David was born about 1040 B.C., the eighth and youngest son of Jesse of Bethlehem (see also Ruth). Little is recorded of David's parents - Jesse was apparently of modest means, and there is no record of David's mother's name.
David's appearance is not known in great detail, however we do know that he was described as handsome, had red hair (i.e. "ruddy"), and was relatively short in stature (1 Samuel 16:12, 17:42).
David was a Shepherd, which out of necessity at the time also taught him fighting skills when defending the flocks from predatory wild animals, including lions and bears (1 Samuel 17:34-35). In quieter times, he also developed his musical skills with the flute and harp.
After God rejected the foolish and corrupt Saul, Israel's first king, He sent Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint David as the successor (1 Samuel 16:1-13). The transition would be gradual however. David returned to caring for the sheep, but "The Spirit of The Lord came upon David from that day forward," (1 Samuel 16:13) and "The Spirit of The Lord departed from Saul" (1 Samuel 16:14).
David served King Saul from time to time as a musician and armor bearer (1 Samuel 16:21-23). It is quite certain that Saul did not yet know that his young harp player would soon take his place as king. If he had, he would have killed him - just as he actually tried to do over and over again later.
Then followed one of the most famous incidents of The Bible - David And Goliath (1 Samuel 17:1-58) in the valley of Elah, about 15 miles / 24 kilometers southwest of Bethlehem. David's defeat of Goliath put the Philistines to flight and resulted in a great victory for Israel. The heroic act made David a favorite of the people, much to the disfavor and jealousy of Saul (1 Samuel 18:6-16). From then on, Saul wanted David killed, and personally made a number of attempts (1 Samuel chapters 18-30).
When Saul made his first attempt to kill David, the young shepherd fled to Samuel in Ramah where he was given refuge for a time among the prophets (1 Samuel 19:12-18). Some are of the opinion that David composed the 6th, 7th and 11th Psalms while he was there.
When Saul discovered David's whereabouts, David fled again, this time to Nob (1 Samuel 21:1-9), and then to Gath among the Philistines. The Philistine king refused him, so David continued over to Adullam (1 Samuel 22:1-4, 1 Chronicles 12:8-18) where 400 men joined him and accepted him as their leader.
In the mean time, upon the orders of Saul, Doeg the Edomite murdered 85 priests and their families who had innocently given refuge to David at Nob. The news of the massacre reached David by the sole survivor, Abiathar, a son of the high priest Ahimelech (1 Samuel 22:11-23)
For a while, David found himself in the rather bizarre situation of fighting Saul's enemies and fleeing Saul at the same time. David and his men drove the Philistines from Keilah (1 Samuel 23:1-14) and then moved to the hill country of Judah to escape Saul. While there, David met with Jonathan, Saul's son, who had been, and always remained, a loyal friend with David (1 Samuel 23:16-18). Jonathan was killed in battle with the Philistines not long after.
Although Saul would readily have killed David, David refused to lift his sword against Saul. David actually saved Saul's life on occasion during all the time that Saul was hunting him (1 Samuel 24:10, 26:9). David remained a fugitive until Saul was killed in battle against the Philistines near Mount Gilboa (1 Samuel 31:1-6)
Upon Saul's death, David went to Hebron where he was anointed as king of Judah, according to The Lord's instructions, at about age 30 (2 Samuel 2:1-4). A seven and a half year civil war followed between the forces that supported David, and those that supported Ish-bosheth, Saul's only surviving son, for the kingship of all Israel. The military and political situation grew steadily in favor of David however, and when Ish-bosheth was assassinated, David was anointed king over all Israel (2 Samuel 4:1-12, 5:1-5).
David then moved his capital from Hebron to Jebus, an earlier name for Jerusalem: "The king and his men marched to Jerusalem to attack the Jebusites, who lived there. The Jebusites said to David, "You will not get in here; even the blind and the lame can ward you off." They thought, "David cannot get in here." Nevertheless, David captured the fortress of Zion, the City of David." (2 Samuel 5:6-7 NIV)
David then brought The Ark Of The Covenant to the new capital city of Jerusalem (2 Samuel chapter 6) (in illustration above) from the house of Abinadab (2 Samuel 6:3) at Kirjath-jearim, about 7 miles / 11 kilometers from Jerusalem, where it had been for many years. It was during this movement that The Lord put Uzzah to death for touching The Ark (only the Levites were permitted to touch it). David then became afraid to have The Ark in the City of David, so he left it in the house of Obed-Edom, a Philistine from Gath (2 Samuel 6:9-11). Three months later, David brought The Ark to Jerusalem where it was placed in a new tabernacle that David set up for it. It had been about seventy years since The Ark had been in the original Tabernacle In The Wilderness (see also What Happened To The Tabernacle?).
David's rise to greatness was characterized by great territorial gains for Israel (2 Samuel 8:1-14). Within a relatively short period of time, he ruled from The Nile River in Egypt to the Euphrates River in the The Tigris-Euphrates Valley (2 Samuel 8:3-13) (see also Solomon's Kingdom).
As has happened with so many of the great, David's success was focused too heavily on material gains, and it corrupted him. His committing of adultery with Bathsheba, and the murder of her husband Uriah in an attempt to cover it up was perhaps the darkest event of his life. David truly repented of it, and God did forgive him.
David's troubles were far from over however. His many wives and children were constantly in fierce competition with each other within the family. One of David's sons, Amnon, assaulted his step sister Tamar, for which the girl's brother Absalom killed him. Absalom later attempted to take over the kingdom from his father David which triggered a civil war.
Despite his human faults, David was always a dedicated and repentant man of God who served God's purpose in that stage of Bible History. After a reign of forty years and six months (2 Samuel 5:5, 1 Chronicles 3:4) David died at the age of seventy, "and was buried in the city of David." (1 Kings 2:10-11)
Fact Finder: Which of David's sons succeeded him as king of Israel?
1 Kings 2:12
See also Solomon