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An Introduction to the Book of Second Samuel

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I. Textual Design of First Samuel:

A. Author:

1. There are many theories about the authorship of First Samuel1 including the Deuteronomic history held by many scholars today2

2. It must be admitted that with the current evidence one cannot affirm without reservation who wrote the book.

3. The Talmud names Samuel as the author,3 but this is hardly probable since he dies in chapter 25

The naming probably relates to the role he played in the first 25 chapters of this history

4. The Hebrew cannon places the work under the former prophets giving a possible clue to at least the role of its author, if not also its sources

a. It is possible that Samuel was compiled from thewritings of the prophets Samuel, Gad, and Nathan whose works were preserved within the nation (1 Chron. 29:29; cf. 1 Sam 10:25; see also the “book of Jasher” 2 Sam 1:18)

b. It is also possible that Samuel wrote chapters 1--25 and then Gad and/or Nathan completed the remainder of the book

c. Nevertheless, there is also evidence that the books of Samuel were written after the death of Solomon (cf. 1 Sam. 27:6)

d. Johnson writes, “The books of Samuel were composed after the death of David from court records, eyewitness accounts, and the writings of the prophets Samuel, Nathan and Gad. The actual author or prophetic historian is unknown. But it bears the marks of a prophetic revelation.4

e. In any case, there is certainly a tone of warning to the kings from the point of view of the prophet who proclaimed the word of God to the king.

B. Date:
The textual clues seem to place the writing of the book sometime during the divided monarchy and yet before the fall of the northern kingdom.

1. Israel and Judah are distinguished (11:8; 17:52; 18:16)

2. Ziklag, the city of Philistia where David is sent by Achish, is described as belonging “to the kings of Judah to this day” (27:6)
This not only speaks of a time after the divided monarchy, but of a time when there had been “kings” in Judah.

3. However, there does not seem to be any indication in the text that the northern kingdom had fallen

4. Therefore, it seems best to place the writing of Samuel sometime after the divided monarchy (913 B.C.) but before the fall of Samaria (7:22 B.C.).

II. The Canonical Shape of 1 and 2 Samuel:5

A. The Hebrew bible regarded 1 and 2 Samuel as two volumes of a single book

1. This was also true of 1 and 2 Kings

2. Josephus recognized the Hebrew canon to have 22 books6 thus seeing 1 and 2 Samuel as one book

B. When the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek the Alexandrian Jews brought the books of Samuel and Kings together as the books of “kingdoms” and then subdivided the collection into four books of “kingdoms.”

C. The Latin Vulgate dropped the titles “books of kingdoms” returning to the Hebrew tradition of Samuel and Kings; and the Western church still follows this pattern
The Eastern church still has 1 and 2 Samuel, 1, 2, 3, and 4 Kingdoms (from Kings and Chronicles)

D. It wasn’t until sixteen centuries later in the Bomberg edition of A.D. 1517 that the Hebrew Bible made the division of Samuel and Kings into two books each.

E. When one considers that 1 and 2 Samuel were regarded as two volumes of a single book in the Hebrew Bible, one may consider their outline to be continuous:7

1. The career of Samuel and the deliverance from Philistia: (1 Sam. 1:1--7:17)

2. The rise of King Saul: (1 Sam. 8:1--15:35)

3. The decline of Saul and the rise of David: (1 Sam 1 6:1--31:13)

4. David’s career as King over Judah and all Israel: (2 Sam 1:1--14:33)

5. The Closing phase of David’s Reign: (2 Sam. 15:1--24:25)

F. Carlos Pinto suggests a chiastic structure which emphasizes, “God’s gracious saving activity in favor of His people” and which serves as an “inclusio for the establishment of the monarchy in Israel.”8

1. Grace: The nation is saved from collapse by God’s grace, mediated through Samuel (1 Samuel 1--9)

a. Law: The nation Falters as a result of Saul’s spiritual callousness (1 Samuel 10--31)

1) Law: The nation faces division and extinction (2 Samuel 1--4)

2) Grace: The nation experiences unification and expansion (2 Sam 5--10)

b. Law: The nation falters as a result of David’s greed and lust (2 Samuel 11:21--21)

2. Grace: The nation is saved from collapse by God’s grace mediated to David (2 Samuel 22--24)9

III. The Theology of 2 Samuel:

A. God is gracious:

1. This is not because man demonstrates love toward God, but in spite of man’s disobedience.

2. He raises David to king (7:9, 19)

3. He forgives David of his evil of adultery and premeditated murder (cf. Lev 20:10; Ex 21:14)

4. He suspends judgment before the angel attacks Jerusalem (24)

B. God is Judicious:

1. God brings Saul’s contempt for God and His covenant upon his descendants who, except for Mephibosheth, either die violently or with the shame of barrenness (cf. Michal in 2 Sam 6)

