2 Samuel

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Invitation to 2 Samuel

For details on the authorship, date, text, and themes of 2 Samuel, see the introduction to the commentary on 1 Samuel.

Having been anointed all the way back in 1 Samuel 16, the second half of 1 Samuel has recounted David’s patient waiting to ascend the throne as successor to the rejected king Saul. The suffering and trials he endure, not only from the enemies of Israel (Philistines) but even at the hand of his “anointed” (mashiakh) predecessor, make his “ascent” an exodus of sorts. Thus we have followed his journeys through the wilderness, where he hides and waits with the Lord’s protecting presence until such time as the Lord will bring him into his kingdom in the Promised Land.

It is this latter event of “entering the kingdom” that begins in the opening chapter of 2 Samuel upon the death of Saul. Nonetheless, like Israel’s entrance into the land, so also David’s establishment of his kingdom requires that he lead a Joshua-like “driving out” of the nations in the midst of the Promised land. David does this by completing the settlement and expansion in the Promised Land where Joshua left off (Judg 1:27–36), symbolically completed by David’s taking of Jerusalem (2Sam 5:6–10). Having established the kingdom of God (i.e., Israel) in peace, and having demonstrated the character that the Lord’s desired king “after his own heart” ought to exhibit (with only minor hints of imperfection along the way), the Lord enters into an everlasting covenant with David, promising that the ultimate Messiah King would be a “son of David” (2Sam 7).

Nonetheless, as the narrative continues to unfold, and David shows himself to be merely human (i.e., weak and sinful; e.g., 2Sam 11), we begin to recognize the picture the Lord is giving for what should be expected of the coming ultimate King of Israel and Son of David. He would be like David in his glory and power, but unlike David in his weakness and sin, with all of the misery it brings on the kingdom as the cursed consequence of sin (2Sam 12–18). The king the Lord’s people need—the expectation of whom is carefully curated in the narratives of 2 Samuel—is one who will be without his own sin (Heb 4:15), who has all power and authority to keep his straying people (like Joab and David’s sons) from destroying the peace of his kingdom (Dan 7:14; Matt 11:27; 28:28; 1Cor 15:47; Col 2:10; 1Pet 3:22), and who has everlasting life himself so that he can sit on the eternal throne promised him (2Sam 7:13, 16). Of course, in the fullness of time, this Davidic, Messianic King, whose expectation is cultivated in the revelation of King David and the Lord’s covenant with him in 2 Samuel, is revealed to be the Son of God incarnate, Jesus the Christ (i.e., “anointed one” or in Hebrew mashiakh), the Son of David (Matt 1:1; Luke 1:32–33; John 7:42; Rom 1:3; 2Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16).


To show that the true King of Israel who will finally establish the Kingdom of God forever will be the coming Son of David from whom the covenant favor (khesed) of the Lord will never depart (2Sam 7:12–16).

Key Verses

“I will raise up your seed after you who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”

— 2 Samuel 7:12–13 ESV


[Continued from 1 Samuel]

B. True Kingship in Exaltation / Covenant Ideal (1:1–10:19)

i. Royal Coronation Inaugurated (LORD’s – 1:1–27)

ii. Royal Commission (People’s – 2:1–2:7)

iii. Royal Confirmation (People’s – 2:8–4:12)

iv. Royal Coronation (People’s – 5:1–16)

v. Royal Coronation Consummated (LORD’s – 5:17–10:19)

The Davidic Covenant

Kingdom Consummation in Types and Shadows

C. True Kingship in Exile / Covenant Curse (2Sam 11:1–18:33)

i. Fall into Sin (2Sam 11:1–12:31)

ii. Fallout of Sin – “The Sword Shall Not Depart” (2Sam 13:1–15:12)

iii. Exile to the East (2Sam 15:13–18:33)

D. True Kingship in Expectation / Covenant Hope (2Sam 19:1–24:25)

True Kingship in Exaltation / Covenant Ideal (1:1–10:19)

In these opening chapters of 2 Samuel, David begins his public ascent to the throne before the people, already having been spiritually designated as king by the Lord (1Sam 16) and having demonstrated his capability and commitment to serve the Lord faithfully even through severe tests and trials (1Sam 17–31). Where Saul’s enthronement succeeded before the people (1Sam 11–12) only to see his spiritual “enthronement” before the Lord aborted due to his covenantal failures (1Sam 13–15), David succeeds first spiritually before being outwardly recognized by the people and ascending the throne publicly before them (2Sam 1–5). Only after this is his spiritual enthronement then consummated with God’s rich blessings of glory on him and his kingdom (2Sam 6–10).

Royal Coronation Inaugurated (LORD’s – 1:1–27)

Having been anointed or “commissioned” by the Lord in 1 Samuel 16, and having confirmed his kingship in patiently waiting on the Lord’s timing and carefully observing the Lord’s commands in 1 Samuel 17–30, here David is given Israel’s crown (2Sam 1:10). This “coronation” occurs first “privately” in a very humble moment of sadness and grief as he and his men learn of Israel’s great defeat in battle (1Sam 31). Following the understanding here of the three “stages” of ANE ascent to the throne (commission/anointing, confirmation, coronation), for both Saul and David as Israel’s kings there are two parallel “tracks” to the throne—one “private” before the Lord, and one “public” before the people. For a “king like all the nations,” only the latter public ascent is needed, and that is the only one that Saul ultimately succeeds in as he fails to confirm his private anointing before the Lord by not “doing what his hand found to do” with the Philistines (1Sam 10:7). For David as the king “after the Lord’s own heart” (1Sam 13:14), however, his private ascent to the throne before the Lord will be completed before he even begins his public ascent (2Sam 2:4; 5:3). With the death of Saul, David becomes the only “anointed one” (mashiakh) in Israel, but although this was known by some others (1Sam 16:13; 18:4; 20:14–16; 23:17; 24:20 [24:21 in Hebrew]; 25:30), so far he has only been privately anointed or commissioned (1Sam 16) and has only confirmed his fitness for kingship spiritually before the Lord. Here in 2 Samuel 1, then, his “spiritual ascent before the Lord” reaches its completion as he literally receives the crown of Israel from Saul.

1:1–10 Although written as one narrative work or “book,” 1–2 Samuel may never have existed in one document, presumably being written on two different scrolls due to its length from its earliest draft (see Introduction to 1–2 Samuel). Thus, 1:1 summarizes where we are at this mid-point in the story, namely, after Saul’s death (1Sam 31) and David’s defeat of the Amalekites (1Sam 30) and his return in peace for a few days of recovery in Ziklag (1Sam 27, 29). He and his men have just traveled for four days or so (1Sam 30:1, 17), with a long battle toward the end of that journey (30:17), and have now gotten two days to recover a bit (1:1), having just been reunited to their spouses and children (1Sam 30:18–19). In this context, a man dressed in the garb of mourning (“his garments were torn and dirt was upon his head”; cf. 1:11; 1Sam 4:12; 2Sam 15:32) comes “from the camp of Saul,” bowing before David (2Sam 1:2). Between his appearance and the 100-mile (161 km) journey he has just made, David could expect bad news, which he gets in 1:3–4. David may already recognize something is amiss, as he presses for further details to ensure the veracity of the account (1:5). Maybe the man’s mourning attire raises suspicion, as one mourning Saul would hardly seek out David, whom Saul had persecuted relentlessly, unless he has something to gain from the news, which this man believes he does. His account of Saul’s death (1:6–10) contradicts at important points the earlier account of the divinely inspired narrator (1Sam 31), which enables us as readers to recognize it for the lie that it is. Yet even from David’s more limited vantage point in the text, the Amalekite’s testimony has some holes. How would someone “by chance happen to be on Mount Gilboa” where a brutal battle was waging (2Sam 1:6), let alone behind a fleeing Saul (1:7)? With the enemy forces closing in around him, how was the Amalekite able to plunder the fallen king and steal away with the prizes of battle—Saul’s crown and royal armlet (1:10)?

1:11–16 One can imagine that most of David’s camp may not have paid too much attention to this disheveled refugee, until he mentioned his Amalekite patronage as part of his story (1:8). At this point one can assume everyone stopped and turned their heads to pay attention, given their most recent encounter with Amalekites (1Sam 30). Now with everyone’s attention, the Amalekite can be pictured holding out the crown and armlet to David with a self-assured smugness, knowing he must surely receive a handsome reward from the king (2Sam 1:10). The king’s response in 1:11 must therefore have puzzled the Amalekite, as David leads his entire “kingdom” in a whole day of mourning for the death of Saul and Jonathan and Israel’s loss in battle (1:11–12). It could be that the continuing narrative in 1:13 took place right after 1:11 (i.e., before the arrival of the evening mentioned in 1:12) or that they waited until evening came to deal with the Amalekite. David shows his care for justice, in first ensuring whether the Amalekite should have known lawful behavior in Israel since he is a foreigner (1:13). Yet after hearing he was a resident alien or “sojourner” who should have known better (1:14), David condemns him for his treason and has him executed (1:15) while the king pronounces his guilty verdict over him (1:16). Of course, this Amalekite’s self-confessed crime of having “killed the Lord’s Messiah” is the confession that ought to be on the lips of all of Christ’s people, whose sin has required his life to be given in our place in order to save us (Isa 53; 1Pet 2:22–25).

1:17–27 First and Second Samuel are structurally built around songs—Hannah’s hymn (1Sam 2:1–10), David’s lament for Saul and Jonathan here (2Sam 1:17–27), and David’s songs of deliverance and ascension (2Sam 22; 23:1–7). David’s “lament” (qina) in 1:17–27, therefore, marks the midpoint in the narrative. Having just received the crown of Israel (1:10) and thus being “privately” coronated before the Lord, one might expect celebration, feasting, and praise (cf. 1Sam 11:15). Yet instead, this moment is marked by a memorialized lament (1:17–18). In context this shows that often the Lord works mightily to move his kingdom forward in the life of his people through trials and grief (as indeed is true in the great life and work of our “anointed one” [mashiakh], Jesus Christ; 1Pet 4).

The song is called “a bow” (qeshet) in the MT (1:18), though the LXX lacks that word, leaving some translations to omit it as well (ESV, NRSV; cf. KJV, NIV, NASB). Titling it “bow” may have served to highlight Jonathan as its focus, as the only reference to a bow in the song is in 2 Samuel 1:22, where David sings that “the bow of Jonathan did not turn back.” While we do not know much about “the Book of Jashar” (or lit. “the Book of the Upright”; 1:18), it may be that this was a book of songs (and perhaps stories) of Israel’s heroes (Josh 10:13).1 The song is a beautiful poem in many respects, as it deeply mourns the loss of Israel’s first king and his son, who was beloved by David (2Sam 1:26).2 The inclusio bemoaning “how the mighty have fallen” (1:19, 25, 27) may be a reference to Saul and Jonathan’s prowess in Israel’s warfare against her enemies (1Sam 11, 14–15), though in the present context they had not appeared so “mighty” in battle (1Sam 31). On the other hand, in the broader sweep of redemption this refrain has significance for all of us insofar as Saul echoes the First Adam as one who received kingship under probation (Gen 2:15–17) and who broke covenant so as to lose his kingdom (1Sam 15; Gen 3). We all can achingly bemoan the sadness of the destruction and loss of our slain “glory” or “beauty” (2Sam 1:19) as image-bearers of almighty God our King as we see the effects of the fall in our original sin and corruption. Seeing this regularly exhibited in our sinful attitudes and actions, we can lament, “How the mighty have fallen!”

David’s deep lament here also serves as a beautiful picture of the expunging grace of our Messianic King, Jesus. Despite Saul’s hatred of him and constant persecution, David writes a beautiful lament for all of Israel to memorize and thereby continually memorialize her first king (1:18; 24). In leaving out all of Saul’s failures and follies, David in a sense “expunges” Saul’s record of sin that it might be “remembered no more” (Jer 31:34; Heb 8:12; 10:17). So despite Saul’s wickedness toward David, he will live on forever as honored in the hearts, minds, and songs of the people of Israel. How could David do this? Because as he looked out on the battlefield of Gilboa and saw Saul lying dead, he saw Jonathan at his side (“in life and in death they were not divided”; 1:23). So also, as by faith we are united to the truly righteous Son, Jesus Christ, our record of sin is expunged and only our good is remembered as the Father looks on our life as hidden with Christ (Col 3:3; 1Jn 3:1–3). As Vannoy puts it, “David’s conduct on this occasion points forward to the coming Messiah who would pray for those who crucified him (Luke 23:34), who would reconcile his chosen ones to the Father even when they were his enemies (Rom 5:8), and who would exhort his followers to love their enemies and pray for those who persecuted them (Matt 5:44; Luke 6:27–36)” (271–72).

Royal Commission (People’s – 2:1–2:7)

In the wake of Saul’s and Jonathan’s deaths, David stands as the only “anointed one” (Hebrew mashiakh) in Israel. While his commission from the Lord (1Sam 16) is finally recognized publicly by the people of Judah here in 2 Samuel 2:4, it also is contested by the line of the “king like the nations” (i.e., Saul) that leads to a lengthy, sad civil war in Israel (2Sam 2–4). Given the character of Israel in the OT as the people of God is as the church of Jesus Christ today, the warnings and lessons of these texts apply less to our current national, geopolitical contexts and instead should be seen as relating to our conflicts within the church and among the people of God.

2:1–7 David shows himself to be a king after the Lord’s own heart (vs. like the nations) in not making major moves as king without consulting the Lord (2:1). The Lord’s directing David to Hebron (2:2) was humanly strategic, since at 3,000 feet above sea level, Hebron was a formidable military outpost in Judah. But it also had redemptive historical significance since it was in Judah and had a long history in the life of the patriarchs. Hebron was the place of Abraham’s sole possession in the Promised Land during his lifetime (Gen 23:17–20) and was the burial place of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah (Gen 25:9–10; 49:29–32; 50:13). It was also a city visited by the Israelite spies (Num 13:22), known for its giants (Josh 14:15) yet taken by Caleb in the conquest (Josh 14:6–15), and a city of refuge (Josh 21:11–13). As soon as David reenters Judah and is anointed king over his tribe (2Sam 2:3–4), he goes about seeking to establish his rule over all of Israel. He begins by extending royal blessing to the tribe who had shown greatest loyalty to Saul, the Jabesh-gileadites (2:4b–7). While some commentators question David’s motives, suggesting he is being pragmatic and power-grabbing here, given the Lord’s anointed purpose for David to be the leader of his people Israel (see 5:2), David’s moves here can instead be seen as acts of faith in pursuit of the Lord’s purposes and plans. As we will see in what follows, however, David will continue to face opposition to his rule from the non-Judahite tribes of Israel for some seven years to come (2:11; 5:5).

Royal Confirmation (People’s – 2:8–4:12)

Despite David’s “divine right” to the throne of Israel—having been designated king by the Lord and recognized as such by the tribe of Judah—the Lord’s anointed faces continued opposition to his reign here from the other eleven tribes. Abner, who has served as Saul’s general, can see David’s weakness in his exile in Ziklag and his limited acceptance by his own family’s tribe, Judah. Having led all twelve tribes in battle for years, Abner recognizes an opportunity to step into a powerful role in Israel as de facto ruler by setting up Saul’s weak son, Ish-bosheth, as a puppet king. This, however, unleashes a civil war between the eleven northern tribes of Israel and the tribe of Judah (cf. Judg 20).

2:8–11 The power dynamics between Saul’s mighty general, Abner, and Saul’s fourth son, Ish-bosheth (lit. “man of shame”; probably a euphemistic interpretation of his given name, Eshbaal, meaning “man of Baal”), are on full display here. Despite the fact that Saul’s surviving son Ish-bosheth is forty years old (2:10), he is utterly passive in his coronation as Abner takes him, brings him over to Mahanaim (in the Transjordan region far to the northeast and across the Jordan from the Philistines and David’s center of power in Hebron), and makes him king (2:8–9). Ish-bosheth’s illegitimacy to rule God’s people may be implied by how his reign is described as being “to Gilead, to the Ashurites, to Jezreel, over Ephraim, over Benjamin, and over Israel—all of it” (2:9). In contrast, the author highlights that Judah specifically is not following Ish-bosheth but, rather, following God’s true king, David (2:10–11).

2:12–17 Abner’s move with his military (i.e., “the servants of Ish-bosheth”) southward from Mahanaim to Hebron is mentioned first (2:12), suggesting that Abner is the aggressor here. Joab and the servants of David, however, meet them at Gibeon (2:13), implying that they may have been the instigators, since they were comfortable moving deep into Saul’s own territory. The standoff at the pool sets up a battle of champions reminiscent of the earlier episode with Goliath (1Sam 17), though here it is between factions within the people of God. Rather than seeking to peacefully build the Lord’s kingdom with wisdom, faith, reliance on God, and obedience to his laws, Abner and Joab act the part of pagan military leaders (e.g., the Philistines) and brutally propose a deadly battle to sort out their dispute (2Sam 2:14; cf. 1Cor 6:1–8). Their callousness to violence is evident from their language, proposing that the young men arise and literally “entertain” or “make merry” before them (Hebrew skhq). The fact that both of them choose twelve men (2:15) drives home the point that this is a brutal battle between the Lord’s people, since the people of God are regularly represented by the number twelve in Scripture (e.g., the twelve tribes of Israel, the twelve disciples, etc.). God does not, however, “bless” their contest with a result, instead allowing the men to tear each other apart so that the location was memorialized as “Field of Flints” (as in knives, or by a minor emendation, “Field of Sides”; 2:16). Fierce battle ensues (2:17) in which the Lord protects the men of David such that they lose only twenty of Joab’s men (2:30), whereas Abner’s losses number 360!

2:18–32 Having already summarized the result of the day’s battle (2:17), the narrator takes us back to the period when the initial battle of champions had failed and the chaos of civil war ensued. First, it is noted that not only Joab was present, but his two brothers were as well—Abishai (1Sam 26:5–12; 2Sam 18:2, 5, 12; 21:15–17; 23:18–19) and Asahel (2Sam 23:24), together with Joab, the “three sons of Zeruiah” (2:18). All three were warriors in their own right, as can be seen from their roles and mentions elsewhere (2Sam 23:18–19, 24). But here, swift Asahel becomes the focus since it is his death in battle that is recounted. Like his brother Joab, he seems to have some ambitious aspirations himself, being laser-focused on hunting down Abner like prey (2:19). Although no motivation for Asahel’s actions is provided, one can imagine that to strike down Abner, the commander of the enemy army, would offer bragging rights and bring him warrior’s glory. Whatever Asahel’s motivation, despite Abner’s pleading with him to turn aside from his pursuit (2:20–22), even “offering” one of his other men as alternate spoil for Asahel (2:21), the latter “refused to turn aside” (2:23). Despite Abner’s concern that Joab would take it as a personal affront (2:22; cf. 3:26–30), he is forced to defend himself from Asahel by spearing him with the “butt of his spear” (2:23). While the butt of the spear may have been sharpened or had a sharp metal-cap point to stick it in the ground (1Sam 26:11), the added note that it “came out behind him” implies that this is somewhat unexpected and probably due both to Abner’s strength and Asahel’s speed. The sadness and shock of Asahel’s fall is apparent to all, who come to a stop at the sight (2:23).

By evening Abner’s flight with the Benjaminites seems to have found some high ground atop the hill of Ammah (“hill of the canal”) from which to take another stand (2:24–25). Abner’s call for peace appeals to Joab to recognize not only how bitter the ongoing conflict will be for both sides, but also the fact that the tribes are “brothers” (2:26). At this reminder Joab calls off the hunt (2:28) and allows Abner and his men to go back to the northeast Mahanaim across the Jordan (2:29).3 Sadly, the conflict between the tribes here represents an internal conflict among the people of God that too often continues to characterize the church today. Instead, the call for God’s people today is to pursue peace through humble forgiveness of one another even as we have all been forgiven in Christ (Heb 12:14; 1Pet 2:21–25; cf. Ps 133:1).The

3:1 The resolution of the daylong conflict at Gibeon recounted in 2 Samuel 2:12–32 was apparently short-lived, as 3:1 offers a summary of a longer lasting civil war between the “house of Saul” and the “house of David.” Not surprisingly—given the Lord’s promises and presence with David—he grows “stronger and stronger,” while Saul’s house grows ever weaker. As the chapter unfolds, however, we see that both sides of this conflict appear to be seeking strength according to the principles and powers of this world rather than pursuing the advancement of the Kingdom of God as should be done, namely, by faith in God and by following his Law.

3:2–5 This-worldly kingdom-building is first implied in the description of David’s dynastic “strength” in the Hebron genealogy of David in 3:2–5. Having many sons makes one’s dynasty “strong,” as it assures there will be descendants to populate the throne and the halls of power long into the future. Nonetheless, the many wives whom David is shown to have amassed raises the concern that he is strengthening himself by means of earthly power and acting more as a king “like the nations” rather than “after the Lord’s heart,” especially in light of the specific prohibition in God’s Law (Deut 17:17). Not surprisingly, therefore, many of the sons mentioned who are born out of these forbidden alliances will not ultimately prosper David’s dynasty, but end up bringing heartache and trouble upon the kingdom, including Amnon, who will rape his half-sister Tamar (2Sam 13), Absalom, who will lead a civil war against David (2Sam 15–18), and Adonijah, who will vie for the throne against his half-brother Solomon (1Kgs 1–2).

3:6–11 David is not alone in his attempt to build the Kingdom of God by earthly means, however. In 3:2–5 we see this as well in Abner, who evidences blind ambition in his quest for power and prominence among the people of God. He appears to be the power behind Ish-bosheth’s “throne,” the latter appearing to be more of a “puppet-king.” Thus, Abner “makes himself strong” (3:6) even while Saul’s house is growing weaker (3:1). The text does not say if Abner actually slept with Rizpah, Saul’s concubine (3:7), but the implication is that he probably did. This would have been a very worldly way of “strengthening himself” vis-à-vis Ish-bosheth (3:6), and it would explain Ish-bosheth’s accusation (3:7), which would otherwise be out of character given his apparent weakness (3:11). This suggests the allegation is grounded in fact. Abner’s response is not technically a denial of the charge (3:8) and further implies that he is probably guilty of it. His quick abandonment (3:9–10) of Ish-bosheth also seems extreme if there was no basis to the accusation. Abner’s response to Ish-bosheth in 3:9–10 does, however, prove that they are in conscious defiance of the Lord’s will, since Abner clearly recognizes the Lord has “sworn” to “establish the throne of David over Israel and over Judah, from Dan unto Beersheba” (3:9–10).

3:12–16 Abner’s affront at Ish-bosheth’s accusation drives him to try to join David, so he sends messengers to David “in his place” (meaning either on his behalf or in the place where David is, i.e., Hebron; 3:12). Continuing in the vein of approaching the Kingdom of God by earthly means, David responds to Abner’s offer of entering into covenant (3:12) with the demand for him to bring Michal, Saul’s daughter, with him (3:13). Of course, this makes political sense, since it appears that after David had paid quite the bride-price for her (3:14; 1Sam 18:20–29), Saul had wrongly taken her from him and married her off to Palti of Laish (1Sam 25:44). Interestingly, after demanding Michal from Abner, David seems to address his demand directly to Ish-bosheth (2Sam 3:14), who again weakly appeases him—and quite promptly at that (3:15). While David may be in his rights to demand the return of Michal, the worldly harshness of this act is reflected in the sad account so tersely summarized by the narrator in 3:16. Abner drags Michal to Hebron with her husband “weeping along after her up to Bahurim” (where David will later suffer at the hands of Shimei; 2Sam 16:15), at which point Abner sends him home.

3:17–21 As Abner goes back to the elders of the northern tribes to persuade them to submit to David, we find him admitting that, apparently, they had been wanting to join David for some time (3:17) and that he knew the Lord’s promise was for David to lead his people (3:18). Although the text does not say, it might be that Abner has specifically been thwarting their desire and working against the Lord’s selection of David. His self-interest and ambition here may be what drive him to insert himself as the broker of the unification of the tribes. We see him doing this as he “spoke [the same things] also in the ears of Benjamin” (3:19) and then “also went to speak in the ears of David at Hebron all that was good in the eyes of Israel and in the eyes of the house of Benjamin.” For his part, David welcomes the peace deal and treats Abner to an ally’s feast (3:20), where Abner promises to complete the deal on David’s behalf (3:21).

