2 Samuel

What makes 2 Samuel special?

Some of the best stories about people in the Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament) are in 1 and 2 S amuel. In 2 Samuel the story of David, begun in the second half of 1 Samuel, is continued. It tells of David’s triumphs and failures and shows how important one person’s relationship with God is in shaping his life and the life of the nation he rules.

Why was 2 Samuel written?

The second half of one book that was split into two, 2 Samuel continues the story of Israel’s first kings. 1 Samuel ended with the death of King Saul. 2 Samuel picks up with David’s reign, from about 1010 to 970 B.C. The first dramatic section tells how David became king of Judah, then king of all Israel, in a series of military victories and with an extraordinary promise from God. But troubles followed his triumphs, and David’s life unraveled when he sinned with Bathsheba, arranged a murder, and watched his family come apart.

What’s the story behind the scene?

Instead of writing only about David’s strengths, the author also needed to show David’s weaknesses. Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings contain lessons for Israel that were brought together some time late in the seventh century B.C. They repeatedly describe what happens when individuals or groups of people don’t live up to their agreements with God. Israel had agreed to be faithful to the Lord (see Deut 7.12). Their peace and prosperity depended on it, but Israel failed again and again. The authors of these books struggled to understand who was to blame for the division of Israel, its defeat by two powerful kingdoms in the east, and its eventual exile into Babylonia.

Key to understanding 2 Samuel is the agreement God made with David (7.16). God promised David that one of his descendants would always be king. This promise led the people of Israel to expect a messiah, or “chosen one.” Later, when David’s line was interrupted by the capture of Jerusalem (2 Kgs 25.7), people wondered how God would continue to keep the promise he made to David. In later generations, several of Israel’s prophets would speak of a new king descended from David (Jer 33.15; Dan 9.25). In New Testament times Jesus’ early apostles understood Jesus to be this new king (Acts 2.30; Rom 1.3,4).

How is 2 Samuel constructed?

2 Samuel can be divided into two major sections—one for David’s triumphs and one for his troubles. Added to these is a third section of other stories about David.

  1. David’s triumphs (1.1—10.19)
    1. David mourns for Saul and Jonathan (1.1-27)
    2. Israel’s two kings (2.1—4.12)
    3. David unites all of Israel (5.1—6.23)
    4. God’s promise to David (7.1-29)
    5. David defeats Israel’s enemies (8.1—10.19)
  2. David’s troubles (11.1—20.26)
    1. David sins and suffers because of it (11.1—12.31)
    2. Violence tears David’s family apart (13.1—14.33)
    3. Absalom challenges his father (15.1—19.43)
    4. Sheba’s rebellion (20.1-26)
  3. Other stories about David (21.1—24.25)
    1. A famine in Israel (21.1-14)
    2. Other victories (21.15-22)
    3. David’s songs (22.1—23.7)
    4. David’s warriors (23.8-39)
    5. David’s sin brings an angel of destruction (24.1-25)

David’s Triumphs

David rises to power by first becoming king of his own tribe of Judah, then of all Israel. He makes Jerusalem the capital of the united kingdom, defeats Israel’s enemies, and fulfills the promise he made to Jonathan.

David Mourns for Saul and Jonathan

Israel’s Two Kings

The people of Judah pour oil on David’s head to show they have chosen him as their king, but Saul’s son Ishbosheth claims his father’s throne. Abner, the commander of Saul’s army offers to help unite all of Israel under David, but is killed by David’s army commander Joab before he can bring this about. Some time after Abner’s death King Ishbosheth is also assassinated.

David Unites All of Israel

The leaders of the northern tribes accept David as king. David leads a united Israel in capturing Jerusalem from the Jebusites and in fighting the Philistines. With Jerusalem secure, David and his soldiers go to Kiriath-Jearim to get the sacred chest and bring it to his new capital.

God’s Promise to David

With Israel at peace, God makes a promise to David. The Lord tells David that one of his descendants will always be king and that David’s son, not David, will be the one to build a temple for the Lord.

David Defeats Israel’s Enemies

David defeats the Philistines and conquers many of the neighboring nations, including Moab, the Aramean kingdom, and Edom. But David is kind to Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson, because of a promise he made to Jonathan.

David’s Troubles

David has been successful in uniting the tribes of Israel and in defeating its many enemies. But when David commits sin by sleeping with Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of Uriah, and then arranges for Uriah’s death in battle, his fortunes change. From this point on, David begins to have problems within his own family, especially from his son Absalom.

David Sins and Suffers because of It

While David’s soldiers are off fighting the Ammonites, David sins by sleeping with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. When she becomes pregnant, David tries to hide his sin by sending Uriah off to battle where he will be killed. But the Lord knows what David has done, and sends the prophet Nathan to the king to tell him what his punishment will be.

Violence Tears David’s Family Apart

Absalom Challenges His Father

David’s son Absalom tries to undermine David by winning the favor of the northern tribes, and David is soon forced to flee from Jerusalem. When war breaks out between the soldiers of Absalom and David in Ephraim Forest, Absalom is killed against the king’s wishes by David’s commander, Joab. David mourns the death of his son, but eventually returns to Jerusalem and tries to reunite Israel and Judah.

Sheba’s Rebellion

A Benjaminite named Sheba leads a group of Israelites in a new rebellion against David. Joab and his best soldiers pursue Sheba to the town of Abel Beth-Maacah where a wise woman saves her city from destruction by having the rebel beheaded.

Other Stories About David

The last four chapters of 2 Samuel are a loose collection of stories and songs drawn from different periods of David’s life.

