The David Saga, Episode 9 – Absalom and Tamar

For this week, please read 2 Samuel 13:1-15:6. This is the beginning of the story of Absalom’s Rebellion where we will spend the next three weeks. The story itself takes place over a period of eleven years. (Absalom’s great virtue is patience.) It is a story of incestuous rape, fraternal murder, and filial rebellion. We will see that although David repented of his sin of the rape of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, the forces that his sin set in motion cannot be stopped.

LAST WEEK:

In episode 7, we met Uriah the Hittite and his wife, Bathsheba. Uriah was one of David’s mighty valiant warriors who had been with David since the time David was hiding from Saul in the cave of Adullam in the Judean wilderness. At the beginning of the episode, David sent his army out to do battle but he stayed behind in Jerusalem. David saw Bathsheba, sent for her, raped her, and she became pregnant. David then had Uriah killed in battle and marries Bathsheba. Nathan the prophet confronts David about these egregious acts and David repents. He is the model of repentance by refusing to blame anyone or anything other than himself for his actions and casting himself on God’s mercy. (See, Psalm 51). God forgives David, but Nathan rightly points out that David’s actions will continue to cause harm.

THIS WEEK:

This week’s episode is the Rape of Tamar and the vengeful murder of Amnon. What we see is that David has passed down to his sons the same character flaws (sinful nature) that caused him to sin against Bathsheba and Uriah.

This week’s episode has four main characters:

Amnon: Amnon is David’s first-born son. (2 Sam 3:2). He is the crown prince. His mother was the daughter of an elder from the small Judean village of Jezreel.

Absalom: Absalom is David’s third-born son. (2 Sam. 3:3). His mother is the daughter of the King of Geshur, an Aramaean city-state located in the modern Golan Heights. David’s second-born son, Chileab, most likely has died, and therefore Absalom will become the crown prince should anything happen to Amnon.

Tamar: Tamar is Absalom’s full-sister. Like Absalom, she is described as being very beautiful. Tamar is the only daughter of David that we know by name.

David: David is the decisive and ruthless warrior who has a sentimental weakness for his sons and refuses to confront or discipline them. David’s refusal to directly deal with the issues allows the issues to fester and infect his kingdom.

The Scene:

The episode begins in the palace. Picture a teenage girl (Tamar). She is the daughter of a king and granddaughter of a king. By all accounts, she is stunningly beautiful. She hangs out with her older brother (Absalom), who himself hangs out with his older half-brother (Amnon). The three were all born in Hebron and are old enough to remember the parade into Jerusalem and the construction of the palace. They are three of the many children who call David father.

Rape of Tamar: (Ch. 13:1-19)

Over time as the three grow older, Tamar’s beauty catches the eye of her half-brother Amnon. Amnon has since moved out of the palace into his own home. Tamar is younger and probably does not readily understand the source of the increased attention he is giving her. Amnon becomes infatuated with his half-sister. He confides in his cousin Jonadab his passion and the two of them hatch a plan to have Amnon and Tamar be alone together.   

Jonadab tells Amnon to feign sickness and to have David send Tamar to care for him. The plan works. The crown prince pretends to be sick, and when David visits him, he asks David to send Tamar to care for him. Although Amnon is surrounded by his servants, David indulges Amnon’s request.

David sends for Tamar and instructs her to go and care for her half-brother. Tamar goes to Amnon’s house. She spends the afternoon making cakes for him. As she works in the kitchen area, Amnon watches her every move. Tamar gives Amnon the food she made, but he refuses to eat.

Amnon then orders all the servants to leave and tells Tamar to come and feed him out of her hand. As she approaches him, Amnon grabs her arm and pulls her close, and says “Come, lie with me.” We can immediately see the fear in Tamar’s eyes. She begins to calmly negotiate with her assailant: (i) this isn’t done in Israel, (ii) think of me and my shame, (iii) think of yourself and what people would say, and (iv) talk to our father and he will allow us to marry. Her reasons and pleas go unheeded. Amnon is stronger and he forces himself on her. Amnon rapes his half-sister. Like David, Amnon knows that he can have anything and anyone that he desires.