3:22–30 Dramatic tension builds as the narrator mentions the arrival of Joab at Hebron shortly after Abner’s dismissal “in peace” (be-shalom) from David’s presence (3:22). The text does not mention Joab’s grudge against Abner for killing his brother Asahel until later (3:27, 30), but one can presume that this grudge motivates his distrust of Abner and consequent rebuke of David for allowing him to go “in peace” (3:23–25). The repeated description of Abner’s departure “in peace” (be-shalom) in verses 21, 22, and 23 seem to be driving home the prospect that David and Abner’s reconciling covenant could have brought quick peace without bloodshed. As such it sets in stark relief Joab’s bloodthirsty vengeance against Abner in what follows. Joab acts alone without David’s knowledge to summon Abner back to Hebron (3:26). Like Ish-bosheth, who had been a puppet king with the real power behind his throne being his father’s mighty general, Abner, here David’s mighty general Joab seems to be able to act contrary to the king without much more than a stern reprimand (3:29). Joab’s suspicion of deceit in Abner (3:24–25) may have been driven by a projection of his own character, given how we see Joab deceiving Abner into going with him into the gate to speak “in private” (3:27). There Joab strikes Abner “in the stomach” (khomesh) just as Abner had struck Joab’s brother Asahel (2:23). In 1–2 Samuel, being struck in the stomach seems to be the mode of killing between fellow Israelites and not sanctioned by the Lord (2Sam 2:23; 3:27; 4:6; 20:10), whereas death by beheading occurs as the result of the Lord’s justice against his enemies (1Sam 5:4; 17:46, 51; 2Sam 4:7; 16:9; 20:22).4 In line with his worldly behavior in this chapter, David’s response to hearing of Abner’s death at Joab’s hands seems focused not on the injustice of it, but instead on its political optics (3:28; Asahel’s death was not technically “murder” as it took place in battle, whereas Abner’s was murder since it occurred in the context of being “in peace”). Rather than any real consequence, David merely curses the house of Joab (3:29) and demands that he mourn Abner’s death (3:31).

3:31–39 Once again, the beginning of David’s kingdom is marked by lament (cf. 2Sam 1:17–27), this time for Saul’s great general, Abner, whom David personally gives an honored burial in Hebron (3:31–32). Although he offers a lament for Abner like he did for Saul and Jonathan (3:33–34), even fasting for the day (3:35), it lacks some of the energy and passion of that former account with a mere few lines of poetry for Abner’s funeral song (3:34–35). While probably not totally insincere, the narrator goes into great detail showing the political effect of David’s grief (3:36–37) and David’s insistence on his own innocence (3:39). As commentators note, this raises questions about the purity of his motives. Nonetheless, the providential results of this account and what follows will be that the Lord brings the straying northern tribes into the united kingdom of David (5:1).

Reflecting back over 2 Samuel 3, we see a sad tale of the OT church, the people of God, as the tribes of Israel are at war with one another and seeking to “build” the Lord’s kingdom by worldly means. Ish-bosheth does it through appeasement, Abner through ambition, Joab through avengement, and David through aggrandizement of himself. As such they all offer warnings to the church today of how not to seek to build up the church. As we will see, however, despite the failure of his people, the Lord’s purposes will stand, and he will establish his kingdom under the Davidic dynasty by his own work in and through even sinful people like the men in this chapter (Phil 1:6). He does this through the better king, David’s greater son, Jesus Christ, who did not appease but rebuked the spiritual leaders of his day (Matt 23); who did not follow blind ambition, but sacrificed himself for the salvation his people (Phil 2); who did not seek personal avengement, but instead prayed for his persecutors (Matt 5:44; Luke 23:34); and who did not aggrandize himself, but instead “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant” in order to save his people and establish his eternal resurrection kingdom forever (1Pet 1:3–5; 2Pet 3:13).

4:1–4 With the death of Abner, what little “strength” there was in Ish-bosheth’s rival “kingdom” has all but completely dried up, and Ish-bosheth knows it (2Sam 3:1; 4:1). Ish-bosheth’s clear weakness is further illustrated by the mutiny that ensues in Abner’s absence. Baanah and Rechab are introduced as weak military captains, probably formerly under Abner’s command (4:2). The narrator’s description of these two highlights their relative “weakness” vis-à-vis Abner—they are glorified looters (“commanders of raiding bands,” sare-gedhudhim; cf. 1Sam 30:8, 15, 23). Furthermore, they are Benjaminite occupiers of Beeroth after the former inhabitants had fled (2Sam 4:3), implying that they are weak scavengers. The weakness of the house of Saul is then further driven home in the quick mention of the one other descendant of Saul, Mephibosheth, who is lame and unable to walk, let alone lead the tribes of the north (4:4).

4:5–12 The violent in-fighting among the people of God vying for worldly power even as their strength evaporates is further demonstrated in Rechab and Baanah’s violent and treasonous murder of their “king” Ish-bosheth while “he was lying in bed at noon” napping (4:5, 7). They enter the house, literally “as takers of wheat” (presumably under some sort of false pretense of being workers who were trusted to enter), and then strike him “in the stomach” (4:6; see comment on 3:22–30 above).5 In the narrator’s recapitulation of the murder in 4:7, the treacherousness of the two traitors is highlighted as the author elaborates on Ish-bosheth’s defenselessness (“he was lying on his bed, in his inner bedroom chamber”) as well as Rechab and Banaah’s utter brutality (“they struck him, and killed him, and beheaded him, and took his head . . . and brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David at Hebron”; 4:7–8). As David himself points out, if he was not impressed with one who merely claimed to have killed Saul (though he was actually killed by the Philistines; 1:1–16; cf. 1Sam 31:1–7), he is even less impressed with those who seek to ingratiate themselves to him by killing Saul’s weak son. Ish-bosheth hardly had strength to be considered a significant threat without Abner (2Sam 4:9–11). Rechab and Banaah’s characterization of Saul as David’s “enemy” is never echoed by David, who instead has continually called his predecessor “the Lord’s anointed” (mashiakh; e.g., 1:14). Despite Ish-bosheth’s willingness to set up a rival kingdom against the Lord’s current mashiakh (“anointed one”), David describes him as a “righteous man” (ʾish-tsaddiq) here. This may, however, be descriptive less of his overall life and behavior and more of his relative innocence and being undeserving of the treacherous act of his servants. Once again, David shows his justice as a king in having the murderers put to death (4:12) and having the appendages with which they committed their evil (their hands and feet) put on display as a warning, while he gives Ish-bosheth a proper royal funeral like he has done for Abner (3:32).

Whereas in chapter 3 David was reflecting worldly kingship in how he was establishing his kingdom, by chapter 4 he is once again reflecting the wisdom and justice of a king “after the Lord’s own heart.” As such he points us forward to his greater son, Jesus Christ, who establishes and administers his kingdom with perfect wisdom and justice. Yet the wisdom of Christ’s kingdom is the “folly” of the gospel (1Cor 1:18–2:16), and his justice is not fulfilled by punishing the sins of his people, but instead by him taking our place on the cross (2Cor 5:21) to fulfill all righteousness (Matt 3:15).

Royal Coronation (People’s – 5:1–16)

5:1–5 After Saul’s death, David’s kingship was only recognized by the tribe of Judah over which he ruled in Hebron (cf. 2Sam 2:1–7). Here in 2 Samuel 5, David finally begins to reign over the entire nation, as “all the tribes of Israel” gather to him and acknowledge the Lord’s promise for him to be “prince (naghidh) over Israel” (5:1–2). Finally coronated by the people as “king over Israel” (5:3), David is now referred to as “king” (melekh) and “King David” throughout this passage (5:3, 6) and is described as ruling or reigning (mlk) over Israel repeatedly (5:4, 5). This passage therefore marks the beginning of David’s God-ordained reign over Israel. The rest of the chapter (5:6–25) offers a compendium of snapshots summarizing David’s kingdom as the typological coming of the Kingdom of God, showing specifically how the Lord uses his chosen, messianic king to care for his people.

5:6–10 The first thing the narrator reports after describing the beginning of David’s reign over “all Israel” is his capture of the stronghold of Zion (2Sam 5:6–7). At the time, Zion was a small but heavily fortified city inhabited by Jebusites. It was located on the southeastern ridge of what would later become the temple mount of Jerusalem. From a political standpoint, Zion was ideally situated for a new seat of government. It was centrally located, and it belonged to neither Judah (David’s tribe) nor Benjamin (Saul’s tribe), being positioned on the border between the two. In addition, because the site was surrounded on three sides by deep valleys and was strongly fortified, it would provide Israel with a nearly impregnable national capital. The Jebusites’ arrogance and faulty confidence in the impregnability of Jerusalem leads them to mock King David (“the blind and the lame will ward you off”; 5:6 ESV). His swift defeat of the city with the Lord’s help (5:10), however, is reflected in the terse description of the conquest in 5:7. David’s “hatred” (snh) for the “lame and the blind” (5:8) should probably be read as a response to the Jebusites’ derision in 5:6, thus meaning something like “since you all will be forced to defend yourselves against us, then you must be the ‘blind and lame’ you were talking about, and we will defeat you as our enemies” (i.e., you are “hated” [snh] by David’s soul; 5:8).6 The proverb quoted in 5:8b (“the blind and the lame [pisseakh] will not come into the house”) must be interpreted alongside David’s welcoming lame (pisseakh) Mephibosheth into his “house” to dine at his table (2Sam 9:13), showing that he clearly does not “hate” lame people as a class. After taking Jerusalem, David fortifies it and earns the right for it to be called, among other things, the “City of David,” as he builds out the city from the Millo (i.e., stepped stone structure fortifying the steep slopes going from the city down into the surrounding valleys; 5:9).

Even though this accomplishment of David is described in only a few verses (5:6–10), its importance cannot be overstated. The establishment of Zion as David’s capital city had far reaching significance because from this time forward Zion would not only be the religious and political center of Israel, but it would also come to occupy a very important place in the history of both Judaism and Christianity and, indeed, in world history as well. Today, over 3,000 years after the time of David, Jerusalem has more geopolitical significance than any other city of the ancient world.

5:11–16 After recounting David’s establishment of himself at Jerusalem, we get two more vignettes of the success of his reign: being blessed and sustained by the Lord (5:12). First, the respect of Hiram king of Tyre is seen in his sending supplies for David to build his palace (5:11). Then David’s continued amassing of wives in Jerusalem is mentioned (5:13–16), not only echoing his behavior in Hebron (3:2–5), but also raising the ominous prospect that despite the Lord’s tremendous blessing of David and his reign, his kingship would be imperfect at best (cf. Deut 17:17). This anticipates a coming Messiah, or “anointed one,” who would be the truly faithful king obedient to all of God’s laws and usher his people into the eschatological kingdom of God, where they will be his one and only bride and object of his saving and everlasting love (Rev 19:7–8).

Royal Coronation Consummated (LORD’s – 5:17–10:19)

After describing the capture of Zion, 2 Samuel 5 launches the reader into a long series of narratives that describe the reign of David (2Sam 5–24; i.e., the remainder of 2 Samuel). Although these narratives depict something of the success of his reign, they do not conceal his personal failures (e.g., 5:13–16), nor do they hide the shortcomings and intrigues that plagued his family and his court (2Sam 11–19). Yet 2 Samuel 5–10 portrays a picture to foreshadow what God’s kingdom will look like in its consummated glory.

5:17–25 Up to this point, the purpose of God’s gift of kingship to Israel has been for the king to lead in defeating all of the Lord’s and his people’s enemies, who during this period in Israel’s history were primarily the Philistines. Thus, Saul was given the assignment to take on the Philistines (see comment on 1Sam 9:27–10:8 above), which he failed to do, eventually losing his place as the first of a royal Israelite dynasty. David, however, as the Lord’s chosen king, is faithful where Saul was not, as is recounted in these verses here. As soon as the Philistines get wind of David’s new status as king of the consolidated kingdom of Israel, they amass an army to attack (2Sam 5:17). In response, David “descended to the stronghold (metsudhah),” presumably so that the battle would not be waged in and around his fledgling capital city, Jerusalem. The exact location of “the stronghold” to which David goes in 5:17 is debated, but given the Philistines’ occupation of the coastlands toward the west and the description of David “descending” to reach the stronghold in order to encounter the Philistines in the “Valley of Rephaim” (5:18; location also a little unsure), one may presume that “the stronghold” was a fortified outpost along Israel’s western border with Philistia. Unlike Saul who often acted without consulting the Lord, David inquires of the Lord as to whether he should attack the Philistines and receives the Lord’s affirmative reply (5:19). With the Lord on his side, the victorious battle is swiftly recounted (5:20), and David credits the Lord with the victory by naming the place “Baal-perazim,” meaning “the lord of the breaches” (5:21). The ambiguous note in 5:21 that David and his men “carried” the Philistines’ abandoned idols (ʿatsabbim) raises the possibility of sinful failure on the part of David and his men, who ought to have destroyed them (Num 33:52; Deut 7:25–26). First Chronicles 14:12 clarifies that David “commanded and they burned them with fire” (presumably after first “carrying them off”), but in the narrative in 2 Samuel, the ambiguity of the Israelites’ action in 5:21 is probably meant to raise questions.

The Lord’s deliverance from opposition and difficulties in this life often only lasts for a time before his enemies regroup to raise opposition again. This is seen here as the Philistines gather once more and “spread out in the Valley of Rephaim” (5:22). In response to David’s inquiry of the Lord this time, he directs the Israelites to go around the Philistines to attack from the rear (5:23). This sets up a marvelous deliverance, where the Lord’s advance against the Philistines ahead of the armies of Israel would be known by the “sound of a march in the tops of the baca trees” (balsam trees? 5:24). Once again, the Lord’s presence with David and the armies of Israel brings a great victory over the Philistines, from “Geba to Gezer” (i.e., from the east to the west, deep into the heart of Philistine territory; 5:25). Thus, the point of this text is to show that the Lord’s chosen messianic king brings a reign of peace and safety to his people as he conquers “all his and our enemies” (Westminster Shorter Catechism QA #26).

6:1–2 Now that David has become the ruler over all of Israel, we are told in 1 Samuel 6 about an event with a close relationship to the theme of kingship and covenant on which 1–2 Samuel is centered—David’s decision to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Zion/Jerusalem, his newly acquired capital city. The significance of his bringing the ark to Jerusalem was that it demonstrates that he recognizes the Lord as Israel’s true sovereign and divine king.

When God gave Moses instructions for building the tabernacle (cf. Exod 25–27), the Ark of the Covenant was the very first component he described. It was a rectangular box made of acacia wood and covered with gold that measured 3.75 x 2.25 x 2.25 feet. It was to be placed behind a curtain in the “most holy place” into which the High Priest could enter only once a year on the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). In the space above the ark between the cherubs on either end of its cover, God’s dwelling in the midst of his people was localized in a special way. The Lord tells Moses in Exodus 25:22, “There I will meet with you, and from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubim that are on the ark of the testimony, I will speak with you about all that I will give you in commandment for the people of Israel.”

In numerous places in the OT, including here in 2 Samuel 6:2, the ark is referred to as the throne upon which the Lord is invisibly seated (1Sam 4:4; Ps 132:13–14). Additionally, the ark contained a copy of the laws God had given to Moses on Mt. Sinai. While still at Mt. Sinai, the Lord instructed Moses to place a copy of the Ten Commandments inside the ark (Exod 25:16, 21; 40:20; Deut 10:5). So among the symbolic functions of the ark, two of the most prominent were those of container and throne. As a box containing a copy of the Law of the God who was invisibly enthroned above it, the ark was a visible symbol of the Lord’s divine kingship over his people Israel. So by bringing the ark to Zion, David and the people of Israel are publicly acknowledging that the Lord is indeed their Great King.

After David brings the ark to Zion, this city comes to be known as the place where “the Lord had caused his name to dwell” (1Kgs 8:16, 29; 9:3). From this point forward numerous texts in the OT speak of Zion not only as David’s royal city, and the capital of the nation of Israel, but also as the place from which Israel’s divine king, the Lord, reigned, not only over Israel but over the entire earth as well (Pss 9:11; 76:2; 99:2; 132:13; Isa 8:18; Jer 8:19). According to biblical teaching Zion/Jerusalem, the dwelling place of Israel’s divine king, will continue to be a focal point of human history until the creation of a new heaven and new earth (Isa 2:1–5; 24:23; 60:14; 65:17–25; Joel 3:17, 21; Mic 4:2, 7; Zech 8:1–3). So while in 2 Samuel 6 David honors the Lord by affirming his kingly rule over the nation in a very visible and tangible way, we find in the very next chapter (2Sam 7) that the Lord responds and honors David by promising him a dynasty that would endure forever.

6:3–11 Although David’s desire for the ark to join him at Jerusalem was commendable, the narrator’s description of his first attempt at it is fraught with problems. First, there is the reference to Kiriath-jearim (“city of forests”; 1Sam 6:2) as Baale-judah (“baals of Judah”), the latter sounding a bit polytheistically pagan. Then, rather than carefully adhering to the Lord’s law that only Kohathites should carry the ark by its poles (Num 4:1–15), David follows the pagan example set by the Philistines who had sent the ark back from exile on a “new cart” (2Sam 6:3; cf. 1Sam 6:7). Uzzah and Ahio (or possibly “his brother”) may have been Levites, but the text does not make that clear, further raising the specter that they are not even qualified to transport the ark. In either case, they are not carrying the ark by its poles as God commanded but are walking beside and in front of it (2Sam 6:3–4). Given the gravity of the moment, the celebration is fitting (6:5), though it is swiftly brought to an end with Uzzah’s unconscionable brazenness in reaching out and “seizing” (ʾkhz) the ark because “the oxen had stumbled” (6:6).7

Modern readers tend to react to this “breakout” against Uzzah (memorialized in the name of the location as Perez-uzzah, lit. “break out of/against Uzzah”; 6:7; cf. 5:21), much like David does at first here, namely, with anger at the Lord’s severity (6:8). Nonetheless, such a response betrays not the Lord’s injustice, but our own tendency to minimize his holy righteousness and discomfort with his perfect justice. The Lord had clearly commanded his people how he should be honored, and Uzzah instead “does what is right in his own eyes” (cf. Deut 12:8; Judg 17:6; 21:25). While David’s first response is anger at the Lord, the text shows that he quickly seems to recognize the wrongness of that reaction, repentantly moving from anger into a more appropriate response of reverence and fear of the Lord (2Sam 6:9). Somewhat shockingly, he aborts bringing the ark into Jerusalem and leaves it in the house of a man with quite a non-Israelite name—Obed-edom (lit. “servant of Edom”; 6:10–11), who appears to be a Gittite (i.e., “Philistine man from Gath”) who had joined David during his sojourn there (1Sam 27; 2Sam 15:18, 19).

6:12–23 After three months with Obed-edom, during which time the Lord blesses his household (6:12), David seems reassured in his endeavor to bring the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem, though this time with proper adherence to the Law (as implied in the reference to those who “bore [nsʾ] the ark of the Lord”; 6:13). While nowhere in God’s laws does it require sacrifices to be made every seventh step (6:13), this seems like a “going above and beyond” to acknowledge the holiness of God and to show a recognition that his sinful people can only enjoy his presence through a substitutionary sacrifice for sin (6:17; Heb 5:1). Similarly, David’s and Israel’s behavior in 2 Samuel 6:14–15 is not specifically prescribed in the Law and should not be applied as prescriptive for our worship today. Instead, it reflects the humble joy and exuberant gratitude God’s people ought to have whenever the Lord draws near to us in grace and mercy.8 David’s behavior here illustrates what a king “after the Lord’s own heart” does when encountering the blessing of the Lord’s presence—he responds with overwhelming joy (“dancing with all his might”; 6:14, 16), humility (“wearing a linen ephod,” which was an apron-like garment presumably reflective of ministerial service, as it was worn by priests during sacrificial duty; Exod 28:4; 1Sam 2:18, 28; 14:3; 2Sam 6:14), and generously providing a feast for all of his people (6:18–19; cf. Esth 1:5).

In contrast, Michal reflects a view of kingship “like all the nations,” as she is continually referred to as “Saul’s daughter” throughout the passage (6:16, 20, 23). Such kingship looks with contempt on displays of humility before the Lord, instead demanding a continual show of power, glory, and a human king’s exalted status above others (in direct contrast to the commands for Israel’s kings the Lord gives in Deut 17:18–20). So as David comes home to bring the blessing of the feast to his own household last (having served the people first), Michal meets him with contemptuous sarcasm saying, “How the King of Israel has ‘honored’ (kbd) himself today, exposing himself (glh) before his servants’ maidservants (i.e., the lowest levels of society) like one of the plebians (ryq) ‘exposes himself’” (2Sam 6:20). While commentators debate how exactly to understand what Michal says here, since David is specifically described by the narrator as wearing a garment in 6:14 (i.e., a linen ephod), her accusation of him “exposing himself” should not be taken as a true description (as though David was actually naked or indecently clothed) but instead as her metaphoric description of how David’s humility before the Lord seemed like a debasement to her. Instead, in her view, the king should never let himself be seen to be too humble or “ordinary” before the servants and other “commoners” (hence the scare-quotes in my translation of her accusation above). David’s response may be sharper than necessary, and may even be reflective of some latent, wounded pride (“the Lord . . . chose me instead of your father or anyone in his house”; 6:21). Nonetheless, he stands firm in the appropriateness of his self-abasement before the Lord and seems to accuse Michal of not having as orthodox a perspective as “his servants’ maidservants,” whom he believes will actually honor (kbd) him in his humility before the Lord (6:22). The sad concluding note about Michal’s “barrenness” (see comments on 1:4–7 above) should be read theologically as portraying the eschatological end of this-worldly kingship in death and without any eternal hope.9

David’s role in this passage as the messianic king who joyfully humbles himself to bring the blessing of God’s presence to his people so clearly foreshadows our true Messiah King, Jesus. He is God’s presence incarnate as Immanuel ( “God with us”; Isa 7:14; Matt 1:23; 28:20) and the embodiment of all that the ark represented (containing inside it the heavenly manna that feeds the eternal feast, the budding staff of Aaron showing he would bring life from death, and the Law of God written on stone as it is written on Christ’s holy heart). Jesus is the sacrifice that enables us to draw near to God (Heb 10:12–13, 19–22), having reconciled us to him by the blood of the cross (Eph 2:13; Col 1:20).

The Davidic Covenant

This chapter (2Sam 7) is, in fact, the high point of the entire book of 1–2 Samuel. In verses 1–17 we have the establishment of the “Davidic Covenant,” the final and most clear administration or revelation of the Covenant of Grace in the OT (Westminster Confession of Faith 7.5–6). Here we learn that the line of the seed of the woman, referred to in Genesis 3:15 as the one who will someday crush the head of the serpent—a line that has been traced from Seth to Abraham and then on to Judah—is now narrowed and sharpened. That “seed of promise” will come from the royal line of David. David is the person who will be the ancestor of the great Messiah-King to come. This promise, of course, is ultimately fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ.

Although the term “covenant” (Hebrew berit) does not occur in 2 Samuel 7, reflecting on the Lord’s promise to David here the Lord says in Psalm 89, “I have made a covenant (berit) with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant . . . My steadfast love I will keep for him forever, and my covenant will stand firm for him” (89:3, 28; ESV; emphasis added). On the one hand the Davidic Covenant continues the Lord’s revelation of his Covenant of Grace first revealed in the protoeuangelion to Adam (Gen 3:15) and then in the Noahic (Gen 9), the Abrahamic (Gen 12, 15, 17), and the Mosaic covenants (Exod 24, Deut, etc.). In contrast to the other covenants (including the Davidic), however, the Mosaic Covenant, though an administration of the Covenant of Grace, included a “works principle.” This conditioned the nation of Israel’s continued enjoyment of God’s blessings in the Promised Land (itself a type of the eschatological, consummation Kingdom of God coming when Christ returns) upon their corporate adherence to God’s laws (which themselves proclaimed his grace in the sacrificial system, etc.). This may be most overtly apparent when considering this final revelation of the Covenant of Grace here in 2 Samuel 7, which makes explicit the fact that the salvation that God promises his people will be all of grace from start to finish (Eph 2:8–9). Whereas the Mosaic Covenant held out the possibility of a permanent presence in the Land of Promise conditioned on Israel’s adherence to God’s laws given through Moses, in this Davidic Covenant a permanent “house” or Davidic dynasty is promised to Israel, whose permanence is founded and conditioned solely on the Lord’s promise. Thus, this chapter is structured to show how we are to receive the promises of God for our salvation, namely, that God reveals them (2Sam 7:1–17), and all that is left for us is to respond in thanks and praise (7:18–29).

