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Law and Disorder in the Life of King David

by Cate Russell-Cole  
6/15/2016 / Bible Studies

CONTENT WARNING: this chapter may distress some readers.

To understand King David's actions, you need to know several key laws that were handed down by Moses and some of the civil laws which may have been applicable at the time. Without these, incomprehensible holes are left in David's life and his motivations are easily misunderstood.

In all you read, remember this caveat: "So David reigned over all Israel; and David administered justice and righteousness for all his people." 2 Samuel 8:15

"For David had done what was pleasing in the Lord's sight and had obeyed the Lord's commands throughout his life, except in the affair concerning Uriah the Hittite." 1 Kings 15:5

"After He had removed him, He raised up David to be their king, concerning whom He also testified and said, 'I HAVE FOUND DAVID the son of Jesse, A MAN AFTER MY HEART, who will do all My will.' "From the descendants of this man, according to promise, God has brought to Israel a Saviour, Jesus, after John had proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel." Acts 13:22-24


When men went to war, because they could go missing in action, which would leave their wife and children in a terrible position where they couldn't remarry for financial survival etc., the men obtained a "Get" (sefer k'ritut or divorce) before they left for the battlefield. If they came home, they got remarried. It was a protective custom. [Ref. base of and Jewish TV]

When David secretly sinned with Bathsheba, her husband Uriah was serving at war, so Bathsheba was legally not married at the time. You can imagine the inner rationalisation David may have made, to justify his actions. However, under the law set by Moses, none of his justifications would have legally resulted in anything other than his death.

David warranted the death penalty for both adultery and murder. [Ref: incident 2 Samuel 12; Leviticus 24:17 on murder and Deuteronomy 5:17, the 10 Commandments on murder.] "If a man is found lying with a married woman, then both of them shall die, the man who lay with the woman, and the woman; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel." Deuteronomy 22:22 NASB

David fought off the guilt for nearly a year, making himself ill in the process. As for anyone, the thought of the death penalty was more than he was willing to face. The prophet, Nathan, finally bought him to account. [Ref: 2 Samuel 11 and 12 and Deuteronomy 22:22-29 covers all possibilities. Cross reference: incident Leviticus 20:10 and on adultery and the 10 Commandments, Deuteronomy 5:18.]

"When I kept silent about my sin, my body wasted away
Through my groaning all day long.
For day and night Your hand was heavy upon me;
My vitality was drained away as with the fever heat of summer.
I acknowledged my sin to You,
And my iniquity I did not hide;
I said, "I will confess my transgressions to the LORD";
And You forgave the guilt of my sin." Psalm 32:3-5

Both he and Bathsheba should have been put to death for adultery; there was no rape involved. Bathsheba did not scream for help as per the law; this is further evidence that Bathsheba was complicit in the sin and David's advances were not violent. [Ref: Deut. 22:27] The Bible calls rape, rape; it never hedges on the nature of sin, to make readers more comfortable; and in the instance of rape, David would have been called to account by Nathan. (Yes, I know this is all debatable, but this is the situation in line with the Biblical evidence.)

This war divorce law also probably came into play when David had to escape Saul, then Saul retaliated against David by marrying David's wife, Michal, off to another man in David's absence. Saul could have simply lied and said, "he has disappeared, he had a Get." If old Gets were kept in order that a new one didn't have to be hand written for each warrior, every time they went to war (I don't know if that actually happened, but it would be practical), Saul could have obtained an old one and thus his actions appeared legal... and David should technically, have never taken Michal back [Ref. Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as an example of defilement by a second man.]


a) Absalom wanted his brother Amnon dead, after his sister Tamar was raped, he had his servants kill Amnon. They were promised that he would protect them from the death penalty. He did not do that, he fled when Amnon was killed and remained in hiding for three years. In this instance, even though everyone knew Amnon was to blame, the death penalty would have been given to the servants as they had obeyed, whether under duress, promise of protection, or not. As for what should have happened to Absalom, morally and legally King David should have had his son bought to Jerusalem and tried for conspiracy to murder, even if he did not act as Judge himself. [Ref. 2 Samuel 13:24-28 and Deuteronomy 5:17, the 10 Commandments on murder.]

