The Rape of Tamar, 2 Samuel 13

tissot-james-absalom-causeth-amnon-to-be-slain1 Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar; and after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her.  2 And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her.  3 But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shime-ah, David’s brother; and Jonadab was a very crafty man.  4 And he said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”  5 Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed, and pretend to be ill; and when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it, and eat it from her hand.’”  6 So Amnon lay down, and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Pray let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.” 

7 Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare food for him.”  8 So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. And she took dough, and kneaded it, and made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes.  9 And she took the pan and emptied it out before him, but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, “Send out every one from me.” So every one went out from him.  10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.  11 But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.”  12 She answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this wanton folly.  13 As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the wanton fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.”  14 But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she, he forced her, and lay with her. 

15 Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred; so that 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.”  16 But she said to him, “No, my brother; for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other which you did to me.” But he would not listen to her.  17 He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence, and bolt the door after her.”  18 Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves; for thus were the virgin daughters of the king clad of old. So his servant put her out, and bolted the door after her.  19 And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent the long robe which she wore; and she laid her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went. 

20 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 dwelt, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house.  21 When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.  22 But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad; for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar. 

23 After two full years Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons.  24 And Absalom came to the king, and said, “Behold, your servant has sheepshearers; pray let the king and his servants go with your servant.”  25 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.  26 Then Absalom said, “If not, pray let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said to him, “Why should he go with you?”  27 But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him.  28 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. Fear not; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.”  29 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. 

tissot-james-absalom-causeth-amnon-to-be-slain30 While they were on the way, tidings came to David, “Absalom has slain all the king’s sons, and not one of them is left.”  31 Then the king arose, and rent his garments, and lay on the earth; and all his servants who were standing by rent their garments.  32 But Jonadab the son of Shime-ah, 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 forced his sister Tamar.  33 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.” 

34 But Absalom fled. And the young man who kept the watch lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold, many people were coming from the Horonaim road by the side of the mountain.  35 And Jonadab said to the king, “Behold, the king’s sons have come; as your servant said, so it has come about.”  36 And as soon as he had finished speaking, behold, the king’s sons came, and lifted up their voice and wept; and the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly. 

37 But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son day after day.  38 So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three years.  39 And the spirit of the king longed to go forth to Absalom; for he was comforted about Amnon, seeing he was dead. 2Sam. 13:1-39

None of this sorry tail happened in a vacuum. It lies in-between the incidents with Bathsheba, and the revolt and civil war that Absalom brought down on David.  Without this context Absalom’s revolt seems to have no rationale. But his actions were not in a vacuum. He had cause. As this tail illustrates, David was unjust.

None of us like to admit that great men of God often have feet of clay. We want to teach and recall the younger David, the perfect David. We want to remember his battles, his refusal to lift his hand against Saul. We plead for the perfect, young, bold, and dashing David. Not this old man with no self control, no justice, no moral authority. As is often the case with God, our judgments come from those who are even worse than ourselves. And Absalom was in the end far more corrupt than the father he sought to dethrone.

Amnon is the heir apparent. As David’s oldest son he was the natural presumptive future king [2 Sam 2:3]. From what is here, and we have nothing else to go on, he was as unwise, selfish, narcissist, who cared nothing about the consequences of his actions. After all his father David bore no personal consequences for his own actions in the previous chapter.

Absalom is the third son. He probably figured he has no chance at all at the throne.  But Amnon is about to prove his unworthiness, spectacularly, and Absalom is not about to waist this chance. Oh he is angry, but he is also going to seize upon this opportunity, to remove a rival to the throne.

Amnon has a friend and cousin Jonadab. He is one of those fellows who attaches himself to the powerful. So at first we see him here with Amnon. He is befriending the one who looks as if he will one day be the king. Always good to be the one who got the powerful man what he wanted.  So it is he that cooks up the ruse of being sick in order to get to Tamar.

David willingly sends Tamar to take care of her brother. Odd he didn’t see this coming because clearly Absalom did. Absalom knew why Tamar was crying before she told him.  Amnon’s either had a reputation of taking women or it was common knowledge that he wanted Tamar. But David seems oblivious, and indulges what he thinks is a sick man’s request.

FYI: English translators are alway squeamish about all thing sexual, and go to great lengths to down play the actual bluntness of the Hebrew. In this RSV translation it says in verse 12 c.f. 14, 22, 32 “do not do this wanton folly.” A better English translation would probably be “do no violate me”.