7:1–3 The passage opens with a picture of kingdom consummation, as the king is living “in his house” (Hebrew bayit, which will be a leitwort, or theme word, throughout this text) and enjoying the Lord’s gift of “rest all around from all his enemies” (7:1). David looks out from his cedar palace and sees the “ark of God dwelling in a tent” (lit. “in a curtain”; 7:2). He consults with the prophet Nathan (introduced for the first time here), who encourages him to “do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you” (7:3). Sadly, the modern “Disney theology” of “following your heart” is all too common among believers today, and all sorts of sinful and disobedient behavior is justified by the assumption that “because I’m a Christian, I can do what I want or feel like, because God wants me to be happy and fulfilled.” Nonetheless, God’s Word regularly reminds us of the danger of “following our heart,” as it is distorted due to sin (Jer 17:9) and thus the source of all kinds of sin and evil desires (Matt 15:10–20; Jas 1:14–15).

7:4–17 It quickly becomes clear that despite David’s good intentions of honoring the Lord by building him a “house” (bayit; i.e., “a temple”), this was not the Lord’s plan or desire. Thus, he sends word to Nathan that night to decline his offer, and instead to reveal the Lord’s plan to graciously bless David (7:4), a command that Nathan promptly obeys (7:17). The Lord’s first rhetorical question, “Would you build me a house (bayit) to dwell in?” (7:5; cf. 1Kgs 5:3; 8:19), clearly serves the purpose of a gracious refusal (i.e., meaning “Do not build me a house [bayit] to dwell in”). We are not told here why the Lord refuses David’s proposal, though in 1 Chronicles 28:3 David recounts God saying to him, “You may not build a house (bayit) for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood” (ESV). More subtly, it may be worth noting that ANE kings would often have a kingship that began with consolidation and expansion of the kingdom (i.e., war) and then led to a building project, usually a palace for themselves first (from which to administer the kingdom and enjoy their power and status) and then a “palace” or temple for the god to whom they owed their ascent to the throne. This temple-building was partially motivated by gratitude, but it also was a way to keep one’s god happy and close (i.e., to try to ensure ongoing blessing). Thus, in the Lord’s refusal of David’s “generous offer,” he may be further emphasizing what he communicates through Nathan, namely, that David’s blessedness before the Lord would be all of grace from beginning to end. He will not allow for anything that smacks of earning the Lord’s blessing by his own works or good deeds. In his response, the Lord points out that in some sense David is not so unique, but stands as one in a long line of “judges” (shophetim) raised up by the Lord to lead Israel into his deliverance (7:7–9).10 The Lord’s dwelling “in a tent” has allowed for his presence to be with his people through their wilderness journey (7:6). A more “permanent” dwelling for the ark as the representation of the Lord’s presence must await the Lord’s accomplishing for David all that he has determined and promised (7:10–11).

The heart of the Davidic Covenant then follows in 7:12–16, as the Lord looks past David’s life (“when your days are full and you lie with your fathers, then I will raise up [qwm] . . .”; 7:12, emphasis added) and promises a child “from your own belly” (i.e., “from your bloodline”) whose kingship the Lord will “make firm” (Hebrew kwn; 7:12). This king will build “a house for [the Lord’s] name” and will be given an eternal throne (7:13). While the Lord does promise discipline for disobedience (7:14), it is not the conditionality of a covenant that can be broken resulting in curse and revocation of blessings (e.g., Deut 28), but instead the discipline promised will be merely by “the rod of men and by the stripes of the sons of men” (vs. “by the hand of God and stripes of the Lord”?). Nonetheless, the Lord promises, “I will be to him a father, and he will be to me as son . . . my steadfast love will not depart from him as I took it from Saul” (7:14–15, emphasis added). As noted above, in the redemptive historical narrative of the Book of Samuel, Saul recapitulates the First Adam, being offered the kingdom but losing it due to his disobedience (1Sam 1–15). In contrast, David foreshadows the Second Adam who fulfills the covenant through obedience to his anointing (1Sam 16–17) and establishes God’s kingdom for his people under his gracious reign (2Sam 1–5). The contrast the Lord makes here is between the Covenant of Works (the Adamic) echoed in Saul’s life and the Covenant of Grace (the Abrahamic, etc.) established and now advanced through this covenant with David. The latter is all of grace and has an enduring permanence, as it is founded on the promise of God (7:16) rather than conditioned on any man’s performance. Of course, some of this covenant will be fulfilled in David’s immediate successor, Solomon, who will build the “house (bayit) for the Lord’s name” in the first temple in Jerusalem (1Kgs 5–8). Yet elements of this prophecy are not fully exhausted in Solomon, since his kingdom was not “established forever” (2Sam 7:13), as after his death other Davidic kings followed him and eventually the Davidic kingdom (having divided from the northern tribes) fell to the Babylonians and went into exile in 586 BC. In this way the Davidic Covenant builds expectation for the true Son of David (Matt 1:1; Luke 1:32–33; John 7:42; Rom 1:3; 2Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16) who would “tabernacle” among his people (John 1:14) and build the true temple or “house” of the Lord in his very body, which, after being “destroyed,” he raised three days later (John 2:18–22). He is the one who establishes the Davidic throne forever (2Sam 7:16; Luke 1:32–33), as he reigns now from the Father’s right hand (Rom 8:34; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1Pet 3:22; Rev 3:21) and will come again to judge the world and establish his everlasting kingdom on earth (Matt 16:28; 2Tim 4:1; 2Pet 1:11).

7:18–29 In the second half of this chapter, David models the only appropriate response of God’s people to his grace and promise: a humbled, grateful prayer of praise. David is clearly humbled by the lavish riches of God’s grace as he “went in and sat before the Lord” (2Sam 7:18, 20; presumably in the tent housing the ark). Not only is he amazed that the Lord has raised him and his “house” to this status of kingship in Israel, but he also realizes that despite how great a gift that is, it was “small” in the eyes of the Lord in comparison to the eternal vision that he planned to accomplish through David’s dynasty (7:19). The phrase “and this is the law/instruction (Hebrew torah) of mankind (Hebrew ha-ʾadam)” (7:19) has resulted in a variety of interpretations and explanations, the most compelling being that David recognizes that though this covenantal promise is to him very personal, it is actually part of God’s grander revelation of his cosmic salvation through the coming Son of David (7:21). David goes on to acknowledge God’s greatness, praising and adoring him for who he is (7:22), and then pondering the wonder and wisdom of God’s plan of salvation for his people (7:23–24).

Finally, David prays the promises of God back to him (7:25–29), not because David is unsure whether God will really do what he says, for as he affirms in 7:28, “O Lord God (lit. “O my Lord [ʾadonay] Lord [yhwh]”), you are God (ʾelohim), and your words are true!” Instead, it is the Lord’s gracious promise that creates and strengthens David’s faith to enable him to pray these promises with confidence (“therefore your servant has found his heart [i.e., “found courage,” as most versions have it] to pray this prayer to you”; 7:27). Ultimately, the purpose in praying God’s promises back to him is not to “make sure that they happen,” but so that when God does what he has promised to do it will also be his loving response to what we have asked, and in this way his “name will be magnified forever” (7:26).

Of course, David is not the only model for us of the proper response to God’s grace in praising his greatness, pondering his salvation, and petitioning him for his promises. Jesus Christ echoes and extends the model as he leads his disciples in the same sort of prayer in John 17 and then teaches us to pray a similarly structured prayer in the “Lord’s Prayer” (Matt 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4). Yet Jesus went further by becoming the ultimate answer to all his people’s prayers for salvation, as he went to the cross and rose on the third day to accomplish our salvation once for all in order that “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2Cor 1:20; ESV). And Jesus continues to pray as he did in John 17, which indeed he has been doing since he ascended to the Father’s right hand and will continue to do until he comes again in glory to judge the living and the dead (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:25; 1Jn 2:1).

Kingdom Consummation in Types and Shadows

Now that David’s reign is established and he has set up his throne in Jerusalem, the picture of Israel becomes a type of the consummated Kingdom of God. Thus, in 2 Samuel 8–10 we see a glimpse of God’s goal for his people, namely, to live in peace and prosperity in a lush land with God’s bountiful blessing through his messianic monarch. We also see here a picture of what it is Jesus taught us to pray for when we pray, “your kingdom come” (Matt 6:10; Luke 11:2).

8:1–14 This passage highlights the fulfillment of God’s promises not only to David (“I will give you rest from all your enemies”; 2Sam 7:11) but also to Abraham. This is highlighted in how the passage recounts David’s victories in taking the land the Lord had sworn first to Abraham (Gen 15:18–21), including to the west (Metheg-ammah; 8:1), to the east (Moab; 8:2), to the north (Zobah, Syria, Aram, Hamath; 8:3–12), and to the south (Edom; 8:13–14). David’s character as a “king after the Lord’s own heart” is on display throughout these brief vignettes of his victories in battle. We see his justice as well as his mercy and grace in only destroying two-thirds of the Moabite army in 8:2. The fact that he would leave a third of the army to become his servants also shows his strength and confidence in not seeing them as a threat.11

David’s strength and his careful obedience to the Lord’s laws are on display in his defeat of Hadadezer in 8:3–8. Apparently, Hadadezer was making moves to expand his kingdom toward “the river” (i.e., the Euphrates; 8:3), which would have cut off Israel’s access to this important waterway in the north.12 Despite “the Arameans (i.e., Syrians) of Damascus” coming to the aid of Hadadezer (8:5), David conquers them all because “the Lord saved David wherever he went” (8:6, 14), and he carries off considerable wealth as booty (8:7–8). Nonetheless, the text is careful to show David’s adherence to the “laws for the kings of Israel” by noting that he “hamstrung all the chariots (i.e., “chariot-horses”; Hebrew rekeb)” except for a mere 100 that he retained for his own use. Thus, he technically did not “amass for himself horses (Hebrew sus)” (Deut 17:16). David’s strength is further displayed by the King Toi of Hamath (8:9) willingly submitting himself as a vassal to David as his suzerain. He evidences this by his sending his son with a tribute for David (8:10). Again, the text is careful to note that David does not “amass for himself silver or gold” (Deut 17:17), instead “consecrating it for the Lord” (8:11; 1Chr 22:2–5) and only possibly “amassing” some bronze (8:8), which is not expressly forbidden in Deuteronomy 17:17.

The Lord also begins to fulfill his promise that David’s name would be great (7:26) as David becomes renowned through his defeat of Edom (8:13), after which he puts garrisons throughout Edom (8:14). Though there is some question as to the location of the “Valley of Salt” (8:13), it would appear to be somewhere around the Dead Sea, which would be right on the border between Edom and Israel. It might be that this location is mentioned to show that Edom was encroaching on Israelite territory, so that David’s attack on this nation whose founder (Esau) was ancestral kin through Israel’s patriarch, Jacob, was merely defensive. Despite the overall positive characterization of David in this passage, there are questions raised in some of the ambiguities that leave open the possibility that though David is the typological messianic king of Israel, he is still only a type and shadow (Heb 8:5) of the True King of Israel to come. The ambiguities here are that David does save some of the horses and does hang on to some of the wealth, possibily to demonstrate that he is not truly perfect in every way.

8:15–18 Here we have a summary of David’s reign as the king “after the Lord’s own heart” (1Sam 13:14). While in chapters ahead, David’s failures will be highlighted (2Sam 11–19, 24), these verses offer the divinely inspired overall assessment of David’s reign and how it should be characterized as a whole. Furthermore, David’s consolidation of power and reign “over all Israel” (8:15), which has been recounted in the passages leading up to this (2Sam 5–8), culminates here so as to typify the conquering work of the coming greater Son of David, Jesus Christ. Thus, in the chapters immediately following (2Sam 9–10), we get glimpses of what Kingdom consummation will look like as David reigns in glory executing “justice (mishpat) and righteousness (tsedhaqah) to all his people” (8:15). David’s “administration” or “cabinet” of second-level leaders is recorded in 8:16–18, most of whom are mentioned elsewhere in the surrounding narrative (cf. 2Sam 20:23–26; 1Chr 18:15–17).13

9:1–8 When the Lord’s king reigns in his kingdom, God’s rule is established over it. As Hannah sang in the opening chapters of the book, “There is none holy like the Lord: . . . no rock like our God.. . . The Lord makes poor and makes rich; he brings low and he exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.. . . He will guard the feet of his faithful ones” (1Sam 2:2, 7–9, ESV; emphasis added). In this chapter we see the Lord doing this very literally through his messianic (i.e., anointed) king David, “guarding the feet” of the son of his “faithful one,” Jonathan, in spite of their being lame, as in Mephibosheth’s case. Through his anointed king, the Lord “lifts up the needy . . . to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor.” In this way God’s “kingdom come” is pictured in the reign of David as a place where God’s tender mercy and compassion, along with his extravagant grace, is generously meted out to his people, who are marked by faith in him and his promises.

The passage opens with David, now firmly established in his kingdom, remembering his covenant with Jonathan and inquiring about whether there might be a relative or descendent to whom he may show “kindness” (Hebrew khesed). This word khesed, translated in most English versions as “kindness,” is sometimes rendered “covenant faithfulness,” “steadfast love,” or “loyal devotion.” It refers to the kind of relational affection one is to have toward those with whom one is in covenant. David had sworn himself into covenantal bonds with Jonathan (1Sam 18:3; 20:8, 16–17; 22:8; 23:18).14 Saul’s servant Ziba is brought to David and indicates his allegiance is not to Saul, but to David (“I am your servant”; 9:2). Despite his humble demeanor here, Ziba’s later characterization when David is on the run from Absalom (2Sam 16:1–4; 19:17, 29) indicates he may be somewhat self-interested and opportunistic. Nonetheless, in this account his characterization seems more favorable as he acts humbly toward David. And when asked about Saul’s relatives (9:3), he offers the requested information in a way that seeks to protect Mephibosheth, quickly mentioning his crippled feet to indicate to David he should not be viewed as a threat (9:3–4).15

One can only imagine what might be going through Mephibosheth’s mind when he is brought from Lo-debar to the king’s court (9:6), since relatives of political opponents were often perceived as “threats” to be “removed” once one was in power. Yet instead of hearing a verdict of death, Mephibosheth receives the sweet words of grace from David—“Do not be afraid, for I will actually do kindness (khesed) with you for the sake of your father, Jonathan” (9:7). What a picture of the grace that God’s people receive “for the sake of” our Savior who died in covenant faithfulness like Jonathan, earning for us eternal glory! And the picture of the grace of Christ becomes even clearer in what David gives Mephibosheth. Not only does David grant him “all the fields of Saul your father” (presumably, quite a lot, given not only Kish’s wealth [see comments on 1Sam 9:1–2] but also any additions to it Saul might have made as king), but he also gives Mephibosheth the privilege of “[eating] food at my table always” (i.e., there would be no need to tap into his land wealth for his living expenses). Mephibosheth thus models for us the humble gratitude we ought to have at the foot of the cross and before our risen Savior in response to his lavish grace—“What is your servant that you should show regard for a dead dog such as I?” (2Sam 9:8 ESV; cf. 1Sam 24:15)—much like the spirit of the tax collector in Luke 18:9–14.

9:9–13 While the text is not totally clear, there is a hint here that Ziba and his sons have been “caring” for Saul’s estate while Mephibosheth has been in Lo-debar “for his own safety.” Thus, David calls Ziba in to make sure that Mephibosheth receives full possession of Saul’s property (9:9) and even conscripts Ziba and his sons to serve as Mephibosheth’s servants (9:10). Though Ziba’s response reflects the tenor appropriate for a servant, given his wealth (fifteen sons and twenty servants), one can imagine that Ziba is none too pleased about this new arrangement where his family’s labors on the land will redound to Mephibosheth’s estate rather than his own. This likely explains his later behavior (2Sam 16:1–4). The closing verses of the chapter highlight the utter transformation of Mephibosheth’s fortunes that David’s grace to him has effected—twice mentioning him eating at King David’s table (9:11, 13), having Ziba’s whole household as servants (9:12), and now living in Jerusalem (9:13)—and all this in spite of Mephibosheth’s weakness and “humble estate” (Luke 1:48; 1Sam 1:11) of being “lame in both his feet” (2Sam 9:13). This final note also highlights the fact that David’s consummated kingdom is not ultimately our hope, since despite all David does for Mephibosheth, he cannot heal his lame feet. This calls God’s people to look for one better than David who can usher in a better kingdom where “the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them” (Matt 11:5; Luke 7:22; emphasis added). This is indeed exactly what our King Jesus does!

10:1–5 Hannah’s song of praise for God as king also exalts his strength to rule “all his and our enemies” (Westminster Shorter Catechism Q&A #26). As she sings in her song in 1 Samuel 2, “The bows of the mighty are broken, . . . The Lord kills . . . he brings down to Sheol . . .. The adversaries of the Lord shall be broken to pieces; against them he will thunder in heaven. The Lord will judge the ends of the earth . . .” (1Sam 2:4, 6–7, 9–10, ESV). This consummation of the Lord’s rule through his king is on display in 1 Samuel 10, offering another snapshot of David’s victory in battle over his enemies. Whereas 1 Samuel 8 had shown David’s defeat of enemies within the Promised Land, here his might is on display in his ability to defeat even enemies outside the Land of Promise. Although Nahash of Ammon had done battle with Saul (1Sam 11), it appears that he had become a vassal of sorts in covenant with David, who describes him in 10:1 as having “dealt loyally” with him (lit. “he did khesed”; 2Sam 10:2; cf. 9:1). So, as would have been appropriate, upon Nahash’s death and succession by his son Hanun (10:1), David sends a delegation of condolence (10:2). Hanun, however, recognizes that to receive them as such would likely confirm and continue his vassal relation to David as suzerain. So instead of receiving the kind gesture, he takes the servants’ visit as a threat (10:3) and responds by utterly humiliating them by shaving half their beard (signs of maturity, manhood, and might in the ancient world) and cutting “their garments in half up to their buttocks” (10:4). When David hears of it, he kindly attends to the shame of his servants, allowing them to remove the evidences of their humiliation (i.e., grow their beards back) in Jericho before returning home to Jerusalem (10:5). In this way David foreshadows his greater son, Jesus Christ, who not only pays the penalty for our sin, but who also covers our shame (Heb 12:2).

10:6–14 Although David’s reaction to Hanun’s diplomatic offense is not recorded, the Ammonites recognize that they are out of David’s favor, having presumably breached Nahash’s covenantal arrangement, so they make an alliance with other regional powers to the northeast of Israel (10:6). David sends Joab to quash the rebellion, but he ends up surrounded with the city of Ammon (i.e., its gates and defenders) to the front, and Ammon’s allies arrayed behind Israel “in the open country” (10:7–8). Joab’s selfless leadership seems to be in view as he takes on the presumably greater army of the Syrians with an elite force (10:9), leaving his brother Abishai to lead the attack on the Ammonites (10:10). Nonetheless, he recognizes that either of them could encounter a situation beyond their ability, at which point they would redistribute the forces as needed (10:11). As another indication that the picture here is of kingdom consummation, Joab, who is otherwise being portrayed as a somewhat worldly pragmatist, makes his most faith-filled statement: “Be strong, and let us show ourselves courageous on behalf of our people and on behalf of the cities of our God! And may the Lord do what seems good to him (lit. “the good in his eyes”)” (10:12).16 The Lord’s blessing on his people is displayed in the fact that neither Joab (10:13) nor Abishai (10:14) appear to have any trouble defeating their opponents, and the victory over Ammon is summarily recounted without much fanfare (10:14).

10:15–19 Having allied themselves with Hanun the Ammonite in defeat, however, the Syrians now recognize their danger of being annexed as vassal states under David (10:15), so they call on even more distant “enemies of Israel” from “beyond the river Euphrates” (10:16). Shobach’s mention as Hadadezer’s commander (10:16) may be due to his relative fame as a mighty warrior, making David and Israel’s swift victory over him (10:17–18) further indication of the blessing of the Lord’s presence through his king in his consummated kingdom. Peace through strength is achieved, and the Lord even expands his king’s influence now to the Euphrates and beyond (10:19). David’s reign in his consummated kingdom, by his power and presence offering his people serenity, sympathy, steadfastness, and security, serves to foreshadow the Kingdom of Christ into which his people are being called, against which even the gates of hell will not prevail (Matt 16:18; cf. 2Chr 20:15; John 10:27–29; Rom 8:31).

True Kingship in Exile / Covenant Curse (11:1–18:33)

It should be noted that the biblical portrayal of David is focused not so much on his accomplishments or qualities as a leader as it is on God’s purposes that were to be fulfilled in and through him. It is for this reason that David is not ultimately idealized or placed on a pedestal. His weaknesses are revealed and made known rather than covered over or hidden. The most obvious, but by no means only, failure of David is his involvement in adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah. In this incident, described in 2 Samuel 11–12, David acts like the kings “all the other nations have” who “take” (Hebrew lqkh) from their people in order to satisfy their own desires (cf. 1Sam 8:11–20). This is the sort of thing Samuel had warned Israel about when they asked for a king. In this incident David appears to consider himself above the law and becomes a law unto himself, rather than behaving as a king who is submissive to the Law of the Lord and the words of the prophets. Thus David behaves in a manner inconsistent with the conduct of a true covenantal king in disconcerting ways that echo the First Adam-like reign of Saul rather than prefiguring the reign of the Second Adam. As such, in these chapters, rather than being a type and shadow anticipating David’s greater son, Jesus Christ, David serves as a “photographic negative,” the opposite of the king God promises to his people and fulfills by sending his only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ.

Fall into Sin (11:1–12:31)

11:1 This passage opens with David appearing to neglect his work as king in sending “Joab and his servants with him and all Israel” while he himself “stayed in Jerusalem.”17 One imagines David now securely established upon his throne, confident of his army’s ability to handle the battles under Joab’s leadership, and thus lulled into neglecting his royal role by the luxury of peace and security that has been lavished upon him by the Lord. What a warning to us that we not grow comfortable and overconfident in this life’s ease, as it is often when we “think that we stand” secure that we are most in danger of falling (1Cor 10:12).

11:2–4 If David’s neglect of duty is somewhat ambiguous in 2 Samuel 11:1, it becomes more overt as we see David’s behavior while staying in Jerusalem. While an afternoon siesta was common practice during the heat of the day (cf. 2Sam 4:5), David has apparently been “napping” until “the time of the evening” (11:2), when he gets up and walks about on his roof. We don’t know his purpose for this, though it may have been a way to glory in one’s rule over the surrounding city (Dan 4:29). Whatever the reason, from his high vantage point David sees a woman “washing” (Hebrew rkhts) who was very beautiful. English translations have Bathsheba washing on her roof, which in ancient Israel may have been the more private “room,” as the interior of the home would have been more like our modern kitchen, living room, etc. Furthermore, the Hebrew can be read literally as saying that “he (David) saw a woman washing from upon the roof” (i.e., referring not to her location, but to his). Thus, interpreters who accuse Bathsheba of immodesty or intentional seduction are mistaken, as the text seems to leave the fault here squarely with David, who appears to abuse the height of his palace roof to act as a peeping Tom.18

Some translations and commentaries have David inquiring as to who this is he sees washing, followed by some unnamed servant replying with the answer in 11:3. But given the fact that Bathsheba is the wife of Uriah, one of David’s “mighty men” (2Sam 23:39), it may be better to read this as David “confirming” what he already knows, inquiring about the woman by asking “Is this not Bathsheba . . .?” This would make his next acts even worse betrayals of loyalty, as knowing full well who this is, he acts with breathtaking swiftness in his sin: “he sent messengers, and he took her (Hebrew lqkh; cf. 1Sam 8), and she entered to him, and he lay with her” (11:4). Only at this point in the narrative are we informed that she had been “purifying herself from her uncleanness (presumably menstrual),” which means that any conception will not be the result of prior relations with Uriah. Bathsheba’s personal perspective is absent from the text, leaving any suggestion of what she was thinking a matter of speculation. On the one hand, she later mourns at the death of her husband (11:26), making it possible that she was an unwilling pawn in David’s lustful action. Given the power imbalance between them, then, this adultery would be more like sexual assault or rape. On the other hand, one cannot dismiss the possibility that the same power imbalance may have made David’s interest in her flattering and seductive, so that she was a willing participant in the adulterous act.

