Israelite Worship during the Davidic Period

Under David’s leadership, worship was established in Jerusalem. David organized the functions of the priesthood, placing special emphasis on the use of music in worship.

Although syncretism posed a threat and led to a struggle throughout Israel’s history, periods existed in which Yahweh’s place of centrality in the life of his people and their worship was stronger and clearer. One of these periods was that of the Davidic monarchy. David had been blessed by Yahweh from a young age and had been ordained to be Israel’s king after an unstable period, when it was administered by the judges and then by Saul. David united the kingdom under a central government headquartered in Jerusalem (in place of Hebron). King David linked this political move to the center of cultic worship by bringing the ark of the covenant to Zion.

The worship of this period focused primarily on that of King David during a politically stable period in Israel’s life. David is credited primarily as the one who organized Israel as a worshiping community. While the biblical narratives do not spare David’s sinful side, they show a man who is willing to confess and be forgiven for his sin. In later literature this then became the biblical example of a true worshiper of Yahweh. Perfection of ethical and moral character was thus not indispensable for faith. Rather, Yahweh desired an honest worshiper who could confess and praise him in sincerity and truth (Mic. 6:6–8). David becomes the example par excellence of a true worshiper, the traditional author of “the psalms of David” that express cultic acts of worship (for example, Pss. 24; 150).

David’s political strategies established a monarchy with its cultic center in Jerusalem. David brought revival to a people and a faith that had experienced a low period lacking unity and strength. The ark of the covenant had disappeared in the disaster at Aphek (Ps. 78:60), where the Israelites were defeated by the Philistines. David recovered the ark and had it brought to Zion, where it was placed in a tent. The ark reminded the people that Yahweh is not represented in wood or stone but that he is a living presence with his people. The whole practice of worship in Israel looked back for its basis to the covenantal relationship established in the Exodus and celebrated in the tabernacle, which had been the ark’s previous dwelling place. The ark was also a reminder that worship alone is not enough. A broad requirement of service to Yahweh involves ethical implications of justice and mercy. In the reestablishment of the ark in a cultic center of worship, David laid a foundation for the royal ideology and the theme of a unique covenant established with David’s lineage.

From the chronicler’s viewpoint, David made a central contribution to Israel’s worship. Jerusalem became the Holy City, the religious capital of the tribes of Israel. The temple began to take form and structure under David. This temple was completed and embellished around 950 b.c. by the king’s successor and son, Solomon. David assigned to the Levites the official duties of leading the community in praise and prayer. The priesthood began to be a stratified hierarchy of functions. The priesthood would eventually be represented by the Zadokites (functioning in the sacrificial capacity), the high priests, the priests, and the Levites. While the major components of worship remained constant, according to the tradition, David instituted some changes, especially the addition of instrumental worship (1 Chron. 23–27).

David is said to have been skilled on the lyre. He is considered the composer of many songs and laments that were incorporated into the temple worship. From allusive indications, music guilds may have been established during this period (1 Chron. 25:6–8) and given a special role in the service. The collection of these Davidic compositions and other songs is known as the Psalter, with David as the traditional author.

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