In the last essay we studied 2 Samuel, chapter 12, which recorded Nathan’s confrontation of David on behalf of the Lord and the aftermath. In chapter 13 we begin to see the fulfillment of the Lord’s predictions about David’s family. David was a good king, but the conduct of his sons suggests he was a terrible father. It appears that David gave little attention to the raising of his sons, probably in part because they lived with their respective mothers who were jealous of one another. David likely spent little time in any of their homes. Their behavior also suggests that they were spoiled. They likely rarely ever were denied anything they wanted.
As they grew into manhood, David’s sons fancied that they might gratify their lusts as they pleased. They seem to have believed that their ambitions, no matter how perverted or wrong-headed, ought to come to pass. Thus they committed a series of crimes, which nearly cost David his life and his throne.
The NIV tells us in verse one, that David’s son, Amnon fell in love with his half-sister, Tamar “in the course of time. The NRSV translates the time reference as “some time passed.” Since David married Maacah, the mother of Absalom and Tamar after he became king at Hebron (2 Sam. 3:3), it would have been about 20 years later that these events took place, that is about the middle of David’s reign. We determined in the last study that David’s sin with Bathsheba took place about the middle of his reign (9:1-3). Therefore Amnon’s sin would not have been much later than David’s adulterous affair.
Amnon, whose mother was Ahinoam the Jezreelite, was David’s first-born son (2 Sam. 3:2). Thus he was older than Absalom and Tamar, his half-brother and sister. Although we just read that Amnon “fell in love” with Tamar, later developments make it clear that his “love” was lust.. Amnon gave himself to his lust for Tamar to such an extent that he made himself ill. The only thing holding him back from taking her by force was the fact that she was a virgin. But as we see, that didn’t prove to be an insurmountable barrier in the end.
Amnon had a cousin named Jonadab, who not only encouraged Amnon to yield to his lusts, but also suggested to him a plan for accomplishing it (vv. 3-5). Amnon followed the plan. He pretended to be seriously sick. And when his father came to visit him, he asked David to permit Tamar to come to him and bake some special cakes for him. The king’s permission was required because it would have been unusual to insist on food prepared by one particular member of the family. David agreed, and Tamar came to bake the cakes for him (vv. 6-8a).
Amnon evidently was in a bedroom off a larger room from which he could see Tamar make the cakes. She brought them to him and shook them out before him, but he wouldn’t eat them. Then Amnon ordered everyone except Tamar out of the room. Apparently pretending to be too weak to eat by himself, he asked Tamar to feed him. When she came close to do it, he grabbed her and invited her into his bed (vv. 8b-11).
Tamar realizing the gravity of the situation immediately tried to talk Amnon out of it (v. 12). She even suggested that their father might permit a marriage (v. 13), though that idea may have came more from her desperation than any actual possibility, because the law expressly forbade such marriages (Lev. 18:9; 20:17). But Amnon,. driven by his lust would not listen, and he raped her (v. 14).
As soon as Amnon had gratified his lust, it turned to loathing. And the loathing was stronger than the lust. So he ordered out of his presence (v. 15). When she protested, he had her thrown out (vv. 16-18). So she left in shame. But she didn’t cover it up. She put on ashes, tore her garment, and wailed in the classic signs of mourning (v. 19).
Her brother Absalom immediately figured out what had happened. His attempt to console Tamar was insensitive. He took the light approach, “he is your brother; do not take this to heart.” But as we shall see, Absalom himself did not take the matter lightly. As for Tamar, she took refuge in Absalom’s home (v. 20).
In verse 21 we see solid evidence of David’s weakness as a father. He learned what happened, and it made him angry. But he did nothing about it. The Greek Old Testament adds a statement to verse 21. The NIV does not include it, but the NRSV does. It reads, “but he [David] would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his first-born.” This statement may not have been in the original, but it undoubtedly accurately reflects the truth. Amnon was David’s his eldest son and heir apparent. And that was more important to him than justice. It also was ironic. David refused to punish his self-indulgent son’s crime of lust. And of course he himself had tried to get away with serious crimes, including one of lust.
As for Absalom, verse 22 tells us that he hated Amnon for what he did. And we know from reading ahead that he planned revenge. But he was extremely patient about it. In the beginning he simply stopped talking to Amnon. He said nothing to him, neither good nor bad.
Turning to application, I suggest you look at this chapter from the standpoint of each character. What can we learn from Tamar and Amnon? Tamar was a genuine victim in the incident. Amnon violated her unmercifully and then tried to shame her. Since the culture in which she lived was so totally different from ours, that makes it difficult to draw parallels in regard to the social implications. But rape is rape in any culture or age. We at least can say that Tamar did the right thing by not covering up her victimization. Many rape victims today never report the crimes. That brings them no justice and allows the rapist the freedom to rape again.
Amnon presents us with a despicable example of manhood. He was consumed by lust, and with the encouragement of his equally despicable cousin, he committed a horrible crime. We learn from his that serious sins, like lust, must be dealt with, through counseling if necessary, in order to avoid falling into even more serious sins.
And of course David sets before us an excellent example of how to be a bad parent and king. He not only was the father of both Tamar and Amnon, he was the king. David had the moral responsibility to promote genuine love in his family and justice in the land.