11:5–13 The consequences for David’s sin begin immediately, as the next verse (11:5) reports that “the woman conceived.”19 She sends and reports this to David with only two words in Hebrew: “Pregnant (am) I.” This unleashes what unfolds through the rest of the chapter as David adds sin upon sin and tries to cover the consequences of his adultery. By the end of the chapter, he will have lied and murdered in addition to having committed adultery. First, he tries to get Uriah to sleep with Bathsheba to cover up his act of adultery. He has Joab send Uriah to him (11:6), and as Uriah enters the scene, David feigns interest in the war (11:7), quickly moving on to send Uriah home with the euphemistic command to “wash his feet” (11:8; this idiom often implies copulation).

David sends a “gift” (masʾeth) after him, though some have argued the word should be understood as “spy” (Long, 362–63). The two may be synonymous if the gift was sent with a spy to make sure Uriah got home as instructed. Unlike David in this chapter, however, Uriah the Hittite gentile acts with commendable faithfulness, dignity, and honor toward his king and countrymen, sleeping with the king’s servants instead of in the comfort of his own bed (11:9–11). Having thus failed with his first scheme, David buys himself some time to come up with a new plot (11:12), which proves even more inept than the first. Under the guise of hospitality, David gets Uriah drunk (11:13), but as many commentators note, Uriah drunk shows more self-control and discipline than David well-rested and sober, and he again stays in the servants’ quarters rather than going home to Bathsheba.

11:14–27 David’s third plot to cover his sin is the most callous and coldhearted, as he writes a letter (11:14) instructing Joab to arrange for Uriah to be killed in battle (11:15) and sends it by the very hand of Uriah himself (11:14). That Uriah could be trusted to deliver this without reading it further testifies to his character in sharp contrast with David’s in this chapter. Apparently, Joab recognizes the folly of David’s plan, which would have required too many other fighters to be complicit in carrying it out (since they would all have to know to “return from after him” at the proper moment; 11:15). He seems to “perfect” the plan and make the murder of Uriah less obvious by simply appointing “Uriah to the place where he knew that there were valiant men” (i.e., where the fighting would be fiercest; 11:16). Unsurprisingly, Uriah and some of the men with him are lost in battle (11:17), and Joab sends the report back to David (11:18).

It seems that Joab and David’s many years of doing battle together had resulted in some battle principles whereby the fewest Israelite lives would be lost. Thus, Joab anticipates David being angry when informed of how close to the wall Joab allowed his men to get and how many lives were lost (11:19–21a), at which point Joab instructs the messenger to add the word that “your servant Uriah the Hittite is also dead” (11:21b). Like Joab, who “improved” on David’s scheme, the messenger to David seems uncomfortable with Joab’s instructions and gives his own account of the battle, mentioning Uriah before David has a chance to react (11:22–24). For his part David seems unperturbed by the news, sending the messenger back to Joab with a word of callous “comfort.” Apparently at odds with David’s prior concern that the fewest lives be lost in battle, he tells Joab not to fret about a few lives lost (11:25), literally saying “Don’t let this thing be evil in your eyes” (cf. 11:27), and instructs him to take the city (implying that Joab has held back from taking it simply in order to allow a pretext for Uriah to be killed).

Bathsheba’s response to her husband’s death may be more ambiguous than many English translations let on by translating both Hebrew ʾish and baʿal as “husband” in 11:26. While both terms can be used to mean “husband,” the fact that two different terms are used may imply some ambiguity, being more literally rendered, “when she heard that Uriah her man/husband (ʾish) was dead, she mourned over her master/lord (baʿal)” (i.e., she mourned over David?). At this point David believes he has hidden his sin successfully, so after giving Bathsheba space to mourn her husband, he marries her, and she bears a son. While David gave his verdict on the situation to Joab in saying “Don’t let this thing be evil in your eyes” (11:25), the final sentence of the chapter gives us the Lord’s perspective in stark contrast: “And the thing that David did was evil in the eyes of the Lord” (11:27).

As the chapter draws to a close, it appears that one “righteous man” (i.e., Uriah) has died to cover King David’s sin. Of course, as we will see in the next chapter, the story is not yet over. Nonetheless, at this point it is worth observing that David here is a picture of “anti-Christ”—as an abusive king he uses his power and position to oppress his people and kills a righteous man to cover his own sin. In contrast, David’s greater son, Jesus Christ, is the righteous king who dies as the truly righteous one, displaying perfectly the loyalty and devotion seen in the life of Uriah. Jesus gives his one life to cover the sins of his servants—the one righteous man dying for his sinful people (John 18:14). And Jesus’s death perfectly covers and completely pays the penalty for the sin of his people (Rom 5).

12:1–6 After a chapter full of people “sending” (2Sam 11:1, 3, 4, 5, 6 [x3], 12, 14, 18, 22, 27), implying human attempts to control the situation, this chapter opens with the Lord sending his prophet Nathan (2Sam 12:1), indicating who is always truly in control. Chapters 11–12 form a single narrative that turns on 12:1, where we see that though David thinks his sin is hidden (despite the many servants who must have been involved in it), the Lord sees even what happens in secret and will deal with evil and sin (Prov 15:3; Heb 4:13). The last sentence of 2 Samuel 11 (“But the thing David had done displeased the Lord”; 11:27b) leads directly into the opening line of chapter 12 (“The Lord sent Nathan the prophet” to tell David a story; 12:1a). The juxtaposition of these two succinct clauses is the hinge on which the narrative turns from a description of David’s sin (11:2–27) to a description of the Lord’s calling David to account (12:1–25).

God sends Nathan to tell a parable that exposes the heartless selfishness of David’s sin (12:2–4). Certain details echo chapter 11, such as the mention of the poor man’s lamb being “like a daughter (bath),” hinting at the name of Bathsheba, and describing the lamb as eating, drinking, and lying in his arms (the same verbs Uriah uses to describe the delights of his home that he cannot enjoy while his brothers are “camping in the open field”; 11:11). As often happens, getting to view his sin from an “outsider’s” vantage point allows David to respond appropriately with righteous rage. He shares his own assessment of this hypothetical man (“the man who did this deserves to die [lit. “is a son of death”]”; 12:5) and then pronounces the judgment required by the Law (“he shall restore the lamb fourfold”; 12:6).

12:7–15a At this point, having brought David to feel the offense of a sin like his, Nathan lowers the boom and shows him that he must point his accusing finger back at himself. The verdict comes as only two little words in Hebrew: “You the-man” (ʾattah haʾish; 12:7). Clearly, no more persuasion is necessary, because Nathan moves directly to a pronouncement of the Lord’s judgment on David (12:7–12). Nathan is the same prophet who told David that his dynasty would endure forever in 2 Samuel 7. But now, in 2 Samuel 12, he brings David a very different message. Nathan confronts David with the enormity of his sin and announces the severe consequences it will produce in his life and in that of his family (Hebrew bayit, “house”). At the heart of his rebuke Nathan draws a contrast between the Lord’s gracious acts toward David and David’s failure to live up to his covenantal responsibilities. In 2 Samuel 12:7–8 the Lord tells David through Samuel that “I anointed you . . . I saved you . . . I gave you . . . I would have given you even more . . ..”20 And then in 2 Samuel 12:9, Nathan questions why David has despised the word of the Lord. David’s sins are described as murder and taking the wife of another man (12:9b), and for these sins David will suffer a threefold consequence:

1) The sword will afflict his family, just as he had inflicted the sword on Uriah (12:9–10);

2) Insurrection will arise from within his own household (12:11a);

3) David’s wives will be publicly humiliated by another man, just as he had privately humiliated Uriah (12:11b–12).

The ensuing narratives in the remainder of 2 Samuel and the early chapters of 1 Kings include descriptions of the fulfillment of this discipline from the Lord (2Sam 7:14).

Upon hearing Nathan’s indictment, David immediately responds with words of repentance and contrition: “I have sinned against the Lord” (2Sam 12:13; cf. Ps 51:4). Paralleling Nathan’s convicting two words (“You [are] the man”), David’s confession is only two words in the Hebrew text: khataʾti lyhwh. David’s repentance thus stands in stark contrast with Saul’s slowness to repent, being complete, unqualified, and unequivocal. While Saul repeatedly attempted to shift responsibility and justify his sinful behavior when he was confronted by Samuel (as we saw in 1Sam 13:11–12; 15:15, 20–21), David immediately and unconditionally assumes full responsibility for his sinful acts as a man “after the Lord’s own heart” ought to when confronted with his sin.

12:15b–23 The Lord’s promised punishment begins to come true as soon as Nathan departs for his house (12:15a), as we are told that “the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he was sick” (12:15b). David’s true and deep repentance in response to the ministry of Nathan is not only evident in the psalm he penned on this occasion (Ps 51), but also in the narrative that follows. Rather than raging against the Lord, David “sought God on behalf of the child, and David fasted, and went in and spent the night lying on the ground” (12:16), refusing to be dissuaded from his grief (12:17). Nonetheless, to the consternation of his servants (12:21), once the child dies (12:18) and David learns of it (12:19), he humbly receives this as the providence of God and gets up and worships the Lord (12:20). Upon questioning by his servants (12:21), he makes a great statement of faith and trust in the Lord (12:22), modeling for us how we ought to persist in appealing to the Lord for grace (Luke 18:1–8), knowing him to be “a God merciful and gracious” (Exod 34:6). Nonetheless, once God’s providential will has come to pass, David models a humble posture similar to our Savior who acknowledged, “Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Matt 26:39; Mark 14:36; Luke 22:42). Armed with the hope that he will one day join his child in some form of life after death (12:23), David gets up, washes, dresses in clean clothes, worships God, and finally breaks his fast (12:20).21 In the same way, believing parents can find comfort and hope when their children die in infancy without making it to an age where they can profess faith and show its fruit, because, as the Westminster Confession of Faith says it, “elect infants, dying in infancy, are regenerated, and saved by Christ, through the Spirit, who works when, and where, and how he pleases” (WCF 10.3).

12:24–25 The triumph of God’s grace is on display as Bathsheba conceives again, this time as David’s “wife,” and bears another son, Solomon (2Sam 12:24). Once again Nathan delivers a divine message, and this time it is of the Lord’s love for Solomon, making sense of his other name, Jedidiah (“beloved of the Lord”), and setting the stage for him succeeding his father David as king (1Kgs 1–2). Nonetheless, at this point the oldest son of David and crown prince is Amnon (2Sam 3:2), and after him is a whole line of older sons with successive “claims” to David’s throne before Solomon. Thus, the ensuing accounts show not only the fulfillment of the Lord’s promised consequences for David’s sin that “the sword shall never depart from [David’s] house” (12:10), but also how God’s overruling providence (Gen 50:20) clears the way to the throne for the Lord’s chosen successor to David: Jedidiah, also known as Solomon.

12:26–31 The final “postscript” to the narrative in 2 Samuel 11–12 returns us to the opening context (11:1) in which Joab is battling with the Ammonites. If 2 Samuel 11–12 is a parallel exposition of what was occurring in Jerusalem during the events of 2 Samuel 10, then 12:26–31 would probably expand on the events summarized in 10:14. The postscript serves an important purpose of showing the glory and expansiveness of God’s grace, as he restores David to his prior “glory” despite his failure and fall into sin. Thus, the account of Joab’s successful capture of “the royal city” of Rabbah (12:26), his concern that his king get the glory of victory (12:27–28), along with the account of David’s defeat of the city (12:29), his ritual coronation (12:30), and his subjugation of Israel’s enemies without (12:31), continues the “snapshots” of kingdom consummation observed in 2 Samuel 9–10. The message seems to be that God forgives sin and restores the repentant sinner to his prior status, maybe even to greater glory than he had before.

There is something both disturbing and reassuring about the narrative in 2 Samuel 11–12. On the personal level it provides one of the Scripture’s most vivid reminders that all human beings, no matter what special calling they may have received from the Lord, and no matter how elevated they may be in the eyes of those around them, are still fallen creatures and capable of the most deplorable iniquities. It is for this reason that the Bible encourages us to place our trust in the Lord rather than in other people (Ps 118:8; 146:3). Human beings will always disappoint, but the Lord will never fail those who are his. None of the heroes of the Bible are portrayed as sinless saints, including the godliest of Israel’s rulers in the OT period.

Over against human sinfulness, however, this narrative also portrays a God who not only graciously intervened in David’s life to confront him with his sin, but who also graciously spared his life and then gave him another son, the son of Bathsheba, who would carry the line of promise forward. So in spite of the disturbing reality of human sinfulness that is so clearly displayed in this narrative, it is, at the same time, a narrative that is also full of the reassurance of God’s grace. Just as in the Garden of Eden the Lord pursued Adam and Eve after they disobeyed the probationary commandment, and confronted them with their sin, so on this occasion the Lord did not allow David to think that his evil acts were hidden from divine scrutiny. Just as God’s pursuit of Adam and Eve was not conditioned on their prior repentance, so in David’s case the Lord took the initiative to bring him to repentance. Although God’s forgiveness of David does not exempt him from suffering the consequences of his sin, God shows himself to be faithful to his promise to preserve his house, and as David later declares, the Lord continued to be his “hiding place” (Ps 32:7), and the One whose “unfailing love” surrounded him no matter how difficult the experiences of his life might become (Ps 32:10). Just as when the elders of Israel seriously sinned in asking for a king and the Lord brought good out of their wickedness, so here Bathsheba becomes part of the line into which Jesus was ultimately born (Matt 1:6).

Fallout of Sin – “The Sword Shall Not Depart” (13:1–15:12)

Although David has been a model of true “repentance unto life” (Westminster Confession of Faith #15), sin still often leaves lingering consequences that serve as “discipline” rather than “judgment” for those who are recipients of his forgiveness and grace (Heb 12:5–7; 2Sam 7:14–15). The fallout of David’s sin is what 2 Samuel 13–18 recounts, as we see not a foretaste of kingdom consummation under the Lord’s anointed (Messiah) King “after the Lord’s own heart,” but instead a picture of covenant curse due to the fall of Israel’s federal head, King David. Just as Adam was driven from Eden as a consequence for his sin and covenant breaking (Gen 3), so also David will end up being driven into exile in the East, foreshadowing the later exile of Israel to Babylon, which itself is a type of the ultimate exile in Jesus Christ. As the fallout of Adam’s sin led to fratricide between his sons (Gen 4), so also David’s sin casts its shadow over his sons who follow in his stead committing sexual sin and murder (2Sam 13). As Adam’s sin leads to enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen 3:15), so also David’s kingship will be opposed and threatened by Absalom as usurper to the throne and having affinity not to his father David, but instead echoing Saul’s kingship “like the nations.”

13:1–7 While this chapter will begin by focusing on Amnon (the crown prince) and his horrible rape of his half-sister, Tamar (13:2–29), it opens with the name of Absalom to whom all the other characters are related (13:1). This is probably due to the fact that it is Absalom who is the main character through this and the coming chapters (13–18) as he works his way past the next in line for the throne (Amnon) to eventually lay hold of the throne and lead a civil war that rends apart the kingdom of his father David. All of this has its beginning here in David’s sad complicity in Amnon’s assault (if only by neglecting to carefully apply wisdom, discernment, and discipline toward his children). This chapter is all about good virtues distorted by sinful selfishness—Amnon distorts “love,” Jonadab distorts “wisdom,” and Absalom distorts “justice.”

The description of Amnon’s “love” in 13:2 strikes an ominous note. While being “sick with love” may sound quite romantic, the fact that Tamar is described as “his sister” and that, because she was a virgin, “it seemed too difficult in Amnon’s eyes to do anything to her” belies something darker in Amnon’s heart. Love does things for another or with another, but doing things to someone sounds like use and abuse rather than truly other-centric love, as Amnon’s “love” proves to be in what unfolds. Jonadab, Amnon’s cousin, is literally described as “a very wise man” (Hebrew khakham; 13:3), though most English translations render the description something like “a very crafty man,” since he uses his “wisdom” to encourage Amnon’s sinful, evil satisfaction of his basest lusts. One can imagine Jonadab having worked hard to earn the status of being called Amon’s “friend” (13:3), since to be a close confidant of the crown prince would eventually lead to being an intimate of the future king. He invites Amnon to explain his “poor” (dal) appearance day after day, to which Absalom confesses his “love” for Tamar (13:4).

The plan that will unfold is apparently first hatched by “wise” Jonadab (13:5), though his instructions stop short of suggesting Amnon rape his sister. Maybe Jonadab thought Amnon would be able to woo Tamar, or maybe he left Amnon’s final actions with Tamar close at hand for Amnon to figure out. Whatever the case, Amnon follows Jonadab’s advice of feigning illness to a tee (13:6). It would have been of great concern to David that his firstborn, the crown prince, had fallen ill enough to be in bed, as in the ancient world this could lead to death. Nonetheless, the fact that David could not tell that Amnon was faking illness, and that he so quickly capitulated to what should have sounded like a strange request (13:6–7), are clear failures on David’s part to exercise the wisdom and discernment a king should use to protect his weakest people (not least of which was his beautiful daughter, Tamar).

13:8–22 Unlike David’s sons in this chapter and elsewhere, Tamar is a model of obedience and selfless service, immediately obeying her father’s command (13:7) and getting to work serving her “ailing” brother (13:8). Even after he refuses to eat and sends the rest of his servants out of the room (13:9), Tamar seems to suspect nothing amiss and quickly complies with Amnon’s request to serve him herself (13:10). At this point Amnon seizes her and may first attempt to seduce her with an “affectionate” appeal to her as “my sister” (13:11). His wooing words, however, strike a discordant note with his seizing grasp of her. Anticipating his lustful intentions, she begs him not to “violate” (or “humiliate”; ʿnh) her, and unlike Jonadab, she offers words of true wisdom, compassionately appealing to her brother by reminding him of the holiness to which he’s called as an Israelite (“it is not done thus in Israel”), let alone as a human (“do not do this foolishness/stupidity [nevalah]”; 13:12). She also appeals to any pity or concern he might still be able to muster for her (“where could I take my reproach”) as well as his own self-interest (“you would become like one of the godless fools [naval] in Israel”; 13:13). Finally, she desperately appears to buy time by suggesting that were Amnon to ask “the king” (their father), he would “not withhold” her from Amnon (13:13). Whether she is grasping at straws or she actually knows David enough to be confident that his spoiling of Amnon would extend even to granting him an illicit marriage to his half-sister, Amnon will have none of it (lit. “he did not want to listen to her voice”; 13:14). Using his superior strength, he then “violated her and lay with her” (13:14).

The true nature of Amnon’s “love” becomes clear as purely selfish lust, when 13:15 describes its quick turn into “hatred” that is even greater than the “love” with which he “loved” her, and as he brusquely orders her away with two succinct commands: “Up! Go!” (13:15). Once again, Tamar’s superior character is on display as she begs him even here not to add insult to injury, and to make up for his lawlessness by now fulfilling the requirement of the law and not throwing her out.22 But again, he refuses to listen (13:16; cf. 13:14) and calls in his servants to take her away. Whereas he had just called her his “sister,” he now callously calls her “this one” and has his servants lock the door behind her (13:17). She immediately desecrates the outward signs of her status as a “virgin daughter of the king” by tearing her tunic and putting ashes on her head (13:18–19), and then leaves weeping aloud. Absalom recognizes immediately what has happened and knows Amnon is to blame, but his words of “comfort” to her are puzzling, as he tells her, “Do not set your heart to this thing” (i.e., “don’t brood over the matter,” NJPS). Yet how could she not take the matter to heart, as she must now spend her life as “a desolate woman” in Absalom’s house (13:20)? While she may have “kept silent” about the matter (13:20), someone informs David (likely Absalom), who upon hearing becomes “very angry” (13:21). Yet while one expects such a report of the king’s wrath to be followed by some royal action to judge justly (cf. 12:5), David appears paralyzed into inaction, and the next verse instead reports Absalom silently nursing a grudge against his older half-brother (13:22). Why David does not act to bring Amnon to justice (incest would demand the death penalty; Lev 18:9; Deut 27:22) is not stated, but one can speculate that it may have had to do with David’s doting love for his firstborn or his lingering guilty conscience, recognizing that his firstborn’s sexual sin bore sad resemblances to David’s own sin with Bathsheba. Or maybe David was paralyzed by some combination of the two.

13:23–29 Absalom nurses his grudge against Amnon for two years until opportunity strikes at his sheep shearing (13:23). At this time in the ANE, sheep shearing and threshing were celebratory community events characterized by feasting and drinking (Gen 38:12; Ruth 3:2). Absalom’s invitation of “all the king’s sons” (13:23) must have been quite a number given David’s many wives, so that to add “the king and his servants” seems to David to be too generous (13:24–25). While Absalom’s strange request should have raised questions for a shrewd and wise king (13:6), his more specific request of Amnon’s presence does raise questions in the king’s mind, which he shares (“Why should he go with you?” 13:26; emphasis added). Nonetheless, Absalom presses the king, eventually winning the day (13:27) and setting up his cold-blooded, calculated fratricide by means of his servants (13:28–29). Absalom acts like a king ordering his servants around and encouraging them to overcome any doubts (13:28), but of course this is not at all for good (e.g., strengthening for battle) but for ill (e.g., heartening for treasonous murder). Given Absalom’s long-held grudge against Amnon for his treatment of his sister Tamar, Absalom’s motive may have merely been vengeance. One must wonder, however, if his motives may not have been mixed with personal ambition, since taking out Amnon will move Absalom closer to being heir apparent to the throne. This motive may be hinted at in the response of David’s other sons, who after Amnon’s murder believe themselves to be in danger for their lives despite not sharing his guilt (13:29).

13:30–39 The scene shifts back to the palace, where David gets somewhat distorted news that “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons there and not one of them is left alive” (13:30; emphasis added). David immediately leads his servants in a response of grief (13:31), though Jonadab again steps forward with what appears to be insider information that it is only Amnon who is dead (13:32–33). How Jonadab knows this is unclear, as is his lurking around the throne room rather than accompanying his friend Amnon to Absalom’s feast. If he knew this was going to happen (or could have guessed it), why did he do nothing to protect his “friend” Amnon? The text does not answer these questions, but we are left with a sense that Jonadab’s “wisdom” once again looks more like craftiness and cunning than anything else, especially as he goes out of his way to say to the king what amounts to “See, I told you so” (13:35).

Absalom apparently knows that David will not deal as lightly with him as he did with Amnon, so he flees (13:34, 37–38) to Geshur, the land of his grandfather King Talmai (2Sam 3:3), where he lives in banished exile for three years. The final verse of this chapter is difficult to interpret, reading woodenly, “And King David ceased to go out to Absalom, for he consoled himself (or “regretted”) concerning Amnon because he was dead (or “he had died”).” Most English versions render the somewhat awkwardly phrased Hebrew in a way that makes it sound like David is longing to be with Absalom once having moved past his grief over Amnon. While that is a possible interpretation and is probably motivated by David’s grief after hearing of Absalom’s death (18:33), it seems better to take this verse as saying that David pursued Absalom for a time (Hebrew ytsʾ, “going forth,” often has connotations of going forth into battle), but eventually gave it up and instead attended to his grief over Amnon. That David’s heart is “against Absalom” seems to be confirmed in 14:1 and the rest of the narrative that follows in chapter 14.