A Famine in Israel

Saul’s guilt had become a curse on Israel that had resulted in famine. For this curse to be removed, the Gibeonites would have to ask the Lord to be kind to Israel.

Other Victories

David’s Songs

Two poems celebrate God’s promise to be faithful.

David’s Warriors

David inspires brave deeds and unquestioning loyalty among his soldiers.

David’s Sin Brings an Angel of Destruction

God sends a horrible disease against Israel because David counted his troops. The plague does not stop until David buys Araunah’s threshing place, builds an altar, and makes a sacrifice there.

Questions about 2 Samuel 1.1—10.19

1. What did David do when he heard about Saul and Jonathan’s deaths? (chapter 1) Do you think he was sincere? Why or why not? What kinds of loss have you experienced? How did you express your sorrow?

2. 1 Samuel tells about how God rejected Saul as king and chose David, rather than one of Saul’s sons, to be the next king (1 Sam 16.1-13). After Saul died, what kept David from taking his place as God’s chosen king? (2 Sam 1–4).

3. Three of David’s rivals died violently: Saul (1.5-17), Abner (3.22-39), and Ishbosheth (4.5-12). What was different about David’s reaction to each of their deaths?

4. In chapters 5 and 6 David becomes king of Israel, captures Jerusalem, and brings the sacred chest to Jerusalem. How are these events related and what do they signify? How do the people react when the sacred chest is brought to Jerusalem? What important events do you celebrate? How do you celebrate them?

5. What is the important message the Lord’s prophet Nathan brings to David in chapter 7? How is the agreement the Lord is making with David different from the one the Lord made with Saul? What will the relationship be between the Lord and one of David’s sons? What will this son do for the Lord?

6. Re-read David’s prayer of thanks to the Lord (7.18-29). What key points does he make about what God is like and what he has done for his chosen people Israel? Notice how many times the words “promise” and “forever” occur in this passage. What do these words mean to you?

7. Who were Mephibosheth and Ziba? (9.1-13). What did David do for them? What was David’s motive?

8. How did King Hanun of Ammon insult David? (chapter 10) How did David respond?

Questions about 2 Samuel 11.1—20.26

1. Re-read the story of David and Bathsheba (chapter 11). What did David do wrong? How did he make things worse? How did the prophet get David to confess his guilt? (12.1-15). What happened as a result of David’s sin?

2. Both Saul and David disobeyed God at points in their lives. Compare 1 Sam 13.11-14 and 2 Sam 12.13-14. How were the punishments similar and different? Why do you think that was?

3. Part of the Lord’s message that Nathan delivered to David was, “Because you wouldn’t obey me . . . your family will never live in peace” (12.10). What are David’s “family problems” as described in chapters 13 through 16? How did David react to each of these problems? Do you agree with the choices he made in each case? Why or why not?

4. Why do you think Joab had so much influence over David? (Some passages you may want to look at before answering are 3.19-31; 11.6-26; 12.26-30; 14.1-3,19-24,28-33; 18.4-17; 19.4-8; 20.7-22.) Who do you turn to for advice and support when you have difficult decisions to make? How do you know that person is trustworthy?

5. In 1 and 2 Samuel there are many examples of agreements and promises that people made with one another, and that God made with people. How did David treat the agreement he made with Jonathan in 1 Sam 20.11-17 when dealing with Jonathan’s son Mephibosheth? Re-read chapter 9 for background, then read 16.1-4 and 19.24-30. What kinds of promises or agreements have you made with other people? When, if ever, do you feel it is okay to break an agreement you’ve made with someone? Why? What keeps you from breaking an agreement you’ve made? What do you do when someone breaks a promise they made you?

Questions about 2 Samuel 21.1—24.25

1. What happened because Saul broke a promise the Israelites had made to the Gibeonites? (21.1-9). What did David do to make things right? How do you feel about this? When someone does something that harms another person today, what kind of punishment do you think is appropriate? What can a society do to see that justice is done and all people are treated fairly?

2. Re-read the key passages in 2 Samuel that deal with mourning for the dead: (a) David mourns for Saul and Jonathan, 1.17-27, (b) David mourns for Abner, 3.28-39, (c) David mourns for his infant son, 12.16-23, (d) David mourns for Amnon, 13.30—14.24, (e) David mourns for Absalom, 18.33—19.8, (f) Rizpah mourns for her relatives who were executed, 21.10. How are these stories similar? How are they different? Have you experienced the loss of a loved one? If so, how did you mourn? Where did you find your comfort?

3. Re-read 21.17. Make a list of David’s qualities that you think led to the devotion and honor his soldiers give him. What do these qualities have to do with David’s relationship with God? Read what David has to say about himself in 22.21-25. Does this sound like boasting? Why or why not? What qualities do you have that might inspire respect from other people? How can improving your relationship with God improve your relationships with friends, family, and co-workers?

4. Why did David want to count the people of Israel and Judah? (24.1-17). What did Joab say when David told him that he wanted to do this? (verse 3) How did David feel afterwards? (verse 10) What message did the prophet Gad bring to David and how did David respond? Look back through 2 Samuel for an example of David asking for, trusting, and following God’s direction. How was this different from the time David counted the people?

5. David was a great leader of the people of Israel and a man who put his trust in God, yet he was guilty of many sins. Why do you think God continued to forgive David? What does this tell you about God?

Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for nearly 200 years.

Help us share God's Word where needed most.

Give Now

Sign up to receive regular email updates from the Bible Resource Center.

Related Resources