2 Samuel


2 SAMUEL 1 David's rise from shepherd of sheep in Bethlehem, to shepherd of Israel in Hebron (see"Map 5") and then Jerusalem (c. 1010-970 B.c.) is recounted in 1 Samuel 16-2 Samuel 5. His acts as the second of the united kingdom's three kings are recorded in both 2 Samuel 5-1 Kings 2 and in 1 Chronicles.

David was a shepherd from Bethlehem with an extraordinary sense of duty and courage (iSa 17:34-35). His rise to prominence is attributed first to his slaying of Goliath.' and then to his ability to calm the volatile King Saul with his music (1Sa 16-17). Even so, he was anointed by Samuel to replace Saul while David was still an obscure young man (1Sa 16:1-13). After rising to prominence, he provoked Saul's jealousy and was forced to flee for his life. For a number of years David lived as a mercenary in the wilderness of Judah while eluding Saul (1Sa 18-27). After Saul was killed by the Philistines in a battle at Mount Gilboa (1Sa 28; 31), David rose to power. He defeated the house of Saul under Saul's son Ish-Bosheth in a civil war and became the sole ruler of Israel (2Sa 2-5). David expanded the size and wealth of Israel, conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital city and moved the ark of the covenant there (1Sa 6-10).

There was a dark side to his reign as well. David committed murder and adultery (1Sa 11-12), and troubles in his family led to civil war incited by his son Absalom (iSa 13-18). Other troubles plagued David in his later years, as both his own heirs and others struggled for power (2Sa 19— 1Ki 1).

The saga of David's rise to power in 2 Samuel serves, in part, as an apologetic for his ascent to the throne by establishing his innocence with regard to any attempt to take Saul's throne through his own machinations. Even so, the Bible portrays David honestly, with all his shortcomings, and focuses primarily on God, who chose David as king (1Sa 16; cf. 2Sa 18-19). God protected David in the face of grave danger (1Sa 17 —30;cf. 2Sa 15-18) and gave him the kingdom (iSa 31-2Sa 5; ctch. 19). As God orchestrated David's victory over his enemies (chs. 5-10), he also expanded the kingdom and fulfilled the promise he had long ago made to Abraham (Ge 15:18-21;2Sa 8:3; 1Ki 4:21;8:65).

The book of Chronicles, which was written after the exile, attributes to David a foundational role in the establishment and organization of temple worship (1Ch 6:31; 15:16; 16:4; 23:6; 2Ch 7:6). David's importance in Israel's worship is also reflected in the fact that 73 of the 150 psalms are attributed to him. These psalms and spiritual depth to David's story in their portrayal, through David's praise, penitence and petitions, of God's transformation of his heart in the midst of personal and national crises (cf. Ps 3; 60). David even represents the ideal penitent (cf. Ps 6; 51) and model worshiper of God (cf. Ps 8;145); he was also a righteous servant who called on the Lord in the midst of suffering (cf. Ps 3; 7). Just as Israel's emergence would have been inconceivable apart from the faith of Abraham and the exodus unimaginable without Moses, so also the nation's once and future kingdom would have been unthinkable apart from God's eternal covenant with David (see, e.g., 2Sa 7; 1Ch 17; Ps 89; Isa 9:1-7; Jer 33:14-26; Mic 5:2 — 4).

For a long time no inscription relating to David's reign could be found by archaeologists, but recently a composition from a king of Syria, referring to the"house of David," was discovered at Tel Dan. This writing provides tangible evidence that ancient rulers indeed recognized the dynasty of David in Judah.

The Pool of Gibeon

2 SAMUEL 2 In 2 Samuel 2:12-17 David's forces, led by Joab, defeated Saul's army under the command of Abner at pool of Gibeon" (v. 13). The archaeological site identified as the Biblical Gibeon, has a great cistern that may no doubt be identified with this pool. This cistern, cut into solid rock, is 82 feet (25 m) deep and 37 feet (11 m) in diameter. A tunnel connects the cistern to another chamber at groundwater level.The water is accessible by descending steps along the circumference of the cistern and then following a tunnel to a chamber fed by a spring outside the city the early eleventh century B.C., the pool of Gibeon had been used for over 100 years by the time of the battle recounted in 2 Samuel 2. It was still in use in the sixth century B.C., as attested by Jeremiah's report that Johanan and his men there caught up to Ishmael,the assassin who had killed the Judahite governor Gedaliah (Jer 41:12).


