2 Samuel 13 COMMENTARY (Pulpit)

2 Samuel 13
Pulpit Commentary
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.
Verse 1. - After this. This phrase, as we have seen on 2 Samuel 10:1, has little chronological force, but the date of the sad event which formed the second stage in David's punishment can be settled with considerable certainty. Tamar was the daughter of Maacah, a princess of Geshur, and David's marriage with her, while still at Hebron, is mentioned as a proof of his growing power, and consequently some time must have elapsed after his appointment as king before this alliance took place. As Absalom was apparently older than Tamar, if she were now fifteen or sixteen years of age. David would have been king of all Israel at least thirteen or fourteen years, and would have reached the summit of his glory. His wars would be over, Rabbah captured, and his empire firmly established. For twenty more years he must sit upon his throne, but as a culprit, and bear the many sorrows resulting from his sin. Amnon was David's firstborn, the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; and probably he would never have committed his shameless crime had not David's own sin loosed the bonds of parental authority. As it was, he hesitated, but was encouraged to it by his cousin, who was too subtle a man not to weigh David's character well before coming to the conclusion that Amnon might safely gratify his lusts. The name Tamar means "palm tree," and both she and Absalom were remarkable for their personal beauty.
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.
Verse 2. - Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick. The Hebrew literally is, and it was narrow to Amnon, even to becoming sick. To an Oriental a feeling of narrowness means distress, while in joy there is a sense of largeness and expansion. Our words for distress have lost this picturesque force. That Amnon thought it hard does not mean that he had any feeling for his sister's disgrace, but that he knew that his attempt was difficult. He did not see how he could get Tamar into his power, and feared the consequences. The wives had each her own dwelling, and the daughters were kept in strict seclusion.
But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David's brother: and Jonadab was a very subtil man.
Verse 3. - Jonadab, the son of Shimeah. He is called Shammah in 1 Samuel 16:9, and is there described as Jesse's third son. A brother of Jonadab, named Jonathan, is mentioned in 2 Samuel 21:21 as a valiant soldier who slew one of the Philistine giants. Subtil is not used in a bad sense, but means clever, ready in devising means.
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.
Verse 4. - Why art thou, being the king's son, lean? The Hebrew is, Why, O son of the king, dost thou pine away morning by morning? There was probably a gathering of friends every morning at the young prince's house, and his cousin, attending this levee, noticed Amnon's melancholy, and, having forced a confession from him, is unscrupulous enough to suggest a plan that would make Tamar her brother's victim.
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.
Verse 5. - When thy father cometh to see thee. While the daughters lived in Oriental seclusion in the dwellings of their mothers, the sons seem to have had separate apartments assigned them in the palace. And David evidently was an affectionate father, who even went to the abodes of his sons in a loving and unceremonious way, to see how they fared. But Jonadab abused the king's affection, and made it the very means of removing the obstacles in the way of his daughter's disgrace. And like the whole tribe of flatterers and time servers, he employed his cleverness to gratify his patron's momentary passion, indifferent to the miserable consequences which must inevitably follow. For the least punishment which Amnon would have to bear would be exclusion from the succession to the crown, besides disgrace and his father's anger. Absalom, who was three or four years younger than Ashen, he despised, and counted for nothing.
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.
Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, Go now to thy brother Amnon's house, and dress him meat.
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.
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.
Verse 9. - She took a pan. Many of the words are difficult because, being the names of ordinary domestic articles, they do not occur in literature. A man may be a good French scholar, and yet find it difficult in France to ask for things in common use. Here the Syriac is probably right in understanding, not a pan, but the delicacy Tamar had been cooking. In ver. 8 the word rendered "flour" is certainly "dough," and is so rendered in the Revised Version. The cakes were a kind of pancake, fitted to tempt the appetite of a sickly person. The picture is a very interesting one: the palace parcelled out into separate dwellings; the king kindly visiting all; the girls on friendly terms with their brothers, yet not allowed to go to their rooms without special permission; and finally Tamar's skill in cookery - an accomplishment by no means despised in an Oriental menage, or thought unworthy of a king's daughter.
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.
