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Jerusalem in the Days of David (I)/ The Selection of Jerusalem and the Temple (Part I)

  • Rav Yitzchak Levy
The Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash

Jerusalem in the Bible
Yeshivat Har Etzion

Shiur #23:

Jerusalem in the days of David (I)/

The selection of Jerusalem and the Temple (part i)


By Rav Yitzchak Levi



            Thus far the shiurim comprising this series have formed two large units: Jerusalem in the Torah and Jerusalem during the period of the conquest and settlement of the land of Israel.  In this shiur we open a third unit, which is perhaps the most important from the perspective of the status of Jerusalem, then and for all generations: Jerusalem in the days of David.[1]


            This topic encompasses many issues, each one of which we will try to address separately: the conquest of the city, bringing up the Ark, the reason that David could not build the Temple, the revelation on the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi, and David's efforts on behalf of the Temple.


            However, before we discuss the particulars of each of these issues, we wish to devote this shiur to the question of the selection of Jerusalem, an issue that will serve as the backdrop of the various chapters dealing with the days of David.


As an introduction to the issue of the selection of Jerusalem, we refer to two points that we already dealt with in previous shiurim: 1) Avraham's calling Mount Moriah "Hashem Yera'eh" (Bereishit 22:14), a designation that we understood as "the Lord will choose"; 2) the expression "the place that the Lord will choose" that appears about twenty times in the book of Devarim.


In our shiur (no. 12) dealing with "the place that the Lord will choose," we emphasized that God will choose the entire city of Jerusalem.  In this shiur, we will examine the overall process of the selection of Jerusalem: how did it happen; the various stages in the selection of the city and the site of the Temple; this Divine process of choosing, which is formulated in the future tense, "the place that the Lord will choose" - when, how, and through whom did it take place.




We will first present the gist of our thesis, and then consider the details.  We argue that there were three stages in the selection of Jerusalem and the Temple:


-            The first stage: Human-royal selection of the city of Jerusalem by King David, immediately after he was crowned king of all of Israel in Hebron.


-            The second stage: Divine selection of the site of the Temple, in the wake of the appearance of the angel at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi following the census.


-            The third stage: Divine selection of the city of Jerusalem during the days of King Shelomo, following the dedication of the house of God and the house of the king, which from now on constitute a single entity.


The first stage was a human stage, initiated from below, the most important conditions for which being unity and kingdom.


Between the first and the second stages, David did everything in his power to reach the Temple.  He brought God's Ark up to the city and wanted to build a house for God.  After he was explicitly told that he would not build it, he did whatever he could for the sake of the Temple (to the exclusion of the actual building, which was forbidden to him): searching for a site, finding the site, erecting an altar, offering a sacrifice, making plans, preparing the materials, finding the artisans who would engage in the actual work, and even establishing the mishmarot and the ma'amadot that would serve in the Temple following its construction.  During the revelation of God's angel at the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi, David even proposed to God that he would, literally, offer his life, and in the end he acquired the threshing floor as a collective purchase – with the money of all twelve tribes.  The fulfillment of this second stage required the conditions of total devotion and unity.


The necessary condition for the fulfillment of the third stage was the human readiness to fully conjoin the earthly kingdom in its fixed manifestation to the kingdom of God.  The practical expression of this connection was the building of the house of the king and the house of God as a single unit, which was meant to express the total submission of the fixed mundane kingdom to the kingdom of God.  This requirement was fulfilled with the dedication of the house of the king and the house of God, at which point God chose the city in which He would rest his home: a fixed royal city with a fixed Temple.


These are the three main stages in the selection of Jerusalem.  Now we shall consider the details.




We wish to demonstrate that David chose the city of Jerusalem on his own initiative, without any Divine intervention.  This selection took place "from below."


David reigned as king in Hebron for seven and a half years (II Shemuel 5:5).  With the death of Ish-Boshet son of Shaul, all the tribes and elders of Israel went to Hebron to crown David as king over all of Israel.  There David entered into a covenant with them, and they anointed him king over all of Israel.


