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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
2 Samuel 13

 

 

Introduction

David’s Great Sins And Their Consequences (11:1-20:26).

We now come to a crucially significant aspect of David’s reign which explains the dark side of that reign. Up to this point all has been pictured as success, and YHWH has been portrayed as with David in all that he has done (even though some of it came after this incident). But from this point on in the narrative we are faced with another aspect of David’s life, and it does not make pleasant reading, for it deals with a period of complacency in David’s life which resulted in heinous sins, and the great problems that then resulted from them. We are not to gather from this that YHWH ceased to bless David. Indeed some of the incidents previously described undoubtedly occurred after what happened here (e.g. his being granted a palace of cedar), and it is made clear in the narrative that YHWH is still active on David’s behalf (2 Samuel 17:14). But there is a deliberate attempt in the following narratives to draw out how David did fail, and the consequences of that failure for at least some of what followed in the latter part of his reign. And what is even more significant is that the narratives appear to have come from records maintained under the authority of David himself (2 Samuel 9 onwards have reasonably been seen as being selections from ‘The Court History Of David’).

This in itself is unusual in that reigning monarchs usually tended to ensure that all indications of failure in their reign were omitted from their records, or at least were altered in order to take the sting out of them. It is therefore an indication of David’s genuineness of heart before God, and of the writer’s intention of writing only to the glory of God, that they did not do the same.

Some have seen chapter 11 onwards as intended to explain how it was that Solomon came to the succession. That is certainly a very important aspect of these chapters, and was possibly in the writer’s mind. But had that been their sole main purpose much that was derogatory to David could have been omitted. So we must certainly add the fact that the writer was equally concerned to bring out how what followed was the result of David’s own weakness and failure as revealed in his adultery with Bathsheba and his cold-blooded murder of Uriah the Hittite. Together with the description of the consequences to the realm of David’s arrogant numbering of Israel (chapter 24), it was intended to bring out that even David was flawed. It was a deliberate reminder that we are to look forward to the coming of the righteous everlasting King of the everlasting kingdom (2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; 1 Samuel 2:10; Genesis 49:8-12; Psalms 2:7-12; Numbers 24:17-19; Isaiah 9:6-7; Isaiah 11:1-4) who would be even greater than David.

In some ways David’s life story is very similar to that of Saul, for we saw how Saul’s story began with his success during his rise to power (1 Samuel 10-11), continued with success, even when accompanied by failings (1 Samuel 13-14), and culminated with a description of his success over all his enemies, because YHWH was with him (1 Samuel 14 47-48). This was then followed by a description of Saul’s great sin, and his resulting downfall (1 Samuel 15 on). What follows indicates that there was something similar in the pattern of David’s life. He too began with great success (1 Samuel 17-18), continued with success even when accompanied by failings, and was triumphant over all his enemies (3-10), only to find himself involved in sins so dire that it is almost beyond belief. For what now follows is a story of flagrant disobedience in respect of God’s Law, and despicable betrayal of those who trusted him, and both on a huge scale, although it must be admitted that they were in fact totally ‘out of character’ with the David usually portrayed to us. It is a reminder that such failure can happen even in those who seem most above it.

There are, of course, a number of differences between Saul and David which explain why Saul finished up in the shame of rejection, while David moved on from his sin to greater things. The first difference is that Saul’s sins were comprised of blatant disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands which had been made on him as YHWH’s Anointed, and were in fact in character in that they arose from his casual attitude towards crucial religious requirements concerning which he felt he could compromise (even though he was actually scrupulous concerning more minor ritual), while David’s sins, for all their enormity, were not a result of disobedience to YHWH’s direct commands given to him as YHWH’s Anointed, but were the consequence of failing in his general responsibility and (temporarily) in his response to God’s Law during a period of spiritual declension.

The second difference was that Saul sought to brush his failures off, and did not treat them seriously enough to fling himself down before YHWH crying for forgiveness, while David knew how to repent, and did precisely that. When David was faced with having failed and grieved YHWH he was distraught, and came directly to YHWH in humble repentance, seeking forgiveness (see Psalms 51).

This section could also equally be headed ‘The Consequences of Forgiven Sin’, for it reveals that even though David was forgiven, the consequences of his sins for others went on and on. Thus it commences with David committing adultery and murder (2 Samuel 11), something which results in YHWH indicating what punishment will follow (2 Samuel 12:10-14), and goes on to describe how that punishment actually came about (chapters 13-20). And yet that punishment is not simply to be seen as the arbitrary result of God carrying out His prophecy, for the sins of David’s sons are clearly to be seen as directly resulting from David’s progeny voluntarily following their father’s own example of sexual misbehaviour and betrayal. David was thus to learn through bitter experience that what we sow we reap, and we undoubtedly see the outworking of that process in the following chapters. And it all arose because David had become complacent and arrogant, and had slumped into a state of spiritual lethargy, thereby ceasing to fulfil his spiritual responsibilities towards YHWH This was brought out by the fact that, unlike the old David, he preferred to linger in Jerusalem in a state of boredom and spiritual emptiness rather than be out on the front line.

