Humanly speaking, David’s rise to power as king of Israel and his military victories over his enemies could not have happened without the help of his devoted and courageous warriors. Near the end of the accounts of David’s life and reign his most revered warriors are listed, along with their most distinguishing deeds of valor. These warriors are called “the Thirty,” and the most distinguished among them are called “the Three.” Many of these men also served as David’s commanders throughout his reign (1 Chronicles 27). It is interesting to note that the vast majority of these men came from the tribes of Judah (David’s tribe) and Benjamin. Hardly any of these elite warriors came from any other tribes of Israel. This may be due in part to the fact that David did not rule over the northern tribes until seven years after he had been made king over Judah, and by that time he likely had already surrounded himself with his most devoted warriors. It is also interesting to note that one of David’s warriors even came from the nation of Ammon (2 Samuel 23:37).
As the most tangible symbol of the Lord’s presence among the Israelites, the Ark of the Covenant played a central role in the worship and religious life of Israel until it was lost or destroyed during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:1-21; 2 Chronicles 36:17-21; Jeremiah 39:1-10; 52:1-30). The very construction of the Ark–an ornamented box fitted with poles to allow it to be transported from place to place–testifies to the nomadic life of the early Israelites, as does the construction of the Tabernacle, the portable worship structure in which the Ark was housed. The Ark was first assembled at Mount Sinai and carried to each destination along the Israelites’ wilderness travels. Eventually the Israelites arrived at the Promised Land and carried the Ark across the dry bed of the Jordan River (Joshua 3). The Ark was then carried in front of those who marched around Jericho before the city fell to the Israelites (Joshua 6). Soon after this the Ark and Tabernacle were set up at the cult center of Bethel, and it was there that the Israelites consulted the Lord before attacking the Benjaminites at Gibeah (Judges 20). The judge Deborah also held court near Bethel, possibly indicating that the Ark was still located at Bethel during her time (Judges 4:5). Sometime later in the era of the Judges the Ark and Tabernacle were moved further north to Shiloh (Joshua 18; Judges 18:31). Much later the Israelites carried the Ark into battle near Aphek to try to ensure victory against the Philistines, but the Ark was captured instead and taken to Ashdod, Gath, and Ekron (1 Samuel 4-5; also see “The Ark of the Covenant Is Captured and Returned” map). The worship center of Shiloh appears to have been overrun as well (Psalm 78:60; Jeremiah 7:12-14; 26:6). Many of the priests apparently relocated to the town of Nob near Jerusalem (1 Samuel 22:11), while the Tabernacle and altar were relocated to the High Place at Gibeon/Gibeah (1 Chronicles 16:39-40; 21:29; see “David Transports the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem” map). Meanwhile, in each Philistine town where the Ark was taken, the people suffered terrible plagues (1 Samuel 5), so the Philistines eventually placed the Ark on a cart and sent it to the Israelite town of Beth-shemesh (1 Samuel 6). Then Israelites from Kiriath-jearim came and transported the Ark to their town, where the Ark remained for 20 years (1 Samuel 6:19-7:2). After David became king over all Israel, he attempted to move the Ark to Jerusalem on a new cart, but the procession was halted when the oxen pulling the cart stumbled and the Lord struck a man named Uzzah dead as he reached out and took hold of the Ark to steady it (2 Samuel 6:1-11). Later, David attempted to move the Ark again, but this time men carried the Ark instead of placing it on a cart (2 Samuel 6:13), perhaps indicating a new focus to carefully follow the law of Moses regarding the Ark’s transfer (Numbers 7:9). After bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, David placed it in a special tent (2 Samuel 6:17; 2 Chronicles 1:4), but the Tabernacle and altar remained at the High Place of Gibeon (1 Kings 3:1-4; 2 Chronicles 1:5-13). Years later his son Solomon became king and built a permanent Temple in Jerusalem to house the Ark (1 Kings 6-8; 2 Chronicles 3-5).
