Jerusalem has existed as a city (or at least a village) for more than 5,000 years (3200 BC). That was about the time the first Egyptian dynasty began. Sumer had been around for a couple of thousand years at that point, but the Sumerians first dynasty did not form until about 2900 BC.
Today’s reading describes the beginning of the city’s history as the City of David, or God’s City, about 1,000 BC. The Bible is the only source explaining how the Hebrews captured the city from the Jebusites, or for that matter, the only source describing the Jebusites. We know that the earliest written record of the city calls it Rushalimum. The Jebusites called it Jebus.
David first renamed it Yerushalem and later, the duel form of Yerushalayyim. The Y is closest to the sound made in Hebrew, but Germans did much of the Biblical scholarship of the Nineteenth Century for whom the J is the proper Hebrew sound. Thus, we have Jerusalem, Jacob, and Jesus, rather than Yerusalem, Yacob, and Yesus.
Why Jebus? Why did David have to conquer the city and move his capital to that particular site? Politically, it was located between the southern and northern tribes. Physically, it was easier to defend from attacks. Religiously, it was believed to be the site of Abraham’s aborted sacrifice of his son Isaac.
Perhaps most important, it was neutral territory, neither Israel nor Judah. The text tells us why a neutral city is so important. David lived in Judah and was from Judah. The leaders of Israel visited him and pledged their loyalty. Only then did David move to Jebus.
The very issue that would split the Hebrews into North and South is already present in this reading. Starting with Saul, all the kings in Jerusalem through to the captivity were from the two southern tribes; Saul from Benjamin and the rest from Judah. The northerners did not trust them. Saul had given them reasons not to trust him, but David set their minds at ease.
Verse 5 tells us that David was only King of Judah for the first seven-plus years, then he became a dual king. In effect, north and south had already split.
We are so used to Jerusalem being the Holy City that we don’t even wonder why David moved from Hebron to the home of the Jebusites. We don’t ask, “did God tell David to do that?”
The question is important because Saul lost God’s favor because he went on his own; he did not listen to God. Did David do God’s will?
In 5:6, we read, David kept growing stronger, for the Lord, the God of Hosts, was with him. JSB This verse tells us the answer, though not so directly. If we need more proof—David captured Jebus easily. David was in touch with God. He did not take action until he knew God wanted it.
Because God did not speak, or His words were not recorded, we can only guess His motivation. I think God’s motivations were in part the same as the ones listed for David. But God does not think short-term. He is all about the End Game. For reasons we cannot know, God chose Yerushalayyim as His city on earth. In some way, it represents God’s presence with us. It also represents the Holy City that will be our home after our time here is over.
Be righteous and do good.