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The Catholic Study Bible A special version of the New American Bible, with a wealth of background information useful to Catholics.

Reading through the Books of Samuel

The stories in the books of Samuel revolve around three characters: Samuel (1 Sm 1–25 ), Saul (1 Sm 9—2 Sam 2 ), and David (1 Sm 10—2 Sm 24 ). The stories of these three figures overlap and are supplemented with stories about the ark, Jerusalem, and other members of the royal family. Through most of 1 Samuel, the story moves toward the eventual accession of David to the throne of Israel. In 2 Samuel, the story describes the clear move toward religious and political centralization in Jerusalem. The books also reveal the political and religious opposition to the attempt to center all power in the Davidic dynasty and in Jerusalem. Of course, the move to establish a dynasty and concentrate all political power in the royal house had serious economic repercussions, and these too unfold in the book. The story of Israel as it establishes a monarchy is a fascinating tale of a social, political, and economic innovation, which could advance only by overcoming the religious restraints that flowed from the belief that the only king of Israel was the Lord. Finally, though the stories seem to focus on three great figures in Samuel, Saul, and David, there is an impressive list of characters—from David's wives to Saul's crippled grandson—who have critical roles in the story of Israel as it unfolds. In fact, the apparent “little people” affect the lives of the great personages of the books of Samuel in most critical ways. But it is important to remember that for the author of the Deuteronomistic History, Israel's life in its land is shaped not by human beings nor by political or economic forces. Israel, whether it is aware of it or not, is bound to fulfill God's purposes. Israel's God is the principal character in the story, even though God's action is sometimes subtle and unnoticed.

Samuel (1 Sm 1, 1–8, 22 )

Samuel's Birth (1 Sm 1, 1–2,10 )

In one sense, the books of Samuel try to answer the question “Who is a legitimate leader in Israel?” At first, Samuel provides leadership for the tribes in an unprecedented way. He is a priest, prophet, and judge, and uniquely able to inform Israel of the Lord's will. He represents the perspective that sees God's presence in Israel as mediated by charismatic and prophetic individuals. The story of Samuel's conception and birth ( 1, 1–28 ) marks him as one whom God has chosen as an instrument. The book follows a familiar pattern to indicate Samuel's significance: he is born to a woman who had been thought of as infertile. The same motif was used to indicate the special role of Isaac (Gn 17, 15–22 ), Jacob (Gn 25, 19–28 ), Joseph (Gn 30, 22–24 ), and Samson (Jgs 13, 2–7 ). Like Samson, Samuel, it appears, was destined from birth to be a Nazirite (1 Sm 1, 11 ). The story of Hannah (1 Sm 1, 1–2, 11 ) is one of those brief episodes in which a supporting character plays a crucial role in the narrative. Samuel was born because God rewarded Hannah's persistence in praying for a child. Samuel entered God's service because of her gratitude. To conclude Hannah's story, the author of 1 Samuel inserted a poem whose theme is the reversal of fortunes brought about by the Lord in the lives of the faithful ( 2, 1–10 ). Certainly, the poem's theme reflects Hannah's experience.

Samuel and the Sons of Eli (1 Sm 2, 11–36 )

The story of Samuel's career is introduced by contrasting him with the sons of Eli, the priest of Shiloh. That Samuel, rather than Eli's sons, succeeded the old priest required some explanation since the priesthood was a hereditary occupation. The answer is simple enough: Eli's sons were corrupt and abused their office to enrich themselves. The author of 1 Samuel skillfully weaves the indictment of Eli's sons ( 2, 12–17.22–25 ) with the reports about Samuel's growth to adulthood ( 2, 1.18–21.26 ). The indictment of Eli's sons prepares the reader for the judgment on the house of Eli given by the unnamed “man of God.” The oracle begins with a series of questions ( 2, 27–29 ) that provide the basis for the judgment that is to follow. The man of God, then, announces God's judgment ( 2, 30–34 ). The oracle concludes with the promise that God will raise a new priestly house, and Eli's descendants will be reduced to poverty ( 2, 35–36 ). The fulfillment of this prophecy comes in two places. The immediate fulfillment comes in 1 Samuel 4, 11 with the death of Eli's sons, and its final fulfillment is noted by 1 Kings 2, 26–27 when Solomon exiles Abiathar and deprives him of the priesthood. The fulfillment of prophecy is another important motif in the story of Israel in its land.

The announcement of judgment against the house of Eli sets a pattern for understanding the story of Israel as a whole. The rehearsal of God's goodness toward Israel is followed by a listing of infidelities. The judgment makes clear the terrible consequences of infidelity—consequences that cannot be avoided. But judgment is not God's final word to Israel. Just as God raised up a new priestly dynasty to replace Eli's discredited family, so there is hope for Israel as a whole. The book offers a reason to expect God to restore Israel to the land that it lost because of its infidelity.

Samuel and Eli (1 Sm 3, 1–4, 1 )

Samuel is no longer a child. It is time for him to begin his ministry on Israel's behalf. The book, however, first offers a final contrast between Samuel and the house of Eli in order to show that the role Samuel will play in the narratives to follow was sanctioned by God. Samuel's career began with an initial experience of the word of God while Samuel was in Shiloh at the shrine where the ark was kept. The book notes that such experiences were rare at the time. Though Samuel appeared unsure of himself, he did show himself to be receptive as he referred to himself as God's “servant” and asserted his willingness to obey. The message that Samuel receives is one that rehearses the condemnation of Eli's priestly dynasty in harsh and uncompromising terms. Eli accepted the verdict on his house, realizing that a new era in Israel's life was beginning. God's chosen means of communicating with Israel will be a prophet—the prophet Samuel. The book concludes the story of Samuel's call by noting that all Israel recognized Samuel's role in communicating God's word. It also affirms that God continued to speak to Samuel at Shiloh and that every word that Samuel announced came true.

In the chapters to follow, the focus will be on the fate of the ark. Samuel will not appear in the story until chapter 7 . This is probably to dissociate him entirely from the reverses Israel will experience—especially the loss of the ark to the Philistines.

The Story of the Ark (1 Sm 4, 2–7, 1 )

The ark was a unique element of ancient Israelite religious tradition. It served to represent the presence of God in a religion that did not allow an image of its deity to serve that purpose. But the tradition understands the immediate function of the ark differently. In some texts, it is simply a box that contained the two tablets of the Ten Commandments (Ex 25, 22; Dt 10, 3 ), but other traditions spoke of it as God's footstool or throne (1 Sm 4, 4; Pss 99, 5; 137, 2; 1 Chr 28, 2 ). In this section of 1 Samuel, however, the ark is a type of battle palladium accompanying the army of Israel as it fought against those who threatened its existence. It obviously symbolized the presence of God with the army. The first part of the ark's story describes its capture and return. The story will be taken up again when David brings the ark to Jerusalem (2 Sm 6 ).

The Philistines, who became the principal threat to Israel's existence, were intent on enlarging their holdings in Canaan. They controlled the area along the southern coast and were determined to expand their territory to the north and east. This move brought them into direct contact with Israel. The Philistine encampment at Aphek signaled their determination to act. After an initial defeat, the elders of Israel wondered about the cause and, thinking the ark could make a difference, they bring it to the battlefield from its shrine at Shiloh. The presence of the ark, however, did not prevent a second loss and the capture of the ark.

It is important to be aware that the numerical losses of the Israelites were not as staggering as the English text implies. In the first battle, Israel lost “four thousand men” and in the second, thirty thousand. The Hebrew word that is translated as “thousand” also represents a military unit that was relatively small—probably between five and twenty men. The book asserts that in the first battle, the Israelites lost the equivalent of four such units. In the second, they lost the equivalent of thirty such units. But, as the text makes clear, this loss was devastating nonetheless.

It is also important to note that the text does not blame the defeat of Israel on the sons of Eli, who accompanied the ark from Shiloh. The story of the ark contains no negative comments about Hophni, Phinehas, or their father, Eli, who died upon hearing the news of the disaster at Ebenezer. The first part of the ark's story ends with the naming of Phinehas's newborn child to memorialize the loss of the ark ( 4, 19–22 ).

Both the Israelites and the Philistines expected Israel to be victorious at the battle of Ebenezer ( 4, 4–9 ), but Israel suffered two crushing defeats plus the loss of the ark. To insure that readers would not draw the wrong theological conclusion from Israel's defeat, the book describes two great victories of the Lord over Dagon, the Philistine god. These two victories were mirror images of Israel's defeats, i.e., Dagon's second loss was more severe than the first. Dagon was a Mesopotamian deity imported into Canaan and honored as Baal's father. Dagon's attributes are unknown, but he is likely a fertility god since the Semitic root from which his name derives means “grain.” This text asserts that there was a temple of Dagon at Ashdod, but excavations have not located one even though 1 Maccabees 10, 83–84 provides evidence that Dagon was worshipped there into the second century BC. The Lord's victory over Dagon spread panic through the Philistine cities (1 Sm 4, 3.6.11 ). No Philistine city wanted the ark because of all the devastation that it caused so the decision was made to return the ark to Israel.

The victory of the Lord is made all the more indisputable by the method the Philistines choose to return the ark. First, they return the ark with gifts ( 6, 1–5 ). The golden hemorrhoids and mice were given as offerings to fend off additional plagues. But to be certain about the true origin of their troubles, the Philistines set up a test ( 6, 7–9 ). Getting milk (milch) cows to overcome their maternal instincts, their lack of experience with pulling a cart, and having them arrive at a precise place would certainly indicate divine power. Of course, Israel's God passed the test, and the ark arrived back at Beth‐shemesh, a town on the border of Philistine and Israelite territory. There was a sizable crowd to greet the ark on its return because the people were in the fields harvesting the wheat crop ( 6, 10–13 ). A large stone in the field served as a substitute altar on which the milk cows were sacrificed ( 6, 14 ) though normally only the males of the species were to be sacrificed (Lv 1, 3; 22, 19 ). The Philistine lords witnessed all this. The victory of Israel's God was complete.

The people of Beth‐shemesh, however, did not want to keep the ark in their village, perhaps to avoid provoking the Philistines across the border. The village of Kiriath‐jearim, which was a few miles farther east, accepted the ark, designating a certain Eleazar to care for it. The ark remained in that village until David brought it to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6).

Samuel and the Israelite Monarchy (1 Sm 7, 2–8, 22 )

Samuel reenters the story as an adult who will have a special role in the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. While the book's attitude toward the monarchy is a bit ambiguous, it is clear from the story of Samuel's victory over the Philistines ( 7, 2–17 ) that from a military point of view, the monarchy was unnecessary. If Israel would be absolutely loyal to the Lord, no enemy could do it much harm. The story begins with Israel's return to the exclusive service of the Lord after twenty years of Philistine domination, despite the ark's presence in Israel. The book makes it clear that the ark was no guarantee that Israel would live undisturbed in its land—only the exclusive service of the Lord will bring Israel peace.

Samuel assembled the Israelite militia at Mizpah in response to the people's desire to return to the Lord. The Philistine response to this provocation was an utter failure, and Israel's victory removed the stigma of the two defeats at this very battlefield (1 Sm 4, 2–11 ) so Samuel renamed the place Ebenezer, i.e., “the stone of (God's) help.” Israel remained free of Philistine domination under Samuel's leadership, making it appear unnecessary for Israel to choose a king as it would at Mizpah (1 Sm 10, 17 ), the scene of the great victory inspired by Samuel. The book, then, emphasizes that it was Israel's repentance—not the presence of the ark or the leadership of a king—that would secure Israel's future. Of course, when the books of Samuel were written, Israel no longer had the ark nor a king. Its only course was to return to its ancestral deity.

The effort to establish a monarchy accelerated because of the corruption of Samuel's sons ( 8, 1–9 ). The people's request, however, angered Samuel who claimed that a king would not be an instrument of justice but of oppression ( 8, 10–18 ). The people adamantly insisted on having a king “like other nations” to fight their wars, so God told Samuel to honor their request. But for Samuel, the request for a king was tantamount to apostasy. After all, God had always defended a loyal Israel. Why would Israel want a king? Samuel warned the Israelites that their rejection of God would lead to God's refusal to answer them in time of need ( 8, 18 ). They will have to depend on their king. This story, of course, reflects Israel's experience of the monarchy. It proved ineffective in preventing the disasters that eventually befell the two Israelite kingdoms. The book suggests that this outcome was, in some sense, determined by the people's sinful request for a king.

Saul (1 Sm 9, 1–15, 35 )

Samuel and Saul Meet (1 Sm 9, 1–10, 16 )

The story of Samuel's initial encounter with Saul, whom he eventually anointed king, knows nothing of the people's sinful request for a king. On the contrary, it presents Saul's rise to kingship very positively. Saul is a handsome man from a wealthy family, a good choice for a king. The book preserves this charming tale of a man who went looking for donkeys but found a kingdom in order to show that Saul was God's choice to be king and how he could have remained in God's good graces. But as Saul's story continues, the reader learns that the young man, endowed with so many gifts and blessed by the spirit of the Lord, squandered everything. This is the story of Israel in microcosm. Like Saul, Israel was blessed with many gifts but, in the end, it too squandered them all and found itself in exile. But will Israel's end be different from that of Saul?