The book of Divrei Ha-yamim emphasizes in great detail the unity of all the tribes at the time of David's coronation.  Scripture notes all of the participating tribes, and then concludes:


All these men of war, ranged in battle order, came with a perfect heart to Hebron, to make David king over all Israel; and all the rest also of Israel were of one heart to make David king.  And there they were with David three days, eating and drinking; for their brethren had prepared for them.  Also their neighbors as far as Yissakhar and Zevulun and Naftali, brought bread on donkeys, and on camels, and on mules, and on oxen, and provisions of meal, cakes of figs, and bunches of raisins, and wine, and oil, and oxen, and sheep in abundance; for there was joy in Israel.  (I Divrei Ha-yamim 12:39-41)


            Immediately following his description of David's coronation in Hebron by all of Israel, the prophet summarizes David's kingdom in two verses (II Shemuel 5:4-5), and then continues: "And the king and his men went to Jerusalem to the Yevusi, the inhabitants of the land" (ibid., v. 6).  In the parallel passage in Divrei Ha-yamim, it is also stated immediately following the coronation (I Divrei Ha-yamim 11:3): "And David and all Israel went to Jerusalem, which is Yevus; where the Yevusi were, the inhabitants of the land" (ibid., 4).  Both books, then, emphasize that immediately following his coronation in Hebron over all of Israel, David went to conquer Jerusalem.


            It should be noted[2] that Tanakh does not hint at the presence or involvement of a prophet; there is no Divine revelation; and there is also no question posed to the Urim ve-Tumim.  In order to appreciate the significance of the absence of a question posed to the Urim ve-Tumim, it might be helpful to compare David's journey to Hebron following the death of Shaul to his journey to Jerusalem following the death of Ish-Boshet.  When he went to Hebron, it says: "And it came to pass after this, that David inquired of the Lord, saying, Shall I go up into any of the cities of Yehuda? And the Lord said to him, Go up, and David said, Where shall I go up? And He said, To Hebron" (II Shemuel 2:1).  David, who was accustomed to inquire of God, did not suffice with the general question, "Shall I go up into any of the cities of Yehuda?" but rather he added, "Where shall I go up?" That is to say, to which of the cities of Yehuda shall I go up – and he received the answer: "To Hebron." How is it possible that when he went to Hebron to rule only over the Tribe of Yehuda, David inquired of God, but when he went to Jerusalem to rule over all of Israel, he made no such inquiry? This comparison appears to sharpen the fact that David's selection of Jerusalem was an absolutely independent choice, free of any Divine involvement.


            Scripture offers no explanation whatsoever as to why David went specifically to Jerusalem, but there is also no reason to think that he went there for some religious reason.  In our humble opinion, David was not at all aware of the site of the Temple when he arrived in Jerusalem, and it was not a connection to the Temple that brought him to that city.


            Several proofs may be brought to support this argument.  In Tehilim 132, David states as follows:


A Song of ascent.  Lord, remember to David's favor all his afflictions: how he swore to the Lord, and vowed to the mighty God of Yaakov: Surely I will not come into the tabernacle of my house, nor go up into my bed; I will not give sleep to my eyes, slumber to my eyelids, until I find out a place for the Lord, a habitation for the mighty One of Ya'akov.  (Tehillim 132:1-5)


            And the Radak writes (ad loc.):


David recited this psalm when he built the altar on the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi, in accordance with Gad the prophet, and offered upon it whole burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called to God, who answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering, saying: "This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel." But before that day the site of the Bet ha-Mikdash had not been known.


            The Radak suggests that this psalm was recited upon the construction of the altar on the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi (II Shemuel 24; I Divrei Ha-yamim 21).[3] He points especially to the words of David at the completion of the sacrificing on this altar: "And David said, This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of the burnt offering for Israel" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 22:1).  David's words appear to express his excitement over the uncovering of the site of the Temple, and indeed the Radak understands that prior to that day, that site had been unknown.  The Radak continues:


And what seems correct to me regarding "We heard of it at Efrat" (Tehillim 132:6) is as follows: David said: We did not know of this place before today.  We only heard in our city of Efrat that a place would be chosen in the future for the Bet ha-Mikdash for [all] generations, for Shilo, Nov, and Giv'on were not for [all] generations.  We only heard from the elders in our city that the chosen site would be revealed.  And now "we found it in Sede-Ya'ar" (ibid.), on the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi.  And he called it "Ya'ar" (forest), because trees of the forest were there.  And therefore he said: "In Efrat," for there David was born and raised, and there he heard of this matter.  And that which it says "matzanuha" (we found it) and "shema'nuha" (we heard of it) in the feminine – this refers to the resting of the Glory.  For he mentioned "mishkanotav" (His dwelling places), and there he found it, as it is stated: "And He answered him from heaven by fire" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 21:26).


