THE REV. F. GARDINER, D.D.,
Professor of Divinity, Middletown, Connecticut, U.S.A.
INTRODUCTIONTOTHE SECOND BOOK OF SAMUEL.
THE SECOND BOOK OF SAMUEL.
THE period embraced in this book may be roughly described as the forty years of the reign of David. The book opens immediately upon the death of Saul, a few days before David ascended the throne, and it closes while David was still living, though “old and stricken in years.” It was an eventful period in Israel’s history. David came to the throne immediately after the crushing defeat of Saul by the Philistines, and when almost the whole land was held in their grasp; and when the tribes of Israel were at variance with one another, and for seven and a half years refused to unite in the recognition of a common monarch. But at David’s death the enemies of Israel had been subdued on every side, and he transmitted to Solomon an united empire, extending from “the river of Egypt” to the Euphrates, and from the Red Sea to Lebanon. The maritime nations of the Phoenicians alone appear not to have been conquered, but they were united to the Israelites in the closest bonds of friendship, and assisted both David and his successor in their works. The religious development of the people received a great impulse from the piety of the monarch and the influence of his sacred poetry. The outward observances of religion shone forth indeed with more splendour in the early part of the succeeding reign of Solomon; but at no period was there a more earnest effort to conduct the affairs of the nation on religious principles, or a truer devotion on the part of their ruler. Moreover, the services of the sanctuary were systematically arranged, and sacred song made prominent in them; the priesthood was had in honour; and abundant material and wealth were accumulated for the future building of the Temple.
David himself, the hero of the book, was a man to attract attention in any age of the world. Raised from the sheepfold of Bethlehem to a throne, tried by every vicissitude of great prosperity and great adversity, a man of noble presence and warlike prowess, of such physical power as to be able to wield the sword of Goliath, of such skill upon the harp as to be chosen to allay the paroxysms of Saul’s insanity, of high literary culture and poetic inspiration, witnessed by the psalms of his composition, of such fervent piety as to be called of God “a man after my own heart,” yet he was withal eminently “a man of affairs,” a skilful general, a wise statesman, and possessed of that personal magnetism by which all who came under his influence were deeply and permanently attached to him. He was also a man of strong natural passions, which, although generally kept under control, yet led him at times to the commission of grievous sins from which both he and his people suffered severely. There was also a strain of weakness in his character. His domestic affections were indulged to the neglect of positive duties, and caused grave troubles and crimes in his household. The latter part of his reign was disturbed by formidable rebellions. He failed to deal with some of his powerful subjects as he knew that justice required. The period treated in this book is altogether a chequered one, presenting a history of earnest piety, of outrageous sin, and of deep repentance; of great prosperity and unusual blessings on the one hand, and of severe afflictions and punishments on the other. Nevertheless, it was, on the whole, a period of marked advance in both religious development and earthly prosperity, and it cannot fail to reward the most careful study.
The great prophet Samuel had now passed to his rest, but David’s early intercourse with him must have remained vividly in his memory, and his life and government was doubtless largely influenced by the prophet’s counsels. The “schools of the prophets,” founded by him, were still flourishing, and it may have been in them that Gad and Nathan and Iddo were trained.
This is not the place to speak of the date and authorship of the book, since it is simply a continuation of the First Book of Samuel. Only it is not to be forgotten that the original documents from which it was compiled must have been somewhat later—in accordance with the events to which they relate. The literature in relation to the two books is essentially the same.
SUPPLEMENTARY NOTE ON THE TEXT OF II. SAMUEL.
