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Introduction to the Book of 2nd Samuel

Table of Contents

General Info

The second book of Samuel continues the narrative of the beginning of Israel’s monarchy.  This is no surprise since the two books of Samuel were originally one manuscript (see General Info on 1st Samuel).  The second book covers the forty year period from the death of Saul (~ 1010 BC) though the end of David’s reign (~ 970 BC).

Second Samuel traces David’s reign, from his turbulent ascension though his various triumphs and tragedies.  During David’s leadership, the Kingdom of Israel greatly expanded its borders and influence over the area.  Yet the author does not shy away from recording David’s greatest failures, such as his adultery with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband, and the resulting consequences, not only on his family but the entire nation as well.

Despite David’s sin, God remained committed to David’s dynasty due to His covenant.  When David repented, God restored him and, although some of the consequences of his sin remained, his reliance on God allowed him to rise above the challenges, until he would pass the throne to his son Solomon (as recorded in the opening chapters of First Kings).

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Brief Survey

The second book of Samuel opens with the news of the death of Saul and Jonathon reaching David in exile.  After a period of mourning, God tells David to move to Hebron, where he is crowned King over Judah (ch 2).  During the next seven years, a civil war ensued between David and Saul’s son Ish-bosheth, who is eventually killed (ch 3-4).  David then becomes king over all Israel, captures Jerusalem which becomes the new capital city, and conquers the Philistines (ch 5).  The Ark of the Covenant is moved to Jerusalem in chapter 6.

Chapter 7 is one of the most important chapters in the OT, with implications felt throughout the NT.  Here we find the Davidic covenant, in which God promises an eternal throne to David and his descendants, ultimately to be fulfilled by Jesus the Messiah.  This is followed by more of David’s triumphs and the expansion of Israeli territory in chapters 8-10.

While David is at the peak of his reign, chapters 11 and 12 mark the turning point of the book, recording his affair with Bathsheba, the murder of her husband, God’s rebuke of David through the prophet Nathan, David’s confession of his guilt, and the death of the child from the affair.  Yet God remained faithful to David, and blessed his ensuing marriage to Bathsheba with another child, Solomon who would continue David’s royal line. 

During His rebuke of David however, God declared that calamity would not depart from David’s family, a pronouncement that played out during the remainder of David’s life.  It begins in the very next chapter, as David’s son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar, then is killed by Tamar’s brother Absalom.  Absalom fled, but later returned and staged a coup, forcing his father David into exile (ch 13-17).  He later recaptures the thrown, but Absalom is killed by David’s general Joab in defiance of David’s orders (ch 18-19).  In chapter 20, we witness the unsuccessful attempt by Sheba of the northern tribe of Benjamin to seize the throne.

The concluding section of 2 Samuel (ch 21-24) is a type of epilogue, summarizing some of the events and themes of David’s reign.  Included in this section are such events as David avenging Saul’s sins against the Gibeonites, battles against the Philistines, and a listing of David’s elite fighting men.  We also find David’s psalm of thanksgiving (also recorded as Ps 18) and his final public words.  In the final chapter of this section, David takes a census against the will of God, prompting a three day plague against Israel until David offers a prayer.  David then builds an alter at the site where the plague stopped, at the future site of the Temple (see 1Chr 21:18-22:1).

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Key Verses

Then David and all the men with him took hold of their clothes and tore them.  They mourned and wept and fasted till evening for Saul and his son Jonathan, and for the army of the LORD and the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. (1:11-12)

Then the men of Judah came to Hebron and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah. (2:4)

All the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron and said, “We are your own flesh and blood.  In the past, while Saul was king over us, you were the one who led Israel on their military campaigns.  And the LORD said to you, 'You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.'” When all the elders of Israel had come to King David at Hebron, the king made a compact with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. (5:1-3)

“Now then, tell my servant David, 'This is what the LORD Almighty says: I took you from the pasture and from following the flock to be ruler over my people Israel.  I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you.  Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men of the earth.  And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed.  Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel.  I will also give you rest from all your enemies.  The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom.” (7:8-12)

One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace.  From the roof he saw a woman bathing.  The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her.  The man said, “Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” Then David sent messengers to get her.  She came to him, and he slept with her.  Then she went back home.  The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.” (11:2-5)

