My Top 5 2 Samuel Commentaries:
Like most preachers (I presume), I read commentaries in order to better understand the passage that I’m preaching upon. Of course, it is vital to study the passage oneself – working through the text at least in the English (or your native language) if not the original Hebrew. Some people don’t really need or like to read too much of what others have written. I am not one of those people. I generally find it helpful though there have been plenty of times where it has not made it more simple. What makes a good commentary? How does one rate a commentary? What I find with commentaries is that it partly depends upon what you are looking for and the time constraints that you have. If the week has been filled with activities and perhaps an unscheduled activity like a funeral has taken up a lot of time, then obviously time becomes a premium. A commentary which might have a detailed analysis of a textual variant might be fascinating for an academic but is hardly going to be ideal for the pastor under time pressure trying to compose Sunday’s sermon. Yes, ideally one has begun the process of preparation weeks before but, in reality, my life ain’t often worked quite like that!
That’s why it is such an advantage to have studied the books of Samuel over many years and to have time to read and browse commentaries through those years. It’s enabled me to become familiar with the themes, ideas and styles and to know what I am looking for. And, to be quite frank, I’ve become more adept at knowing what I want when I’m preaching which is just the benefit of experience. That’s not to say that there might still be times when it is extremely gruelling – though that is usually when it is the very first time in dealing with a passage.
These are my top 5 go to commentaries on the book of 2nd Samuel. They are in author alphabetical order:
1 Arnold, 1 and 2 Samuel – the NIV Application Commentary. Bill Arnold published this commentary in 2003. Looking that date up has surprised me because it means that I did not have it when I first began Samuel back in 2001. I’ve generally liked the style of this commentary series which divides each segment into three parts: Original Meaning, Bridging contexts and contemporary significance. I’ve just had a quick browse over his comments on 2 Samuel 10-12. They are first rate and I do like how Bill notes many of the literary features of the passage. Bill covers the passage well and gives great guidance for the preacher.
2 Brueggemann, First and Second Samuel, Interpretation series. Walter Brueggemann is renowned for his theological insight. This one was written a while ago – 1990 – and so many have built upon it since then. It is not a verse by verse commentary but has some magnificent insight into the overall theme and direction. His analysis of 2 Samuel 15-19 really shone out in the understanding of David’s position.
3 Davis, 2 Samuel, Out of Every Adversity. Published 1999 – Focus on the Bible series. If you were looking for a small, readable compact commentary that was alive to the text and its issues, then I would highly recommend Dale Ralph Davis. He is just brilliant. Davis walks closely with the text but then has an amazing array of stories and analogies which flow so well with his explanations. His writing just brings a real joy to reading Scripture. Just occasionally I find I’ve had enough American Civil war stories or Presidential anecdotes but it’s easy to glide over to the next paragraph. Any such shortcomings are more than overcome by the marvellous way that Davis really comes to grips with the text. He’s also terrific for setting up the structure and overview of the chapter. His writing on 2 Samuel 11 really sets one up for a solid sermon structure. And, to be honest, my knowledge of American history has increased along the way which was no bad thing!
4 Vannoy, 1 & 2 Samuel, Cornerstone series. This is a tight commentary by J Robert Vannoy based on the ‘New Living Translation’ which has plenty of pearls along the way. I like the fact that it’s not too lengthy and it taps into some details of the text that I find interesting. It’s probably not my first commentary to go to but one I do like to browse what he has written.
5 Woodhouse, 2 Samuel – Your Kingdom Come, Preaching the Word series. This was published in 2015. John Woodhouse was my Old Testament lecturer when I was at Moore College so I’m familiar with some of his material and line of approach. But these commentaries in the R Kent Hughes’ series were written long after I was in his class and I certainly did not benefit from much of this material. In fact, I had preached and studied both 1st and 2nd Samuel before either of his two commentaries were written. I’m quite glad about that as it enabled me to develop my own understanding of the books and so recognise some differences of approach. I do find it helpful now to come to his very detailed exegesis.
If you want to work carefully through the Samuel books then these books will do it for you. There are numerous endnotes and almost every word and verse is meticulously examined and commented upon with reference to the Hebrew text. John has interacted with everyone including the massive work of JP Fokkelmann and gleaned what is useful and got rid of the chaff. That’s no mean feat. Some years ago, I found myself spinning every time I tried to follow where Fokkelmann was going. In preparing to preach again on 2 Samuel 11 I read through the almost 40 pages of commentary that John Woodhouse had written. It certainly answered many questions that I had. One of John’s great strengths is that he sticks very tightly to the text. He lets the word do its work…and, as I read through it, I felt myself feeling the drama of 2 Samuel afresh. The challenge for the busy preacher or first timer to the passage is that it can almost raise too many issues and one could be swamped. In which case, Davis or Arnold might be more your cup of tea. But John’s sermonic introductions and closing applications each chapter do ease such difficulties. The danger though is one can rely too much upon these themes rather than develop one’s own application.
One other note: There is one point of moderately significant exegesis that I have some disagreement about. It’s mainly to do with 1 Samuel and I simply note it here as I hope to consider it on another occasion.
That’s my Top Five! My 5 starting commentary picks on 2 Samuel. What I especially like about each of them is that they deal with the biblical text as a whole and take seriously what is written. At times, I might have a difference of opinion (who doesn’t!), but the overall theology is God-fearing and Christ-honouring. I’m thankful to God for such faithful commentary which has certainly enhanced my own understanding of the Bible. I’d like to illustrate with examples from each commentator…but that will have to wait for another day.
PS I’ve still to come across Tim Chester’s commentary on 2 Samuel. It is bound to be good though…and would likely make the Top Six!