We must not be deceived. What David did with Bathsheba was not the momentary failure of a strongly tempted man. It was the direct result of his spiritual lethargy and growing royal arrogance. And the whole incident reveals what a sad condition he had fallen into, for it reveals the picture of a man who was saying to himself, ‘I am now the king. I can do what I like. Nothing can be withheld from me. I am master of all I survey.’ That indeed was why he was still in Jerusalem. It was because he no longer felt it necessary to fulfil his obligations towards YHWH and towards his people. That could now be left to others as he himself enjoyed a life of lazy indolence. After all, he no doubt argued to himself, he had earned it. But like Moses when he arrogantly and disobediently struck the rock in the Wilderness of Sin (Numbers 20:6-12), David too had become arrogant and disobedient, and like Moses would have to suffer the consequences of forgiven sin.

The Direct Consequences Resulting From David’s Sins (13:1-20:22).

Having confirmed YHWH’s acceptance of David as a forgiven sinner following on his great sins, an acceptance which was confirmed by YHWH’s naming of Solomon and by David’s victory over the Ammonites, the writer will now go into some depths to make clear what the consequences nevertheless were of David’s sins. For what David had done inevitably affected his sons, who were vividly aware of his sin while at the same time not sharing with him in his repentance. David’s sad period of arrogance bred in them a similar royal arrogance and an inevitable carelessness in respect of sexual matters and of violence towards others, which they began to see as a royal prerogative. ‘After all,’ they would say, ‘we are only behaving like our father did, and what other role model do we have? He is the only royal example that we know.’ Thus while David still had authority over his kingdom, he had lost his personal parental authority over his own sons because of his own bad example. It was one of the great disadvantages of polygamy that the children tended to receive their personal training from their mothers, and from servants, with their father being a distant father figure, so that what they learned from him was usually conveyed by his outward behaviour generally, something which was of crucial importance as an example to his children. (It is a reminder to all parents that they should keep in mind that what they are speaks far louder than what they say).

Sadly the next eight chapters in Samuel will deal with the direct consequences of David’s sins, and is an illustration of how the sins of the fathers can affect their offspring. The chapters cover a period of sexual misbehaviour and violence that will now plague the house of David, presented in the most vivid form:

· The sexual misbehaviour of David’s firstborn, Amnon, because of his royal arrogance, the ravishing of David’s beautiful daughter (2 Samuel 13:1-22).

· The subsequent death of Amnon at the hands of Absalom, David’s third son (2 Samuel 13:23-39).

· The subsequent estrangement of Absalom from his father (2 Samuel 14:1-20).

· Absalom’s partial restoration and his successful plotting against David with the intention of seizing the throne (2 Samuel 14:21 to 2 Samuel 15:6).

· Absalom’s rebellion against his father and his sexual misbehaviour with David’s concubines (2 Samuel 15:7 to 2 Samuel 16:23).

· The subsequent warfare that resulted finally in the death of Absalom at the hands of David’s servants, to the great grief of his father (2 Samuel 17:1 to 2 Samuel 18:33).

This will then be followed by:

· The re-establishing of David’s kingship and his mercy shown or rewards given to those who had behaved ill or well towards him (2 Samuel 19:1-39).

· The disenchantment of a part of Israel because they considered that David had favoured Judah during the restoration of the kingship, and the subsequent further rebellion which was in the end defeated (2 Samuel 19:40 to 2 Samuel 20:22).

But even with these consequences the overall picture given is one of YHWH’s faithfulness to David. Because he had truly repented He would see him through it all and bring him through triumphantly.

SECTION 8. The Causes Of Absalom’s Rebellion Which Results In His Final Breach With David (13:1-15:9).

This section deals with the causes of Absalom’s disaffection, something which subsequently results in his rebellion against David and his final defeat and death. It commences with Amnon’s sexual misbehaviour in the raping of Absalom’s half-sister Tamar, followed by Absalom’s delayed response, a response which results in Amnon’s assassination. As a consequence of his action Absalom has to flee to his grandfather, the king of Geshur. Eventually due to the good offices of Joab Absalom is restored to Jerusalem but not to the king’s favour. Consequently he makes a successful attempt to gain popularity among the people, something which will eventually result in an attempted coup.

One of the main emphases of this particular section is the fact that everyone involved was acting under false pretences. It was an indication that David’s own false actions with regard to Bathsheba and Uriah were coming home to roost.

Analysis.

a The sexual misbehaviour of David’s heir apparent, Amnon, because of his royal arrogance, under the pretence of seeking comfort, something which results in his father’s great anger (2 Samuel 13:1-22).

b Absalom invites the king’s sons to the sheepshearing celebrations under false pretences (2 Samuel 13:23-27).

c Amnon’s subsequent death at the hands of Absalom, David’s third son, an act of treason against David which results in Absalom’s flight from Jerusalem to Geshur (2 Samuel 13:28-39).

d Joab arranges for Absalom’s restoration to Jerusalem through a wise woman who obtains an oath from David under false pretences (2 Samuel 14:1-21).

c Joab restores Absalom to Jerusalem but not into the king’s favour (2 Samuel 14:22-33).

b Absalom wins the favour of the people under false pretences (2 Samuel 15:1-6).

a The political misbehaviour of David’s heir apparent, Absalom, because of his royal arrogance, under the pretence of worshipping YHWH (2 Samuel 15:7-12).

