In our last essay we studied the first half of 2 Samuel, chapter 13, which is an account of Amnon’s rape of his half-sister Tamar. Thus began the fulfillment of the Lord’s prediction that David’s family would suffer because of David’s sins. In this essay we will complete our study of chapter 13, which tells us about Absolom’s revenge on his brother Amnon.
At the end of the last study (13:21-22), we learned that Absolom said nothing to Amnon about Amnon’s rape of Tamar at the time, but he hated his brother for the act. Now in verses 23-27 we learn that Absolom was biding his time for revenge. The exact location of Baal-Hazor is unknown. But evidently Absalom owned some property there, where he raised sheep. Sheepshearing time traditionally was a feast time.
So two years after the rape of Tamar, at sheep-shearing time, Absalom held a feast. And he invited his father, the king, and all of the king’s sons. Notice that Absalom invited the king personally (v. 24). But David turned down the invitation (v. 25). David’s suggestion that it would have been a burden for Absalom for David to attend the feast was correct. David couldn’t just go, as though it were a Saturday cook out. His presence would have required considerable security, and a large retinue of servants and officials accompanied him wherever he went. However, after special pleading, David gave permission for his sons to attend (vv. 26-27).
The particular mention of Amnon among all of the sons in verse 26 was not because of his role in the rape. It was because he was the crown prince. If David could not attend, then Amnon as the crown prince would represent him. Apparently, David believed that the mess with Tamar was in the forgotten past; and he didn’t fear that Absalom would retaliate, because he gave permission for all his sons, including the crown prince, to attend.
In verse 27 we once again have an additional sentence in the Greek Old Testament, which the NRSV includes. It reads, “Absalom made a feast like a king’s feast.” Some commentators suggest that this had implications in respect to Absalom’s own pretensions to the throne. Amnon’s death would make Absalom next in line. But that seems a bit of a stretch to me. The only appropriate feast for all of the king’s sons, including the crown prince, would be “a feast like a king’s feast.”
In verses 28-29 we see that with extra assurance from Absalom, Absolom’s servants assassinated Amnon. That was a rather brave thing for them to do. In effect, Absalom told them he would take the responsibility. But in that kind of culture, there were no assurances that Absalom actually could protect them. At any rate, they did what he commanded them.
The murder of Amnon created chaos at the feast. The other sons of David immediately fled the scene. Then in verses 30-36 we see something happen that we ought to expect in situations such as this, but we rarely do. The rumor mill immediately went to full speed. Somehow a report came to king David that all of his sons were dead (v. 30). And he believed it. David instantly went into grief. He tore his clothing and lay on the ground in his grief (v. 31). This is certainly understandable. Not only did he think that all of his sons were dead, he undoubtedly felt some guilt, thinking his approval of the affair made him partially responsible. David’s servants loyally joined him in grieving.
Then Jonadab, the same Jonadab who helped Amnon plan his crime, brought a bit of sanity to the situation. He grasped the fact that Absalom had no quarrel with any of his brothers other than Amnon, and Jonadab told the king that Amnon would be the only one dead (32-33).
Jonadab’s assessment of the situation soon proved true, as the king’s sons came riding up on their mules. They joined David and his servants in the weeping for Amnon (vv. 34-36). In verses 37-39 we see that Absalom had his revenge; but it was at great expense. He ended up fleeing from the authorities. Thus the incident ended in a kind of banishment for Absalom. He maintained his freedom; but he lost fellowship with his family in Israel, and lost all hope of any claim to the crown.
Absolom fled to, and took refuge in, the country of Geshur. Geshur was a kind of buffer state between Israel and Syria. It was located north of Gilead. It could be expected that Absalom would go there, because Talmai, the king of Geshur, was Absalom’s grandfather on his mother, Maacah’s, side. Absalom stayed with his grandfather for three years (vv. 37-38).
The reference in verse 37 to David’s mourning is a reference to Amnon. But verse 39, which has some major translation problems, suggests that after the three years of Absalom’s absence, the sting of Amnon’s loss to David had lessened; and he began to long for Absalom. However, as we shall see, David did nothing to bring Absalom home.
All right, turning to application, what must we take away from this lesson? First, this story illustrates one reason why the Bible teaches. “Vengeance is mine, says the Lord.” Had Absalom let God handle the revenge instead of taking it upon himself, he would have saved himself a lot of trouble, even though things turned out fairly well for him after his three-year exile.
Second, David continued to show lack of wisdom in personal and family matters. If he didn’t feel guilt for his part in the murder of Amnon, he should have. He deceived himself when he believed that the bitter wounds cut by Amnon’s rape were healed enough to allow bringing the entire family, including Absalom and Amnon, together.
Third, there is confirmation of a standard principle; namely, that we should not believe everything we hear. The report that all of David’s sons were killed was patently untrue, but David believed it. We always should await confirmation of such information. It often is wrong.