Absalom Avenging Tamar: An Old Testament Tale of Brotherly Vengeance

Absalom Avenging Tamar: An Old Testament Tale of Brotherly Vengeance June 29, 2022

In 2 Samuel, we read the story of Absalom, one of King David’s sons, avenging his sister Tamar. Tamar (Absalom’s full-blooded sister) was a victim of sexual violence at the hands of Amnon, their half-brother. After their father refused to see justice done, Absalom waited for the perfect chance to kill Amnon.

Content/Trigger Warning: Discussion of r*pe and sexual violence

Amnon and Tamar

I didn’t realize until I reread this passage that Amnon was David’s eldest son. Naturally, this means that he was supposed to inherit the throne. As Zuko from Avatar: The Last Airbender would say, “That’s rough, buddy.”

It’s impossible to pity a guy who lusted after and r*ped his half-sister.

In my last blog post, I mentioned my nightmare as a big brother, of something vile like this happening to my sisters. I could read this story a thousand times, and I’d never be able to understand how Amnon could justify this cruelty.

Right out the gate at the start of 2 Samuel 13, the text says that Amnon made himself sick over Tamar. Aka was so madly in lust with his half-sister that he made himself physically ill.

“And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her.” (2 Samuel 13:2)

At the behest of his cousin, Jonadab, Amnon feigned sickness and asked David to send Tamar to his bedside. None the wiser, David had Tamar go to her half-brother’s house.

When Tamar approached Amnon’s bed with food, he demanded that she sleep with him. Tamar refused, and Amnon violated her.

Absalom’s Patient Revenge

Amnon is a demon for what he did to Tamar. The text notes that he hated her after he violated her. Amnon hated Tamar so much that he ordered her removed from his home.

When Absalom found out about what had happened, he did his best to comfort his sister. Tamar stayed with Absalom, possibly for the rest of her life.

Absalom refused to speak to Amnon for entirely understandable reasons after this atrocity. Nobody can blame him for disowning Amnon.

Two Years Later

While the text says that David was angry when he found out what Amnon had done, there’s no mention of him demanding justice. That’s repugnant. I can only imagine how much more humiliated Tamar was, knowing that her father (the king) refused to punish Amnon.

After two years, Absalom pulled a cunning trick to lure Amnon into his clutches. He proposed a feast and invited all of David’s sons, including David himself. My ESV Bible notes that Absalom most likely invited his father to conceal his murderous intentions.

Absalom ordered his servants to strike Amnon down once his half-brother was drunk enough. His servants obeyed, and the rest of David’s sons fled the feast in terror.

Rumors about Amnon’s death spread like wildfire, and somebody told David that all of his sons had been murdered. Understandably, David was heartbroken. Ironically, it was Jonadab, the evil cousin who encouraged Amnon to trick Tamar, who told David the truth:

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. 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.'” (2 Samuel 13:32-33)

David’s Silent Relief

Here’s a verse that threw me for a loop:

“And King David longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon’s death.” (2 Samuel 13: 39)

Huh? David was “consoled concerning Amnon’s death”? Does this mean that he was secretly relieved that Absalom murdered Amnon?

On top of that, why didn’t David do anything in the wake of Amnon’s crime against Tamar? I found this discussion on the matter. One of the theories that stood out to me was the possibility that David didn’t do anything because, knowing what he’d done to Bathsheba and Uriah, he didn’t have the moral standing/right to condemn his son.

I can see it, and I cringe, realizing that I might have had the same mentality if I had been in David’s shoes. It feels icky, wanting to call somebody out for their wrongdoings knowing that your slate isn’t clean either. If this theory is true, then David wanted to avoid being a hypocrite in God’s eyes.

But that potential desire to avoid hypocrisy doesn’t erase the fact that he was the king and Tamar’s father. Tamar must’ve felt betrayed by David’s willful inaction. As if what Amnon did to her wasn’t humiliating enough, her father couldn’t bring himself to give her justice.

David had the responsibility on multiple levels to punish Amnon. Absalom objectively murdered his half-brother in revenge, no doubt about it. The big brother in me wonders what I would’ve done if I was in his shoes.

Why, David?

Whenever I encounter these ugly passages in the Books of Samuel, I grimace at David’s character. We weren’t told about these stories in Sunday School. Learning that the hero who slew Goliath made these horrible mistakes is so disheartening.

When Absalom later plots against his father and seeks to overthrow the kingdom, David refuses to harm him, either. In fact, when Joab and other soldiers managed to kill Absalom, instead of feeling any sense of relief, David bitterly wept over him.

Joab snapped David out of his grief and admonished him. He pulled no punches with this speech:

“Then Joab went into the house to the king and said, ‘Today you have humiliated all your men, who have just saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters and the lives of your wives and concubines. You love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that the commanders and their men mean nothing to you. I see that you would be pleased if Absalom were alive today and all of us were dead.

Now go out and encourage your men. I swear by the Lord that if you don’t go out, not a man will be left with you by nightfall. This will be worse for you than all the calamities that have come on you from your youth till now.'” (2 Samuel 19:5-7)

Yowza. “You love those who hate you and hate those who love you.”

Mind you, Joab was David’s nephew, but that didn’t stop him from ripping into his uncle. It’s possible that Joab was also angry at David’s inaction against Amnon.

David and Morality

I know that David had a huge heart. In 1 Samuel 13:14, the prophet Samuel refers to him as a “man after God’s own heart”. To be fair to David, there are probably a lot of other unwritten details about these events that we can’t read.

Even then, I wish David had done better for his children. Poor Tamar.

On a happier note, Absalom named one of his daughters Tamar in honor of his sister (2 Samuel 14:27). He might’ve been a conniving, murderous fellow, but heck, he sure did love her!

Ultimately, this story serves as a reminder that when those in power refuse to ensure justice is done, it creates a vacuum that makes way for vigilante vengeance. David refused to do the necessary thing both as a leader and as a parent, no matter what his reasoning was at the time. Even though Amnon was his firstborn son, he should’ve been brought to justice.

Featured Image by Pexels/Pixabay

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