2 Samuel tells the story of King David and how he consolidated his power after the death of Saul. He made his capital first at Hebron and then at the ancient Jebusite city of Salem, which he renamed Jerusalem. The book tells the story of his spectacular success as a king, as well as his more mixed personal life. Throughout the story runs the theme of the deep relationship with God that shaped who he was, even when he sinned and made mistakes.
26 I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. 27 How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished! (2 Samuel 1.26–27)
14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15 But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. (2 Samuel 7.14-15)
The story of the building of David’s kingdom, like the entry into the promised land, is told with no concern for the inhabitants who already lived there. This can be difficult for modern readers.
Jewish tradition attributes the authorship of 2 Samuel to Nathan and Gad, but there is no evidence for this within the book itself, or indeed for any other author. In style and theology it is very similar to Joshua, Judges, 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings, and so it is often thought to form a collection of writings scholars call the ‘Deuteronomistic histories’.
Next to nothing.
It is suggested that the authors of these 'Deuteronomic histories' were influenced by Deuteronomy and told Israel’s history from that perspective. The key feature here is that Deuteronomy stresses that God’s people will only stay in the land if they remain faithful. Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel and 1 and 2 Kings tell the story of how God’s people failed to be faithful and so, eventually, went into exile from the land.
No one really knows when these books were written. It is thought that they reached their final form in the sixth century BC, in other words shortly after the Judeans went into exile. They were finalised then in order to explain why the exile had happened at all. It is clear, however, that these final documents were drawn together from already existing sources, many of which would have been written during or shortly after the event described.
The books, therefore, have more than one audience – those who read the first versions of the history and those who read the final text once it was pulled together. Since it is hard to know anything about the first audience we will concentrate on the second.
If it is right that these histories are written to explain why the exile happened, it's clear that the people would have been feeling hurt, despairing and lost. For a sense of what people were feeling then have a look at the book of Lamentations, which provides an accurate insight into their emotions.
2 Samuel, 1 and 2 Kings
This is a history book but it falls into the category of what you might call theological history – history with a purpose. It is not telling the story just so that you can know what happened, but so that you can understand why it happened. Many of the historical books of the Bible are like this.
1.1–3.5 David is made king of Judah (just the southern two tribes) and rules at Hebron
3.6–5.16 David is made king of the whole of Israel and moves the capital to Jerusalem
5.17–8.18 David attempts to consolidate the kingdom, defeats the Philistines and brings the ark to Jerusalem
9.1–20.26 The personal life and struggles of David
21.1–24.25 Epilogue – some extra stories that were too good to miss out but didn’t fit with the flow of the story
There will be lots of names you will not know; don’t worry if you can’t place them all. The key ones are given below.
Ziklag, Mount Gilboa, Gath, Ashkelon, Jezreel, Carmel, Hebron, Jabesh-Gilead, Zion, Rephaim, cave of Adullam, Aram, Beer-sheba, Damascus, Dan, Edom, En-gedi, Ephraim, Euphrates, Gath, Gezer, Gibeon, Gilgal, Hebron, Israel, Jabesh-gilead, Jerusalem, Jezreel, Judah, Moab, Mount Carmel, Mount Gilboa, Mount of Olives, Negeb, Sheba, Sidon, Tekoa, Tyre, Ziklag, Zion
Ammonites, Arameans, Jebusites, Amalekites, Amorites, Benjamin, Benjaminite, Canaanites, Cherethites, Edomites, Gibeonites, Hivites, Jebusites, Levites, Milcom, Moabites, Omri, Pelethities, Philistines
Ark of the covenant, burnt offering, Cherubim, idols, priest, Sheol, Tabernacle, threshing floor, wadi
2 Samuel tells the story of David both as a king and as a human being. Look out for the way in which it weaves together these two strands.
It tells of David’s great success as a king, but keep an eye open for the way in which it also points to the seeds of Israel's and Judah’s ultimate downfall.
As in 1 Samuel, there are a number of stories that are told twice in slightly different ways. Look out for them in the book and ask yourself why they might have been included twice.
David's story is that of someone who was deeply flawed and yet had a close relationship with God. Reflect on this and its importance as you read.