Favorite 1&2 Samuel Commentaries

Favorite 1&2 Samuel Commentaries

From time to time I am asked by students and others what my favorite Bible commentaries are. I thought I would start with my favorite books to teach (1&2 Samuel) and list the commentaries that have had the greatest impact on me. In the future I will list favorite commentaries from other Old and New Testament books. I’ve decided not to limit myself to a certain number (5, or 10–although this particular post has 5!) because the number may be different with each book of the Bible. If you are interested in purchasing any of these commentaries, I have provided links to Amazon (USA =.com and UK =.co.uk) under the book images. In no particular order, here are my favorite 1&2 Samuel commentaries.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

1. Robert Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, The New American Commentary, (Broaman & Holman, 1996), 512 pp.

The New American Commentary is a solid evangelical commentary series. The NIV version is used, followed by a verse by verse commentary by the author. Bergen’s commentary begins with approximately a 40 page introduction to the books of Samuel. Like many modern commentaries, Bergen is sensitive to the literary art of the ancient biblical writer, which means he looks at the final form of the bibical text and focuses on its message. For me, the main strength of this commentary is Bergen’s knowledge of the Pentateuch (Genesis-Deuteronomy) and how the authority of the “Books of Moses” are reflected in 1&2 Samuel. At every turn, Bergen gives examples of how a knowledge of the Law of Moses deepens the reader’s understanding of 1&2 Samuel. For example, in the introductory material, Bergen provides two charts (historical interconnections and legal interconnections, pp. 47-50) which demonstrate the interconnections between the Pentateuch and 1&2 Samuel. In my opinion, one of Bergen’s weaknesses is that David can seemingly do no wrong (except of course in the case of Bathsheba and Uriah!). For example, when David asks the priest Ahimelech for bread and a sword, he lies to the priest by telling him that he is on secret business for the king (1 Sam. 21:2). To save David from an obvious lie Bergen suggests that the king David has in mind is Yahweh (p. 221). That’s a small criticism, however. Bergen’s commentary is sure to increase your understanding of the books of Samuel. I would give it 4 1/4 stars out of 5.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

2. J. Robert Vannoy, 1-2 Samuel, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, (Tyndale House, 2009), 452 pp.

Vannoy’s 1&2 Samuel commentary is also the work of an evangelical scholar. He begins with a 38 page introduction discussing such topics as date and occasion of writing in which he challenges some of the long-held presuppositions of some scholars regarding the so-called “Deuteronomistic History” (Many scholars contend that Deuteronomy was written in two instalments: 1] during the time of Josiah; and 2] during the exile). He argues that moving the date of Deuteronomy from the Mosaic era and placing it at the end of the kingdom period “has far-reaching implications for the literature of the Old Testament.” This, of course, includes the books of Samuel. Vannoy argues for an early date of writing for the books of Samuel (about 931 B.C. following the division of the kingdom, p. 9). Vannoy also approaches the text with a literary sensitivity. He calls attention to the structure of different parts of 1&2 Samuel and his comments are based on the final form of the text. This commentary uses the NLT. Each section consists of the NLT, followed by a “Notes” section which comments on significant Hebrew words and textual issues. Next is the author’s verse by verse commentary followed by “Endnotes.” Vannoy’s greatest strength, in my opinion, is his ability to relate the text of 1&2 Samuel to Christological concerns. For example, he states, “…while Christian interpreters should take their point of departure, as much as is possible, from the perspective of the original author and his audience, they must also read every narrative of Scripture in the ever-widening context of the growth of revelation and redemption as it is disclosed in the entirety of the Christian canon” (p. 10). I would give this commentary 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

3. Dale Ralph Davis, 1 Samuel: Looking on the Heart, and 2 Samuel: Out of Every Adversity, Focus on the Bible (Christian Focus, 1999 & 2000), 336 pp. each.

If you’re looking for someone who knows all of the scholarly issues, is evangelical, and communicates in a common-sense, down-to-earth style, then Dale Ralph Davis is your commentator! These two Samuel commentaries form part of a six-commentary series by Davis, extending from Joshua-2 Kings. Davis is a former seminary professor (Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Ms.), and a current pastor (Woodland Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, Ms.). His pastor’s perspective will speak to the average Christian who enjoys good commentary interspersed with homey illustrations (warning–be prepared to learn a lot of American Civil War history–a favourite topic of Davis’s illustrations).

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

Even though Davis is coming from a Reformed background, his commentary is balanced and it is rare to see (though not impossible) Calvinistic coloring bleed over into his interpretation. Davis wastes no time with introductory matters in his 1&2 Samuel commentaries; he allots all of 2 pages in each one! Instead, he dives right into the text. Even though reading both volumes amounts to a little over 700 pages of reading, Davis is one of my students’ favourite commentators. Some prefer his style (which is very colloquial) to that of other, more formal, commentators. To give you a flavor for Davis’s style, here are a few quotes: “Amnon has far more glands than brains” (2 Sam., p. 167). Speaking of Joab’s murder of Amasa, Davis writes, “It was business as usual. No need to cry over spilled blood. It’s merely a clinical matter for Joab” (2 Sam., p. 254). Davis is colorful, but he is also very knowledgeable. His 1&2 Samuel commentaries will definitely increase your understanding of these books. I would give Davis 4 1/2 out of 5 stars.

Available from Amazon USA / UK
Available from Amazon USA / UK

4. David Firth, 1&2 Samuel, Apollos Old Testament Commentary (IVP & Apollos, 2009), 614 pp.

Of all the commentaries I recommended to this point, Firth’s is the most comprehensive. This is due largely to the format of the Apollos Old Testament Commentary Series. Firth’s commentary consists of an original translation of the Hebrew text, followed by notes on the text, a section on “Form and Structure,” followed by the verse by verse commentary section, and finally, an “Explanation” section which consists of further reflections on the passage (for a fuller breakdown of the format followed by the Apollos OT series,  see my review of 1&2 Kings).  Usually a commentary that has notes on the Hebrew text explaining the author’s translation is very technical and only for scholars and those who know the original language. However, Firth’s textual notes are very readable and quite interesting. I often pulled out my yellow highlighter to note a point he was making. Firth’s commentary is solid and insightful with one exception: his interpretation of the David and Bathsheba episode (which he argues is not the best title for this incident, and he is probably right). Firth attempts to incorporate some sociological insights into why the incident happened using the values of honor and shame. Although a knowledge of cultural values can prove extremely enlightening (as I frequently argue in my posts on this blog), in this case I think that it has led Firth astray in his understanding of the narrative. Briefly, his argument is that David does not send for Bathsheba because she is beautiful (and he lusts after her), but in order to “claim authority from Uriah” and ultimately to kill him (p. 416). Firth says that the text gives no reason for David’s desire to kill Uriah and suggests that perhaps Uriah is a threat to David like David was to Saul. He emphasizes, however that this is only a supposition. In my opinion, this interpretation completely distorts things that we know about David and, perhaps most importantly, misses the parallels between David and his son Amnon (who clearly has a lust problem with his sister–2 Sam. 13). Other than this one unusual interpretation, I find Firth’s commentary to be very insightful and a rewarding read. I would give it 4 1/4 stars out of 5.

Available at Amazon USA / UK
Available at Amazon USA / UK

5. Robert B. Chisholm Jr., 1&2 Samuel, Teach the Text Commentary (BakerBooks, 2013), 337 pp.

I won’t say a lot about Chisholm’s commentary here because I have reviewed it elsewhere (click here to see the review, click here to see an interview with Chisholm), and I will be reviewing the Logos Bible Software version of it in a future post. I will simply say that if someone wants a good introduction to the books of 1&2 Samuel, this is one of the best. It is clearly written, and Chisholm is a knowledgeable evangelical scholar. The book includes pictures, charts, and sidebars which are of the highest quality and add to the overall presentation. Chisholm seeks to provide readers with the “Big Picture” and key themes of 1&2 Samuel and he admirably succeeds. The only shortcoming of the book is its brevity and some of the “application sections” (not added by Chisholm, but by the publisher). The brevity, however, is part of the overall design of the “Teach the Text Commentary” series. The fact that I am using it as one of the main textbooks in my 1&2 Samuel class should let you know how highly I think of it. I would give it 4 1/2 stars out of 5.

