Foreigners in King David’s court

(Continuing my fixation with non-Israelites in the Old Testament.)

Not only did these people live among God’s covenant community, but they were also included in His scriptures!

Uriah the Hittite

While there were Hittites in Canaan during the patriarchal period (Genesis 23:10, 26:34), the Hittite homeland was in the area that is modern-day Turkey.

Uriah was a man of character to the point of defying the king’s orders. He would not allow himself any pleasures that his comrades on the battle field were denied (2 Samuel 11:11). In that verse he also mentions the ark of the covenant, so it is possible that he was faithful to the God of Israel.

Whatever the case, the Bible writers certainly look on him favourably, ranking him among David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23:39; 1 Chronicles 11:41).

Ittai the Gittite

‘Gittite’ is the adjective deriving from Gath, which was the name of one of the main towns of the Philistines. (There may have been another town named Gath in Israel which would explain 2 Samuel 6:10-11.)

Ittai also defied the king. When David was fleeing from Jerusalem after Absalom’s coup, he urged Ittai to remain behind because he was a foreigner. Ittai’s response to David rivals Ruth’s response to Naomi some generations earlier: “As the LORD lives, and as my lord the king lives, wherever my lord the king shall be, whether for death or for life, there also will your servant be.” (2 Samuel 15:21 ESV)

Ittai makes a vow in the name of Yahweh, and we’re not given any reason to doubt his sincerity.

The Cushite messenger

‘Cush’ in the Bible refers to the area south of Egypt, very likely inhabited by dark-skinned Africans (like me!).

This particular messenger was sent by David’s army commander to give the king the news of the victory over Absalom and his army. The messenger probably knew that David wouldn’t take the news of his son’s death too well and was very tactful in his speech:

Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The LORD has delivered you today from all who rose up against you.”
The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”
The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.” (2 Samuel 18:31-32 NIV84)

He uses the covenant name of the God of Israel, so maybe he too was a believer.

Honourable mentions

The Kerethites and Pelethites: They were soldiers in David’s army (2 Samuel 8:18, 15:18, 20:7; 1 Kings 1:44), probably from Crete and Philistia respectively. We never hear of them after the reign of David.
Obil the Ishmaelite: He was in charge of the royal camels (1 Chronicles 27:30). He may have been among the officials who gave to the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 29:6).

So what?

As Christopher Wright says, Old Testament Israel didn’t have a centrifugal missionary force. What they had was an attractional force, and when it worked well, it drew people from near and far and made them worshippers of the one true God.

3 thoughts on “Foreigners in King David’s court

  1. 2 Samuel 15:18 David’s most loyal followers in one of the worst seasons of his life included 600 men from Gath! 2Sa 15:18 Now all his servants passed on beside him, all the Cherethites, all the Pelethites, and all the Gittites, six hundred men who had come with him from Gath, passed on before the king.

    1. Thanks, Maurice! I missed the Gittites because I was so focused on the Cherethites and Pelethites 😦
      All of them could very easily have switched sides when things went bad, but they chose to loyally stick to David.

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