Immediately after Amnon satisfies his desire, the passion her felt for Tamar immediately changes into a hatred of Tamar. Tamar once more pleads with Amnon to marry her since he has violated her. Amnon calls a servant and tells him “Put this thing out of my presence and bolt the door behind her.” In his command, he does not even acknowledge her humanity. She is simply a thing to be used and discarded. Even David brought Bathsheba into his house, Amnon throws his victim out.

Absalom’s Reaction: (Ch. 13:20-22)

Tamar is thrown out of the house. She tears her robe that signifies her virginity. She puts ashes on her head, and she mourns her status. Absalom takes Tamar into his home where she will remain. He consoles her and counsels her that she was the victim and should not be the one who must suffer. Absalom does not now confront Amnon. That responsibility belongs to the king and their father.

David’s Reaction: (Ch. 13:20-22)

David was “very angry.” But David does nothing. When David displeased God, God sent Nathan. When Amnon displeases David, David sends no one nor does anything. David sent Tamar to Amnon, thus facilitating the rape. But now David is silent and refuses to facilitate justice or repentance. He simply hears the news and does nothing.

Amnon’s Murder: (Ch. 13:23-37)

Absalom waits for David to deliver justice. But justice never comes. Absalom waits until everything calms down. He bides his time planning his revenge. His dispassionate calculation needs time to execute. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Two years go by after the rape and it is the festival of the sheep shearing. Absalom invites all his brothers to the festivities. He even invites David, who declines the invitation. Just as Amnon had pressed David into sending Tamar to him, so now does Absalom press David into sending Amnon to the party. David once more gives in and tells Amnon to go. We do not know if David is oblivious to Absalom’s plan or if David knows what must be done to Amnon and he is contracting out the meting of justice to Absalom. 

Absalom tells his servants the plan. “We will get Amnon drunk, and then you shall strike him dead. Do not fear any punishment, for I have commanded you to do this.” The festivities commence. The food and the wine are generously served, but Absalom remains sober. The day grows long and night falls.  Amnon begins to slur his words and to stumble. Two years after the rape, Absalom gives the signal, and his servants all upon Amnon. Amnon dies. Justice is served. David’s other sons flee home. Absalom flees to his grandfather’s city of Geshur.

David weeps and mourns over his lost son. Something he failed to do over his violated daughter.

Absalom’s Return: (Ch. 14:1-26)

Absalom stays in Geshur for three years (five years after the rape of Tamar). He is David’s oldest living son but remains an outlaw in the kingdom. We do not know what has become of Tamar. She is never mentioned again. The scripture later tells us of Absalom’s household, but his sister Tamar is not there. She was damaged and could not be married off. We can only assume that she is dead by this time.

It is Joab that seeks to bring his first cousin Absalom back. We do not know Joab’s intentions. Joab knows that David’s heart is divided between a yearning to see his son and a hatred of his son’s murderer. Joab also knows that Absalom is cunning and that he is the heir apparent. Joab wants to be on the right side of any succession. 

Joab saw how Nathan swayed David into recognizing his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, and he tries the same tactic. Joab recruits a woman from the nearby Judean village of Tekoa to tell David a story. The story is that she is a widow with two sons. One son killed the other son. If the murderous son is punished, she will be alone. David responds that the son should be forgiven and welcomed back into her household. The woman then confronts the king about his banishment of Absalom and says that God will bless those who reconcile within their family. David asks her bluntly if Joab put her up to this, and she responds affirmatively.

Joab’s plan works. David sends for Joab and tells him to retrieve Absalom. (David never chastises Joab for his subterfuge.) David’s reconciliation, however, is only partial. Absalom is allowed to return to Jerusalem to his own house, but he is not allowed in the king’s presence.