This chapter (2Sam 13) is bereft of any mention of God. Yet in David’s failure he anticipates a king who succeeds and is righteous where he fails. Unlike David, who shies away from rebuking his children, Jesus spoke frank words of rebuke to those who needed it (Matt 23). He did not succumb to sinful lust, but showed what real love is when he laid down his life for his friends (John 15:13). He did not fall for the craftiness of those who pretended to be wise counselors (Matt 4), nor did he give himself over to vengeance, but instead prayed for those who crucified him (Luke 23:34). And Jesus did all of this to become the answer to Tamar’s poignant question right at the heart of this passage: “Where can I take my reproach?” As we are stained by sin and its shame in this world—whether caused by our own sin or being sinned against by others—that question rings in our ears as well. And the answer comes to us in Psalm 69:9, quoted by Paul in Romans 15:3, “For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, ‘The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me’” (ESV). Where can we take our reproach? We can take it to Jesus, our Savior and King, “the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb 12:2, emphasis added).

14:1–17 Continuing this narrative in which David serves as an “antitype” for what will eventually characterize the true Messianic King, this chapter shows David disengaged as king and being manipulated into acting “wisely” toward Absalom. If in chapter 13 David fails to maintain proper justice, here in chapter 14 we see him failing to show proper mercy, which does not simply gloss over sin but finds a way for substitutionary atonement, restitution, and restoration. As was the case in many English treatments of 13:39, the opening verse of this chapter (14:1) is also often translated to make it sound like Joab observes David lovingly “longing for Absalom” (NIV). Instead, a better reading of the verse would be that Joab knew that “the heart of the king was against Absalom,” suggesting that David is holding a grudge against his son in his heart. This explains better what follows, as David must be manipulated into letting Absalom back to Jerusalem through Joab’s and the “wise woman” of Tekoah’s ruse. Even then he bitterly refuses to admit Absalom into his presence (14:24). David’s frustration described in 14:1 may be due to the fact that to bring justice to bear on Absalom would surely have been politically dangerous because of David’s marriage to King Talmai’s daughter (2Sam 3:3; likely a marriage for the sake of diplomacy). Extraditing Absalom from his refuge in his grandfather’s land of Geshur would likely have meant political conflict, if not outright war.

Like in the previous chapter, where the cunning and conniving Jonadab was called “very wise” (khakham; 13:3), here the “wise woman” from Tekoah uses her “wisdom” to deceive and manipulate the king rather than to bless herself and others (Prov 8:15–21, 32–36).23 Joab sets up the pretense (14:2) and “put words in her mouth” (14:3), the content of which we learn as she puts on her performance for David. Having entered the king’s presence for judgment (cf. Exod 18:13) in the form of a humble servant (14:4), David’s response seems a bit curt, literally “What for you?” (mah-llakh). She goes on to explain the fable Joab has concocted in which, though the family could press for vengeance on her son for  manslaughter (Deut 19:1–13), he should also be able to flee to a city of refuge and live. Furthermore, as she indicates in 14:7, the family seems more interested in taking hold of the land of her husband, which would go to the son unless he is dead, in which case it would transfer to them. David seems unmoved and uncaring in his response to her after hearing her sad tale (14:5–7) and appears to put her off, dismissing her without granting a verdict (14:8). Yet like the persistent widow of Luke 18:1–8, she presses him, though with gracious language (14:9), probably recognizing that she may come across as impertinent, which could be quite dangerous in the presence of an impatient king. David seems quick to capitulate, however, and tries to assure her of his favorable response to her request (14:10). Still seeming doubtful, she asks for an oath in the Lord’s name, to which David quickly complies (14:11).24 At this point the “trap” has been laid, and the woman addresses her ultimate purpose, which is to try to convict and persuade David to bring Absalom back from banishment (14:12–13).

While Joab’s plan with the woman from Tekoah may have been informed by what he saw Nathan do in chapter 12, the parallels are by no means precise. The woman’s son is guilty of manslaughter, which was not a capital offense, whereas Absalom committed cold-blooded murder and fratricide, for which the death penalty his due (Deut 19:1–13). Furthermore, while allowing her son to be killed would in her scenario leave her bereft of any means of existence, as her property would go to her extended family, David’s punishing his son—whether by exile as he is already doing or by execution—would not have had such a devastating effect. Nonetheless, at the heart of her appeal to the king the woman makes a wonderful statement of truth about God, namely, that he “devises means so that the banished one will not remain an outcast” (14:14; ESV). It seems as though the woman sees that David may be beginning to suspect her of deception, so that she quickly turns back to her own fictitious case (14:15) and begins to lay the flattery on thick (14:16–17).

14:18–24 Despite David’s apparent disinterest earlier, he now suspects that he is being manipulated and asks the woman if Joab put her up to this (14:18–19), to which she basically replies, “yes,” though couched in more excessive flattery (14:19–20). Ironically, her “compliments” that David is “like the angel of God” to “discern (lit. “hear”) good and evil” (14:17) and that he has “wisdom like wisdom of the angel of God to know everything which is on the earth” seems to be starkly contradicted by David’s behavior throughout this section of 2 Samuel 13–15. And having been deceived and manipulated by his general, David nonetheless grants Joab’s desire (14:21), to which Joab responds with what looks like excessive gratitude (14:22). One wonders why Joab cared so much about getting Absalom back to Jerusalem. Could it be that the shrewd and pragmatic Joab was not just seeking what was best for the kingdom (i.e., having the crown prince in Jerusalem rather than in exile in Geshur), but that he was also trying to ingratiate himself to Absalom, who may be his next king? He certainly seems ready to take personal responsibility for his role in bringing Absalom back (14:23), though what looks like a happy reconciliation between David and Absalom quickly sours when David adds that Absalom must live separately from him in Jerusalem and that “he will not see my face” (14:24; Prov 16:15). This leaves Absalom in an awful sort of limbo, not having received full justice nor truly experiencing full mercy, and ultimately leading him to boil over with frustration after two years (14:28).

14:25–27 The sidebar description of Absalom and his family in 14:25–27 probably serves a narrative purpose of drawing out the narrative time to make the reader “feel” the long two years as Absalom continues his banishment in Jerusalem. Yet given the important role Absalom plays in both the present and ensuing narrative, we are provided with a helpful characterization of the prince as outwardly handsome (14:25; cf. Saul in 1Sam 9:2) and apparently narcissistic (who weighs their own hair? 2Sam 14:26). The fact that his cut hair weighed 4.85 lbs. (2.2 kg) probably implies virility (cf. Samson in Judg 16), an implication corroborated by the mention of his children (2Sam 14:27). The fact that he named his daughter Tamar after his sister may have been an act of honoring her, or it may have selfishly “robbed” his sister Tamar of the only thing she had left—her name. It also implies that Absalom’s bitterness toward Amnon has not been quelled by his death, motivating the conspiracy against his father that will follow.

14:28–33 After two years of being kept from the king’s presence (lit. “he did not see the king’s face”; 14:28), Absalom sends for Joab (14:29) to ask his help in getting access to the king’s presence (14:32). Having assisted him so much in getting back to Jerusalem, one might expect Joab to respond, but he refuses to do so even after a second request (14:29). Acting eerily reminiscent of Samson (Judg 15:4–5), Absalom has his servants set fire to Joab’s crops in an adjacent field (1Sam 14:30), which finally motivates Joab to visit Absalom (14:31) and then go to the king on his behalf (14:33). Although Absalom’s reunion with his father has the initial appearance of reconciliation as “the king kissed Absalom” (14:33), upon closer inspection the scene may be more ambiguous and may be masking a still-brewing discord despite the outward displays of affection. The characterization of David as “the king” throughout 14:33 and his action of “summoning” Absalom sounds more as though he is treating him like a lowly servant. Absalom’s behavior is also servant-like, as he comes before David “and bowed (wayyishtakhu) to him (the king) upon his face to the ground before the king” (cf. similar descriptions of the woman of Tekoah [14:4] and Joab [14:22] in this chapter). Yes, David “kisses” him, but without mention of him lifting him from the ground, embracing him, blessing him, etc. (cf. 15:5; 19:39; Gen 33:4), one can imagine this to be a cool and condescending kiss on the back of the head while Absalom lies prostrate before him in abeyance.

The “reconciliation” here, then, shows a marked contrast to the forgiveness, mercy, and reconciliation described in Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11–32). There, the prodigal returns to his father in deep and humble repentance (Luke 15:17–18), recognizing his unworthiness to be called a son (Luke 15:21) and willing to be treated as a hired servant (Luke 15:18; cf. 2Sam 14:32). In Jesus’s parable the father is not slow to receive his son back into his good graces, but “while he was still a long way off,” he saw him (evidently having long watched for his son’s return), “felt compassion,” and “ran and embraced him and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). He refuses to hear the son’s self-abasement, and instead clothes him in fine robes and sacrifices the fattened calf to rejoice and celebrate the reunion (Luke 15:21–24). As we have noted throughout this passage, David thus stands in stark contrast to the king we need and the King we have by God’s grace in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Mercy and forgiveness come at a cost, but Christ Jesus, like a willing version of the elder son in the parable (Luke 15:25–32), bears the cost of our forgiveness, paying the penalty for our sin and sharing the reward of an eternal inheritance that he earns by his righteous obedience with us who are his wayward and straying younger siblings through faith.

15:1–12 The long shadow cast by David’s sin has led to the rape of his daughter (2Sam 13:1–19), the murder of his firstborn son (13:20–29), and a long estrangement from his third-born and likely his oldest son at present (13:30–14:33). Despite the appearance that all is well in the kingdom (14:33), this chapter unfolds the final fallout of David’s sin in Absalom’s conspiracy to lead a rebellious coup to take the throne and the ensuing civil war. Clearly, Absalom thinks little of his father’s reign as he puts together for himself a mini-army of fifty bodyguards and a chariot for his transportation, which would be like an armed vehicle or tank in modern context (15:1). That this is a direct challenge to David’s power becomes clear in the next few verses that describe Absalom’s clever cultivation of Israel’s grievances against David. Having experienced his own frustrations with David’s judgments and decisions toward him, one can just hear Absalom sympathetically commiserating with the people coming to bring their cases to the king (15:2–3). In any legal case you often have at least one displeased party, so Absalom easily could ingratiate himself by taking both sides individually (15:3) and suggesting that if he were king, “justice” would be done that would please both parties (15:4). Unlike his father, who merely “kissed” Absalom (14:33), Absalom would regularly act the part of a man of the people, affectionately reaching out his hand, grasping them, and kissing them as though they were beloved family and equals (15:5; in this sense Absalom appears more like the father in Jesus’s parable of the prodigal than his own father did). And by the end of four years (15:7) of this consistent practice, Absalom’s efforts prove effective, as he “stole the heart of the men of Israel” (15:6). The time being ripe, Absalom goes to the king and asks leave to “fulfill a vow which I vowed to the Lord in Hebron” (15:7).25 Absalom claims to have made a vow while he was living in exile in Geshur (15:8), and the king sends him in peace (15:9). On the way there, Absalom sends “spies” throughout the tribes, priming them to join his coup when they hear the “sound of the shofar” (15:10). He also takes “two hundred men from Jerusalem,” though the text notes that they were not intentional defectors but “went innocently, not knowing anything (about Absalom’s plans)” (15:11). Absalom’s last deliberate act of conspiracy is to send for Ahithophel, David’s counselor (15:12). With him Absalom’s “alliance” or “conspiracy” (Hebrew qesher) is strong, and the people with him keep increasing, putting David’s hold on the kingdom in serious doubt.

Exile to the East (15:13–18:33)

With Absalom leading a coup and drawing most of Israel with him, David is suddenly in danger for his life in his own capital city of Jerusalem. Thus, he must flee with the few remaining servants who are loyal to him. He does this, specifically heading east of the city, to the Mount of Olives, and then beyond to the Jordan River. In David’s exile we see a journey hearkening back to the first exile due to sin, which was also to the east (of Eden; Gen 3:24). David’s flight also foreshadows Israel’s national exile east to Babylon. Yet in the end, as the king of Israel after the Lord’s own heart, David’s suffering and exile from his throne in 2 Samuel 15–18 powerfully anticipates the “sufferings of Christ” (Mark 9:12; 1Pet 1:11) when he laid aside the glory he had with his Father (John 17:5; Phil 2:6), took on flesh, suffered a life of righteousness in the midst of the sin and misery of this world, and eventually was driven out of Jerusalem on a path of suffering that led to the Mount of Olives, where he wept and prayed. Yet unlike David, who we will see had friends and loyal servants who attended him the whole way, Jesus was abandoned by his disciples and left utterly alone (2Sam 14:27, 50; John 16:32; cf. Ps 88:8, 18). And unlike David who eventually will return to Jerusalem in glory to reign (2Sam 19–20), Jesus was dragged from the Mount of Olives back into Jerusalem to be tried, beaten, mocked, stripped naked, and crucified as a criminal on a cross. And yet while David’s return to Jerusalem reestablished his earthly kingdom for a time, Christ’s being “exalted” by being lifted up on the cross to die and his resurrection from the dead on the third day inaugurated his eternal reign over his heavenly kingdom that will stand forever (2Sam 7:12, 16).

15:13–23 Even before Absalom has marched on Jerusalem, David gets word that Absalom’s conspiracy and coup is a virtual fait accompli (15:13). Given his history as a mighty warrior-leader, David’s command to flee Jerusalem is disconcerting (15:14). His servants’ loyalty is evident in their response, “Your servants are ready to do whatever my lord the king decides” (15:15; ESV). What seems like a minor note of housekeeping in mentioning David’s leaving his concubines to “guard the house” (15:16) sets up the fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy (12:11) in the next chapter (16:22). As the king exits the city at the head of his loyal servants, he stops and watches as his people pass by (15:17–18), as kings do when preparing for battle (1Sam 29:2), implying that he will put himself in the rear to protect them from any pursuers.

What is striking about this passage is how many loyal friends and companions David still has despite Absalom’s having “stolen the heart of the men of Israel” (15:6, 13). While he leaves Jerusalem in sorrow and shame, the Lord continues to show kindness and mercy to him by granting him companions and faithful servants, who probably are a testimony to the kind of good king David truly was to those who knew him well. We first meet the foreigners who are part of his caravan—the Cherethites, Pelethites, and Gittites (15:18). David recognizes that at some level they need not be part of this inter-Israelite civil war and encourages them to go home (15:19–20). But this offer allows them to give beautiful expression of their utter loyalty to their beloved king (15:21; cf. John 6:66–69), to which David concedes and welcomes them on his sojourn (15:55). The whole situation is then well-framed in 15:23 as the whole land “weeping aloud” as the people “crossed over” and move through the Kidron Valley east of Jerusalem and headed for the wilderness.

15:24–29 Since God is the main character of 1–2 Samuel, the question of his representative presence in the ark is raised. It has been in Jerusalem, so will it be driven into exile again with David (cf. 1Sam 4–7)? The answer comes in this section as Abiathar and Zadok join David with the Levites bearing the ark (2Sam 15:24; cf. 2Sam 6). David, however, sends them back (15:25–26, 29), recognizing that his suffering is a form of discipline as promised by the Lord (2Sam 7:14–15; 12:10–14; cf. Heb 12:5–17). He will not use the Lord’s ark as a talisman as Israel did before (1Sam 4) and also wisely recognizes the value of having some sympathetic eyes and ears in Jerusalem (2Sam 15:27–28).

15:30–37 Again the scene is characterized in these verses (cf. 15:23) as one of mourning sadness and shame, as the king of Israel ascends the Mount of Olives “weeping, with his head covered, and barefoot” (15:30). At this point he is informed of what must have been devastating news, that his wise counselor Ahithophel is among the conspirators (qesher). Hearing this, David prays to the Lord to “make foolish” or frustrate the counsel of Ahithophel (15:31; Ps 33:10). This is a prayer that will be answered mightily and be the turning point in the whole civil war (2Sam 16:23; 17:14, 23), though we must wait some chapters to see this unfold. That process, however, begins here as David’s “friend” (15:37; 1Chr 27:33) Hushai the Archite meets him with all the outward signs of mourning (2Sam 15:32; cf. 1Sam 1:11; 4:12). David dissuades him from joining his exile (2Sam 15:33), instead sending him back to Jerusalem with instructions to be a “chaos agent” of sorts in order to undermine Ahithophel’s “wise counsel” (15:33–36). At this point there is a conspiracy within a conspiracy, as David has a little band of loyal followers in Jerusalem to work for his interests against Absalom, even as Absalom has mounted a formidable conspiracy against David’s kingdom at Hebron. David here shows himself to be a wise and shrewd king, assessing his resources and finding ways to exploit them even as the odds seem stacked against him.

The Christ-anticipating features of this chapter are hard to miss, as David treads the path of our own Savior King “on the night he was betrayed” (1Cor 11:23; Matt 26:26–28; Mark 14:22–24; Luke 22:19, 20), out of Jerusalem, through the Kidron Valley, and up the Mount of Olives in quiet sadness and suffering. Yet unlike Jesus, who was abandoned by all his disciples (Mark 14:27, 50; John 16:32; cf. Ps 88:8, 18), the Lord continues to show David his favor and grace by granting him numerous friends, loyal servants, and followers from among the Israelites, the religious leaders, and even foreigners. Furthermore, David’s suffering is self-inflicted insofar as it is clearly occurring in fulfillment of the Lord’s predictions and promises of discipline (2Sam 12:10–14). Christ, on the other hand, was led like a lamb to the slaughter (Isa 53:7), even though “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1Pet 2:22–23), all so that he himself could bear “our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” and so that “by his wounds we might be healed” (1Pet 2:24).

16:1–4 Ziba’s character and motives were already in question in the earlier narrative about him (2Sam 9), where it seems implied that he may have virtually taken over command of Saul’s household and land for his own benefit while Mephibosheth was hiding in exile. Where before there may have been hints that Ziba thought himself above serving a crippled Mephibosheth, here his attitude toward his master is more explicit as he clearly defects from the service assigned him by David (2Sam 9:9–11). In the present context in which David is in flight for his life, however, Ziba’s motivations seem partially masked by an act of devotion and mercy to the king and his house. Nevertheless, on closer examination it becomes clear that Ziba is acting in utterly self-seeking and self-preserving ways. We see this first in the note that his encounter with David occurs on “the other side of the summit of the Mount of Olives” (16:1). Presumably, this is so that no one in Jerusalem can see this meeting, as Ziba is trying to ingratiate himself to David even while maintaining plausible deniability so that he can claim loyalty to Absalom if necessary. He meets David with a “couple of donkeys” loaded with provisions of food and drink for the weary travelers (16:2), though these are probably not his to give, likely being the product of his work on behalf of his master, Mephibosheth. Furthermore, comparing what he brings to what Abigail brought David and his men (1Sam 25:18), it appears that she brought almost twice as many provisions for what was probably a much smaller group of people. Although it has been argued that the term translated “a couple” (tsemed) of donkeys could mean more than two (i.e., a “team”), it may be a note indicating that Ziba really has not brought sufficient supplies to truly aid David, since his household would surely have needed more than two donkeys to ride. When questioned by David about his master, Ziba claims that Mephibosheth stayed behind thinking he might be returned to his father’s throne by Israel (2Sam 16:3), although how Absalom’s taking the throne could ever be thought to return Mephibosheth to kingship makes little sense. Mephibosheth will later vehemently deny Ziba’s story and claim that he intended to join David but was unable due to his lameness (19:26). If Mephibosheth’s account is to be believed, Ziba left him behind and slandered him to David. This seems to add insult to the injury David is experiencing in his flight from Jerusalem. Whether Ziba intended it or not, the result of his slander is that David turns over all of Mephibosheth’s (i.e., Saul’s) estate to Ziba (16:4). At this point Ziba can go back to what is now his estate in a win-win position—if David returns to the throne, Ziba can claim to have supported him and keep Saul’s estate; if Absalom wins the civil conflict, he can plausibly deny having helped David and claim his right to “treasonous” Mephibosheth’s property.

16:5–14 Whether Ziba’s report about Mephibosheth’s rejection of David is true or not, this section has another member of Saul’s household clearly showing outright contempt for David. As David comes to Bahurim (northeast of the Mount of Olives on the way to the Jordan), he is met by Shimei the son of Gera who is cursing him (16:5) and throwing stones down on them from the hillside beside where they are journeying (16:13). He specifically accuses David of being a “worthless man (beliyyaʿal) of blood” for having supplanted Saul’s house (i.e., Shimei’s relative; 9:7–8). David’s servant Abishai rightly takes offense on the king’s behalf, offering to off Shimei’s head, as his behavior would not be tolerated by any self-respecting king (16:9). Yet there lies the rub, because David appears not to be in a self-respecting frame of mind and holds Abishai back while stating that he believes Shimei’s abuse is part of God’s plan for his discipline (16:10–11). Nonetheless, even while taking the Lord’s chastisement in stride, David also confesses his expectation of God’s grace, saying, “Perhaps the Lord will see my affliction (Hebrew consonants read “my iniquity”; ʿavon), and then the Lord will return to me good in place of his curse today” (16:12). And such is God’s grace—never beyond the pale of possibility for his servants who humble themselves before him (Jas 4:6), which is exactly what David leads his people to do as they forge ahead under the continuing vilification coming down from Shimei (16:13). No wonder that they arrive “weary” (“at the Jordan” is missing from the Hebrew but added by the LXX) and must refresh themselves (16:14).

16:15–23 In verse 15 the scene shifts from David heading east from Jerusalem back to the city where “Absalom and all the people, the men of Israel” are entering (16:15). The plan David hatched with Hushai (16:32–27) gets off to a bit of a rocky start, with him seeming to overdo his expression of allegiance to Absalom in the repetition of “Long live the king! Long live the king!” (16:16). Absalom seems dubious, questioning his lack of loyalty (khesed) to his “friend” (reaʿ) David (16:17). Hushai, however, is able to persuade Absalom that he has transferred his loyalty to him out of deference to the one chosen by “the Lord and this people and all the men of Israel” (16:18–19). Although Hushai’s statements here may all be true if referencing David, Absalom’s narcissism misleads him to assume the ambiguous references to “the king” who is “chosen by the Lord and . . . Israel” must refer to him. With that moment of narrative tension apparently resolved, Absalom turns his attention to Ahithophel for his counsel as to what next steps to take (16:20), and Ahithophel suggests an act of power by copulating with David’s concubines “in public” (16:21). Absalom follows his advice (16:22) in what is a clear fulfillment of God’s prophecy through Nathan in (12:11).26 The final note about the value of Ahithophel’s counsel sets up the conflict and providential intervention to save David in the next chapter.

David’s suffering and public humiliation at the hands of his rebellious son in this chapter offers a striking picture of the suffering the Lord’s Messianic King would endure to bring about his kingdom reign (Luke 24:26; 1Pet 1:11). David’s journey east of Jerusalem, weeping as he ascends the Mount of Olives, also strikingly foreshadows the journey of Jesus into his “exile” as on the night he was betrayed he ascended the Mount of Olives to weep and pray in his distress at bearing the sin of his kingdom’s people. Of course, in David’s case the sin that is tearing apart his kingdom began with his own failure as king. In our Savior King’s case, in contrast, he suffers the effects of his people’s sin. Yet as David willingly accepts Shimei’s cursing and refuses to retaliate, he offers a picture of his greater son, who tells Peter in the garden to “put your sword into its sheath” (John 18:10–11) after he attempts, like Abishai, to defend Jesus with “the weapons of the flesh” (2 Cor 10:4).

17:1–14 After the public show of power advised by Ahithophel and executed by Absalom (2Sam 16:20–23), Ahithophel counsels Absalom further to grant him an army of 12,000 men (17:1) for the purpose of catching David after a long day of travel. The hope is to crush the will of David’s few followers and put them to flight (17:2; Zech 13:7). He suggests only striking the king and then extending a hand of fellowship to his followers in order to consolidate and complete all Israel’s devotion to Absalom (2Sam 17:3). Although the advice “was right in the eyes of Absalom and in the eyes of all the elders of Israel” (17:4), for some reason Absalom demands that Hushai be summoned and heard too (17:5).