2 SAMUEL 3 Hebron (meaning"confederacy") is situated on a hill about 19 miles (30 km) south-southwest of Jerusalem. Numbers 13:22 states that the city was built seven years before the Egyptian city of Zoan ("Tanis" in Greek),1 around 1735 B.C., but this must have been a rebuilding since excavations have uncovered occupation levels dating back a millennium and a half earlier. Formerly, Hebron was called Kiriath Arba (Ge 23:2).Some have suggested that this means "town of four," indicating

a league of four towns in the vicinity, but Joshua 14:15 and 15:3 state that it was named after Arba, an ancestor of the Anakim.

Abraham lived at Hebron near "the great trees of Mamre"(Ge 13:18) and built an altar to Yahweh there. Mamre was a small site less than 2 miles (3.2 km) north of Hebron, named after Mamre the Amorite (Ge 14:13). Abraham was visited there by the Lord and two angels, who repeated the promise of a son (Ge 18:1-15). At Hebron Abraham also purchased the cave of Machpelah (Ge 23:17)1 as a family burial site.

During the conquest Joshua defeated the ruler of Hebron (Jos 10:1-27), and the city was given to Caleb on account of his bravery (Jos 14:6-15; 15:13-14). It was later set apart as a city of refuge and a Levitical town (Jos 20:7; 21:11).

During the judges period Samson carried the gates of Gaza ("Map 4") toward Hebron (1dg 16:3). David and his mercenaries curried the favor of the Hebron inhabitants after defeating the Amalekites (1Sa 30:26-31), and after Saul's death David ruled Judah from this location before becoming king over all of Israel (2Sa 2:1; 5:4-5). Absalom began his conspiracy at Hebron,

his birthplace (3:2-3; 15:7-12), and during the reign of Rehoboam the city was among the many that were fortified in preparation for possible attack (2Ch 11:5-12).

Excavations have uncovered a portion of a Middle Bronze Age' wall about 30 feet (9.1 m) wide and a large domicile from the Iron I period. Hellenistic period kilns and pottery were discovered there, as well as Byzantine period burial places. Herod the Great built an enclosure of large ashlar masonry around the burial cave of the patriarchs (the Haram in Arabic). A Byzantine church and a mosque were later successively built above the Haram, which remains a sacred site for Muslims. Two ancient oaks are traditionally revered as the"great trees of Mamre," but the Hebrew most likely refers to terebinth trees.

Early Scribal Emendation

2 SAMUEL 4 Generations of scribes,working for the most part in anonymity, have faithfully rendered the Bible as the best preserved work of the ancient world.' Although each pen stroke was the result of a scribe's action, there are in fact very few places where a scribe appears to have intentionally altered the "received"text.Such changes in the Hebrew Bible are identified by the scribal tradition as tiqqune sopherim ("emendations of the scribes"). Various midrashic and Masoretic lists enumerate specific emendations, ranging in total from seven to eighteen.

Most of these early scribal emendations were introduced based on religious motives in an effort to preserve the sanctity and dignity of the Biblical text. For example, Genesis 18:22 reports that "the men turned away and went toward Sodom, but Abraham remained standing before the LORD." According to some lists, this verse reflects a tiqqun sopherim, a deliberate scribal change at the end of a verse that originally read "while the LORD was still standing before Abraham." This change sought to avoid depicting God as a servant awaiting Abraham's instruction. Another example occurs in Zechariah 2:8 (cf. Heb 2:12), which warns that whoever struck Israel touched "the apple of [God's] eye.' Scribal lists inform the reader that the original text has a first person suffix, providing the reading "the apple of my eye." This change sought to avoid the impression that God himself was speaking anthropomorphically, as though he had a physical eye.

Some changes in the Biblical text, including euphemistic expressions (intended, e.g., to express something less starkly), are not explicitly marked. One such example occurs with respect to the proper names that contain the element "Baal." The noun Baal, which originally meant simply"Lord," came later to signify almost exclusively the proper name of the Canaanite god.' Later readers were apt to be offended by the appearance of this name in the Scripture, especially when associated with an Israelite. Thus, names that included "Baal" were sometimes changed in order to refrain from speaking even indirectly of false gods. For example, in 1 Chronicles the son of Jonathan is identified as Merib-Baal (1Ch 8:34; 9:40), whereas in 2 Samuel he is called Mephibosheth (2Sa 4:4).Similarly,a son of Saul is called Esh-Baal in 1 Chronicles 8:33 and 9:39 but Ish-Bosheth in 2 Samuel 2:8.1n both cases the name Baal has been substituted with "bosheth," the Hebrew noun for "shame."The change does not appear to reflect a negative judgment on the individual in question, but rather was a way of condemning the name of Baal.

