II Samuel 13

The Word Made Fresh

1Some time passed, and David’s son Amnon fell in love with Tamar, a beautiful girl who was the sister of David’s son Absalom. 2Amnon worried himself sick over the matter because she was a virgin and seemed completely out of his reach. 3But he had a friend, Jonadab the son of David’s brother Shimeah. Jonadab was a cunning fellow. 4He said to Amnon, “You’re the king’s son. Why are you moping around every day? What’s going on with you?”

Amnon told him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”

5Jonadab said, “Well, then, take to your bed and pretend to be ill. When your father comes to check on you, tell him to let your sister Tamar come to you, that you want her to prepare a meal for you and feed you.”

6So, Amnon pretended to be so sick he couldn’t get out of bed, and when the king came to check on him, he said, “Please, send my sister Tamar and let me watch while she prepares a meal for me and feed me with her own hand.”          

7David sent word to Tamar that she should go to her brother Amnon’s house and prepare a meal for him. 8She came to Amnon, to the room where he was lying. She kneaded dough and made pastries and he watched her bake them. 9Then she set the pan down before him. But instead of eating, he told her to send everyone else out, and they left. 10Then he said to her, “Bring the food here and feed it to me with your own hands.” Tamar did as her brother asked. 11But when she came close, he seized her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister!”

12She cried, “No, my brother! Don’t force me. This is not done in Israel. Please don’t do something so sinful. 13I would be disgraced, and how would I ever overcome it? And you — you would be labeled a scoundrel in Israel. I beg you to speak to the king. He will not keep us from being married.”

14But Amnon refused to hear her pleas, and since he was stronger, he forced her and raped her. 15Then he loathed her; he now hated her more than he had ever loved her. He said, “Get out of my bed! Get out of my house!”

16“Don’t treat me so,” she cried. “Sending me away would be even more wrong than what you have already done to me!”

But Amnon wouldn’t listen. 17He called for his personal servant and told him, “Get her out of here! And lock the door behind her!”

18Tamar was wearing a long robe with sleeves, the normal dress in those days for all the king’s daughters who were virgins. So, when Amnon’s servant put her out of the house and bolted the door behind her, 19she put ashes on her head, tore her robe, put her hand on her head and went away weeping as she went.

20Her brother Absalom suspected what had happened and asked her, “Has your brother Amnon been with you? Don’t tell anyone, my sister. He is your brother. Don’t let it worry you to death.” Then Tamar stayed at Absalom’s house, disconsolate and inconsolable.

21When king David heard what had happened he was enraged, but he loved his son Amnon, his firstborn, and could not bring himself to punish him. 22As for Absalom, he said nothing to Amnon, good or bad, but he hated Amnon for raping his sister Tamar.

23Two years passed, and Absalom arranged a sheepshearing at Baal-Hazor near Ephraim. He invited all the king’s sons. 24He went to the king and said, “I’m having a sheepshearing party, and I’m inviting you and your servants to come.”

25But the king declined. “No,” he said, “we need not all go. That would be too much of a burden for you.” Absalom insisted, but though the king approved of the event, he refused to attend.

26“At least,” Absalom said, “let my brother Amnon come with us.”

“Why Amnon?” the king asked.

27But Absalom insisted, and the king agreed to allow all his sons to go.

Then Absalom prepared a feast fit for a king. 28He instructed his servants, saying, “Watch Amnon, and get him drunk with wine, and when I tell you to strike, kill him! Don’t hesitate. I will say it was done by my command. Be strong! Be brave!”

29The servants did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered, and all the king’s other sons jumped on their mules and fled. 30But while they were running away, word came to David that Absalom had killed all his sons, and not one of them was left. 31The king stood up, tore his clothing, then prostrated himself on the ground. All the servants around him tore their clothing as well. 32But Jonadab, his brother Shimeah’s son, said, “My lord, don’t believe that all your sons are dead. It’s only Amnon. Absalom decided to do this the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. 33Don’t let my lord the king grieve for all his sons. It is only Amnon that died.”

34Absalom fled. Then, when the sentinel called out that a group of riders were approaching from the Horonaim road through the valley, 35Jonadab said to the king, “See, the king’s sons are coming, just as I said.” 36He had hardly finished speaking when the king’s sons arrived, weeping loudly, and the king and all his servants also began to weep bitterly.

37Absalom fled to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur, while David grieved daily for his son Amnon. 38Absalom stayed there for three years, 39until the king was consoled for the loss of Amnon, and began to yearn for Absalom.


1-6: The troubles among David’s children begin when his son Amnon falls in love with his half-sister Tamar, sister to Absalom. Amnon is the son of David and Ahinoam (see 3:2), and is his firstborn son. Absalom and Tamar are children born to David and Maacah, princess of Geshur (see 3:3). So, Tamar is Amnon’s half-sister. Tamar is a virgin — that is, she is available for marriage, but Amnon thinks she is off limits to him because she is his half-sister. (But Abraham and Sarah were half siblings — see Genesis 20:12). Amnon’s first cousin Jonadab, David’s nephew, advises him to pretend to be sick and ask for Tamar to bring him something to eat so that he can be alone with her. He does so, and David suspects nothing(?).

7-14: The ploy works. Amnon is left alone with Tamar, and he forces her into his “sick” bed and rapes her. Note that she was willing enough to be with him, and even suggests that he speak to their father David and marry her, but he cannot wait.

15-19: Having used her, Amnon rejects her. She protests, but he has her physically removed from the premises and she is devastated.

20-22: The plot takes a dangerous turn now as Absalom’s hatred for Amnon swells. But Absalom is capable of suppressing his feelings and biding his time and is thus a dangerous man who will cause David and the whole country immeasurable grief.

23-29: Absalom waits two full years for his revenge. (Tamar’s child is more than a year old then.) He plans a festive gathering at Ephraim (away from Jerusalem, in other words) and when David refuses to go, Absalom insists on him sending Amnon. David is suspicious but relents. Absalom arranges for his servants to murder Amnon. The other princes flee on muleback. It occurs to me that in this act Absalom is just like his father David, who on at least two occasions has given the task of killing his enemies to his own “young men” (1:15, 4:12).

30-33: David receives news that all his sons are dead, and begins to mourn, but then is “assured” by his nephew Jonadab that only Amnon has been killed. Jonadab is the one who came up with the ploy that allowed Amnon to rape Tamar in the first place.

34-36: No sooner has he spoken than a watchman announces the arrival of the princes on their mules. They all gather and bewail the death of Amnon.

37-39: Absalom flees to his grandfather Talmai, king of Geshur, which is his mother Maacah’s home country (see 3:3). He stays there for three years until he is sure his father David’s grief over Amnon is spent.


Do you remember, way back in Genesis chapter six, that God’s assessment of humankind was that “human wickedness had spread over the earth, and they were inclined toward evil, and their very hearts were corrupted”? Here we are in 2 Samuel, and there has as yet not been a single human being with no faults. It has even appeared at times that God has been willing to use those faults to further God’s plan which eventually results in God’s personal entrance into the human drama in Matthew chapter one. Keep reading. It’ll take awhile, but there is good news on the horizon.