How David Compares to Other Near Eastern Kings

Sumerian King List

Sumerian King List

God changes everything in people’s lives. He always has, He always will. Last year I began to dig back through ancient history to find out what the kings in David’s era and part of the world were like. I wanted to know where the corruption that comes with royalty stemmed from. The search took me back far further than I had anticipated and I was stunned to know so much of the culture was still relevant and active in David’s lifetime.

The roots of kingship go back to the first city states which sprung up in Mesopotamia, where people decided to group together and organise to make survival easier: and of course, someone grabbed power. We don’t know who the first “king” was. They could have been a reputed warrior, a respected priest or someone who was simply savvy enough to take the opportunity to be the guy in charge. You know the deal. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of years have gone past, (estimated to be six thousand by historians,) it’s still a man in a fancier hat with a better house, servants and loads more money than everyone else. Kingship has been synonymous with excess and abuses of power since the beginning not because people tend to be a little jealous, but because that is the way things really are.

When kings first came in society changed. The power stopped being in the hands of the people, or a democratic committee of people. Women started to be treated as lesser beings and the class system was “invented” where some had more and some had less, rather than everyone working towards survival. God gave His people a command from the beginning of time: “go forth and multiply.”[Ref. Genesis 9:7] We were never meant to be clustered together in unhealthy cities with a class and sexist divide which shoves God out of the picture. For the sake of an easier life, our ancestors gave that up and nothing has really changed. We are still suspicious of the number 13, we still exalt people into insane positions of wealth and power, and humanity leans away from the freedom that God wanted for us, creating social problems, mental illness and all manner of physical sickness.

By the time I got to David, three thousand years later, I was mortified to see the same system being maintained and concerned at the similarities between paganism and How Israel functioned. For example, the kings were always placed in power by their deity, the altars had horns, and the priests needs were catered for the same way. There were a lot of parallels where the base culture that had produced Abraham had stuck in people’s minds and had gone through very little modification; the gods were basically the same; no one had grown. The whole structure of society was essentially a corruption of what God had intended.

As I said above, God changes everything in people’s lives. He always has, He always will and He did that with David. Saul bought straight into the culturally accepted, corrupt mode of kingship, and David did follow that to a significant degree, but he was different. David had been bought up strong in the faith and he doggedly stayed on that path, despite being exiled from fellowship and access to Israel’s worship practices by Saul. [Ref. 1 Samuel 26:19-20] He followed the laws in the Torah which God had handed down through Moses, and this made him distinct from any other king. He was so distinct that it’s given historians a reason to doubt he ever existed, as he didn’t leave the usual marks of kingship behind for us to find.

The biggest thing a king did in the ancient Near East was build a temple. Now David did that, but not in the same way. Normally when a Near Eastern king came into power, they set up their own capital city regardless of what already existed (he did that); named it after them (he didn’t do that); then build yet another temple to their god to show what a devout, god-chosen leader they were. No temple existed in Israel until David decided that his living large while God dwelled in a tent was just not right. Why? Saul was not a man of religious fervour, to put it mildly. It is doubtful he would have weighed up the difference between his home and God’s and decided to put the situation right. God had asked Moses to build the tabernacle, which was a nice tent situation, so that would do. It takes a different heart to choose not to live in greater splendour than the One to whom you owe you life, your success and your future. David had that humble heart that cared about His creator.

David’s humility also kept him from following in some of the other time-worn customs of kings. Yes, he did accumulate wives like other kings, which was against the law and had consequences which he regretted deeply. He did grab the King of Rabbah’s elaborate crown for himself… but he did not sing his own praises from the palace roof. Yes, of course he would have succumbed to ego on occasion. When even your wives bow and scrape before you, the human brain is going to go places it should not venture, and you’ll have a tough time staying humble. But David was undeniably modest compared to a typical king. [Ref. Rabbah 2 Samuel 12:29-30]

Lion-men; orthostat relief from Herald's wall, Carchemish ; 850-750 BC; Late Hittite style under Aramaean influence. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey

Lion-men; orthostat relief from Herald’s wall, Carchemish ; 850-750 BC; Late Hittite style under Aramaean influence. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey

Other kings had elaborate stele (victory memorials), and/or commemorative orthostats (carved scenes on the walls) in their palace, telling everyone who visited how they had won wars, taken slaves and been the best of the best: a powerful man that you don’t mess with. David did none of this. Stele’s nearly always had their god carved into the picture in close proximity to the king to reinforce the idea that the king was chosen, blessed and victorious because of their god. It is the kind of idol imagery which is forbidden in the ten commandments and that may have been one reason why David didn’t do it. He recorded his life events through Psalms, some of which are like victory steles, others which are cries for help, but nothing else has been discovered. We have ancient Babylonian and Assyrian statues and orthostats which pre-date David, but nothing has been found of his as it appears, it just wasn’t his thing. Yes, it could have been destroyed when Jerusalem was sacked by Babylon; but there is no Biblical account of any such objects being made, even though we know which of his great-grandsons thought it would be fashionable to paint the palace walls red.

Read the Psalms: “I will tell of the marvellous things You have done.” Psalm 9:1b and “I will exalt You Lord, because You have rescued me.” Psalm 30 David never takes the glory for himself, he always gives it to God. It would be completely incongruent to his character to build memorials to himself for what God had done.

David was also humble in the empire department. When kings traditionally went on campaign each spring to expand their control, we find David staying at home in Jerusalem while Joab gets on with the security-related tasks. [Ref. 2 Samuel 11:1, Joab was dealing with the aftermath of 2 Samuel 10.] He dealt with the enemies of Israel, but he didn’t get ambitious beyond that. It was common for kings to start expanding their territory just because they could. David didn’t. It’s that simple. The Lord had said, “I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more.” 2 Samuel 12:8  It looks like David simply did not ask God for me. He was satisfied with a secure nation and the blessing he had. Psalm 34:14 …. says “seek peace and work to maintain it.” Taking this general attitude and his habit of not joining Joab on the battlefield unless it was absolutely necessary, it appears David was simply not a war-mongering conquerer.

He didn’t give himself a grandiose title or nickname either. King Lugal-zaggisi of Sumer claimed that he ruled the four quarters of the world, even though he was only the ruler of the neighbouring regions of Sumer and Akkad. Etana, King of Kish, called himself “the shepherd, who ascended to heaven and consolidated all the foreign countries.” En-me-barage-si, also of Kish, referred to himself as the one: “who made the land of Elam submit,” and Kubaba, the only female king, called herself: “the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kish.” David once referred to himself as the “sweet singer of Israel,” but it was it.

I have often called David the anti-king because of his humility, but the glory doesn’t even go to him for achieving that. While it was his choice to be open to the leading and correction of the Holy Spirit, at the end of the day, it was God’s work in David which turned him into the awesome man he became. As many have said, David was the start of an era and the end of that era… and that era was planned and put into place by his God, YHWH, who did this not just for David, He did it for all of His people. God changes everything in people’s lives. He always has, He always will.


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Why So Many Wives? King David and Polygamy

legitsonsThroughout many cultures and time periods, the acceptable marriage standards have changed due to the necessity of providing for the children, the rights of women and to ensure the maintenance of the family line. Why the Bible allows polygamy is a common question I see asked around the Internet. That question is closely followed by why did King David get away with having so many wives and concubines? This page answers those questions from an objective, sociological and psychological viewpoint.

Polygamy is currently considered unacceptable throughout the western world, even though our ancestors relied on it for survival. It is criticised as through the eyes of our first world culture because we see it as:

– a means of increasing gender inequality;
– patriarchal behaviour which may involve favouritism and children being given less nurturing than they deserve due to their numbers;
– narcissistic, sexual greed;
– an impractical lifestyle placing too great an economic burden on the welfare State or the family, due to the high cost of raising families in cities and towns;
– a source of conflict, jealousy and unhappiness to the wives and
– open to abuse by a dominant, head wife who controls all lesser wives under her.

For a man to take multiple wives in our modern nations, the above indeed, could be considered a serious problem, plus you have demographic issues arising from women gravitating towards high status males with secure economic standing, or being monopolised by those males, which leaves the ‘lesser’ men unable to find life partners. That leads to complex social problems.

It is also worth noting that polygamy was not bigamy in Biblical times. Bigamy only occurs when current, western marriage laws are broken. The godly, Biblical patriarchs were polygamists and the Lord blessed them with the command to be fruitful and multiply.

However, in a great many parts of the world, polygamy is still the norm, especially where cultures rely on agriculture and having many children and many wives, enhances the ability of all members of the family to survive famine, drought, natural disasters, maternal, infant and child mortality rates, disease, war and misfortune. The strength of an extended family also means that regardless of health or disaster, there will always be someone else to shoulder a wife’s household tasks, care for her children (particularly if the parent is ill or deceased) and be there as part of a loving family community. In everyday life, that can be a great asset which would reduce our cultural epidemic of loneliness.

