The book of 2 Samuel covers the history of the 40-year reign of King David. This began Israel’s Golden Age, a time of unprecedented growth and advancement.
The book of 1 Samuel ends with the death of Saul, which left the nation of Israel with a leadership vacuum and under continued threat from the neighboring Philistines. However, 2 Samuel starts by telling the story of how David (Hebrew “Beloved”) began his succession to the throne and in time welded together the loose-knit Israelite tribes into one united nation.
David: the second king of Israel
Israel went from a nation where “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) to a nation unified under the leadership of a king who was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). Oppression from foreign nations eventually ended, and many surrounding nations began paying tribute to Israel instead of Israel paying tribute to them.
The history of Israel under David was not without its challenges. In Old Testament Survey, authors William LaSor, David Hubbard and Frederic Bush write: “The landscape of these chapters is a panorama of peaks and valleys. With candor, vigor, and pathos, David’s years in Jerusalem are recounted as a series of lofty successes and profound failures. Two major questions dominate the scene: (1) How will the monarchy fare? (2) Who will succeed the celebrated king?” (p. 183).
There is much good we can say about David’s personal life and rulership, but there are times when his career was tainted by sin. His good and bad deeds are recorded in the Bible in order for us to learn and personally benefit from the incidents that occurred during his reign.
Note the following quote from Halley’s Bible Handbook: “All in all, David was a grand character. He did some things that were very wrong, but, for an oriental king, he was a most remarkable man. He was, heart and soul, devoted to God and the ways of God. In a world of idolatry, and in a nation continually falling away into idolatry, David stood like a rock for God. In every circumstance of life he went directly to God, in Prayer, in Thanks or in Praise” (p. 188).
Because of his wholehearted worship of God, David was richly blessed and became the greatest king to rule Israel. As a result of his righteous and effective leadership, the people of Israel experienced a time of national blessings and prosperity. It is clear that David was no usurper, but that it was God who placed him on the throne, a fact eventually recognized by the entire nation (2 Samuel 5:1-3).
When he died after 40 years as ruler and king, 1 Chronicles 29:28 records that “he died in a good old age, full of days and riches and honor.”
Outline of 2 Samuel
Scholars divide the book in a number of ways, but below is one suggested outline.
I. The early years of David’s reign (chapters 1-4).
- David’s reaction to the death of Saul and Jonathan.
- David made king over Judah.
- Civil war; Ishbosheth, Saul’s youngest son, assassinated.
II. David, king over all Israel (chapters 5-12).
- The Ark brought to Jerusalem.
- David’s victories: defeat of the Edomites, Philistines and the Ammonite/Syrian alliance.
- David’s adultery with Bathsheba.
- Nathan the prophet sent to David; David’s heartfelt repentance.
III. David and his son Absalom’s rebellion (chapters 13-20).
- Absalom’s revenge on his half-brother Amnon.
- Absalom’s rebellion; David flees Jerusalem.
- Absalom killed; David’s grief and the aftermath of the rebellion.
- Joab kills Amasa.
IV. Records of events during David’s reign (chapters 21-24).
- Famine and warfare.
- Two psalms of David.
- Mighty men of David.
- David’s last words. (His death is recorded later in 1 Kings 2:10-12.)
- Census of military men and the plague that follows.
God’s promises about the throne of David
When David had rest from his enemies (7:1), God made a perpetual and unconditional covenant with David. God promised that there would be an unbroken dynasty sitting on David’s throne ruling over the children of Israel. Even if David, his successor Solomon and the Israelite peoples disobeyed, God would chasten them but not break His promise.
Notice several scriptures that refer to these promises:
- 2 Samuel 7:16: “And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you [Septuagint reads “Me”]. Your throne shall be established forever.”
- 1 Kings 2:4: “He said, ‘you shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’”
- 1 Chronicles 22:10: “[Solomon] shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son, and I will be his Father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.”
- Psalm 89:3-4: “I have made a covenant with My chosen, I have sworn to My servant David: ‘Your seed I will establish forever, and build up your throne to all generations.” See also verses 27-28.
This unconditional promise to David is repeated over and over and has important implications in the fulfilment of end-time world events. Hundreds of years later, the prophet Jeremiah mentions the Davidic promise when referring to circumstances surrounding Christ’s second coming.
God said to Jeremiah that He would show him “great and mighty things” (Jeremiah 33:3) about future events: “For thus says the LORD: ‘David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel” (Jeremiah 33:17).
This is a repeat of God’s promise that, beginning with Solomon, David’s descendants would rule on his throne throughout all generations. This promise is being fulfilled through the modern descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel, and it will ultimately be fulfilled through Jesus Christ, who will return to the earth to claim “the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:32-33).
