said, We have no part in David, neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: every man to his tents, O Israel. So every man of Israel went up from after David, and followed Sheba, the son of Bichri: but the men of Judah clave unto their king, from Jordan even to Jerusalem.” Shortly afterward Sheba was besieged in the city of Abel-beth-maachah, and the people of the city took him and cut off his head and threw it over the wall; and so ended the siege and this second rebellion. EB 179.1

17. Peace had now returned to the kingdom of David. The harvest that had come from his sowing of sin, had been long and most bitter. It is true that in his sin he gave great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme. And it is true that to this day, the enemies of the Lord do use it for occasion to blaspheme. But why will they not remember his repentance and his affliction? The sin which he did has not been so exceptional in history. The identical things that David did in his sinning have been done in all the kingdoms, and by almost all the kings, of history. But where in all history is there an instance of such repentance as David’s ? Where is there an instance of another king making such a confession as did he ? Where did ever one write out in full his confession and publish it to the world for all time ? EB 179.2

18. There is however a point worthy of consideration, in the fact that it is only “the enemies of the Lord” who make David’s sin an occasion to blaspheme; and it is not to their purpose to remember his repentance and his confession. Wherever David’s sin is recalled, let his repentance, his confession, and his affliction, also be remembered. Where this shall be done, there will be no enemies of the Lord; but all will be glad of the blessed fact that though men do sin, yet repentance, and confession, and forgiveness, are freely granted by the Lord to all, that we may be saved from sin. And though the fruit of sin, in affliction may come, yet the guilt is gone, His anger is turned away, and He comforts him who has sinned. EB 179.3

19. With peace reigning once more in all Israel and throughout all his dominions, David gave himself again to the development of the resources, the guidance of the affairs, and the complete organization, of his kingdom. David’s skill and ability in government were demonstrated even at the beginning of his career. When he was first outlawed by Saul “every one that was in distress, and every one that was in debt, and every one that was discontented, gathered themselves unto him; and he became a captain over them: and there were with him about four hundred men.” 6 And though he had thus such a large number of men who were practically outlaws and ready for anything, yet under David they were so led that instead of engaging in any lawlessness they became a guard against lawlessness to the property of others. For the servants of Nabal testified of their own accord that while they were keeping the thousands of their master’s sheep in the wilds where David’s men were, “The men were very good unto us, and we were not hurt, neither missed we anything, as long as we were conversant with them, when we were in the fields: they were a wall unto us both by night and day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep.” This faculty of government was not lost by David as he increased in years and as larger opportunities were met. EB 180.1

20. The last years of David were occupied particularly with preparing the plans and materials for the house of the Lord that was to be built. For he said, “The house that is to be builded for the Lord must be exceeding magnifical, of fame and of glory throughout all countries: I will therefore now make preparation for it.” He prepared a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver, and of brass and iron without weight, for it was in abundance, and also much timber and stone. EB 180.2