The temptation at this point is to go on and name a few other favorite Samuel commentaries, but I believe this is a good stopping point and so I will leave you with these 5. Feel free to suggest your own favorite Samuel commentaries in the comments, or to ask me a question about these or others.

14 thoughts on “Favorite 1&2 Samuel Commentaries”

    1. Hi Spencer, good question. Tsumura focuses on discourse analysis and spends a lot of time attempting to show that the text of Samuel isn’t in as bad a shape as many say that it is. He is a linguistic expert and so that is the strength of his commentary. I think he goes a little overboard, however with his explanations. He never admits to a potential scribal error, but ALWAYS has an explanation for an oddity in the MT. The thing I was most disappointed in, however, is his lack of literary sensitivity. He dismisses, and otherwise overlooks, many theological/applicational opportunities presented in the text of Samuel. Having said that, I wouldn’t want to be without this volume and I do look forward to 2 Samuel coming out. Just be aware that Tsumura’s approach in this commentary is different from many others in the NICOT.

  1. Hi and thanks for the reviews. I haven’t been able to peruse Hoffner’s volume (a big drawback for me for digital productions). Could you comment on the amount of geographical sensitivity (impression is fine) as well as sensitivity to the particular historiographic method of the books of Samuel?

    My passage of largest interest are the wilderness wanderings (~ch. 23-26).

    Peace,
    Thomas

    1. Hi Thomas,

      Thanks for your comment. It has been awhile (about a year) since I’ve consulted Hoffner’s commentary. I have done a review of it and would suggest you might read it here. I think my review will help answer the historic method question. On the geographic sensitivity, I would need to spend some time and go back and look over the commentary again. Perhaps in the future I can better answer that (sorry for now!).
      God bless,
      Randy

      1. Thanks, I have read the review. I figured it might not still be fresh.

        I appreciate the response.

    1. Hi Spencer,
      You might notice in my review of the “top 5 commentaries on 1&2 Samuel,” I did not rank them, although I did give them a rating of 4.25 or 4.5 stars. Hoffner’s commentary definitely has to be in the conversation because of its in-depth treatment. If you haven’t read my review on it yet, please check it out for more details. I would rank Hoffner at 4.5 stars. But it would not be my first “go to” commentary for getting the overall message of Samuel. It’s too in-depth and a little inconsistent in its treatment of various passages. But if you can get it from Logos, I would. Thanks for asking. God bless!

  2. Hi Randy,

    If one had to choose one among these below which one would you advise?

    Robert Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel
    J. Robert Vannoy 1-2 Samuel
    David Firth 1&2 Samuel

    Why is Arnold’s NIVAC not on the list since you gave it 5 stars at Amazon?

    1. Hi Chita,

      Thanks for your questions. The only reason Arnold’s book is not on my list of top 5 is because I had not read it when I wrote the article. To be honest I would rank Arnold’s commentary number 1. There’s a lot of great information in it. He does an excellent job expositing the text and the application sections are also interesting.

      As far as your other question, you can’t go wrong choosing any of these 3 but if I had to make a choice I would suggest Bergen. The reason is because of his knowledge of the Pentateuch and the connection he makes with 1&2 Samuel. I found that very enlightening. He has many other valuable insights as well.

      God bless

  3. Thank you so much Randy for responding and for a very helpful response.

    Sorry for asking again: are you familiar with Youngblood’s EBC commentary on 1&2 Samuel? If so what’s your take?

    1. No problem Chita. Youngblood’s commentary is very solid and, as you may know, it’s been updated. I’ve read the older version but not the updated one yet. The one issue I have with this commentary is that Youngblood sometimes goes with some unusual (on the fringe) interpretations. If it’s different and unusual, he seems to like it and he can find evidence for his interpretation when, in my opinion, he’s skating on thin ice.

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