Upon learning of Saul’s defeat by the Philistines, David sings a song lamenting the deaths of Saul and his friend, Jonathan. David goes to Hebron, where his followers and the southern tribe of Judah anoint him as king. Meanwhile, Saul’s chief commander, Abner, garners the support of the northern tribes and instates Saul’s son, Ish-Bosheth, as king of Israel. A war ensues between the conflicting regimes, played out in a series of small hand-to-hand contests between Abner’s men and the army of Joab, David’s general.
When Ish-Bosheth falsely accuses Abner of sleeping with one of the royal concubines, Abner defects to David’s court. David welcomes Abner’s support. Abner convinces the other tribes to recognize David’s claim to the throne. Joab, however, seeks revenge for his brother’s earlier death at Abner’s hands, and he stabs Abner in secret. David’s public censure of Joab and mourning for Abner wins Israel’s respect, and two of Ish-Bosheth’s men betray their ruler by presenting David with the severed head of the northern king. David is horrified that they have killed an innocent man, and he publicly executes these men. The united tribes declare David king of Israel.
David leads the Israelites in conquering the city of Jerusalem, a Canaanite stronghold lingering in the heart of Israel’s territory. He erects his palace there and calls it “The City of David” or “Zion.” Growing in power, David quells the ever-present Philistine threat in a decisive military victory. With the help of thirty thousand Israelites, David brings the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem in an elaborate procession. Amidst shouting and music, David dances and leaps in front of the Ark, to the embarrassment of his wife Michal. David rebukes her, claiming that he will humiliate himself as much as he wants so long as it pleases God. God is pleased that David has made a permanent home for the Ark and reveals a message to David’s prophet, Nathan. God vows to grant Israel rest from foreign opposition and promises that the kingdom of David will last forever. With Joab’s services, David subdues the nations of the surrounding area, expanding Israel’s borders while developing diplomatic relations with the neighboring kingdoms.
One day, David watches a woman bathing from the rooftop of his palace. He summons the woman, Bathsheba, and has sex with her, and the woman becomes pregnant. Unable to disguise his indiscretion, David sends her husband, Uriah, to die on the battlefield. David marries Bathsheba, but Nathan confronts the king about his wrongdoing. Nathan tells a parable about a wealthy man who steals a poor man’s only prized sheep. David is outraged by such selfishness, and Nathan informs David that the parable is about him. Nathan predicts that God will bring calamity on David’s household. David repents for his wrongdoing, but, despite his fasting and praying, Bathsheba’s son dies during childbirth. Afterward, David and Bathsheba have another son, Solomon.
David’s older son Amnon falls in love with his half-sister Tamar and rapes her. David is furious but does nothing. Instead, Tamar’s brother Absalom invites Amnon out to the country, where he and David’s other sons murder Amnon. Absalom flees to a remote city for three years, but David, after mourning for Amnon, allows his son Absalom back to Jerusalem.
Absalom plots a conspiracy, forming an army and winning the hearts of the Israelite people through displays of warmth and kindness. Supported by David’s chief counselor, Absalom goes to Hebron where his followers pronounce him king. Informed of this event, David flees from Jerusalem with his men, and the people of the countryside weep as he marches by. One of Saul’s relatives, however, curses and throws stones at the band, gloating over David’s demise. David forbids his attendants to punish the man.