Studying at the survival statistics in Africa, an example of what the health and living conditions in King David’s time would have been like, the results are harsh and heart breaking. Roughly speaking, one in forty-eight women had a chance of dying in childbirth. The younger the woman was (under fifteen years of age), the greater chance of that happening. Women who had child, after child with little break could also suffer maternal depletion syndrome, as their bodies did not have the diet or recovery time to rejuvenate after pregnancies. Again, this leads to serious health problems and often, death. In addition, it was very common for women to suffer illness or injury because of childbirth, even if they survived the process, so again, there is loss of life and the need for other members of a strong, extended family to be able to step in and assist with bringing up existing children.

One in seven women would have also suffered complications in childbirth. Common complications include bleeding, infection (remember, there were no antibiotics, so simple issues had dire consequences), and obstructions such as breech deliveries. It is without doubt that King David would have lost multiple wives to problems arising from childbirth, so when looking at his family tree, keep it in mind that not all of these women would have lived.

If a child successfully made it’s way into the world, they are a great risk of dying within the first forty-eight hours. Depending on what statistics you read, at a conservative estimate, 30% – 40% or more of children would not make it to adolescence. This could be because of birth defects, malnutrition, malaria, smallpox and other childhood diseases, accidents etc. In short, it is obvious that for any family to survive, the best option is to reproduce in high numbers. One psychological study likened it to the animal kingdom, where most species have multiple mates as higher numbers mean greater success.

16790356_sSo this brings us then to the Biblical question, did David have too many wives? The prophet Nathan had indicated that the number of wives David had, were not a problem to the Lord. [2 Samuel 12:80] They had never turned his heart away from God, as happened with Solomon. However, there were consequences of taking that many wives and concubines. Whilst marrying the wives and concubines (secondary, lower status wives) gave all the women and children a secure economically sound home, we do see the example of how the demands of Kingship and fatherhood led to less than perfect parenting by King David.

1 Kings 1:5-6 tells us: “About that time David’s son Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, began boasting, “I will make myself king.” So he provided himself with chariots and charioteers and recruited fifty men to run in front of him. Now his father, King David, had never disciplined him at any time, even by asking, “Why are you doing that?” Adonijah had been born next after Absalom, and he was very handsome.” This illustrates the potential problems.

Within any relationship there are conflicts and joys. The greater the number of wives and children, the more room there is to smother, or hide from the need for problem resolution. The addition of each new wife and concubine would also alter the ‘pecking order’ and security of current wives, which could create a slew of problems. I cannot see it as a perfect system, but then, neither is monogamy. Jealousy, extramarital affairs, conflicts and child rearing issues are massive complications within both systems. For any family to work, a solid set of faith-based, moral values and behaviour which is firmly grounded in the *fruit of the Spirit is critical for any form of success.

*Galatians 5:22-23

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Recommended Reading:

– Childbirth in Developing Countries: http://www.worldpress.org/africa/3834.cfm
– Mortality, Childbirth from the Encyclopaedia of Death and Dying: http://www.deathreference.com/Me-Nu/Mortality-Childbirth.html
– Infant Mortality in The Land of Israel in Late Antiquity: https://faculty.biu.ac.il/~barilm/infant.html
– Wedding and Marriage Customs in the Bible: http://www.bible.ca/marriage/ancient-jewish-three-stage-weddings-and-marriage-customs-ceremony-in-the-bible.htm
– Ancient Jewish Marriage from My Jewish Learning: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/ancient-jewish-marriage/
– Why Did the Lord Allow Men to Have Concubines? http://www.ukapologetics.net/concubine.html
– Concubine: Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary: http://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionaries/bakers-evangelical-dictionary/concubine.html
– World Health Organisation, Maternal Mortality: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs348/en/
– World Health Organisation, Child Mortality: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs178/en/
– Psychology Today on Polygamy: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-human-beast/201210/the-three-reasons-polygamy


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Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

Things You Need to Know About Isra’el in King David’s Time

Updated: November 2016 and January 2017.

It has taken me a few years to pull all this information together and a lot of it, I have never heard before. Over many years at church, I have heard a number of Bible Study leaders ask why such a small area of desert land has caused so much trouble throughout history? They have always answered with a spiritual warfare focus, but looking back in time, to when this area was central in the known, most inhabited part of the world, there are many reasons why Isra’el was a key area above and beyond the spiritual.