Absalom and David: (Ch. 14:27-33)

Absalom comes home to Jerusalem. He brings with him his three sons and his one daughter whom he named Tamar. For two years, Absalom lives in Jerusalem without seeing David. David’s four young grandchildren are living in the city, but David refuses to see them as well. Absalom wants to see his father. It has been seven years since the rape of Tamar, five years since the murder of Amnon, and two years since he has returned to Jerusalem from Geshur. Absalom seeks out Joab, who refuses his calls. Absalom then burns Joab’s fields to get his cousin’s attention. Absalom will likewise not be denied his wants.

Joab comes to Absalom incensed. But Absalom now has Joab’s attention. He tells Joab that Joab must let him see his father and if his father strikes him dead, so be it. Joab arranges the meeting. It does not go well. The scripture describes the meeting as follows: “And the king summoned Absalom, and he came to the king, and bowed down his face to the king, and the king kissed Absalom.” (14:33). The Bible is clear that Absalom did not see his “father,” nor did he see “David,” rather he only saw the “king.” Reconciliation does not occur. King David does not burn with anger towards Absalom rather he expresses a cold dissociation from his (former) son. Absalom once looked to his father for justice and found none. He now looks to his father for forgiveness and reconciliation and there is none. King David will not be reconciled.

Seeds of Rebellion: (Ch. 15:1-6)

Absalom is cunning and patient. He is beautiful and charming. He is also arrogant and remorseless. If King David will not be reconciled, then King David needs to go. Absalom is the heir apparent, but without reconciliation with the king, he will not be the successor. Absalom hatches a plan to take the throne. 

First, Absalom begins to look like a king. He surrounds himself with the trappings of royalty. He has a chariot and horses, and a retinue of 150 men who run before him. We can picture him in fine clothing with an ornate chariot. His horses are dressed in finery as well. His men are well-appointed with new weapons. David does nothing.

Second, Absalom begins to act like a king. After leading his men into battle, a king’s second most important duty is to resolve disputes among his people. David, apparently, has neglected a strong judicial apparatus. Absalom exploits this void.

Every morning, Absalom rides his chariot surrounded by his men to the gates of Jerusalem. There he meets with people from all over Israel looking for a judge over their disputes. He talks with each person individually and intimately. He lends them his ear. He inquires of them which tribe and village of Israel they are from and how their family is doing. He tells each of those he meets that their cause is just and how unfortunate it is that no one will hear their case. He always greets with beauty and charm. Again, David does nothing.

For four years, Absalom ingratiates himself with everyone who comes to Jerusalem. Absalom is patient. Eleven years ago, his half-brother raped his sister, and his father the king failed to take any action. Now Absalom will avenge the king’s inaction.

NEXT WEEK:

In next week’s episode, Absalom executes his rebellion flawlessly. His extreme patience in building up political capital throughout all Israel will now pay off. Nathan foresaw this day. Next week, Nathan’s prophecies that the sword will come to David’s house and that David’s wives will be publicly violated will come true.

MEANING:

Absalom’s Rebellion is a morality play. Before Nathan’s rebuke, David had fallen into a self-centered arrogance that the king could do no wrong. People were simply a means to an end to satisfy his desires. These character traits were passed down to his sons. His sons saw how David took what he wanted; righteousness be damned. Pride, arrogance, vulgarity, and boastfulness not only destroy individuals and families but can destroy entire nations who are led by such men. (Jer. 48:29-31). Amnon raped Tamar because he knew he could get away with it. Absalom murdered his brother and rebels against his father because he believes he is owed vengeance. Proverbs instructs us to “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” (Prov. 22:6) Our story from Bathsheba to Absalom gives us a lesson in what happens when a child is brought up differently.

Hear my prayer, O God; *
   do not hide yourself from my petition.

Listen to me and answer me; *
   I have no peace, because of my cares.

I am shaken by the noise of the enemy *
   and by the pressure of the wicked;

For they have cast an evil spell upon me *
   and are set against me in fury.

My heart quakes within me, *
   and the terrors of death have fallen upon me.

Fear and trembling have come over me, *
   and horror overwhelms me.

And I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! *
   I would fly away and be at rest.

I would flee to a far-off place *
   and make my lodging in the wilderness.

I would hasten to escape *
   from the stormy wind and tempest.”

Psalm 55:1-9

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