Second Samuel recounts the triumphs and defeats of King David. From his rise to the throne to his famous last words, this biography describes a remarkable, divinely-inspired leader. As king, David took a divided and defeated Israel from his predecessor King Saul and built a prominent nation. Like most political biographies, 2 Samuel highlights the character traits that enabled David to succeed—his reliance on God for guidance (2:1), his sincerity (5:1–5), and his courage (5:6, 7). But the book also describes the tragic consequences of David’s lust (12:1–23) and pride (24:1–17). By presenting both the strengths and the weaknesses of David, the book gives a complete picture of a very real person—a person from whom we can learn.

Title • Second Samuel is named after the prophet Samuel, even though he does not appear in the narratives of the book. This is because 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one volume. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into the Greek language (around 150 B.C.), the books of Samuel and Kings were united as a complete history of the Hebrew monarchy. This collection was divided into four sections: First, Second, Third, and Fourth Kingdoms. Samuel and Kings were later separated again, but the divisions of the Greek translation persisted. The result was a 1 and 2 Samuel and a 1 and 2 Kings, corresponding to the four sections of Kingdoms in the Septuagint.

Author and Date • Jewish tradition holds that the prophet Samuel wrote 1 Samuel 1–24, and that the prophets Nathan and Gad composed the rest of 1 Samuel and all of 2 Samuel. It is quite evident that some sections of 1 Samuel and all of 2 Samuel were written after the death of Samuel (1 Sam. 25:1; 28:3). Indeed, some notes may have been added even after the division of the monarchy in 930 B.C. (1 Sam. 27:6). In the absence of any reference to the fall of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, it is reasonable to assume that the books were complete by 722 B.C. The majority of the composition of the Books of Samuel may have been done during David and Solomon’s reigns (c. 1010–930 B.C.), with only a small number of notations coming from later periods.

Historical Setting • Second Samuel covers the period from the death of Saul (c. 1010 B.C.) to the end of David’s career (c. 970 B.C.). During the 40 years of his reign, David welded the loose-knit tribes together into a strong monarchy and transformed the youthful nation into a military power able to dominate surrounding nations.

After capturing the Jebusite fortress Jerusalem, David made it his capital. This new site became the powerful geographical base for the establishment of David’s empire. Then David began to free the Israelite territory from Philistine and Canaanite domination. In doing so, David extended his kingdom by military conquests to the north, south, east, and west (see ch. 8).

In addition to military conquest, David was the first of Israel’s kings to use marriage alliances as an important dimension of the nation’s foreign policy. Marriage alliances between royal houses as a means of concluding treaties and cementing relationships between states were common occurrences in the ancient Middle East. The first such marriage alliance is alluded to in 3:3, where Absalom, David’s third son, is called “the son of Maacah, the daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur.”

David’s conquests and alliances gave him control of territory from the border of Egypt to the Euphrates. This was largely due to David’s strong military presence in comparison with the general weakness that characterized Egypt and Mesopotamia at this time. For a brief period, Israel was as strong as any nation of the ancient world.

Theme • The unifying theme of 2 Samuel is the establishment of the kingdom of Israel, progressing from a diverse group of divided and warring tribes to a solidified kingdom under David. However the purpose for recording these events was not merely to have an “official” record of David’s reign. Throughout the narrative, there is a continuing interest in the rule of God over His people. The book emphasizes that it was God who rejected Saul for his disobedience, chose David for the throne, and disciplined David for his pride. God was still the true King of Israel.

The key to David’s successful reign was his relationship with the Lord. God had described him as a man after His own heart (1 Sam. 13:14). In his youth, David had demonstrated his strong faith in God by challenging a giant with only a few stones and his faith in God’s strength (1 Sam. 17:45–51). In his adulthood, he continued to rely on God for guidance and strength (2:1; 5:19). Early in his reign, he demonstrated the importance of his religious convictions to all Israel by bringing the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem in the midst of a lavish celebration before the Lord (6:1–23). Following that, his eagerness to build a temple for the glory of the Lord was known to all (7:1–3). With such actions and the numerous songs he wrote in praise of God, David led the Israelites back to the true worship of God. Even when he sinned, he demonstrated to the people his repentant heart before the living God (12:13–23; 24:17–25). In the final analysis, David’s religious leadership was the most significant part of his reign.

Through all the triumphs and tragedies of David’s reign, God was acting in the national and personal events of His people in order to accomplish His will. The Lord gave David a glimpse of His ultimate will in the promises He gave him, commonly called the Davidic covenant (7:12–16). In this unconditional covenant, God promised David an eternal dynasty, an eternal throne, and an eternal kingdom. Ultimately, a righteous King greater than David was coming. He would be David’s son and would rule from David’s throne forever (Is. 9:7). This promised King is Jesus (see Luke 1:31–33; John 1:49).

The NKJV Study Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 2 Sa.










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