The cumulative evidence of the Hebrew Bible shows that such emendations were not carried out systematically. It is also important to emphasize that most early scribal emendations are explicitly identified as such by marginal notations that preserve the text of the original reading.Viewed in this light, such changes provide insight into the religious sensibilities of various readers of the Bible rather than reflecting an attempt to alter the actual wording of the sacred text.

The Tsinnor

2 SAMUEL 5 The word translated as "water shaft" in 2 Samuel 5:8 is the Hebrew tsinnor. Used in only one other Biblical passage (Ps 42:7), the term's interpretation has long been debated by scholars. It is apparent from the context that the tsinnor was a means of conquering the city. While some suggest meanings such as "dagger," "hook" or"grappling-iron," the context of Psalm 42:7 (where the NIV translates tsinnor as "water-falls") implies that the word in 2 Samuel 5:8 has to do with a water system. Cognates (words related by descent from the same ancestral language) from Aramaic and Ugaritic also indicate that tsinnor refers to a watercourse, shaft or tunnel. This implies that Joab led the charge through an underground waterway (cf. 1Ch 11:6).

At one time archaeologists thought that the site known as "Warren's Shaft"was the tsinnor. From the top of Warren's Shaft a stepped tunnel leads to an above-ground entrance inside the Canaanite city wall. Joab was thought to have entered the water system through the Gihon spring and climbed up the once narrow shaft to conquer the city. New discoveries made since 1995, however, have shed new light on this water system. It now appears that the stepped tunnel that leads from the entrance to Warren's Shaft did not have its present form until the eighth century B.C. In Joab's time the top of Warren's Shaft was still buried 4 feet (1.2 m) below the floor of the tunnel. Joab's entrance into the city via the tsinnor had to have been by some other water source or passage. As helpful as archaeology is in bringing the Bible to life, it is important to realize that old conclusions often need to be revisited in light of more recent excavation and analysis.


2 SAMUEL 11 The description of Bathsheba's bathing in 2 Samuel 11:2 employs the verb rahas —"to wash"—which, when used alone, implies "to bathe the entire body." When limited to a portion of the body, the intended body part is stipulated.Thus, we know from the grammar (as well as from the context) that Bathsheba was bathing. The text informs us that she was purifying herself from her uncleanness, indicating that she had just completed her menstrual cycle. While no such ordinance exists in the relevant texts of Leviticus 15:19-24, it appears that Bathsheba was bathing for ritual or hygienic purposes.

Ritual purity was achieved partly by bathing, as is seen in the directive given to Aaron and his sons (Lev 8:6). Such practices among the priesthood are also attested in Egypt, where the priests were instructed to bathe three times daily to remove physical pollution and to attain a spiritual life. Purification from defilement among laity and priests alike often involved the washing of the body (e.g., Lev 15:18,21). Washing the feet, attested many times in both the Old Testament (e.g., Ge 18:4; 19:2; 24:32; 43:24; Jdg 19:21) and the New Testament (most notably Jn 13:1-17), must have been a common occurrence in Israel. While Rabbinical texts that speak of the necessity of washing the hands before eating (e.g., Mt 15:2) probably have roots in an earlier era, it is uncertain how far back these traditions extend.

How widespread and frequent non-ceremonial bathing was in Israel is impossible to determine. The Old Testament accounts of such bathing undertaken by David (25a 12:20), Ruth (Ru 3:3),Samarian harlots (1Ki 22:38), Naaman (2Ki 5:10) and the allegorical Oholah and Oholibah (Eze 23:40) indicate that the practice was fairly common and not exclusive to members of the upper class.Further indication comes from the Phoenician town Achzib.2 An eighth—seventh century B.C. terracotta figurine depicting a woman bathing while sitting in an oval bathtub was unearthed there.This,too, suggests that bathing was widely practiced.

The Mountain and the Deer:A Hurrian Parable

2 SAMUEL 12 In antiquity, wisdom literature often took the form of parables., The story of the mountain and the deer,found in a collection of Hurrian parables,, illustrates a particular genre of wisdom literature in which animals depicted human subjects. In this story, a deer left the mountain on which it had been born and went to graze upon another mountain. Although the deer grew fat there, it was ungrateful and began to call down curses of lightning upon the summit of the new mountain. In retaliation, the

mountain summoned hunters to kill the deer. At the conclusion of the parable the interpretation is spelled out: The deer was a man who for some reason had fled his hometown and taken refuge in another. He was unappreciative, however, and began to do evil there, as a result being cursed by the gods of that town.