The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, “There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor.  The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought.  He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children.  It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms.  It was like a daughter to him. “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him.  Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”  David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die!  He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”  Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!  This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul.  I gave your master's house to you, and your master's wives into your arms.  I gave you the house of Israel and Judah.  And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.  Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes?  You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own.  You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.  Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.'” (12:1-10)

The king [David]was shaken.  He went up to the room over the gateway and wept.  As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom!  My son, my son Absalom!  If only I had died instead of you--O Absalom, my son, my son!” (18:33)

David sang to the LORD the words of this song when the LORD delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.  He said: “The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation.  He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior-- from violent men you save me.  I call to the LORD, who is worthy of praise, and I am saved from my enemies.” (22:1-4)

These are the last words of David: “The oracle of David son of Jesse, the oracle of the man exalted by the Most High, the man anointed by the God of Jacob, Israel's singer of songs: The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue.  The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me: 'When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.'” (23:1-4)

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Author and Date

See Author and Date of 1 Samuel.

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Historical Background

See the Historical Background to 1st Samuel for the conditions leading up to the Monarchy in Israel (form of government ruled by a single individual, or king).

The book of 1 Samuel then records the transition from the period of the judges to the Monarchy, with the prophet Samuel anointing Saul as the first king.  During Saul’s reign however, the twelve tribes were not completely unified, since they continued to identify themselves primarily with their tribe and clan rather than as a nation.  Saul’s kingship began well, but he soon fell out of favor with God due to his disobedience, and eventually died in battle as the first book comes to an end.

Saul’s death sets the stage for a civil war between the followers of Saul’s son Ish-bosheth and those loyal to David, which opens the book of 2 Samuel.  After Ish-bosheth’s death, the nation would finally begin to find their national identity under David (ch 5).

During this period, the great empires in the area were in a relatively weakened state, which would allow David to expand the land through military conquests.  He also utilized intermarriage to solidify alliances and gain control of additional territory.  While marriage alliances among royal dynasties were common in the ancient Middle East, David was the first of the Israelite kings to employ this custom of cementing treaties and relationships with foreign nations.  His son Solomon continued and even accelerated this practice which led to much greater acquisitions, but ultimately would prove his downfall when he adopted the foreign gods of his many wives (as recorded in 1 Kings).

See  OT History Books for the position of Samuel within the context of the OT historical periods.


The usual modern critics claimed that the story of David was fiction, since no extra-biblical documents had been discovered bearing his name.  In 1993 however, an Aramaic inscription was found in northern Israel that celebrated a military victory over Israel and Judah by the Syrian King Hazael (latter ninth century BC).  Parts of the text is illegible, but translators were able to decipher “I put Jeho… son of … ruler of Israel, and …iahu son of …g of the house of David to death”.  This discovery provides evidence not only for the existence of David, but also for the fact that he founded a dynasty.

These same critics have made similar denials of the existence of many other biblical characters, but are being silenced as, one by one, evidence is found to support the Bible’s text. Some continue to question the existence of those still to be found, but the fact that the existence of a few characters has yet to be substantiated does not mean it won’t be in the future. Even if confirmation is not established, this does not prove their claim, which is basically an argument from silence.

See OT Historicity for Historicity of the OT History books.

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See OT History for timeline of additional historical events.

1011 BC Death of Saul; David becomes King of Judah at Hebron
1004 BC David becomes King of a United Israel and Judah at Jerusalem
~ 980 BC Absalom's Revolt
971 BC Solomon becomes King (Book of 1st Kings)

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Themes, Purpose and Theology

The historical purpose of 2 Samuel is to provide a selective record of the reign of David, including the civil war, transition of Israel into a unified nation, and the expansion of the kingdom.  Thus 2 Samuel continues the central theme of kingship that began in the first book.  Other related themes carried over are those of God’s sovereignty and providence.  Throughout David’s life, we see that obedience to God brings blessing, but disobedience results in tribulation and judgment.  Yet, though all the ups and downs, God was busy working all these events, both in the lives of David and the nation, according to His perfect will.  For example, although David’s affair with Bathsheba resulted in calamities and losses that would follow him throughout his life, their marriage also produced Solomon, a son who would carry on his dynasty.

In addition, a major theme is introduced in the seventh chapter, the Davidic Covenant.  It would be very difficult to over-emphasize the importance of this covenant.  It was not only a key turning point in the history of Israel / Judah, but also in the theological history of salvation.  In addition to establishing a human dynasty of kings for David, the covenant also contained a Messianic promise of a King who would rule on an eternal throne.  This promise will ultimately be fulfilled by Jesus (Lk 1:31-33).

