David was one of the prophets of God who we are informed received the Psalms. In Sura 38 of the Quran it recalls an incident where David rendered a judgment regarding two brothers and their sheep. Before the reasoning for the dispute are discussed the verse provides some details about the authority, blessing, and wisdom that God bestowed upon David.
[38:17] Be patient in the face of their utterances, and remember our servant David, the resourceful; he was obedient. [38:18] We committed the mountains in his service, glorifying with him night and day. [38:19] Also the birds were committed to serve him; all were obedient to him. [38:20] We strengthened his kingship, and endowed him with wisdom and good logic.
(١٧) اصْبِرْ عَلَىٰ مَا يَقُولُونَ وَاذْكُرْ عَبْدَنَا دَاوُودَ ذَا الْأَيْدِ إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ
(١٨) إِنَّا سَخَّرْنَا الْجِبَالَ مَعَهُ يُسَبِّحْنَ بِالْعَشِيِّ وَالْإِشْرَاقِ
(١٩) وَالطَّيْرَ مَحْشُورَةً كُلٌّ لَهُ أَوَّابٌ
(٢٠) وَشَدَدْنَا مُلْكَهُ وَآتَيْنَاهُ الْحِكْمَةَ وَفَصْلَ الْخِطَابِ
From these verses we see that David was bestowed with a lot of blessings including kingship, with the mountains and the birds at his service, in addition to wisdom and good logic. The Arabic for the phrase that is translated as “good logic”, in 38:20, is وَفَصْلَ الْخِطَابِ (wafaṣla l-khiṭābi). The “wa / وَ” in the beginning of the word wafaṣla/وَفَصْلَ just signifies “and” and the word faṣla/فَصْلَ means to be detailed or decisive [in judgement]. Note that this is also the title of the Sura 41 of the Quran: Detailed (Fussilat/فُصِّلَتْ). The word l-khiṭābi/الْخِطَابِ comes from the same root as the word khutba which denotes a speech or argument. Therefore, David possessed wisdom and was detailed in his arguments or judgment, or put another way he had good logic or sound judgment.
In the following verse we are presented with the start of the incident.
[38:21] Have you received news of the feuding men who sneaked into his sanctuary?
(٢١) وَهَلْ أَتَاكَ نَبَأُ الْخَصْمِ إِذْ تَسَوَّرُوا الْمِحْرَابَ
The verse indicates that the feuding men snuck into his sanctuary. This implies that they entered without David being aware before it was too late. The Arabic word used that is تَسَوَّرُوا (tasawwarū) this comes from the same root as sura, as in a chapter of the Quran. Sura means a barrier, but also something that is whole complete. This is signified in the Arabic word for barclet, أَسَاوِرَ / asāwira, which has the same root. The root has one other meaning in the Quran which is to scale a wall. Therefore, these people snuck into a fortified space that David was residing.
But David, was not just out in the open, the verse describes that he was in his sanctuary. The word that is translated as “sanctuary” الْمِحْرَابَ. This word can also constitute a prayer chamber as well as the highest place in a building. We can understand that this is a place the David felt secure and at peace, not a place of conflict or danger.
[38:22] When they entered his room, he was startled. They said, “Have no fear. We are feuding with one another, and we are seeking your fair judgment. Do not wrong us, and guide us in the right path. [38:23] “This brother of mine owns ninety-nine sheep, while I own one sheep. He wants to mix my sheep with his, and continues to pressure me.“
إِذْ دَخَلُوا عَلَىٰ دَاوُودَ فَفَزِعَ مِنْهُمْ قَالُوا لَا تَخَفْ خَصْمَانِ بَغَىٰ بَعْضُنَا عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ فَاحْكُمْ بَيْنَنَا بِالْحَقِّ وَلَا تُشْطِطْ وَاهْدِنَا إِلَىٰ سَوَاءِ الصِّرَاطِ
إِنَّ هَٰذَا أَخِي لَهُ تِسْعٌ وَتِسْعُونَ نَعْجَةً وَلِيَ نَعْجَةٌ وَاحِدَةٌ فَقَالَ أَكْفِلْنِيهَا وَعَزَّنِي فِي الْخِطَابِ
The Arabic that is translated as “to pressure me.” is وَعَزَّنِي فِي الْخِطَابِ (waʿazzanī fi l-khiṭābi), the literal meaning of this verse is “and he overpowered/prevailed me in the speech/argument.” Notice this uses the same word, الْخِطَابِ / l-khiṭābi, as described as a quality that God bestowed upon David in the previous verse. So not only does the brother have way more wealth than he has, but he also appears to be prevailing over him in his argument.
So what is this one brother to do under such conditions other than sneak into David’s sanctuary by climbing over his wall of resistance and present his argument in his private secure space of contemplation? And under these circumstances David renders his judgment.
