Question and Answer with Paul Evans on 1 and 2 Samuel

Learn more about 1 and 2 Samuel in the Story of God Bible Commentary Series

samuel bible commentaryPaul S. Evans (Ph.D., University of St. Michael’s College) is Assistant Professor of Old Testament at McMaster Divinity College. Dr. Evans specializes in Old Testament studies and in his teaching and research emphasizes the theological significance of the Old Testament and the value of its application for the Church today.

Besides 1 and 2 Samuel in the Story of God Bible Commentary series, Dr. Evan’s earlier work includes a monograph entitled The Invasion of Sennacherib in the Book of Kings: A Source-Critical and Rhetorical Study of 2 Kings 18-19, which was awarded the 2010 R.B.Y. Scott Award by the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies recognizing an outstanding book in the areas of Hebrew Bible and/or the Ancient Near East. Paul also co-edited a volume on the book of Chronicles entitled Chronicling the Chronicler which was published by Eisenbrauns in 2013.

In addition Paul has 17 research articles in print, with most focused on the historical books of the Old Testament, with the most recent appearing in the Journal of Biblical Literature 136.4 (2017): 749-764. Many of Dr. Evan’s articles are accessible through Academia.edu.

1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on 1 and 2 Samuel?

The focus of my writing has been on the historical books of the Old Testament. My first book looked at Hezekiah and the invasion of Jerusalem by the Assyrians under their king Sennacherib and I also have written several articles on this part of Israel’s history. I have also written several articles on the historical narratives of the book of Chronicles, many of which have parallels in Samuel or Kings. Given my love of the historical books, I welcomed the opportunity to write a full commentary on Samuel.

2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

This commentary is written with pastors, students, and lay Christians in mind. It provides an accessible exposition of Samuel, keeping in mind the larger story of the Bible. At the same time, it is born out of new research, incorporates the best of biblical scholarship, and contributes to the scholarly discussion surrounding this important text.

3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of 1 and 2 Samuel?

This commentary incorporates the best of critical biblical scholarship but is written from a faith based perspective. For example, important work has been done on the complexity of Samuel’s characterization—that despite being God’s prophet, he shows much self-interest and is not an ideal character. In this commentary I look at where we see this in the text but also wrestle with statements that speak of Samuel as God’s faithful prophet. In the end I suggest Samuel’s flaws and humanity are underscored in the story, as are his faithful service to God. From this we can see that God used flawed people (as there are no other types of people) and this is encouraging to a flawed person like myself. Also, it is not helpful to try to idealize biblical characters and such approaches go against the intent of the text itself.

My commentary also underscores King Saul’s downfall as related to his obsession with superstition and ritualistic assurances of success, the relevance of which has often been overlooked. The relevance of this for Christians’ lives is brought out in the commentary as many people of faith often struggle with similar issues as we try to walk in faith rather than rely on signs. The commentary also highlights the importance of David and the promises to David (2 Sam 7) as a precursor to the Gospel and salvation by faith and not works. David and his role as God’s anointed one (messiah) is also emphasized and there are some amazing ways in which his life often prefigures events in the lives of Jesus, the Anointed One.

4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

The story of Absalom’s rebellion in 2 Sam 15-18—which meant that David had to flee Jerusalem—was fascinating to write, especially because much of David’s story resonates with Jesus’ passion narratives in the gospels. David was cursed by Shimei (2 Sam 16) and had stones and dirt thrown at him, and like Jesus, “was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly” (1 Pet 2:23). David rebuked his loyal follower (Abishai) for wanting to kill Shimei in defense of David (2 Sam 16:10) saying that the Lord was behind Shimei’s assault (2 Sam 16:10–11), similarly, Jesus had to rebuke his loyal follower (Peter) for taking up the sword in defense of Jesus (Matt 26:52) similarly saying that God was behind the assault (John 18:11). David’s trusted counselor, Ahithophel, betrayed him to those who would kill him, and Jesus’s disciple Judas Iscariot (John 13:29) betrayed him to his death. Many of the locations mentioned in David’s flight from Jerusalem and Jesus’ passion narrative are the same. Both David and Jesus ascend the Mount of Olives and there learn of the betrayal (David is told by a messenger, while Jesus is betrayed with a kiss there). Also, both Ahithophel and Judas (Matt 27:5) hang themselves after betraying the anointed one. What is more, they kill themselves before the fruits of their betrayal are completed.

5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

The book of Samuel was encouraging to my faith in many ways. Examining the complexity of Samuel and David, with both their flaws and their strengths provided encouragement that God can use a flawed person like me. The tragic story of Saul, and David’s downfall in his later life provide cautionary tales about the importance of our choices and the consequences of sin, which continue to urge me to holy living. God’s enduring commitment to David, regardless of his failures (2 Sam 7) elicit continued encouragement to trust God with my future and not rely on my own strength or successes. God’s longsuffering, compassion and amazing love come to the fore in these narratives and lead me to love him more and cling to him in faith as our hope for the future.

6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on 1 and 2 Samuel?

Alter, Robert. The David story: a translation with commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel. New York: Norton, 1999.

Anderson, A. A. 2 Samuel. Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, Tex.: Word, 1989.

Bodner, Keith. 1 Samuel: A Narrative Commentary. Hebrew Bible Monographs. Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2008.

Brueggemann, Walter. First and Second Samuel. Interpretation, a Bible commentary for teaching and preaching. Louisville, Ky.: John Knox, 1990.

Fokkelman, J. P., Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel: Vow and Desire (1 Sam. 1–12). Assen: Van Gorcum, 1993.

Fokkelman, J. P., Narrative Art and Poetry in the Books of Samuel: A Full Interpretation Based on Stylistic and Structural Analysis: Vol. 1, King David (II Sam. 9–20 & I Kings 1–2). Studia Semitica Neerlandica. Assen, The Netherlands: Van Gorcum, 1981.

Klein, Ralph W. 1 Samuel. WBC. Waco, Tex.: Word, 1983.

Long, V. Philips, The Reign and Rejection of King Saul: A Case for Literary and Theological Coherence. Edited by David L. Peterson. SBLDS, 118. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989.

Polzin, Robert, Samuel and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomistic History: Part Two: 1 Samuel. Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989.

Polzin, Robert, David and the Deuteronomist: A Literary Study of the Deuteronomistic History. Part Three: 2 Samuel. Indiana Studies in Biblical Literature. Bloomington; Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1993.

7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I am currently researching and writing on the history of seventh century B.C. Judah and their recovery from the Assyrian invasion. At issue partly is how the Bible understands the Assyrian king Sennacherib’s retreat as a victory for Judah when most of their fortified cities were destroyed, and the Assyrians understand their campaign against Judah as a success when they failed to depose Hezekiah and take the capital city of Jerusalem. I also continue to work on the narratives of Chronicles and am working towards a book on the method of the Chronicler in his rewriting the historical narratives of Samuel and Kings. I regularly present my latest research in papers given at the meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies and the Evangelical Theological Society and some of my work in print can be accessed on my academia.edu page where many of my articles are available for download.


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