When this disgraceful attack happens, Tamar tries to get away for Amnon with the suggestion that David, if asked, will give her to Amnon. It is hard to tell if this was plausible or just subterfuge to get away from him. Ezekiel decries and condemns the practice in his day. But there is 400 years between Ezekiel and David  [Ezek. 22:10]. Brother sister marriage was common among the royalty of the Egyptians and some think also among the Canaanites. However it is in the list of condemned incestuous relationships in the Law [Lev 18].

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, the daughter of your father or the daughter of your mother, whether born at home or born abroad. Lev. 18:9

It took Absalom two years of careful planning to get his revenge and some justice for Tamar. He must have planned all this quite carefully. First he does something none of his brothers seem willing to do. He is the only prince that has gone down to oversee the sheep shearing, which was after all the family’s business. He is showing himself as the responsible one. The one the family and the nation can depend on to get things done. He is making it plain for everyone to see that he is to be preferred over Amnon for the crown.

 FYI: This is happening at the time of the sheep shearing, interesting to note that it was at the time of the sheep shearing that the first Tamar tricked her father-in-law Judah into sleeping with her, in order to have children for her dead husband [Gen 38].

When Absalom arranges Amnon’s death, David hears the report and thinks all his sons are dead, but it is Jonadab who knows and assures him that only Amnon has been killed. Jonadab once again is staying close to where the power is. After the murder, Absalom flees to his Uncle Talmai the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. [2 Sam. 3:3] He must have continued his planning. Because three years later when David brings him back to court, he subtly begins to undermined David’s authority.

The emotions in all of this are quite interesting and perplexing. First Amnon desires and loves Tamar only to turn on her with great hate. Either this is from guilt or the experience was not what he had fantasied. The Text also says that Absalom hated Amnon which is quite understandable. But David’s reaction to all of this is quite puzzling. David’s hatred was not the normal word for hate, but rather a burning hate. In spite of this David does nothing to Amnon.

In the chapter before this on David took Uriah’s wife, he then had Uriah killed.  Nathan the prophet confronted him in the presence of the whole court, and pronounced God judgment.

Thus says the LORD,  ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. 2 Sam. 12:11 

tissot-james-absalom-hanging-on-the-oak-treeIt is as though David has lost his moral authority after his affair with Bathsheba.  As he does nothing to Amnon for the rape of Tamar, and he will do nothing to Absalom in the following chapters, even though he leads a full out civil war against David. It is as the prophet predicted and he knows that nothing he can do will change the course of events.

In the following chapters Absalom begins to present himself as the prince that is the logical choice for king. David’s inability to act sets up a whole series of events in which Absalom usurps the throne, partly on a charge that the king is unjust. He will begin by setting up a court system outside of the king’s justice system. In the end David must flee for his life, and Absalom does indeed rape some of David’s wives on the rooftop in the eyes of the people. Still David will not order his son’s death. To the very end he wants to forgive. It is Joab who puts an end to Absalom.

There is nothing anyone can do, if events or circumstance are foretold by God, no amount of praying or bargaining with God will work. If He has said it, it will truly come to pass. We cannot vote or make a proposal, set new goals and objectives, in order to get our way. Sometime like David we must simply endure.

If any one is to be taken captive, to captivity he goes; if any one slays with the sword, with the sword must he be slain. Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints. Rev. 13:10

David marred the image of God’s love by taking Bathsheba another man’s wife. Then the whole thing snowballed out of control as his whole family was caught up in the injustice.

But if you will not do so, behold, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out. Num. 32:23

The important thing to remember is no matter how out of whack things seem to be we must continue to seek and do the will of God. Our prayer is THY will be done, and those who follow the Lord keep His commandments. [Matt. 6:10; John 14:15] When in doubt always go back to those Ten Commandments. They are the way we keep things straight between God and man, and man and man.


2 thoughts on “The Rape of Tamar, 2 Samuel 13

  1. Good stuff, as usual, Laurel. Did you also notice a couple of other things about 2 Samuel 13:12:
    …don’t force me…
    עָנָה (ʿānâ) afflict, oppress, humble.
    Genesis 34:2 [Shechem] violated [Dinah] (same word)

    …this wicked thing…
    נְבָלָה (nĕbālâ) folly.
    This word is related directly to נָבָל (nābāl). Fool. (Sound familiar?) 1 Samuel 25 tells of Nabal, the first husband of Abigail. This history would have been well-known to David’s whole family.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s