Another highly significant event in 2 Samuel is David’s capture of Jerusalem from the Jebusites and establishing the city as his political capital (5:1-16).  The Ark of the Covenant had earlier been lost in battle with the Philistines, who returned it after God sent plagues upon them (1Sam 4-6).  Now, David brought the Ark to Jerusalem with great celebration (ch 6), and established the city as Israel’s spiritual center of worship.  Thus Jerusalem became the holy city and a key piece in God’s plan of redemption, including a new restored Jerusalem at the end of days (Is 65:17-25, Rev 3:12, Rev 21:1-3).

Although violence among political rivals and their supporters was commonplace throughout the ancient world, it’s appears more prevalent in 2 Samuel than possibly any of the other historical books.  David, however was only guilty of murder in the case of Bathsheba’s husband Uriah.  Although he was accused in others, particularly those related to his rise to the throne, he was not involved in any of these acts.  In fact, David had a high regard for King Saul as God’s anointed, and passed up multiple opportunities for taking the throne by violence, leaving his future in God’s hands instead.  He also genuinely lamented the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.

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Interpretation Hints and Challenges

The second book of Samuel shares several interpretive challenges with the first book, such as variances between the existing Hebrew Masoretic texts and the Greek Septuagint, both of which are used to translate the books into various languages.  When these discrepancies occur, an attempt must be made to determine which text is representative of the non-extant original manuscripts.  There is also the different manifestation of the Holy Spirit in the OT as compared with the His ministry under the New Covenant.  We also see similar literary features of the narrative in each book which should be considered.  These subjects are discussed in the Interpretation and Hints  for 1 Samuel.

Under the “Themes” section above, we mentioned the importance of the Davidic Covenant that we find introduced in chapter 7.  In verse 12, the Lord tells David through the prophet Nathan that “When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom”.  There has been some debate as to the identity of the “offspring” (or “descendant” or “seed”, depending on the translation).  Some claim that this refers to David’s son Solomon, while others identify the offspring as Jesus the Christ.

Our belief is that both positions could be considered correct in a certain sense.  To explain we examine verses 13-14: “He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men…”

Regarding “the one who will build a house for my Name”, Solomon built the Temple, but Jesus built the Church (Mt 16:18, Eph 2:20).  “I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever” could refer to Solomon and his descendants; but in announcing the birth of Jesus, the angel Gabriel tells Mary “You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Lk 1:31-33).  Similarly, “I will be his father, and he will be my son” can also refer to Solomon, but the author of Hebrews uses these words to speak of the superiority of Jesus (Heb 1:5).  Finally, “When he does wrong, I will punish him” would seem to refer to Solomon, since Jesus did no wrong; however at the cross, Jesus was charged with all the wrongs committed by mankind.  Perhaps the best answer is that the “offspring” refers to Solomon in the immediate context, and to Jesus in the ultimate framework of eternity.  Thus, we also see David’s dynasty as foreshadowing the future kingdom of Christ.

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The second book of Judges can be divided into three sections. The first ten chapters record the triumphs of David.  Chapters 11-20 then chronicle the transgressions and resulting troubles of David.  Finally, chapters 21-24 could be considered an appendix or epilogue in the life of David.

1:1 – 1:27 David laments over the Death of Saul and Jonathon
2:1 – 3:12 David Anointed King over Judah; War with house of Saul
5:1 – 5:25 David becomes King over Israel; Conquers Jerusalem and Philistines
6:1 – 6:23 The Ark brought to Jerusalem
7:1 – 7:29  The Davidic Covenant
8:1 – 8:18 David’s Military Victories
9:1 – 9:13 David and Mephibosheth
10:1 – 10:19 The Ammonite War
11:1 – 12:31 David and Bathsheba; Nathan Rebukes David; Death of the Child
13:1 – 14:33 Family Troubles – Rape and Murder
15:1 – 17:29 David in Exile from Absalom’s Coup
18:1 – 19:43 Death of Absalom; David Returns to Jerusalem as King
20:1 – 20:26 The Unsuccessful Rebellion of Sheba
21:1 – 24:25 Epilogue: War; David’s Song of Praise; David’s last Words; Census

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