2 Samuel 13:21
But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth.
And King David heard of all these things, and was very wroth; but "he did not grieve the spirit of his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn" (LXX.). And he did not punish him (1 Samuel 3:13); which must be looked upon as -
I. AN OMISSION OF MANIFEST DUTY. If he had been only a father, he would have been bound to chastise his children for their misbehaviour; but, being also a king, he was under still stronger obligation to punish the guilty. To do this:
1. Properly belonged to the authority delegated to him.
2. Was expressly enjoined in the Divine Law (Leviticus 20:17).
3. Urgently demanded by the sense of justice.
4. Indispensably necessary to the protection of his subjects. "Kings, then, have not absolute power to do in their government what pleases them; their power is limited by God's Word; so that if they strike not where God has commanded to strike, they and their throne are criminal and guilty of the wickedness which abounds upon the face of the earth for lack of punishment" (John Knox).
II. UNWARRANTED BY ADEQUATE REASONS. In Israel (as in Persia and other Eastern countries) the king, as vicegerent of heaven, had a large discretionary power of dispensing with the penalties of the Law; but it behoved him to exercise it without partiality and on sufficient grounds. Although David's omission to punish is not expressly condemned, yet the consequences by which it was followed show that it took place (not, as some have supposed, on "principle," or because it was "impossible" for him to do otherwise, but) without such grounds.
1. The affection of a father. This, however, ought not to have prevented punishment by a father or judge; as it did, being inordinate and blamable, in Eli (1 Samuel 2:22, 30).
2. The rank of the offender; the king's son, his firstborn, heir to the crown. But he was not above the law; nor less guilty than another of inferior position would have been. "God is no respecter of persons."
3. The transgression and forgiveness of the king himself. Nevertheless, whilst both may have exerted a pernicious influence, Amnon was responsible for his own conduct; and David's exemption (only from legal punishment) rested on grounds which did not exist in the case of his ungodly and impenitent son. The king's wrath proves his full conviction of Amnon's guilt and his moral abhorrence of its enormity: his failure to "grieve," or inflict suffering upon him, indicates his own weakness and dereliction of duty. "Punishment is an effort of man to find a more exact relation between sin and suffering than this world affords us. A duty is laid upon us to make this relationship of sin to suffering as real, and as natural, and as exact in proportion as it is possible to be made. This is the moral root of the whole doctrine of punishment. But if the adjustment of pain to vice be the main ground of punishment, it must be admitted that there are other ends which society has in view in its infliction. These secondary elements in punishment appear to be
(1) the reformation of the offender;
(2) the prevention of further offences by the offender;
(3) the repression of offences in others" (Edward Fry, Nineteenth Century, No. 79, p. 524).
III. PRODUCTIVE OF DISASTROUS EFFECTS.
1. It does not appear to have produced any other effect on the offender than to confirm him in recklessness and fancied security. "Punishment connected with sin operates towards reform in two ways:
(1) by the association of ideas - the linking together of that from which our nature shrinks with that from which it ought to shrink, so that the temptation to sin recalls not only the pleasure of sin, but the pain of suffering;
(2) by the shock to the habits of thought and of practice which suffering produces, by the solution of continuity in the man's life which it causes, by the opportunity for reflection and thought which it thus affords" (Lord Justice Fry).
2. On others, also, it was injurious; weakening respect for royal authority and public justice, causing the law to be despised, furnishing grounds for private revenge, leading to further impunity (ver. 39; 2 Samuel 14:24, 33), more daring crimes (2 Samuel 15:7; 2 Samuel 16:21), widespread disaffection and rebellion.
3. On the king himself. Further impairing his personal, moral, kingly energy, and accumulating "sorrow upon sorrow" (vers. 31, 37; 2 Samuel 15:13). It was another link in the chain of painful consequences resulting from his great transgression; naturally, slowly, effectually wrought out under the direction and control of the perfect justice of the supreme King; accomplishing a beneficent end, in purifying his heart, restoring him to God, averting his final condemnation, and teaching, warning, benefiting mankind. "The dark sin of which he had been guilty spoke of a character that had lust its self-control, its truthfulness, its generosity. His penitence was not able to undo all its consequences and to bring back the old energy and life. Over and above its direct results in alienating the hearts of his most trusted counsellors, and placing him at the mercy of a hard taskmaster, that dark hour left behind it the penalty of an enfeebled will, the cowardice of a hidden crime, the remorse which weeps for the past, yet cannot rouse itself to the duties of the present. He leaves the sin of Amnon unpunished in spite of the fearful promise it gave of a reign of brutal passion, 'because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.' Half suspecting, apparently, that Absalom had some scheme for revenging the wrong which he had failed to redress, he has no energy to stop its execution. He shrinks only from being present at a meeting the meaning and issues of which he does not comprehend, and yet dimly fears. When the exaggerated report is brought back that Absalom had slain all his brothers - sure sign, if it had been so, that he was claiming the throne, and marching to it through the blood of his kindred - David's attitude is that of passive, panic stricken submission" (E.H. Plumptre, 'Biblical Studies,' p. 89). Who can say that he sinned with impunity? "Thenceforward the days of his years became full of evil, and if he lived (for the Lord caused death to pass from himself to the child by a vicarious dispensation), it was to be a king, with more than kingly sorrows, but with little of kingly power; to be banished by his son; bearded by his servant; betrayed by his friends; deserted by his people; bereaved of his children; and to feel all, all these bitter griefs, bound, as it were, by a chain of complicated cause and effect, to this one great, original transgression" (Blunt, 'Undesigned Coincidences,' p. 146).
"It often falls, in course of common life,
That right long time is overborne of wrong;
Through avarice, or power, or guile, or strife,
That weakens her, and makes her party strong.
But justice, though her doom she do prolong,
Yet at the last she will her own cause right."
Parallel VersesKJV: But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth.