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You will find an introduction and outline to 2 Samuel, here.

A prayer to use before you read from the Book of Common Worship:

God, source of all light, by your Word you give light to the soul. Pour out upon us the spirit of wisdom and understanding that, being taught by you in Holy Scripture, our hearts and minds may be opened to know the things that pertain to life and holiness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

An Outline of 2 Samuel, from Birch and Gunn:

A. David’s Kingdom Established 1:1-8:18

B. 2 Samuel 9:1-20:26 David’s Family and David’s Throne

16:15-17:229 Debate, Message and Escape:Ahithophel’s advice continues. He advises a quick and focused attack with the goal of only killing David and the assumption that David’s troops will give up and return home. But Hushai has another plan. First Hushai spends time building up David’s reputation and then perhaps in a appeal to Absalom’s ego, suggests Absalom gather and lead a large army against David. Of course the reader knows Hushai is really on David’s side and this plan gives David a change to organize his forces. Hushai’s plan is accepted but verses 15-23 don’t show that his plan was followed. It appears that Ahithophel’s plan is what is done. Nevertheless, David escapes and is greeted by supporters, clearly not everyone has turned against him. Ahithophel goes home and hangs himself.

18:1-19:8 Battle, Message, and Mourning: David gathers his troops. The text makes clear that David does not accompany the troops at their request. The troops are presented as being concerned for David’s well-being and in spite David’s wanting to accompany them, takes the troops council and stays home. David’s instructions, heard by everyone, are to “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake”. The story makes clear that David is not involved or at fault in Absalom’s death. Recall that earlier the text removed responsibility from David for earlier deaths. Joab, ever the pragmatist kills Absalom. Absalom is given an honorable burial although he is not buried with the royal family.

The king must be told the results of the battle. Ahimaaz wants to be the one to tell the king but Joab initially refuses to let him apparently out of concern that the messenger bearing news of Absalom’s death may be harmed. Joab sends a Chushite, a foreigner to tell David. Notice how much detail the story is given and thus how the drama is heightened. Ahimaaz finally convinces Joab to let him go to David also and he passes the Chushite. Ahimaaz, perhaps mindful of Joab’s concerns is vague about Absalom’s fate. The Chushite tells the truth but frames it obliquely.

David’s grief at the loss of Absalom is well known and has been immortalized in literature. David has felt the price of Nathan’s judgement that was pronounced earlier. David’s violence has resulted in violence to his family. What do you think about David’s response to the death of Absalom, who was in rebellion against his father, in contrast to David’s response to the death of his infant son by Bathsheba?

David’s grief is so great that the victorious returning troops return unobtrusively, almost as if they were ashamed of their victory. Joab, who is still a pragmatist and one who tells David difficult things confronts David. David is the king and must act like a king rather then as a grieving father. David has responsibilities to his troops and to his people.

 19:9-19:43David’s Return: David returns to Jerusalem. David’s leaving Jerusalem was portrayed as a penitential withdrawal. We might expect his return to be triumphant but it is subdued also.  There are political realities which must be addressed. Notice how David has his priests Zadok and Abiathar to negotiate his return with the elders of Judah. David goes so far as to replace Joab as commander with Amasa who was the leader of Absalom’s army. The text does not tell us why and we are left to wonder if this was solely a political move or if David is upset with Joab for killing Absalom.  Shimei who had cursed David when he left Jerusalem greets David and tries to mend their broken relationship. David promises not to kill him. Mephibosheth, the grandson of Saul also comes. He has been in mourning and solidarity with David and explains that his servant Ziba (who David rewarded with land in chapter 16) deceived David and Mephibosheth asks for mercy from David. David divides the land between Ziba and Mephibosheth. Surprisingly, Mephibosheth says he does not want the land “Now that my lord the king has arrived home safely.”

Next David meets Barzillai who was a supporter of David. David wants to reward Barzillai by asking him to live in the royal court. Barzillia declines but does ask that his son Chimham be taken into David’s court.  The final verses in the chapter tell us that there is still tension between Israel and Judah.

20:1-20:22 Sheba’s Rebellion: Sheba incites the Israelites to desert David. The men of Judah remain loyal. Next is an interlude where David deals with Absalom’s taking of his concubines. David does not turn the women out, but neither does he take them into his household. They were “shut up” until they died. David sends Amasa to deal with Sheba. Amasa does not return in a timely matter so David sends Joab after him. Joab finds Amasa and- every the pragmatist- kills him. Notice again David is not involved, this death is Joab’s doing. Joab besieges Sheba in Abel Beth Maacah. A “wise women” from the city negotiates a resolution to the siege. The people of the city agree with her solution and kill Sheba and Joab leaves the city alone.

Verses 23-26 Tell us of David’s officers. Scholars think this parallels the list in chapter 8 which reflects and earlier time in David’s reign and this list reflects David’s later reign. Joab is over the army and there is a new office. “Adoram was in charge of forced labor”. This office and practice will cause trouble for Solomon.

C. 2 Samuel 21:1-24:25 A Finale of David Traditions


Read More About It:

Here are several good sources to aid your reading of 2 Samuel

Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.

Birch, Bruce C., “The First and Second Books of Samuel, in  The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2 Keck, Leander E., ed. (Nashville”Abingdon Press) 1994.

Gunn, David M. “2 Samuel” in  HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.

McKenzie, Steven L, “2 Samuel”  in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Aporcryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, Fully Revised 4 th Edition,  Michael Cougan, ed. (New York:Oxford University Press) 2010.

Stinespring, William F. and Burke O. Long “2 Samuel” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books Metzger, Bruce M., Roland E. Murphy, eds.(New York: Oxford University Press) 1994.