Sunday, August 24, 2014

Bible Commentary - 2 Samuel Introduction

Alright team, it's time to begin the second half of Samuel!  At this point, we are well into King David's drama and past the Judges era.  1st Samuel ended with Saul's death, and now it's David's turn.

As with 1st Samuel, 2nd Samuel is almost entirely stories, which in this case cover the life and reign of David.  Like many figures in the bible, we get to see both the good side and the darker side of David, and this book contains the most grievous sin that he is recorded committing, as well as the long-term fallout from it.  David fights a lot of wars, some of which are against fellow Israelites, and even has to fight a war against his own son, who tries to usurp the throne.  So this book has a lot of conflict and I think it makes very interesting reading, and it's also relatively straightforward.

Since it was originally written as a single unit with 1st Samuel, the date of composition and authorship is very similar, although like most other things about the bible, the date and authorship of Samuel is fiercely debated.  Like many parts of the bible, there is a traditional view, a modern view, and then a bunch of other views.  The traditional view is that the book of Samuel was written by Samuel himself, as well as Nathan and Gad, sometime in the 11th or 10th centuries BCE around the time that David and these other personages lived.  The modern view, generally called the Deuteronomistic History, is that Samuel was composed sometime in the 6th century BCE and that many of the people in this book, including David himself, may not be historical.

This theory has many parallels to the JEDP theory, which is the modern theory for the composition of the Pentateuch.  For instance, both theories were devised by Germans (the first in the 19th century, the second in the 20th century) and both theories are that sections of the OT were composed through successive generations of editors modifying and expanding on historical fragments and stories.  By contrast, the traditional view for all of these books typically emphasizes the idea that a single or primary author wrote large sections of their respective works.  In the case of the Pentateuch, traditional scholarship suggests it was written by Moses.  In the case of Samuel, traditional scholarship says that it was written by Samuel, Nathan and Gad as I stated above.

Anyway, what I'd like to talk about now is how 2nd Samuel fits into the broader narrative arc of the OT.  1st Samuel took us out of the Judges era and into the kingdom, which began with the horrendous kingship of Saul.  This book takes us from Saul's death to more or less the end of David's reign.  We are entering the kingdom period, which is basically defined by a succession of figures, one after the other, ruling over Israel.  The spiritual state of the kingdom will closely follow the behavior of the king throughout this era, with righteous kings ushering in periods of devotion to the LORD and unrighteous kings ushering in periods of idolatry and various other problems.  David is obviously a righteous king (taken as a whole), and he wins a lot of victories over the hostile nations surrounding him, but his reign is nevertheless quite tumultuous.

The other thing that's really important is to track the differences between the northern tribes and Judah.  During the reign of Saul, a Benjamite, all of Israel was united until his rule.  For a long time David only reigns over Judah (which is his father's tribe, as David was born in Bethlehem of Judah).  After several years of war, he succeeds in uniting his kingdom over both Judah and the northern tribes, and it will remain united under Solomon, but immediately after Solomon dies the kingdom ruptures again into a northern kingdom (confusingly referred to as Israel) and a southern kingdom (referred to as Judah, even though it likely includes most of Simeon, many Levites, and possibly chunks of other tribes like Benjamin).

So for a lot of 2nd Samuel, and much more so in the book of Kings, there is a lot of discord between the northern tribes (dominated by Ephraim) and Judah, and this will have a significant effect on Israel's future.

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