The second book of Samuel is far more than a continuation of the story of the history of the nation of Israel. It describes a critical phase of the development of God’s purpose in the earth. The nation of Israel inhabiting the promised land form the underlying basis of the Kingdom of God, a kingdom which we know, when restored (Acts 1:6), will be the completion of God’s plan to fill the earth with His glory (Num 14:21).

The developments recorded in 2 Samuel take us through a wide range of human experiences and emotions, not merely as an accurate historical record, but to show us the Divine principles and processes which set the foundation for His kingdom. It is therefore self evident that this book contains imperative lessons for our generation, given we, of all people, will witness the restoration of this Kingdom once again in the earth.

The death of Saul

As we would all be aware, the narrative of this book commences with the removal, as promised (1 Sam15:26), of Saul as the king of Israel. However, the commencement of the account at this point highlights the unique phase of the development of God’s purpose, which is a key theme of this book. It is instructive to observe that even though the death of Saul marked a significant improvement in the fortunes of David it did not come without heartfelt bitterness to this man after God’s own heart. The moving lament of David for both Saul and Jonathan (2 Sam 1:19–27) is surely a remarkably profound illustration of the real meaning of Christ’s command to all His followers, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you.”

As the story proceeds we see that the whole nation of Israel also suffered in the time that followed as a consequence of the civil war that resulted from those who were unwilling to practically accept that the kingdom had been taken from the house of Saul, and that David was Yahweh’s anointed. The record chronicles this conflict in significant detail: its intrigue, murderous deception and the pointless courage and sacrifice of many. Whilst this may seem a somewhat inglorious introduction to this new phase of Israel’s kingdom, it serves as a dark background which further highlights the personal virtues of David (2 Sam 3:36). David does not descend to the level of his circumstances, nor does he use the desperate times as an excuse for desperate measures.

David ascends the throne

The inherent power of the divine characteristics David manifested throughout this time is palpably demonstrated as the nation is ultimately united under his rulership. In the events that follow, the progress of God’s kingdom under his leadership is indisputable. Poignantly, we have recorded that at this time “David perceived that Yahweh had established him kingover Israel, and that he had exalted his kingdom for his people Israel’s sake” (2 Sam 5:12). First we have recorded David’s conquest over the Philistines. This marauding army had so devastated the country under the reign of Saul that the chosen people of God resorted to a fugitive’s existence (1 Sam 13:6; cp Jer 16:16 for a modern illustration of what these terms describe) or even contradicted God’s work in bringing them into this land by crossing back over Jordan (1 Sam 13:7). The struggle with these invaders ultimately cost Saul, and many others, their lives, yet the conflict with these very same people under the leadership of David is remarkably different. The brevity of the record implies a comparative ease with which David conquered this challenge. However, the major point of contrast in this record is the degree of submission by David to God’s commands, the element that was so tragically lacking in Saul’s leadership (1 Sam 15:23).

The ark brought to Jerusalem

It is telling that the very next development recorded in the ascendancy of the kingdom of David is that of bringing the Ark to Jerusalem. It would perhaps have been easy for a lesser man to justify the need to consolidate the military superiority they had just established. However David could see the real strength of Israel was the power of their God. It was therefore imperative for the paramount symbol of God’s presence with the nation to be brought into the very centre of their existence in their capital city. There was no doubt that David was acting from the purest spiritual motives and with a singular degree of spiritual insight. Yet as the tragedy of Uzzah’s death demonstrated (2 Sam 6:7) pure motive is no replacement for the acknowledgement in practice of unchangeable divine principles. This lesson learned, David progresses with the spiritual reinvigoration of the nation. He not only persevered in bringing the Ark to Zion but proposed the building of a permanent house for God.

Great and precious promises

At this point we see the pinnacle of this book where God responds to the genuine intention of David and provides the next stage of the great and precious promises (2 Sam 7:12–26). The divine guarantee of the eternal continuation of David’s kingdom again illustrates the important foundation this era provided for the future course of divine involvement in human history.

David, having attended to the spiritual health of the nation, only then commences the military consolidation of his realm. He completes the conquest of the Philistines and then proceeds to execute six further victorious campaigns on the surrounding nations, further illustrating the power of God in conquest.

We often observe in ourselves and others that success brings complacency, yet David at this stage, despite his repeated international military triumphs, shows a continuing personal dedication to manifesting God’s character. This is well demonstrated in the moving story of David’s lovingkindness to Mephibosheth. Again we have a powerful illustration of the way of thinking that Christ encouraged us all to adopt. “When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends … call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: and thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just” (Luke 14:12–14).

The sin with Bathsheba and its consequences

To this point David’s leadership had produced spiritual, military and administrative progress for the nation. However, at this point the record of 2 Samuel takes a distinct turn.

