David And His Soldiers
David's royal Messianism is shown, it should be emphasized, by his military character. We must always; be careful not to judge his century by our own. David's dynamic and constructive genius was essentially of a military character. In addition, his urgent task in the circumstances was to lay the material foundations, as firm and deep as possible, of the nation formed by Yisrael and Yahudah. As a result, Solomon, David's son and successor, was able to build on these foundations; a wonderful social, political and spiritual edifice, which became the subject of admiration for generations David, as we have just seen, succeeded in eliminating from the field of Hebrew history both the Philistines and the Canaanites. There still remained on the frontiers small kingdoms which continued to cause anxiety to the Hebrews. David's second task was to attack and destroy them. So there were more long and arduous wars before the final victory was won. The kingdom of Yisrael-Yahudah then attained dimensions greater than ever before. Before following the Yisraelite armies on these further expeditions (which will be confined to a description of their principal features only) we can take a closer look at the constitution of these military forces to which David, on a last analysis, owed his success and which worked so effectively for the glory of the greatest king of Yisrael.
The Head Of The Army
In principle David was commander-in-chief; for some time past he had led his band of adventurers and outlaws into battle and on raids. Nevertheless, since he had become king, and as the complexity of political business absorbed a great part of his activity, he progressively delegated his military functions to Joab, his nephew. Thus the latter soon became the head of the royal army.
In ancient times in the East the highest grades were reserved to members of the royal family. It so happened that Joab was well qualified to assume the responsibilities which now fell to him. Although it is difficult to distinguish between David's personal victories and those of his chief of staff, it is very probable that Joab was personally responsible for a considerable number of successes. The gratitude shown by David in this respect is striking proof of this, all the more since there was little love lost between the two men so that David's praise and congratulations could not be regarded as mere courtesy.
In character, Joab was the exact opposite to David. David was a clever diplomat, a great captain who evoked enthusiasm from his soldiers on account of his attractive personality and the justice and humanity which inspired his actions. Joab, on the other hand, appears to have been a relentless soldier, a man of violence, who imposed his will on all his subordinates without a care for the distress that he caused or the hate which he sowed around him. In battle a fine soldier, he was an unequalled tactician, a cunning leader, and brave (we saw him at work in the Zinnor operation at the capture of Yerusalem), but he remained essentially an uncouth barbarian. Thus when he treacherously slew Abner he took over the commandment of the Yisraelite troops without asking their opinion; they did not dare make the slightest protest and so they followed the man who had killed their leader. There was no arguing with Joab, he had to be obeyed.
Thus it can be well understood why, despite their very different characters, David entrusted his nephew with command of the army; it could not be in better hands.
David's Orders Of Knighthood
Some time before he was anointed at Hebron David had already established what amounted to an order of knighthood with grades which were granted as a reward for individual exploits. The text of the Bible is not always very explicit on the subject, but there is sufficient evidence to make the position clear.
At the head of this military organization we find the Three whose leader was Abishai. We possess the list of these heroes among heroes and of their mighty deeds (2 Schmuel 23: 8-10).
Next, a little inferior in rank came the Thirty. Their names and places of origin are given after the preceding list (23:24-39). Their leader at one time was Asahel, Joab's brother; he fell, it will be remembered, to Abner's spear.
From time to time in Divre Hayamim we find mention of the Champions (gibborim) of David. Among these famous warriors, whose exploits were acclaimed in the popular tales told at night in the camps, we find the names of the Three, of course, some of the Thirty and also of men belonging to foreign tribes which had thrown in their lot with David. These Champions probably came from the soldiers who followed and assisted David with such enthusiasm when he was pursued by Saul. In his company, subsequently, they fought against the Philistines and then against the nomads of the desert. They even took the field against Yisrael before the two kingdoms were united. These Champions do not appear necessarily to have constituted an autonomous body. They may well have served as leaders and officers of the territorial army which is mentioned below.
