2 Samuel 13
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Ch. 2 Samuel 13:1-22. Amnon’s shameful outrage

This chapter relates how the doom pronounced on David’s house began to receive its fulfilment (1) by Amnon’s shameful outrage on Tamar, (2) by Absalom’s murder of Amnon in revenge for that outrage.

The events here related probably occurred soon after David’s marriage with Bath-sheba. See Introd. ch. IV. p. 26.

Dean Stanley points out how “the story, revolting as it is, has the interest of revealing to us the interior of the royal household beyond that of any other incident of those times. (1) The establishments of the princes. (2) The simplicity of the royal employments. (3) The dress of the princesses. (4) The relation of the king to the princesses and to the law.” Smith’s Dict. of the Bible, iii. 1433.

And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her.
1. Tamar] Tamar and Absalom were the children of Maacah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur (ch. 2 Samuel 3:3). Tamar means palm-tree. The Arabs still frequently give their daughters the names of trees distinguished for their grace, beauty, or fruitfulness. See Van Lennep’s Bible Lands, II. 501.

Amnon] David’s first-born, the son of Ahinoam the Jezreelitess.

And Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do any thing to her.
2. Amnon thought it hard] It seemed impossible to Amnon. Tamar lived a secluded life in the women’s apartments, where Amnon could not obtain access to her.

But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David's brother: and Jonadab was a very subtil man.
3. a friend] This narrative is a strong warning against the danger of evil companions. The clever but unprincipled friend is more likely to provide means for gratifying evil passions than help in resisting them.

Jonadab, the son of Shimeah] Shimeah is called Shammah in 1 Samuel 16:9. He had another son Jonathan (ch. 2 Samuel 21:21).

subtil] The word means simply wise, and pronounces no judgment on the way in which Jonadab misused his sagacity. Cp. Job 5:13; Jeremiah 4:22.

And he said unto him, Why art thou, being the king's son, lean from day to day? wilt thou not tell me? And Amnon said unto him, I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister.
4. Why, &c.] Why art thou so wasted, O king’s son, morning by morning? His cousin Jonadab either lived in the same house with Amnon as his companion, or noticed his worn looks when he came to visit him at his morning levee.

And Jonadab said unto him, Lay thee down on thy bed, and make thyself sick: and when thy father cometh to see thee, say unto him, I pray thee, let my sister Tamar come, and give me meat, and dress the meat in my sight, that I may see it, and eat it at her hand.
5. make thyself sick] Feign thyself sick, and so in 2 Samuel 13:6.

to see thee] To visit in sickness, as in Psalm 41:6; 2 Kings 8:29.

So Amnon lay down, and made himself sick: and when the king was come to see him, Amnon said unto the king, I pray thee, let Tamar my sister come, and make me a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat at her hand.
6. cakes] The word occurs here only, and may denote some special delicacy suited for an invalid.

Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, Go now to thy brother Amnon's house, and dress him meat.
7. home] Into the house: the inner part of the palace, where the women’s apartments were.

to thy brother Amnon’s house] Cp. 2 Samuel 13:20. Each of the royal princes evidently had a separate house.

So Tamar went to her brother Amnon's house; and he was laid down. And she took flour, and kneaded it, and made cakes in his sight, and did bake the cakes.
8. flour] The dough.

And she took a pan, and poured them out before him; but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, Have out all men from me. And they went out every man from him.
9. a pan] The pan in which the cakes or puddings had been cooked.

And Amnon said unto Tamar, Bring the meat into the chamber, that I may eat of thine hand. And Tamar took the cakes which she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.
And when she had brought them unto him to eat, he took hold of her, and said unto her, Come lie with me, my sister.
And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly.
12. no such thing ought to be done in Israel] Israel was a holy nation, sanctified by the peculiar presence of Jehovah among them; and therefore all acts of unchastity were an offence against the true character and calling of the nation. Such acts might be common among heathen nations, but to Israel they were forbidden by the Law, which placed them on a loftier level of morality.

And I, whither shall I cause my shame to go? and as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee.
13. as one of the fools in Israel] “Fool” denotes not merely one who is stupid and ignorant, but one who has abandoned the fear of God, and cast off the restraints of decency and morality. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 3:33; Psalm 14:1. “Folly” is a term specially applied to unchastity.

he will not withhold me from thee] The marriage of half-brothers and sisters was permitted in patriarchal times, as is shewn by the example of Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 20:12), but was expressly forbidden by the Mosaic law. Either the law was not strictly observed at this time, or Tamar, hoping to escape immediate violence, suggested that the king had a dispensing power, and might permit a regular marriage.

Howbeit he would not hearken unto her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her.
Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone.
15. hated her exceedingly] “Proprium humani ingenii est odisse quem laeseris.” “It is characteristic of human nature to hate one whom you have injured.” Tac. Agric. c. 42.

