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Bible Commentaries

Layman's Bible Commentary

2 Samuel 13

The Tragedy of David’s Family (13:1-20:26)

We come now to a section of the Book of Samuel which revolves around the figure of Absalom. Here is a very human, intimate, and unvarnished account of David’s family. It is arranged immediately after the Bathsheba episode, as if it, too, should be regarded as part of the divine judgment, even though the preceding section seems to suggest that because of David’s repentance the death of the child was sufficient punishment.

Verses 1-22

Amnon and Tamar (13:1-22)

Tamar was the full sister of Absalom, but only the half-sister of Amnon. Marriage between half-brother and sister was apparently countenanced in the early days, as the case of Abraham and Sarah shows (Genesis 20:11-13); it was not forbidden until the Priestly Code (Leviticus 18:9), which embodies late legal tradition. Amnon’s desire for Tamar must not be regarded therefore as wrong according to the standards of that day. His crime lay in forcing her and then in refusing to accept responsibility for his crime by marrying her. Tamar’s plea that such a thing was not done in Israel was an appeal to the moral custom rather than to some fixed law of the time. Such conduct was universally regarded as wrong in Israel. Having had his will of Tamar, Amnon’s consuming passion for her turned into a violent hate, a transformation of feeling often illustrated in literature and in the casebooks of psychology. Love and hatred are rooted close together in the human heart. Amnon’s loathing of himself because of his deed was projected on the victim of his lust.

Absalom’s hot anger was stirred by the deed, but he bided his time. In the meantime he took the wronged Tamar into his home. David was angry but spared Amnon, presumably, as the Greek text adds, because he was his first-born.

Verses 23-39

Absalom’s Flight (13:23-39)

At last Absalom’s opportunity came. The time of sheepshearing was also a time of religious festival (1 Samuel 25). Absalom, responsible for the sheepshearing, arranged for a feast to which he invited his father, David. The king refused, and countered the request for the presence of Amnon, as if he had his suspicions of Absalom’s motive. The request for Amnon’s presence could be justified, however, since as eldest son he would represent David. Absalom showed in this story a capacity for silent hate and shrewd cunning which characterized him throughout later events. His importunity overcame David’s reluctance. Amnon was allowed to attend the feast, along with the king’s other sons. Once Amnon was in his hands, Absalom carried his plan to completion. Amnon was murdered, and the other sons fled, possibly because they suspected that Absalom was now determined to secure for himself the succession and might remove potential rivals. Rumor spread and reached David that all his sons were slain, but his nephew, Jonadab, shrewdly guessed at the truth that only Amnon had been slain because of his treatment of Absalom’s sister. The appearance of the other sons confirmed his surmise, and a royal mourning for Amnon ensued.

Meantime Absalom fled to the Geshurites. David, comforted about Amnon and fond of his erring son, longed for Absalom’s return.

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Bibliographical Information
"Commentary on 2 Samuel 13". "Layman's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lbc/2-samuel-13.html.