Verse 12. - Do not force me; literally, do not humble me. It is to be regretted that the word should be changed, as it bears testimony to the nobleness of the Hebrew women, who regarded their chastity as their crown of honour. The word folly is used in the sense of unchastity in Genesis 34:7 and elsewhere, and it is noteworthy that the Jews thus connected crime with stupidity. Vain, that is, empty persons were the criminal part of the population (Judges 9:4), and to call a man "a fool" was to attribute to him every possible kind of wickedness (Matthew 5:22). The thought which lay at the root of this view of sin was that Israel was a peculiar people, sanctified to God's service; and all unholiness, therefore, was not merely criminal in itself, but a proof that the guilty person was incapable of rightly estimating his privileges. Tamar urges this upon her "empty" brother, and then pathetically dwells upon their mutual shame, and, finding all in vain, she even suggests that the king might permit their marriage. Such marriages, between half-brothers and half-sisters were strictly forbidden, as tending to loosen the bends of family purity (Leviticus 18:9; Deuteronomy 27:22); but possibly the Levitical code was occasionally violated, or Tamar may have suggested it in the hope of escaping immediate violence.
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.
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.
Verse 15. - Anmon hated her exceedingly. Ashen had not really ever loved Tamar; his passion had been mere animal desire, which, by a well known psychological law, when gratified turned to hatred. Had he possessed any dignity of character or self-respect, he would have resisted this double wrong to one so near to him, and whom he had so terribly disgraced; but he can only remember the indignant words she had spoken - her comparison of him to "the fools in Israel," and her obstinate resistance to his wishes. With coarse violence he orders her away; and when, humbled and heartbroken, she begs for milder treatment, he adds insult to the wrong, and bids his manservant push her out, am! belt the door after her. By such an order the manservant and all Amnon's people would be led to believe that she was the guilty person, and Ashen the victim of her enticements.
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.
Verse 16. - There is no cause. This is certainly not a possible translation of the Hebrew, which is probably corrupt; and though Tamar's words may have been broken and hysterical, we cannot suppose that the narrator intended to represent her sobs. The text is rendered by Philippsohn, "And she said to him respecting the evil deed, Greater is this than the other." Similarly Cahen renders it, "au sujet de ce mal." Flat as this is, no better rendering is possible; but the Vatican copy of the Septuagint has a reading which suggests the line of probable emendation: "Nay, my brother, this evil is greater than the other." It was greater because it east the reproach upon her, refused her the solace of his affection, and made her feel that she had been humbled, not because he loved her, but for mere phantasy. He has had his will, and, careless of her sorrow, he scuds her contemptuously away, indifferent to the wrong he has done her, and piqued and mortified at her indignant resistance. However much we may disapprove of Absalom's conduct, Amnon richly deserved his punishment.
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.
Verse 18. - A garment of divers colours. This was probably a long tunic with sleeves, so woven as for the colours to form patterns like those of the Scottish tartans (see on Genesis 37:3). The next sentence is probably a note, which has crept from the margin into the text, and which literally is, "For so king's daughters, while unmarried, wore over mantles" (me'ils; see note on 1 Samuel 2:19). Both the Authorized Version and the Revised Version so render as if the coloured chetoneth and the me'il were the same; but the meaning of the note rather is to guard against the supposition that the princess, while wearing the close-fitting long tunic with sleeves, had dispensed with the comely mantle. It is, indeed, possible that, while busy in cooking, she had laid the me'il by, and now rushed away without it. But it was the tunic with its bright colours which made both Amnon's servitor and also the people aware that she was one of the king's daughters.
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.
Verse 19. - Tamar put ashes. There was no concealment of her wrong, but, thrust out of the inner chamber into which Amnon had enticed her (ver. 10), she cast ashes upon her head from the very fire which she had just used in cooking, and, rending her garment, hastened away with her hand on her head, and with cries of lamentation. If David had foreseen this sad sight when giving way to his passion for Bathsheba, he would have felt that sin is indeed "folly," and that its pleasure is followed by shame and bitter anguish.
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.
Verse 20. - Hath Amnon? The Hebrew has Aminon, a diminutive, which some authorities regard as expressive of contempt. More probably it is an accidental variety of spelling. Hold now thy peace. We must not suppose that Absalom did not comfort his sister, and make her conscious of his love. He was, in fact, so indignant at her treatment as to have purposed the sternest vengeance. But this he concealed from her, and counselled patience, net merely because she would have dissuaded him from a course so full of danger to himself, but because it was the duty of both to wait and see what course David would take. Where polygamy is permitted, it is the duty especially of the brothers to defend their sisters' honour (Genesis 34:31). But David was both her father and the chief magistrate; and, moreover, he had been made an instrument in his daughter's wrong. They must be patient, and only if David failed in his duty would Absalom's turn come. Meanwhile, Tamar dwelt in his house desolate, as one whose honour and happiness had been laid waste.
