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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary

2 Samuel 13

Verses 1-39


2 Samuel 13:1. “Absalom” and “Tamar” were the children of Maacha, and “Amnon” was David’s eldest son by Ahinoam the Jezreelitess (see chap 2 Samuel 3:2-3).

2 Samuel 13:2. “Was so vexed,” etc. Literally, “it became narrow or strait to Amnon unto becoming sick” i.e., his desire wrought upon him and affected his health. “He thought it hard,” etc., rather, it seemed impossible to him to do anything to her. Tamar, as all Eastern women are, was of course kept in close seclusion, she was also evidently modest and reserved. “Though Amnon’s passion was forbidden by the law (Leviticus 18:11), yet, with the sanction of Abraham’s example (Genesis 20:12), and the common practice in neighbouring countries for princes to marry their half-sisters, he seems not to have considered it an improper connection.” (Jamieson.) Ewald remarks that Amnon’s character and conduct were doubtless affected by the fact that he was the firstborn son, and that his mother was not of noble origin.

2 Samuel 13:3. “Jonadab.” Although none of David’s brothers were promoted to places of honour and emolument under government, probably from the feeling of alienation which existed between the king and them, David seems to have acted in a kindly spirit towards their children; and the case of Jonadab is one of several known instances in which he had these young relatives about his court. (Jamieson.)

2 Samuel 13:4. “Day to day.” Lit. from morning to morning. “His aspect was more wretched in the morning after a night made sleepless by torturing passions.” (Erdmann). “A finely chosen point in the description of his malady, from which also it appears that Jonadab was, if not his house-mate, at least his daily companion.” (Thenius). “My brother Absalom’s sister.” “In Eastern countries, where polygamy prevails, the girls are considered to be under the special care and protection of the uterine brother, who is the guardian of their interests and their honour, even more than their father himself (see Genesis 34:6-25). (Jamieson).

2 Samuel 13:6. “Cakes.” Literally heart cakes. “Whether they received their name from their heart-like shape, or their heart-strengthening power, is undecided. The word is lebibah and the Hebrew for heart is leb.” (Erdmann).

2 Samuel 13:7. “Amnon’s house.” “It is evident that the king’s children lived in different houses. Probably each of the king’s wives lived with their children in a different compartment of the palace.” (Keil). “Dress him meat.” “The cakes seem to have been a kind of fancy bread, in the preparation of which oriental ladies take great delight.” (Jamieson).

2 Samuel 13:9. “A pan.” The etymology of this word is uncertain, and many scholars think it is a name for some preparation of food. “Have out all men,” etc. This might have been simply regarded as the whim of a sick man.

2 Samuel 13:12. “Folly.” “The words recall Genesis 34:7, where the expression folly (nebalah) is first used to denote a want of chastity. Such a sin was altogether out of keeping with the calling and holiness of Israel.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 13:13. This is generally understood to be an expedient resorted to by Tamar, by which she sought to “escape from the hands of Amnon by any means in her power, and to avoid inflaming him still more, and driving him to sin, by precluding all hope of marriage.” (Clericus.)

2 Samuel 13:15. “Then Amnon hated her.” “This sudden change, which may he fully explained from a psychological point of view, and is still frequently exemplified in actual life, furnishes a striking proof that lust is not love.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 13:16. “This evil,” etc. This entire phrase is very obscure, and has been variously rendered. Erdmann supposes an unfinished sentence in which Tamar was interrupted by Amnon. Keil understands her to say, “Do not add to the great wrong which thou hast done me the still greater one of thrusting me away,” and adds, “Tamar calls his sending her away a greater evil than the one already done to her, because it would inevitably be supposed that she had been guilty of some shameful conduct herself,—that the seduction had come from her,—whereas she was perfectly innocent.”

2 Samuel 13:17. “Then he called,” etc. “Thus leading the servant to suppose that Tamar had done something shameful.” (Erdmann.)

2 Samuel 13:18. “A garment,” etc. Rather, “a long dress with sleeves.” “The usual undergarment covered only the upper arm, while this covered the whole arm, and took the place of the armless outer garment or robe.” (Erdmann.) “For in this manner,” etc. Translate—“Thus did the king’s daughters, the virgins, clothe themselves with robes” “The writer inserts this remark to show that, notwithstanding this dress, by which a king’s daughter could at once be recognised, Amnon’s servant treated Tamar like a common woman.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 13:19. “Laid her hand on her head,” etc. “As a sign that the hand of God was resting on her as it were, vid. Jeremiah 2:37.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 13:20. “Been with thee?” A euphemism for what had taken place. See Genesis 39:10. “Hold now thy peace.” “Because he was determined to take revenge, but wished to conceal his plan of vengeance for the time.” (Keil.) “Desolate,” i.e., “as one laid waste, with the joy of her life hopelessly destroyed. It cannot be proved that the word ever means single or solitary.” (Keil.)

2 Samuel 13:22. “Neither good nor bad.” Not a single word, as in Genesis 24:50.

2 Samuel 13:23. “Had sheep-shearers.” See on 1 Samuel 25:8. “Baalhazor.” This place cannot be exactly identified. “Ephraim.” No city of this name is mentioned in the Old Testament. Erdmann contends that the use of the preposition shows that a city is meant, and Eusebius says that there was one of that name eight miles north of Jerusalem. Keil, however, understands the clause to “point to a situation on the border of the tribe-territory of Ephraim.”

2 Samuel 13:25. “Blessed him,” i.e., wished him a pleasant and successful feast,” see 1 Samuel 25:14. (Kiel). “Be chargeable.” “The first intimation in history of the ruinous expense of royal visits.” (Kitto).

2 Samuel 13:26. “My brother Amnon.” “The first-born, as thy representative.” (Thenius). “Why should he go?” Seeing that David eventually yielded, it is, as Kiel remarks, uncertain whether he had any suspicion of foul-play, but it is well known that the long delay of the act of revenge would be quite in accordance with the spirit of Eastern nations. Erdmann remarks that David’s yielding is an indication of weakness.

2 Samuel 13:29. “As David had weakly left Amnon’s crime unpunished, Absalom held it his duty to take vengeance on Amnon, and maintain his sister’s honour. This feeling does not, however, exclude the motive of selfish ambition in Absalom; by the death of Amnon he would be one step nearer to the succession to the throne; there may, indeed, have been another brother, Chileab, older than he (2 Samuel 3:3), but probably (to judge from Absalom’s conduct, 2 Samuel 15:1-6) he was no longer alive. Absalom’s ambition, which afterwards led him into rebellion, probably welcomed this pretext for putting Amnon, the heir to the throne, out of the way.” (Erdmann). “Mule.” “This is the first mention of a mule in Scripture. The meaning of Genesis 36:24 is questionable. Compare below, chap, 2 Samuel 18:9; 1 Kings 1:33. The breeding of mules was forbidden to the Hebrews (Leviticus 19:19); but their use was regarded as lawful.” (Wordsworth).

2 Samuel 13:31. “Servants,” i.e., Courtiers.

2 Samuel 13:32. “By appointment,” etc. Rather, “On Absalom’s mouth was it laid,” etc. Either one could infer from his words what his intention was or, according to Thenius “one could see it in him, for the movements of the soul are seen (next to the look) must clearly about the mouth.”

2 Samuel 13:34. “Behind him.” “That is, according to well-known usus loquendi (see Exodus 3:1, comp. with Isaiah 9:11; Job 23:8) simply from the west, since in front means geographically the east. “By the way of the hill,” or rather, from the side of the mountain, is probably Mount Zion. The princes came not from the north, but from the west, because the return by this route was easier and quicker. (Erdmann).

2 Samuel 13:37. “Talmal.” The father of Maacha, Absalom’s mother (see 2 Samuel 3:3).

2 Samuel 13:39. This verse begins with a difficult clause, which renders its meaning very obscure “The verb,” says Dr. Jamieson, “being feminine, does not refer to David, neither is it correct to say that David longed to go forth to Absalom; for there is no ground to suppose that he entertained either an intention or a wish to visit his exiled son. The clause should be rendered, The anger of David ceased to go forth,” etc. Erdmann and Keil translate, “David held back, on did not go forth,” etc.; and the former remarks, in support of this rendering, that “David could have sent for Absalom if he wanted him, and that, so far from feeling any love-longing towards Absalom, David was permanently set against him, as appears from the fact that after Joab had got him back it was two years before the king would see him.” This view necessitates a reading of 2 Samuel 14:1 directly opposite to the English translation, which conveys the idea that David did long to recall Absalom, but was prevented from doing so by judicial and political considerations. (See on that verse.)



I. Children who have both a bad and good example are more inclined to follow the former than the latter. This truth is seen in little things as well as in great, and the reason is the same in both cases. If a child who is learning to draw has both a good and bad specimen set before him he will be much more likely to imitate the bad than the good, because it is always easier to make crooked lines than straight ones, and to produce a faulty piece of work than one that is perfect of its kind. And so it is in higher and more important things. If a parent is guilty of transgression at one period of his life, or continually indulges in one bad habit, he is more likely to see his children copy him in that respect than in those things in which he fulfils his duty and is blameless, inasmuch as it needs no effort on their part to do wrong, but it is sometimes a great struggle to do right. This law was in operation to its fullest extent in the case before us. Amnon and Absalom had seen their father do many noble deeds. For many years David had lived before his children a life consistent with his high calling and profession. But, so far as we know, none of the children who were witnesses of these things walked in the same path; but these two elder sons who might have been expected to profit most by his good example were not slow to imitate his crimes. This is not so surprising as it is sad, when we remember that every one of us comes into the world with a tendency to go the wrong way, and that a man has only to give himself up to the rule of his passions in order to become a monster of iniquity while it is hard work to fight against our evil tendencies, and more than human strength is needed to overcome them. Amnon and Absalom had only to make no resistance to evil suggestions—only to give impure and malicious thoughts a lodging-place in their hearts—and the work was done. The seeds were sure not to lie dormant but in due time to germinate and bring forth the fruit of wickedness after their own kind. It is this indwelling evil inclination in every human soul which makes it so much more certain that our evil deeds will be copied than that our goodness will be imitated, and which should therefore make every child of God doubly watchful over all his actions for the sake of others as well as for his own. For how doubly bitter is the sorrow of a good parent over an erring child if he ever find himself in the position to which David’s sin had now brought him.

II. Those who violate the sanctity of their neighbours’ homes do so at the peril of their own family honour and peace. There is a law in the spiritual as in the physical world, that like will produce like. The law of the vegetable kingdom, that each herb should yield seed after its kind and thus multiply its own likeness, has its counterpart in the moral kingdom, and it is found that sin not only propagates sin in general but sins of the same class. And thus retribution of the severest kind, and yet in accordance with the strictest justice, is brought home to the offender. By the base and brutal conduct of Amnon and the murderous revenge of Absalom the entire household of David was afflicted and his family honour and peace destroyed. But Amnon was only indulging the same unlawful desires to which his father had sacrificed the honour of Bathsheba and the life of Uriah, and Absalom’s murder of his guilty brother was certainly not a blacker crime than David’s sacrifice of his faithful servant. And if the deeds of these young men brought desolation into David’s home they only did what David had himself done in the case of Uriah. Let men beware how they trample on these sacred rights, for they may be sure that God will now, as then, vidicate them in a like manner.

III. Those who do not bridle their animal passions become a compound of brute and demon. In this transaction Amnon exhibits all the propensities of the animal, and adds to them the maliciousness of the devil. He was not content with accomplishing by violence the ruin of his young and innocent sister, but he was base enough to lay upon her all the disgrace of the crime. We might have thought that when he descended to the level of the beast he might have remained there, and at least have shown the regard for his victim which a beast would have done. But a man is not a beast, and therefore when he lets his animal nature get the upper hand he suffers by comparison. That which is natural to the creature without reason and conscience is sin to those created in the image of God, and it is vain for any man to think that unlawful indulgence of the body will ever fail to degrade the spirit. There have been those in all ages who have taught otherwise, and especially with regard to the sin here under consideration. But if the word of God did not emphatically contradict this doctrine (1 Corinthians 6:15-20, etc.) the experience of life would show its fallacy. Sin against the body is sin against the whole man, and that which is sensual, unless very speedily repented of, soon leads to that which is devilish.

IV. The freedom and power given and permitted to the wicked in this world is a strong argument for the existence of another life The weak and the virtuous among men are here often at the mercy of those who are strong and wicked; the former often suffer grievous wrong by reason of the liberty which the latter have to carry out their evil purposes. Herod, the base libertine, had power to imprison and to slay John, the greatest of the prophets, thus violating every sense of justice, and the kings and potentates of every age have always had it more or less within their power to persecute the moral salt of the earth because they had the greater physical force at their command. And in the narrow circles of social and domestic life the same things have happened ever since Cain slew his brother Abel, because his own works were evil and his brother’s righteous. The story of Amnon and Tamar is always being repeated in its main features, and the strong man is ever using the weaker woman to satisfy his guilty passion and then casting her forth to bear the shame alone. Does not the sense of justice within us call for a hereafter to set these things right and to give compensation and punishment according to men’s deserts? The partial retribution which is dealt out here and now is an earnest that a more complete system of rewards and punishments exists in the future life, and that a day is at hand when full restitution shall be made to those who have here been the innocent victims of the wicked and powerful.

V. When those in authority do not punish crime they betray their trust and give occasion to greater wickedness. A man in David’s position is not at liberty to consult his own feeling as to the punishment of the transgressor. As God’s minister, he is set for the terror of evil doers and for the praise of them that do well, and a failure of duty in this direction makes him a partaker of the evil deed. If he bear the sword in vain and withold his hand when he ought to strike, he will find that he will only give opportunity and encouragement to other lawless men, and, like David, he will have two offenders instead of one. If he had punished Amnon as he deserved he might not have had to mourn the rebellion and death of Absalom.


2 Samuel 13:4. He saith not, my sister, for shame; sin is a blushful business.—Trapp.

2 Samuel 13:1-39. David had his wives and concubines. No divine edict told him that such indulgence was unlawful. For, thanks be to God, though He makes use of edicts and statutes, it is not by these mainly that He rules the universe. The Bible is, from first to last, the history of a practical education; God leading men by slow degrees to enter into His mind and purposes and to mould their own into conformity with His. If we want exemplifications of all the miseries and curses which spring from the mixture of families and the degradations of women in a court and country where polygamy exist, David’s history supplies them. No maxims of morality can be half so effectual as a faithful record of terrible facts like these.—Maurice.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 13". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.