There are two occasions in David’s life where scholars have been very vocal about David not knowing the Torah, otherwise known as the Laws of Moses or the Pentateuch. Those laws are found in the first five books of the Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Depending on how you count them, which like many other things, is controversial, there are roughly 613 laws in those books. Important themes are repeated for emphasis and they are detailed. Reading them gives me a great admiration for Moses, who was a very hard working man! Deuteronomy 31:9 states that on God’s orders, “So Moses wrote this entire body of instruction in a book and gave it to the priests who carried the Ark of God’s Covenant, and to the elders of Isra’el.” They were to be read every seven years to remind the people of them and to inform new generations, of what the Lord wanted Isra’el to do. Obedience would dictate whether the people lived or died. (Deuteronomy 30:11-20)
The first place where David receives criticism for being ignorant of the Torah is in 2 Samuel 6. When David first attempts to move the Ark into Jerusalem, there is a disaster. They move it on an ox cart, and when an oxen stumbles, a man named Uzzah was killed for touching it. 1 Chronicles 13:1 tells us that “David consulted with all his officials, including the generals and captains of his army.” But David had made a tragic mistake by not consulting the Lord first. As King, he did it his way. After the tragedy, in 1 Chronicles 15:13 David says, “Because you Levites did not carry the Ark the first time, the anger of the LORD our God burst out against us. We failed to ask God how to move it properly.”
The most important parts of the tabernacle were designed to be carried on poles on the shoulders of the priests, elevated above men; however, I spent a long time searching for instructions on exactly how they were to be moved and couldn’t find a clear answer. (It’s in Numbers 7:9) The tabernacle had to be moved every time the Lord sent the infant nation of Israel on another part of their journey, so it was moved many times. I was looking for instructions on how to pack it up and shift it with the people, but all I could find was how to make it, maintain it, use it and how Moses installed it. (Exodus 25 to 31) So was this what happened with David too?
Unfortunately, it appears that David’s biggest mistake was in working with people other than the Lord. We don’t definitively know how well he knew Torah, and whether or not this mistake came about due to disrespecting God’s specific wishes in how His Presence was to be moved, or because David didn’t take the time to consult the Torah, remains a matter of debate as the complete facts aren’t available. I do wonder if his officials, includes the priests? Surely they would have known how to move the Ark?
The other instance in which David did not do his homework is when he took a Census of the people in 2 Samuel 24. He did not do it the right way, or for the right reasons; so it is unlikely he would have done his homework anyway.
So do these two incidents mean that David did not study Torah, as he was instructed to do in Deuteronomy 17:18-20? I am going to argue that it is unlikely, as if you read the Torah and then immediately begin reading the Psalms, you will hear the principles and commands of the Torah right throughout the Psalms. Plus 1 Kings 11:33b and verse 38 states that David did obey the law of Moses and all God’s commands.
We know that David grew up in a Godly family and in Psalms 116 and 86, David speaks about his mother as a faithful servant of the Lord. He would have been taught Torah from a young age.
“Truly I am your servant, Lord;
I serve you just as my mother did;
you have freed me from my chains.” (Psalm 116:16)
Take Psalm 3 as an example:
“Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.”
But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.”
Verses 5 and 6 relates to Leviticus 26:6, blessings for obedience. Verse 8 relates to Leviticus 26:7-8. Psalm 9 reflects Deuteronomy 28, and even Psalm 5:6 which speaks of lies, is covered in Torah under Exodus 19:5-6.
Some of David’s harshest words about his enemies are backed up in God’s promises in the Torah and the more I read the Psalms, the more I see those five books of the law as the blueprint for how David acted throughout his life. (Yes, he did abandon it when in sin, as do all of us.)
I’ll finish this with Psalm 5:11 which is so very central to the heart of David and which also corresponds to the teaching in Deuteronomy 33:27:
“But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them sing joyful praises forever.
Spread your protection over them,
that all who love your name may be filled with joy.”
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