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Authors: Jo Milgrom and Yoel Duman

David – A man of many faces

In the Bible, David is a shepherd, a musician, a poet, a warrior, a desperado, a king – a husband, a lover, a father and finally an invalid. In post-biblical literature, both Jewish and Christian, David is spiritualized and idealized, because his descendant is the Messiah. And in art, he becomes a stud, a knight in shining armor, a divinely inspired greybeard monarch, a venerable saint. 

Article Sources:

Midrash Samuel 21
And he put them into the shepherd`s pouch and into the bag - R. Joshua of Sikhnin in the name of R. Levi: The pebbles fused into one…
He fell to the ground head first - in order to bury the mouth that had cursed and derided, as is written (Job 40:13) Bury them in the dust together, hide their faces in obscurity. Another explanation of he fell to the ground head first - because his god was portrayed on his chest, to fulfill the verse (Lev 26), I will heap their corpses on the remains of their idols....
Radak on I Sam 17:40
Five pebbles - smooth stones, fit for slinging, as Yonatan translates `smooth stones`. And the midrash explains, Why five? One in honor of the Holy One, blessed be He, and one in honor of Aaron, and three for the three Patriarchs. Said the Holy One`s stone, Did he not curse and revile me? I must punish him. Aaron`s said, Am I not the avenger of blood? I must punish him. Said the stones of the Patriarchs, Must we not punish him, since he cursed and reviled the armies of the living God and sought to exterminate our children and their Torah, their very life.
Bab. Tal. Brachot 3b
But did David rise at midnight? [Surely] he rose with the evening dusk? For it is written: I rose with the neshef and cried.  And how do you know that this word neshef means the evening? It is written: In the neshef, in the evening of the day, in the blackness of night and the darkness!  — R. Oshaia, in the name of R. Aha, replies: David said: Midnight never passed me by in my sleep. R. Zera says: Till midnight he used to slumber like a horse, from thence on he rose with the energy of a lion. R. Ashi says: Till midnight he studied the Torah, from thence on he recited songs and praises. But does neshef mean the evening? Surely neshef means the morning? For it is written: And David slew them from the `neshef` to the evening `ereb of the next day,  and does not this mean, from the `morning dawn` to the evening? — No. [It means:] from the [one] eventide to the [next] eventide. If so, let him write: From neshef to neshef, or from `ereb to `ereb? — Rather, said Raba: There are two kinds of neshef: [the morning neshef], when the evening disappears [nashaf] and the morning arrives,  [and the evening neshef], when the day disappears [nashaf] and the evening arrives.
But did David know the exact time of midnight? Even our teacher Moses did not know it! For it is written: About midnight I will go out into the midst of Egypt.  Why `about midnight`? Shall we say that the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: `About midnight`? Can there be any doubt in the mind of God? Hence we must say that God told him `at midnight`, and he came and said: `About midnight`. Hence he [Moses] was in doubt; can David then have known it? — David had a sign. For so said R. Aha b. Bizana in the name of R. Simeon the Pious: A harp was hanging above David`s bed. As soon as midnight arrived, a North wind came and blew upon it and it played of itself. He arose immediately and studied the Torah till the break of dawn. After the break of dawn the wise men of Israel came in to see him and said to him: Our lord, the King, Israel your people require sustenance! He said to them: Let them go out and make a living one from the other.  They said to him: A handful cannot satisfy a lion, nor can a pit be filled up with its own clods.  He said to them: Then go out in troops and attack [the enemy for plunder]. They at once took counsel with Ahithofel and consulted the Sanhedrin and questioned the Urim and Tummim. 
Midrash Tehillim 144