David is slighted by the neighbouring nation of Ammon. He responds in kind. As the Ammonite involved the Syrians in this dispute, this response may have been justified in terms of the preservation of Israel’s interests. However, it does seem to lack the same degree of magnanimity which previously characterised David’s dealings with Saul (1 Sam 24:17) or the men of Keilah (1 Sam 23:1–13). Whilst Joab is executing this campaign, David experiences a challenge of a different and far more deadly kind.

The focus of the record from this point forward leaves us in no doubt as to the profound effect his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah had on the life of David and on the progress of his kingdom. David’s attempts to conceal the results of his sin are detailed (2 Sam 11:6–17). The judgment of God as conveyed by Nathan the prophet are set out in stark terms (2 Sam 12). The same pattern of immorality and murder works out in David’s own family (2 Sam 13). David’s difficulty in dealing with Absalom, guilty of his brother’s death, was no doubt complicated by the fact that he had committed the same crime (2 Sam 14). Subsequent events demonstrate (2 Sam 16–18) that Absalom, unrepentant, was by no means worthy of the forgiveness David had granted. In plotting to take the throne, he implicitly accepted that it was expedient to murder his father also. In the chapters that follow, we have a repetition of similar problems that were issues at the commencement of David’s kingdom. There was friction between Judah and the rest of the tribes (2 Sam19:41–43) which ultimately descended into civil war once again (2 Sam 20). Sin thus is shown to have nothing less than national consequences.

Even in this dark period where David is educated as to the real significance of his failure, we can see the greatness of David’s character again evident. When rebuked by Nathan, there were no attempts at self justification (as Saul had done, 1 Sam 15:15) but the unequivocal acknowledgement that he had sinned. In the face of Absalom’s rebellion he retires from the city and humbly places his destiny in the hands of God: “let him do to me as seemeth good unto him” (2 Sam 15:26). Even in the face of very personal attacks by Shimei, David again submitted to what could well have been the will of God (2 Sam 16:11).

From a human viewpoint it may seem an unmitigated tragedy that David’s sin interfered so profoundly with what seemed to be the course of God’s purpose with him and the nation. The hapless tale of David’s sin and the developments that flowed from it, however, are invaluable in demonstrating the profound effect that sin does have. Human thinking habitually ignores this fact and our rich experience of God’s mercy can exacerbate this way of thinking. We must realise that forgiveness does not eliminate all of sin’s consequences.

This phase of David’s life also illustrates, in the strongest possible manner, that the purpose of God cannot be derailed by human failure. The promises to David were not revoked because of his personal transgression (rather their resilience was illustrated 2 Sam 7:14). God was able to work with these events, without ignoring their seriousness, to further develop David’s character. Surely the same principle applies to us. We must realise that whilst repentance is the basis for forgiveness, the gratitude that should flow from accepting this forgiveness actually forms the motivation for continuing repentance in the fullest sense of the term, a true and total change of direction (Rom 2:4).

David a changed king

Hence, as the record of 2 Samuel concludes, we find a wiser and greater David. The closing chapters record a number of intriguing illustrations where David’s sense of judgment is tested but is found to be much developed and tempered with mercy. In this we see David setting the scene for the next phase of God’s purpose with Israel. David’s role had been to set the administrative and military foundation of the kingdom. This he succeeded to do in a very real sense, not just prior to his sin (2 Sam 8:15) but also in the latter years of his life. To take just one illustration and to demonstrate the foundation this provided for his successor, Solomon, consider David’s dealing with Mephibosheth in 2 Samuel 19. Mephibosheth had been given all the lands of his family by David (2 Sam 9:7), but at the time of Absalom’s revolt he had been accused of wanting to regain the kingdom (2 Sam 16:3). As a result of the alleged unfaithfulness, David had given these lands to Ziba (2 Sam 16:4). Later it transpires that this report of Mephibosheth’s ingratitude is untrue. As a result David interestingly commands that the land should be divided between Mephibosheth and Ziba (2 Sam 19:29). This could have been great grounds for discontent on the part of Mephibosheth, particularly if he were so intent on regaining his lost fortunes. Mephibosheth’s response was to let Ziba take all the land demonstrating the genuine nature of his allegiance to David. One wonders whether it was the recollection of this incident that sprang to Solomon’s mind when he was judging between the two harlots (1 Kings 4:16–28). In response to his judgment in this matter “all Israel … feared the king: for they saw that the wisdom of God was in him to do judgment”.

The final chapter of 2 Samuel records the remarkable circumstances that lead to the identification of the site for the Temple. So the scene is set for next part of God’s work in Israel, the building of a Temple by the man of peace.