Last week the Lord sent the prophet Nathan to David to confront him about his sin with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. And do you remember the Lord’s grace and mercy towards David? Though David deserved to die for his sins, the Lord spared him and let him continue to live as king. And though David and Bathsheba’s son died, in due course another son, Solomon, was born to them. And that son was loved by God and would eventually succeed David as king. And many years after that, the Lord Jesus was born, who is both God and man in one person. And he was, according to his human nature, descended from David and Solomon. He is King David’s greater Son. And so, he was born as one of us and he died, but was raised and he ascended to heaven to rule over all forever. And so, despite David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah, God kept his promise to David and the world that David’s house and his kingdom will endure and that one of David’s descendants would rule as king forever.
So, God was gracious and merciful towards David and he spared David’s life. However, Nathan also warned David that his family will be ruined by violence and his family will be ruined by shame. And that’s what we see in today’s chapter, because we have this shameful story in the first half of the chapter of how Amnon, David’s eldest son, attacked and abused his half-sister, Tamar. And then in the second half of today’s chapter, we read how Amnon was murdered by his half-brother, Absalom. So, there’s shame and there’s violence in this chapter.
In fact, this chapter is one of those chapters which we almost wish had been left out of the Scriptures. And preachers are often tempted to skip over such chapters, because what we read here is unpleasant and it doesn’t seem very edifying. We’d expect this kind of thing in a movie or in a TV drama for adults; and if it were on Netflix, a content warning would appear in the top corner of the screen to warn us about it. But here it is in the Bible.
However, we believe the Bible is God’s inspired word. We believe it is breathed out by God. We believe it is useful for teaching and for rebuking and for correcting and for training us in righteousness. And so, since this chapter is part of God’s inspired word, then it must be useful for us. And so, we can’t leave it out. We can’t skip over it. As we do with all of Scripture, we must receive it, and believe it and obey it because it is the word of God.
In fact, as we’ll see, this chapter is a reminder that though David was God’s Anointed King at that time and he was appointed by God to rule over God’ people in the Promised Land, nevertheless he wasn’t the true Anointed King; and the Lord’s people were not yet in the true Promised Land. This chapter reminds us that we live in a fallen, sinful world and we’re waiting and we’re longing for something better. Something better. And the good news is that God has something better in store for all his people.
Verses 1 to 22
And so, the chapter begins with this shameful story. And we’re introduced to three of David’s children. There’s Amnon, who was David’s firstborn son. And there’s Amnon’s half-sister, Tamar, and his half-brother, Absalom. David, you see, had many wives and one of his wives had given birth to Amnon and another wife had given birth to Absalom and Tamar. So, it’s already a messy situation, isn’t it? And it gets worse when we read in verse 1 that Amnon fell in love with his half-sister. Of course, it wasn’t really love, it was sinful desire. That’s all it was. And if you read through this chapter at home, you’ll notice how frequently the narrator uses the words ‘brother’ and ‘sister’. It’s as if he’s hammering home for us what a mess this family was in. Who would think that a brother would act like this towards his sister?
Verse 2 tells us how frustrated Amnon felt, because it seemed to him that he couldn’t do anything about his desire. And then we read about this man, Jonadab, who is introduced as Amnon’s friend, or advisor really, who was also his cousin. And we’re told he was very shrewd. Other English translations say he was very crafty. He was clever and he was sneaky. And this clever, sneaky, crafty man came up with a plan for Amnon: Pretend you’re ill and ask David to send Tamar to your room to take care of you. And Amnon listened to his advice and lay down and pretended to be ill. Sure enough, David came in to see him and Amnon asked for Tamar. The NIV says he asked for ‘special bread’. The Hebrew word he uses is connected to the word for ‘heart’ and so the commentators think he’s asking for some kind of heart-shaped cake. It’s a strange thing for a man to want from his sister, but David does what he asked and sends Tamar to him.
And Tamar, a dutiful daughter, did what her father asked: She went to Amnon and baked the cakes in his presence. But when she served him the cakes, he refused to eat them. Instead he sent everyone out of the room, apart from Tamar. And then he attacked her. We see in verses 12 and 13 how she tried to stop him and how she protested:
Don’t, my brother. Don’t force me.
More literally she said: ‘Don’t humiliate me.’
Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing!
She’s saying to him: Don’t you realise that this is wrong! And then she said:
What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel.
So, think about how this will affect me; and think how it will affect you; both of us will be ruined because of this. And she suggested that he should first speak to the king, because the king will be able to work something out. Tamar tried to stop him. And she protested. And she pleaded. But according to verse 14, he refused to listen to her. He did not love her, because if he loved her, he would have listened to her. This was not love, but lust. It was sinful desire. And he overpowered her and attacked her.
And look at verse 15 which tells us that afterwards Amnon hated her with intense hatred. He now hated her more than he had loved her. Presumably his hatred for her was due to his own feelings of shame and guilt which he now directed at her. And one of the commentators wonders whether he blamed her for what he had done. But, of course, there was no one to blame but himself. He’s the one who sinned and did wrong. But he hated her and said to her:
Get up and get out!