The life of David
David’s life can be divided into the following periods:
1. David’s youth.
David was the youngest of eight sons, ruddy in appearance and handsome (1 Samuel 16:12). He was blessed with musical skills and was inspired to compose numerous psalms, as recorded in the book of Psalms. As the youngest, he was sent to care for his father’s sheep. Courageously, he slew both a lion and a bear that attacked his sheep.
2. His service in the court of Saul.
During the time when Saul was vexed by an evil spirit, David was summoned to play soothing music in an attempt to calm Saul’s troubled mind.
The Bible recounts the time David’s father sent him to inquire about the welfare of his brothers who were in the army. It was during this visit to the battlefield that David accepted Goliath’s challenge to combat and killed him.
3. His fugitive years.
Saul’s paranoia led him to seek to kill David, so David fled into the wilderness where he was joined by a motley group of distressed and discontented men (1 Samuel 22:2). David spared Saul on more than one occasion. He recognized that God had placed Saul on the throne, and he refused to take matters into his own hands, even though he had been anointed by Samuel to be Saul’s successor. Rather, David patiently waited for God to remove Saul.
Though David was encouraged by his men to kill Saul, he refused. “And he said to his men, ‘The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD’” (1 Samuel 24:6). This attitude is so different from power-hungry and selfish individuals who will go to great lengths in order to get into positions of domination.
4. King of Judah.
After the death of Saul, David was appointed by the tribe of Judah to be their king, reigning from Hebron for seven and a half years. The rest of the tribes set up Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, as their king. For the next several years civil war raged between the two groups, and ultimately Ishbosheth and the military leader Abner were killed.
5. King over all Israel.
After the death of Ishbosheth, all the tribes of Israel asked David to rule over them. He then waged successful wars against the Philistines. He took control of the Jebusite stronghold of Jerusalem, making it his capital and bringing the Ark of God there.
He reigned in Jerusalem for the next 33 years and died at the age of 70.
Lessons from the life of David
The book of 2 Samuel records many lessons from the life of King David. Let’s consider some of them.
The ripple effect of sin
One evening as David was walking on the roof of his home, he noticed a beautiful woman in another house bathing. He failed to control his passions; and in violation of the Seventh Commandment, he committed adultery. The story of David and Bathsheba is well-known.
When Bathsheba found she was pregnant, David tried to cover up his sin. But when that didn’t work, he committed a further heinous sin by arranging for her husband, Uriah, to be killed on the battlefield. Even though David tried to conceal what had happened, it was possible that news of these incidents became known to others in the nation.
Nothing escaped God’s notice, and He was acutely aware of David’s sins: “The thing that David had done displeased the LORD” (2 Samuel 11:27). This is an important lesson we should keep in mind in our own lives. The apostle Paul warns, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12). God is aware of our thoughts and actions every day.
Sin should not be viewed in a light-hearted, frivolous manner. Unfortunately, popular entertainment depicts sin as attractive and alluring. The Bible shows that sin causes human misery, suffering, pain and ultimately death (Romans 6:23).
David’s sin had a ripple effect and caused others sorrow and pain, including his own family (2 Samuel 12:10-12, 14). David and Bathsheba’s baby died soon after he was born, and two of David’s other sons were prematurely killed. His daughter Tamar was sexually humiliated.
Consider this seriously: These sordid events began with one thought that was uncontrolled and allowed to spread like cancer! It harmed not only David, but others as well. As the apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 10:5, we need to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.”
David’s heartfelt repentance
God does not want us to think that because David was king he could escape the penalty of his sins. God is not a respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), and so He sent Nathan the prophet to confront David. The prophet related a story to the king and then, with a clever twist in the details, got him to recognize the seriousness of his transgressions (2 Samuel 12:1-13).
David’s reaction is one of the most important and profound spiritual lessons any individual can ever learn. David was told that he and his family would continue to suffer consequences as a result of his sin, but still God forgave him (2 Samuel 12:13).
David’s repentance was not the worldly sorrow the apostle Paul warns about (2 Corinthians 7:9-10), but it was genuine and from the heart. He was deeply and acutely upset because he had let God down. He pleaded to God for mercy and cried out, “Against You, You only, have I sinned, and done this evil in Your sight” (Psalm 51:4). He was broken up because of what he had done to God. This understanding is vital and is the difference between having our sins forgiven or not forgiven.
What is our reaction when we sin? Are we more concerned about what people think about us or what God thinks about us? This attitude of a godly repentance is a key to spiritual growth (2 Corinthians 7:11).
We can be overcomers
Christ states: “To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne” (Revelation 3:21). It’s the overcomers who will rule with Christ at His return (Revelation 2:26-27). The Christian life has to be one of overcoming sin, getting up again and again when we fall. As we show a willingness to apply the truths of God in our lives, He will give us the strength to win our spiritual battles.
Read more about this in the section about “Christian Conversion.”
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