Note that in ‘a’ Amnon is involved in sexual misbehaviour under false pretences, while in the parallel Absalom is involved in political misbehaviour under false pretences. In ‘b’ Absalom invites the king’s sons to his sheepshearing celebrations under false pretences, and in the parallel Absalom woos the people under false pretences. In ‘c’ Absalom has to flee from Israel to Geshur, and in the parallel he is brought back from Geshur. Centrally in ‘d’ Joab acts surreptitiously through a wise woman to invoke an oath from David under false pretences.


Verses 1-22

The Unacceptable And Unscrupulous Behaviour Of David’s Firstborn Son Amnon And His Ravishing And Then Rejection Of David’s Beautiful Daughter (2 Samuel 13:1-22).

The first consequence of David’s sins had been seen in the death of David’s baby son. Now the next consequence would be seen in the behaviour of his firstborn, Amnon. He too, like his father, saw a woman and lusted after her, and then took her and lay with her. Like father, like son. And then he too would callously desert her in order to go about his own affairs. It is difficult to decide whose behaviour was most despicable, that of David or that of Amnon. But while he had learned his behaviour from his father, Amnon did not have David’s spirituality, nor had he learned to repent. Watch, then, O David, and be ashamed.

Analysis.

a And it came about after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar, and Amnon the son of David loved her (2 Samuel 13:1).

b And Amnon was so vexed that he fell sick because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her (2 Samuel 13:2).

c But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, and Jonadab was a very cunning man. And he said to him, “Why, O son of the king, are you thus lean (peakish) from day to day? Will you not tell me?” And Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister”. And Jonadab said to him, “Lay yourself down on your bed, and pretend that you are ill, and when your father comes to see you, say to him, “Let my sister Tamar come, I pray you, and give me bread to eat, and dress the food in my sight, so that I may see it, and eat it from her hand” (2 Samuel 13:3-5).

d Amnon lay down, and pretended that he was ill, and when the king was come to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Let my sister Tamar come, I pray you, and make me a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.” Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go now to your brother Amnon’s house, and dress him food” (2 Samuel 13:6-7).

e So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, and 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 poured them out before him. But he refused to eat (2 Samuel 13:8-9 a).

f And Amnon said, “Have out all men from me.” And they went out every man from him (2 Samuel 13:9 b).

g And Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the other room, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the other room to Amnon her brother (2 Samuel 13:10).

h And when she had brought them near to him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister” (2 Samuel 13:11).

i And she answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me, for no such thing ought to be done in Israel. Do not do this folly. And as for me, where shall I carry my shame? And as for you, you will be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray you, speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you” (2 Samuel 13:12-13).

h However he would not listen to her voice; but being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her. Then Amnon hated her with a very strong hatred, for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her (2 Samuel 13:14-15 a).

g And Amnon said to her, “Arise, be gone”. And she said to him, “Not so, because this great wrong in putting me forth is worse than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her (2 Samuel 13:15-16).

e Then he called his servant who ministered to him, and said, “Put now this woman out from me, and bolt the door after her” (2 Samuel 13:17).

d And she had a garment of varied colours on her, for with such robes were the king’s daughters who were virgins dressed. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her (2 Samuel 13:18).

c And Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her garment of varied colours which was on her, and she laid her hand on her head, and went her way, crying aloud as she went. And Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother. Do not take this thing to heart.” So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house (2 Samuel 13:19-20).’

b And when king David heard of all these things, he was exceedingly angry (2 Samuel 13:21).

a And Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13:22).

Note that in ‘a’ Amnon loved Absalom’s sister and in the parallel Absalom hated Amnon because of what he had done to his sister. In ‘b’ Amnon was deeply emotionally upset as a result of thwarted love that it made him ill, and in the parallel David was deeply emotionally angry when he heard what Amnon had done. In ‘c’ Amnon told his cunning friend about his love for his sister Tamar and plotted her downfall, and in the parallel we learn of the result of that plotting of her downfall at the hands of Amnon her brother. In ‘d’ David the king sent Tamar to Amnon’s apartments in order that she might prepare cakes for Amnon, and in the parallel Amnon locked her out of his apartments as one who had come to him wearing the apparel of the king’s daughters. In ‘e’ Amnon refused to eat of what she had prepared for him, and in the parallel he refused to have his sister in his room with him because he had partaken of her and did not want her any more. In ‘f’ Amnon thrust out all the servants, and in the parallel he thrust out Tamar. In ‘g’ Amnon made her enter his inner room, and in the parallel he thrust her from his inner room. In ‘h’ he pleaded with Tamar to lie with him, and in the parallel he forced her to lie with him. Centrally in ‘i’ she pleaded with him not to deflower her and suggested that he ask the king for her hand, (only to be refused).

2 Samuel 13:1

And it came about after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar, and Amnon the son of David loved her.’

Following on the previous events of 2 Samuel 11-12 we now discover that Absalom, the king’s third son, had a sister named Tamar who was very beautiful, so much so that Amnon, the firstborn son of David loved her. It is stressed that both Absalom and Amnon were sons of David, which indicates that Tamar was the king’s daughter and Amnon’s half-sister, and as such she was forbidden to him by the Law (Leviticus 20:17). All were therefore part of David’s household, that household that should have been so blessed as a result of YHWH’s covenant, but would now face tragedy because of what David had done. David had laid down the markers, and now it was his children who would suffer as a result, and this in spite of the fact that David quite evidently loved his children.

As David did not marry Maacah, the mother of Absalom and Tamar, until after he had been made king at Hebron (see 2 Samuel 3:3), these events cannot have taken place before the twentieth year of his reign.

2 Samuel 13:2

And Amnon was so constrained that he fell sick because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her.’

Amnon loved his half-sister so intensely that it was making him sick. As a result he was ‘made narrow’ or ‘hemmed in by anxiety’ because of his love for his half-sister and it caused him to be ill.

“It seemed hard to Amnon to do anything to her.” He longed to take her and win her affection and make love to her, but found it impossible, partly because of her maidenly modesty and unwillingness to engage in anything wrong, partly because she would be regularly chaperoned, and partly because he knew that it was illegal. While it was true that Abraham had married his half-sister, such a marriage was now no longer allowed (Leviticus 20:17).

2 Samuel 13:3

But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, and Jonadab was a very cunning man.’

But Amnon had a close friend who was his cousin, whose name was Jonadab. He was the son of David’s brother Shimeah (Shammah). He was a very cunning man (it is not the same word as the one which described the cunning of the serpent in Genesis 3, but the idea is the same). It is a reminder of how careful we should be about the kind of people with whom we make close friends.

2 Samuel 13:4

And he said to him, “Why, O son of the king, are you thus lean (peakish) from day to day? Will you not tell me?” And Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” ’

Jonadab, seeing how peakish Amnon was getting, persistently asked him what his problem was. And in the end Amnon admitted that he loved with great intensity his half-sister Tamar, Absalom’s sister. Note the writer’s emphasis on ‘O son of the king’. This was the problem. Amnon was following in the train of his father and copying David’s mid-life arrogance. It was because he saw himself as the son of the king that he felt able to do what he did without regard to anyone.

2 Samuel 13:5

And Jonadab said to him, “Lay yourself down on your bed, and pretend that you are ill, and when your father comes to see you, say to him, “Let my sister Tamar come, I pray you, and give me bread to eat, and dress the food in my sight, so that I may see it, and eat it from her hand.” ’

Jonadab then suggested to him how he could obtain what he wanted. All he had to do was pretend that he was ill and ask his father to send Tamar to him in order that she might specially prepare food in his presence. Then the rest would be up to Amnon.

2 Samuel 13:6

So Amnon lay down, and pretended that he was ill, and when the king was come to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Let my sister Tamar come, I pray you, and make (telabeb) me a couple of cakes (lebiboth) in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.” ’

Following Jonadab’s advice Amnon, who was consumed with desire, lay down and pretended that he was ill, and when ‘the king’, his concerned father, came to him he requested that his sister Tamar be allowed to come and make cakes in front of him in order to tempt his appetite. Note the double reference to ‘the king’. What was to happen was the result of royal arrogance.

The word for ‘make’ and the word for ‘cakes’ both come from the Hebrew root lbb from which comes the noun for heart, which is connected with the life principle. We could thus translate ‘love-cakes’ or ‘life-cakes’. The play on meaning is deliberate.

Had David been astute he would have realised what was afoot, he was after all well familiar with bedroom affairs, but like many a father he would find it impossible to believe that his son could be capable of such villainy. He did not realise how much his own example had made them arrogant in their attitudes because they were ‘the king’s sons’.

2 Samuel 13:7

Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go now to your brother Amnon’s house, and dress him food.” ’

So David sent a message to Tamar calling on her to go to her brother Amnon’s living quarters and dress some food for him. He would expect the servants to be present. It came to her, of course, as a royal command so that there was little that she could do but obey.

2 Samuel 13:8-9 a

‘So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, and 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 poured them out before him. But he refused to eat.’

So Tamar went to Amnon’s living quarters where he was lying down, presumably on cushions. But she would sense no danger, for all the servants were present. And there she took dough and kneaded it, and moulded it into cakes in front of him, and baked the cakes. Note the long drawn out description which is building up the tension of the story. It is all so deliberate, and the listener all the time knew what was going on in Amnon’s mind.

Then when the cakes were baked she presented them to Amnon. But he refused to eat them. This was another sign of his arrogance, but it probably touched her sisterly heart as suggesting how ill Amnon was. It was insidiously clever (just as David had been insidiously clever in arranging the death of Uriah).

2 Samuel 13:9 b

‘And Amnon said, “Have out all men from me.” And they went out every man from him.’

Then Amnon ordered all the servants out of the room and they all left, leaving the two alone together. Poor Tamar. She was still innocent of men, and she loved her brother chastely. She was seemingly unafraid and unaware of her danger. And he was after all the king’s firstborn.

2 Samuel 13:10

And Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the innermost room, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the innermost room to Amnon her brother.’

Amnon then called on Tamar to bring the food into the innermost room where he would eat it from her hand. And because she was fond of him, and because he was the crown prince apparent, she did what he requested. As a loving and sympathetic sister she suspected nothing.

2 Samuel 13:11

And when she had brought them near to him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” ’

But when she did approach him with the food he became violent and seized her, demanding that she have sexual relations with him. Tamar must have been deeply horrified. She had never dreamed that her brother could behave like this. But this was all the result of the arrogance that David had bred into his sons by his own example. What he was suggesting was contrary to all that she had been brought up to believe. Unlike Amnon she was not experienced in such matters.

2 Samuel 13:12

And she answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me, for no such thing ought to be done in Israel. Do not do this folly. And as for me, where shall I carry my shame? And as for you, you will be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray you, speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” ’

So she pleaded with him, and begged him not to rape her, pointing out that it was not the kind of thing that was acceptable in Israel, especially as she was his half-sister. It was contrary to God’s Law. She asked him not to behave so foolishly, and to consider how as a result of any such action she would be shamed in the sight of all, so much so that she would have nowhere to hide. She would no longer be a chaste virgin. And as for him he would be seen as ‘one of the fools in Israel’. The implication behind the word ‘fool’ was that he would be seen as godless and rebellious against YHWH (Psalms 14:1).

Thus she begged him to ask the king for her hand in marriage, assuring him that she was sure that the king, who doted on his sons, would not withhold her from him. She may well not have known about ‘the forbidden degrees’ (Leviticus 20:17), for parents arranged marriages, and she had led a sheltered life, or alternatively she may simply have been devising any means of getting way from him with her virginity intact. She was in fact saying to him, ‘let the king decide what we should do’. It was basically an appeal to the king that Amnon should have listened to.

2 Samuel 13:14

However he would not listen to her voice, but being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her.’

But Amnon was not listening. He was too possessed with lust to take notice of anything reasonable. Poor Tamar had never seen her brother like this before, as, mad with lust, he refused to listen to her pleas and violently raped her where she was. It was an act of total callousness and depravity, which nevertheless aped the behaviour of his father.

2 Samuel 13:15

Then Amnon hated her with exceeding great hatred, for 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 having had his way with her his desire for her suddenly turned to hate. For there had been no real love in his heart, just an awakened sexual desire that happened to have fallen on Tamar, and now that it was satisfied his guilt for what he had done was turned on his innocent sister. The result was that he curtly and callously dismissed her from his room, saying, ‘Arise, be gone.’

Such a turning from passion to dislike is not uncommon in sexual affairs where the person is not loved for their own sake, and his extreme sense of guilt made him want to get rid of her from his sight.

2 Samuel 13:16

And she said to him, “Not so, because this great wrong in putting me forth is worse than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her.’

The tumult in poor Tamar’s mind must have been awful in the extreme. She had been gently brought up and taught the horror of sexual behaviour outside marriage. And now she realised that the worst thing that could happen to any Israelite woman had happened to her. She had been deflowered outside the marriage bed. She was no longer a chaste virgin. And what was more the beast who had done it to her, whom she had always looked on as a loving brother, was now rejecting her. Unable to believe it she begged him with tears to reconsider. Raping her had been bad enough, but turning her away after what he had done was worse even than the act itself. However, he would not listen. Why should he? He was the king’s eldest son.

2 Samuel 13:17

Then he called his servant who ministered to him, and said, “Put now this out from me, and bolt the door after her.” ’

Revealing his utter callousness and arrogance he then called on this close servant to take his young sister whom he called ‘this’ and throw her out, bolting the door behind her. O David, what have you done to your children?

2 Samuel 13:18

And she had a garment of varied colours on her, for with such robes were the king’s daughters who were virgins dressed. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her.’

And so the beautiful daughter of the king, still wearing the clothes which were the badge of the king’s virgin daughter, but now cruelly deflowered and raped by the king’s own son, was thrust out from Amnon’s rooms, with the door bolted behind her. The servant probably did not know what was going on, and did his master’s bidding.

2 Samuel 13:19

And Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her garment of varied colours which was on her, and she laid her hand on her head, and went her way, crying aloud as she went.’

But Tamar knew. It is impossible for us to have any conception of how distraught Tamar must have felt. She was a young immature girl who had experienced a sexual nightmare. She must have been totally bewildered and devastatingly upset. She would not have been able to believe that her own half-brother whom she had trusted and looked up to, had done to her what to any woman was unimaginable. Her life was in ruins. She put ashes on her head as a sign of mourning for her lost virginity, and tore her virginal garments of many colours, an act which indicated both deep emotion and the tearing away of her virginity, and she put her hand to her head as a sign of her distress and despair (compare Jeremiah 2:37). Then she went her way weeping and crying in her distress. All in a moment her life had been torn apart, while Amnon no doubt lay callously on his cushions, totally unconcerned. For Amnon had learned his lesson well from David. He had learned callousness and an arrogant disregard for others, because he was a king’s son and could do whatever he wanted, just as the king had done, without any likelihood of repercussions (if his father said anything he would simply say, ‘What about Bathsheba and Uriah?’.

2 Samuel 13:20

And Absalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother. Do not take this thing to heart.” So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom’s house.’

But when Absalom, her blood brother, who loved her dearly, learned what had happened it bit deep into his soul. Indeed this act of Amnon’s understandably changed Absalom from being a loyal son and brother into a creature determined on revenge. He would have the evidence of Amnon’s deed ever before him. Even so he lovingly tried his best to assuage her grief, and to put the best light on things. So Amnon her brother had forced her to lay with him? Let her not take it too badly. After all he was her brother. She must not take it too deeply to heart, for surely David his father would ensure that the right thing was done by her? Poor Absalom. He did what he could. But he was only a man. How could he even begin to conceive what it meant to Tamar. And he still did not as yet know his father.

But even more we must say, poor Tamar. She remained desolate in her brother’s house. Her life was devastated and lay in ruins around her. The lovely young princess who had gone to Amnon with such innocence and sisterly love had grown almost immediately inward looking and old before her time, seeing herself as a thing despoiled and being totally ashamed.

2 Samuel 13:21

But when king David heard of all these things, he was very angry.’

When king David heard of all that had happened he was very angry. Well done David!! However, what about putting things right, at least as far as possible? He should, of course, have sentenced Amnon to death for incest. But he did not do that, and he also probably did not want his firstborn married to a disgraced woman, especially when she was within the forbidden degrees. So he probably ranted and raged, and then did nothing. Once again we are faced with a clear flaw in David’s character. He should have exerted himself to behave justly, but when it came to family matters he was weak, made even weaker because of his own bad example. In his eyes what his sons did could not really be wrong. In his eyes they were above the Law. David’s obedience to YHWH was flawed when it came to his sons. But it was a flaw that was to cost him dear, for Absalom had learned from his father how to dispose of what got in your way.

2 Samuel 13:22

And Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.’

And as for Absalom he said nothing to his brother. In fact he simply never spoke to him again, and presumably ostracised him. But in his heart he was nursing hatred and a desire for vengeance, a desire no doubt continually fed by what he saw of his sister and what she had become, for she would be no longer bright and lively but totally withdrawn into herself. Amnon had not killed her, but he may as well have done so, for he had ruined her life completely. And it would seem that Absalom’s anger was not only directed at Amnon, but at the king himself, because he had not given Tamar justice. Whatever would follow, David had brought on himself. He had only himself to blame.


Verses 23-27

Absalom Invites The King And His Sons To The Sheepshearing celebrations At Baal-Hazor (2 Samuel 13:23-27).

Two years went by and Amnon was no doubt feeling that his slight aberration had been almost forgotten. Neither David nor Absalom had actually done anything, and he was not too concerned about Absalom’s refusal to talk with him. He no doubt felt that things had settled down. But within Absalom’s apartments there was a beloved sister who, while she had no doubt recovered slightly from her ordeal, lived out her life in desolation and distress. All her hopes in life had vanished. Absalom had not forgotten.

And when the time came for sheepshearing on Absalom’s land, (sheepshearing was an event that was always accompanied by wild celebration. Compare 1 Samuel 25:2-4; Genesis 31:19-20; Genesis 38:12-13), Absalom invited to it all the king’s sons, and he put as much pressure as he could on David to bid his sons to go to Absalom’s sheepshearing (as David had bidden Tamar to go to Amnon’s rooms), for he had plans of his own

Analysis.

a And it came about after two full years, that Absalom had sheep-shearers in Baal-hazor, which is beside Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons (2 Samuel 13:23).

b And Absalom came to the king, and said, “See now, your servant has sheep-shearers. Let the king, I pray you, and his servants go with your servant” (2 Samuel 13:24).

c And the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome to you.” And he pressed him. However, he would not go, but blessed him (2 Samuel 13:25).

b Then Absalom said “If not, I pray you, let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you?” (2 Samuel 13:26).

a But Absalom pressed him, and he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him (2 Samuel 13:27).

Note that in ‘a’ Absalom invited all the king’s sons to sheepshearing and in the parallel David let all the king’s sons go to the sheepshearing. In ‘b’ Absalom asked that the king and his servants might go to sheepshearing, and in the parallel he asked that if the king himself would not go he would send his eldest son. Centrally in ‘c’ the king would not go, even at Absalom’s insistence, but blessed Absalom.

2 Samuel 13:23

And it came about after two full years, that Absalom had sheep-shearers in Baal-hazor, which is beside Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons.’

Two full years had passed. The furore over Amnon’s unacceptable behaviour had seemingly died down, and contrary to the Law Amnon was still alive to tell the tale. But there was one man who was not satisfied with the situation, and that was Tamar’s brother, Absalom.

Sheepshearing was always a time of wild celebration as the harvest of wool was celebrated, and thus invitations to a sheepshearing ceremony were not unusual. Had David thought back he would have remembered the sheepshearing celebrations of Nabal to which he was not invited (1 Samuel 25). That too had ended in a death. But he had no cause to think that any such thing would happen at Absalom’s sheepshearing, for in his complacency he no doubt thought that all was again at peace within his family.

The sheepshearing was to take place at Baal-hazor. This is generally identified with a mountain 9 kilometres (5 miles) north north east of Bethel. This may have been land granted by David to his wife Maacah when he married her. She was the daughter of the king of Geshur, an Aramaean kingdom where sheep were considered to be very important. But for Absalom’s purpose its advantage lay in the fact that it was a good way from Jerusalem, and that the men involved with the sheep were his own employees.

2 Samuel 13:24

And Absalom came to the king, and said, “See now, your servant has sheep-shearers. Let the king, I pray you, and his servants go with your servant.” ’

So with the annual sheepshearing celebrations in view Absalom sought the king’s presence. he pointed out that it was the time for celebration of sheepshearing among his shepherds and that as he was attending it he was issuing an invitation to the king and his sons to attend with him, and let their hair down.

2 Samuel 13:25

And the king said to Absalom, “No, my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome to you.” And he pressed him. However, he would not go, but blessed him.’

However, David was unwilling to go. Perhaps the thought of sheepshearing celebrations stirred his conscience when he thought of Nabal. So he made the excuse that he did not want all of them to go and be a burden on Absalom. And in spite of the fact that Absalom pressed him strongly he continued with his refusal. He did, however, not hesitate to give him his king-priestly blessing and thank him for his offer.

2 Samuel 13:26

Then Absalom said “If not, I pray you, let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you?” ’

We do not know whether at this time Absalom had in mind any threat against the king’s person, for he would undoubtedly still be angry at the king’s failure to give justice to Tamar. Probably not, for he later spared all the king’s sons but one. It would appear that his target all along was Amnon, and that his sole aim was to ensure that Amnon was present.

So when the king himself refused to attend the sheepshearing Absalom was not put out, he simply requested him to send Amnon so that as the eldest son he could represent the royal family. This request for representation by royalty would generally be understood, for the host, Absalom, was after all royal on both sides of the family, being a son of David, and grandson of the king of Geshur. The king, however, wanted to know why he was so keen for Amnon to attend. He would know of the rift between Amnon and Absalom. Perhaps he hoped that this was a sign that the rift was healing.

2 Samuel 13:27

But Absalom pressed him, and he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him.’

Absalom pressed him so hard that in the end he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him, for he loved Absalom dearly and wanted to please him. As with Amnon, David had a rosy view of all his sons. Thus he trusted them all, not recognising what havoc his own behaviour had wrought in their moral attitudes.


Verses 28-39

Absalom Slays Amnon As Revenge For His Raping Of Tamar And Flees To His Grandfather’s Kingdom in Geshur (2 Samuel 13:28-39).

Whilst David refused to carry out the death sentence that Amnon’s sin demanded, Absalom had other ideas. Strictly speaking, in fact, in executing Amnon he was carrying out the sentence of the Law, and at the same time avenging the stain that Amnon had brought on the royal family of Geshur. In this he was justified. For Tamar was not only David’s daughter, she was also the granddaughter of the king of Geshur. Thus in Geshur his action would undoubtedly have been seen as just and right, and he may well have seen himself as a prince of Geshur justly acting as the representative of his people in avenging what had been done to their princess.

That David later recognised that justice was on Absalom’s side comes out in that he made no real attempt to have Absalom extradited. While the king of Geshur might certainly initially have refused to hand his grandson Absalom over, contending that he had only been obtaining justice for Geshur, there is little doubt that David could have made him do so had he wished. But instead he held his peace. But he had now lost two of his beloved sons. He was paying a heavy price for his own sins.

Analysis.

a And Absalom commanded his servants, saying, “Mark you now, when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, “Smite Amnon,” then kill him. Do not be afraid, have not I commanded you? Be courageous, and be valiant” (2 Samuel 13:28).

b And the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons arose, and every man mounted himself on his mule, and fled (2 Samuel 13:29).

c And it came about, while they were in the way, that the news came to David, saying, “Absalom has slain all the king’s sons, and there is not one of them left” (2 Samuel 13:30).

d Then the king arose, and tore his garments, and lay on the earth, and all his servants stood by with their clothes torn.

e And Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, answered and said, “Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men, the king’s sons, for Amnon only is dead” (2 Samuel 13:31-32 a).

f “For by the appointment of Absalom this has been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar” (2 Samuel 13:32 b).

e “Now therefore let not my lord the king take the thing to his heart, to think that all the king’s sons are dead, for Amnon only is dead” (2 Samuel 13:33).

d But Absalom fled. And the young man who kept the watch lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came many people by the way of the hill-side behind him. And Jonadab said to the king, “Look, the king’s sons are come. As your servant said, so it is” (2 Samuel 13:34-35).

c And it came about, as soon as he had made an end of speaking, that, behold, the king’s sons came, and lifted up their voice, and wept, and the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly (2 Samuel 13:36).

b But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai the son of Ammihur, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day. So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three years (2 Samuel 13:37-38).

a And the soul of king David longed to go forth to Absalom, for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead (2 Samuel 13:39).

Note than in ‘a’ we read of the death of Amnon, and in the parallel David no longer mourned Amnon, recognising that he was dead. In ‘b’ the king’s sons fled from Absalom, and in the parallel Absalom fled from the king. In ’c’ news came to David that all his sons were dead, and in the parallel his sons came back to him In ‘d’ David mourns the loss of his sons, and in the parallel Jonadab points out that there is no need to mourn because his sons are coming. In ‘e’ Jonadab assures the king that all his sons have not been killed, and in the parallel he declares the same. Centrally in ‘f’ Jonadab confirms that the death of Amnon had been determined by Absalom from the moment that he had raped his sister.

2 Samuel 13:28

And Absalom commanded his servants, saying, “Mark you now, when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, “Smite Amnon,” then kill him. Do not be afraid, have not I commanded you? Be courageous, and be valiant.” ’

Once the king’s sons had arrived at sheepshearing they would begin to make merry, but Absalom had already instructed his servants that as soon as Amnon was sufficiently drunk he would give the order for them to kill him. At that point, he said, they should act bravely and do what he had commanded them without fear because he would take full responsibility. These may well have been servants connected with his mother Maacah who owed allegiance to Geshur.

2 Samuel 13:29

And the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons arose, and every man mounted himself on his mule, and fled.’

And when the time came, and the sign was given, Absalom’s servants did precisely what Absalom had commanded them and slew Amnon. The result was that the remainder of the king’s sons panicked, and fled on their mules. Thus was the raping of a princess of Geshur avenged, and thus had Amnon been executed in accordance with the Law forbidding incest. Absalom had acted justly as a prince of Geshur, but that was not how David would see it. But it was how Geshur would see it,, for the Geshurites were a sheep-breeding nation who almost certainly had strong ideas about tribal honour, who would thus have been deeply offended by what had happened to one of their princesses, especially when she was supposed to be under the protection of David. Absalom would therefore undoubtedly have had their support for his action.

2 Samuel 13:30

And it came about, while they were in the way, that the news came to David, saying, “Absalom has slain all the king’s sons, and there is not one of them left.” ’

It is clear that someone must have left the sheepshearing celebrations fairly quickly, indeed almost as soon as the execution had taken place, for before the sons on their mules could even come within sight of Jerusalem, false news had already reached David that all his sons had been killed.

2 Samuel 13:31

Then the king arose, and tore his garments, and lay on the earth, and all his servants stood by with their clothes torn.’

The king was understandably devastated by the news and ritually tore his clothes, an evidence of deep feeling, and fell on the earth before YHWH, while all his servant around him also tore their clothes, sharing with him in his anguish.

2 Samuel 13:32

And Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, answered and said, “Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men, the king’s sons, for Amnon only is dead, for by the appointment of Absalom this has been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar.” ’

Jonadab, however, who was David’s nephew and was the man who had advised Amnon in his evil deed, seems to have known what was going to happen, for he assured the king that only Amnon was dead, and that his other sons had not been harmed. This would suggest that in some way he was in Absalom’s confidence, at least sufficiently to have been let into the secret. It may well be that he had honestly been disgusted at the way that Amnon had treated Tamar after he had raped her and had from then on sided with Absalom. He had probably expected that once Amnon had had his way with Tamar he would marry her. Abandoning the young girl in her misery had not been a part of what he had suggested.

2 Samuel 13:33

Now therefore let not my lord the king take the thing to his heart, to think that all the king’s sons are dead, for Amnon only is dead.”

So Jonadab assured the king not to think that all his sons were dead, because he knew that it was only Amnon who had been affected.

2 Samuel 13:34

But Absalom fled. And the young man who kept the watch lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came many people by the way of the hill-side behind him.’

Meanwhile, having assured himself that Amnon was really dead, and that his sister had been avenged, Absalom fled. He would recognise that in Israel he would be seen as having committed high treason against the person of the king’s firstborn, and that if he remained he could be impeached for murder. It would be seen differently in Geshur. On the other hand the young man who was the watchman in Jerusalem looked round from his watchtower and saw behind him, on the hillside in the distance, a number of people flocking towards Jerusalem. They were fleeing one way, while Absalom was fleeing the other.

2 Samuel 13:35

And Jonadab said to the king, “Look, the king’s sons are come. As your servant said, so it is.” ’

Once the news reached the palace Jonadab pointed out to David that it meant that his sons had returned, just as he had said.

2 Samuel 13:36

And it came about, as soon as he had made an end of speaking, that, behold, the king’s sons came, and lifted up their voice, and wept, and the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly.’

Even while he was giving the assurance the king’s sons arrived on their mules, and entering the palace lifted up their voices and wept in mourning for Amnon. And the king and his servants also joined in. For all now knew that David’s firstborn son was dead.

2 Samuel 13:37

But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai the son of Ammihur, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day.’

Meanwhile Absalom fled to his grandfather Talmai, the son of Ammihur, king of Geshur, while David mourned the fact that he had lost Absalom as well as Amnon. He no doubt recognised the justice of what Absalom had done. He had carried out the execution that David himself should have arranged. This second mention of Absalom fleeing is in direct contrast with the sons arriving and telling David what had happened. They all came to the king, apart from Absalom, who fled. David had lost two sons in one go. And David felt the loss, for he mourned the loss of his son every day (just as Uriah’s mother had no doubt mourned the loss of her son every day).

2 Samuel 13:38

So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three years.’

This third repetition of the fact of Absalom fleeing stands on its own as a specific statement, confirming what had happened. Such repetition was common in ancient literature. The threefold mention stresses the completeness of his successful escape. And once he had arrived in Geshur Absalom was there for ‘three years’. This could signify one and a half years upwards, with part years counting as a year. It basically signifies ‘a number of years’. In Geshur Absalom’s act would have been seen as just revenge for a slight to their royal family.

2 Samuel 13:39

And king David left off going forth after Absalom, for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead.’

Meanwhile after a suitable time king David had recovered from his grief at the death of Amnon, simply because he was dead and there was no point in constantly thinking of the dead. And the result was that he “left off going forth after Absalom”. ‘To go forth’ in this case must be seen as in a hostile sense. Presumably messengers had passed between the two courts arguing the case from the point of view of two royal families, The emphasis is thus on the fact that David did not continue to pursue his attempts to have Absalom brought back for punishment because he had got over the death of Amnon, and recognised that Absalom had had justice on his side. This suggests that the king of Geshur did not find David’s arguments convincing and was defending what Absalom had done as having been necessary to revenge the slight on his family. Either way around three years passed and David did nothing conclusive about the situation.

Some translations, taking into account their own translation of 2 Samuel 14:1, and David’s later strong affection revealed towards Absalom (2 Samuel 18:33) read, ‘And the soul of David longed after Absalom’ . But that is not the obvious meaning of the words, and is contradicted by the fact that even when he returned David would not see him or permit him into his presence.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/2-samuel-13.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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