2 Samuel 5; 23:13-17 ; 1 Chronicles 11:15-19; 14:10-17
Soon after David became king over all Israel, the Philistines sent forces into the central hill country to find David. No doubt their intent was to keep the newly unified nation of Israel from becoming too powerful under David’s rule and to ensure their own power in the region. But David heard about their plan and “went down to the stronghold” before the Philistines reached the Valley of Rephaim, where they spread out their forces. It is possible that “the stronghold” mentioned in 2 Samuel 5:17 is referring to his recently captured city of Jerusalem, which is referred to as a “fortress” in verse 7, but it is more likely that this term is referring instead to the cave at Adullam. In 2 Samuel 23:13-14, the writer recounts how three of David’s mighty men came to him at Adullam while a band of Philistines was encamped in the Valley of Rephaim, and this is likely referring to the same event described in 2 Samuel 5. This is further supported by David’s question to the Lord in 2 Samuel 5:19 regarding whether he should “go up” to fight the Philistines. It is unlikely that David would have used the term “go up” to refer simply to going out to the Valley of Rephaim from Jerusalem. The writer also notes in 23:14 that the Philistines had posted a garrison in Bethlehem, so David likely had to bypass Bethlehem to reach Jerusalem from Adullam. Given that Bethlehem was David’s hometown, however, he was almost certainly very familiar with alternate routes around the town. After reaching Jerusalem, David led his forces in a frontal attack against the Philistines at a place that came to be called Baal-perazim (“Lord of bursting forth”), and David’s forces defeated the Philistines. Sometime later the Philistines again arrayed their forces in the Valley of Rephaim, and apparently David was at Jerusalem at the time. This time, however, he led his forces around to the rear of the Philistine forces and waited for the sound of marching in the tops of the nearby balsam trees, which signaled to him that the Lord had gone out before him to strike down the Philistines. David’s forces were again victorious over the Philistines and struck them down from Gibeon (per the Septuagint; Hebrew reads Geba) to Gezer.
Soon after King Solomon of Israel died, the nation of Israel divided into the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah (1 Kings 12; 2 Chronicles 10; also see map). Initially Moab remained subject to Israel, and Edom remained subject to Judah, but by 848 B.C.–the approximate era displayed on this map–both nations had revolted and reasserted their independence, as did the city of Libnah (2 Kings 1:1; 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10; also see map). By this time Moab had also expanded its domain northward, seizing the territory allotted to the tribe of Reuben. This area had formerly been under Moab’s control until the Amorite king Sihon captured the region sometime before Israel crossed the Arnon River on their way to the Promised Land (Numbers 21:26; also see map). The borders between all of the nations included in this map shifted from time to time, but generally they remained as shown here until the northern kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrians in the final decades of the eighth century B.C.
This map is designed to be printed at 24 in. x 36 in., but it may scale acceptably at larger or smaller sizes as well.
[Author’s note: This article is intended as a heuristic exploration (i.e., educated guess) into the possible events and locations related to the Battle at the Pool of Gibeon. The evidence and discussion presented are not intended as definitive proof but rather as embryonic ideas for further study.]
2 Samuel 2
Sometime during David’s reign in Hebron, a group of soldiers led by Joab traveled north to the town of Gibeon, where some soldiers led by Abner, the commander over Ish-bosheth’s forces, had already gathered. The two sides agreed to a contest of young champions, but the contest ended with all the champions slaughtering each other. This led to a fierce battle among the rest of the soldiers, with Joab’s men pursuing Abner’s men most likely westward, since David’s men had probably positioned themselves to the east of Abner’s men after arriving at Gibeon, thus blocking their escape route back to Mahanaim. Abner killed Joab’s brother Asahel during the pursuit and continued to flee to the hill of Ammah. There Abner’s men took a stand on the top of the hill to defend him against Joab’s men. Abner then called out to Joab and convinced him to call a truce. Abner and his men returned to Mahanaim, and Joab returned to count his men. Then Joab and his men traveled to Bethlehem and buried Asahel in his father’s tomb there. After this Joab and his forces returned to David at Hebron. The hill of Ammah, where Abner’s men took their stand, is specifically described as lying “before Giah on the way to the wilderness of Gibeon.” Though the term “wilderness” (midbar) is almost always used to refer to locations east of the Central Ridge Route, which runs north-south along the watershed of Israel, the patriarch Reuben also used the term to refer to the area of Dothan, which is west of the watershed (Genesis 37:22; see map here), to indicate that it was sparsely populated. It is possible, then, that the wilderness of Gibeon similarly referred to the sparsely populated, hilly region lying to the west of Gibeon and the watershed. Thus the “way to the wilderness of Gibeon” could have been the ancient route that passed through this area, which was later paved by the Romans. Based on these assumptions, this author has found that the most logical location for the hill of Ammah is the slope immediately northwest of the junction where the road heading southwest from Gibeon meets the way to the wilderness of Gibeon. This, then, coincides perfectly with the location of el-Qubeiba, which has been identified as a very viable candidate for the town called Emmaus in the New Testament (Luke 24:13-36). So it is possible that the hill of Ammah is the same as the town of Emmaus, and this is further supported by the clear similarities between the Hebrew name Ammah and the Greek name Emmaus. The site of el-Qubeiba had been regarded as Emmaus since as far back as the Crusader era and probably much earlier, since the Crusaders noted that they found a Roman fort there called Castellum Emmaus (see an excellent summary in J. Carl Laney’s doctoral dissertation here). Finally, the word Giah, typically translated as a placename in 2 Samuel 2:24, may instead be referring to the valley or the entrance to the valley that runs parallel to the way to the wilderness of Gibeon.