            The Ibn Ezra writes as well (ad loc.): "David may have written this psalm when he was covered in sackcloth, he and the elders of Israel, when plague struck the people, and he did not find a place to offer a sacrifice on behalf of Israel, because the place of the Mishkan was far off."[4]


            The sole hint in the words of Chazal to the possibility that David had known the site of the Temple already prior to his arrival there is found in the homiletic exposition of Rava in Zevachim 54b:


Rava expounded: What is that which is written: "And he [David] and Shemuel went and dwelt in Nayot… in Rama" (I Shemuel 19:18-19)? What is the matter of Nayot next to Rama? Rather, they were sitting in Rama and occupied in the beauty (noy) of the world.  They said: It is written: "And you shall rise up and go to the place" (Devarim 17:8).  This teaches that the Bet ha-Mikdash is higher than all of Eretz Yisrael, and Eretz Yisrael is higher than all the countries.  They did not know where was its place.  They brought the book of Yehoshua.  Regarding all of them it is written: "And the border descended," "and the border ascended," "and the border was drawn." Regarding the Tribe of Binyamin, it is written "and the border ascended," but it is not written "and the border descended." They said: This implies that here is its place.  They thought to build it in Ein Eitam which is high.  They said: Let us lower it a little, as it is written: "And He shall dwell between his shoulders" (Devarim 33:12).


            According to this exposition, already in the days of Shemuel, David searched for the site of the Temple and located it in the territory of Binyamin.  "Between his shoulders" – that is to say, in a less elevated section of that territory.  As we already hinted above, in our humble opinion, this Gemara does not reflect the plain reading of the scriptural passages.  This wonderful exposition is primarily interested in depicting David as having already been involved in the search for the site of the Temple when, together with Shemuel, he was fleeing for his life from Shaul to Nayot.  In other words, the striving for the Shekhina is what drove David already at the beginning of his kingship.


            Getting back to our main argument: David does not know the site of the Temple (for which there is not even a hint in our passage); he establishes Jerusalem as his capital city without inquiring of God or a prophet, and this event is not accompanied by any Divine revelation and has no connection to the Temple whatsoever.


            In light of this, the question may be raised: What, then, brought David to Jerusalem?


III.       What Brought David to Jerusalem


The natural capital of David's kingdom would have been Hebron.  Hebron is located in the heart of the territory of Yehuda, David's tribe, and serves as its capital.  David went to Hebron on God's instructions, and there he reigned over Yehuda for seven and a half years.  It seems, however, that precisely because Hebron was so well-suited to be his capital that David rejected it, David was not interested in a tribal capital belonging to his tribe; David wanted a place that would be able to serve as a capital for all the tribes, and thus unite all of Israel around it.


A second point worthy of our attention is that until that time Jerusalem had been a non-Jewish city.  With the conquest of Jerusalem, David acquired full control of the central mountain massif, thus removing the last non-Jewish wedge that separated between the Israelite tribes who had settled in that region.  In addition to the fulfillment of the mitzvot of conquering and settling the land, selecting the city that had been inhabited by non-Jews had an additional advantage.  As we demonstrated earlier (Shiur 21: "Jerusalem During the Period of Conquest and Settlement (II)/To Which Tribe Does Jerusalem Belong"), the city of Jerusalem belongs to Binyamin, but Binyamin had not yet conquered and settled the Yevusi city.  Establishing Jerusalem as capital made it unnecessary to expropriate for that purpose a city that had already been settled by one of the tribes.[5]


Obviously, Jerusalem's location – in the center and heart of the mountain massif – was a significant advantage.


