Don’t you just love a good love story?! If you do, 2 Samuel 13 is not it. This is such a tragic chapter, what happened to 2 Samuel 9? The number of men who failed to love Tamar is staggering, saddening, and sickening. What is that number? Four. Who are those men? Amnon, Jonadab, David, and Absalom. God help us, for these four men are not exceptions to the masses, but are in fact the masses, which once included us (or perhaps still does). Titus 3:3 reminds us, “For we ourselves were once foolish disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.” In 2 Samuel 13, where there is supposed to be love there is only hate, and where there is supposed to be justice there is only partiality. Let’s take a look.
Tamar is beautiful (2 Sam. 13:1) and a full blooded sister of Absalom (mom was Maacah, 2 Sam. 3:3). She is also wanted, wanted by her half-brother Amnon, David’s firstborn son (2 Sam. 3:2). If this seems a bit twisted, that is because it is! “And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her” (2 Sam. 13:2). It was said that Amnon loved Tamar (v. 1), but love is first about giving (see John 3:16) and it isn’t self-seeking or joyous at wrongdoing (see 1 Cor. 13:5). So does Amnon love Tamar, or lust for Tamar? The text is clear that it was a lust for her all along (vv. 2, 15).
Jonadab, a nephew of King David, and a cousin / friend of Amnon, is a very “wise” man (2 Sam. 3:3), ESV says “crafty man,” but it is not the same word as Genesis 3:1. Jonadab knew the course of action to take to help his cousin, Amnon, rape his other cousin, Tamar. He can make any plan succeed, no matter how despicable it may be. The plan is crafted for Tamar and Amnon to be alone, so Amnon can “do anything to her” (2 Sam. 13:2). Jonadab is a dangerous individual. “He is dangerous because he has skill without scruple, wisdom without ethics, insight without integrity” (Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel Out of Every Adversity, 169). The man lacks any sort of moral gauge and is void of any godly character, much like Amnon, which may be the reason they got along so well. The only one with sense in this whole chapter is Tamar. Too bad she is ignored by Amnon (v. 14a, 16b), silenced by Absalom (v. 20), and neglected by her father (v. 21). Only she seemed to know that brothers weren’t to lie with, let alone rape, their own sister (see Leviticus 18:9).
Amnon rapes Tamar. Let that sink in. The Bible doesn’t skid around texts that you aren’t going to find in children’s storybooks (see Genesis 38 another). It faces them head on. Nathan’s prophecy is unfolding right before our eyes (2 Sam. 12:7-12). The sins of David are repeated by his own sons. David sinned with Bathsheba, and Amnon sins against Tamar. David has Uriah murdered, and Absalom kills Amnon. A parable is told to David by Nathan, and then another by the woman of Tekoa (2 Sam. 14). There are many connections to the book of Genesis as well, though space doesn’t permit much discussion now. Tamar was the daughter-in-law of Judah, who dressed as a prostitute and slept with Judah, since he failed to give his youngest son to her after his two older, wicked, sons died (Genesis 38). Judah fed his sinful desires with a “prostitute,” whereas Joseph resisted the advances of Potiphar’s wife (Gen. 39:8-10). Both Amnon and Potiphar’s wife said, “Lie with me” (Gen. 39:7, 12; 2 Sam. 13:11). Joseph would not listen to Potiphar’s wife, tragically, Tamar is ignored (Gen. 39:8-10; 2 Sam. 13:14a, 16b). After Tamar leaves Amnon she tears the sleeves of her long robe, the same word used to describe Joseph’s coat of many colors that was stripped from him (Genesis 37:3, 23; 2 Sam. 13:18, 19). The point in it all seems to highlight David as one more like Judah (think Genesis 37-38) and not like Joseph.
Amnon is a fool (2 Sam. 13:13), the Hebrew word here means, a wicked or godless one. He does an “outrageous thing” (v. 12), just like the men of Benjamin had done (see Judges 20:6, 10), as did Shechem with Dinah (see Genesis 34:7). Amnon is likely to be familiar with these other examples when Tamar uses the language but it doesn’t slow his hungering lust. David gets angry but seems unwilling to carry forth justice on his firstborn son. Tamar is oppressed and afflicted and David ignores her. This is not how Yahweh’s anointed is to act. Here, rather than taking his cues from Yahweh as King (see Psalm 146:5-9) he places fatherly love for Amnon over the justice of Yahweh, and in that is more like Eli (see 1 Samuel 2:29). He also places love for Amnon over his love for Tamar. Absalom silences his sister (v. 20) and takes vengeance on his brother (vv. 28-29). Not one of the four men we looked at does good, no not one.
This is likewise each of our conditions (see Romans 3:9-18). Remember Titus 3:3 above? What hope do any of us have? Thankfully Titus 3 has more than three verses. “But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).