II Samuel 13–14. Amnon, Tamar and Absalom.

Key Notes: Rape. The rapist was murdered. The murderer was not punished. How not to raise kids.

The story of Absalom is the working out of God's judgment on David for his sin with Bathsheba. It also has human explanations--a household in which the father gave no discipline to his sons. No ordinary children, these were sons of the king, spoiled and unprincipled, contemptuous and ultimately murderous. There are valuable lessons for us and our families. There are five players in this episode.

Ammon is David’s first-born, the crown-prince.
Absalom is the third in line; Chileab,the second son, disappears, probably having died young, leaving Absalom as Amnon’s rival for the throne.
Tamar is Absalom’s beautiful sister, Amnon’s half-sister.
Jonadab is Amnon’s cousin, the son of David’s brother, Shimeah, and a sly intimate of the palace.

13:1–19 Tamar was the love-object of her half-brother Amnon. He was infatuated, made himself sick, haggard, lusting after her. Infatuation plus status spells trouble. Jonadab ben-Shimeah told him how to get her attention: pretend illness and ask for her to feed him. He may not have envisioned the outcome, but was certainly helpful in circumventing palace security, which protected the virgin daughters of the king. David went to see Amnon and he asked that Tamar make cakes for him. David had to provide clearance for Tamar, and he authorized Tamar to help Amnon. This made David innocently complicit in the disaster.

Amnon raped her in spite of her protests:
*He was committing folly in Israel, as in the rape of Dinah. (Gen.34:7)
*She would be forever shamed.
*He would be as one of the wanton fools.
*If he wanted her, the king might arrange a marriage. (Although forbidden by Old Testament Law.Lev.18:9 there was precedent in Abram’s marriage to Sarah, his half-sister. Gen.20:01.

Then he hated her, and drove her away. She went away desolated, crying, her robe torn, ashes on her head as a sign of mourning.

Why did what began as love end as hate? The psychology of rape and its attendant violence is complex as contemporary literature affirms. We can speculate that Amnon hated himself for being a brute. He had crushed a lovely flower and could not stand the sight of the ruin he had done.

13:20–29 Absalom consoled her as best he could. He took her into his house, where she could be “auntie” to his children. He did not say a word to Amnon. David was very angry but did nothing. The Greek OT (LXX) adds “…he did not grieve the spirit of his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his first-born.”

The Law forbids incest (Lev.20:17) and commands the death-penalty for rape (Deut.22:25), or marriage in cases of seduction. (Ex.22:16). The earlier statement that “David administered justice and equity to all his people” (IISam.8:15) now appears painfully weak.

Two years passed and Absalom invited all the king's sons to his sheep-shearing. Absalom also invited David but he declined, while reluctantly agreeing to let Amnon and all the king's sons attend. (David was suspicious—why specify Amnon?—but assumed that all would be well and shrugged it off.) Absalom had his servants kill Amnon when he was drunk. All the king's sons got on their mules and fled, probably fearing for their own lives.

This was not eye-for-eye, tooth-for-tooth, as Torah commands (Ex.21:24). This was an honor-killing, a common practice in the Middle-East, and the basis for family feuds. IISam.14:1–24

13:30–33 Word got back to David that all the king's sons were dead, but Jonadab corrected the record: only Amnon was dead. He knew that because he had been in on the plot. Jonadab confirmed his word when all the king’s sons were returning from the shearing.

13:34–39 Absalom escaped to Talmai, king of Geshur, the home of his mother. (IISam.3:3). He stayed there in self-imposed exile for three years. David wanted to reach out Absalom, relieved that Amnon was dead.

14:1–24 But David did not reach out to Absalom. Joab broke the deadlock on David’s behalf. He sent a wise woman of Tekoa to David with a parable about one of her sons killing the other and now everyone wanted the blood-feud carried on. She did not want to lose her only remaining son. David agreed that her son would be protected. Then the woman turned and asked why David did not bring his banished son home. This is the parable-method that Nathan had used, done with diplomacy and skill. David detected the hand of Joab in this affair and she confessed that Joab had incited her. So David commanded Joab to get Absalom back. Joab was glad that his favor had been granted, but I cannot read his motive. However, David told Joab not to allow Absalom into his presence. So Absalom was brought home, but remained in limbo.