1. A Psalm of David. Blessed be the Lord, my Rock who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle(Ps. 144:1). Solomon said: Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not upon your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him(Prov. 3:5-6). What did he mean by In all your ways acknowledge Him?He meant: "Everywhere you go, set God in your heart before you, as David used to do." He became king, yet he would say, "I am not king. The Lord is king, for He set me on the throne!" As Scripture says, David perceived that the Lord had established him King over Israel(2 Sam. 5:12). David was a mighty man, but he would say, "I am not a mighty man." David was a wealthy man, but he would say, "I am not a wealthy man." Instead he said, nay, proclaimed: Yours, 0 Lord, is the greatness, and the power, and the glory, and the victory, and the majesty(I Chron. 29:11). David went into battle and conquered, yet he would say, "Not by my own power have I conquered; the Lord helped me, and the Lord brought me the victory. Yea, I con­quered because the Lord so formed me that I could wage war." As Scripture says: It is God that girds me with strength of war(Ps. 18:33). Hence David said: Blessed be the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle(Ps. 144:1). When did God train my fingers for battle? When I smote Goliath. Thus Scripture says And David put his hand in his bag, and took thence a stone, and slung it, and smote the Philistine in his forehead; and the stone sank into his forehead, and he fell upon his face to the earth(I Sam. 17:49). But is this the way one would have expected him to fall? Would not one expect that a man smitten from the front would fall backwards? Why, then, did the Philistine fall upon his face? Because an angel went along with the stone and deliberately threw the Philistine upon his face. Nay, more! The Philistine wore a brazen helmet upon his head: How could the stone have pene­trated the brass, except for the fact that the Holy One, blessed be He, was with David. Hence David said: Blessed be the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle. I would not have been skilled in war, had not the name of the Holy One, blessed be He, may He be blessed, trained me for war. And so Saul said to David: "Go, and the Lord shall be with you" (I Sam. 17:37). And so it was said to Gideon: The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor(Judg.6:12).
Another comment: Blessed art Thou, 0 Lord; teach me Your statutes(Ps. 119:12). I would have known nothing had You not taught me, for it is said 0 God, You have taught me from my youth; and until now do I declare Your wondrous works. Now also when I am old and gray-haired(Ps. 71:17). Hence David said: Blessed be the Lord, my Rock, who trains my hands for war, and my fingers for battle(Ps. 144:1).
Bab. Tal. Sanhedrin 107a
Rab Judah said in Rab`s name: One should never [intentionally] bring himself to the test, since David king of Israel did so, and fell. He said unto Him, `Sovereign of the Universe! Why do we say [in prayer] "The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob," but not the God of David?` He replied, `They were tried by me, but thou wast not. Then, replied he, `Sovereign of the Universe, examine and try me` — as it is written, Examine me, O Lord, and try me.  He answered `I will test thee, and yet grant thee a special privilege;  for I did not inform them [of the nature of their trial beforehand], yet, I inform thee that I will try thee in a matter of adultery.` Straightway, And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed etc.  R. Johanan said: He changed his night couch to a day couch,  but he forgot the halachah: there is a small organ in man which satisfies him in his hunger but makes him hunger when satisfied. And he walked upon the roof of the king`s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.  Now Bath Sheba was cleansing her hair behind a screen,  when Satan came to him, appearing in the shape of a bird. He shot an arrow at him, which broke the screen, thus she stood revealed, and he saw her. Immediately, And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bath Sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? And David sent messengers, and took her, and she came unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanliness: and she returned unto her house.  Thus it is written, Thou host proved mine heart; thou hast visited me in the night; thou host tried me, and shalt find nothing; I am purposed that my mouth shall not transgress.  He said thus: `Would that a bridle had fallen into the mouth of mine enemy [i.e., himself], that I had not spoken thus.`
Raba expounded: What is meant by the verse, To the Chief Musician, A Psalm of David. In the Lord put I my trust: how say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain?  David pleaded before the Holy One, blessed be He: `Sovereign of the Universe! Forgive me that sin, that men may not say, "Your mountain [sc. the king] has been put to flight by a bird."`

