Overview of the Book of 2 Samuel


Overview of the Book of 2 Samuel

Also see: "Overview of 1 Samuel."

Author: The author is unknown.


To explain that David's dynasty remained Israel's hope for the future in spite of the curses that David and his house had brought on the nation

Date: 930-538 B.C.

Key Truths:

  • God wanted his people to have the king he would choose.
  • God carefully prepared the way for the king of his choice.
  • God chose the house of David as the royal family forever.
  • Despite the weakness of David's Kingdom, the hope for God's people still remained in his family.


The books of Samuel were originally one work that was later divided into two. This book offers no clear guidance on the question of authorship. It seems likely that the attachment of Samuel's name simply reflects the role he played in the early chapters of the book. Samuel is described as an old man in 1 Samuel 8:1 and as dead in 1 Samuel 25:1, which would have been long before many of the events of 1 and 2 Samuel took place. However, 1 Chronicles 29:29 attaches the names of Samuel and his prophetic successors Nathan and Gad to certain written sources, some of which may well have been incorporated into this written history of Israel as it took shape.

Time and Place of Writing:

The book of Samuel offers several clues as to its date of final composition. The writer relied on a number of prophetic and royal sources for his history, but the earliest likely date for the book is indicated by the fact that it looks back on "the last words of David" (2 Sam. 23:1); i.e., David's final official words before his death. Also, 1 Samuel 27:6 remarks that Ziklag remained under the control of "the kings of Judah," which probably acknowledges the division of Judah and Israel in 930 B.C. If so, the book could not have been written until after the division of the nation that resulted from the failures of David and his house. If Samuel was written at this time, the book affirmed hope in David's line despite the troubles of the divided monarchy.

The latest likely date for final composition is the return from exile in 538 B.C. The writer of Chronicles used Samuel as one of his most important sources (see "Introduction to 1 Chronicles: Author"). Moreover, the book of Kings appears to pick up the history of Israel's throne where Samuel left off (see 2 Sam. 23:1-7; 1 Kings 1:1), and 1 Kings 2:27 refers to the fulfillment of 1 Samuel 2:27-36. Therefore, Samuel was probably written before Kings, which is dated between 561 and 538 B.C. (see "Introduction to 1 Kings: Time and Place of Writing"). If Samuel was written at this time, the book declared hope in David's line despite the exile, which largely resulted from the disobedience of David's royal sons.

It is impossible to arrive at firm dates for many of the events that are described in 1 and 2 Samuel. There is broad consensus that David had consolidated his rule over the tribes shortly before 1000 B.C. (Judah c. 1010 B.C. and Israel c. 1003 B.C.). David's lifetime extended from c. 1040 to c. 970 B.C.

Purpose and Distinctives:

With Saul dead (1 Sam. 31:1-13), the way was open for David to take the throne without lifting his hand against the Lord's anointed. 2 Samuel 2:1-5:5 records the steps by which David became king, first over Judah and then over all Israel. Although his ascendancy over the former proceeded smoothly, blood was spilled before the way was clear for him to become king over the latter. The narratives are careful to make the point, however, that David was as innocent in relation to the deaths of Abner, Saul's former general, and Ish-Bosheth, Saul's surviving son, as he was in relation to the deaths of Saul and Jonathan.

With David king over a united Israel, 2 Samuel 5-10 summarize the transactions, both political and theological, by which David's throne was established. 2 Samuel 5-6 recount David's acquisition of a capital city, his resounding defeat of the Philistines (Israel's archenemy from whom Saul had failed to deliver the people) and his transference of the ark of God to his newly established capital. 2 Samuel 7 records the very significant Davidic promise (or "dynastic oracle") in which the Lord, after refusing David's offer to build the Temple ("house" in Hebrew), promises to build David a dynasty (also "house" in Hebrew) that will endure forever. This promise to David marks the continuation and specification of the divine promise of blessing made to the patriarchs and is a major new development in the Messianic hope that finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ (see note on 2 Sam. 7:4-17). 2 Samuel 8-10 summarize some of David's principal achievements; e.g., his victories and his covenant faithfulness to Jonathan in showing kindness to Mephibosheth.

The Davidic promise of 2 Samuel 7 establishes, beyond all doubt, that the purposes of God for the house of David are sure. This in no way implies, however, that David or his descendants would not forfeit some of the temporal benefits of their privileged position if they were to fall into sin. 2 Samuel 11-20 depict the domestic and political chaos that followed in the wake of David's sins of adultery and murder (2 Sam. 11:1-27). When confronted by Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:1-31, David's repentance was genuine and God's forgiveness immediate, but sin still had its consequences. With his ability to exercise proper authority impaired (perhaps by a sense of guilt), David witnessed his own sins replicated in the lives of his sons (see note on 2 Sam. 13:21). Not until he had experienced two rebellions, the first by Absalom and the second by Sheba, son of Bicri, did David's reign regain a measure of equilibrium.

2 Samuel 21-24, which together form a kind of epilogue, provide thematic closure for the book of Samuel. These chapters recount a collection of events that took place at different points in David's life. At the heart of these chapters are two Davidic poems celebrating the two fundamental reasons for David's blessedness: The Lord: (1) was his deliverer and (2) had made an "everlasting covenant" with him (2 Sam. 23:5). Framing this central core are two lists of Davidic champions, the human agents of David's success. Finally, bracketing both the poems and the lists are two accounts of how David's intercession relieved Israel from divine judgment for Saul's sin and for his own sin. These chapters left the original readers with clear pictures of the hope they could have in the house of David despite the troubles that David and his sons had brought upon God's people.

Christ in 1 & 2 Samuel:

Christ stands in contrast to the many examples of the sinful leaders of Israel who appear in the book. More than this, however, Jesus is the heir of David's throne, and David's career set in motion and anticipated the person and work of Christ. Both David and Jesus had prophetic sanction, David by Samuel (1 Sam. 3:20; 16:13) and Jesus by John the Baptist (Matt. 14:5; John 1:29-31; 5:31-35). The Spirit of the Lord came upon both (1 Sam. 16:13; Mark 1:9-11), and both did mighty works (1 Sam. 17:1-58; Matt 11:4-5), were involved in holy war (1 Sam. 17:1-58; Col. 1:20), and were rejected by jealous kings (1 Sam. 18:9; Matt 2:16) and warned to flee for their lives (1 Sam. 20:1-42; Matt. 2:13-15). Rejected by their own people without just cause (1 Sam. 23:12; John 19:15), both learned in exile to depend on God. Both interceded on behalf of God's people (2 Sam. 21, 24; John 17), and both were highly exalted by God (2 Sam. 23:1-8; Isa. 52:13; Phil. 2:9). In these and many other ways, David's life foreshadowed the accomplishments of Christ, his son.

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

Introduction to the Historical Books


Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries who served as Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary and has authored numerous books.