There is also mention of squires or arms-bearers, whose function was to carry the shield of their leader when they protected him from the enemies' javelins and lances. David began his career by being Saul's arms-bearer. In performing these subordinate functions, which required a certain skill, the young soldiers were trained under a veteran in the secrets of battle by taking an active part in the hand-to-hand fighting. The best and most valiant arms-bearers were chosen to fill the gaps after a heavy battle.
In addition, the Hebrew text uses a word that Scriptural scholars translate in different ways; some prefer to interpret it as 'personal guard' while others use the term 'military adviser'. Both offices must have existed, we may be sure, but we are not very well informed about their functions.
There was thus a military caste, ready to shed its blood and always ready, also, to receive promotion, titles, and rewards in the shape of agricultural land, vineyards and olive groves.
The Two Regular Armies
As a general rule the Thirty and their arms-bearers were of Hebrew origin. On the other hand, the two bodies of regular troops, the shock troops, were formed of foreign elements; one was formed of non-Semitic elements and the other exclusively of Philistines.
The first was a sort of foreign legion in which David enrolled subjects who by race did not belong to the Middle East: Cretans, Aegeans, Pelethites, representatives of the great heterogeneous family the 'Peoples of the Sea'; the Zekals (or Zakkalas) together with the Philistines. These tough warriors, whose fathers at the: beginning of the twelfth century had vainly attempted to seize the Egyptian Delta, had often become excellent farmers; but their real vocation was always for battle and conquest. And so we find a number of their descendants joining David's troops as mercenaries. They were excellent recruits.
The second militia was formed exclusively of Philistines. They were the six hundred men from Gath; after the conquest of their city David enrolled them and brought them back, together with their families to Yerusalem; he had no more faithful supporters than they.
The Territorial Contingents
With the Champions and the two foreign militias David had at his disposal two thousand men, well-tried soldiers who were almost continually at war.
In addition to these picked men, ready to intervene at the first threat of trouble, the army included territorial contingents, citizens or peasants who were called on from time to time or accepted as volunteers. In this military organization there were the formations of 'ten, fifty, a hundred, a thousand', with officers from the gibborim, old soldiers, well-trained in battle and qualified to lead these recruits. The civilians thus enrolled were divided into two categories: there were the youths who were 'chosen', a term that implies preliminary physical examination, and the main body, more or less ready to take part in battle. These two groups were sent into action together or separately according to circumstances.
In Company With David's Soldiers
Presumably the Thirty and, to a certain extent the Champions and the foreign militia, had at their disposal equipment of high quality -both offensive (sword, lance, javelin) and defensive (helmet, breastplate, leg-guards and a wooden shield covered with leather). The great victories won by these formidable troops had enabled them to obtain rich trophies in the shape of arms taken from their enemies who fell in battle or of the plunder obtained from the Philistine citadels taken by assault.
Far poorer were the arms of those 'called up' on a temporary basis, for a specific campaign. Each of these soldiers was obliged to equip himself at his own expense. Some landed proprietors took pride, of course, in arriving at the meeting place with fine arms. But the small city artisans and the agricultural laborers were often provided with ox goads (well-sharpened, it is true, and feared by their enemies), with rough lances, wooden bows and a quiver with flint-headed arrows (rarely bronze or iron). Some had bludgeons, or axes straight from the farm. Those who were the best equipped proudly wore a short, two-edged sword, hanging from their belt or shoulder belt. The shepherds of the plains, expert in the use of the sling, were sometimes placed together in a special formation. Their function was to make stones rain down on the enemy before hand-to-hand fighting began. On occasion they were sent in pursuit of a fleeing enemy and their missiles rarely missed their aim.
The archers were recruited principally in Benjamin (Shophtim 20:16). In Naphtali the men were usually armed with javelin and lance (1 Divre Hayamim 12:35).
It is curious that the chariot, in common use among the Philistines, which caused terror in the ranks of Hebrew soldiers, was only adopted in Yisrael at a later period than David, during the time of Solomon.