After telling Hushai what Ahithophel’s counsel is, he asks for Hushai’s thoughts (17:6). Hushai’s response is rhetorical art, as he dismisses Ahithophel’s counsel as “not good” (17:7) and appeals to Absalom’s narcissism (“you yourself know”; cf. 14:25–26) as well as his fears (“your father and his mighty men . . . are like a bear robbed of its cubs in the field”; 17:8). Furthermore, Hushai suggests that since David is so skilled as a warrior, he will not be foolish enough to spend the night with the people (17:8), meaning that the plan is doomed to fail and will only undermine Absalom’s hold on the people who are “tentatively” following him now (17:9–10). Fear is a powerful motivator, and having talked up David’s prowess, which must have gnawed at Absalom’s confidence, Hushai offers a “safe” and “strong” path forward that not only alleviates any fears (17:11) but that also enables Absalom to gain the kind of glory that would appeal specifically to a narcissist like him—an utter personal defeat of his father (17:12–13). Not surprisingly, Absalom and his co-conspirators are swayed by Hushai’s counsel (17:14), though the final summarizing verse offers the theological commentary that all of this was by the “command” (tswh) of the Lord to defeat the “good” counsel of Ahithophel “in order that the Lord might bring ‘evil’ (raʿah) to Absalom” (17:14).

17:15–29 Hushai does not rest in his having persuaded Absalom but moves quickly to get word about Absalom’s impending plans to David by means of the priests loyal to him (17:15–16). Despite the great care David’s spies take not to be found out (17:17), they happen to be seen by someone loyal to Absalom who informs on them so that they have to hide in a well (17:18), where “the woman” helps conceal their presence (17:19). Then, like Rahab (Josh 2), she sends Absalom’s servants on a fruitless chase (17:20; cf. 1Sam 19; Josh 2:22–23). Once again, the Lord’s sovereign protection and providence over David and his servants is evident as Jonathan and Ahimaaz are able to get out of the well and get word to David (17:21) so that he can quickly mobilize his people and move them across the Jordan (17:22).

Ahithophel’s motives in going home and hanging himself (17:23) after seeing that his counsel was not followed are unclear, though given his characterization as extremely wise, one can imagine that he foresees David’s ultimate victory and expects he will be brought to justice upon David’s return. Of course, David’s magnanimous spirit toward his opponents ought to have been known to Ahithophel, though that may have further motivated his actions here simply to avoid the shame of facing the “beloved” king he had betrayed (cf. Matt 27:3–10).

Having crossed the Jordan, David now finds himself in Mahanaim in Gilead east of the Jordan (2Sam 17:24), where Abner had set up headquarters to oppose David early in his reign (2Sam 2:8). This would appear to be a precarious place for David and Israel to fight, since 17:25–26 inform us that the commanders of both opposing factions of this Israelite civil war have familial connections to each other and to David (1Chr 2:13, 16).27 Nahash the Ammonite’s son, Shobi, who is now king of Rabbah (after his brother Hanun was presumably deposed after his defeat at the hands of David), shows himself to be allied to David, along with Machir (presumably a Saulide who had housed Mephibosheth), and Barzillai the Gileadite (2Sam 17:27). They bring rich supplies to refresh and support David and the people who are “hungry and weary and thirsty in the wilderness” (17:28–29; cf. Mark 1:13; Luke 22:43).

Like Israel in the wilderness, the Lord here provides for David and his people so that they not only are kept alive but so that they can even richly feast on sumptuous food while enduring their wilderness exile. What a picture of how the Lord cares for his people even today in “preparing a table in the presence of our enemies” (Ps 23:5), as week after week Christ nourishes us on his sacramental body and blood as a “feast in the wilderness,” even as we await his final deliverance and the consummation of his everlasting kingdom of glory (1Cor 11:26).

18:1–8 As David draws up the lines for battle (2Sam 18:1), he divides his forces into thirds (18:2) under the leadership of Joab, Joab’s brother Abishai, and Ittai the Gittite (15:19). His reasoning for doing such is unclear, though it would seem that David may not fully trust Joab and may therefore be “lowering” him from the status of commander to “one of three commanders.” Given Joab’s role in mediating between Absalom and David in 2 Samuel 14, David may have good reasons for questioning Joab’s loyalty. David himself plans to go into battle with them, though his men refuse to let him (18:3), presumably recognizing the target David has on his back (17:2). David acquiesces (18:4) and sends his commanders out with final instructions to his commanders (and overheard by everyone else; 18:5) to “deal gently” with Absalom. If the reading taken above of David’s lingering grudge against Absalom is accurate, then this indicates a change of heart in David toward his wayward son who is persecuting him. While this may seem surprising, it is often through suffering that God softens the hearts of his people out of their sin and enables them to advance in sanctification, which for David here looks like true forgiveness. The battle is recounted succinctly as beginning in the open field (of Gilead, presumably) but then shifting to the “forest of Ephraim” (18:6). While some suggest that this must be the name of an otherwise unknown region east of the Jordan, it may instead indicate that the battle quickly moved westward into Ephraim’s territory and thereby show how swiftly the Lord gave victory to David’s forces and how far their routing was (18:7–8).

18:9–18 The narrative here narrows its focus to Absalom, who seems to be fleeing when David’s forces catch up with him. In his flight the focus of his narcissistic pride (i.e., his long hair; 2Sam 14:26) becomes the very means of his downfall as his head is caught in a tree and he becomes “set” between heaven and earth while his mule continues its flight (18:9). Joab’s response when informed of this (18:10) makes it clear he has no intention of following David’s instructions (18:11; cf. 18:5). The informant is taken aback by Joab’s offer of money for having struck down Absalom, since he heard David’s instructions to deal gently with Absalom (18:12). He implies that he does not trust Joab to have his back, but rather expects him to be looking out only for himself (18:13). In a huff, Joab goes and strikes Absalom himself as he hangs in the tree (18:14), after which Joab’s armor bearers finish him off (18:15). Then Joab blows the shofar to signal that the battle is finished and to return David’s forces from their pursuit (18:16). Possibly to cover the evidence of his blatant disregard for David’s orders, Joab throws Absalom “into a big pit in the forest,” covering him with stones, while the rest of Israel (i.e., Absalom’s followers) flee to their homes (18:17). Finally, verse 18 notes that there is another monument to Absalom, bemoaning his lack of sons, presumably because the ones that had been born to him (14:27) must not have survived to adulthood.

18:19–33 Ahimaaz is apparently present with Joab, at least for the burial of Absalom, and offers to run the “good news” of the Lord’s deliverance (lit. “judgment,” shaphat) from the hand of his enemies (18:19). Probably because of having been there for similar situations in the past (2Sam 1; 4), Joab refuses to let him (18:20) and instead sends a hapless “Cushite” (18:21). Ahimaaz presses Joab, however, who again seeks to dissuade him from it (18:22), though after Ahimaaz makes his unwavering intentions clear, Joab consents, and Ahimaaz takes a shorter route and beats the Cushite to David’s presence (18:23). David is sitting “between the two gates” waiting for news when the watchman reports a single man running (18:24), which David recognizes will be “news” (besorah) rather than the beginning of a routed and fleeing army (18:25). Then the second man is seen (18:26), at which point the watchman recognizes the first runner as Ahimaaz. Given his loyalty to David, the king anticipates “good news” from Ahimaaz (18:27), and drawing near he does call out to the king, “Peace!” (Hebrew shalom; 18:28). As he goes on with the report one wonders if Ahimaaz has been reflecting on his dialogue with Joab during his run, recognizing the news about Absalom may not be as well received by the king as one might expect. Thus, he only reports that the Lord has delivered up men who have revolted (18:28). David asks specifically about Absalom, at which point Ahimaaz appears to lie and simply reports that he saw “a large crowd (or commotion)” but that he does not know what it was about (18:29). David has him step aside (18:30) as he turns his attention to the Cushite who has just arrived and reports the “good news” of victory like Ahimaaz (18:31). Again, David presses him about Absalom’s “peace” (shalom), to which the Cushite replies somewhat circuitously, “May the enemies of the king and all who rise against you for evil be like the young man” (18:32). Maybe because of the Cushite’s careful circumlocution, David does not treat these messengers as he did some prior ones who thought they brought “good news” of the death of fellow Israelites (2Sam 1; 4). Upon hearing the news of his son’s death, David is “deeply moved” or “agitated” (rgz) and departs to the upper chamber of the gate, weeping and crying heart-wrenchingly as he goes, “My son, Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! Who might grant me to die—I in your place? Absalom! My son, my son!” (18:33; 19:1 in the Hebrew text).

Here we see David’s rebellious son dying so the peace of the kingdom can be preserved, yet in some sense all of the events of this chapter began with David, so that he has contributed to bringing this conflict on himself. While David would have his son spared rather than face the consequences of his rebellion (cf. Abraham in Gen 22), in the end he is unable to bring it about. As the rebellious son Absalom dies suspended “between heaven and earth” (2Sam 18:9) in order to end the hostilities dividing the kingdom and ensure the return and reign of the true king of Israel, he offers a picture in contrast of the greater son of David, Jesus Christ. Jesus did not flee the consequences of sin, even though unlike Absalom he himself was sinless (2Cor 5:21) and did not deserve any of them. Nevertheless, he also died suspended “between heaven and earth” when he was hung on the cross, not to end conflict he had brought on God’s kingdom, but to end the conflict we as his people bring into it as the rebellious sons and daughters of our God and King. Much like Absalom’s death and burial brought an end to the hostilities raging in the kingdom of Israel, so Christ by his singular death put an end to our hostility with God, making peace by the blood of his cross (Eph 2:16; Col 1:20). The passage concludes with David’s sad mourning because he could do nothing to save his straying son, but Jesus is the Messiah King who can and has done all that was needed to save his people from their wayward sin and its deadly consequences. Jesus does not just wish he could take our place in judgment and death (2Sam 18:33)—he actually does it and through his righteous obedience earns us the right to be called children of our Heavenly Father as by faith we receive him as our Elder Brother, Savior, God, and King (John 1:12–13).

True Kingship in Expectation / Covenant Hope (19:1–24:25)

David’s “victory” over Absalom is bittersweet, as it comes at the cost of the life of his son who was presumably crown-prince at this point. Thus, David’s response to the news of victory is mourning rather than rejoicing (18:33), which seems to threaten David’s ability to consolidate power and return to the throne. After being prompted by Joab, however, David does the work of extending grace to his rebel people and re-winning their loyalties so that they welcome him back to Jerusalem as their beloved king. As with his ascent to the throne, here he works to regain the loyalty of Judah first and must then attempt to bring the rest of Israel into subjection. As happened before, Joab accomplishes it on David’s behalf but with violent and brutal means. With the final summary of David’s “cabinet” in 20:23–26 we are brought to another conclusion and summary of David’s kingdom (cf. 2Sam 8:15–18).Yet without the following descriptions of victory and glory (2Sam 9–10), the implication is that as great as David’s kingdom was and as faithful as God was to preserve it in spite of the sins of David and his sons, true consummation must wait until a king greater than David would arise and establish God’s kingdom in righteousness and holiness, just as Jesus has done.

David’s Kingship Restored (19:1–20:26)

19:1–8 As Joab arrives back from his victory (teshuʿah; 19:2), he is informed of David’s “weeping and mourning over Absalom” (19:1), as well as its dampening effect on what should have been good news (19:2–4). Ever the practical pragmatist, Joab recognizes the existential threat the king’s response poses to uniting the people around his somewhat tenuous kingship. So Joab goes in to the king for a reprimanding pep talk, showing him how ungrateful his response seems to those who have put their lives on the line (like Joab) to save David’s life “and the lives of [his] sons, daughters, wives, and concubines” (19:5). He brashly accuses David of “loving those who hate you and hating those who love you” (19:6) and then “commands” the king (rather than “requesting” or “recommending” to the king, as one should), “Get up, go out, and speak to the heart of your servants” lest he lose all who are still loyal to him (19:7). David seems to agree with the wisdom of Joab’s words and quickly complies by “taking his seat in the gate,” where a king would normally engage his people.

19:9–15 With the resolution of the immediate problem of David’s “endangering” response to Absalom’s death, another threat to David’s kingship is noted in 19:9—David’s apparent weakness in “fleeing out of the land from Absalom.” The people are arguing (dyn) among themselves and wondering how David can be the mighty king his people needed if his very own son could put him to flight. Now, with Absalom’s death in battle, they wonder to each other, “Why are you all being silent about returning the king [to Jerusalem]?” (19:10). The question is not directly answered, but it seems to be what David seeks to address as he finally makes moves to regain the throne. As with David’s ascent to the throne, he begins his return by seeking the support of his own tribe of Judah first (19:11–12; cf. 2:1–4). It is specifically noted that David sends his message through Zadok and Abiathar, who are still in Jerusalem (19:11–12; cf. 15:24–29). Given the fact that David must reestablish his kingdom after its destruction as a consequence of his sin, the fact that he begins the restoration process with the priests rather than his army may imply that the kingdom will be rebuilt only by God’s grace, not by his might (Zech 4:6). This is seen further as David shows great magnanimity and grace to Amasa, commander of Absalom’s army (2Sam 17:25), by demoting Joab (despite his “victory” over Absalom) and appointing Amasa as commander of his own army (19:13). Knowing Joab and his behavior the last time David did something like this with Abner, we can imagine Joab’s response to this move, though the text does not tell us. Nonetheless, Joab’s jealousy will become clear in his later treachery and murder of Amasa (2Sam 20:4–12). For the moment, however, David’s words to Amasa, which echo his words to Judah (“Are you not my bone and my flesh?” 19:12–13), sway the “heart of all the men of Judah as one man” so that they send to him across the Jordan requesting his return to Jerusalem (19:14) and then go to Gilgal to join him in the return (19:15).

19:16–29 Just as David’s flight into exile is punctuated by interaction with friends and opponents (15:13–16:14), so also is his trek back to Jerusalem that is recounted in this section (19:16–43). His first encounter is with Shimei the son of Gera (16:5–14), who unsurprisingly rushes to join Judah in being the first to welcome David back along with a host of 10,000 Benjaminites (19:16–17). With him comes another Saulide, Ziba, this time with his many sons and servants (19:18). Given what we learn from Mephibosheth in 19:24–28, it would appear that Ziba is trying to “get the jump” on Mephibosheth to confirm his loyalties to David and forestall the challenge to his narrative that will occur when David arrives in Jerusalem and is able to speak to his former master. For his part, Shimei meets the king “while he was crossing in the Jordan” (19:18) and begs for mercy (19:19), acknowledging his sin and pointing to his appearance there as a sign of his change of heart and loyalty to David (19:20). Abishai, who was ready to behead Shimei earlier (16:9), questions whether his change of heart is not merely driven by the changing winds of leadership. Abishai argues that Shimei deserves death for his affront to the Lord’s “anointed one” (Hebrew mashiakh; 19:21), but David holds him back again (cf. 16:10) and, confident of his hold on the throne (19:22), instead magnanimously pardons Shimei (19:23). Nonetheless, Abishai’s suspicions of Shimei seem eventually to be shared by David, who on his deathbed will instruct Solomon to execute Shimei when he takes the throne (1Kgs 2:8–9, 36–46).

19:24–30 Next, David’s encounter with “Mephibosheth the son of Saul” is described, though this jumps ahead chronologically to when David enters Jerusalem (19:25; cf. 19:31 in which the narrative continues where it left off in 19:23 as David is crossing the Jordan). Mephibosheth meets the king bearing all the marks of grief and distress at David’s absence (lit. “he had not ‘made’ [Hebrew ʿsh; i.e., “trimmed”; see NJPS] his feet nor his mustache, and his garments he had not washed since the day the king left until the day when he entered in peace”; 19:24). David questions why he did not flee with his household (19:25), to which Mephibosheth offers his account of events, which differs starkly from Ziba’s (16:1–4). Apparently, he had wanted to saddle a donkey so he could go with David (19:26), which, despite his wording (“I will saddle . . .”), would presumably have depended on Ziba for execution. A humorous play on words occurs as he claims that Ziba has slandered (rgl) him who is lame in his feet (rgl). With a touch of flattery (“my lord the king is like the Angel of God”) eerily reminiscent of Joab and the wise woman in their deception (14:17, 20), he entrusts himself to the king’s mercy (19:27). He also acknowledges the undeserved, generous character of David’s grace to him in the past (19:28), maybe to encourage the king to continue his kind disposition toward him. A bit like his wise son Solomon will do later (1Kgs 3:15–28), David responds by dividing Saul’s land between Mephibosheth and Ziba (19:29). Although Mephibosheth is presumably not in a position to argue since his disagreement with Ziba comes down to each of their self-testimonies, he responds in a very Jonathan-like concern more for David’s “peace” (shalom) than his own welfare, offering for Ziba to have it all (19:30). Whether or not David complied is not stated, though since David does not respond to Mephibosheth’s offer, it can be assumed that his word stood (i.e., the land was divided between Ziba and Mephibosheth).

19:31–39 Finally, David’s encounter with Barzillai the Gileadite is reported, though presumably this occurred as David was crossing the Jordan (19:31) and before the encounter with Mephibosheth recounted in 19:24–30. Despite Barzillai’s old age (eighty years old; 19:32) he had used his great wealth to provide for the king during his time across the Jordan. David offers to return the blessing (19:33), but Barzillai graciously refuses the honor, citing the infirmities of his old age (19:35) and his expectation of impending death (19:34). Instead, he offers to accompany the king partway (19:36) and then begs permission to return to his own city, sending his servant Chimham in his stead (19:37). David agrees (19:38) and, after crossing the Jordan, kisses Barzillai and blesses him (the latter notably missing in David’s earlier encounter with Absalom in 15:33), and then sends him on his way (19:39).

19:40–43 In this section we are introduced to the tensions developing between the tribes even as David returns to Jerusalem to retake the throne. Having crossed the Jordan (19:39), David continues on to Gilgal (19:40), where at this point his entourage includes “all the people of Judah” as well as “half the people of Israel.” The “men of Israel” (i.e., presumably the fighting men) then come to David and accuse their brothers (the men of Judah) of having “stolen” (Hebrew gnb; cf. 15:6; 19:4) David in leading him across the Jordan (19:41). The unity of Israel once more seems to be challenged as the men of Judah defend themselves against the accusation of favoritism (19:42). In response the men of Israel claim to have been the first ones ready to bring back “our king” (19:43; cf. 19:10), But Judah’s word proves “harsher” or “harder” (qsh) than the word of Israel (10:43). While unclear exactly what this means in context, tensions between Judah and the other tribes exist here, which does not bode well for the future.

David’s portrayal of “ideal” Israelite kingship has always been somewhat mixed, but after his sin with Bathsheba, it tends to be quite marred. Although some of his actions in chapter 19 begin to hint at his regaining his earlier embodiment of godly, wise kingship, his attempts to bring peace and reconciliation among the people of Israel are mixed at best. In stark contrast, Jesus Christ comes as a king who goes into exile not due to his own sin, but due to the sin of his people (Gal 3:13–14). And as he rises from the dead, having crossed “the Jordan” of death and come through alive in risen glory, Jesus unites all things to himself (Eph 1:10), not least of which are his people, who include both believing Jews and Gentiles who were at once “alienated and hostile in mind” (Col 1:21–23; Eph 2:1–2, 12). This he did by breaking down the “dividing wall of hostility” (Eph 2:14), making peace “by the blood of the cross” (Col 1:20) to make “one new man,” “reconciling us both to God in one body through the cross” (Eph 2:15–16). Thus, we as Christ’s people in his church are called to a Spirit-wrought unity in Christ (Phil 2:1–11; 1Cor 12:12–13:13), loving one another as he first loved us (1Jn 4:19), and being peacemakers and peacekeepers in love for one another (Rom 12:18; 14:19).

20:1–10 The tensions alluded to in 2 Samuel 19:43 break forth in another challenge to David’s throne, this time from a “worthless man” (beliyyaʿal) named “Sheba son of Bichri, a Benjaminite.” Like Absalom before him, he blows the shofar and announces, “We (presumably the Northern Tribes; cf. 19:43) have no portion (kheleq) in David . . . every man to his tents, O Israel!” (20:1). At this point the men of Israel who were following David leave him and instead follow Sheba, though the men of Judah continue to “cling” (dbq) to David from the Jordan to Jerusalem (20:2). The challenge from Sheba does not keep David from arriving in Jerusalem and dealing with Absalom’s desecration of his concubines. He compassionately cares for them, though he no longer includes them in his harem (lit. “they were denied marital intercourse until their death [as] lifelong widows”; 20:3). Next, David turns his attention to dealing with Sheba’s rebellion, instructing Amasa to “call the men of Judah to me for help three days (from now)” (20:4). But when Amasa does not show up on time, David turns to Abishai and instructs him to quell the rebellion (20:6), which he does with “Joab’s men and the Cherethites and the Pelethites and all the mighty men” (20:7; though curiously absent is the mention of the Gittites; 15:18). On their way, they meet Amasa at Gibeon where the first civil war under David began with the slaying of the twenty-four champions along with Abner’s killing of Joab and Abishai’s brother Asahel (2Sam 2:12–23; 3:30). Having been demoted by David, Joab is apparently among the “mighty men” who went with Abishai. He is dressed in soldier’s gear and has a sword strapped to his thigh that “falls” as he goes forward (apparently into his hand or into his robes or maybe unnoticed on the ground; 20:8). He greets Amasa feigning friendliness (“Are you at peace, my brother?” 20:9) and grabs his beard with his right hand to kiss him. Apparently, however, he is holding his dagger in his left hand without Amasa being aware (20:10), so like prior fratricidal deaths (e.g., Asahel, Abner, and Ish-bosheth), Joab strikes Amasa “in the stomach” (Hebrew khomesh) so that his entrails pour out on the ground. Without a second strike, Amasa apparently dies quickly (20:10).

20:11–26 Joab and Abishai immediately head off to take care of Sheba, leaving one of Joab’s young men (naʿar) to do the general’s job in calling all those who delight (khaphets) in Joab and are loyal to David to follow Joab (20:11). But as the people move past Amasa “wallowing in blood in the middle of the road,” they would stop or stand (presumably horrified by the grim scene). So “the man” (presumably the naʿar who mustered the troops in Joab and Abishai’s stead; 20:11) pulls Amasa’s body off the road into a field and covers him with a garment (20:12) so that the people move on from there to follow after Joab in his pursuit of Sheba (20:13). Meanwhile, Sheba has passed through “all the tribes of Israel” and only seems to have found a following among the Beerites (LXX reads Bichrites; 20:14), who lock themselves up in Abel of Beth-maacah believed to be up north near Dan (20:15). Joab and his forces besiege the city and are about to destroy its walls (20:15), when a “wise woman from the city” calls out asking for an audience with Joab (20:16). Given its location on the northern edge of the kingdom, preserving the integrity of this walled city would have been incredibly strategic for David’s kingdom. This may explain the wisdom of the woman’s appeal to Joab not to “swallow up the inheritance of the Lord” (20:17–19). After explaining that his intents are not to be destructive (20:20) but merely to bring Sheba to justice (20:21), the woman turns her wisdom to her own people to persuade them to give Sheba up (20:22). Her appeal is persuasive so that they “cut off the head of Sheba son of Bichri and threw it to Joab,” ending the conflict (20:22).

