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Bible Commentaries
2 Samuel 13

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verses 1-22

Amnon’s rape of Tamar 13:1-22

Maacah bore Absalom ("father is peace") while David was reigning in Hebron (2 Samuel 3:3). He was David’s third-born. Amnon, his first-born, was also born in Hebron but by Ahinoam ("my brother is delight"; 2 Samuel 3:2). Both sons may have been in their late teens or early twenties at this time. Tamar ("palm tree," cf. Song of Solomon 7:7-8) was evidently born in Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 3:4-9), so she would have been younger than both of these brothers. The event described in this chapter probably occurred about 987 B.C. [Note: Merrill, Kingdom of . . ., p. 245.]

The story that unfolds is a tale of frustrated teenage lust. Evidently Amnon had no desire to marry Tamar, which he probably could have done with David’s consent (cf. Genesis 20:12). [Note: Anthony Phillips, "NEBALAH-a term for serious disorderly and unruly conduct," Vetus Testamentum 25:2 (April 1975):237.] The grisly episode is very contemporary and requires little clarification.

"The dialogue in the story of Amnon and Tamar . . . looks like a conscious allusion to the technique used in the episode of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife. Amnon addresses to his half-sister exactly the same words with which Potiphar’s wife accosts Joseph-["Come to bed with me!" (Genesis 39:7)]-adding to them only one word, the thematically loaded ’sister’ (2 Samuel 13:11). She responds with an elaborate protestation, like Joseph before her." [Note: Alter, p. 73.]

David had violated God’s will by "sleeping" (Heb. skb ’m) with Bathsheba, evidently with her consent. Amnon, however, violated God’s will by "laying" (Heb. skb ’t) Tamar, forcing her against her will (2 Samuel 13:14; cf. 2 Samuel 11:4). [Note: David M. Gunn, The Story of King David: Genre and Interpretation, p. 100.]

Jonadab may have been trying to secure his own political future with Absalom (2 Samuel 13:3-5; 2 Samuel 13:32-35). [Note: Andrew E. Hill, "A Jonadab Connection in the Absalom Conspiracy?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 30:4 (December 1987):387-90.]

Quite clearly Amnon’s attraction to Tamar was only selfish infatuation. When he had satisfied himself, he hated her and wanted no more contact with her (2 Samuel 13:15). Contrast Amnon’s attitude toward Tamar after the rape with that of pagan Shechem toward Dinah in a similar incident (Genesis 34:2-3). Amnon hated Tamar, but Shechem loved Dinah. Likewise, David continued to love Bathsheba after their affair.

Absalom consoled Tamar with a view to taking vengeance for her and gaining his own advantage. He probably saw in this incident an opportunity to bring Amnon down and advance himself as a candidate for the throne. The writer did not mention Chileab, David’s second-born son (2 Samuel 3:3), in the Court History. Perhaps he had already died. Tamar remained "desolate" (2 Samuel 13:20), a term in Hebrew that means unmarried and childless, which was a living death for a Jewish woman (cf. 2 Samuel 20:3). [Note: Conroy, p. 35, n. 70.]

David may have taken no action against Amnon because he was the crown prince. Perhaps, too, he realized that people would regard him as a hypocrite for punishing Amnon since he himself had been guilty of a similar crime. Nevertheless Amnon deserved to die (Leviticus 20:17).

"The results of David’s sin with Bathsheba became evident in his relations with his sons, for how can a father discipline his children when he knows that he has done worse than they? When David’s son Amnon rapes Tamar . . . David is very angry (2 Samuel 13:21), and yet David takes no action, for he, too, has committed his own sexual offense. The upshot is that Tamar’s brother, Absalom, murders Amnon (2 Samuel 13:29), but David again does nothing, for he, too, has a murder on his head." [Note: Paul J. and Elizabeth Achtemeier, The Old Testament Roots of Our Faith, p. 94.]

"David is as clearly unable to control his sons’ passions as he is his own." [Note: Youngblood, p. 966. Cf. Jared J. Jackson, "David’s Throne: Patterns in the Succession Story," Canadian Journal of Theology 11:3 (July 1965):189.]

"If David had exerted himself as the situation required, he might have prevented that initial estrangement between himself and Absalom which was finally to plunge the nation into civil strife." [Note: Gordon, p. 264.]

Verses 23-29

Amnon’s murder 13:23-29

Absalom patiently and carefully plotted revenge on Amnon.

". . . As the sheep of Absalom would lose their wool (2 Samuel 13:23-24), so David’s firstborn, the potential shepherd of Israel, would lose his life (2 Samuel 13:28-29)." [Note: Youngblood, p. 968. ]

Absalom finally killed his brother at Baal-hazor, 15 miles north-northeast of Jerusalem, two years later (ca. 985 B.C.). As Amnon’s rape of Tamar reprised David’s adultery with Bathsheba, so Absalom’s execution of Amnon mirrored David’s murder of Uriah (cf. Galatians 6:7). David’s sons were chips off the old block. [Note: Fokkelman, p. 125.]

Verses 23-39

Absalom’s murder of Amnon 13:23-39

References to two years (2 Samuel 13:23) and three years (2 Samuel 13:38) bracket this literary unit.

Verses 30-39

The aftermath of Amnon’s murder 13:30-39

The writer may have devoted so much text to straightening out the rumor that Absalom had killed all the king’s sons in order to stress God’s mercy in not cutting off all of them. At first report, David probably thought God had judged him severely, but it became clear that God had been merciful. Jonadab may have been a member of David’s cabinet (2 Samuel 13:3). Evidently he and Absalom had hatched the conspiracy against Amnon to remove the heir apparent to the throne. [Note: Hill, p. 390.] Jonadab knew precisely what had happened.

Absalom fled to his maternal grandfather (2 Samuel 3:3) who lived in the kingdom of Geshur that lay northeast of the Sea of Chinnereth (Galilee). In this he followed the example of his ancestor Jacob who fled to Aramean kinsmen in the Northeast (Genesis 28:10). [Note: Carlson, p. 164.] There he stayed for three years (until ca. 982 B.C.). This sets the scene for the next crisis in David’s family.

So far at least six consequences of David’s sins against Bathsheba and Uriah have surfaced (cf. 2 Samuel 12:10-11). First, the child that Bathsheba bore died. Second, Amnon raped Tamar. Third, Absalom broke off communication with his brother, Amnon. Fourth, Absalom murdered Amnon. Fifth, Absalom left the country and his family. Sixth, David had become an even more passive father. This family had become dysfunctional.

"Grace means that God, in forgiving you, does not kill you. Grace means that God, in forgiving you, gives you the strength to endure the consequences. Grace frees us so that we can obey our Lord. It does not mean sin’s consequences are automatically removed. If I sin and in the process of sinning break my arm, when I find forgiveness from sin, I still have to deal with a broken arm." [Note: Swindoll, p. 211.]

"When David sowed to the flesh, he reaped what the flesh produced. Moreover, he reaped the consequences of his actions even though he had confessed his sin and been forgiven for it. Underline it, star it, mark it deeply upon your conscious mind: Confession and forgiveness in no way stop the harvest. He had sown; he was to reap. Forgiven he was, but the consequences continued. This is exactly the emphasis Paul is giving the Galatians even in this age of grace [Galatians 6:7]. We are not to be deceived, for God will not be mocked. What we sow we will reap, and there are no exceptions." [Note: John W. Lawrence, Life’s Choices, p. 39.]

More Christians have probably memorized 1 John 1:9 than Romans 6:12-13. 1 John 1:9 deals with how to handle sin after we have committed it; it is corrective theology. Romans 6:12-13 deals with how to handle sin before we commit it; it is preventive theology. We need to pay more attention to Romans 6:12-13. One of the purposes of 2 Samuel 13 is to help the reader prevent this type of sin, rather than to help us to recover from it, having fallen. It is a strong warning against letting our passions lead us, because of the consequences that will follow.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/2-samuel-13.html. 2012.
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