2 Samuel 13 – A King’s Legacy

Discussion Question

“Godly parents have often been afflicted with wicked children; grace does not run in the blood, but corruption does.” Matthew Henry wrote this with regard to 2 Samuel 13. Discuss what you think he means.

Background (Context)

Sons in the bible. When the curse of sin was pronounced in Genesis 3, there was also hope in Verse 15. A child of Eve will crush the serpent’s head. It is a brief line full of mystery that is only fully understood when we see that Jesus is that offspring. But for a long while, Adam and Eve and their descendants that followed might have wondered who will be the offspring of Eve to overcome the power of Satan? The first choice for this was Abel and Cain. But Genesis Chapter 4 describes one brother killing the other. The bible continues to tease its readers over the question of ‘what will this son be like?’ In 1 Samuel, we meet the child of Hannah who proves to be a great prophet and judge in Israel named – Samuel. We then meet his sons and find that they were wicked sons. God had spoken to David in 2 Samuel 7 about promising for his throne to never be without a son of his on it. Our chapter this week speaks into this theme of sons and what they will do as part of God’s unfolding story of salvation.

Sons of David. 1 Chronicles 3 lists the sons that were born to David in Hebron before relocating his throne room to Jerusalem and then the sons and daughters born to him by Bathsheba in Jerusalem. In 2 Samuel 13 we are concerned with Amnon who is David’s firstborn son and so the likely heir to the throne. Also Absalom, Amnon’s half brother and Absalom’s sister Tamar.

2 Samuel 11 and 12 dealt with the details and aftermath of David’s sin with Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife. It all began with David wandering around his palace and turning a brief glance into a moment of desire. That desire became fully grown into sin. 2 Samuel 13 will tell the story of his first son Amnon and the similarity of the story is scary.

Read 2 Samuel 13

Read 2 Samuel 13 online here

What did you see? (Observation)


  • Part 1: the sin (1-22)
    • Amnon’s “love” (1-14)
    • Amnon’s hatred (15-22)
  • Part 2: the vengeance (23-39)
    • Absalom’s vengeance (23-29)
    • The King’s response (30-39)

Part 1: the sin (1-22)

Amnon’s “love” (1-14)

“In the course of time, Amnon…fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.” The story begins and introduces the problem straight away. Tamar is a half-sister of Amon. By the time the law of God is given to Moses, this is not acceptable (Leviticus 20:17; see also Ezekiel 22:11). But Amnon believes he is in love with Tamar when really he only desires her. Much like David had desired Bathsheba from his view of her bathing on the rooftop.

“Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill.” It’s difficult to imagine any obsession that is healthy and this one is far from it! This is a shut-down of any sober thought. He has fooled himself to thinking that Tamar is all that he needs and that life is not complete without her. Love-sickness is not so uncommon. It happens often amongst the young but not isolated to them. Grown-ups can get obsessed over people and things too. The need to have becomes greater than anything else. But to be sober-minded about all things is wise.

“She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.” This guy just sounds sex-crazed. I don’t even mean that to be humorous. His desire to have her is sexual. All he can see are the obstacles preventing him from doing ‘anything to her.’ As the story unfolds and we learn of his later hatred toward her, he is not obsessing over her personality but over her body. He sees her as an object. What a terrible thing to do – see others as merely objects. The New Testament gives us this advice: “Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.” (1 Timothy 5:1-2) He ought to have been slapped across the face and told to treat her as his sister with absolute purity. But his advisor gives terrible advice.

“…Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother.” This relationship is described again in Verse 32. David’s brother’s son makes him Amnon’s cousin.

“…a very shrewd man…” This is a description of one’s intelligence and quick response to things. It is neither positive nor negative. It does not mean wise, but clever. Perhaps a description of someone who knows how to get what they want out of a situation. Jonadab seems to be a sort of snake in the garden character in this story – he only needs to nudge Amnon and Absalom for them to fall.

“Amnon said to [David], ‘I would like my sister Tamar…’” There is not much to explain from Verses 4 to 7 but to highlight David’s passive role in this event. Should he have known about Amnon’s obsession? He doesn’t hesitate in ordering Tamar to go to Amnon. Does he not perceive what is happening? Or does he just hope that things won’t go bad. The King’s intervention would have been helpful at this point of the story and may have saved his son’s life!

“…made the bread in his sight and baked it…” She is cooking just as she was asked to do. We cannot read between the lines. The passage does not imply any evil on her part.