Bab. Tal. Shabbat 56a
R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan`s name: Whoever says that David sinned is merely erring, for it is said, And David behaved himself wisely in all his ways: and the Lord was with him.  Is it possible that sin came to his hand, yet the Divine Presence was with him? Then how do I interpret, Wherefore hast thou despised the word of the Lord, to do that which is evil in his sight?  He wished to do [evil], but did not. Rab observed: Rabbi, who is descended from David, seeks to defend him, and expounds [the verse] in David`s favour. [Thus:] The `evil` [mentioned] here is unlike every other `evil` [mentioned] elsewhere in the Torah. For of every other evil [mentioned] in the Torah it is written, `and he did,` whereas here it is written, `to do`: [this means] that he desired to do, but did not. Thou hast smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword:  thou shouldst have had him tried by the Sanhedrin,  but didst not. And hast taken his wife to be thy wife: thou hast marriage rights in her.  For R. Samuel b. Nahmani said in R. Jonathan`s name: Every one who went out in the wars of the house of David wrote a bill of divorcement for his wife, for it is said, and bring these ten cheeses unto the captain of their thousand, and look how thy brethren fare, and take their pledge [`arubatham].  What is meant by `arubatham? R. Joseph learned: The things which pledge man and woman [to one another].  And thou hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon:  just as thou art not [to be] punished for the sword of the Ammonites, so art thou not [to be] punished for [the death of] Uriah the Hittite. What is the reason? He was rebellious against royal authority, saying to him, and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open field [etc].
Pirke de Rabbi Eliezer 30
R. Hanina b. Dosa said: From that ram, which was created at the twilight, nothing came forth which was useless. The ashes of the ram were the base which was upon the top of the inner altar. The sinews of the ram were the strings of the harp whereon David played….
Matthew 1
1 The record of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham:
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers. 3 Judah was the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, Perez was the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram. 4 Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon. 5 Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab, Boaz was the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse. 6 Jesse was the father of David the king.
David was the father of Solomon by Bathsheba who had been the wife of Uriah.

Augustine, Contra Faustem xxii, 87
87.  As regards the prophetic significance of David’s sin, a single word must suffice.  The names occurring in the narrative show what it typifies.  David means, strong of hand, or desirable; and what can be stronger than the Lion of the tribe of Judah, who has conquered the world, or more desirable than He of whom the prophet says, "The desire of all nations shall come?" (Hag.2:7) Bersabee means, well of satisfaction, or seventh well:  either of these interpretations will suit our purpose.  So, in the Song of Songs, the spouse, who is the Church, is called a well of living wate; (Cant 4:15) or again, the number seven represents the Holy Spirit, as in the number of days in Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came from heaven.  We learn also from the book of Tobit, that Pentecost was the feast of seven weeks.  To forty-nine, which is seven times seven, one is added to denote unity.  To this effect is the saying of the apostle:  "Bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace." The Church becomes a well of satisfaction by this gift of the Spirit, the number seven denoting its spirituality; for it is in her a fountain of living water springing up unto everlasting life, and he who has it shall never thirst.Uriah, Bersabee’s husband, must, from the meaning of his name, be understood as representing the devil.  It is in union to the devil that all are bound whom the grace of God sets free, that the Church without spot or wrinkle may be married to her true Saviour.  Uriah means, my light of God; and Hittite means, cut off, referring either to his not abiding in the truth, when he was cut off on account of his pride from the celestial light which he had of God, or to his transforming himself into an angel of light, because after losing his real strength by his fall, he still dares to say, My light is of God.  The literal David, then, was guilty of a heinous crime, which God by the prophet condemned in the rebuke addressed to David, and which David atoned for by his repentance.  On the other hand, He who is the desire of all nations loved the Church when washing herself on the roof, that is, when cleansing herself from the pollution of the world, and in spiritual contemplation mounting above her house of clay, and trampling upon it; and after commencing an acquaintance, He puts to death the devil, whom He first entirely removes from her, and joins her to Himself in perpetual union.  While we hate the sin, we must not overlook the prophetical significance; and while we love, as is His due, that David who in His mercy has freed us from the devil, we may also love the David who by the humility of his repentance healed the wound made by his transgression.