But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth.
Verse 21. - David... was very wroth. The legal punishment for Amnon's crime was "the being cut off in the sight of the people" (Leviticus 20:17). But how could David, who had himself committed crimes for which death was the appointed penalty, carry out the law against his firstborn for following his example? Still, he might have done more than merely give Amnon words of reproof. Eli had done as much, and been punished with the death of his sons for his neglect of duty (1 Samuel 2:34). The sin of David's son had been even more heartless than theirs; and could David hope to escape the like penalty? It would have been wise to have given proof that his repentance included the suppression of the crime to which his previous conduct had given encouragement. But David was a man whose conduct was generally governed by his feelings. He was a creature of warm and often generous impulse, but his character lacked the steadiness of thoughtful and consistent purpose.
And Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad: for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.
Verse 22. - Absalom spake...neither good nor bad. (On this phrase, see Genesis 24:50; Genesis 31:24.) Absalom's outward demeanour was one of utter indifference, concealing a cruel determination. It is strange how unlike the son was to the father.
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.
Verse 23. - Absalom had sheep shearers in Baal-hazor. The sheep shearing was a usual occasion for feasting and holiday keeping (see 1 Samuel 25:2, 8). Baal-hazor was apparently the name of Absalom's estate, situated near the town Ephraim (2 Chronicles 13:19), which, according to Eusebius, lay about eight miles north of Jerusalem. As Ephraim was near the wilderness of Judah, it was probably the same town as that to which our Lord withdrew (John 11:54). The phrase beside, literally, near, Ephraim, shows that it must be the town, and not the tribal territory, which is here meant. Two full years; Hebrew, years of days.
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.
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.
Verse 25. - But blessed him. These words, in the courtly language of the East, not only mean that David parted from Absalom with kindly feelings and good wishes, but that he made him a rich present (see note on 1 Samuel 25:27, where the same word occurs; and observe the nature of Abigail's blessing described there). David's court had evidently become lavish, when thus a visit from him to his son's farm would be too costly for the young prince's means; but had he so increased his present as to have made it reasonable for himself and his chief officers to go, Absalom must have deferred his crime. As it was, the invitation put David off his guard, and, forgetting the fatal consequences of his good nature in permitting Tamar's visit to Amnon, he allowed his sons to go to the festival. Nor must we blame him for his compliance. He had probably at first been full of anxiety as to the course Absalom might pursue, but his silence and forbearance made him suppose that Tamar's wrong had not caused her brother any deep sorrow. Himself a man of warm feelings, he had expected an immediate outburst of anger, but such stern rancour persevered in for so long a time with such feline calmness of manner was beyond the range of his suspicions; and the invitation, first to himself and then to all his sons, made him suppose that Absalom had nothing but affectionate feelings toward them all.
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?
But Absalom pressed him, that he let Amnon and all the king's sons go with him.
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.
Verse 28. - Smite Amnon. The order was given before the banquet began, and every arrangement made to render the attack successful. Though Tamar's wrong was the mainspring of Absalom's conduct, yet neither he nor his men would forget that Amnon stood between him and the crown; and Amnon, entirely off his guard, never very wise at his best, and with his senses made dull by wine, seems to have fallen an easy prey. And as soon as the murder was committed, the rest of the king's sons, though all had attendants with them, fled in dismay, not knowing what might be the extent of Absalom's purpose. It is said that they fled on mules, this being the first place in which this animal is mentioned, as the word so translated in Genesis 36:24 really means "hot springs," and is so translated in the Revised Version. The breeding of hybrids was forbidden in Leviticus 19:19, and probably they were procured, as were horses, by trade. Up to this time the ass had been used for riding; but now David had a favourite mule (1 Kings 1:33), and Solomon received mules as tribute (1 Kings 10:25). Horses seem to have been used chiefly for chariots.
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.
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.
