David’s Kingdom in the Near East
David, Israel’s second king and God’s appointed king, ruled first over Judah only and made his capital at Hebron. After a little over 7 years the other tribes asked him to rule over them as well. It was at this time that he united the tribes and made Jerusalem his new capital. He gave them a well-organized central government and law, a national consciousness, and an individual identity.
The kingdom of Israel was established and in the control of David and his mighty army. If there was any sort of problems on foreign soil David’s army was in a position to wage war. There were many such wars and God was with him and king David built what may accurately be referred to as an "empire."
David’s kingdom was not necessarily a military government as it was with king Saul, although David made many more conquests than king Saul. Although David was a man of war the strength of his rule did not depend on military victories. Besides being a military leader David was also a statesman and his government was well organized and staffed. His army under Joab or himself was rarely if ever defeated.
The result was that his borders were continually enlarged until an empire was formed.
King David’s military victories were quite impressive and magnified his authority and the boundaries of Israel. The kingdom included all of the land originally allotted to the 12 tribes of Israel (except a small portion of Philistia along the southern Mediterranean coast) and also the kingdom of Ammon (see map).
Certain nations were allowed to keep their own kings, these were called vassal states. These included Moab (east of the Dead Sea ) and Edom (south of the Dead Sea), and the Damascus territory (far in the northeast). Zobah was most likely included as well but this in not conclusive. There was also a territory even farther north called Hamath which acknowledged Israel’s sovereignty and submitted to David’s authority. Hamath’s territory stretched northeast to the Euphrates River.
King David’s authority reached as far as the Euphrates River in the north, all the way down to the Gulf of Aqaba and the River of Egypt (45 miles southwest of Gaza). It is disputed whether or not this or the Nile River is the River of Egypt mentioned in the Lord’s promise to their ancestor Abraham and their descendants over 800 years earlier.
"On the same day the LORD made a covenant with Abram, saying: "To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the River Euphrates…"
Israel was not to be compared to the mighty empires of the ancient world like Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Media-Persia, Greece or Rome, but David was undoubtedly the strongest ruler of his day.
David’s kingdom had it’s first major war with Moab (east of the Dead Sea).
2 Sam 8:2
Then he defeated Moab. Forcing them down to the ground, he measured them off with a line. With two lines he measured off those to be put to death, and with one full line those to be kept alive. So the Moabites became David's servants, and brought tribute.
It is interesting that while David was a fugitive the people of Moab were friendly with him and offered him and his family refuge. David was a servant of the Lord and it was God’s will that Moab become a vassal state with their own king, and paying tribute.
Afterward David defeated Edom (south east of the Dead Sea)
2 Sam 8:14
He also put garrisons in Edom; throughout all Edom he put garrisons, and all the Edomites became David's servants. And the LORD preserved David wherever he went.
There is not a lot of detail about this war but it occurred in the Valley of Salt (Arabah Valley) according to 2 Kings 14:7 and there was a severe slaughter. According to 1 Kings 11:15-18 Joab had to slay every male soldier in Edom, including the royal household. Only Hadad and a few servants escaped to Egypt. A garrison was left to maintain control and Edom was made a vassal state to Israel.
Defeating Moab and Edom gave David sovereignty on the east and south east sides of the Dead Sea, including the portion of the Kings Highway (see map) leading to the Gulf of Aqaba, an important water route for trade.
In the north David conquered Zobah and their mighty army which possessed 1000 chariots, 700 horsemen, and 20,000 foot soldiers.
2 Sam 8:3-4
David also defeated Hadadezer the son of Rehob, king of Zobah, as he went to recover his territory at the River Euphrates. David took from him one thousand chariots, seven hundred horsemen, and twenty thousand foot soldiers.
It is interesting that David’s army did not depend on chariots as the king of Zobah, as well as the Philistines and the Canaanites.
When the men of Aram Damascus (see map) heard of the battle they came to assist Zobah and were too late. David utterly defeated them as well and they paid tribute to Israel. At this same time the king of Hamath sent his son to pay tribute to David and this secured the northern region. David placed garrisons in Damascus as he had done in Edom.
David had long since been friends with the Phoenicians and had made a treaty with Hiram, king of Tyre, who he had received materials and labor for his palace. This brought peace between them and there were never any wars between David and Phoenicia.
The Bible gives much more detail to Israel’s war with Ammon (see 2 Sam 10). The Bible records David’s kindness to Hanun, a new king of Ammon, and his kindness was scorned and David sent Joab out for war. Hanun hired mercenary soldiers from Aram (Beth-rehob, Zobah, and Maacah). When Joab met the combined armies he displayed outstanding military foresight and defeated them. He then returned to Jerusalem and Hadadezer, king of Zobah came against him with fresh troops. Israel met him across the Jordan at Helam and were victorious. Israelite supremacy was acknowledged once again.
Joab then laid siege to Rabbah (site of the present day Amman Jordan) 22 miles east of the Jordan River to utterly defeat Ammon. It was during this siege that David sinned with Bathsheba, and had her husband Uriah killed by ordering Joab to place him at the front of the battle, where the fighting was the heaviest. (2 Sam 11:1-27). Rabbah was finally taken and David made it a part of his own kingdom.