The prophet Nathan used a similar technique to convict David of his sin against Uriah (2Sa 12). He told a story about two men, one wealthy and the other poor, representing David and Uriah, respectively. The poor man's lamb depicted Bathsheba. Unaware that Nathan's account was a parable, the outraged King David instantly pronounced judgment against the unjust rich man. Only then did Nathan reveal that David himself was that man!

Siege Warfare

2 SAMUEL 17 Siege warfare was a military strategy in which an attacking force would encircle a fortified position, generally a walled city, in order to defeat the inhabiting population. The strategy was employed either to gain control of a city (Dt 20:10-14) or to regain control of a rebellious city (2Ki 17:1— 6).An attacking force would encamp near the target city, block off all roads leading in and out of the city and cut off access to supply channels, most notably those involving water. Once these preliminaries had been achieved, several strategies could be implemented. (These approaches were not mutually exclusive; often a force would combine two or more tactics during a siege.)

  • A show of force could intimidate the inhabitants to the point of surrender. This line of attack had obvious advantages in that it would prevent a prolonged and potentially costly siege. Sennacherib's representative employed this strategy— unsuccessfully — against Jerusalem during the reign of Hezekiah (2Ki 18:19-19:35).

  • Sometimes an army relied upon a ruse, such as in the story of the Trojan horse. During the siege of Ai (see "Map 3"), Joshua divided his troops as a means of enticing the defenders of Ai to leave their defensive positions in order to pursue a portion of Joshua's forces.Once this had been accomplished, Joshua and his remaining troops were able to enter and destroy the defenseless city (Jos 8:10-23).

  • All other approaches failing, a besieging army was compelled to resort to direct assault on a city's wall. The fastest but most dangerous method of taking a defensive wall was to scale it,a tactic commonly involving the use of assault ladders. An Egyptian tomb relief dating to the Fifth Dynasty of the Early Bronze Age depicts warriors raising ladders against a besieged city wall.Depending upon the height of the walls and the tenacity of the defenders, the attackers could suffer extraordinarily high casualties.

The nineteenth century B.C. saw the development of effective battering rams, perhaps the greatest invention of siege warfare. These weapons consisted of a long pole, often metal-tipped,that hung from a covered framework (offering protection to the attackers). It would be hurled repeatedly against the wall or gate in a pendulum motion.

Many cities were surrounded by defensive fosses or dry moats, but would-be attackers would frequently surround such a city with trenches of their own. A process of two opposing armies digging trenches and counter-trenches took place at the Athenian siege of Syracuse in 414 B.C.

Sometimes earthen ramps were constructed against a city's wall. Remnants of the siege mound constructed by Sennacherib during the siege of Lachish ("Map 4") in 701 B.C. are still visible,, as is the siege mound used by the Romans during the siege of Masada in A.D. 736.

Sometimes attackers attempted to compromise a wall by tunneling beneath it. This was achieved by"sappers,"or tunnel engineers. The annals of Sennacherib describe such a strategy during the siege of Hezekiah's Judean cities. + Siege warfare was also a strategy of attrition, demanding commitment and often patience. (Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Tyre, e.g., lasted for 13 years.) It sought to defeat the enemy not primarily by sword but by starvation and thirst. Defenses against a siege included the stockpiling of food and water (2Ki 25:3), the construction of tall walls and fosses and the reinforcement of city gates with strong bars (Am 1:5). The city walls themselves could be quite sophisticated in design as well. For example, one technique was to use an offset-inset wall, in which the surface of the city wall was not fiat but protruded at intervals. Defending inhabitants would also send out sorties in counterattacks in the hope of breaking a siege (2Sa 11:17; 1Ki 20:15-21). A defending force's greatest advantage was its superior height.This allowed defenders to hurl down stones, arrows, javelins, hot oil or water and even millstones (Jdg 9:53).

Ambitious Princes Among the Hittites

2 SAMUEL 19 Expunging the bloodline of one's opponent was common practice in ancient monarchies. The decree of the Hittite king Telipinu describes the political upheaval that often ensued as a throne changed hands. This document provides a historical account of the succession of Hittite kings from the seventeenth—fourteenth centuries B.C. At the outset succession was orderly, and the land prospered. Soon, however, the princes' servants (often family members), in a lust for power, began to conspire against their lords. A series of palace intrigues ensued, during which a relative of the king would rise up, kill his master and assume control. He would exterminate all of the former king's descendants so that no threat to his rule remained. Eventually one of his family members, sometimes his own son, would rebel against him, and a new cycle of regicide would begin.