Once more she protested, saying that sending her away now would be worse than what he did to her before. It’s not entirely clear what she expected from him, but whatever it was, he refused. And he even summoned one of his servants to have her removed and to bolt the door after her. And instead of referring to her as his sister as he had done before, he refers to her in verse 17 as ‘this woman’. In fact, the word ‘woman’ doesn’t appear in the Hebrew text. So, what he really said was, ‘Get this thing out of here.’
We’re told she put ashes on her head and tore her clothes and wept aloud which were signs of mourning in those days. She was mourning because of what Amnon had done to her. However, the narrator also tells us that the robe she wore was the kind of robe which the virgin daughters of the king wore in those days. And so, she tore that robe, because she was no longer one of the virgin daughters of the king.
And here comes her brother, Absalom. What will he do? Well, he understands what has happened and he tells her to be quiet and not to take it to heart. And what he was really saying to her is: ‘Leave this with me. I’ll deal with Amnon.’ Nevertheless, Tamar was left a desolate woman. And it seems she spent the rest of her life living in her brother’s house. One of the commentators says that she was left as one laid waste, with the joy of her life hopelessly destroyed. Being violently attacked by one brother and having to live alone in another brother’s house was not the life she imagined for herself.
This is a shameful story, but it’s what Nathan said would happen to David’s family when he foretold that violence and shame would run this family. And it was not yet over. But before we get to what Absalom did to Amnon, we’re told in verse 21 that when David found out what had happened, he was furious. He was furious. But it seems he did not take any action against Amnon. Meanwhile Absalom did not speak to his brother and he hated him because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.
Verses 23 to 39
According to verse 23, two years passed. So, for two years, Absalom did not speak to his brother. For two years, Absalom hated his brother. For two years, he bided his time, waiting for the right moment to act. And after two years, he invited David, his father, and all his brothers and his father’s officials to come to his sheep-shearing jamboree. Sheep-shearing was hard work; and so it was customary in those day to hold these parties at the same time to make the work that bit more bearable. So, Absalom invited his father and all his brothers and his father’s officials to this sheep-shearing party. David declined. It would be too expensive for Absalom to host them all. Absalom insists, but David would not change his mind. One of the commentators speculates that Absalom never expected his father to agree. He was using a sales technique on his father: asking him for something extravagant, which he’ll refuse, in the hope that he’ll then feel under pressure to agree to the next request. And the next request is the thing that Absalom really wanted:
If not, please let me brother Amnon come with us.
David is a little unsure, but agrees finally to send Amnon and the rest of David’s sons.
And then in verse 28 we discover what Absalom was plotting. He told his men to wait until Amnon has had too much to drink. Then I’ll give the word. And when I give the word, kill him. And that’s exactly what happened. Afterwards, the rest of the brothers got up and fled. Maybe they thought they would be next. And somehow or other, and we don’t know how, but word got back to David about what had happened. However, the report was not quite accurate. The rumour that reached David was that all his sons were dead. David believed what he heard, and tore his clothes and lay down on the ground to mourn for his dead sons. But somehow or other, and we don’t know how, but Jonadab knows or suspects what really happened. And sure enough, the watchman looked out and saw David’s surviving sons return.
Of course, Absalom was not with them, because Absalom had fled to stay with this man Talmai, who was his father-in-law and the king of Geshur, which was one of the Canaanite tribes. So, he went to live among the pagans. And he remained there for three years. We’re told in verse 37 that David mourned for his son. Presumably the text is referring to Amnon. So, David mourned for his son, Amnon, who had been killed. Verse 39 is difficult to translate, but the NIV is suggesting that during the three years when Absalom was in Geshur, David’s spirit longed to go to him. In other words, he wanted to see his estranged son.
One of his sons was dead. The other was living far away from him. His family had been ruined by violence and shame, just as Nathan had said it would. And unfortunately for David, this was not the end of his trouble, because there will be more trouble for him to endure in the chapters which follow. But for now, we can say that Amnon should not have attacked and abused his half-sister. And Absalom should not have plotted Amnon’s death, taking matters into his own hands and taking revenge on his brother. And, of course, David the king should have done something. It was his duty as king to see that justice was done and that Amnon should have paid for what he did to Tamar. So, Amnon was at fault. And so was Absalom. And so was David.
I’ve already said that this is one of those chapters in the Bible which we almost wish was not in the Bible. And preachers are often tempted to skip these chapters. And there are a few chapters like that. In Genesis 34, there’s the shameful story of what Shechem did to Jacab’s daughter, Dinah; and what Jacob’s sons then did to the city of Shechem afterwards. In Genesis 38, there’s the shameful story of what Judah did to another woman called Tamar, who was his daughter-in-law. And then in the book of Judges, there’s chapter 19 and the story of the Levite’s concubine who was attacked and murdered.