The futile search for his family's donkeys led Saul to seek out a “man of God,” who turned out to be Samuel. The revelation to Samuel about a “man of Benjamin” whom he would meet indicates that Saul was God's choice to be king, even though Samuel's message surprised Saul ( 9, 14–21 ). Another indication of the divine choice of Saul was the fulfillment of the signs that Samuel gave to Saul to confirm his new status. The third sign is the most significant because it promised that “the spirit of the Lord” was going to descend on Saul. This gift, of course, will enable him to do extraordinary deeds in saving Israel from its enemies ( 10, 1 . 6 ). Upon returning home with his family's donkeys, Saul said nothing about his peculiar encounter with Samuel. This detail is necessary to make a smooth connection with the following story that describes Saul's public acclamation as king.

A positive attitude toward Saul as king continues in the story of his public acclamation ( 10, 17–27 ). Still, there are features in the story that reflect the book's overall discomfort with the monarchy as an institution. First, Samuel assembled the people at Mizpah—the very place where he had shown that a king was unnecessary since God will always protect a repentant and loyal people ( 10, 17; see 1 Sm 7, 2–12 ). Second, Samuel, speaking in the name of God, asserted that the request for a king was another of Israel's actions rejecting their God, who had proved in the Exodus and in other situations to be a savior beyond compare ( 10, 18–19 ). Still, by using lots to select the king, Samuel demonstrates the choice of Saul was God's. The people, impressed by Saul's bearing, acclaim him as their king. Samuel then committed the laws governing the new institution to writing and dismissed the people. There were a few people, whom the text characterizes as “worthless” ( 10, 27 ), who did not support the choice of Saul. To do so, however, involved questioning the choice that God had made.

The story of Saul's public acclamation is another instance of the book's ambiguity about the establishment of the monarchy in Israel. While the story presents Saul as God's choice to be king, it also presents Israel's choice to have a king as sinful. This ambivalence is not only a theological issue; it is also a literary technique that builds up suspense in the story. Can this paradox be resolved? Can the monarchy be something that contributes positively to maintaining Israel's relationship with God? Or is it only a matter of time before the monarchy's doom becomes apparent? How can Israel reject God as its savior and still expect to survive?

The “worthless men” who did not support Saul are the only connection between the story of Saul's choice by lots ( 10, 17–27 ) and the story that follows ( 11, 1–15 ). The story of Saul's victory over the Ammonites is the high point of the Saul cycle. Here his kingship differs little from the pattern of leadership represented by the judges. He rallies all Israel to follow him in lifting the oppression brought to bear on Jabesh‐gilead, a town east of the Jordan that was threatened by Ammonites, who were expanding their holdings to the north. The victory of the Israelite militia led by Saul was total. Saul proved to be magnanimous in victory as he spared the lives of the “worthless men” who opposed his accession ( 11, 14 ). Saul was then proclaimed king at the old tribal shrine at Gilgal. Saul shows what the kings of Israel should have been: the saviors of the oppressed. Unfortunately, Saul and most of his successors proved to be more obsessed with their power than with the good of the people.

The book's final reflections on the rise of the Israelite monarchy appear in chapter 12 . In chapter 7 the book already showed that Israel could have gotten along very well with the Lord as its only king. Still, God acceded to the people's wishes, so having a king should have been compatible with Israel's commitment to its God. Indeed, the book does treat Saul favorably ( 9, 1–11, 15 ). That God chose Saul to be king of Israel was underscored in several ways: through the anointing, the empowerment by the spirit of the Lord, the lot oracle, the prophetic designation, the popular acclamation, the victory over the Ammonites—even by Saul's pardoning of those who opposed his accession. Samuel's presence lent credibility to the establishment of the Israelite monarchy. At the same time, the book showed less than complete support for kingship by noting that Samuel was able to keep the Philistines in check for twenty years, implying that no king was needed to defend Israel. Samuel also points out the negative social and economic impact the monarchic system will have on Israel. Finally, Samuel twice characterizes the request for a king as apostasy. But despite all this, God commanded Samuel to give in to Israel's request.

The book goes over this ground one more time in chapters 12 . Samuel's address to Israel begins with a legal argument showing that both God and Samuel were blameless in the process that led up to Saul becoming king. Israel's future under its kings depends on its commitment to observe the Lord's commands ( 12, 14 ). When it rains during the dry season, the people see in this unusual occurrence additional proof that God and Samuel bear no responsibility for what will happen to Israel under its kings. The people also admit that their request for a king was sinful. But God has chosen not to abandon Israel. Samuel will be with the people to pray for them and to teach them. The implication is that as long as the people obey the prophets sent to them, God will bless them. The quality of Israel's life under its kings depends on Israel's obedience. Those who first read 1 Samuel knew that Israel and its kings failed, so the judgment that came upon the people was the fulfillment of the words spoken to Israel by Samuel as it began its life under a king.

Saul Defeats the Philistines (1 Sm 13, 1–14, 52 )

Saul's reign began well enough, at least from a military point of view. Saul maintained a small army, while allowing the bulk of the Israelite militia to return to their homes. After either Saul ( 13, 4 ) or his son Jonathan ( 13, 3 ) attacked a Philistine outpost not far from Saul's own town, both sides prepared for war. 1 Samuel 14, 1–21 describes the Israelite success in that war. That success came despite the Philistines' numerical ( 13, 5 ) and technological superiority ( 13, 19–22 ). The reason for the latter was the ability of the Philistines to forge iron. The Israelites had to make do with the less‐effective bronze for their tools and weapons. The average Israelite farmer could not pay the price that the Philistine charged for iron agricultural implements—much less for iron weapons. Of the Israelite forces only Saul and Jonathan had iron swords and spears. The book, of course, implies that only a miracle could have enabled Israel to defeat the Philistines.

In the midst of the story about Saul's successful war against the Philistines, the book relates an ominous incident that took place at the tribal sanctuary at Gilgal ( 13, 7b–15 ). Because Samuel was late in arriving at Gilgal, Saul offered a sacrifice there as a prelude to the attack on the Philistines. Samuel regarded this as an offense that led God to reject Saul in favor of “a man after [God's] own heart” ( 13, 14 ), whom the reader knows to be David. The book does not specify the precise nature of Saul's offense, but Samuel regarded it as some sort of an unlawful usurpation on Saul's part. It was so serious that it ended all prospects of a Saulide dynasty.

The Philistines decided to fight the battle at Michmash, a town just nine miles northeast of Jerusalem and just over a mile east of Geba, Saul's village. Michmash was located in a canyon that was impassable on the east, so it was a good place for the Philistines to mass their troops in anticipation of an Israelite attack. That attack was led by Jonathan ( 14, 1–14 ), who did not inform Saul of his plans. When Saul heard the sound of battle, his reaction was strangely indecisive. First, he sought an oracle to determine if the Israelite army should attack, but then he stopped the process before it was completed and attacked. When the Philistines began their retreat, Saul let piety overcome his military sense. He ordered his men to fast until the victory over the Philistines was consolidated. The hungry troops not only disobeyed but ate meat that had not been properly drained of its blood (see Dt 12, 23 ). Jonathan, too, ate, but he ate some honey without knowing that his father had pronounced a curse on anyone who ate before the victory was complete.

When Saul heard about his soldiers' disregard of his orders, he had a ritual performed to deflect the curse on those who had eaten the meat. Then Saul sought another oracle to determine if he should continue pursuing the Philistines. When no answer was forthcoming, Saul concluded that someone had sinned, and he was determined to execute that person even if it were his son. To determine the guilty party Saul uses the lot oracle (the urim and thummim; see Dt 33, 8 ). Though Jonathan's guilt is discovered, the army prevented Saul from taking Jonathan's life. Saul did not continue his pursuit of the retreating Philistines. The book then appends a short notice ( 14, 47–52 ) that summarizes Saul's many battles to make it clear that God was faithful to the promise made to Samuel as reported in 1 Samuel 9, 16 .

Saul and the Amalekites (1 Sm 15, 1–34 )

Here is the book's final word on Saul's kingship. It simply comments that God “regretted” having made Saul king (vv. 10–35 ). This verdict on Saul comes after another act that Samuel regards as disobedient. Saul and his army were to take no booty from the Amalekites, whom the tradition remembered as violently opposing the entrance of the Israelite tribes into Canaan (Ex 17, 8–13; Dt 25, 17–18 ). When confronted by his disobedience, Saul did confess and ask for pardon, but it was too late. The prophet and the king never saw each other again alive. Samuel mourned for Saul, but God was determined to give the kingdom to another. The story of Saul describes the power of human choice. Though God selected Saul to be king, Saul was able to annul that choice by his failures. Again, this is precisely what Israel did by its disobedience.

David (1 Sm 16, 1–31, 13 )

Saul and David Meet (1 Sm 16, 1–23 )

The book does not hesitate to enumerate the schemes that David contrived to become king: his political moves, his marriages, and his career as a guerrilla and as a Philistine mercenary. None of this is particularly flattering to David. Despite this, the book affirms that David was God's chosen. Samuel would have anointed another of Jesse's sons, but David was God's sovereign choice, and the anointing served to commit God to David. This commitment was confirmed by the spirit of the Lord that seized David and never departed from him. But Saul, deserted by the spirit of the Lord, is a broken man, afflicted by melancholy. In a supreme irony, the old king had to look for relief from his rival for the throne. Saul's servants brought David to the court to deal with their master's moods, but the reader recognizes that their description of David makes him overqualified to be simply a musician.

David and Goliath (1 Sm 17, 1–18, 5 )

The story of David and Goliath stands as a paradigm of what a person of faith can accomplish. Clearly the book wants the Jewish exiles to identify with the young David, whose words and deeds testify that it was God who brought down the Philistine giant. The story also underscores David's credentials for leadership, which even Saul recognized since he appointed David to a permanent military command, not realizing that he was paving the way for his successor. Jonathan's gift of his own clothes and weapons to David makes it appear that Saul's son is divesting himself of the right of succession in favor of his new friend, the son of Jesse. The book's rush of enthusiasm in narrating this great story led to an obvious anachronism. According to verse 35 , David brought Goliath's head to Jerusalem, but that city was still in Canaanite hands and remained so until David captured it and made it his capital (see 2 Sm 5, 6–10 ).

Saul's Jealousy (1 Sm 18, 6–30 )

Saul had good reason to be jealous of David. Not only did the people love him but so did Jonathan and Michal, Saul's children. But no matter how Saul tried to eliminate his rival, David's popularity continued to grow. Saul tried to kill David twice (v. 11 ), but eventually realized that David's success was divinely ordered (vv. 14–15 ). Saul suggested that David marry his eldest daughter. David was thrilled at the prospect of marrying into Saul's family, but Saul married her off to someone else. Recognizing David's eagerness, Saul offered David another daughter if he was willing to pay a bride‐price that exposed him to great danger. But David accomplished the task, outperforming Saul's servants. When he saw how the people held David in high regard, Saul's reaction was fear and hatred.

David the Fugitive (1 Sm 19, 1–28, 2 )

Saul became so obsessed with David's success that he tried to kill him. David had to flee Saul's court and take up the life of a fugitive. Coming to David's aid is an unlikely group of supporters that range from Saul's own children to the Philistines, Israel's rival for control of Canaan. In telling the story of David's life on the run, the book sees God's hand protecting David from Saul and leading the young shepherd boy inexorably to the throne of Israel.

David's successes and popular acclaim triggered Saul's first attempts on David's life, but these were unsuccessful (1 Sm 19, 1–24 ). First, Jonathan talked Saul out of killing David (vv. 1–7 ). After another one of David's military victories over the Philistines, Saul could not control his hatred and made another attempt on David's life, but the latter's dexterity saved him (vv. 8–10 ). Michal, Saul's daughter and David's wife, prevented a third attempt from being successful (vv. 11–17 ). Finally, David fled to Samuel. Saul found him but a prophetic ecstasy, which once confirmed Saul's kingship (1 Sm 10, 5–12 ), now made possible David's escape (1 Sm 19, 24 ). The reader is meant to recognize the hand of God in David's escapes.

Though Jonathan was loyal to his father, he nonetheless recognized the injustice of Saul's intentions toward David (1 Sm 20, 1–21, 1 ). The story of Jonathan is a story marked by conflicting emotions as Jonathan has to stand up to Saul in order to protect David. Saul's anger led him to hurl a demeaning insult at Jonathan and his mother (v. 30 ). The book underscores David's innocence in all this by having different characters affirm it three times (vv. 1, 8–9, 32 ). The irony surrounding David's rise to kingship continues as he depends on Jonathan, the presumptive heir to Saul's throne, to insure his safety. But by saving David, Jonathan is, in effect, denying himself the throne and his father a dynasty. Although the book does not say so explicitly, the reader knows that God is guiding the events that will eventually bring David to the throne.

Jonathan, Samuel, and Michal were not the only members of Saul's entourage to help David escape from Saul. While Jonathan and Michal consciously decided to help David, Ahimelech, a priest from a sanctuary near Saul's town, was duped by David into providing him with food and a weapon (1 Sm 21, 2–10 ). Unfortunately for Ahimelech, Doeg, an Edomite in Saul's service, witnessed the exchange between David and Ahimelech, but the consequences of that will be clear only in 1 Samuel 22, 6–23 . But the book shows the ever‐widening circle of those who assisted David. In his desperation David even sought refuge in Gath, a Philistine city that was home to Goliath. But David was unable to remain incognito. He feigned lunacy, and the Philistine king fell for David's act (1 Sm 21, 11–16 ). David will eventually join the Philistine army (27), but the book makes it clear here that David's actions were not treasonous but were motivated by his need to escape Saul's murderous intentions.

To survive on the run David sought safety in numbers. His family joined him as he assembled a force of 400 men. Evidently, even the king of Moab was among David's supporters since the king agreed to protect members of David's family. Other help came from the prophet Gad, who advised David to seek a haven in the territory of Judah. Saul, on the other hand, massacred a group of priests that had supported his rival. Saul was now almost completely isolated. His son, daughter, the priests of Nob, and even his fellow Benjaminites were giving passive and often active support to David. In addition to all these people, Saul's atrocity at Nob drove Abiathar, the sole surviving priest, into David's camp (1 Sm 22, 1–23 ).

What the book implied in its accounts of David's flight from Saul, it now states explicitly in verse 14 : God did not surrender David into Saul's hands. To illustrate this the book relates two of David's narrow escapes. One of these follows David's defeat of the Philistines who were raiding the Judahite town of Keilah. When Saul heard that David came to the town's defense, he saw that this afforded him the opportunity to finally capture his rival. In reversal of the usual pattern, Saul found people who were willing to betray David. But David, through divination, learned of Saul's intention and escaped. David was betrayed by the Ziphites, who also belonged to the tribe of Judah, but before Saul could act on the intelligence they provided, he had to deal with a new Philistine threat. Sandwiched between these two stories of treachery by David's fellow Judahites is another account of a Benjaminite—indeed Saul's own son and heir—declaring support for David. Jonathan had more to lose than anyone as a result of David's rise to power, but he acted in accordance with what the book presents as the will of God (1 Sm 23, 1–28 ).

The tables turn and David has an opportunity to kill Saul, his antagonist, but he refuses to raise his hand against the old king (1 Sm 24, 1–23 ). This story of David's refusal to kill Saul when he had the opportunity is a fine piece of political propaganda. The story puts David in an extremely good light and serves to legitimate his eventual ascent to Israel's throne. Indeed, even Saul recognized that David should be king. The story also serves to put a positive spin on actions that David will take to neutralize any claims to the throne that Saul's descendants might make. The implication here is clear: David was entirely blameless in the matter of the succession. The book, however, uses this story to underscore the role that God had in David's rise to kingship.

Between two accounts that make David appear reluctant to take the throne forcibly, there is one that shows him to be taking steps that make him Saul's successor nonetheless. One of these steps involves marrying a woman from an influential Judahite family (1 Sm 25, 1–41 ). But before the story of David and Abigail begins, the book notes the passing of Samuel, who has had no significant role in the narratives for a while. Before the book can have Saul conjure up the spirit of Samuel (28), it is necessary that Samuel die.

One of the anomalies of the story of David's rise is the treachery of people from David's own tribe. Nabal is another Judahite who was simply not impressed with David and refused to help him. Abigail, Nabal's wife, persuaded David not to take any reprisals on her husband. When Nabal died, David immediately proposed marriage to Abigail. It will not be the first time that David will marry a woman from an influential family, who had previously been married to another. David clearly saw such marriages as helping to solve the problems he had been having with certain elements from Judah. The marriage to Abigail gave David new status in Judah.

For a second time, it was possible for David to kill Saul, and again he refused to do so (1 Sm 26, 1–25 ). The Lord would choose the time and circumstances of Saul's death. David upbraided Abner, Saul's general, for the lax security that gave David the opportunity to assassinate Saul. Although Saul was grateful to David, there was no reconciliation between the two, and this was the last time the two would meet. Saul's final words to David are a blessing and a prediction of David's ultimate success.

Saul's pursuit of David was relentless despite what appeared to be reconciliation between the two in chapters 24 and 26 . Ironically, the only place David was safe from Saul was with Israel's implacable enemies, the Philistines (1 Sm 27, 1–28, 2 ). David lied his way into the trust of Achish, who once thought him mad. David claimed to have been raiding Judahite settlements while all the time raiding those of other peoples. David was put in a very awkward position when Achish announced that a raid on Israel was in the offing. He had to assure Achish of his loyalty.

Saul's Tragic Death (1 Sm 28, 3—2 Sm 1, 27 )

Saul went out to meet the Philistines one last time. The place of this final confrontation was a town near Mount Gilboa, which overlooks the Jezreel Valley. The king was terrified at the prospect of having to face the Philistines again. He consulted the Lord but received no answer. He thought to consult Samuel, who had died earlier. To do so he had to engage a specialist in conjuring the spirit of the deceased—something forbidden to Israel (see Dt 18, 11 ). The prophet's spirit did not give the king good news: the Israelite army would be defeated. Saul's fate is sealed.

David was saved from having to fight against Saul and the Israelites because not all the Philistines trusted him. Achish allowed David to engage in raiding the Amalekites, another of Israel's traditional enemies (1 Sm 29, 1–30, 31 ). The story of David's conduct during these raids stands in contrast to Saul's impotence before the Philistines: David was courageous in battle; he was fair and even generous with his soldiers; he defended the Israelites who fell victim to Amalekite power; above all, he was victorious. David's victories over the Amalekites coupled with Saul's impending loss to the Philistines showed that God was behind David's rise to power.

The book relates the end of Saul with dignity and sympathy (1 Sm 31, 1–13 ). Saul died doing his duty as king. Though he knew that defeat was inevitable, Saul fought bravely and died by his own hand to insure that the Philistines would be deprived of making sport of him. They did, however, hang his corpse and that of Jonathan from the walls of Beth‐shan, a city near Mount Gilboa. This afforded the people of Jabesh‐gilead an opportunity to repay the favor that Saul did for them in better times. They took the bodies off the city wall, transported them to Jabesh, buried them, and then began a period of mourning for their one‐time benefactor.

Transitions of power in the ancient Near East were rarely smooth. Palace revolts and assassinations occurred with some frequency. The book wishes to end any rumors about David's role in Saul's death, so it portrays David as deeply affected by the deaths of Saul and Jonathan (2 Sm 1, 1–27 ). The Amalekite confessed to Saul's murder though the reader knows that the Amalekite is lying—perhaps to ingratiate himself with David. Still, David acted on the only information he had and ordered the confessed regicide to be executed. While David came into possession of the royal insignia (v. 10 ), he did so without any foul play on his part. The poem lamenting the tragic deaths of Saul and Jonathan, which the book places on David's lips, came from a now‐lost collection called the “Book of the Just” (see also Jos 10, 13 ). It shows that in some quarters, the memory of Saul and Jonathan was cherished. The book has David recite these poignantly beautiful lines to demonstrate David's innocence in Saul's death.

David Becomes King (2 Sm 2, 1–5, 25 )

Saul's end was sad and tragic, but the reader has a sense of relief that David has survived both Saul and the Philistines. He is now in a position to claim the kingship for which he was anointed by Samuel. Still, it will be several years before David's position over all Israel will become secure. While David had no trouble being recognized as king in Judah (2 Sm 2, 4 ), his position with regard to the other tribes was a different matter. Though Abner, Saul's general, placed Ishbaal, Saul's surviving son, on the throne, Ishbaal proved incompetent. This paved the way for David's rule over all the tribes. David consolidated his rule by taking Jerusalem and making it his political capital as well as Israel's religious center.

Although the book implies that a united Israel under one king was the ideal, it is clear from the story of the war between Israel and Judah in 2 Samuel 2, 12–3, 1 and subsequent stories that there were strong political differences and intense rivalry between Israel and Judah. Even a common language, religion, and culture could not overcome these differences. For most of their history, Israel and Judah were political opponents, each establishing its own national state. The story of this rivalry is told from a southern perspective. Also, the story of the civil war between the supporters of Ishbaal and David is a necessary prelude to the actions that Solomon will take in assuring his succession to David (see 1 Kgs 2, 23–33 ).

The list of David's children (2 Sm 3, 2–5 ) inserted in the account of David's struggle over the succession to Saul is important because it introduces characters who will have significant roles in the story of Solomon's succession. Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah each had a better claim on the succession than Solomon. But it is Solomon who would follow David on the throne.

The book describes in some detail the political maneuvers that were necessary to secure the kingship for David (2 Sm 3, 6–4, 12 ). A rival king and his military supporters have to be eliminated, so both Abner and Ishbaal are killed. The story absolves David from any complicity in these acts, but the waters are becoming murkier. David is no longer the simple shepherd boy who saved Israel with his slingshot. The book makes it obvious that with the monarchy come intrigues, double‐dealing, even murders, which are inevitable consequences of the quest for power. While the story of David's rise to kingship is not an antimonarchic tract, the book lays bare more of the consequences of Israel's decision to have a human lord in place of its Divine Lord.

Once Ishbaal was assassinated, the elders of Israel bowed to the inevitable and accepted David as king. The newly acclaimed king then moved to eliminate the one tract of land that still separated Judah from the Israelite tribes in the north. David captured Jerusalem and made it his capital. The book pauses in its story to assert that all this happened because God was with David ( 5, 1–12 ), but then it returns to the actions that David took to solidify his hold on the throne. One of these was to marry women from Jerusalem and thereby gain sympathy from its citizens ( 5, 13–16 ).

Another practical step in David's solidifying his rule over Israel is his ending the Philistine domination of Canaan ( 5, 17–25 ). David freed Israel from the Philistine threat while Saul failed to do so (see 1 Sm 9, 16; 2 Sm 3, 18 ). Of course, the victory over the Philistines really belonged to God who gave David the victory (2 Sm 5, 19.24 )—another indication that David was God's choice to be king. The book suggests that David's victory was so overwhelming that the battlefield was named Baal‐perazim, which can be translated “the Lord of the raging flood” (2 Sm 5, 20; see Is 28, 21 ).

The Ark in Jerusalem (2 Sm 6, 1–23 )

The final step in marking the legitimacy of David's accession to kingship was the transfer of the ark. Michal's negative reaction to David's dancing before the ark suggests the displacement of Saul's family by that of David. The housing of the ark in David's city underscores the centralizing tendencies of the monarchy, which appropriates all political, military, and religious authority to itself. This attempt to make human authority absolute will ultimately lead to the undoing of the monarchy and the national state.

Temple and Dynasty (2 Sm 7, 1–29 )

In the ancient Near East, the building of a temple for a nation's patron deity was a royal prerogative. Another way that David sought to legitimate his accession to Israel's throne was to build a temple for Israel's God. The book shapes its account to make two important points. The first is that a temple was not an absolute necessity in ancient Israel's religion (2 Sm 7, 5–7 ). The second was that God was going to establish a “house” (a dynasty) for David that would endure forever (2 Sm 7, 16 ). That a prophet makes this promise in God's name marks it as authoritative (vv. 4–5 ). It is important to note that the promise places limits on royal authority. There are obligations that the king must fulfill (v. 14; see also Ps 89, 30–32 ). But failure on the king's part will not nullify the promises (vv. 15–16 ). While a temple was built and David's dynasty did rule for four hundred years, both came to inglorious ends in the sixth century. Eventually the Temple was rebuilt but under the patronage of a foreign dynasty (see Ezr 1, 1–4.5–6 ). The Davidic dynasty was never restored to rule.

A member of the Davidic family ruled over the Kingdom of Judah throughout its history, except for the six years of Athaliah's reign (2 Kgs 11 ), and the books of Kings allude to 2 Samuel 7 and its promises several times (1 Kgs 2, 4; 8, 20.25; 9, 4–5; 11, 5.13.32.36; 15, 4; 2 Kgs 8, 19; 19, 34; 20, 6 ). But the storied stability of the Davidic dynasty is an illusion. Of the twenty‐one kings that succeeded to David's throne, five were assassinated, three were taken into exile, three died during sieges, and one died in battle. Five kings ruled for periods of less than three years. Most ruled by the favor of imperial powers, and at least two were placed on the throne by such powers. The kings of the Davidic dynasty were unable to stave off the disaster that came to all of the small national states in the Levant once the revived Mesopotamian empires implemented their expansionist policies. The books of Kings, however, suggest that the fall of both Israelite kingdoms was due to the religious failures of the kings who ruled over them. While finding some fault with most of Judah's kings, the books of Kings lay the principal blame on Manasseh (2 Kgs 21, 8–9; 2 Kgs 23, 26–27 ). The collective failure of the Davidic dynasty makes the promises made to David in 2 Samuel 7 a poignant reminder of what should have been. The story of Judah's kings is the story of Israel. What began with so much promise ends tragically.

The Babylonians deposed Zedekiah, the last king of David's line, in 587 BC, and David's house was destined never to rise again. Still, there were some who believed that Israel's future was, in some way, tied to the destiny of the Davidic dynasty. The prayer of David (2 Sm 7, 18–29 ) and Psalms 2, 89 , and 132 reflect their views. In fact, Psalm 89, 4 and 2 Samuel 23, 5 likely have 2 Samuel 7 in mind when they speak of a “covenant” that God made with David. The Davidic covenant is similar to “covenants of royal grant” in which ancient Near Eastern kings rewarded individuals who served them loyally. It is also similar to the covenant made with Abraham (Gn 15, 7–20; 17, 1–8 ) in which God promises Abraham a land and descendants. But the Davidic stands in some tension with the Mosaic covenant, which depends upon Israel's obedience for its durability. There are texts, however, which attempt to make the promises to David conditional, e.g., 1 Kgs 2, 4; 8, 25; 9, 4–5; Ps 132, 12 . The Scriptures preserve both the Mosaic and Davidic covenants, and the two should be seen as complementary. The former emphasizes human responsibility and the latter divine constancy.

The fall of Jerusalem, the end of the Judahite state, and the deposition of the Davidic dynasty led to a reinterpretation of the promise that there would always be a descendant of David ruling from his throne (v. 16; see Is 55, 3–5 ), but Zerubbabel's connection with the Davidic family (1 Chr 3, 16–19 ) led some Jews to look for an imminent restoration of the native dynasty (see Hg 2, 2–23; Zec 3, 8; 4, 7 ) following the return from Babylon. The Persians did not permit this to happen, yet there remained some Jews who did expect an eventual restoration of the dynasty (see Jer 33, 14–26; Ez 37, 24–25 ). Such hopes could not be sustained for too long, and the restoration of the Davidic dynasty became a feature of Jewish eschatological hopes. Clearly, the promises made to David were not fulfilled in a satisfactory way following the exile. Since these promises had to find fulfillment, that fulfillment would come in the future. These developed into early Jewish hopes for a “messiah.” While such hopes were not prominent in early Jewish literature, renewed interest in the promises made to David did reemerge in the first century BC. The Davidic messiah is an important figure in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The New Testament exploits this expectation as it presents Jesus as the one who will inherit the throne of “David his father” (Lk 1, 32 ). Indeed, the Gospels refer to Jesus as “the son of David” almost twenty times.

David's Kingdom and Its Administration (2 Sm 8, 1–18 )

The book notes that David did not limit his rule to the territories given to the Israelite tribes. David mounted expeditions to extend the borders of his kingdom. Not content with limiting his role to protecting the people of Israel from external threats, David engaged in the type of expansionist militarism to which Israel and Judah would eventually fall victim. But because David was God's chosen, he was victorious (2 Sm 8, 14b ). David needed people to assist him in the administration of his kingdom. The list in 2 Samuel 8, 15–18 names those who assisted David in the military and religious spheres. Though David's sons take the role of priests, eventually Levites were recognized as the sole legitimate priests; when the Chronicler gives his list of David's administrators, he calls David's sons his “chief assistants” rather than “priests” (see 1 Chr 18, 17 ).

David's Family and the Succession (2 Sm 9, 1–20, 26 )

The rise of David to kingship appeared to be unstoppable, but the book notes that holding on to the throne and selecting a successor were entirely different matters. Scattered throughout the story of David's rise were assurances that all happened because of God's actions. In the story of the succession to David, God is mentioned infrequently. The book shows what kind of an institution the monarchy really was, making it clear why, in the end, the monarchy failed Israel.

The story of the succession begins with David inquiring if any of Saul's family were still alive. While David feigned concern to fulfill his commitment to Jonathan, he effectively placed a claimant to the throne and his family under house arrest (2 Sm 9, 1–13 ). David thus blunted any opposition that might have sought to use the disabled Meribbaal to rally against him. The war with the Ammonites and Arameans provided the framework for another of David's attempts to secure his throne more firmly. His strategy was to marry a woman who belonged to an influential family. This is the third such marriage of David (see 1 Sm 18, 20–27; 1 Sm 25 ). The story seemingly makes it appear as if David's encounter with Bathsheba was fortuitous, but the attentive reader recognizes a pattern in David's marriages. David married women who could help him gain and hold onto power. Bathsheba's grandfather Ahithophel was one of David's key advisers (2 Sm 16, 23 ), and her father, Eliam, was an important military commander (2 Sm 23, 34 ). The book implies that David knew exactly who Bathsheba was. He did not hesitate to use his royal power to have Bathsheba's husband eliminated so that he, David, could marry her (2 Sm 11, 2–27 ).

The book then transforms a tale of adultery and murder into a homily on repentance (2 Sm 12, 1–15 ). The prophet Nathan appeared before the king without being summoned to announce God's verdict on David's actions. The confrontation led to David's repentance so that the sentence of death was not imposed on him. The book wants to lead its readers to conclude that if they too listened to the prophets sent to them, their lives will be spared as well. David here becomes a model of repentance. Still, the power of evil that David unleashed by his sins led to the death of Bathsheba's newborn ( 12, 16–23 ). In time, Bathsheba bore David a son, who eventually would succeed his father as king. Bathsheba named her son Solomon, while Nathan named him Jedidiah (2 Sam 12, 24–25 ). The reason for the prophet's action is unclear since parents were responsible for naming their child. Jedidiah means “beloved of the Lord” and may signal God's choice of Solomon as David's successor. With the story of David and Bathsheba concluded for the present, the book remarks that the war against Ammon was successful (2 Sm 12, 26–31 ).

David's adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah meant that David and his family would have the specter of sexual excess and murder hanging over their lives for a long time to come. The first to fall victim were David's eldest son, Amnon, and Tamar, his half‐sister. Amnon's attraction to his sister led him to rape her (2 Sm 13, 1–21 ). While appalled at his son's crime, David did not punish Amnon. The disconsolate Tamar moved in with Absalom, her full‐brother. Nothing more is heard of her. Absalom, however, brooded over his sister's fate for two years. When the opportunity presented itself, Absalom had Amnon murdered. Absalom then found sanctuary in Geshur, which was located in the southern part of the area now known as the Golan Heights. His maternal grandfather was king there (2 Sm 13, 23–37; see 2 Sm 3, 3 ).

