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Monday, June 17th, 2024
the Week of Proper 6 / Ordinary 11
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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 13

Coffman's Commentaries on the BibleCoffman's Commentaries



Following David’s adultery with Bathsheba and his wholesale murder of eighteen men including her husband Uriah, the prophet Nathan had warned David of God’s punishments that would ensue, declaring that, “Therefore the sword shall never depart from your house” (2 Samuel 12:10). In this chapter, the sword of God’s judgment fell upon David’s first-born son and heir apparent to his throne.

Verses 1-6


“Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; and after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother; and Jonadab was a very crafty man. And he said to him, “O, son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me”? Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill; and when your father comes to see you, say to him, `Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare food in my sight, that I may see it, and eat it from her hand.’“ So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, `Pray let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.’“

“Absalom… had a beautiful sister… Tamar” Both Absalom and Tamar were David’s children by his wife Maacah the daughter of King Talmai of Gesher whom David married during his reign in Hebron. Both Absalom and Tamar were noted for their beauty. “David himself was known for his handsome appearance; and Absalom sheared his head yearly and weighed the hair.”(F1) Absalom seems to have been inordinately proud of his hair, which ironically gave Joab his opportunity to kill him. The name Tamar means “palm tree,”(F2)

“Amnon, David’s son, loved her” Amnon, David’s firstborn son was the child of Ahinoam a woman of Jezreel whom David married while he was still a fugitive from Saul. She, along with Abigail the widow of Nabal, was captured by the Ammonites while David was still at Ziklag, but was promptly rescued by David. Amnon was the heir-apparent to David’s throne (2 Samuel 3:2).

“Loved her” (Tamar) This is an unfortunate translation, because Amnon in no sense whatever actually loved Tamar. He simply allowed himself to be consumed with a savage animal lust after her beautiful body. Furthermore, his “friend” Jonadab fully understood this for what it was and proposed to Amnon the ruse by which he would have the opportunity to rape her.

As Payne quite properly observed, the entire episode of Absalom’s rebellion against David began, “With the same sins which David had committed, namely, adultery leading to murder.”(F3) That a son of David should have been so wicked as Amnon appears in this passage is actually no surprise; because, as Matthew Henry said, “Grace does not run in the blood but corruption does”!(F4) None of David’s children followed him in his devotion to God; but they followed him in his shameful sins and even went far beyond them.

“Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab” We learn from 1 Chronicles 2:13 and 1 Samuel 16:9; 1 Samuel 17:13 that Jonadab was the son of David’s brother Shimeah (or Shimea, or Shammah), making him a cousin of Amnon. In the real sense, he was no `friend’ whatever of Amnon, because his advice led to Amnon’s rape of his half sister and his murder by Absalom.

“Jonadab was a very crafty man” Although the word “crafty” “is not used here in a bad sense,”(F5) Jonadab’s cleverness was here prostituted to a very evil purpose. There is no doubt whatever that Jonadab fully understood what the purpose of Amnon was and that by the clever device which he proposed he himself became an accessory before the fact in the rape of Tamar. The picture that emerges here is that both Amnon and his `friend’ Jonadab were partners in very evil lives.

“Pray let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may see it, and eat it from her hand” Amnon lost no time in acting upon Jonadab’s evil suggestion and made this request when David came to visit his “sick” son. It must not be thought for a moment that Amnon was ill. Jonadab’s instructions were that he should, “pretend to be ill (2 Samuel 13:5).” Something of the arrangement of the various living quarters in the king’s palace appears here. “The king’s children lived in different houses; probably each of the king’s wives lived with her children in one particular compartment of the palace.”(F6)

Verses 7-14


“Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare food for him.” So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. And she took dough, and kneaded it, and made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. And she took the pan and emptied it out before him, but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, “Send out everyone from before me.” So everyone went out from him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” She answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this wanton folly. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be one of the wanton fools in Israel. Now, therefore, I pray you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her.”