20:23–26 With David’s reign reestablished and secure, the main narrative of David’s kingship concludes here with another summary of David’s post-exile “cabinet of ministers” (cf. 8:15–18).28 Apparently, Joab’s lead in the victory against Sheba ingratiates him to David, who puts him back in command of “all the army of Israel” (20:23; cf. 8:16) with Benaiah continuing to be in command of the Cherethites and Pelethites (20:23; cf. 8:18). Some of the ministers in David’s post-exile administration remain the same (Benaiah; Zadok as priest; 20:25; cf. 8:17), but others are changed (Abiathar as priest in the place of Ahimelech; 20:25; cf. 8:17; Jehoshaphat replaces Seraiah as “secretary” or “recorder”). Three differences between this section and 8:15–18 are noteworthy. First, in 20:24 Adoram is said to be in charge of the “forced labor,” possibly due to the intervening account of David’s acquisition of the “forced labor” of Rabbah (12:26–31). This may imply that David’s reign now no longer is merely of blessing but also includes a measure of oppression, at least with regard to his “enemies.” Second, there is no mention of David’s sons being “priests” or “ministers” (kohen), but instead “Ira the Jairite” is also mentioned as “David’s priest/minister” (20:26). This may drive home the point that due to David’s sin his house has been plagued by “the sword” regularly wielded by his sons for evil. Maybe David recognizes here that he must wait for the Lord to appoint his successor rather than assuming that he can make his sons ministers. Finally, there is a notable absence of the significant summary found in 8:15 that David “administered justice and equity to all his people.” While this is not to say that David did not probably conclude his kingship with a measure of the wisdom and strength he had exercised in his earlier reign (2Sam 1–10), it may be a subtle recognition that his sin against Uriah has left its lasting mark, staining what was before an impeccable record of faithful kingship.

All of this chapter, and especially the closing verse of 20:23–26, leaves the distinct impression that though David’s reign over Israel was glorious, it was also fraught with sin and failure. Yes, compared to “a king like all the nations” embodied in Saul, David is a king “after the Lord’s own heart” in his “administering justice and equity to all his people” (8:15) by his covenant faithfulness to the Lord and his laws for kings (Deut 17:14–20). And he also shows his godliness by being quick to be humbled and repent when confronted by the Lord with his sin (2Sam 12; Ps 32, 51). Nonetheless, David’s reign is far from perfect, and his failures bring civil conflict, danger, and death upon his otherwise blessed kingdom. This leaves one with the concluding “taste” of David’s reign as not quite the ultimate fulfillment of the promises of God in his covenant with David (2Sam 7), let alone his promises to Abraham (Gen 15) and Adam (Gen 3:15).

Thus, the expectation is cultivated for a better “anointed one” (mashiakh), a better “son of David” whose kingdom and throne will be established forever (2Sam 7:12–13, 16). For this, God’s people will have to pray (2Sam 7:25) and wait with eager anticipation for 1,000 years until the Messiah is born in Bethlehem, the City of David (Matt 1:18–2:1; Luke 2:11–7). He is Immanuel (lit. “God with us”; Matt 1:23), the one who has built the true temple of God (i.e., dwelling place of God with man) in his own body (John 1:14; 2:18–22; Rev 21:3), which is visibly manifested in the world today as his church (Eph 2:22–23; 5:29–30; 1Cor 3:16; 6:19; 12:12–27). Unlike David’s reign, Christ’s is perfectly holy and righteous because he is the Holy and Righteous One (Acts 3:14) who is building his perfect eternal kingdom (1Pet 1:3–5) by the Spirit of God who raised him from the dead (Rom 8:11) to be a “new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2Pet 3:13).

David’s Kingship in Retrospect (21:1–24:25)

Second Samuel 21–24 serves as a kind of recapitulation of 1 Samuel 1 to 2 Samuel 20, recounting the rise and reign of Saul in its failure (2Sam 21, echoing 1Sam 1–15); the Lord’s sustaining and saving David through his suffering at the hands of Saul (2Sam 22, echoing 1Sam 16–31); the Lord’s covenant with David and faithfulness in and through him in the glory of his kingdom as a type of consummation (2Sam 23, echoing 2Sam 1–10); and David’s fall into sin along with God’s grace in forgiveness as proof that the true consummation of God’s kingdom is yet to come (2Sam 24, echoing 2Sam 11–20). Thus, these chapters serve as an “epilogue” or “retrospective” of sorts, driving home the overall message of 1–2 Samuel that asks the question, “Who will be the True King of Israel as a ‘man after the Lord’s own heart’ (1Sam 13:14)?” The answer made clear through this epilogue is that it will be one like David but better, a son of David who is yet to come and who can bring true peace to Israel because he can be a perfectly faithful king without David’s flaws. And that is the King who has clearly come in the person of “Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham” (Matt 1:1), whom God the Father declares is “my beloved son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt 3:17).

There is a clear chiastic structure to these four chapters that can be laid out as follows:

A  Saul’s sin as king, its consequences, and atonement

B  David’s early (?) victories with his “servants” (ʿavadim)

C  David’s song of deliverance and coronation

C′ David’s song of coronation and denunciation of worthless men

B′ David’s later (?) victories with his “mighty men” (gibborim)

A′ David’s sin as king, its consequences, and atonement

As can be seen there is both chiastic concord as well as developmental “progression” from Saul (A) to David (A′), from David’s servants (B) to mighty men (B′), and from deliverance (C) to dominion (C′). This implies that, as seen throughout 1–2 Samuel, the eschatological Kingdom of God is one that is coming and growing (Luke 17:20–37; cf. Dan 2:36–45) and will one day reach its final consummation when the Messiah comes again in glory to usher in the age to come (Matt 12:32; 24:30; 25:31; 26:64; Mark 8:38; 10:30; Eph 1:21).

21:1–14 This chapter echoes the events of 1 Samuel 1–15 (or maybe through ch. 18), recapitulating them to conclude the book by reiterating the main point of these texts, namely, Saul’s failure as a covenant-breaking “king like all the nations.” It also reiterates the contrast between Saul and David, who ends up being the better king and warrior of Israel even while Saul is still around (e.g., defeating Goliath in 1Sam 17). The first verses here (2Sam 21:1–14) offer a brief account of bringing justice for Saul’s sin against the Gibeonites. The narrative opens with the report of a three-year famine (raʿav) in the land “in the days of David” (21:1).29 In the context of the former prophets (Josh–2Kgs), in which Israel’s history is being evaluated through the lens of the Mosaic Covenant, especially as it is summarized in Deuteronomy, such a famine in the land had theological significance. Famine was a consequence for covenant breaking (Lev 26:18–20; Deut 28:23–24), so David responds rightly by “seeking the face of the Lord.” The Lord informs David of Saul’s covenant breaking when he “put the Gibeonites to death” (2Sam 21:1) despite the covenant that Israel had sworn to them during the days of Joshua (Josh 9). While the event referenced by God is not recorded elsewhere, it may be that Gibeon’s close proximity to Saul’s capital in Gibeah (about 3 miles [5 km] apart) may have made them an accessible target for Saul to “strike down” in his “zeal for the people of Israel and Judah” (2Sam 21:3). So David summons the Gibeonites (21:2) and asks what he can do to “make an atonement” (kpr; 21:3). At first, they almost seem to dismiss his offer, not wanting silver or gold nor claiming the right to put anyone to death (21:4). But after David promises to do what they say, they ask for the king to give them seven sons of Saul to execute (yqʿ) “to the Lord in Gibeah of Saul” (21:5–6).30

David complies with their request (21:6), though he spares Mephibosheth in order to remain faithful to his covenant with Jonathan (21:7; cf. 1Sam 20:8, 42; 23:18). In doing so, David offers a striking contrast: Saul the covenant breaker versus David who fulfills his covenant carefully in executing justice. Verse 8 lists those whom David hands over (21:8), making it clear that none of those executed (21:9) would have been heirs to the throne or related to Jonathan (the “Mephibosheth” mentioned as son of Rizpah is different from Jonathan’s son). The following scene of Rizpah, Saul’s concubine (21:11), guarding the bodies from the “birds of the air by day” and the “beasts of the field by night” serves as a compelling picture of Rizpah’s love and loyalty to her children (21:10). David hears of it (21:11), goes and gathers Saul’s and Jonathan’s bones (21:12; cf. 1Sam 31:10–13) as well as the bones of the seven executed children of Saul (2Sam 21:13), and gives them all an honored burial “in the grave of Kish,” Saul’s father (21:14). The result is the lifting of the Lord’s covenant curse of famine upon the land.

21:15–22 These verses recount various battles of David and his servants with the Philistines (21:15, 18– 20), who are otherworldly in their size (“giants”; Hebrew raphah; 21:16, etc.). First, we learn of an instance where David was almost killed by Ishbi-benob and was only barely saved by Abishai (21:15–17). His men therefore suggest he no longer lead them in battle, which may have been the reason for his staying back in Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 11. Alternatively, it may have been a request that simply went unheeded. Then two more victories are mentioned: the striking down of Saph by Sibbecai (21:18) and “Goliath the Gittite” struck down by Elhanan in the reading of the MT (21:19).31 Finally, a man with “six fingers on each hand, and six toes on each foot” who descended from the giants (raphah) and who taunted Israel is said to have been struck down by David’s brother Jonathan (21:20–21; called “Shammah” in 1Sam 16:9). These verses seem to echo the themes and events of 1 Samuel 17–18, where David shows himself to be the courageous leader in battle that Saul fails to be, specifically defeating the Philistines in his battle with Goliath. Thus, the passage seems to go out of its way to highlight words and themes from that earlier section, including “Philistines,” “giants,” “Gath,” the size and weight of the weapons, their “taunting of Israel,” and even “Goliath of Gath.” All of this brings to mind 1 Samuel 17, though here it is “David and his servants” (21:22) by whose hand these Philistine giants fall.

This chapter is a reminder that where Saul failed as a “king like the nations,” David was successful even before he was officially recognized as king. Nonetheless, despite his mighty victories with his servants, David’s weakness is highlighted by mention of his growing weary in 21:15. In 21:1–14 he is presented as a king who brings justice and keeps covenant, unlike Saul. Yet there is also a keen sense that his desperate pursuit of justice and relief from famine ends up bringing brutal retribution on Saul’s household along with grief upon a bereaved mother. This is hardly the kingdom of security, peace, holiness, and righteousness that one longs for in the Kingdom of God. Thus, we are left with the nagging sense that while David was overall a great king, he was far from perfect, and his physical weariness is a reminder that he will eventually die. Furthermore, his form of justice requires further bloodshed and the death of others.

As such we are left looking and longing for a king who might bring justice and atonement in a way that stops the violence and bloodshed, and who can fight for and protect his people forever. And this is exactly who we have in Jesus Christ, who fulfills all the justice that our sin demands by dying in our place and thus putting an end to regular, bloody sacrifices. He is the once-for-all sacrifice (Heb 7:26–27) so that blood must no longer be shed for our atonement, but instead we are given a sign and seal of his sacrifice by means of a cup of celebratory wine and a nourishing morsel of bread in the Lord’s Supper (1Cor 11:26). Furthermore, having risen from the dead never to die again, Jesus is the king who never faints nor grows weary (Isa 40:28) but who lives forever to reign over and on behalf of his kingdom of blessedness, having defeated all the monstrous, Philistine-giant-like threats, both seen and unseen (Eph 6:12), that we may ever face in this world or the next.

22:1–51 In 2 Samuel 22 (and its parallel in Ps 18), we find a song David “spoke to the Lord . . . when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies, and from the hand of Saul” (2Sam 22:1). As he sings of danger and deliverance by the hand of the Lord, we hear echoed the themes of 1 Samuel 16–31. The final verses that speak of the deliverance (22:44) seem to have been written after 1 Samuel 31, though they could recount any number of David’s experiences running from Saul and other enemies in those chapters. This remarkable song of fifty-one verses places some of the central themes of 1–2 Samuel (and especially 1Sam 16–31) in a theological perspective. Among other things in this chapter, David as Israel’s anointed king (22:51) strongly affirms his continuing recognition of the Lord as his and Israel’s ultimate sovereign (22:47–51). David’s wholehearted proclamation of the Lord’s universal, divine sovereignty and his praise for it encapsulates the dominant theme of the song.

A question that has drawn much attention in the study of 1–2 Samuel is why the Lord removed Saul from the throne for disobeying the word of the prophet Samuel (1Sam 13, 15), while David was not only forgiven for his sins (2Sam 12, 24) but was also promised a dynasty that would endure forever (2Sam 7). The answer to this question can be found in this song. In verses 5–7 and 17–20, David describes in poetic language how the Lord had rescued him from the throes of death. The reason why the Lord rescued him from death is stated in 22:20—it is because the Lord “delighted in him.” David then goes on to say that the reason the Lord delights in him is that “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness, according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me” (this statement in 22:21 is repeated in 22:25). In 22:22 David says that he has “kept the ways of the Lord,” and he has “not done evil by turning from my God.” In 22:24 he claims to be “blameless” before God and having “kept himself from sin.” Given what we know about the life of David, these would appear to be astonishing statements, if not utter lies! How can David say such things?

If we look closer at the immediate context, we find that in 22:27–28 David uses a set of contrasts to draw a distinction between himself and his enemies. He describes himself as “pure” rather than “crooked” in 22:27, and “humble” rather than “haughty” in 22:28. If we ask who his enemies are, 22:1 of the poem tells us that David sang this song “when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul.” We then understand that the rescue from death of which David speaks in 22:5–7 and 22:17–20 refers to his rescue from the hand of Saul and his accomplices who had attempted to kill him on numerous occasions.

Thus, when David says that “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness” in 22:21, 24, this must be understood in the context of the use of the terms “righteous” and “wicked” elsewhere in the Psalms and the wisdom literature of the OT. In the last verse of Psalm 1, the Psalmist says that “The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” The contrast here is between two lifestyles, not between those who are morally perfect and those who are not. The righteous are not sinless people; rather, they are people, who, when they fall into sin, confess their sin and seek the Lord’s forgiveness. They are people who love the Lord, seek to serve him with all their heart, mind, and soul. In contrast, the “wicked” are those who turn their backs on the Lord and go their own way.

David was certainly not morally perfect, but his heart was right toward the Lord, and his life demonstrated that, overall, his heart’s desire was to be faithful to the Lord and obedient to his commands. This is what we are to understand by David’s statements that “the Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness” (22:21, 25) and by his claim that he “kept the ways of the Lord” (22:22), as well as his being “blameless before God” and “keeping himself from sin” (22:24). These are not claims of moral perfection but an affirmation of overall covenant faithfulness, entailing personal integrity and dependable moral character rather than sinless perfection.

Yet on the level of David’s place in the unfolding drama of redemptive history, we find that while he embodied the ideal of the true covenantal king in a way that neither Saul nor any other Israelite king after him ever did, his was still a flawed kingship. At its best it foreshadowed the kingship of the great future messianic ruler who would establish a kingdom in which justice and peace are full and complete. As David’s failures were multiplied and expanded by those who followed him on the throne in Israel during the OT period, Israel’s prophets began to point forward to the king who would come from the line of David and who would be known as a “righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness” (Jer 23:5). He would also be a person known by the remarkable title “The Lord Is Our Righteousness” (Jer 23:6). What Jeremiah here anticipates, though he does not fully explain it, is that David’s greater son would do something that far surpassed what any human ruler could ever hope to accomplish. He would be a king who was not only perfectly sinless himself, but who would also atone for the sins of others, extending his righteousness to those over whom he rules. His name would be called Jesus, “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21). “He will sit on the throne of his father David and his kingdom will have no end” (Isa 9:7; Luke 1:33).

23:1–7 This chapter begins with another poem, if not a song, per se, by the “pleasant one of the songs of Israel” (or “sweet psalmist of Israel”; 2Sam 23:1). As noted in the opening summary of this section, this chapter echoes the themes and context of the events in 2 Samuel 1–10. Thus, the context in which David speaks these words is his kingship realized, since they are the “last words” of the man “who was established (or “raised”) on high.” In 23:2–4 David delights in the glory of godly kingship in which God’s Spirit speaks through the king (23:2) words glorying in justice and wisdom (i.e., “ruling with a fear of the Lord,” 23:3; cf. Prov 1:7). The results of such kingship “after the Lord’s own heart” (1Sam 13:14) is glory and blessing on the kingdom (2Sam 23:4). David then moves to claim such a summary of his reign, though giving ultimate credit to the Lord’s faithfulness to his covenant with him (23:5; cf. 2Sam 7). Finally, David denounces the failure and folly of “worthless men” (beliyyaʿal; 23:6) who bring upon themselves destruction (23:7), both signaling a warning to the enemies of the Lord’s king, as well as subtly “warning” against the kind of self-destructive behavior in which David also sadly engaged at points (2Sam 11, 24).

23:8–12 Next we have another list of David’s “mighty men” (Hebrew gibborim; cf. 21:15–22), which is not a term used for David’s servants until long after he is king (2Sam 10:7; note that it is first used in 2Sam for Saul and Jonathan in David’s lament for them; 2Sam 1:19, 21–22, 25, 27). Thus, this passage appears to continue the “recapitulation” or reminder of the events of 2 Samuel 1–10, where David is a victorious and glorious king. It recounts some of the feats of “the three,” including one who kills 800 at a time (23:8), another who wore himself out with a strong grip (23:10) having “defied” the Philistines with David (23:9), and another who even saves a crop of lentils by standing in the midst of it and striking down the Philistine attackers, thereby working a “great victory” (teshuʿah gedholah; 23:11–12).

23:13–17 Here is an act of “three of the thirty chiefs” showing that David’s mighty men are so great and mighty, as well as being so utterly devoted to him that even when David merely longs for a drink from the well in his hometown of Bethlehem that is under Philistine control (23:13–15), three of them break through the Philistine camp and bring it back to him (23:16). David honors them by pouring it out in recognition that their gift put their lives in danger (23:17).

23:18–38 Finally, “the thirty” of David’s mighty men are mentioned along with their memorable feats. An interesting parallel to the list in 21:15–22 is the reappearance of Abishai, the brother of Joab in both (23:18; cf. 21:7), who was the “most renowned” of the thirty and thus became their commander, though he was not quite at the level of “the three” (23:19). Benaiah receives more description than Abishai (23:20–23), maybe as a subtle way of exalting him as more honorable than the “sons of Zeruiah” whom David regularly had to restrain from violence (2Sam 16:10; 19:22). Then the rest of “the thirty” are listed more summarily (23:24–39), though their total ends up being thirty-seven (23:39). Some of the names have been encountered in the preceding narrative (Asahel and Elhanan [23:24]; Ahithophel [23:34]; and Uriah [23:39]), but most of them are not known outside of their mention here.32

This chapter thus presents David’s kingship in its glory prefiguring the consummation of the kingdom of God. As David glories in the Lord’s presence and power at work in and through him (23:1–7) and then lists the various mighty men representing the mighty army of David who with him guard and protect the Kingdom of Israel and extend its peace and blessing (23:8–12), we see typological anticipation of the kingdom of David’s greater son, Jesus Christ. The Spirit of the Lord is upon him (Isa 61:1; Luke 4:16–21) as the ultimate “Servant of the Lord” whom Isaiah foretold, and by his resurrection power he raises an army of people (Ezek 37:10) who reign with him in his glorious kingdom forever (2Tim 2:12; Rev 20:4, 6), where Christ “will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore” (Rev 21:4 ESV). As with all the chapters in this epilogue, while David is primarily portrayed in a positive light, there are little hints that despite the “already” of his reign, it is ultimately “not yet” in relation to its ultimate future fulfillment in Jesus Christ. This is implied by the warning against the self-inflicted suffering of “worthless men” in 23:6–7 and the “demotion” of Joab in the list of David’s mighty men (probably due to his complicity in David’s sin in 2Sam 11 and violently “disobedience” to David in his murder of Abner and Amasa).

24:1–9 Within the epilogue of 2 Samuel 21–24, this chapter echoes the themes and events of 2 Samuel 11–20, in which David fails in his royal duties to be the king he should be according to God’s laws and “after the Lord’s own heart,” bringing upon himself and the kingdom consequences for his sin. Nonetheless, as he repents and appeals to the Lord for mercy, God offers “a way of escape” (1Cor 10:13). The chapter opens with a somewhat surprising note that the anger of the Lord was again “kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them” so that he gives the command to number Israel and Judah (2Sam 24:1). All sorts of questions arise, such as what other event of 1–2 Samuel this “again” refers to, and how God can hold David accountable for something he has “incited” David to do. First Chronicles 21:1 “clarifies” the situation in a way we are more comfortable with, attributing the incitement of David to “Satan.” Yet a proper understanding of the sovereignty of God—which is a major theme in 1–2 Samuel (see Introduction to 1–2 Samuel)—helps us understand that both can be true at the same time. On the one hand, Satan, who is the opponent of God and his people, is morally culpable for tempting and “inciting” David into this sin. Both tempter and the one who gives in to the temptation (David) are therefore morally culpable and guilty for their sinful action. But in the wisdom and providence of God’s sovereign decree, he can be said to be behind all of this, using it for his good purposes (Gen 50:20). Thus, through David’s actions God will bring discipline or judgment upon Israel who has kindled his anger (2Sam 24:1). While we do not know how exactly Israel did this, given that the beginning of 1–2 Samuel takes place during the period of the judges, the possibilities for Israel’s angering the Lord are virtually endless. Furthermore, within the context of 1–2 Samuel, Israel’s great offense against God was looking to human kingship “like the nations” in rejection of the Lord’s kingship. This would make David’s actions here instructive for Israel as he acts as a king “like the nations” in taking the census, turning to his earthly strength (i.e., the number of warriors available) rather than trusting the Lord. He thereby brings upon Israel not the blessing of the Lord’s king, but consequences for his sin.

Once again, Joab is shown to be complicit in David’s sin (cf. 2Sam 11) as David instructs him to take the census “from Dan (north) to Beersheba (south)” (24:2). Despite protesting the questionable character of David’s command, the king’s word prevails (lit. “was strong,” khzq), and Joab and the commanders of the army go out to obey the king (24:3). They start across the Jordan on the eastern border of Israel to the east of the Dead Sea in Aroer (24:5), head north to Dan through Gilead (24:6), then head west to Sidon and Tyre on the coast (24:6–7), finishing up in the south (negev) by going through Beersheba (24:7), before heading back to Jerusalem (24:8). The results are an impressive 800,000 “men of valor (khayil)” (i.e., men able to wage war) in Israel and 500,000 in Judah (24:9).33 This number could certainly reassure David of his military might, and it is evidence of the Lord’s blessing on his people, as it is almost double the number of men counted in Israel’s census when they came up out of Egypt (Num 1:46).

24:10–17 Immediately following the results of the census, we are told that “David’s heart struck (nkh) him” and he confesses quickly to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. And now, O Lord, please overlook the iniquity of your servant, for I have behaved very foolishly (skl)” (24:10). Commentators debate how exactly David sinned based on the laws of God, though it is not clear that any law specifically forbids what David does here. Instead, it is better to see that David’s sin may not necessarily be in his action itself, but in his sinful motivation to know this number in order to “put his trust in . . . a son of man, in whom there is no salvation” (Ps 146:3). The latter is implicitly forbidden in the specific laws for kings not to amass war horses, wives, or wealth (or means of war, marriages, and money; Deut 17:16–17). David knows he has sinned because his conscience convicts him, and he was warned against this by Joab’s challenge (24:3), which seems to recognize that David’s motives are questionable—and for Joab’s unscrupulous conscience to be pricked, one knows this must be bad. Furthermore, David characterizes his action as “behaving foolishly” (Hebrew root skl), which does not necessarily designate sinful law-breaking, but may indicate a careless folly that is considered sinful when arising from sinful intentions.

David’s repentance here (24:10) is even quicker than in 2 Samuel 12, and the Lord graciously sends the prophet Gad to offer him one of three disciplinary consequences (24:11–12). When offered three years of famine in the land, three months of fleeing the pursuit of enemies, or three days of pestilence (24:13), David does not exactly choose but instead asks to “fall into the hand of the Lord” rather than “falling into the hand of man” (24:14). This would eliminate option two (fleeing from enemies), but then leave the choice between options one and two to the Lord. David recognizes the “great mercy” of the Lord in this offer (24:14), since all three were often consequences promised together for covenant-breaking and disobedience to the Lord (e.g., Lev 26:23–26; Deut 28:21–26; 32:24–25; 1Kgs 8:37; 1Chr 20:9). The Lord then brings the consequence that is shortest in duration (again in mercy), so that across the land pestilence from the Lord kills 70,000 men (a little over 4 percent of the men numbered in the census; 24:14–15).