[38:24] He said, “He is being unfair to you by asking to combine your sheep with his. Most people who combine their properties treat each other unfairly, except those who believe and work righteousness, and these are so few.” …
قَالَ لَقَدْ ظَلَمَكَ بِسُؤَالِ نَعْجَتِكَ إِلَىٰ نِعَاجِهِ وَإِنَّ كَثِيرًا مِنَ الْخُلَطَاءِ لَيَبْغِي بَعْضُهُمْ عَلَىٰ بَعْضٍ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَقَلِيلٌ مَا هُمْ
So far this judgment sounds fair, it corresponds to other aspects of the Quran. Most notably 4:29:
[4:29] O you who believe, do not consume each others’ properties illicitly— only mutually acceptable transactions are permitted. You shall not kill yourselves. GOD is Merciful towards you.
يَاأَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لَا تَأْكُلُوا أَمْوَالَكُمْ بَيْنَكُمْ بِالْبَاطِلِ إِلَّا أَنْ تَكُونَ تِجَارَةً عَنْ تَرَاضٍ مِنْكُمْ وَلَا تَقْتُلُوا أَنْفُسَكُمْ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِكُمْ رَحِيمًا
[38:24 con’t]…He thought that we were testing him. He then implored his Lord for forgiveness, bowed down, and repented.
وَظَنَّ دَاوُودُ أَنَّمَا فَتَنَّاهُ فَاسْتَغْفَرَ رَبَّهُ وَخَرَّ رَاكِعًا وَأَنَابَ
And it continues…
[38:25] We forgave him in this matter. We have granted him a position of honor with us, and a beautiful abode.[38:26] O David, we have made you a ruler on earth. Therefore, you shall judge among the people equitably, and do not follow your personal opinion, lest it diverts you from the way of GOD. Surely, those who stray off the way of GOD incur severe retribution for forgetting the Day of Reckoning.
فَغَفَرْنَا لَهُ ذَٰلِكَ وَإِنَّ لَهُ عِنْدَنَا لَزُلْفَىٰ وَحُسْنَ مَآبٍ
يَادَاوُودُ إِنَّا جَعَلْنَاكَ خَلِيفَةً فِي الْأَرْضِ فَاحْكُمْ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ بِالْحَقِّ وَلَا تَتَّبِعِ الْهَوَىٰ فَيُضِلَّكَ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ يَضِلُّونَ عَنْ سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ شَدِيدٌ بِمَا نَسُوا يَوْمَ الْحِسَابِ
God tells David not to follow his “personal opinion.” The Arabic word for this is الْهَوَىٰ, which means one’s desires, whims, or put another way an action that one takes without much thought or consideration, but what does this have to do with David’s judgment.
Recently I started re-reading the Bible from cover to cover. My motivation was that God tells us in the Quran, that these previous scriptures were also full of guidance and light at one point.
[5:44] We have sent down the Torah, containing guidance and light. Ruling in accordance with it were the Jewish prophets, as well as the rabbis and the priests, as dictated to them in GOD’s scripture, and as witnessed by them. Therefore, do not reverence human beings; you shall reverence Me instead. And do not trade away My revelations for a cheap price. Those who do not rule in accordance with GOD’s revelations, are the disbelievers… [5:46] Subsequent to them, we sent Jesus, the son of Mary, confirming the previous scripture, the Torah. We gave him the Gospel, containing guidance and light, and confirming the previous scriptures, the Torah, and augmenting its guidance and light, and to enlighten the righteous. [5:47] The people of the Gospel shall rule in accordance with GOD’s revelations therein. Those who do not rule in accordance with GOD’s revelations are the wicked.
Additionally, the Quran is meant to confirm and supersede the previous scriptures, meaning that we will find these same history and facts in the Bible as we have in the Quran.
[5:48] Then we revealed to you this scripture, truthfully, confirming previous scriptures, and superseding them. You shall rule among them in accordance with GOD’s revelations, and do not follow their wishes if they differ from the truth that came to you. For each of you, we have decreed laws and different rites. Had GOD willed, He could have made you one congregation. But He thus puts you to the test through the revelations He has given each of you. You shall compete in righteousness. To GOD is your final destiny—all of you—then He will inform you of everything you had disputed.
وَأَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ مُصَدِّقًا لِمَا بَيْنَ يَدَيْهِ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَمُهَيْمِنًا عَلَيْهِ فَاحْكُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ عَمَّا جَاءَكَ مِنَ الْحَقِّ لِكُلٍّ جَعَلْنَا مِنْكُمْ شِرْعَةً وَمِنْهَاجًا وَلَوْ شَاءَ اللَّهُ لَجَعَلَكُمْ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً وَلَٰكِنْ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ فِي مَا آتَاكُمْ فَاسْتَبِقُوا الْخَيْرَاتِ إِلَى اللَّهِ مَرْجِعُكُمْ جَمِيعًا فَيُنَبِّئُكُمْ بِمَا كُنْتُمْ فِيهِ تَخْتَلِفُونَ
The word that is translated as “supersedes” is وَمُهَيْمِنًا / wamuhayminan. The meaning of this word is for one who guards, determines the truth, or that which overrides and protects. This word comes from the root with the derivative meaning of a bird who expands their wings over its chicks. This is similar to the function of the Quran, not only does it confirm the previous scriptures, but it also protects and overrides what is in the previous scriptures. Such that if there is a disconnect between what is written in the Bible and Quran then we must go with what the Quran says.