“…he refused to eat.” Amnon gives Tamar the first clue that there is something wrong. Up until now she has been making him bread. Now she is to become aware of his intentions.

“Come to bed with me, my sister.” He calls her his sister and the reply from her is to call him her brother. They are not using their names but the relationship that makes this wrong even more wrong.

“No, my brother! Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel!” This is not seduction, or two attracted people going where they both know they should not go. Leviticus 20:17.

“What about me…what about you…?” She is trying to be rational about all of this. After this fleeting act, there will be repercussions.

“Please speak to the king…” Tamar pleads with Amnon to include the king in this process. Rather than act as he wishes, he ought to ask for help. God’s law certainly forbade this marriage. Perhaps Tamar is clutching at straws now as she pleads with Amnon to rethink what he is doing. She is not dumbstruck with love/desire but is desperate for escape.

“…he refused to listen…he was stronger…he raped her.” Let nobody suggest that the bible encourages, excuses or implies a man forcing himself on a woman to be anywhere near acceptable (also a woman on a man). It is not. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 talks of sex inside of marriage as the right place to experience this. To read 1 Corinthians 7 as forced sex is to be unkind to the message of the text. Sex inside of marriage is to be consenting – always. See also 1 Peter 3:7.

I think it ironic that this episode describes Amnon’s love for Tamar. Love is love, right? Well, no. This episode is about Amnon’s sin with Tamar. His lust. The cravings of his flesh which made himself ill and destroyed Tamar (and himself). What was called love is quickly exchanged for hatred.

Amnon’s hatred (15-22)

“Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred.” As passionately as he had ‘loved’ her, he now hates her. She was an object of lust initially and now she is an object of rejection. Even less of a person to him as she was before.

“Sending me away would be a greater wrong…” It was wrong enough what he did to her but now, by discarding her, he is leaving her with no future life (as it would play out in the Israel culture). This evil, she may learn to live with, but the penalty of being rejected by all because of something that she did not cause – that is perhaps greater. It is odd for us to consider living with a perpetrator as perhaps better. There is no silver lining here in this story. Sin is ugly. There are no dreams of a fairytale ending.

“But he refused to listen to her…” There is a mirror shape to this story. Verse 14 is at the center and what we read as we progress in the story is a reversal of what has previously happened. He refused to listen to her when she said, “No!” and now he refuses to listen to her again as she tries to reason with him. He will expel her out of his bedroom as aggressively as he lured her in.

“She was wearing an ornate robe…” The text tells us that this was a visual clue that she was a virgin daughter of the king. The language matches the coat that Joseph wore in Genesis 37:23.

“Her brother Absalom said to her, ‘Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you?’” It sounds like Absalom already despised Amnon. He didn’t need to ask any questions before deducing that this was Amnon’s doing. He had ‘been with’ her and Absalom knew it. Absalom was so aware of Amnon’s obsession, why wasn’t David clued into this?

“Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” It would be quite out of character, given how this chapter continues, that Absalom is saying: don’t sweat it, he’s your bro, let it go. That is not what this means. Rather, it will be difficult to move forward with this accusation because he is her brother, the son of the king and now Absalom is instructing her not to put this matter onto her own heart since he will deal with this. In the first instance, he takes her in to his household. The rest of the chapter unfolds what Absalom intends to do to take vengeance.

“When King David heard all this, he was furious.” One would hope that his fury would give way to action – to bring justice to this event. It does not. David does nothing. Absalom remains silent and never interacts with his brother. But there is anger.

Part 2: the vengeance (23-39)

Absalom’s vengeance (23-29)

“Two years later…” This tells us something very important about what happened immediately after this terrible evil…nothing. David, though furious, did nothing. Absalom remained furious but was biding his time. The time lapse of two years makes the point of inaction toward evil by the right people an important theme in this account. If only David had been more involved from the beginning!

“Absalom’s sheepshearers were at Baal Hazor…” What we get here is an occasion for a party. A shearers celebration was about to happen NNE of Jerusalem and Absalom will take this opportunity to invite all of the sons of David to the party. Is two years enough time to let troubled water run under the bridge? Perhaps that’s what Absalom wanted his brothers to think.

“All of us should not go; we would only be a burden to you.” David is being respectful and polite but there is still a reluctance in this story for David to be engaged in the action. David is also suspicious of Amnon’s invitation, surely there is no reason for David to think that Absalom has forgotten what happened. But if the king will not go, then perhaps his prince.

“Strike Amnon down…kill him…Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled.” Amnon was the clear target and he was taken out. It shocked the other brothers though and they fled. After a two year coldness, Absalom struck down the guilty man in vengeance for his sister. He had taken her matter to his own heart and dealt with it. When David was doing nothing, Absalom did something.

The King’s response (30-39)

“…the report came to David: “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons…” This messenger may have been speedy with his message but was terrible with the facts. This is called efficiency over effectiveness! While the sons of David were riding mules, this guy may have had a stallion! But then there’s the fact that David so quickly believes this false news! Surely it reveals how fearful David was of the pent up anger in Absalom.

“But Jonadab…said…” While David was reacting to the devastating news that all of his sons have been killed by another of his sons, Jonadab speaks some truth to the king. But, hang on, how does he know what has happened!? We were told earlier that he was a shrewd man but how does he know what happened at a distant location even before the king’s sons had made it back to the palace? Surely this says that Jonadab knew of these plans all along. The news was reported that Absalom struck down the king’s sons but Jonadab mentions they. Jonadab then reveals that this plan has been Absalom’s intentions for two years now. Jonadab knew this but did not reveal it to the king!

“Now the man standing watch looked up…” This is simply a description of the watchman on guard. He spots the people at a distance. This is good timing because Jonadab may have wanted a distraction from the fact that he knew so much about all of this.

“…the king’s sons came in, wailing loudly, The king, too, and all his attendants wept very bitterly.” Clearly a devastating outcome for the family. What they failed to act on two years earlier has boiled up and been taken care of for them. Now the family is divided, the sons of David against David’s son, Absalom.

“Absalom fled and went to …the king of Geshur.” This was his kinsmen. Absalom’s mother was from there.

“But David mourned many days for his son.” David grieved over the loss of Amnon. Did he grieve for Absalom also? It is unclear.

“…David longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon’s death.” John Woodhouse has reason to question the translations of this verse and it is worth mentioning, however, all of the main translations do not support his observation. He states that David mourned for Amnon for the rest of his life (day after day), and this held the king back from marching out against Absalom, but he mourned over Amnon, because he was dead. His point is that David did not pursue Absalom because he continued to grieve.

What did we learn? (Meaning)

The King remained mostly inactive against the sins that were occurring under his roof by his children. This is not a satisfactory account of David. His sons demonstrate, not being better than David but being worse in terms of their sin. And the penalty for sin is overlooked until vengeance is taken by the third child. What we do not see in this story is a righteous king who takes all sin seriously and acts justly against the wicked.

Now what? (Application)

Topic A: The sorrow of expecting others to do any better with sin. It is a scary thing to say ‘like father like son’ when we recognise the sins of the father at first. David had fallen when he failed to be vigilent against sin in his own encounter with Uriah’s wife. It is foolish for us to think that the next generation will do any better than the last. The bible teaches us over and over that each generation fails to live righteous lives. In the passage today, we can learn about sabotaging sin when we stop obsessions from growing. We could learn about engaging in the life of others more so that we can steer one another correctly. And we can also learn that sin perpetuates. Our hope is not to fix the problem of sin ourselves but to give thanks and praise that God has fixed it and promised to cast all suggestion of sin out of the new heaven.

Topic B: God’s vengeance is promised. A well known sentence from the Old Testament is “vengeance is mine, says the LORD” (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19; Hebrews 10:30). King David demonstrates what it is like for a king to not act on behalf of the victims of evil. But we worship the God who promises to repay evil. This is how we differ from Amnon. He felt it necessary to repay his step-brother but God instructs us to trust Him with regards to judgement. Romans 12:19 instructs us that because it is God’s to avenge, we ought to leave pay-backs to Him. Hebrews 10:30-39 take the promise of God’s vengeance to give us perseverance in the present. Be assured that ‘it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.’  But it will not simply be the evil people by our standard who will face judgment. It will be all those who do not listen and respond to the gospel of the Lord Jesus. “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord…’ (2 Thessalonians 1:8). Our God will avenge. We can be assured of that.

Topic C: The Son and the brother who did better than the history of all sons. All of the offspring of Eve failed to crush Satan’s head. The sons of David were frequently disappointing. Even the good kings that followed him failed to turn the hearts of Israel completely toward God. There is only One Son who we can all look to and admire, praise and worship because he is perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Jesus said, don’t simply avoid adultery, but destroy the idea of lust. He said go further than not murdering, and learn to love your enemies. Jesus satisfied all of these ‘impossible’ commands and then laid down his life so that we could be called his brother and be called sons of God (John 1:12).