Exegetical Notes: 2 Samuel 13:15-20; 31-39

The immediate context of these verses is found in 2 Samuel 13:1-14, where Amnon, with the help of his friend Jonadab, devise a plan for Amnon to force himself upon his half sister Tamar.

One common thread we see between our two pericopes is that of grief, which can be noted from the tearing of garments and wearing of ash on the forehead (13:19, 31). We would do well to consider that grief, no matter its shape or form, is a consequence of sin. This is not to say that grief is always the result of personal, direct sin. At times, it may be. However, at other times, as is the case with Tamar in verses 1-14, her grief is caused by the sin of others.

Grief runs in direct contrast to God’s original creation where everything is described as blessed by God and “good” (Gen. 1:28-31). We weren’t meant to experience the pains of death, illness, and sin. Yet, in a fallen world, we often do. Grief is meant to cause us to seek comfort in the gracious redemption of creation through Christ (Rom. 8:18-25).

15 Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!”

Two personal applications found within this verse become blatantly obvious, although we shouldn’t limit this verse to these two. First, It has much to say to about the inability of sin to satisfy us. Amnon’s physical longings for Tamar are clearly pointed out in verses 1-4. His longing are twice described as “love” and his inability to fulfill his desires toward her caused him to physically sulk. Yet, once he acts sinfully to sooth his physical desire, “the love with which he had loved her” transforms into a greater hate. Second, it clearly speaks to the need to treat others, especially women in this context, with appropriate respect and kindness. When propositioned by Amnon, Tamar responds with 1) great emphasis on the personal shame this would cause her, and 2) the great probability that a proper union between the two could occur. Amnon’s “love” for her still does not prevent him from forcibly assaulting Tamar. Weather male or female, young or old, we need to remember that all people are created in the image of God and deserve proper respect.

16 But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her.

“The winds of “love” (v. 1) which had propelled him so forcefully proved to be nothing more than gusts of lust. Feelings of guilt and shame heightened Amnon’s emotions, so that he now “hated her more than he had loved her” (v. 15)…The Torah dictated that a man who had sexual intercourse with a virgin not pledged to be married to another was obligated to marry her and pay a financial penalty (cf. Exod 22:16–17; Deut 22:28–29). However, when Amnon ordered Tamar to “get up and get out” of his house, his actions following the rape indicated he did not intend to follow the Torah in this matter. Tamar, knowing that this kind of disregard for the Law only made the situation worse, pointed out that “sending” her “away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me” (v. 16). However, the morally reckless Amnon once again “refused to listen to her.” Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, vol. 7, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 382.

17 He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.”

18 Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves,  for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her.

“a long robe with sleeves…” – Deuteronomy 22:13-21 highlights the father’s role in keeping his daughters sexually pure until marriage. Evidently, David’s dressing of his daughters in “a long robe with sleeves” is one way of highlighting this command within his family and the nation. Sexual purity would allow each daughter to achieve the best marriage attainable. Thus Amnon’s act not only affects Tamar in the moment, but it scars her emotionally and socially for the remainder of her life.

19 And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went. 

Tamar’s expression of grief is recorded. Some of these are foreign to an American audience, however, the most novice of readers understands that this verse is an expression of grief and anguish.

20 And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house.

The acts of Absalom towards Tamar do provide us with some implications on helping others during times of grief. Without trying to completely remedy the situation, he does meet the physical needs of his sister that he could (by opening his home) and he also offers encouragement to not let this circumstance continue to dominate her thinking.

Tamar’s actions provide us with some practical understanding of dealing with our own personal grief. 1) Great grief can only be healed with great grace. Although Absalom offers what he can, it does not immediately heal Tamar’s wounds. Tamar’s wounds can only be healed through divine help. 2) Dealing with grief may often take time. and that’s OK. 3) Continually run to God for comfort. 2 Cor. 1:3 states that God is a source of mercy and comfort for those who are afflicted.

31 Then the king arose and tore his garments and lay on the earth. And all his servants who were standing by tore their garments.

The initial report received stated that Absalom had killed all of David’s sons.

32 But Jonadab the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, said, “Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men, the king’s sons, for Amnon alone is dead. For by the command of Absalom this has been determined from the day he violated his sister Tamar.

Jonadab was a cousin to Absalom and Amnon. Evidently he was aware of the tension between the two and was also aware of Absalom’s plot to avenge his sister.

33 Now therefore let not my lord the king so take it to heart as to suppose that all the king’s sons are dead, for Amnon alone is dead.

34 But Absalom fled. And the young man who kept the watch lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, many people were coming from the road behind him by the side of the mountain.

35 And Jonadab said to the king, “Behold, the king’s sons have come; as your servant said, so it has come about.”

36 And as soon as he had finished speaking, behold, the king’s sons came and lifted up their voice and wept. And the king also and all his servants wept very bitterly. 

37 But Absalom fled and went to Talmai the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son day after day.

38 So Absalom fled and went to Geshur, and was there three years.

39 And the spirit of the king longed to go out to Absalom, because he was comforted about Amnon, since he was dead. 

“David understandably remained in a state of grief over the death of his oldest son for quite some time. During David’s three-year period of grief, Absalom lived in exile at Geshur. In fleeing Israel as a young man to avoid the wrath of a sitting king, Absalom’s life paralleled that of his father: a younger David had once been forced to live as a refugee in non-Israelite territory to elude King Saul. David knew the pain and anxiety that resulted from separation from one’s family and homeland, and perhaps it was the remembrance of those emotions that made “the spirit of the king” (v. 39) yearn “to go to Absalom.” In addition, David had finally forgiven Absalom for killing his brother and was ready to be reconciled to the son who apparently stood next in line to become Israel’s king.” Robert D. Bergen, 1, 2 Samuel, vol. 7, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1996), 386–387.