If you studied the Bible you realize that there are a lot of details that are often incorrect in the Bible that are clarified in the Quran. For instance, the Bible claims that it was Isaac who Abraham was going to sacrifice as opposed to Ishmael, or that Aaron was the one who created the molten calf for the Children of Israel, or that Solomon died as a disbeliever. Now we know these accounts to be untrue because we have the truth in the Quran, nevertheless there are certain angles that the Bible covers that present the verses of the Quran in a light that without this knowledge can be missed.
We know that the Quran was revealed for the people of the scripture, Jews and Christians, as the final testament and a source that clarifies much of these matters that they still dispute today.
[16:64] We have revealed this scripture to you, to point out for them what they dispute, and to provide guidance and mercy for people who believe.
(٦٤) وَمَا أَنْزَلْنَا عَلَيْكَ الْكِتَابَ إِلَّا لِتُبَيِّنَ لَهُمُ الَّذِي اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ وَهُدًى وَرَحْمَةً لِقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
God even tells the recipients of the Quran to ask those who received the previous scriptures if they have any doubt about what is revealed in the Quran.
[10:94] If you have any doubt regarding what is revealed to you from your Lord, then ask those who read the previous scripture. Indeed, the truth has come to you from your Lord. Do not be with the doubters.
فَإِنْ كُنْتَ فِي شَكٍّ مِمَّا أَنْزَلْنَا إِلَيْكَ فَاسْأَلِ الَّذِينَ يَقْرَءُونَ الْكِتَابَ مِنْ قَبْلِكَ لَقَدْ جَاءَكَ الْحَقُّ مِنْ رَبِّكَ فَلَا تَكُونَنَّ مِنَ الْمُمْتَرِينَ
So the history and lessons that is in the Quran can also be found in the previous scriptures, but there is a tendency that while the general theme of the Bible is mostly correct it misses some of the details. That said, when reading the Bible I noticed a story about David that I didn’t associate with the Quran before. And without going into the specific details about the background, because I do not find support for this in the Quran, I’ll give you a watered down version fo the background according to the Bible. In 2 Samuel 11, David, who was already a king and very wealthy, desired something very precious from someone else who was not a person of high status. When the prophet Nathan heard about this he asked David for his opinion regarding a dispute that he was arbitrating.
12 Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him and said,
“There were two men in a city, the one wealthy and the other poor.
2 The wealthy man had a great many flocks and herds.
3 But the poor man had nothing at all except one little ewe lamb
Which he bought and nurtured;
And it grew up together with him and his children.
It would eat scraps from him and drink from his cup and lie in his lap,
And was like a daughter to him.
4 Now a visitor came to the wealthy man,
And he could not bring himself to take any animal from his own flock or his own herd,
To prepare for the traveler who had come to him;
So he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.”
5 Then David’s anger burned greatly against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this certainly deserves to die! 6 So he must make restitution for the lamb four times over, since he did this thing and had no compassion.”
7 Nathan then said to David, “You yourself are the man!
Often times the best way to apply a lesson to our own life is by removing ourselves from the equation. When we judge for ourselves, often times we are incapable of removing our personal interests and biases so that we can equitably judge between right and wrong. By applying a judgment to another party where we have no personal stake in the outcome typically removes our bias, but the hope is not that we end the process there. For a wise person, like David, knows that the lesson should also be applied to our own selves as well. And when we realize that we are judging in one manner towards others while not applying that same judgment towards ourselves then this is the behavior of someone who is foolish.
This is one of the criticisms in the Quran towards the Children of Israel.
[2:44] Do you exhort the people to be righteous, while forgetting yourselves, though you read the scripture? Do you not understand?
(٤٤) أَتَأْمُرُونَ النَّاسَ بِالْبِرِّ وَتَنْسَوْنَ أَنْفُسَكُمْ وَأَنْتُمْ تَتْلُونَ الْكِتَابَ أَفَلَا تَعْقِلُونَ
Notice that the word translated as “exhort” is أَتَأْمُرُونَ / atamurūna. The word أْمُرُ / amuru means to command or order.
So let’s take a look back to the context of David the scenario and the language that God used to paint the incident. God informs us that David was bestowed with wisdom and good logic and reasoning. One of the challenges people who are smart face is that they can deceive themselves with their own intellect because they can come up with the most novel arguments to retain their position. So how does someone of high intelligence avoid this pitfall? The way is to secretly overcome their defenses and supplant an idea into their head before it is detected. Now consider the situation that the brother was describing, where he said that his brother was wealthier than him and also had better argumentation and reasoning than he did, leaving him feeling unrepresented. By doing this God allowed David to provide an unbias judgement to the situation, but the real genius was that David was smart enough to realize that his purpose was not only to judge others, but how he can apply this newfound insight to his own life.
But the lesson doesn’t end there. God placed this story in the Quran for us to read and learn from. The powerful thing about a story is that often times when we read a story our guard is down and we can view things in a neutral light without bias. And if we apply the lesson from David and not just view this judgment in regards to others, but how we apply this to ourselves in our own lives that will be a true sign of wisdom.