14:25–33 Absalom was very handsome, with long, heavy hair (a yearly cut yielded 4.5 lb). He stayed in Jerusalem for two years without seeing David, five years after Amnon’s death. Absalom sent for Joab’s help, but he would not come, so Absalom contrived to get his attention by burning his barley fields. Then Joab interceded for Absalom to return to the king's presence. Absalom was frustrated. He would have been better off in Geshur where he was on good terms. He begged to be confronted by David and punished, even executed if that was right. David kissed Absalom but said nothing. There was still no forgiveness and no reconciliation between father and son.

David was relieved that Amnon was dead without his intervention. But he could not forgive Absalom for murder, nor could he punish him. He loved Absalom (IISam.13:39) even after he usurped the kingdom. (IISam.18:13). David’s ambivalence (double-mindedness) worked against him. His love demanded that he give unconditional acceptance; murder demanded that he give just punishment. He invited contempt and played into Absalom’s desire for power.

David had no disciplinary backbone. Of Adonijah, another of his sons, it was said "His father had never at any time displeased him by asking 'Why have you done thus and so?'" (I K. 1:6). Adonijah was also a handsome man, born next in line to Absalom. Yet David executed the Amalekite who claimed to kill Saul (II Sam.1:14), and the Benjaminites who killed Ishbosheth.. IISam.4:10

We may speculate that David had a poor upbringing, with no fathering and little mothering. His father neglected to bring him to Samuel with his brothers. (I Sam 16:5,11). His brothers disparaged him. (I Sam 17:28)
There are only three references to "father" in the psalm attributed to David and they give us hints of rejection.
     "For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up." (Psa.27:10)
     "Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation." (Psa.68:5)
     "As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities those who fear him." (Psa.10:13)

There are 7 references to "mother" in the Psalms:

"Thou art He who took me from the womb; Thou didst keep me safe upon my mother's breasts. Upon Thee was I cast from my  birth, and since my mother bore me Thou hast been my God." (Psa.22:10)
"I went about as one who laments his mother, bowed down and in mourning.” (Psa.35:14)
"I was brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me." (Psa.51:5)
"I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother's breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul." (Psa.131:2)
"I have become a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my mother's sons." (Psa.69:8)
"Upon Thee I have leaned from my birth; Thou art He who took me from my mother's womb." (Psa.71:6)
"Thou didst form my inward parts, Thou didst knit Me together in my mother's womb." (Psa.139:13)

In contrast there are‘ references to "father" in the Proverbs (probably written by Solomon) and they are strong. Did David bring up Solomon better than his other children?

These references make it sound as if David was deprived as a child. He went from being the neglected youngest of Jesse’s sons in the sheep-fold to being Saul's court musician, then an outcast, learning as he went along about war, leadership and women. But he had no time for his children, like many other famous men in high places. He belonged to everyone. His children belonged to no one. Perhaps Solomon was an exception.

But David was unable to discipline other members of his retinue like Joab, either. It was not simply a matter of not knowing how to behave as a father. He could have done better with justice in general, otherwise Absalom could not have taken advantage of the political situation so easily, sighing that he could give real justice in Israel. Obviously Absalom himself had had little justice done.

What should have been done? “When should I start disciplining my child?” a young mother asked her pediatrician. “Twenty-five years before he’s born”, the doctor replied.

How does our Heavenly Father treat us?

“’My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage when you are punished by Him. For the Lord disciplines him whom He loves, and chastises every son whom He receives. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respected them.... For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. ” (Heb.12:5–10)

Thank God for His discipline in your life!
Ask God’s guidance in the discipline of your children.