Telipinu was the first Hittite king to attempt to end such bloodshed. Having exiled the monarch who had tried to eliminate him,Telipinu himself became king, but he treated the family of his predecessor kindly. He then established rules of succession and proclaimed that future kings were to unite the royal family rather than to splinter it by murderous intent. Finally, he decreed that anyone conspiring to kill members of the royal family would be executed, even if that individual were a prince himself.

The problem of palace intrigues and dynastic succession had its parallels in Israelite society. Like Telipinu, the Biblical David demonstrated that he would not condone the murder of his rival's family.When a young man claimed to have slain King Saul (2Sa 1:1-15) and two others reported that they had killed Saul's son (4:1-12), David had them executed for their purported treacherous deeds. He went on to seek out Saul's living relatives for the purpose of showing them kindness, to the extent of providing personal care and protection to Saul's lame grandson, Mephibosheth (9:1 —13). David's own family, however, was not immune from the pattern of the surrounding cultures. His son Absalom attempted to usurp the throne and to kill his father in battle. When Absalom himself was killed, David grieved so profoundly that the victory celebration was overshadowed by his mourning.

Songs of Warriors

2 SAMUEL 22 The Bible attests to the fact that ancient warriors often celebrated their achievements in song. Indeed, the first song recorded in the Bible is that of Lamech (Ge 4:23-24), a fighter who boasted of killing a man who had wounded him. Songs by or about warriors have surfaced in several varieties:

  • In what may be called the"victory song," a warrior sang of his triumphs in battle. Such a song could be blatantly boastful, like Lamech's, or could give thanks to God, as did David's in 2 Samuel 22.This song praises God but is clearly military in orientation: "He trains my hands for battle; my arms can bend a bow of bronze" (v. 35). There are pagan analogies for such songs; an Akkadian hymn celebrating the military campaigns of the Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II (r. 883-859 Bs.) begins with the king claiming that he would sing in praise of his god, Enlil, but quickly moves on to a boastful account of Ashurnasirpal's triumphs. The Greeks somewhat transformed this genre and composed songs in honor of athletes, as in the odes of Pindar (fifth century B.c.), who celebrated the victors in the Olympic and other games.

  • A second type of military song was the lament over fallen heroes. A magnificent example is that of David over Jonathan and Saul (1:17-27). The Greek poet Simonides (fifth century B.c.) composed verses for the Greeks who died at the battle of Thermopylae, also commemorating the Greek victory over the Persians at Plataea.

  • Epic poetry, which memorializes at length the deeds of great heroes, can be considered a third genre. Examples include the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh, the Ugaritic epic of Kirta, and the well-known Greek Iliad and Odyssey by Homer.The Bible, because it focuses on God and his covenant rather than on the exploits of heroic human beings, includes no epic poetry.

Plague Prayers of Mursilis

2 SAMUEL 24 The story recounted in 2 Samuel 24 is unusual on several accounts. First, God is said to have been angry with Israel and to have incited David to sin in order that the Lord might thereby punish the nation (v. 1). Second, the nature of the sin itself—conducting a census—has always been difficult to explain, although many regard it as a sign of pride or of dependence upon wealth and power rather than upon God. Third, it is unusual that the plague stopped specifically at"the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite" (v.16).

The prayers for deliverance from the plague (vv. 14,17) are not difficult to understand and have analogies from ancient literature.The act of addressing God in prayer in such a situation (which included confessing sins, seeking an explanation for the divine anger and asking for relief from the plague) was by no means unique to Israel.

  • The best known plague of ancient history struck Athens during the years 430 — 427 B.C. and was described in detail by the Greek historian Thucydides in Book 2 of his history of the Peloponnesian War.1 Thucydides described how supplications were lifted up and rites of divination carried out in an effort to placate the gods and halt the plague.

  • A closer analogy to the 2 Samuel 24 story appears in tablets recording the prayers of the Hittite king Mursilis II (r. c. 1321-1298 B.c.). The Hittites had been struck by a widespread, devastating plague. The population of the kingdom had been severely decimated; even Mursilis's predecessors, his father Suppiluliumas I and his brother Arnuwanda II, had succumbed. In his prayers Mursilis pleaded with the Hittite gods for relief, confessed his sin and even reminded the gods that it was not in their best interest to strike down all the people who served them.

It is perhaps significant, however, that the Bible variously attributes such events both to divine sovereignty and to human sin (v. 1). Even the fact that this particular plague ceased abruptly at a specific place and time is remarkable (v.16). Perhaps most significant, however, was David's willingness in this case to suffer in the place of his people (v. 17). Whereas Mursilis of the Hittites stopped at offering to make restitution to the gods if such was needed, David offered himself to the Lord on his people's behalf.