The facts below set the scene for David’s Kingdom and explain why Isra’el had so much trouble with neighbouring nations.

1. Isra’el was less impacted by desert in David’s time and lay in an ancient fertile crescent that circles the west and top of the Far and Middle East. The rainfall was excellent, and thus crops and cattle were able to thrive. It was indeed the land of milk and honey [Ref. Exodus 23:3] and worth fighting over by the surrounding nations. Unfortunately this screen shot isn’t clear, but the blue areas indicate good rainfall. [This map is not my work. The source is below.]

IMG_0973

Like Australia, Isra’els geography is misunderstood. If you look at Isra’el now, you will find that the entire country is not desert. There are snow fields in the mountains, the area around Galilee is stunning, and the west is bordered by the beauty of the Mediterranean. Don’t believe the Bible movies which like to film in the cheaper desert areas, misrepresenting Isra’el’s full natural beauty. Many areas of the Middle East which are now desert, were once thriving agricultural areas of beauty.

The encroachment of the desert comes from soil depletion,  land clearing and deliberate sabotage by later invading nations. [Please see Sand and Sin: More Research on the History of Jerusalem for more information on this.]

God told His people to let their fields rest one year in each seven, and they disobeyed; thus what we see now is a sad reminder of what happens when we misuse natural resources. Secular sources tell us that if land is not allowed to rest, salination from irrigation can set in within 15 years, making the field unusable permanently. The land has suffered accordingly from these poor farming practices, war and other calamities. A lot can change in a few thousand years.

2. With good food supply comes population growth. This places stress on the available land, food and water resources, and leads to raids and wars between neighbouring nations, as everyone needs the land to survive. In particular, God had always commanded His people to be fruitful and multiply (e.g. Genesis 48:4 and Leviticus 26:9 and many more), so they needed the full extent of the land which had been promised to them by God. [Ref. Numbers 34 gives the borders.]

This demand was also increased by the late Bronze age collapse. (To learn more, please see the article link below.)

3. Isra’el’s west, along the Mediterranean, had a major lucrative trade route running north to south, through it. Like the ancient city of Petra which was incredibly rich, if a nation can control a trade route, they can make a fortune in providing travellers with food, water, safe accommodation and safe escorts to their destination; and they can also choose to tax caravans travelling through. One thousand years or so after David, the Silk Road from modern Asia through to the Mediterranean, ran straight through Isra’el. It’s a key site.

4. The late Bronze Age Collapse resulted in a dark age in the region, which lasted several hundred years. As this is a complicated subject, it has been covered in a separate article which can be found here: http://articles.faithwriters.com/reprint-article-details.php?article=34823

 

 

IMG_1595

 

Long after David’s time when people who were more settled and less at risk of starvation and political upheaval, they were now freer to invent, question how the cosmos and nature worked, and for the first time, begin to consider how man affects his own destiny, rather than every event being attributed to acts of the gods. This is shown in the graph above which shows how introspective language began to appear in literature. (This chart does not belong to me.)

We know that this societal change gave rise to the work of Plato, Aristotle, then later, Galileo, with the usurping of the flat earth theory. Mankind’s hunger for scientific knowledge grew and started to displace reliance on gods. In David’s time, the curiosity about the natural world would have been there, as is shown in the Psalms, but the ability to chase answers and formulate elaborate theories based on data collection, seemed to not exist. (Or evidence of this has been lost.) The theory is that people’s energy was caught up in the desperate need for survival, which collective affected all within the ancient world. Without the time to explore alternatives, people believed that their life was determined by their observance to their deity, who had to be appeased and who called the shots.

This is a completely different way of thinking which we cannot easily comprehend, as there are no Judaic, or Christian references to fully explain how it worked, in a manner we can grasp. Christianity was in the future of mankind and the Jewish Talmud (secular holy books interpreting the Old Testament and setting down laws which God did not give man), was not written until mankind had entered this philosophical and scientific age.

Understanding this conflicting world view has been a hard task for me and one I will continue to work on. I see God teaching His people the same values we now have since the earliest times, but to get to where we are now, was quite a process, and one that definitely reinforces how badly the world needed Jesus to set us on a better path. When studying David, I now take this difference in worldview into account.

Reference Sources: whilst there have been many, the information on rainfall comes from The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago. You may benefit from their videos on the Near East and Ancient world. Please also visit this TED Talk on Your words may predict your future mental health by Mariano Sigman, which talks about a small part of the puzzle.


Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.