Pitched battle took place according to a well-defined plan. The two lines of combatants took up their positions so far as possible on facing slopes of a valley. A little behind the line of combatants stood the camp, consisting of tents surrounded by carts containing arms and food; throughout the day a band of soldiers kept careful guard over it. At night sentries, relieved three times during the course of duty, kept watch. At sundown the army retired to the camp for rest; at dawn it returned to its positions. The two opposing forces stood face to face. For some days they shouted insults at each other. Hardened warriors came out in front of the opposing lines to challenge the bravest of the enemy to single combat. Here and there isolated actions took place which eventually degenerated into general battle. On occasion, at a time when the enemy least expected it the leader decided to launch a general attack; woe to the side which was not ready to receive the wave of assailants, shouting ferociously while the somber note of the horns resounded over the battlefield. In general, tactics were of a simple nature. Two or three well tried plans were known and they were put into practice as cunningly as possible.
We have already had a typical example of a war of siege in the investiture of Yerusalem by David. Usually the assailant confined himself to surrounding the city with his forces; after cutting all the city's communications with the outside world he waited patiently for the besieged to be brought to their knees by famine or lack of water (if the city had not been established near a spring). There were no engines of war like those used later by the Romans to reduce fortified towns; there were no catapults nor ballista.
While on campaign a soldier could not count on a regular supply of food. He managed as best he could by looting and pillaging. The state of the countryside after the passage of large forces can be imagined. Generally, armies were confined to a few thousand men.
David knew that he was under the protection of YAHWEH; and David's success had convinced all his followers that YAHWEH the Sovereign Ruler of Armies fought among them and unfailingly brought them victory. The whole strength of Yahudah-Yisrael, as David proclaimed on all occasions, was YAHWEH, the 'shield' who protected them, the 'Rock' from which they could defy all the assaults of the enemy, the 'inaccessible place' where the wiles of the enemy could not surprise them. Although nowadays the Christian endows with a spiritual meaning such military passages in the Tehillims, David and his army understood them in an entirely material way. David's soldiers were convinced that their leader was fighting, on a last analysis, for the establishment of the law of YAHWEH, since war was fundamentally spiritual. The 'qadash war' of the Arabs is far from being an Islamic institution; it dates back several thousand years before our era.
David And The Wars Outside The Country
David had succeeded in pacifying the land known as Palestine by the elimination or assimilation of its Canaanite and Philistine populations. But his military role did not end there. To the north, east and south Yisrael was surrounded by a series of petty kingdom; which did not hide their anxiety in the face of David's increasing power. The new strongly-centralized and well-organized kingdom of Yisrael-Yahudah, ruled by an intelligent and ambitious sovereign, caused defensive coalitions between the neighboring states. As d result there followed for David ten long years of arduous struggle before he achieved final victory.
The following is a summary of the campaigns which David was obliged to conduct outside his own frontiers (see map):
Against the Moabites, to the east of the Dead Sea (2 Schmuel 8:1-2);
Against the Syrians (2 Schmuel 8:3-12);
Against the Edomites in the Negeb, between Beersheba and the Dead Sea in the Valley of Salt (2 Schmuel 8: 13);
Against the Ammonites in TransYardenia (2 Schmuel 10:1-14);
Against the Syrians again (2 Schmuel 11:1; 12:31).
Most of these campaigns were not led into the field, by David himself but by the unwearying Joab, David’s chief of staff.
The result of these campaigns from the territorial aspect was far beyond what could have been hoped for. In a decade the united kingdom was extended a degree that was never to be repeated even at time of Solomon. Not only was the Promised Land ('from Dan to Beersheba' according to the classic phrase) in the hands of the Yisraelites, but in addition its frontiers were solidly established to the north, east and south. The peoples who formerly constituted a considerable threat were decimated, humbled, brought into subjection or at least rendered powerless by fear of reprisals; or else they were reduced to accepting an alliance with David.
The enormous booty amassed by the conquerors, and the tribute regularly paid by the vassal countries, increased the wealth of the kingdom of Yisrael-Yahudah very quickly. As a result agriculture and trade underwent intensive development. David could be proud of his work.
SKETCH MAP OF THE PRINCIPAL CAMPAIGNS OUTSIDE COUNTRY OF DAVID, KING OF ISRAEL AND YAHUDAH