Amnon had a legal responsibility to marry Tamar: "If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl's father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days." He didn't want to do so, so he should have been punished. [Deuteronomy 22:28-29] It does sound like he should have been given the death penalty, but what father wants to murder his first born son and heir to the throne? This is where David appears to start to waver with justice in regards to his family. The laws seemed to halt at the palace gates. Yet, the Lord abstained from killing David when he was found guilty of his conduct with Bathsheba, so should David not have mercy?

These are God-sized questions, with God-sized answers that I can't even begin to make a final judgement on; and neither should any of us, as judgement belongs to the Lord. The need for Hiswisdom is reinforced by Absalom showing the symptoms of Antisocial Personality Disorder with narcissistic and psychopathic tendencies. He was a sick man.James 2:13 says: "For judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment." King David had the Spirit of the Lord on him. He knew the meaning of grace and mercy. [Ref: 1 Samuel 16:13]

Yet, these crimes are so serious.

With Amnon gone, Absalom became successor to the throne. Could this have been part of his reasoning to have Amnon killed? Was it only about his desire to avenge Tamar's rape? That was an event that David had wrongly, not addressed. Absalom lost his succession and life fairly, in the next event, so the ultimate justice was done.

b) When Joab killed Absalom against David's orders, should Joab have been put to death? Was Absalom a casualty of war? Was Joab protecting Isra'el's best interests by enabling King David to reclaim the throne?

"The king charged Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, "Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom." And all the people heard when the king charged all the commanders concerning Absalom." 2 Samuel 18:5

"Now Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. For Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. And his head caught fast in the oak, so he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him kept going. When a certain man saw it, he told Joab and said, "Behold, I saw Absalom hanging in an oak." Then Joab said to the man who had told him, "Now behold, you saw him! Why then did you not strike him there to the ground? And I would have given you ten pieces of silver and a belt." The man said to Joab, "Even if I should receive a thousand pieces of silver in my hand, I would not put out my hand against the king's son; for in our hearing the king charged you and Abishai and Ittai, saying, 'Protect for me the young man Absalom!' "Otherwise, if I had dealt treacherously against his life (and there is nothing hidden from the king), then you yourself would have stood aloof." Then Joab said, "I will not waste time here with you." So he took three spears in his hand and thrust them through the heart of Absalom while he was yet alive in the midst of the oak. And ten young men who carried Joab's armor gathered around and struck Absalom and killed him." 2 Samuel 18:9-15

Firstly, it was a custom from the time of Saul, that disobeying the orders of the King could incur a death penalty. The Levitical rule regarding the death penalty for murder could have been used. To make matters worse, it was the King's son, regardless of Absalom's treason. Joab, as usual, thought like a solider and not like a righteous man, but he is not put to death. Why? He is one of David's top warriors and commands the army of Isra'el. He may have been too valuable to kill. Plus David knows that what has occurred from the rape of Tamar onwards is the result of his sin with Bathsheba. He may have felt that taking even more blood, for problems he originally caused, was not right.

Nathan's prophecy was fulfilled when Absalom defiled David's ten concubines publicly, which was an act of seizing the king's power and contravened the law in Deuteronomy 22:30. Absalom had violated his father. [Ref. 2 Samuel 16:21-22] The prophecy stated: "'Why have you despised the word of the LORD by doing evil in His sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the sons of Ammon. 'Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.' "Thus says the LORD, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you from your own household; I will even take your wives before your eyes and give them to your companion, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 'Indeed you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and under the sun.'" 2 Samuel 12:9-12 NASB

When David returned to his palace in Jerusalem, he did follow the laws and did not take his wives back as wives, as they had been defiled. It is possible that they could have been killed, had Absalom's act been taken as adultery. David placed them in seclusion where they lived as widows, rather than taking action would have led to death or poverty (if he'd turned them out onto the streets.) [Ref. 2 Samuel 20:3 and Deuteronomy 24:1-4 as an example of defilement by a second man.]