And finally, the fact that the first thing that David did after having been crowned as king of all of Israel was to go to Jerusalem (as we saw in both Shemuel and Divrei Ha-yamim) suggests that his objective was first and foremost to rally all of Israel around one place, and especially the tribes of Yehuda and Binyamin: first, because of the great hostility between the two tribes – "Now there was a long warfare between the house of Shaul and the house of David" (II Shemuel 3:1); and second, because they represented the descendants of Rachel and the descendants of Leah, "Which two did build the house of Israel"[6] (Rut 4:11).[7]


This set of spiritual considerations brought David to choose Jerusalem and turn it into the capital of all of Israel, thus allowing him to lead the people in a unified manner.[8]




From the account of the census, it becomes clear that when David conquered the city he left the threshing floor – the area of Mount Moriah – in the hands of Aravna, King of the Yevusis (II Shemuel 24:23).  Chazal reproached David for this step:


"Every place whereon the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours" (Devarim 11:24)… David acted improperly.  The Torah states that after you conquer the land, you will be permitted to conquer outside of the land.  [But] he did not act in this manner, but rather he conquered Aram Naharayim and Aram Tzova, whereas the Yevusis who were close to Jerusalem he did not drive out.  The Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: "Near your own palace, you did not drive out.  How then do you conquer Aram Naharayim and Aram Tzova?" (Sifrei, Devarim 21)


            In other words, effectively, the conquest did not extend to the entire city, for David did not drive out the Yevusis from the region of the threshing floor near his own palace.




            We have begun to examine the overall importance of David's connection to Jerusalem.  We emphasized the significance of the fact that he chose the city without any direct command from God – not by way of a prophet, nor by way of inquiry through the Urim ve-Tumim, nor by way of revelation.  In light of this, we tried to examine why David chose Jerusalem.  We also saw Chazal's attitude toward the fact that David left Aravna in Jerusalem and failed to conquer the region near his palace, even though he had conquered far more distant areas.


            In our next shiur, we hope to complete this process.  We shall begin with the bringing of the Ark to Jerusalem and David's desire to build a house for God; we shall analyze David's efforts on behalf of the Temple; we shall examine the Divine selection of Jerusalem; and we shall conclude by comparing this process to what has happened in our own times.



[1] This year we will suffice with an introduction to the period of David.  It is our hope that, with God's help and beli neder, we will continue this series next year and deal then at length with the period of David and Shelomo.


[2] We have already emphasized in the past that in the study of Tanakh, a person must be precise in his reading of the text, taking note of what is stated as well as what is not stated. 


[3] The question of the relative chronology – the temporal relationship between David's request to build the Temple (II Shemuel 7) and the revelation of the site of the Temple in the threshing floor of Aravna the Yevusi (ibid. 24) – is a weighty question.  It is very difficult to come to a definite conclusion regarding this matter, and we shall not deal with this issue here. 


[4] Other commentators suggest that the psalm was recited when the Ark was brought to the City of David and set in the midst of the tent (II Shemuel 6); others say that it was recited when Shelomo brought the Ark to the Temple.  We follow here the Radak.


[5] Some raise the question of how could David establish his capital on territory belonging to the Tribe of Binyamin.  It may be suggested that a king is permitted to expropriate land – in this case land belonging to a different tribe – by virtue of the King's Law (I Shemuel 8:11-14), when this is done for sake of a royal building (Malbim, I Melakhim 21:1), or else he is permitted to take only the fruit of the land (and not the land itself), for the sake of his servants and soldiers (Radak, ibid., v. 10).  (The aforementioned commentators discuss the king's right of expropriation in the context of the story of Navot's vineyard.  This is not the forum for a more detailed discussion).


[6] The connection between the peace of Jerusalem and national unity expresses itself in Tehilim 122:6-8: "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; they who love you being at peace.  Peace be within your walls, and serenity within your palaces.  For my brethren and companions' sakes, I will now say, Peace be within you." The Malbim (ad loc.) discusses the matter at length: "'Pray' – after having explained that Jerusalem is what establishes the connection and unity of the collective body, he says that just as when one inquires about the wellbeing of the individual body, we answer him that its wellbeing depends upon the limbs and powers of the body being connected and peace reigning among them, for when there is division between them, then death comes, so too if one asks about the wellbeing of Jerusalem, we will answer that its wellbeing depends upon 'those who love you being at peace.' If there is inner serenity among the lovers of Jerusalem – Jerusalem will enjoy peace, for the essence of Jerusalem is the unity of the people.  Therefore, if quarrel, dispute and division of hearts arise between its people, there will be no peace in Jerusalem, for its primary peace is when 'it is like a city that is connected together,' not when it is separated."


[7] It is interesting to examine the relationship between Yehuda and Binyamin across the generations: from the guarantee that Yehuda gave regarding Binyamin when the brothers went down to Yosef in Egypt, a guarantee that established a special connection between the two tribes (see Shiur #19: "Jerusalem in the Torah (VIII)/ the Territory of Binyamin – the Territory of the Shekhina (part 4)"); continuing with David's guarantee to Sha'ul during the battle with Golyat in the Ela Valley (a guarantee that Chazal connect to Yehuda's guarantee regarding Binyamin in Egypt, see Yalkut Shimoni 341, no. 126); and concluding with Binyamin's decision, at the time of the separation of the kingdom, not to band with the tribes of Ephraim and Menashe, the descendants of Yosef son of Rachel, but rather with Yehuda.

It may be argued that Jerusalem's special status as the capital of the Kingdom of Yehuda was preserved in great measure by virtue of Binyamin, on whose southern border, between Binyamin and Yehuda, Jerusalem is located, and whose northern border also constitutes the northern border of the Kingdom of Yehuda, in the area of Bet El.  My revered teacher, R. Yaaqov Medan, adduces interesting proof from what is stated in the prophecy of Achiya ha-Shiloni to Yeravam regarding the split of the kingdom: "But he shall have one tribe for My servant David's sake, and for Yershalayim's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel" (I Melakhim 11:32).  The commentators (ad loc.) disagree about the identity of the tribe under discussion: Yehuda or Binyamin.  R. Medan proposes to read the verse as follows: "But he shall have one tribe for My servant David's sake" – this is the Tribe of Yehuda – "and [he shall have one tribe] for Yershalayim's sake, the city which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel" – this is the Tribe of Binyamin.  According to this interpretation, the verse is well understood: the Tribe of Yehuda, the tribe of Shelomo, is for the sake of My servant David – for the sake of establishing the kingdom in Yehuda; and the tribe of Binyamin is for the sake of the choice of Jerusalem, for it protects it from the north and extends the kingdom's border northward.

All this is in addition to the special connection between Binyamin and Jerusalem based on its being the territory of the Shekhina, as was mentioned in the shiurim devoted to this issue.

It is possible that the selection of Jerusalem also served as a compensation to Binyamin for having forfeited the kingdom, and also for its difficult situation following the incident involving the concubine in Giv'a.

And finally, it is possible that we are dealing with a desire on the part of Yehuda to remain in closer connection with Binyamin, in continuation of the guarantee between them when the brothers went down to Egypt, and in continuation of David's guarantee to Sha'ul during the battle in the Ela valley.  Now David is king over all of Israel, and the possibility exists to renew this covenant.


[8] This tendency also finds expression in the settlement of Jerusalem by members of all the tribes: "And in Jerusalem dwelt some of the children of Yehuda, and some of the children of Binyamin, and some of the children of Ephraim and Menashe" (I Divrei Ha-yamim 9:3; and see the proofs offered by Yehuda Kil, Da'at Mikra on Divrei Ha-yamim, p. 244, that this list may be dated to the period of David).  This is in addition to the families of Levites and kohanim, who served next to the tent pitched by David for the Ark in the City of David.  Another proof may be brought from the expression, "Inhabitant of Jerusalem and man of Yehuda," appearing several times in the words of the prophets (e.g., Yeshaya 5:3; Yirmiyahu 4:4; 11:17; II Divrei Ha-yamim 34:31), which implies that there is no identity between residence in Jerusalem and belonging to the Tribe of Yehuda, or in other words, that members of other tribes also settled in Jerusalem.


(Translated by David Strauss)