And she said unto him, There is no cause: this evil in sending me away is greater than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her.
16. There is no cause] The Heb. text cannot be so translated, and is certainly corrupt. The Sept. is also confused, but its original reading as indicated by the Old Latin Version gives an excellent sense, thus; “And she said unto him, Nay, my brother, for greater will be this latter wrong, in sending me away, than the former that thou didst unto me.”

Then he called his servant that ministered unto him, and said, Put now this woman out from me, and bolt the door after her.
And she had a garment of divers colours upon her: for with such robes were the king's daughters that were virgins apparelled. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her.
18. a garment of divers colours] The expression is used elsewhere only of Joseph’s “coat of many colours” (Genesis 37:3; Genesis 37:23), and probably means a long tunic with sleeves, worn, it would seem, as an outer garment in place of the usual mantle. The fact of her wearing this distinctive dress is mentioned, to shew that the servant and the people who met her in the street would at once recognise who she was.

And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of divers colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying.
19. And Tamar put ashes, &c.] The ashes and the torn garments (1 Samuel 4:12; Esther 4:1), and the hands clasped above the head (Jeremiah 2:37), were all marks of grief and shame.

went on crying] Went away shrieking as she went; not lamenting with silent tears, but with loud passionate shrieks and wailing.

And Absalom her brother said unto her, Hath Amnon thy brother been with thee? but hold now thy peace, my sister: he is thy brother; regard not this thing. So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom's house.
20. Amnon] The Heb. form here, and here only, is Aminon, which has been explained as a diminutive intended to express contempt, but may possibly be only an accidental variation.

hold now thy peace] Absalom urged her to bear the outrage patiently, and avoid a public scandal; feeling sure that David would not be persuaded to inflict an adequate punishment on Amnon, and intending to watch his own opportunity for revenge. To him, according to Oriental custom, belonged the duty of avenging his sister’s wrongs. Cp. Genesis 34:27.

desolate] Ruined and deserted. Cp. Isaiah 54:1, where “the desolate” is contrasted with the married wife.

But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth.
21. was very wroth] The Sept. and the ordinary text of the Vulgate add, “and he vexed not the spirit of Amnon his son, because he loved him, because he was his firstborn,” i.e. in spite of his anger he did not punish or even rebuke the offence, though the legal penalty of his crime was death. David’s indulgent treatment of his sons was a fruitful source of mischief (cp. 1 Kings 1:6), and led in this case to the murder of Amnon, and ultimately to Absalom’s rebellion. The consciousness of his own guilt moreover weakened his hands for dealing with Amnon’s offence.

And Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad: for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.
22. neither good nor bad] He made no allusion whatever to the matter, in order to quiet Amnon’s suspicions. For the phrase cp. Genesis 24:50; Genesis 31:24.

And it came to pass after two full years, that Absalom had sheepshearers in Baalhazor, which is beside Ephraim: and Absalom invited all the king's sons.
23–29. Absalom’s vengeance

23. Absalom had sheepshearers] Sheepshearing was and still is an occasion of festivity. Cp. 1 Samuel 25:7 ff.

Baal-hazor, which is beside Ephraim] Possibly Tell Asur, five miles north-east of Bethel, and two miles north-west of et-Taiyibeh, which is supposed to represent Ephraim. The preposition beside or near implies that Ephraim is here the name of a town not of the tribe territory. Cp. John 11:54.

And Absalom came to the king, and said, Behold now, thy servant hath sheepshearers; let the king, I beseech thee, and his servants go with thy servant.
24. let the king, &c.] A clever plan for removing all suspicion from Amnon’s mind.

And the king said to Absalom, Nay, my son, let us not all now go, lest we be chargeable unto thee. And he pressed him: howbeit he would not go, but blessed him.
25. lest we be chargeable unto thee] Lest we be burdensome unto thee. Chargeable is derived from charge, in the now obsolete sense of ‘a load’ or ‘burden,’ cp. 1 Thessalonians 2:9. It is “the first instance history offers of the ruinous cost of royal visits to those who are honoured with them.” Kitto’s Bible Illustr. p. 387.

blessed him] i.e. dismissed him with a farewell blessing. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 19:39.

Then said Absalom, If not, I pray thee, let my brother Amnon go with us. And the king said unto him, Why should he go with thee?
26. let my brother Amnon go] If David would not go himself, at least he might send his eldest son as his representative. David’s reluctance to consent shews that he felt some misgivings that Absalom had not forgiven Amnon.

But Absalom pressed him, that he let Amnon and all the king's sons go with him.
27. At the end of this verse, the Sept. adds, “And Absalom made a feast like the feast of a king.” The words may easily have dropped out of the Hebrew text owing to the similar endings of the sentences.

Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying, Mark ye now when Amnon's heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you, Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant.
28. Now Absalom had commanded] And Absalom commanded. Absalom felt himself bound in honour to avenge his sister’s wrong, and moreover welcomed the pretext for getting rid of Amnon, who stood between himself and the succession to the throne.