2. God brings David’s evil upon his family as the son of his adultery dies along with Ammon, Absalom, and Adonijah, as his daughter is raped, and as his concubines are taken in Absalom’s public bid for the throne

3. Although spiritual forgiveness is provided, the consequences of evil are still felt

C. God is Sovereign:

1. YHWH will be the one who will bring David’s rule into being (2:1-2)

2. The Lord rejected Saul’s line (perhaps including the barrenness of Michal) 6:16, 20-23.

3. David considers the verbal abuse of Shimei (16:5-14) to possibly be of God’s sovereignty (16:10)

IV. Purposes for 2 Samuel:

A. To portray YHWH’s blessing of David’s initiatives of faith and desires in heart for the kingdom

B. To portray YHWH’s judgment of David’s personal sin

C. To unfold YHWH’s continuance of the kingdom10

D. To describe the establishment of the kingship (whereas 1 Samuel portrayed the introduction of the kingship)

E. “To interpret Israel’s national hope”11

F. To establish faith in YHWH and in His purpose by recounting the establishment of David’s kingdom which is cursed as a consequence of his sin


1 Good evidence exists that the books of Samuel were considered one book. The Masoretic postscript is at the end of 2 Samuel. Esdras and Josephus refer to Samuel as a single work. The translators of the Septuagint divided the books due to their length when the vowels were added and renamed them 1 and 2 Kingdoms. Jerome followed the same divisions but changed their names to 1 and 2 Kings, but later versions of the Vulgate reverted to Samuel again.

2 Ralph W. Kline, I Samuel Word Biblical Commentary, xxvii-xxxii. This view deduces a post-exilic author from an imposed purpose of compiling and editing a history of Israel on the basis of the theology of a late Deuteronomy.

3 B. Bat. 14b.

4 Elliott E. Johnson, 1 Samuel: Synopsis and Selected Analysis, Unpublished class notes in 327 Seminar in Old Testament Historical Literature, 1.

5 Gleason L. Archer, Jr. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, revised edition, 299-89; see 291-93 for a good discussion of alleged discrepancies in 1 and 2 Samuel.

6 Contra Apionem, 1:8.

7 Ibid., 288-89.

8 2 Samuel: Exegetical Outline and Selected Analysis, paper submitted for the course 372 Seminar in Old Testament Historical Literature, 5.

9 Pinto writes, The author's emphasis on God's covenant loyalty also accounts for the way the book ends. Rather than picturing David in his last days, unable to cope with the fratricidal struggle for the throne, Samuel ends with David much as he was, a man capable of great sin, but unequaled in his repentance and desire to please God, providing the place where God's glorious manifestation to Israel would be housed in the near future by the man of God's own choosing, his son Solomon (2 Samuel: Exegetical Outline and Selected Analysis, a paper submitted for the course 372 Seminar in Old Testament Historical Literature, 4-5).

10 Elliott Johnson writes, While YHWH had pronounced that the Davidic dynasty was a given in history, yet now we hear of David's house as a place of endless strife (12:10) and a source of trouble for David (12:11). It is the king himself not his son or sons who is responsible for the turmoil to come. So strife refers to the experience of David yet the fact of strife within the house implies the continuation of the house. And amidst the presence of strife for David is also the issue of the successor of David who will thus come under the Davidic covenant promises. Thus the judgment is personal but not political (2 Samuel: Synopsis and Selected Analysis, unpublished class notes in 327 Seminar in Old Testament Historical Literature, 1-2).

Pinto writes, Yahweh both judges evil within the nation and delivers His chosen people (chastening David and removing unworthy candidates to the throne, while granting Israel not only respite from foreign oppression, but dominion over former enemies) so that Israel can experience full covenant blessing (2 Samuel: Exegetical Outline and Selected Analysis, a paper submitted for the course 372 Seminar in Old Testament Historical Literature, Spring 1989, 18.

11 Johnson writes, The historical features of the text's composition remain unchanged from 1 Samuel. Written after David's reign, the book selects and arranges the narratives of historical events to both highlight the blessing and cursing in David's kingdom. The blessing of the covenant becomes the basis of hope while the cursing of David directs that hope to the future. Some future heir will realize what God has promised (2 Samuel: Synopsis and Selected Analysis, unpublished class notes in 327 Seminar in Old Testament Historical Literature, 3).

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines