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
C. 2 Samuel 21:1-24:25 A Finale of David Traditions: These last chapters do not follow the chronological narrative. Some think that 2 Samuel 20 continues in 1 Kings and these chapters (21-24) are added and don’t add to the narrative. Others think these chapters offer a particular theological and ideological conclusion to the book. See what you think as you read them. There is a certain pattern to these chapters;
21:1-14 a narrative on the expiation of Saul’s guilt
21:15-22 a list of heroes and their actions
22:1-51 A song of thanksgiving
23:1-17 a song of celebration
23:8-39 a list of heroes and their actions
24:1:25 a narrative on the expiation of David’s guilt.
21:1-14 Vengeance of the Gibeonites: These verses tell how an action committed by Saul means there is blood guilt against Saul’s house which results in the death of seven of Saul’s sons. These events are not mentioned elsewhere and appear to take place at an earlier time in David’s kingship. The story may function to make clear that David has no direct responsibility for the death of Saul’s heirs. In the story, David is the only one who knows of the blood guilt and he approaches the Gibeonites. We don’t know how David acquired this knowledge, we don’t know what exactly Saul did, we don’t know why Israel is punished now after Saul is dead. David, recalling his covenant with Mephibosheth, spares him when the seven sons/grandsons of Saul are handed over. In verses 10-14 another interesting woman appears. Rizpah does not accept the dishonorable fate of her sons and chases away the scavengers. Her actions cause David to act and honor the dead- Saul, Jonathan and the seven sons.
21:15-22 David’s warriors: These verses have to do with the war with the Philistines. Notice how David is portrayed. He is
“exhausted” and his warriors fight for him. Then it is determined that David is too important to continue to be in battle. Is this because David, as king is so important or is the implication that David isn’t needed on the battlefield anymore? In verses 18-22 David is no longer mentioned.
22:1-51 A Psalm of Thanksgiving from David: This is a royal psalm of thanksgiving and is Psalm 18. It is placed at the end of this book as a reflection on David’s career. Recall that the book of 1 Samuel, where David’s story begins, starts with the song of Hannah. You may wish to reread 1 Sam 2:1-10 and notice the similarities. This song of David has three parts. The first section, v1-20 is a thanksgiving. Notice the words that are used to describe God and notice the descriptive language used to tell of distress and of God’s actions of deliverance. The second section, v 21-28 tell of human virtue and the importance of righteousness. This seems odd coming from David’s mouth at this point in the story, knowing what we do of David’s failings. Why do you think that is? Is the psalm contrasting what ought to be with what actually happens? The final section is in the king’s voice and tells how the kings actions- noble and heroic as they might be- are only possible through God’s power.
23:1-7 David’s last words: This is another, shorter, poem. It is a statement of royal theology. David’s last words are presented as an oracle. An oracle usually is a prophetic utterance. In this poem the Lord is speaking through David. David is in this poem, both the prophet and the one who is the anointed king. Because this is an oracle, David’s last words are not actually his own but rather come from God. Verse 5a at first reading seems odd for we know David’s house has not been faithful and just in everything. But perhaps our knowledge of David’s failings then serve to reinforce 5b. It is God’s commitment which makes faithfulness and justice possible not human actions.
23:8-39 Exploits of David’s Warriors: Verses 8-12 tell us about the Three and their deeds. We only know about these deeds in these verses, we have no other source of information about them. Verses 13-17 tell about an event involving David and three warriors (perhaps the Three). Notice the loyalty between David and his warriors. The warriors undertake a dangerous, even foolhardy mission for David. David, moved by their loyalty and courage offers the water as a sacrifice to God. The water the warriors brought was too valuable to be consumed. Verses 18-39 is a list of the Thirty, who seem to have been an elite set of warriors. There are two interesting things to note. One, Joab David’s military commander is not mentioned. Perhaps he was understood to be different than the Thirty and the Three? Notice the last name on the list- Uriah the Hittite. Why do you think he is mentioned, and ends the list?
24:1-25 David’s census and the Threshing Floor of Araunah: We do not know exactly when these events took place, scholars think probably it happened earlier in David’s life. This chapter starts in an unusual way. God is angry with Israel, we don’t know why, and “incites” David to act in a way that is sinful. Joab, David’s faithful commander tries to talk David out of taking the census. We can only guess at why a census was sinful and why taking a census required the army. The census appears to be the fist step toward a draft. It does symbolize royal power and authority over the lives of the people. Somehow in verses 10-17 David realizes he has sinned. A prophet brings David an unusual choice. He can pick the consequences for his sin. David places his future and Israel’s future in God’s care. There is a pestilence but God intervenes and the duration of the pestilence is shortened. The prophet tells David to build an alter at the place where the plague stopped. The threshing floor owner offers his property to David for the alter but David insists that he must pay for it. A sacrifice must have some cost. The book closes with David’s faithfulness and God’s gracious response.
What do you think about these chapters? What sort of ending do they provide for 1 and 2 Samuel? Recall that 1 Samuel beings with Hannah’s petition to God and God’s response and now 2 Samuel ends with David’s petition and God’s response.
Now that you have read Saul and Samuel and David’s stories, what do you think about these three men? Remember the several women who appear in these stories. What do you think about them? How do they contrast or reinforce the actions of the men?
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.