“Such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this wanton folly” “This is a verbal quotation from Genesis 34:7; and the natural inference is that Tamar knew this passage in Genesis and wished to profit from the warning it contained.”(F7) This is only one of literally hundreds of instances which we have cited in our commentaries which collectively afford the most overwhelming proof that every book in the O.T. from Joshua to Malachi is written within the shadow of the Book of Moses, commonly called the Pentateuch. How convincing is the action here of David’s daughter Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom, at the very moment when it appeared that she would be raped, even as Shechem the son of Hamor had raped Dinah the daughter of Jacob, that she would recall that tragic incident and quote the Scriptural reference to it in the vain hope that she might disarm the savage passion of her godless assailant. The comment of Caird in The Interpreter’s Bible is totally in error. He alleged that, “Tamar here appealed to usage as the standard of morality. Where no written code of law exists, the one standard of conduct is whether or not a thing is done.”(F8) Such a gross error is founded on the critical canard that the Pentateuch did not exist in the times of King David; but Tamar’s quotation from Genesis 34:7, just mentioned, is proof enough that it did exist.

“Do not force me” “The Hebrew words here are literally `Do not humble me’; and it is regrettable that the RSV has changed them; because they bear eloquent testimony to the nobleness of Hebrew women, who regarded their chastity as the crown of their honor.”(F9)

“Speak to the king; he will not withhold me from you” “It cannot be inferred from this that marriage by half brothers and sisters was usual in the times of David.”(F10) Tamar was merely trying to find a way out of her desperate situation. Sure, she knew that such marriages were forbidden in Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 18:11, but she also knew that David frequently disobeyed God’s law; and knowing his love for Amnon might reasonably have expected him to violate it for Amnon’s sake. Caird’s suggestion that there was no law against such marriages during David’s times and that, “A later law forbade them”(F11) is merely another preposterous error based upon a false date for the Books of Moses which, without any doubt whatever were written in the mid-second millennium B.C., as elaborately proved by Meredith Kline in the Wycliffe Commentary.

Keil also observed that, “Tamar’s suggestion here by no means proves that the Laws of Leviticus were not in existence at that time, nor does it even presuppose that Tamar was ignorant of such laws.”(F12) This desperate young woman was merely trying to avoid surrendering to the brutal, selfish lust of Amnon.

Tamar’s arguments against Amnon’s actions were so clear and forceful that, If Amnon had not been goaded on by his lustful passion of which he had become the slave, they must surely have prevailed upon him to desist.

“All her arguments availed nothing. Tamar’s comfort, her honor, or virginity, everything that she cherished and honored must be sacrificed to the outrageous animal lust of this extremely wicked man. It must be concluded that Amnon had, though young, lived in lewd wickedness a long while; because no man could have suddenly arrived at such a state of wickedness as this.”(F13)

Verses 15-19


“Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred; so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Arise, be gone,” But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other which you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence, and bolt the door after her.” Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves; for thus were the virgin daughters of the king clad of old. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. So Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent the long robe which she wore; and she laid her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went.”

“Then Amnon hated her” What about all that love which he had for her? It was nothing but his selfish, burning, bodily appetite craving for sexual gratification and was not actual love in any sense whatever. It was like that of the man who grabbed an orange and said, “I love oranges.” He ripped a hole in it and sucked the last drop of juice out of it and then threw it in the garbage. That’s exactly the way Amnon loved his virgin sister. This action by Amnon fully entitled him to the punishment later inflicted upon him by Tamar’s brother, sinful as it was on Absalom’s part.

“Amnon had no sooner gratified his animal passion, than his love for his humbled sister turned to hatred; so he commanded her to `Get out’! That sudden change may be fully explained psychologically, as frequently exemplified still in actual life. This is striking proof that lust is not love, but simply the gratification of animal passions.”(F14)

“This wrong in sending me away is greater than the other which you did to me” Why was this true? It was because he drove her away and had the door bolted after her with the inevitable implication that, in some shameful way, Tamar had dishonored Amnon, which was a base lie. Also, by his sending the servants away, he had effectively prevented Tamar from crying out for help as commanded in Deuteronomy 22:27. However, in any case, “Tamar could not have expected any assistance from Amnon’s servants.”(F15)

“She was wearing a long robe with sleeves” “This is the same word used in Genesis 37:3, where it is translated `a coat of many colors’; but many prefer the rendition `a tunic reaching to the extremities’ (that is, to the hands and to the feet) and worn over the common tunic.”(F16) In all probability both translations are correct, because it was a mark of high favor and distinction. When Jacob gave such a garment to Joseph, it aroused the fierce jealousy of his brothers. The `diverse colors’ were possibly due to fancy embroidery with many-colored threads. Tamar wore such a garment as an indication of her extremely high rank as a virgin daughter of the king. Her rending it and placing ashes on her head were expressions of her extreme sorrow and humiliation at the hands of her heartless brother.

