According to the Hebrew Bible, David and his house—his descendants—were appointed by God to rule all Israel (2Sam 7:1-17). The term “Israel” here encompasses a united kingdom that included both the tribe of Judah in the south, David’s home territory where he first came to power, and the ten northern tribes of Israel, where Saul ruled before David took over his kingdom. After the death of David’s son and heir Solomon, the tribes of Israel split from the united kingdom, and thus, beginning with David’s grandson Rehoboam, the house of David ruled only Judah, with its capital in Jerusalem. The Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and the exile of the last Davidic kings, Jehoiakin and Zedekiah, ended the Davidic monarchy.
In several places, the Hebrew Bible ties the health and fate of the kingdom of Judah to the religious conduct of its leaders, David’s descendants. Kings who tolerated the worship of foreign gods brought on disastrous consequences. The secession of the Israelite tribes after Solomon’s death is attributed to this problem (1Kgs 11:1-13), and Manasseh’s idolatry is offered as the primary reason why Jerusalem was destroyed by the Babylonians (2Kgs 21:10-15). In contrast, when Jerusalem survives Assyria’s violent march through Judah in 701 B.C.E., the Hebrew Bible credits King Hezekiah and his great devotion to God (2Kgs 19).
The biblical use of the term “house of David” draws attention to God’s choice of David and his descendants as an enduring dynasty, but in the wider ancient Near East, “house of David” would also have had a geopolitical meaning. It was common for a kingdom to be called the “house of” a king, with the king named being a prominent or ancestral king. For instance, the Assyrians called the kingdom of Israel the “house of Omri,” after the founder of one of its early dynasties. The ninth-century B.C.E. Tel Dan Stela, in which an Aramean king boasts of defeating the house of David, shows that the Arameans knew of the kingdom of Judah as the house of David and provides the only mention of the house of David outside of the Bible.
The tradition that the legitimate ruler of greater Israel is always a descendant of David is one of the most prominent and enduring in the Bible. Along these lines, the Hebrew Bible makes sure that it is clear that all the kings of the kingdom of Judah were, in fact, descendants of David. For instance, though at one point all the descendants of David had apparently been slaughtered, the narrative recounts that a legitimate Davidic child, Joash, was hidden by the priests and later emerged to restore the throne to the Davidic line (2Kgs 11:1-12). Other biblical and apocryphal texts take care to note whether Jewish rulers in late antiquity were of David’s house. For instance, Zerubbabel, who leads the community of exiles returning to Jerusalem in the early Persian period (late sixth century B.C.E.), was a descendant of David (1Chr 3:17), but the Hasmoneans, who set up a Jewish monarchy during Hellenistic times (circa 140 to 63 B.C.E.), were not (1Macc 2:1, where Joarib is a priest, 1Chr 9:10). In the New Testament, both Matthew and Luke trace Jesus’ lineage to David (Matt 1:6, Luke 3:31).
Megan Bishop Moore is an independent scholar living in San Francisco. Her publications include Biblical History and Israel’s Past: The Changing Study of the Bible and History, coauthored with Brad E. Kelle (Eerdmans, 2011), and Philosophy and Practice in Writing a History of Ancient Israel ( T&T Clark, 2006).
A region notable for its early ancient civilizations, geographically encompassing the modern Middle East, Egypt, and modern Turkey.
The historical period from the beginning of Western civilization to the start of the Middle Ages.
A region in northern Mesopotamia whose kings ruled most of the ancient Near East in the 8th and 7th centuries B.C.E.
People from the region of northern Mesopotamia that includes modern-day Iraq, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon.
Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.
Residents of the ancient Mesopotamian city of Babylon, also used to refer to the population of the larger geographical designation of lower Mesopotamia.
A sequence of rulers from the same family.
general condition of living away from ones homeland or specifically the Babylonian captivity
A dynasty that ruled Israel from 140-37 B.C.E.; their origin is recounted in 1 and 2 Maccabees.
A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.
The set of Biblical books shared by Jews and Christians. A more neutral alternative to "Old Testament."
Of or relating to Greek culture, especially ancient Greece after Alexander the Great.
Worship of a diety or cultural value not associated with the one, true, God.
Relating to or associated with people living in the territory of the northern kingdom of Israel during the divided monarchy, or more broadly describing the biblical descendants of Jacob.
A system of rule with a monarch as its head; or the hereditary system passed from one monarch to another.
A written, spoken, or recorded story.
A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.
The Israelite tribes that became a part of the northern kingdom of Israel: Asher, Dan, Naphtali, Zebulun, Issachar, Manasseh, Ephraim, Gad, and Benjamin.
An upright stone slab usually inscribed or carved for commemorative purposes.
Literally "mound," a small hill-shaped site containing numerous occupational layers of a town or city built on top of one another over millennia.
God's Covenant with David
1Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him,2the king said to the pro ... View more
1King Solomon loved many foreign women along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women,2from the na ... View more
10The Lord said by his servants the prophets,11“Because King Manasseh of Judah has committed these abominations, has done things more wicked than all that the A ... View more
Hezekiah Consults Isaiah
1When King Hezekiah heard it, he tore his clothes, covered himself with sackcloth, and went into the house of the Lord.2And he sent Eli ... View more
Athaliah Reigns over Judah
1Now when Athaliah, Ahaziah's mother, saw that her son was dead, she set about to destroy all the royal family.2But Jehosheba, King J ... View more
17and the sons of Jeconiah, the captive: Shealtiel his son,
Mattathias and His Sons
1In those days Mattathias son of John son of Simeon, a priest of the family of Joarib, moved from Jerusalem and settled in Modein.
10Of the priests: Jedaiah, Jehoiarib, Jachin,
6and Jesse the father of King David.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah,
31son of Melea, son of Menna, son of Mattatha, son of Nathan, son of David,