2 Samuel 13:23–39: Absalom Kills Amnon
The last passage was a terrible story of incestuous rape, in which Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. At the end of the passage Absalom was angry with Amnon, and even their father David was “furious,” but Amnon had suffered no consequences for his actions. No indication is given as to why nobody acted to punish Amnon, but reading between the lines I think Absalom was just biding his time.
It’s two years later, and Absalom is getting ready for sheep shearing, which is typically a time for feasting. He invites his father David and his attendants to join him, but the king declines, saying that he’d be too much of a burden to Absalom. Even with additional urging from Absalom the king still declines. Absalom then asks the king to send Amnon instead. David might be suspicious about this, since he asks Absalom, “Why should he go with you?” (verse 26), but Absalom urges David, so Amnon is sent.
Absalom then has his men do what he’s been waiting for:
Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.” So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled. (verses 28–29)
We then get a classic case of broken telephone: before the king’s sons can arrive someone else gets there, but the report that’s given is that Absalom has killed all of the king’s sons—that is, all of his brothers. So David tears his robes and lays on the ground in mourning.
But then Jonadab comes into the picture. Jonadab, we should remember, is the one who gave Amnon advice on how to rape Tamar: when Amnon had admitted his love to Jonadab, it was Jonadab who suggested that Amnon pretend to be sick so that Tamar would come to him. This same Jonadab now comes to comfort David:
But Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother, said, “My lord should not think that they killed all the princes; only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s express intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. My lord the king should not be concerned about the report that all the king’s sons are dead. Only Amnon is dead.” (verses 32–33)
And, not long after, the rest of David’s sons return (giving Jonadab a brief “I told you so moment”), and they all weep bitterly.
Absalom, meanwhile, has fled the country to go to Geshur, and we’re told that he stays there for three years.
Aside from some logistics about the feast’s guest list (which I cover below even though it’s probably not that important), the main thing that strikes me about this passage is the emotional impact it has on everyone, at the very end:
As he finished speaking, the king’s sons came in, wailing loudly. The king, too, and all his attendants wept very bitterly.
Absalom fled and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur. But King David mourned many days for his son.
After Absalom fled and went to Geshur, he stayed there three years. And King David longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon’s death.
When I read this, I’m actually unclear about what people are weeping/mourning for: Are they mourning the loss of Amnon? Or the fact that Absalom is now gone? To me, it doesn’t seem clear! David’s reaction is especially unclear, and I’m reading the text as doing that purposely: Is David mourning the loss of his son Amnon? Mourning what happened to his daughter Tamar? Mourning the “loss” of his son Absalom? All of the above? (Actually, based on the way Tamar has been treated, I find it hard to believe David is even thinking about her at this point.)
What is clear is that David refrained from punishing Amnon in any way for his actions, and now he’s seeing some of the repercussions for his inaction.
Also unclear is what’s going to happen to Tamar! She’s been living with Absalom since her rape, and he seems to be the only one who cared about her, even though there are other brothers and half-brothers. Is one of them going to care for her? Did she have to go to Geshur to live with Absalom?
Who’s Coming to the Feast?
There are a few facts that I felt I needed to put together to understand the context:
- David, along with all of Absalom’s brothers, seem to be invited to the feast
- Nevertheless, when David declines, Absalom has to specifically request Amnon’s attendance
- It’s been two years since Amnon’s rape of Tamar
Putting all of this together, here’s what I think the context is:
- I’m assuming that Amnon has been staying away from Absalom, since all of the brothers are invited but Absalom has to specifically request Amnon’s attendance
- David must be the one who has been preventing Absalom from getting his revenge against Amnon for these last couple of years. Killing Amnon with of his brothers present doesn’t seem to bother Absalom, but having his father there seems to have been a problem.
- And this is perhaps why it took two years for Absalom to take his revenge: perhaps his father was in the way the entire time.
When his father David declines to come to the sheep shearing feast Absalom sees his opportunity to get at Amnon so that he can kill him. Some commentaries I’ve read interpret this as Absalom expecting David to decline the feast, as if he’s planning to get turned down so that he can invite Amnon. Maybe that’s so, though I wouldn’t read it that way, it just seems like David’s decline gives Absalom his opportunity. I’m always pointing out that I’m not a biblical scholar, however, so they’re probably right.