“She laid her hand on her head” “Since Tamar’s veil is not mentioned, Amnon had probably turned her outdoors without it; and she laid her hand on her head with the purpose of covering her face.”(F17)

Verses 20-22


“And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister; he is your brother. Do not take this to heart.” So Tamar dwelt a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house. When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad; for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.”

“Has Amnon your brother been with you” This question by Absalom is a complete biography of the wicked Amnon. One glance at the heartbroken Tamar with her precious robe torn and with ashes upon her and her hand upon her head said to Absalom, “Your beautiful sister has been raped by the godless Amnon.” What a reputation Amnon must have earned for himself by his uncontrolled wickedness! As Henry stated it, “This question by Absalom indicates that Amnon was known for his lewd practices, to the extent that it was dangerous for a modest woman to be with him.”(F18)

“Tamar dwelt, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house” “Absalom was her natural protector. The children of polygamists lived by themselves, as if they constituted separate families.”(F19)

“When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry” Nevertheless, David did absolutely nothing about it. Did he not know that Amnon deserved to be punished? According to the law in Leviticus 22:28, if Amnon had raped any virgin, he should have been compelled to marry the virgin whom he had raped and also severely fined. However, if the virgin thus raped was a man’s sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, then the penalty was death (Leviticus 20:17). But the namby-pamby old king simply did nothing at all, except stew in his own anger. The reason for David’s inaction is not far to seek. “He could not do anything because he had committed the same sins; and the circumstances and/or popular sentiment seem to have prohibited his bringing criminals to justice.”(F20) Young gave the reason for David’s lack of action as, “His indulgent affection for his son and his habitual failure to discipline members of his family.”(F21) Whatever his reasons, David’s refusal to punish Amnon led directly to Absalom’s murdering him. When justice is thwarted, there always rises up lawless men who will take matters into their own hands.

A number of scholars inject the words of the LXX into this study which declare that, “David did not trouble the spirit of his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his first-born.” As Keil noted, “That comment is doubtless the truth; but it is only a subjective conjecture on the part of translators and does not deserve any place in the sacred text.”(F22)

“Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister” This smoldering hatred would ultimately break forth in murder and rebellion against David himself.

Verses 23-29


“After two full years Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons. And Absalom came to the king, and said, “Behold, your servant has sheepshearers; pray let the king and his servants go with your servant.” But the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome to you.” He pressed him, but he would not go but gave him his blessing. Then Absalom said, “If not, pray let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you”? But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him. Then Absalom commanded his servants, “Mark when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, `Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Fear not; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.” So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons arose, and each mounted his mule and fled.”

“After two full years” “This long delay clearly marked the murder as premeditated and indicated Absalom’s ambition as much as any concern for his sister’s honor.”(F23) Absalom’s inability to induce King David to attend his feast might actually have frustrated Absalom’s plan to kill David himself and all of the king’s sons and take over the kingdom. Such a possibility, of course, is only a conjecture, but there was some urgent reason why Absalom so passionately desired the king’s attendance. The sudden flight of all the king’s sons immediately after Amnon’s murder indicates that they recognized Absalom as a potential murderer of all of them.

“Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor” The exact location of this place is debated, but Willis is probably correct in his identification of the place as, “The modern el-Taiyibe about twelve miles north of Jerusalem.”(F24)

“Why should he (Amnon) go with you?” This question by the king indicates some suspicion on his part that Absalom might have intended some harm to Amnon. After much insistence on Absalom’s part, the king consented. One cannot help wondering why Amnon willingly placed himself within Absalom’s power. Can it be supposed that he actually thought that he had gotten away with his shameful rape of Absalom’s sister? Certainly, he was an unqualified fool for accepting Absalom’s invitation. H. P. Smith wrote, “That Absalom intended to secure the throne for himself by massacring all competitors would not be a remote inference.”(F25)

If Absalom had intended any other murders than that of Amnon, the swift flight of all the king’s sons would have effectively prevented them.

“Each mounted his mule and fled” Several able scholars assert that this is the first place in the Bible where a mule is mentioned, but this writer believes that Genesis 36:24 also mentions this animal. The particular word in Genesis 36:24, found only there in the entire Bible. The KJV translated the word “mules,” as favored by Jewish scholars; and besides that, the first use of “hot springs” as a translation did not occur until the times of Jerome. (For a more adequate discussion of this see Vol. 1 (Genesis) of my series of commentaries on the Pentateuch, p. 441.)

Leviticus 19:19 forbade the Jews to breed hybrids; but the Jews either traded for them or purchased them from those who bred them. There appears to have been an extensive use of mules as saddled animals for riding by royal families. David had “his own mule,” (evidently a favorite) (1 Kings 1:33).

Verses 30-33


“While they were on the way, tidings came to David, “Absalom has slain all the king’s sons, and not one of them is left.” Then the king arose, and rent his garments and lay on the earth; and all his servants who were standing by rent their garments. But Jonadab the son of Shemeah, David’s brother, said, “Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men the king’s sons, for Amnon alone is dead, for by the command of Absalom this has been determined from the day he forced his sister Tamar. Now therefore let not my lord the king so take it to heart as to suppose that all the king’s sons are dead; for Amnon alone is dead.”

The amazing thing in this passage is that Jonadab should have had this information in advance of the event. Was he a collaborator with Absalom in the murder? How did he know? Or, was it merely a shrewd guess? “Jonadab does not seem to speak from conjecture; he is much too sure of what he says.”(F26)

Verses 34-36


“But Absalom fled. And the young man who kept the watch lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, many people were coming from the Horonaim roads by the side of the mountain. And Jonadab said to the king, “Behold, the king’s sons have come; as your servant said, so it has come about.” And as soon as he had finished speaking, behold, the king’s sons came, and lifted up their voice and wept; and the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly.”

Amnon, the heir apparent to David’s throne, had been shamefully murdered by one of David’s own sons; and the words of Nathan must have once more rung in David’s ears, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house” (2 Samuel 12:10). Furthermore, David could not have missed the similarity between Absalom’s murder of Amnon and his own murder of Uriah. Both David and Absalom procured the help of others to bring about the murder. The great difference was that Uriah did not deserve to die, whereas Amnon most assuredly did. And look at Amnon’s adulterous rape of Tamar. David could not have failed to note the resemblance of this to his own sin in taking Bathsheba. In both instances, the victim was brought to the residence of the adulterer. But these tragic events were by no means the end of God’s punishments upon David. More, much more, was in store.

The Septuagint (LXX) has additional material concerning these terrible events; but, as Keil stated, “The additions made by the Septuagint (LXX) are nothing but worthless glosses, introduced from subjective conjectures and giving no foundation whatever for altering the Masoretic Text.”(F27)

As we study the tragic account of these deeds of blood and shame, our newspapers are filled every day with stories of sexual deviations and outrages similar to these in the Bible. “The circumstances vary, but the results are always the same - guilt, shame, hatred and murder.”(F28)

Verses 37-39


“But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son day after day. So Absalom fled and went to Geshur, and was there three years. And the spirit of the king longed to go forth to Absalom; for he was comforted about Amnon, seeing he was dead.”

Absalom was no doubt welcomed at the court of his maternal grandfather, a pagan king who no doubt heartily approved of all that Absalom had done. David, at first, grieved bitterly over Amnon’s death, but in time this grief was diminished, and David’s heart once more longed for the return of Absalom. As Matthew Henry expressed it, “Time wore off David’s grief for Amnon, but it also wore off entirely too much of his detestation of Absalom’s terrible sin.(F29)

This final little paragraph is difficult, and scholars tell us there are imperfections in the text; “But the sense must be that David gradually became resigned to Amnon’s death and anxious to see Absalom again.”(F30) Keil seriously questioned this understanding of the place, pointing out that the sense as alleged here is at variance with the fact (as stated in 2 Samuel 24) that when Absalom was finally allowed back in Jerusalem, David did not allow him to come into his presence for years.(F31) We believe that a more perfect knowledge of what is written here would resolve that difficulty.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 13". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/2-samuel-13.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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