Joel Baden’s The Historical David gives us a helpful and simple outline of David’s rise. First he was a mercenary for Israel and King Saul. Then he was a rebel against Saul. After that he became an outlaw barely surviving. Then he gained security by aligning himself with Gath and the Philistines. He contributed to and benefited from their defeat of Saul’s Israel.
David’s next historical move was to become king at Hebron. He arrived at Hebron and:
The men of Judah came and there they anointed David as king over the people of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4a NET Bible).
Baden takes seriously the claim that the “men of Judah” were David’s power base. These were the leading citizens of each community. David had gained their loyalty by patronage. He had been building this political support all the time he was raiding from Ziklag.
When David came to Ziklag, he sent some of the plunder to the elders of Judah who were his friends, saying, “Here’s a gift for you from the looting of the Lord’s enemies!” (1 Samuel 30:26 NET Bible)
Judah at the time was not a unified polity, but a series of individual communities. The “men of Judah” or the “elders of Judah” would have been the chiefs and leaders of these. The text presents their “anointing” of David as a spontaneous, divinely inspired act.
Baden imagines it, instead, as a follow-up to David having seized Hebron (seat of the Calebites over whom David claimed power by virtue of his marriage to Abigail). He summoned the village and clan elders to bring tribute and pledge loyalty to him as king. This would have been the “anointing”. This would have followed the normal ancient practice.
In other words, for Baden, the brief notice in 2 Samuel 2:4a actually remembers the formation of the tribe of Judah with Philistine military backing.
David was still a vassal of the Philistines. The Philistines had just routed the Israelites and killed their king. So the creation of Judah was, first of all, an acknowledgement of the political reality, a recognition of Philistine hegemony. But it also was the recreation of Israel, the beginning of the biblical Israel. But Baden sees it happening by force and intrigue for political rather than theological reasons.
Baden undermines some of the religious and devotional use of these stories. For Christians it might be disturbing to think of the original “anointing” (from which the term “Christ” comes) as an act based on graft, coercion, and even–according to Baden–murder.
The problem, it seems to me, is that we have a hard time getting at the thinking of the historical David. Who did he worship? Certainly not the Philistine gods. Almost certainly he in some fashion worshiped the God of Israel. So history does not give us all his motives. He did not write most, or perhaps any, of the Psalms. But did his music mean he had another side? Was worship and devotion a part of his life? There have been ruthless rulers who were also devout.
But Baden puts all that aside and asks what events happened. That is the level I am reading him at. Let’s figure out what happened. Then we can go back and say that there may have been more to it.
By the way, 2 Samuel 2:3 seems to say that David relocated from Ziklag to the “cities of Hebron”. That is the most difficult reading and probably the correct one. So Hebron seems to have been more than just a single city like Jerusalem.