IT has been necessary from time to time to speak of errors of the scribes in copying the text, and of probable emendations suggested by the reading of the parallel passages in Chronicles. Such errors must necessarily arise in the often repeated copying of manuscripts during a succession of many centuries, unless it were prevented by a special and perpetual miracle. But we have not only no Scriptural or other reasonable ground for expecting such a miracle; we have positive proof against such a supposition. In the parallel case of the New Testament, where we have a large number of MSS., some of them very ancient, as well as versions made within a century of the original documents, and copious quotations in ancient writers, it is found that no single MS. contains a perfectly accurate text, and that the actual language of the original can only be determined in cases of doubt by a careful collation and weighing of all the evidence bearing upon the point. There is no ground to suppose that the text of the Old Testament has fared differently; but there do not exist the same means of testing and authenticating its readings. There are no MSS. of the Old Testament as ancient as several which have been preserved of the New; there are no translations at all as near the date of the original writings, and there are, of course, no quotations, outside of the sacred books themselves, for a long period after their publication. Yet a comparison of parallel accounts, such as have been occasionally noted above, and such as Ezra 2 with Nehemiah 7, shows conclusively that errors have been introduced into the text, especially in regard to numbers. Most of these appear to have been very ancient, before the oldest existing versions were made, and before the necessity was felt for such scrupulous care on the part of the scribes as was exercised in later times. For the correction of such errors we are necessarily compelled to rely mainly upon conjecture; but while conjecture is usually an uncertain guide, in the case of parallel accounts it often becomes possible to determine, by comparison, the original reading with a high degree of probability; and then, from the analogy of these corrections to determine slight changes in other passages also, where the text has apparently undergone alteration.
It is to be remembered, however, that all these errors and corrections are only in minutiæ, in proper names, in the bare statement of numbers, and such like matters. When all have been made that any sober criticism can suggest, the substance of the narrative remains un-affected, and the result of the most searching investigation is to place on an ever firmer basis the substantial accuracy of the copies of the Scriptures which have come down to us.
Two days in Ziklag.—The site of Ziklag has not been exactly identified, but it is mentioned in Joshua 19:5 as one of the cities in the extreme south, at first assigned to Judah, but afterwards given to Simeon. It is also spoken of in connection with Beersheba and other places of the south as re-occupied by the Jews on their return from Babylon (Nehemiah 11:28). Its most probable locality is some ten or twelve miles south of beersheba, and nearly equidistant from the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. It was thus quite four days’ journey from Mount Gilboa. and the messenger who brought the news of the battle must have left the field before David’s return to Ziklag.
Did obeisance.—The following verses show that this was not merely an act of Oriental respect, but was intended as a recognition of David’s rank as having now become king. The messenger, although an Amalekite (2 Samuel 1:8; 2 Samuel 1:13), had earth upon his head and his clothes rent as marks of sorrow for the defeat of David’s people, and the death of their king.
The people of the Lord.—Besides his personal grief, David had both a religious and a patriotic ground for sorrow. The men who had fallen were parts of that Church of God which he so earnestly loved and served, and were also members of the commonwealth of Israel, on whose behalf he ever laboured with patriotic devotion. The LXX., overlooking this distinction, has very unnecessarily changed “people of the Lord” into “people of Judah.”
In the book of Jasher.—This book is also referred to in Joshua 10:13, and nothing more is really known about it, although it has been the subject of endless discussion and speculation. It is supposed to have been a collection of songs relating to memorable events and men in the early history of Israel, and it appears that this elegy was included among them.
The song is in two parts, the first relating to both Saul and Jonathan (2 Samuel 1:19-24), the second to Jonathan, alone (2 Samuel 1:25-26), each having at the beginning the lament, “How are the mighty fallen !” and the whole closing with the same refrain (2 Samuel 1:27).
Upon thy high places.—Comp. 2 Samuel 1:21; 2 Samuel 1:25. This line may be considered as the superscription of the whole song.
Lest the daughters of the Philistines.—It was customary for women to celebrate national deliverances and victories (Exodus 15:21; 1 Samuel 18:6). The word uncircumcised might be applied to the heathen generally, but it so happens that, with the exception of Genesis 34:14, it is used in the historical books only of the Philistines (Judges 14:3; Judges 15:18; 1 Samuel 14:6; 1 Samuel 17:26; 1 Samuel 17:36; 1 Samuel 31:4; 1 Chronicles 10:4).
Vilely cast away.—Another sense of this word is defiled. The ancient versions, as well as modern commentators, adopt some one, and some the other meaning, either of which is appropriate.
As though he had not been anointed.—This translation follows the Vulg., and makes a good sense = as though Saul had not been a king; but it is more than doubtful if the original can bear this construction. There is no pronoun in the Hebrew, and the word “anointed” refers to the shield, “the shield of Saul not anointed with oil.” It was customary to oil metal shields, as well as those of wood and leather, for their preservation, and the idea here is that Saul’s shield was thrown away uncared for.