And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king's sons arose, and every man gat him up upon his mule, and fled.
29. did unto Amnon, &c.] Though the princes were attended by a numerous retinue (2 Samuel 13:34), the blow was struck so suddenly and unexpectedly, that no resistance was possible, and Absalom escaped without difficulty.

upon his mule] Mules were generally used for riding at this time by persons of distinction, as Absalom (ch. 2 Samuel 18:9), David, and Solomon (1 Kings 1:33; 1 Kings 1:38).

And it came to pass, while they were in the way, that tidings came to David, saying, Absalom hath slain all the king's sons, and there is not one of them left.
30–39. The news brought to David. Absalom’s flight

31. tare his garments] Rent his clothes. The E. V. has introduced a distinction which does not exist in the Hebrew. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 1:11.

lay on the earth] Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 12:16.

and all his servants, &c.] The Sept. and Vulg. represent a slightly different reading; “And all his servants, who stood by him, rent their clothes.”

Then the king arose, and tare his garments, and lay on the earth; and all his servants stood by with their clothes rent.
And Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David's brother, answered and said, Let not my lord suppose that they have slain all the young men the king's sons; for Amnon only is dead: for by the appointment of Absalom this hath been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar.
32. Let not my lord suppose, &c.] A practical illustration of the sagacity for which Jonadab was famous (2 Samuel 13:3). He at once rejects the exaggerations of rumour, and predicts accurately what had really happened.

by the appointment of Absalom this hath been determined] Lit., upon Absalom’s mouth hath it been set; that is, Absalom’s sinister looks have all along betrayed his determination to kill Amnon; or, his purpose has been obvious from his words; but the latter explanation is less likely, as Absalom seems to have dissembled his revenge in order to disarm Amnon’s suspicion.

Now therefore let not my lord the king take the thing to his heart, to think that all the king's sons are dead: for Amnon only is dead.
But Absalom fled. And the young man that kept the watch lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came much people by the way of the hill side behind him.
34. But Absalom fled] This brief statement of Absalom’s escape is inserted here in anticipation of 2 Samuel 13:37-38, in order to contrast Absalom’s flight with the return of the king’s sons to Jerusalem.

the young man that kept the watch] At Jerusalem, probably in the tower over one of the gates. Cp. ch. 2 Samuel 18:24.

much people] The princes had been attended by a numerous retinue of followers.

by the way of the hill side behind him] From the way behind him from the side of the hill: that is probably, if the text is sound, from the west. But the Sept. has important variations, thus: “And behold much people were coming in the way behind him by the side of the hill at the descent. And the watchman came and told the king, and said, I have seen men coming from the way of Oronen, by the side of the hill. And Jonadab said,” &c. Oronen may represent Horonaim or Beth-horon, the dual form referring to the two places of that name, the “Upper” and “Lower” Beth-horon—which lay north-west of Jerusalem.

And Jonadab said unto the king, Behold, the king's sons come: as thy servant said, so it is.
And it came to pass, as soon as he had made an end of speaking, that, behold, the king's sons came, and lifted up their voice and wept: and the king also and all his servants wept very sore.
But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day.
37. But Absalom fled, &c.] Now Absalom had fled and gone to Talmai. The narrative goes back to 2 Samuel 13:34. Talmai was Absalom’s grandfather. See note on ch. 2 Samuel 3:3.

And David mourned] David has fallen out of the Heb. text, but is found in the Sept. and Vulg., and is clearly necessary to the sense.

for his son] Amnon, not Absalom, is meant. His first feeling towards Absalom was one of anger.

So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three years.
38. “If the text of these verses is sound, they afford a curious specimen of Hebrew narrative. In 2 Samuel 13:34 we read Absalom fled; in 2 Samuel 13:37, Absalom fled and went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur; in 2 Samuel 13:38, Absalom fled and went to Geshur and was there three years. At each step of the narrative only the fact is brought out which is wanted, (1) the flight; (2) the place whither he fled; (3) the duration of the absence; but with each new fact the old ones on which it depends are repeated.” Speaker’s Comm.

And the soul of king David longed to go forth unto Absalom: for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead.
39. And the soul of king David, &c.] The Heb. of this verse is obscure, and has been made to bear almost opposite meanings. (1) The E. V., following the Jewish commentators, supplies the soul as the subject of the verb, which is feminine. It describes David as pining for the return of Absalom, after his sorrow for Amnon’s death had abated. To this interpretation it may be objected, (a) that the verb, in the voice used here, does not mean longed: (b) that if David had been anxious for Absalom’s return, he might have recalled him at once, whereas even when by Joab’s instrumentality he had been brought back to Jerusalem, he was not admitted to the royal presence. (2) By taking the verb impersonally we may obtain the sense, David desisted from going forth against Absalom (so the Vulg. “cessavitque rex David persequi Absalom;” and probably the Sept.), i.e. he gave up plans of pursuit and revenge; or by emending the text according to a very probable conjecture, the king’s wrath ceased to go forth against Absalom. Either of these renderings gives the general sense which seems to be required by the context, that David’s active hostility towards Absalom was mitigated by the lapse of time.

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