What a difference a vowel can make. The Old Testament Tenach) was written in Hebrew, thus it was recorded without any vowels being included, which makes some verses of the Tenach difficult to interpret. It also allows room for various translations to soften harsh incidents, which offend modern readers. One instance of this occurs in 2 Samuel 12, when David and his armies capture the Ammonite city of Rabbah and then go on to eliminate the Ammonite threat throughout all the cities and towns. The controversial Scripture is 2 Samuel 12:31.

Here is what the New Living Translation says: "He also made slaves of the people of Rabbah and forced them to labor with saws, iron picks, and iron axes, and to work in the brick kilns. That is how he dealt with the people of all the Ammonite towns. Then David and all the army returned to Jerusalem."

You need to read the footnotes to hear the alternative version: "He also brought out the people of Rabbah and put them under saws, iron picks, and iron axes, and he made them pass through the brick kilns."

Yes, that does mean they were killed in horrendous ways, using saws, picks, axes and by being cast into the fires of kilns. The Masoretic Biblical text supports this as the correct version. Why is that plausible? Why wouldn't it have been slavery?

As we have already seen in regards to murder, the rule is an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth and a life for a life. [Ref. Deuteronomy 19:21] The Ammonites killed their prisoners using saws, picks and axes, thus it was done to them. As for the kilns? The Ammonite custom was to worship the pagan god Molech which required the sacrifice of their first born child, by throwing them into the fires of a kiln. The same was done to those who had massacred innocent children in this manner

Don't forget, in this time period there was no known final judgement of the sinner and the saint. It was believed that for whatever you did wrong, you had to be punished for in life, not the afterlife, therefore rough vengeance was enacted. The Bible's stand on this? As incredulous as it is to us today, the Tenach supports it. The Ammonites were the descendants of Lot, who Moses was told in Deuteronomy 23:3-6 were the enemies of God's chosen people, as they had turned their backs on them, when God had delivered them out of slavery in Egypt.

In Deuteronomy 7:12-16 the explanation continues, on the basis that opposing nations must be destroyed, as "When the LORD your God hands these nations over to you and you conquer them [which is what happened in 2 Samuel], you must completely destroy them. Make no treaties with them and show them no mercy. You must not intermarry with them. Do not let your daughters and sons marry their sons and daughters, for they will lead your children away from me to worship other gods. Then the anger of the LORD will burn against you, and he will quickly destroy you."

So as abhorrent as this seems, to treat the Ammonites in this manner was to obey the commands given by God, to Moses.


This Scripture is self-explanatory, as is where King David fell short of it. [Ref. Deuteronomy 17:14-20]

"When you enter the land which the LORD your God gives you, and you possess it and live in it, and you say, [note that it is never God's idea or desire to have a king over His people, He later regrets allowing it] 'I will set a king over me like all the nations who are around me,' you shall surely set a king over you whom the LORD your God chooses, one from among your countrymen you shall set as king over yourselves; you may not put a foreigner over yourselves who is not your countryman. "Moreover, he shall not multiply horses for himself, nor shall he cause the people to return to Egypt to multiply horses, since the LORD has said to you, 'You shall never again return that way.' "He shall not multiply wives for himself, or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself.

"Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. "It shall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, so that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel."

As the King often judged legal cases, the laws for judges are also applicable. You can find them in Deuteronomy 16 onwards and in Leviticus 24.

How Kings Make and Break Nations

So what if you don't follow the laws set down by Moses and the Lord? Simply put, obedience leads to prosperity and peace; disobedience leads to complete disaster in every area. How closely a King follows the Laws has consequences for everyone, as the ruler does affect his whole nation. It is advisable for any King to take the approach of Hezekiah and keep the Laws to the letter with a loving, faithful heart, thus avoiding the catastrophes below, which in time, came upon both Judah and Isra'el.