Verse 30. - Tidings came. Some of the servants seem to have fled immediately that the attack was made, and in their terror reported, not what had really happened, but what they assumed was Absalom's purpose. It shows, however, how thoroughly Absalom had dissembled when thus they entirely forgot that he had a grudge against Amnon. And David, in utter misery, tears his robes, and throws himself prostrate on the ground, while his courtiers, with rent garments, stand speechless round him. But the guilty Jonadab guesses more correctly the truth. He had probably watched Absalom closely, and distrusted his silence. Nothing, perhaps, had happened to justify his suspicions, but as soon as the tidings came he divined the real meaning. And, wicked as he was, he could never have supposed that Amnon would turn upon the woman he had wronged, and insult and disgrace her. He probably imagined that Amnon really loved her, and that the matter would be patched up. But when the wretched youth acted so shamelessly, Jonadab probably felt sure that Absalom would sooner or later take his revenge.
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.
Verse 32. - By the appointment; literally, for upon the mouth of Absalom it was laid from the day he humbled Tamar his sister, "Mouth" is not the word we should have expected here, and the Syriac instead has "mind," and the Chaldee "heart." But the mouth often expresses determination, and Jonadab may have noticed Absalom looking at his brother with compressed lips. More probably, however, it is a colloquial phrase, with no special application to Absalom; and the Syriac gives the true sense.
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.
Verse 34. - But Absalom fled. These words break the form of the narrative, but complete the sense. They briefly state that Jonadab was right; for, so far from molesting any of the rest of the king's sons, Absalom had no other thought than for his own safety. He had avenged his sister, but had at present no other sinister design. It was David's method of treating him which drove this youth, with a nature fit for treachery, into schemes of rebellion. The way of the hillside behind him. This may mean "from the west," as, in taking the points of the compass, the Hebrews looked to the east, which would thus be "before them." Compare "the backside of the desert," that is, "the western side," in Exodus 3:1; and "the Syrians before and the Philistines behind," that is, on the east and west (Isaiah 9:12). But the versions differ so strangely in their renderings that they could scarcely have been made from our present text.
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.
Verse 36. - The king also and all his servants wept very sore. The narrative sets very clearly before us the great terror of the king, who at first supposes that all his sons are murdered; there is then suspense while Jonadab suggests that one only has been sacrificed to private vengeance; then quickly comes the watchman's report of the appearance of much people rapidly descending the hillside, and this is followed by the hasty rush of the fugitives into his presence, and the terrible certainty that one son has, with long premeditated malice, murdered his brother. And as he wept, David, we may feel sure, thought of Uriah, murdered because of his own base passions, whereas Amnon had brought death upon himself by following, alas! the example of his own father. He would think, too, of the words of his sentence, that "the sword should never depart from his house." It had claimed one victim, and who could now stop the outburst of angry passions in a family which previously had dwelt in kindly friendship? Probably, too, he reproached himself for not punishing Amnon. Had he done so with sufficient severity to have satisfied Absalom, he would have saved the life of his firstborn, and not have driven his second son into terrible crime. He had not done so because his own sins had tied his hands. Yes; David had good reason for weeping sore.
But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day.
Verses 37, 38. - So Absalom fled. The triple repetition of these words, and the fragmentary style, make it probable that we have here an abridgment of a longer narrative. So in ver. 35 the words probably are a summary of a more circumstantial account of Absalom's doings after his young men had slain Amnon. (On Talmai and Geshur, see notes on 2 Samuel 3:3.)
So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three years.
And the soul of king David longed to go forth unto Absalom: for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead.
Verse 39. - And (the soul of) king David longed to go forth unto Absalom. This translation has the support of the Jewish Targum, and, as the verb is feminine, the insertion of the added word is possible, though the sense seems to require "anger" instead of "the soul." But the versions (Septuagint, Syriac, and Vulgate) all give the verb its ordinary meaning of "ceasing," and, though there is something harsh in taking it impersonally, yet their authority is too great for us to say that such a mode of rendering it must be wrong. And if the grammar be difficult, the sense put upon the words by the versions is excellent. Literally they are, As to King David, there. was a ceasing to go forth after Absalom; for he was comforted, etc. At first he had demanded of Talmai the surrender of the offender, and, when Talmai refused, David tried other means; but in time, when his grief for Amnon was assuaged, he desisted from his efforts. But even so it required much subtlety on Joab's part to obtain Absalom's recall, which would scarcely have been the case if David's soul was longing for his son's return; and, even after his coming, David long maintained an unfriendly attitude. Amnon was his firstborn, and evidently dearly loved, but David's culpable leniency had borne bitter fruit. And again he acts without thoughtful sense of justice, and though at first he would have given Absalom merited punishment, yet gradually paternal feeling resumed its sway, unhappily only to be miserably abused.

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