When David had confessed his sin in taking Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed, the Lord had forgiven him. Yet as the prophet Nathan had warned, there would be far-reaching consequences of family turmoil. Indeed, David is going to witness a family feud like no other.
It seems to me that David’s sons were drawn more to their father’s failures than to his faith. We are given the tragic account here in chapter 13 of the brutal sin of Amnon, David’s oldest son.
Verse 1 sets the stage:
Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her.
We learned back in chapter 3 that Amnon was the son of David’s wife Ahinoam, while the mother of Absalom and Tamar was Maacah. So, Amnon is in love with his half-sister. However, this “love” is nothing more than lust.
Acting on the advice of his cousin, Amnon pretends to be sick. Then we read in verse 6:
When the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.”
David appears oblivious to Amnon’s deception and the danger to Tamar and instructs her to go to Amnon’s house.
When Amnon’s intentions become clear to Tamar, she pleads with him to speak to their father, King David, and arrange a marriage. But Amnon is not interested in marriage; he’s consumed with lust. And tragically, he rapes Tamar. Verse 15 tells us that afterward, his love quickly turns to hate. There is no doubt her presence condemns his conscience, and he wants her to leave him.
She tears her robe and puts ashes on her head, signifying grief over her lost virginity and what it might mean for her future. Her brother Absalom finds out and quietly takes Tamar into his house to live with his family, while he plots revenge (verse 20).
Verse 21 tells us that when David hears what happened, he is angry but doesn’t do anything about it. According to Old Testament law, rape called for the death penalty, but more than likely David feels the guilt of his own capital offenses and, tragically, does nothing. He actually becomes like Eli, a passive, indulgent father who will not discipline his son.
Absalom, on the other hand, waits two years for the right moment to take revenge for his sister against Amnon. He invites his father, King David, as well as all of David’s sons to celebrate with him at the time of sheep-shearing.
I agree with those Bible scholars who believe Absalom’s invitation to David might very well have been an early attempt to take his father’s life as well and seize the throne. David, however, declines the invitation but allows his sons to attend the festival.
Now verse 28 reveals Absalom’s plot:
Then Absalom commanded his servants, “Mark when Amnon's heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Do not fear; have I not commanded you?”
And just as he planned, his servants carry out his wishes. Fearing retaliation, we read in verse 37 that Absalom, “fled and went to Talmai . . . king of Geshur.” This was the home of his maternal grandfather, and he finds refuge with him for three years, until his father’s mourning over Amnon finally subsides.
Now at this point, as chapter 14 opens, General Joab steps into the picture. He understands that David longs to see Absalom but under the circumstances cannot just invite his murderous son to return to Jerusalem. Joab is not just a warrior but a shrewd politician. He knows that it is not good for Israel or the army to suffer through conflict and tension in the royal family. So, he sets a plan in motion, as we read in verses 2-3:
Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner and put on mourning garments. . . . Go to the king and speak thus to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.
This woman relates to David a story in which she claims to be a widow who had two sons. But in an argument, one son killed the other. Now the family wants to take her surviving son and put him to death for murder. But she wants her remaining son protected as the only heir of her late husband. David assures her with an oath that he will protect her son, saying in verse 11, “As the Lord lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.”
The woman then reveals the whole meaning of her story. If David is willing to protect a murderer from her family, why will he not grant the same protection to his own son, Absalom?
David immediately suspects that Joab is behind this woman’s story, and she confirms it. Instead of getting upset with Joab, however, King David tells him in verse 21, “Behold now, I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.” So, Absalom returns to Jerusalem, but he lives in his own house, and David refuses to see him for two more years.
Now verse 25 gives us some information that sets the stage for Absalom’s rise in popularity in Israel. It says, “Now in all Israel there was no one so much to be praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom.”
Well, after two years of absence from the royal court, Absalom wants Joab to intercede on his behalf to King David, but Joab just ignores him. So, Absalom sets Joab’s fields on fire to get his attention (verse 30)—and it works!
Joab convinces David to summon Absalom, and Absalom comes before the king, humbly bowing his face to the ground. Chapter 14 ends with the simple statement that “the king kissed Absalom.”
The tragedy here is that we find no recognition of sin, expression of repentance, or desire for reconciliation on the part of either man. This kiss is just a royal formality. What is missing is a relationship. Family terms such as father and son are absent here. This is more like a king-servant relationship. And it will not be long before Absalom is plotting to reverse the roles and become Israel’s future king.
Beloved, these rather tragic chapters in 2 Samuel reveal to us a universal principle that is stated in the New Testament book of Galatians: “Whatever one sows, that will he also reap” (Galatians 6:7). The lust, rape, murder, intrigue and deception in David’s family grew from the seeds sown by David’s own adultery, polygamy, murder, and cover-up.
Perhaps David no longer believes he has any moral authority to discipline his children because of his own sins. Beloved, we don’t discipline our children because we are perfect; and we don’t serve the Lord and do the right thing because we have never failed miserably.
No failure is fatal. Every sin can be forgiven. So, let’s imitate our perfect Heavenly Father, who is consistent in discipline, quick to forgive, and ready to reconcile.
The apostle John wrote these words:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:8-
Let’s not forget the consequences of sin—let’s allow them to keep us in careful obedience. But let’s not forget the cleansing we have in Christ.