These are all unpleasant stories. The first two took place during the time of the patriarchs — Abraham and Isaac and Jacob — who received the promise of God that they and their descendants would live in the Promised Land. The story from Judges took place during the time of the judges, when the Lord’s people were living in the Promised Land in fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And today’s story took place during the time of the monarchy, when God had appointed his Anointed King to rule over his people on his behalf in the Promised Land.
So, we have these shameful stories in the time of the patriarchs and in the time of the judges and in the time of the kings. Each of these time periods was better than the previous period. So, the time of the judges was better than the time of the patriarchs, because the people were living in the Promised Land. And the time of the kings was better than the time of the judges, because a king gave more stability to the nation than a judge did. And we can perhaps imagine the people in each period of time hoping that the next period of time will be better. So, we can imagine the patriarchs hoping that when they live in the Promised Land, things will be better. And, we can imagine the people during the time of the judges hoping that when there’s a king things will be better. But now in today’s passage, the people have a king and things are still no better. And, in fact, the king and his family were doing these terrible things.
And, if you read on in the Old Testament, you’ll read how the kings continued to sin against the Lord and the people did as well. They forsook the Lord and went after false gods. And they disregarded the word of the Lord and did wicked things which he forbade. And when the Lord’s patience ran out, he sent them into exile. And no doubt the people in exile thought that things would be better when they returned from exile and were allowed to live in the Promised Land once again. But if you remember our studies in Ezra and Nehemiah, then you’ll remember that the people who came back from exile were no better than before. They still sinned against the Lord. And they sinned against the Lord, because although they were back in the Promised Land, they had not yet come to the true Promised Land. They were still living in a fallen, sinful world which is full of sinners who sin against the Lord continually.
And even though we ourselves live after the day of Pentecost, when the risen Lord Jesus poured his Spirit upon the church to enable us to love and obey him like never before, we are still sinners who sin against him continually. Though we have the help of the Spirit to enable us to walk in the ways of the Lord and to do his will, we still live according to the flesh, doing what is evil in the sight of the Lord. Do you remember what Paul said? The fruit of the Spirit is love and joy and peace and patience and kindness and goodness and faithfulness and gentleness and self-control. That’s what we should be like all of the time. But the acts of the flesh are sexual immorality and impurity and debauchery; and idolatry and witchcraft; and hatred and discord and jealousy and fits of rage and selfish ambition and dissensions and factions and envy and drunkenness and orgies and the like. We’re meant to walk by the Spirit, because he will lead us along the right path and show us how to live as God’s people. However, what we find is that the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit and it leads us in the wrong way entirely.
And because we’re still sinners, we still sin against the Lord by not loving him as we should with all of our heart and soul and mind and strength. And because we’re still sinners, we still sin against one another by not loving one another as we should. And so, think back over this past week and think about the times when you sinned against the Lord and fell short of doing his will. Think of how you fell short of loving the people around you; and instead of loving them, you hurt them by what you said and by what you did.
And, of course, because we live in a fallen, sinful world, the people around us will hurt us and make us weep by the things they do to us. And who knows? Perhaps there’s someone here today and you’ve been hurt as Tamar was hurt and the painful memories of what happened to you still makes you weep; and perhaps it destroyed the joy of your life. And there will be others here today who are suffering in other ways because of something someone did to you.
So, we’re covered in shame because of what we have done. And we’re suffering because of what others have done to us. This is our life in this fallen, sinful world. And we therefore long for something better. We long for something better. We long for a time when we’re able to love God perfectly and to do his will. We long for a time when we’re able to love one another and we’re not led astray by our sinful flesh and we’re not overcome by temptation and our own weakness. We long for a time when our pain and sorrow will be forgotten and when there will be no more tears, but only peace and joy. We long for a better world.
And the good news of the gospel is that God the Son came into the world as one of us to pay for our sins with his life, before rising again to give you life. And what he promises you and what he promises everyone who believes in him is eternal life, not in this fallen, sinful world — because who could stand that? — but eternal life in the new and better world to come, eternal life in the true Promised Land, where all of God’s people will enjoy perfect peace and rest forever and forever. The Lord Jesus Christ died to bring sinners to God; and through faith in Christ we have peace with God. And if you’re trusting in him, then you know that right now, he’s preparing a place for you. And one day, he’s coming back to bring you to that place to be with him forever.
And in the meantime, he gives you his Spirit to help you to fight against temptation and to resist the desires of the sinful flesh and to do God’s will more and more. And he assures you that, when you sin — and you will sin because you’re a sinner — when you sin, there’s forgiveness for you, because Christ has paid for your sins with his life. And he produces in you that longing, that yearning for something better than this. And he promises that when you come into his presence, God himself will wipe the tears from your eyes, and all the mourning and crying and pain of this life will have passed away. And you will never sin again. And there will be no one who will ever sin against you.
And so, what’s the point of a chapter like this one? It’s to remind us that we live in a fallen, sinful world. But God has something better in store for you and for all who trust in his Son.