Introduction to 2 Samuel – 2 Samuel 1:1-2:7

Read the Passage: 2 Samuel 1:1-2:7

Authorship and Date – Technically speaking, the authorship of both 1 & 2 Samuel is anonymous. Jewish tradition identifies the author as the judge and prophet Samuel (cf. 1 Sam. 10:25), with assistance from the prophets Nathan and Gad (cf. 1 Chron. 29:29). In any event, Samuel could not have written all (or even most) of these two books, as the book of 1 Samuel begins before his birth and his death is recorded in 1 Sam. 25:1. In all likelihood, the books were compiled by a later editor who used materials from Samuel, Nathan, and Gad. It is difficult to assign an exact date to the books of 1 & 2 Samuel; however, it is clear they were penned together, likely after the division of the monarchy in 931 BC (cf. 1 Sam. 27:6). Moreover, in all likelihood, they were written before the Babylonian exile in 586 BC.

Purpose and Theme – The books of 1 & 2 Samuel are historical in nature and were written in order to detail Israel’s shift from a loose tribal confederation under the rule of various judges (a theocracy) to a unified nation ruled by a centralized government (a monarchy). Chronologically the books and 1 & 2 Samuel cover roughly 135 years of history from the birth of Samuel in ~1105 BC to the death of David in ~971 BC. Theologically, there are five prominent themes in the books of 1 & 2 Samuel. These themes are: (1) God’s faithfulness and love of His people during times of trial, (2) God’s sovereignty over the lives of individuals and nations, (3) the personal and national effects of sin, (4) the presence and outworking of the Davidic Covenant, and (5) the work of the Holy Spirit in empowering God’s people for service.

Structure and Outline – The books known as 1 & 2 Samuel were originally one book in the Hebrew Bible. Likely on account of their combined length, which would have been more of an issue when they were recorded and read from a scroll, they were divided into two books in the Greek version of the Old Testament, known as the Septuagint (LXX). This division was then followed by the Latin version of the Bible (i.e., the Vulgate), subsequent English translations, and in many modern Hebrew Bibles. Note that when 1 & 2 Samuel were first divided, these two books were known as 1 & 2 Kings, with the modern English books now known as 1 & 2 Kings titled 3 & 4 Kings. A simple, thematic outline of the book of 2 Samuel is as follows:

  • David’s Prosperous Reign (2 Sam. 1–10)
  • David’s Personal Sin (2 Sam. 11–21)
  • David’s Final Years (2 Sam. 22–24)

Saul’s Death (1:1–10)

The book of 2 Samuel picks up where the book of 1 Samuel ends, which is what one would expect in light of the fact that these two books were originally one historical record. As the narrative resumes, it is reported that a man who had escaped from the battle with the Philistines found David at Ziklag. This man, who twice identified himself as an Amalekite (cf. 2 Sam. 1:8, 13), brought David Saul’s royal crown and bracelet and claimed to have actually been the one who had killed Saul. This claim, of course, raises serious questions, for it appears to be at odds with the narrative of 1 Sam. 31:4–5. Indeed, 1 Sam. 31:5 reports that Saul took his own life; 2 Sam. 1:10 records that an Amalekite killed Saul; 2 Sam. 21:12 indicates that the Philistines killed Saul; and 1 Chron. 10:14 says that God killed Saul. This is an example of the biblical principle of concurrence.

David’s Lament (1:11–27)

The narrative reports that at the news of the death of Saul, David tore his clothes, mourned, wept, and fasted. Then, in what was surely a surprise to the Amalekite, David ordered his execution for, as David noted, the Amalekite was not afraid to “destroy the Lord’s anointed” (2 Sam. 1:16; cf. 1 Sam. 24:6, 10; 26:9, 11, 23). Note that in addition to twice recording the fact that the man was an Amalekite (cf. 2 Sam. 1:8, 13), the chapter opens with the phrase, “When David had returned from the slaughter of the Amalekites . . . .” The Amalekites, of course, were the ancient enemies of Israel (cf. Exod. 17:14; 1 Sam. 15:3). Note David’s own later account of this event, “When one told me, ‘Behold, Saul is dead,’ and thought he was bringing good news, I seized him and killed him at Ziklag, which was the reward I gave him for his news” (2 Sam. 4:10).

David’s Inauguration (2:1–7)

After an appropriate period of mourning for Saul, the text reports that David inquired of the Lord and was told to go up to Hebron, the highest city geographically in Judah. Note the contrast with Saul, to whom the Lord would not respond (cf. 1 Sam. 28:6). Here, it is recorded that “the men of Judah came, and there they anointed David king over the house of Judah” (2 Sam. 2:4). This was the second of David’s three anointings, which are: first, before his family (cf. 1 Sam. 16:13); second, before his tribe (cf. 2 Sam. 2:1–7); and third, before all of Israel (cf. 2 Sam. 5:1–5). After this, in a move that was both a show of gratitude for their treatment of Saul, as well as a shrewd political maneuver, David summoned and thanked the men of Jabesh Gilead, which was not in Judah. This would lead, in the near future, to David’s inauguration as king and rule over all of Israel.

Application Questions:

  1. What do you know about the book of 2 Samuel? What people, places, and events come to mind when you think of this Old Testament book?
  2. Are the varying biblical reports of the perpetrator of Saul’s death problematic (cf. 1 Sam. 31:5; 2 Sam. 1:10; 21:12; 1 Chron. 10:14)? Who killed King Saul?
  3. Was is just of David to kill the Amalekite who brought him news? Did David kill him because of his claim to have killed Saul or because of his ethnicity?
  4. Is the burning of a body, as was done to Saul, a permissible act in the Bible? How many times is the act of cremation recorded in Scripture?
  5. How are the various events that led to David’s anointing as king of Israel a model for contemporary leaders? Are leaders born or bred?