The Lord’s mercy that David confesses (24:14) is not only evident in giving David a choice of consequence (24:12), and in choosing the shorter consequence of three days (24:15), but also in sparing Jerusalem (24:16). As the “angel” (Hebrew malʾakh) is about to bring the pestilence to Jerusalem, the Lord “relents” (Hebrew nkm) from bringing the “calamity” (Hebrew raʿah) upon the city and tells the angel, “Enough (Hebrew rav)! Now stay your hand!” and stops him “beside the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (24:16). Only after the Lord has already shown his mercy does David see the “angel who had been striking among the people,” and he pleads with the Lord on behalf of “these sheep” (i.e., the people of Israel), saying, “I have sinned and I have committed iniquity, but these sheep—what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against the house of my father!” (24:17, emphasis added).

24:18–25 Having already shown mercy in stopping the pestilence, the Lord responds to David’s selfless intercession for his people by sending Gad to have David “raise (Hebrew qwm) an altar to the Lord” on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (24:18). Rather than being a demand for David to work for his own atonement, like the Law given through Moses this command of the Lord provides a visible and tangible (i.e., sacramental) way for David to experience the grace he and Israel have already received by God’s mercy (i.e., relenting from continuing the consequences for sin; 24:16). So David goes out to Araunah’s threshing floor (24:19), but Araunah sees him and runs to meet him, bowing to the king (24:20). When David offers to buy the threshing floor (24:21), Araunah says to “take” it (Hebrew lqkh) along with the offering itself and wood for it (24:22–23). Yet rather than “taking” (lqkh) from him as a “king like the nations” might (cf. 1Sam 8:10–18), David insists on paying for it, saying, “I will not offer (Hebrew ʿlh) to the lord burnt offerings (Hebrew ʿolah) that are free to me” (24:24). Then David builds an altar, offering burnt offerings (ʿolah) and peace offerings (shelem) to the Lord, and the final words of the book boldly declare the mercy of God to forgive sin and remove its consequences: “So the Lord was supplicated on behalf of the land, and the plague was lifted from upon Israel” (24:25).

This final chapter of the book that echoes the content of 2 Samuel 11–20 shows David as the flawed and sinful human king he was, despite being “a man after the Lord’s own heart” (1Sam 13:14). Unlike Saul, however, who made excuses for himself (1Sam 15:15, 20–21), David is quick to repent fully and intercedes passionately on behalf of the people (2Sam 24:17). He functions in a royal priestly capacity, setting up an altar at his own expense and offering sacrifices acceptable to the Lord in the place where his son Solomon will later build the “house of the Lord” (i.e., the temple; 2Chr 3:1). Although not in his sin, but in his compassion and care for his people and his priestly intercession and service on their behalf, David here foreshadows his greater son, Jesus Christ, who will build a house for the Lord in his own body (2Sam 7:13; John 2:18–22) through his obedient life, death, and resurrection from the dead. Jesus is the one who unites not only the office of king and priest (Ps 110:4; Zech 6:12–14) but also prophet (Deut 18:15–22; Matt 17:1–8; Mark 9:2–8; Luke 9:28–36; Acts 3:22–26). He is the one who will once for all remove the plague of sin and suffering from “Israel” (i.e., his people; Rom 9:6; Phil 3:3), and by his resurrection from the dead usher in his eternal kingdom where his throne will be established forever (2Sam 7:16; Ps 89:36–37; Luke 1:33).


In 1–2 Samuel we find the history of the Lord’s establishment of kingship in Israel. Kingship in Israel points forward to, and provides the organizational apparatus for, something far greater that was to come—the rule of the Messiah, the King of all the earth. From this time forward in both the OT and NT, kingship and Messianic expectation become a central theme in the unfolding of God’s redemptive purposes. This all begins to take shape in 1–2 Samuel, and specifically through the main human character in these books, King David.

In general, it can be said that David sought to rule as God intended the occupant of Israel’s throne to rule. He attempted to pattern his reign on the requirements of the Book of the Law (Deut 17:14–20), and he served the Lord in his capacity as king with his whole heart. His reign is summarized in 2 Samuel 8:15 as being one of a king who “did what was just and right for all his people.” This brief statement characterizes the whole course of David’s reign in a single sentence. In this generalized but significant assertion, the narrator characterizes David as a ruler who exhibited the qualities that the Lord desires for all his people (cf. Ezek 18:5, 19, 21, 27), but more particularly the qualities that are essential for someone with royal authority (cf. Deut 17:18–19; Jer 22:3).

The later prophets recognize the significance of this summary of David’s reign, as they further reveal his role as messianic model in the Lord’s grand story of redemption. In speaking of the great Messianic king of the future, Isaiah says the “shoot” that will come out of “the stump” of David’s family (Isa 11:1) will judge the needy with “righteousness” and the “poor” with “justice” (Isa 11:4). Jeremiah says the “righteous Branch” who will sit on the throne of David will be a king who does what is “just and right” (Jer 23:5; 33:15). These are, in fact, the very qualities that characterize God’s own governance of all his creatures (cf. Isa 33:5; Jer 9:24; Pss 33:5; 45:6–7; 72:1). Psalms 89:14 and 97:2 even go so far as to speak of “righteousness and justice” as the foundations of the throne of God. So this brief but sweeping statement about the reign of David in 2 Samuel 8:15 (that David did what was “just and right for all his people”) is telling us that in spite of the flaws and failures associated with David’s life, his kingship nevertheless exhibited something of the character of God’s own reign. In contrast to Saul, David was a true, although imperfect, representative of the ideal of the covenantal king.

Furthermore, it is the imperfections and failures of David that make this book no mere royal or nationalistic propaganda, nor a piece of mere honorific hagiography. No, it is exactly the “good, but not perfect” picture that David paints through these chapters that makes us aware that as great a king as he was, he was still merely a human king, plagued by the error, weakness, and sin that characterize fallen humanity. So despite the fact that David was a “man after the Lord’s own heart” (1Sam 13:14), he leaves us wanting more—someone like David in all his best characteristics, but without his foibles, failures, and flaws. Thus, with the covenantal promise of a Son who will sit on his throne forever (2Sam 7), expectation is built through this text for a greater son of David—the Messiah to come—an expectation and hope that even David himself participated in (Ps 110; Mark 12:35–37). It is this expectation and future hope that the prophets cultivated through their ministry, not only here in this book of the “Former Prophets,” but also through the work of the “Latter Prophets” who heralded God’s promises all the way through the exile and return from Babylon. And it is this expectation and hope that finally comes to fulfillment centuries later when a little baby boy is miraculously born to a young virgin in David’s hometown of Bethlehem (1Sam 16:1, 4; Matt 2:1; Luke 2:1–7). His name is Jesus “the anointed one” (i.e., “Christ” in Greek or “Messiah” in Hebrew [mashiakh]). He is the God-man conceived by the Holy Spirit in the womb of the virgin Mary who is introduced in the very first verse of the New Testament—verse 1 of Matthew’s Gospel—as “Jesus Christ, the son of David” (Matt 1:1; Luke 1:32–33; John 7:42; Rom 1:3; 2Tim 2:8; Rev 22:16).


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Long, V. Phillips. 2020. 1 and 2 Samuel. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries 8. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Mackay, John L. 2019. “1–2 Samuel.” Pages 19–490 in 1 Samuel–2 Chronicles. ESV Expository Commentary 3. Ed. by Iain Duguid, James Hamilton, and Jay Sklar. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

Endnotes & Permissions

1. If so, it is significant that this was not passed down to us as part of God’s Word, indicating that the saints featured in Scripture are not there as “heroes” for us to glory in per se, but instead are instructive in some other way than mere hagiography (i.e., somehow teaching us about God’s redemption and typifying our Savior).

2. Not surprisingly, some modern commentators find in David’s description of Jonathan’s love as “more wonderful to me than the love of women” (1:26) evidence for their having some sort of homosexual relationship. This would, however, be to wrongly sexualize the profound description David offers here of the depth of his friendship with Jonathan. Women tend to form more intimate relational bonds, and thus the “love of women” refers not to sexual activity (which would have been expressed with a different word in Hebrew), but instead to a non-sexual depth of intimacy and relational bond. David’s words, then, imply that his friendship with Jonathan was a relationship deeper and more intimate than the deepest relationship forged between two women.

3. Joab’s response to Abner in 2 Samuel 2:27 is a bit difficult to translate and interpret. Most versions see Joab expressing some gratitude that Abner had called things off, suggesting that if he had not, the battle would have gone on all night. Alternatively, as the NASB reads his statement more literally, it may be that Joab is offering a rebuke to Abner, suggesting that it was his fault that the battle had begun in the first place. In either case, though the battle ends in an apparent draw or truce, that David is ultimately being protected and blessed by the Lord is implied in the striking difference in the number fallen in battle (twenty of Joab’s men vs. 360 of Abner’s; 2:30–31) and in Asahel’s being buried in the patriarchal gravesite at Bethlehem (2Sam 2:32; Gen 35:19; 48:7; Mic 5:2; Matt. 2:6; though for its more sordid history see Judg 17; 19).

4. Given this observation, it is noteworthy that the Philistines cut off the head of Saul after finding his corpse on the battlefield, as this would indicate that he died the death of an enemy of the Lord (1Sam 31:9). Furthermore, Ish-bosheth, as usurper of the throne that the Lord had promised to David, was both murdered in his bed wrongly by fellow Israelites (2Sam 4:6) and then beheaded (4:7).

5. The Hebrew of 4:6–7 is somewhat difficult to interpret, making the LXX of 4:6 probably due to a translator’s attempt to smooth out the account (“and behold, the doorkeeper [fem.] of the house was cleaning wheat and became drowsy and slept”). Instead, I agree with Long (307–08), who argues for understanding 4:6 as introducing the whole account and 4:7 as recapitulating it with added detail, as regularly occurs in Hebrew narrative.

6. With most commentators, I take David’s statement that “anyone who strikes the Jebusites, let him strike in the water course” to indicate the way David and his men breached the city, namely through Warren’s Shaft leading up from the spring of Gihon (see Long, 316–17; Vannoy, 291).

7. Somewhat ironically, the place name where the event occurred is mentioned as being “the threshing floor of Nacon,” “Nacon” meaning literally “established,” “stable,” or “fixed.” Most English versions follow the ancient translations of 6:6, specifying that “Uzzah stretched out (lit. “sent”) his hand toward the ark . . .” While “his hand” does not appear in the MT, the versions probably make explicit what is the implicit object in the more woodenly rendered “he sent to the ark of God” (i.e., his hand).

8. David wearing a “linen ephod” (2Sam 6:14) should probably not be read as him usurping the role of a priest as king, but instead as him humbling himself to a ministerial role as the mighty king of all Israel (as probably confirmed in Michal’s contemptuous response; 6:16, 20).

9. Commentators debate whether Michal’s lack of children was due to the Lord’s closing of her womb or David’s refusal to provide conjugal rights due to this rift in their relationship. The text does not answer the question, so it must not be the point. Thus, as is argued here, the theological significance of 6:23 is that an enduring and eternal future, as children in the ancient world represented, does not come through merely earthly human kingship, which instead results in barrenness and death.

10. The Hebrew actually reads “any of the tribes (shivetim; Hebrew root shbt) of Israel” (so KJV, NASB, etc.; emphasis added), though many modern translators assume a scribal error mistaking the p of “judges” (Hebrew shophetim; root shpt) for a b in “tribes” (Hebrew root shbt) and emend this verse with appeal to 1 Chronicles 17:6, which reads “judges (shophetim) of Israel” (so ESV, RSV). Other translators take the term “tribes” (shivetim) as referring to “tribal leaders” (so NRSV, NJPS, NIV, etc.).

11. Modern readers may find David’s killing of two-thirds of the Moabite army as an abhorrent war-crime, but in the context of ANE warfare this was a necessity for securing peace analogous to destroying modern enemy weapons. If David had simply sent these warriors back home, they could have immediately armed themselves and turned around and sought to defeat him. Furthermore, in God’s economy they are enemies of God because they are enemies of his people, Israel, and thus here experience an “intrusion” (i.e., earlier than the rest of God’s enemies) of the judgment that all of God’s enemies will face on the last day (see comments on 15:4–9 above). The greater shock to the original hearers of these verses would probably have been David’s generous grace in allowing a whole one-third of the army to go back to their homes and families to be David’s servants.

12. While the Hebrew simply reads that Hadadezer was going “to return his power over the river,” some manuscripts include the clarifying word “Euphrates” (pərāt) to make explicit what is usually clear from “the river” in and around Syria.

13. The mention of David’s sons being “priests (kohanim)” in 8:18 raises some questions. On the one hand, the term “priest” (kohen) may be understood as having a broader semantic range than merely referring to the specific office of levitical priests in Israel. Meaning something like “minister,” it could here simply be used to describe a ministerial, official function that David’s sons had (i.e., serving in his cabinet), which would be corroborated by the parallel in 1 Chronicles 18:17: “David’s sons were first ministers [riʾshonim] of the king” (NJPS). Alternatively, it could be that David recognized himself as king of Jerusalem to be a priest according to the order of Melchizedek (Gen 14:17–24; Ps 110) and that he appoints his sons here to serve in that capacity. In either case, with only one priesthood clearly established by the Lord in Israel at this time (i.e., the Aaronic), the verse raises questions due to its ambiguity, possibly implying that despite the glory of David’s reign at its apex (8:15), not everything is “kosher” in his kingdom, as will become clearer as the story unfolds in chapter 11 and following.

14. Some commentators see in this account of David’s fulfilling his covenant to Jonathan undue delay, suggesting he should have taken action to seek out Jonathan’s kin as soon as he came to power. That seems unnecessarily critical of David, however, who may not have been in a position to make good on his promises until his kingship was not only inaugurated, but firmly established as well. Furthermore, 2 Samuel 9–10 seems quite dischronologized, so that we should not press the timing of this account too hard. It is not totally clear when in his reign he did this. It would presumably be early on, though after his hold on the throne was firm enough to allow this graciousness toward what some may have conceived of as one of his “enemies” (i.e., from Saul’s house).

15. While the exact location of “Lo-debar” is unclear, its name, meaning something like “no thing” or “no word” (i.e., “Nowhere-ville”), might indicate it was a somewhat backwoods, small-town, hinterland location, a perfect place for a political exile trying to escape notice and dependent on others for support due to disability.

16. Some commentators argue that the form of the verb yaʿaseh being the longer form (vs. yaʿas; see 1Chr 21:23) makes Joab’s words more of a statement of faith (“the Lord will do . . .”) rather than a prayer or blessing (“may the Lord do . . .”). Although introductory Hebrew grammars present the “short form” of the prefixed verb (e.g., yaʿas) as “jussive” (“may he do”) juxtaposed to the “long form” (e.g., yaʿaseh) as “imperfect” (“the Lord will do”), this appears to be an oversimplification that is not borne out by the data, especially in the case of final weak verbs such as ʿsh here (i.e., most “long forms” should probably be read as “jussive” in meaning; e.g., Gen 41:34; 1Sam 3:17; 14:44; Isa 27:5; Jer 28:6; cf. Dan 11:16).

17. The MT reads that this occurs “at the time when the messengers went out,” which could be a reference back to 10:2 where David sent messengers to Hanun. This would indicate that the events in chapter 11 are recounting what occurred in Jerusalem while Joab was originally engaged alone with the Ammonites (10:7–14) before David engaged the second battle (10:15–19; 12:26–31). While plausible, this is by no means clear in the text and should probably not be overly relied on for interpreting it. Most ancient versions along with the parallel in 1 Chronicles 20:1 read, “at the time when kings go out.”

18. This point may be driven home by the verb used to describe Bathsheba’s activity here, which is “washing” (rkhts). The term may include “bathing” as we conceive it, but it can also refer to a broad array of “washing” activities that may or may not have necessitated being completely undressed.

19. Many commentators highlight the characterization of Bathsheba throughout this chapter, most often being named merely “the woman” or “the wife of Uriah” rather than “Bathsheba.” Rather than being reflective of a patriarchal perspective on the part of the inspired author, these characterizations would seem to highlight how David treats her (as an object to serve his appetites) and the covenant-breaching nature of this adultery (when she is described in relation to her husband, Uriah).

20. Most English translations have God giving David his “master’s wives,” raising the question as to whether the Lord condones or is complicit in David’s polygamy. The Hebrew reads a bit more ambiguously: “I delivered to you the house of your lord, and the women of your lord into your bosom, and I delivered to you the house of Israel and Judah.” Nowhere else does the text suggest that David took Saul’s wives into his “harem,” and this text need not be read to suggest that. Instead, the fact that David was given Saul’s daughter as a wife may be in view, or, more likely, this is an idiomatic way of communicating that the Lord delivered the whole of Saul’s kingdom and household to David’s disposal.

21. Many commentators deny that David’s concluding remark, “I am going to him, but he shall not return to me” (12:23), should be taken as a reflection of a resurrection hope and faith and see it instead simply as a description of the fact that David will “go to him in Sheol, the place of the dead” rather than him coming back to life. This, however, hardly seems to fit the context where David is explaining to his servants why he can press on in life without being consumed by grief for his lost son. What enables David not to fast (“Why should I fast?” 12:23) can hardly be his own impending death but must instead be the hope David has that reaches beyond the grave both for himself and for his infant son.

22. The law that would appear to apply here is Deuteronomy 22:28–29, which, while uncomfortable for our modern romantic sensibilities about marriage, was intended to safeguard the woman’s rights in the ANE context. As a “virgin” she had inherent value, as she could be married into a family where she would be protected and cared for and could raise up sons to care for her if she were ever widowed. Taking her virginity and making her less “marriageable” in that culture would be to rob her of prospects and hope for a future. Thus, the one who took her virginity was required to give her what she could no longer attain—lifelong support and sustenance in his house.

23. Tekoah was some twelve miles south of Jerusalem, making Joab’s bringing this woman from there probably so that she would not be recognized by David.

24. Interestingly, the only mentions of the “Lord” and “God” in this chapter are for swearing (14:11) or manipulation.

25. The Hebrew reads “at the end of forty years” which commentators find troubling, though could be a reference to Absalom’s age when he makes this move. Some Greek translations seem troubled by this and instead read “after four years” which is followed by many English translations, though the Aramaic Targum Jonathan and other Greek translations read “forty” as the MT.

26. The mention of a tent being pitched on the roof (presumably of the palace, the same one from which David ogled Bathsheba, leading to his adultery with her; 16:22) probably means that his copulation was not actually out in the open, but was “before the eyes of all Israel” insofar as he would take each concubine into the tent and come out again after the act (similar to what was probably part of most ANE marriage ceremonies in that day).

27. Rather than highlighting their relationship through Jesse, however, 17:25 relates them as cousins through “Nahash.” While most think this is a different Nahash then “Nahash the Ammonite” (1Sam 11; 2Sam 10), his mention here might be to imply that the familial connections running throughout these warring factions even reach to the Ammonites in whose land they are lining up for battle.

28. Although 2 Samuel continues with chapters 21–24, as will be noted below, these appear to be an “epilogue” of sorts not directly continuing the “main” narrative and instead offering a “recapitulation” of snapshots of David’s reign that summarize and retell the “story” of 1 Samuel 1 to 2 Samuel 20.

29. Note that the exact time this incident occurred during David’s reign is not specified, so it can only be deduced from the details in this account. Since no specific information is offered, the exact date was apparently not that significant to the author for its meaning and interpretation, much like the other snippets in this epilogue. Based on the details provided, it must have happened sometime after 2 Samuel 9, since that account details David becoming aware of Mephibosheth, who is specifically spared here (21:7).

30. The specific meaning of the Hebrew root yqʿ is a bit uncertain, the possibilities ranging from something like “display with broken legs” to “impale.” The more ambiguous “execute” argued by Vannoy (397) and used here may actually capture its meaning quite well, as executions might take various forms, leading to the “broad” semantic range and various specific uses we find attested. While this may seem like a bloodthirsty request, it is well in line with God’s laws calling for capital punishment in such cases (Lev 24:21–22; Num 35:30–34). Maybe this was simply “an eye for an eye” justice because Saul had killed seven Gibeonites, or maybe he had killed many more so that there is mercy in only executing seven as the number of completeness, indicating that full retribution is being made.

31. First Chronicles 20:5 may, however, preserve a more original reading that it was Goliath’s brother that Elhanan struck down; otherwise, it would be hard to make sense of how this fits with 1 Samuel 17, where it is David who strikes down Goliath.

32. Worth noting for this whole section of 23:8–38 is that Joab is not included as a “mighty man,” either among the three or the thirty, despite repeated mention of his name as related to Asahel and Abishai and the one for whom Naharai was armor-bearer (23:18, 24, 37). In this way the author subtly diminishes Joab’s status, possibly UNFINISHED NOTE

33. Critical scholars question these large numbers in the Old Testament, arguing based on the archeological evidence discovered so far that the total population of Israel could not have been large enough to sustain such a subset of fighting men (the number here implying an estimated total population of 5,000,000 or so; Long, 469). Yet given Israel’s current population of around 10,000,000 people in less than half the territory occupied by David’s Israel, that the fertile land described in the Bible could sustain such a population seems plausible. Furthermore, given how little of the Holy Land has actually been excavated by archeologists and that organic materials such as wooden structures have not survived, the archeological “evidence” may not be as accurate or complete for estimating possible population size as some seem to claim.

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2 Samuel 1


David Hears of Saul’s Death

1:1 After the death of Saul, when David had returned from striking down the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag. And on the third day, behold, a man came from Saul’s camp, with his clothes torn and dirt on his head. And when he came to David, he fell to the ground and paid homage. David said to him, “Where do you come from?” And he said to him, “I have escaped from the camp of Israel.” And David said to him, “How did it go? Tell me.” And he answered, “The people fled from the battle, and also many of the people have fallen and are dead, and Saul and his son Jonathan are also dead.” Then David said to the young man who told him, “How do you know that Saul and his son Jonathan are dead?” And the young man who told him said, “By chance I happened to be on Mount Gilboa, and there was Saul leaning on his spear, and behold, the chariots and the horsemen were close upon him. And when he looked behind him, he saw me, and called to me. And I answered, ‘Here I am.’ And he said to me, ‘Who are you?’ I answered him, ‘I am an Amalekite.’ And he said to me, ‘Stand beside me and kill me, for anguish has seized me, and yet my life still lingers.’ 10 So I stood beside him and killed him, because I was sure that he could not live after he had fallen. And I took the crown that was on his head and the armlet that was on his arm, and I have brought them here to my lord.”

11 Then David took hold of his clothes and tore them, and so did all the men who were with him. 12 And they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the LORD and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword. 13 And David said to the young man who told him, “Where do you come from?” And he answered, “I am the son of a sojourner, an Amalekite.” 14 David said to him, “How is it you were not afraid to put out your hand to destroy the LORD’s anointed?” 15 Then David called one of the young men and said, “Go, execute him.” And he struck him down so that he died. 16 And David said to him, “Your blood be on your head, for your own mouth has testified against you, saying, ‘I have killed the LORD’s anointed.’”

David’s Lament for Saul and Jonathan

17 And David lamented with this lamentation over Saul and Jonathan his son, 18 and he said it1 should be taught to the people of Judah; behold, it is written in the Book of Jashar.2 He said:

19   “Your glory, O Israel, is slain on your high places!
    How the mighty have fallen!
20   Tell it not in Gath,
    publish it not in the streets of Ashkelon,
  lest the daughters of the Philistines rejoice,
    lest the daughters of the uncircumcised exult.

21   “You mountains of Gilboa,
    let there be no dew or rain upon you,
    nor fields of offerings!3
  For there the shield of the mighty was defiled,
    the shield of Saul, not anointed with oil.

22   “From the blood of the slain,
    from the fat of the mighty,
  the bow of Jonathan turned not back,
    and the sword of Saul returned not empty.

23   “Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
    In life and in death they were not divided;
  they were swifter than eagles;
    they were stronger than lions.

24   “You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
    who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet,
    who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.

25   “How the mighty have fallen
    in the midst of the battle!

  “Jonathan lies slain on your high places.
26     I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan;
  very pleasant have you been to me;
    your love to me was extraordinary,
    surpassing the love of women.

27   “How the mighty have fallen,
    and the weapons of war perished!”


[1] 1:18 Septuagint; Hebrew the Bow, which may be the name of the lament’s tune

[2] 1:18 Or of the upright

[3] 1:21 Septuagint firstfruits