"He [Hezekiah] did right in the sight of the LORD, according to all that his father David had done. He removed the high places and broke down the sacred pillars and cut down the Asherah. He also broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the sons of Israel burned incense to it; and it was called Nehushtan. He trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel; so that after him there was none like him among all the kings of Judah, nor among those who were before him. For he clung to the LORD; he did not depart from following Him, but kept His commandments, which the LORD had commanded Moses." [2 Kings 18 and 2 Chronicles 29 onwards.]

The blessings for obedience are set out in Leviticus 26:1-12.

'If you walk in My statutes and keep My commandments so as to carry them out, then I shall give you rains in their season, so that the land will yield its produce and the trees of the field will bear their fruit. 'Indeed, your threshing will last for you until grape gathering, and grape gathering will last until sowing time. You will thus eat your food to the full and live securely in your land.
'I shall also grant peace in the land, so that you may lie down with no one making you tremble.
I shall also eliminate harmful beasts from the land, and no sword will pass through your land. 'But you will chase your enemies and they will fall before you by the sword; five of you will chase a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you by the sword.
'So I will turn toward you and make you fruitful and multiply you,
and I will confirm My covenant with you.
'You will eat the old supply and clear out the old because of the new.
'Moreover, I will make My dwelling among you, and My soul will not reject you. 'I will also walk among you and be your God, and you shall be My people.'

The mere start of the curses/consequences of disobedience are below: [Leviticus 26:14-46]

'I will appoint over you a sudden terror, consumption and fever that will waste away the eyes and cause the soul to pine away;
also, you will sow your seed uselessly, for your enemies will eat it up.
'I will set My face against you so that you will be struck down before your enemies; and those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee when no one is pursuing you.
'If also after these things you do not obey Me, (if you haven't repented after all that...) then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.
'I will also break down your pride of power;
I will also make your sky like iron and your earth like bronze.
'Your strength will be spent uselessly, for your land will not yield its produce and the trees of the land will not yield their fruit.
'If then, you act with hostility against Me and are unwilling to obey Me, (if you haven't repented after all that...) I will increase the plague on you seven times according to your sins.
'I will let loose among you the beasts of the field, which will bereave you of your children and destroy your cattle
and reduce your number so that your roads lie deserted.
'Yet if in spite of this you do not obey Me, but act with hostility against Me,
then I will act with wrathful hostility against you, and I, even I, will punish you seven times for your sins.
'Further, you will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters you will eat.
'I then will destroy your high places, and cut down your incense altars, and heap your remains on the remains of your idols, for My soul shall abhor you.
'I will lay waste your cities as well and will make your sanctuaries desolate, and I will not smell your soothing aromas.
'I will make the land desolate so that your enemies who settle in it will be appalled over it.
'You, however, I will scatter among the nations and will draw out a sword after you, as your land becomes desolate and your cities become waste.
That is three levels of sinking into the dust, with another level that I haven't recorded. The full Scripture that covers all the blessings and curses is here in Leviticus 26. However, they all come with the promise that if the people repent, their relationship with their God will be restored.

Verse 40: 'If they confess their iniquity and the iniquity of their forefathers, in their unfaithfulness which they committed against Me, and also in their acting with hostility against Me...'

Verse 42: 'then I will remember My covenant with Jacob, and I will remember also My covenant with Isaac, and My covenant with Abraham as well,
and I will remember the land...'

Verse 44: 'Yet in spite of this, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I so abhor them as to destroy them, breaking My covenant with them; for I am the LORD their God.'

For more information on King David, please have a meander through the King David Project Facebook page, our web site and our blog, "Masada Rain." The blog houses many useful resources on studying, David plus bits and pieces of information which don't neatly fit into article form. Please ignore dates and use the search feature to find what you want. The web site has resources on David's family tree, life and the Psalms. All content is creative commons and non-profit. Sharing of the project's work would be deeply appreciated.

Masada Rain Blog:
The project web site:
Facebook page:

This article by Cate Russell-Cole is under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Written in Australian English.

Article Source: WRITERS

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