Eventually Joab, David's nephew and general, was able to effect a reconciliation between David and Absalom, enabling Absalom to return from exile (2 Sm 14, 1–33 ). Absalom was impatient with the pace of his rehabilitation, and it is clear that no genuine reconciliation between father and son took place. Absalom was still harboring grudges. This led the son to take advantage of those who expressed dissatisfaction with David's rule (2 Sm 15, 1–6 ). Absalom's intrigues led to a full‐blown revolution, which almost succeeded (2 Sm 15, 7–12 ). David had to flee for his life, but he had the presence of mind to instruct his priests to remain in Jerusalem to bring him news of how the rebellion was progressing and to have his friend Hushai infiltrate Absalom's retinue. Another supporter was Ziba, one of Meribbaal's servants, who provided David with supplies and informed him that Meribbaal had designs on the throne (2 Sm 16, 1–4 ). During this retreat from Jerusalem, David met Shimei, one of Saul's supporters, who assured him that the rebellion was just what David deserved for usurping Saul's throne (2 Sm 16, 5–14 ).

Upon entering Jerusalem, Absalom dramatized his break with his father in a most decisive way. He had sexual intercourse with David's concubines in full view of the people, fulfilling the curse on David pronounced by Nathan in God's name (2 Sm 12, 11–12 ). Ahithophel, one of David's counselors who went over to Absalom, advised quick action against the retreating David. Hushai, David's spy in Absalom's retinue, bought David time by suggesting that Absalom assemble a large force from all the tribes to deal with David. Absalom took Hushai's advice. Here is one instance where the book calls the reader's attention to the divine hand ordering events. It asserts that God prevented Absalom from taking Ahithophel's advice (2 Sm 17, 14b ). David used the time bought by Hushai to prepare a successful counterattack. Absalom fled but was caught by David's troops and killed by his cousin Joab, who countermanded David's express orders that Absalom be spared. David's obvious grief over Absalom disconcerted his soldiers who risked their lives in putting down Absalom's rebellion. David regained his composure and met with his army (2 Sm 16, 20–19, 9 ).

The book, however, does not have David's difficulties end with the collapse of Absalom's rebellion. David had to encourage members of Judah, his own tribe, to welcome him back as king. He had to deal with Shimei who cursed him and Meribbaal who sought to take advantage of the rebellion. He spared both. David wanted to reward Barzillai's kindness, but the latter demurred. As a result of having to face an uprising led by his own son, David realized that he owed this throne to the people and their support (2 Sm 19, 23b ).

Tensions among the tribes continued, presaging a split that would occur following the death of Solomon (1 Kgs 12 ). A more immediate consequence of this tension is a second revolt against David. Amasa, who had been a leader of the revolt that Absalom fomented, was rehabilitated by David, who charged him with putting down a second revolt led by Sheba of Benjamin, Saul's tribe. When Amasa dawdled, Joab quickly moved in, killing Amasa and leading David's forces against Sheba, who took refuge in Abel Beth‐maacah, a city in the north. The revolution ended when a woman of Abel Beth‐maacah persuaded the people of the town to hand over the revolutionary (2 Sm 19, 41–20, 22 ).

A list of David's principal officials concludes the story of David's problems in maintaining his position as king. There were two military officials: Joab, who commanded the Israelite army, and Banaiah, who led the mercenary forces. There were two civil magistrates, Shawsha and Jehoshaphat, and two priests, Zadok and Abiathar. Adoram oversaw the prisoners of war who had to do forced labor. The duties of Ira as David's priest are unknown (2 Sm 20, 23–26 ).

Miscellaneous Material (2 Sm 21, 1–24, 25 )

The story of David's reign is interrupted by six appendices arranged in a chiasm:

The lack of a river system to provide for irrigation made ancient Israel particularly vulnerable to famine when rainfall was not sufficient. The book describes one such famine, which was ascribed to the failure by members of Saul's family to honor the covenant between Israel and Gibeon (see Jos 9 ). David allowed the Gibeonites to take their revenge on Saul's family (2 Sm 21, 1–11 ). The famine ended when David provided an honorable burial for Saul and Jonathan (2 Sm 21, 12–14 ).

The second component of the supplementary material is difficult to square with 1 Samuel 17, which describes the young David's defeat of Goliath. 2 Samuel 21, 15–19 asserts that Goliath was killed by one of David's soldiers—a certain Elhanan—while one of David's brothers is credited with killing another formidable Philistine warrior (2 Sm 21, 20–22 ). One attempt at harmonizing 1 Samuel 17 and 2 Samuel 21 suggests that David and Elhanan were the same person. Elhanan supposedly took the name “David” upon taking the throne of Israel. A second alternative assumes that David killed a Philistine whose name was not preserved. David's anonymous foe was then confused with Goliath whom Elhanan killed. While both solve the problem, neither has any support in the biblical text. Following the account of Israel's victories over the Philistines, the book inserts a hymn of victory that David composed. It is virtually identical to Psalm 18. Verses 21–25 assert that it was David's obedience that led to his victories— a perspective that resonated with the views of 2 Samuel.

The poetic “last words of David” (2 Sm 23, 1–7 ) are really a theological commentary on David and his dynasty that emphasize the importance of justice and devotion to God (v. 3 ). These will lead to God's blessings on the dynasty. Those who ignore the demands of justice are doomed (vv. 6–7 ). David's rule as king did not depend on his virtue alone but on the support of many people. Some of these are mentioned by name in 2 Samuel 23, 8–39 . Ironically, the last person on the list is Uriah. His loyalty was not reciprocated by David—something that the reader knows without being told.

The last episode in 2 Samuel describes another natural disaster: a plague (2 Sm 24 ). David is blamed for bringing it about by taking a census of the people. The census provided the data necessary for taxation and conscription of the population. David showed that he was not content to protect the people from their enemies; he wanted to reduce them all to the status of the king's servants. The plague destroyed the value of the data. David relented, and God delivered the country from the plague.

The books of Samuel describe the transition in leadership from that of the judges to Samuel, from Samuel to Saul, and from Saul to David. The question that arises for the reader is who will succeed David as king. One son was a rapist and was murdered to avenge his crime. Another was guilty of fratricide and attempted patricide, and died in the course of a revolution against his father. The prospects for the house of David look bleak. The opening chapter of Kings will describe the solution to the problem of succession.

Continuing Significance of the Books of Samuel

As one reads the books of Samuel and its tales of jealousy, rape, murder, and revolution, one can almost hear the author of the books of Samuel saying: “If you want a monarchy, this is what you get.” The contemporary reader ought to recognize the folly of making any human institution absolute. The story of David's family shows what can happen when one is unable to keep in check the tendency to make absolute the institution of the monarchy. The ability of any society to criticize its social structure, its economic policies, its political system is necessary to keep that society from consuming itself. Second Samuel describes how Judah's royal family began to consume itself. Though monarchies are, for the most part, relics of another age, nations still succumb to the temptation of making their political, social, and economic institutions into absolutes. The story of Israel in its land shows what happens when a nation and its leader ignore the fundamental moral values.

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