King David’s Double Anointing

King David is one of the most dynamic and enigmatic of all the figures of the Bible (Halpern, 3-13). He was favored of God, but utilized whatever means he could to secure the throne, including murder and treason. Yet it is through his unorthodoxy that God works out common good for Israel.

One piece of the text of the books of Samuel which I found intriguing are David’s two anointings: one at Hebron by the house of Judah, and the other at Hebron by “all the tribes of Israel.” The Bible (the Deuteronomistic History, at least) uses two technical terms for describing the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom. For the southern kingdom, the one that receives most of the attention in the OT, terms such as “Israel” or “Judah” are employed to refer to the tribes of the south. In the North, other terms are used (like “Ephraim”). However, when the authors want to mention all the tribes together, as in the case of the united monarchy under David and Solomon, the technical term employed is “all Israel.” In our example here (2 Sam. 5:1), we see “all the tribes of Israel” (Heb. cal shibtei yisrael); clearly a reference to both the north and the south. This is an exciting moment in the text of the OT – the northern kingdom and the southern kingdom are united, both unanimously choosing David as their king.

Here is the NRSV’s version of the details of David’s first anointing at Hebron, before the tribe of Judah:

2 Samuel 2:1-4 After this David inquired of Yahweh, “Shall I go up into any of the cities of Judah?” Yahweh said to him, “Go up.” David said, “To which shall I go up?” He said, “To Hebron.” 2 So David went up there, along with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel, and Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel. 3 David brought up the men who were with him, every one with his household; and they settled in the towns of Hebron. 4 Then the people of Judah came, and there they anointed (Heb. mashach) David king over the house of Judah.

Later, the northern kingdom wants in on David’s protection, and here the NRSV illustrates David’s second anointing before all Israel:

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 10 Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. 2 For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The LORD said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years… 10 And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.

During the restoration of the gospel, Joseph Smith would restore what he called (publicly) the “fullness of the priesthood,” which would take place for the first time in the front upper room of the red brick store on Water Street in Nauvoo on September 28, 1843. Joseph himself dictated the words of the ceremony to William Marks and Hyrum Smith and received this blessing under their hands (Ehat, 94-96). The fulness of the priesthood comes by way of anointing, after the individual had already received an initial anointing. Joseph continually linked the power of the fulness of the priesthood to that of “a king and priest” and to the power of Elijah. Six months after restoring the fullness of the priesthood, Joseph said:

“Now for Elijah, the spirit power & calling of Elijah is that ye have power to hold the keys of the revelations ordinances, oricles powers & endowments of the fulness of the Melchezedek Priesthood & of the Kingdom of God on the Earth & to receive, obtain & perform all the ordinances belonging to the Kingdom of God even unto the sealing of the hearts of the hearts fathers unto the children & the hearts of the children unto the fathers even those who are in heaven.” (WJS, 329.)

In that same discourse, Joseph briefly mentions the murder of Uriah the Hittite, and David’s standing before God. Among the statements made about David’s standing, Joseph said:

“Although David was a King he never did obtain the spirit & power of Elijah & the fulness of the Priesthood.” (WJS, 331.)

Ehat & Cook’s footnote on this statement indicates that “…although David was anointed a king by the Prophet Samuel, it was not, according to this teaching of Joseph Smith, after the order of the fulness of the Melchizedek Priesthood.” (WJS, n. 27, p. 390.)

I have since thought that the connection between David’s two anointings, and Joseph Smith’s understanding of two anointings (especially as they relate to kingship in Israel), are the cause behind Joseph Smith’s clarification of David’s fate. Perhaps Joseph knew that David’s two anointings (or possibly three anointings, counting the 1 Samuel 16 narrative by Samuel) might have appeared to his inner circle, according to the text, that David received the fullness of the priesthood. What would his listeners, who knew about the fullness of the priesthood, think of David after he kills Uriah if indeed David received the same two anointings that they received? Would David, the greatest king Israel had known, be doomed to reside in Hell for eternity? Joseph Smith, I believe, understood this dilemma and set out to clarify it for his audience on March 10, 1844, the discourse mentioned above. For Joseph, David’s two (or three) anointings were not the same as the anointings conferred by the spirit and power of Elijah, which Joseph aptly explains in the same discourse. This would allow for David’s final redemption. Rather, these anointings were the conferral of the kingdom of Israel only, and not to be confused with the rituals which Joseph Smith restored in September of 1843.


Ehat, Andrew F. Joseph Smith’s Introduction of Temple Ordinances and the Priesthood Succession Question. M.A. Thesis, Brigham Young University, 1982.

Ehat, Andrew F. & Lyndon W. Cook. The Words of Joseph Smith: The Contemporary Accounts of the Nauvoo Discourses of the Prophet Joseph. BYU Religious Studies Center, 1980.

Halpern, Baruch. David’s Secret Demons: Messiah, Murderer, Traitor, King. Eerdmans, 2001.

6 Replies to “King David’s Double Anointing”

  1. David never had the Melchizedek priesthood? That seems to make a mess of other things…

    If David never had the Melchizedek priesthood, I suppose you must read Psalm 110 (Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek) as purely Christological, having no reference to David? And Matthew 12:4-6&c, Christ is not referencing his authority to make and break the sabbath by pointing to the king-priestly powers of David who ate the shewbread?

    Of course, we have to believe David would be redeemed from hell, since that’s how Peter quotes Psalm 16 in Acts 2:25-28.

    David, King and murderer. What a mess.

  2. Johnna, He could have been ordained to the Melchizedek Priesthood, and yet not had the fullness of it (i.e., the ordinance David is referring to). What does make sense is that Joseph restored another anointing as King – Prophet, Priest and King. He was pretty explicit, at least in private that this is what David recieved.

  3. Johnna, J’s got it right. The point here is that Joseph wanted to tell the people he was teaching that King David had not committed the unpardonable sin by receiving the fullness of the priesthood and then killing somebody. So, JS does this by stating implicitly that King David’s two anointings were not the same as the two anointings JS was dishing out to the brethren. JS’s remarks are both caustic and implicit in this speech because of the mixed crowd to which he was speaking.

    This is also evidence JS’s knowledge of concepts contained in D&C 132, which the RLDS crowd says was a BY innovation because it wasn’t produced in print until 1852 in Deseret News Extra, and then finally “canonized” (for lack of a better term) in the 1876 edition of the D&C. Here JS clearly teaches about the status of the unpardonable sin in its relation to the fullness of the priesthood — an issue also addressed in D&C 132.

    David, King and murderer. What a mess.

    Yes — David is a very intriguing character. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity of studying him intensively in graduate school and I’ve loved every minute of it.

  4. David,
    I just wanted to point out that, if anyone ever doubted you were an academic, their doubts would have been dispelled by the following:
    “King David is one of the most dynamic and enigmatic of all the figures of the Bible (Halpern, 3-13).”

    Only a true academic would feel a need to cite such a sentence.

  5. John, yeah I guess I felt the need for the reference because there are folks who read FPR who might think that David was a spotless guy (except for maybe the Bathsheeba thing). Halpern’s book is a must-read for monarchic studies; very, very eye-opening.

  6. there are folks who read FPR who might think that David was a spotless guy (except for maybe the Bathsheeba thing).

    As also the Chronicler, IIRC, who never read FPR. And he didn’t even mention Our Lady of the Rooftop Bath, either.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *