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 lived, 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 violated his sister Tamar.
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. Please 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, please 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 to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Do not fear; 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.
While they were on the way, news came to David, “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons, and not one of them is left.” Then the king arose and tore his garments and lay on the earth. And all his servants who were standing by tore their garments. But Jonadab the son of Shimeah, 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 violated 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.” – 2 Samuel 13:20-33 ESV
God had given instructions regarding incest:
If a man takes his sister, a daughter of his father or a daughter of his mother, and sees her nakedness, and she sees his nakedness, it is a disgrace, and they shall be cut off in the sight of the children of their people. He has uncovered his sister’s nakedness, and he shall bear his iniquity. – Leviticus 20:17 ESV
The only thing unclear to us is the meaning of the phrase, “cut off”. The Hebrew word has a wide range of meanings and can be referring to everything from excommunication from the assembly or to actual execution. But there is little doubt that God expected action to be taken in the case of incest. And yet, as we read the story of Amnon’s rape of his half-sister, Tamar, there is no action taken by David, his father and the king of Israel. Perhaps David was reluctant to deal with Amnon because his sin was quite similar to his own with Bathsheba. He too, had taken what was not his to have. It could also be the case that, as the eldest son, Amnon was considered the heir to David’s throne. But regardless of the reason or David’s rationale, he was wrong for not having taken the matter in hand.
The first place Tamar went after her humiliation by Amnon was to the house of her brother, Absalom. It is interesting to note that she did not go to her father. Was this because she believed she would get no sympathy or revenge from David? We can only conjecture, but it does raise questions regarding David’s relationships with his children. The only thing we read of David’s emotions during this time is that he was angry. But his anger never took the form of action. In fact, two years would pass before anything happened to Amnon for his act of violating his sister, and David would play no part in it. Except for the fact, that his refusal to do the right thing had lead to another of his sons doing a very wrong thing.
Absalom had been planning and plotting. He hated Amnon for what he had done to Tamar. And we will learn later that Absalom also held a grudge with David for having done nothing to punish Amnon for his transgression. He lost respect for David as a father and as a king. And as we will see later in the story, he would eventually seize the throne from David.
But Absalom, tired of waiting for his father to do the right thing, took matters into his own hands and planned the death of Amnon. It was a well-thought-out plan that also used deception, just as Amnon had done to rape Tamar. Absalom lied to his father in order to get David to agree to send all of his sons to a join Absalom at Baal-hazor. Absalom’s servants would be shearing his sheep and he was going to treat his brothers to a feast in celebration of a bountiful harvest of wool. Initially, Absalom had invited David to come, but seemed to have known that David would decline the offer because of his duties as the king. And David was a little surprised that Absalom had asked specifically for Amnon to come. But under pressure from Absalom, David finally agreed and sent all his sons to Baal-hazor – a decision he would soon regret.
Absalom commanded his servants, “Wait until Amnon gets drunk; then at my signal, kill him! Don’t be afraid. I’m the one who has given the command. Take courage and do it!” (2 Samuel 13:28 NLT). These instruction should sound vaguely familiar. When David wanted to get rid of Uriah so he could marry Bathsheba, he had given Joab instructions: “Station Uriah on the front lines where the battle is fiercest. Then pull back so that he will be killed” (2 Samuel 11:15 NLT). Then when the deed had been done, he followed up with a a second message to Joab: “‘Well, tell Joab not to be discouraged,’ David said. ‘The sword devours this one today and that one tomorrow! Fight harder next time, and conquer the city!’” (2 Samuel 11:25 NLT). Like his father, Absalom chose to use someone else to do his dirty work for him. He would not bloody his own hands, but was more than willing to take the responsibility for Amnon’s death. Both men show a flippancy and disturbing disregard for what they had done.
In all the confusion after Amnon’s death, news was taken to David that wrongly informed him that all of his sons had been killed. His immediate reaction was to tear his clothes and fall on the ground in grief. But once again, he took no action. And his servants followed his example. It was Jonadab, David’s nephew, who informed him of what had happened.
“No, don’t believe that all the king’s sons have been killed! It was only Amnon! Absalom has been plotting this ever since Amnon raped his sister Tamar.” – 2 Samuel 13:32 NLT
Jonadab had a reason to rat on Absalom. He was Amnon’s friend and the one who had given him the bright idea how to lure Tamar into his room so he could rape her. He most likely feared for his own life, believing that Absalom might come after him next. But once again, we see David take no action. And the very next verse reveals that Absalom got away – not only with the murder of his brother, but with his own life.
When David had been confronted by the prophet, Nathan, for his sin with Bathsheba, one of the things he said to him was, “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife” (2 Samuel 12:10 ESV). This statement could be taken as a prophecy regarding the wars that David would fight all during his reign. But it would mean that his heirs would have the same problem. Yet, we know that Solomon ruled during a time of great peace and prosperity. So, it is likely that Nathan’s reference to the sword and David’s house, has to do with the battles that would take place within his own family. This would not be the last death of a family member that David would have to endure. He would live to see Absalom die. And at the end of Solomon’s reign, the kingdom would end up divided and the kings of Judah, David’s heirs to his throne, would spend years fighting with one another. There would be assassinations, deception, palace intrigue and a revolving door of kings. So, David’s sin and God’s punishment for that sin was going to have long-term implications both in David’s household and within his royal house.
What would have happened had David dealt with Amnon’s rape of Tamar? How could things have turned out differently had David stepped up and done what was right? Now, his heir to the throne was dead and another son was in exile. And David made no attempt to bring Absalom back and face the consequences for his actions. His inaction would lead to further trouble in his household and within his kingdom. Sin, left unattended and unconfessed is dangerous in the life of a believer. But it is just as dangerous to ignore the sin within the family of God. We may choose to tolerate it or sweep it under the carpet, but sin always has consequences. David was a father and the king. He had responsibilities to his family and his people. He answered to God for the health and well-being of both. And God is not one to tolerate sin or to take it lightly. Amnon paid for his sin. So would Absalom. But what might have happened had David done what he was supposed to do?
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.