His name was synonymous with integrity. He was the kingdom’s next big thing, a figure spoken of in messianic terms. And he was a disgusting sexual predator.
This is the story of Amnon, the son of David and crown Prince of Israel, who in 2 Samuel 13 rapes his half-sister, Tamar.
Yet it’s not just Amnon. It takes an entire corrupt system to plot the evil, perpetrate it, silence the victim, and cover it up. The devastation of Tamar takes a wicked opportunist, Amnon, but it also takes a diabolical adviser, Jonadab, an impotent king, David, and a cowardly brother, Absalom. All of them play a role in creating or maintaining this perverse ecosystem.
Meet the Characters
Amnon, the Faithful
Amnon’s name means “Faithful.” He is meant to be constant in his love. This is the first clue that, in this account, everything will be upside down. He thinks of himself as a romantic. In verse 2 he is lovesick for Tamar, and yet the verse does not end by describing all he wants to do for her. Instead he is tormented that he cannot do anything to Tamar. He flatters himself that he is a faithful lover, but his “love” finds its consummation in rape. And once he had done all he wanted to her, “Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her” (v. 15).
Amnon flatters himself that he is a faithful lover, but his ‘love’ finds its consummation in rape.
The “son of David” is meant to be a messianic figure (cf. 2 Sam. 7:12–26; Matt. 21:9). Amnon turns out to be an anti-Christ.
But none of this evil could have happened without the other members of this dysfunctional kingdom. Next let’s consider . . .
Jonadab, the Wise
Amnon’s evil would have remained a wicked fantasy if it weren’t for his adviser, Jonadab. He is introduced as “shrewd,” just like the serpent of Genesis 3. Jonadab slithers into the scene and suggests grasping at what is forbidden. This too is a betrayal of his name. Jonadab means “the LORD gives,” but while God might use his power to give, Jonadab reckons “the king’s son” should take whatever he wants (vv. 4–5). This taking will be like the forbidden taking by Adam and Eve, and the forbidden taking by David of Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11). It involves a ruler who abdicates his true responsibilities, exposes the woman he should protect, and unleashes havoc on his kingdom. Sin spreads, unravels, metastasizes. The simple advice of Jonadab works itself out in the desecration of Tamar, the eventual deaths of Amnon and Absalom, the inconsolable grief of David, a civil war, and a kingdom torn apart.
Tamar, the Upright
Her name means “Palm Tree.” We are to think of tall elegance, fruitfulness, and uprightness. She is the only person to evidence any virtue in the story and, horrifically, it’s her virtue that is turned against her. Because she is a skillful cook and a caring sister, she is lured into Amnon’s bedroom as he pretends to an illness on Jonadab’s advice. There he grabs her and says, “Lie with me, my sister” (v. 11).
Here is what we now call traumatic sexualization. “My sister” represents their innocent connection. “Lie with me” is the outrageous twisting of their relationship. She protests with six attempts to reason with Amnon (vv. 12–13). One should have sufficed: “Don’t.” Yet verse 14 boils it down to its stark horror: “He refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.”
Tamar protests with six attempts to reason with Amnon. One should have sufficed: ‘Don’t.’
Tamar’s ordeal, though, is not over. Once Amnon has crashed through every barrier she could possibly erect, he re-abuses her by throwing her out of his world (v. 15–18). Having been cast off, she is in mourning, desolate and desecrated (v. 19). The tall palm tree is felled and fruitless. But this is not all. The system continues to grind her in its gears. Here comes her full brother, Absalom.
Absalom, the Peacemaker
His name means “Father of Peace,” yet the peace Absalom pursues is a parody of biblical shalom. First he hushes up his grieving sister: “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart” (v. 20).
The Holy Sprit calls it rape (v. 14). Absalom calls it “being with.” And somehow he wants Tamar to be placated—rather than further appalled—that it was her brother. This is typical of the way the family card is played by the men in this chapter. Uniformly they play it in order to minimize and manipulate. Yet this is the false peace Absalom brings—the “peace and quiet” of the coverup and then, later in the chapter, the false peace of vigilante justice (vv. 23–29). He decides to “manage” the problem in the darkness rather than bring it into the light. Absalom is therefore silent and silencing when it matters for him, but then piles on in mob violence when it doesn’t.
David, the Powerful
In verse 21 we see the reaction such evil ought to provoke: “When King David heard all this, he was furious.”
That is entirely right. Yet the tragedy is that this is all David does. He does not go to his daughter; he does not confront Amnon; he does not exile Jonadab; he does not speak with Absalom. As the consequences of his sins with Bathsheba play themselves out, he is impotent. One wonders whether, if David had not sinned so catastrophically in 2 Samuel 11, he might have confronted these evils with a robust sense of moral authority. As it is, the king—Tamar’s father—is passive in the face of evil.
The king—Tamar’s father—is passive in the face of evil.
As we turn our attention to modern abuse scandals, the application is clear: it is not enough to identify the single bad apple, the Amnons. The “village” must be addressed. If we want to protect our Tamars—and we must—then we must face our capacities for evil. And those capacities will be many and various.
We may not be an Amnon, yet we can assist one. We may not intend any evil, and yet collaborate in a coverup as we “manage” the “problem.” We may consider our intentions entirely honorable (no doubt Absalom thought this about himself), yet be blind to the role we’re playing and the damage we’re doing.
The questions we ask ourselves ought to be searching, the answers difficult, and the repentance heartfelt. If 2 Samuel 13 is our teacher, we must be aware that addressing abuse means confronting all kinds of evil—evil out there, and evil in me. And this evil will take different forms. So we ask:
Am I Amnon?
An Amnon abuses his power to prey on the weak and then conceal the evil.
Do I use my power to serve or exploit? Do I consider what I can do “to” people or “for” them? Have I allowed the projection of “Faithfulness” to be detached from the reality? Is my reputation more like whitewash for uncleanness beneath? Who gets to see past the outward layer to shine that light? If I’ve done wrong, do I come clean or cover up? Do my sins drive me to the light or further into darkness?
Am I Jonadab?
A Jonadab excuses and enables the evils of an Amnon through strategies and “greater good” rationalizations.
Do I believe in someone’s position and potential so much that I bend the rules or turn a blind eye? Is my loyalty to “an important man doing an important work,” or to victims? Is my instinct to protect the brand or shepherd the flock? Do I see the little people as collateral damage in a greater campaign? Do I value the tribe more than the truth?
Is my instinct to protect the brand or shepherd the flock?
Am I Absalom?
An Absalom seeks to minimize and manage the problems “in house” without bringing them into the light.
Do I prioritize “peace and quiet” over a biblical peace that may disrupt the status quo? Am I minimizing the evils perpetrated for the sake of a quiet life? Am I playing the “family card” or the “loyalty card” to silence or control people? Am I seeking to resolve issues in the light, or manipulate them under cover of darkness? Do I take matters into my own hands, or will I allow the light to shine from outside?
Am I David?
A David may make a show of outrage but ultimately neglects his responsibilities and remains passive.
Am I abdicating my responsibilities to those in my care? Am I failing to confront people and grievances when action is required? Am I letting fears of inadequacy or accusations of hypocrisy prevent me from addressing evil?
There are many ways to be complicit in a dysfunctional system. Merely resolving not to be an Amnon is a low bar to set. And it’s completely insufficient for the protection of Tamars. We may not be an Amnon, but are we a Jonadab, an Absalom, a David? Where do the temptations lie for us?
And of course there’s a fifth character we might be in this chapter.
What About Tamar?
The story of Samuel 13 shows the fallen house of David—the fallen house of men. Isaiah 9 shows the redemption:
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.
The house of men cannot raise itself up to be the house of God. Instead the Mighty God descends—and how different he is! Consider his four names.
- He is the Wonderful Counselor. Not like Jonadab, the scheming adviser. His wisdom is to use omnipotence in the service of love.
- He is the Mighty God. Not like David, the impotent, handwringing king. Here is a ruler who will establish “justice and righteousness.”
- He is the Everlasting Father. Amnon’s “love” so quickly turned to hate. Yet there is One with an eternal and dependable love.
- He is the Prince of Peace. Unlike Absalom, Christ is neither a coward nor a vigilante; he neither minimizes nor manipulates. While Absalom brought increasing war and strife in 2 Samuel, Christ brings an unending empire of peace.
Today we are heirs to that kingdom—predicted by Isaiah, established by Christ’s death and resurrection, now increasing unstoppably on the earth. This kingdom overturns the ways of men. The one who became Victim on the cross has proved himself Victor, and he is Victor precisely because of his self-sacrifice. In his kingdom rulers serve, the powerful protect, the lowly are lifted, bodies are temples, sex is sacred, and victims are honored. When these truths are violated, when God’s children are violated—and when it occurs in Christ’s church, even in his name—there could not be a greater evil. It is anti-Christ.
But Christ is stronger than anti-Christ. This is the very essence of Christian faith. Can we look at the evil of this world—all its anti-Christ ways—and yet say that Christ is stronger, truer, more real? To confess this is to believe. And to believe is to have hope.
Of course, it is extremely difficult to hope if you are Tamar. If you have lived through 2 Samuel 13, it can seem impossible to believe in Isaiah 9. Yet if you have known something of the goodness, power, and love of Jesus, then listen to that small voice whispering, The Victim yet lives! And he lives for me! Dare to believe again in Christ. And—this may take much longer—dare to believe in his kingdom, his people. Isaiah 9 assures us that there remains a place of true peace, a new society, a true community. This is the place of hope and healing. It will, of course, be immensely difficult to trust again. But in a world full of Amnons, where else can we go? As you dare to believe in Christ—that very different “Son of David”—dare also to believe in Christ’s very different kingdom.
And may Christ strengthen and equip us all, by his Spirit, to make the church a sanctuary worthy of his name.