11. Rape, Murder, and Conspiracy in David's Family (2 Samuel 13:1-15:13)


Audio (40:04)

John J. Tissot, 'Absalom' (1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.
John J. Tissot, 'Absalom' (1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York. Larger image.

In the following narrative we see several things going on. Most apparent is the affair between Amnon and his sister Tamar, and his death at the hands of his brother Absalom. But beneath this drama is a struggle for succession to the throne.

Amnon is the firstborn and heir apparent to the throne. The second-born, Kileab or Chileab, isn't mentioned. Perhaps he died young. But Absalom, the third-born, is eager to gain the throne, and that lies behind his action to murder his brother Amnon.

I wish I could point to some deep spiritual learnings that we will take hold of in this lesson, but, alas, the narrative is a sad one with little redeeming value. Probably, the main lessons are two-fold. First, that Nathan's prophecy to David comes to pass with withering severity:

"Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house....  Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you." (12:10-11)

Second, that the sins of the father often become the sins of the son. We do not sin in isolation! Each sin tends to foster more sin, and provide precedents for others to follow.

We'll be covering a lot of ground in this lesson, so my comments will be brief. My main goals here is to help you to understand what is going on and the implications for David's life -- and our lives.

Amnon Lusts after His Half-Sister Tamar (13:1-14)

"1 In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. 2 Amnon became frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her." (13:1-2)

Amnon (whose name means "faithful") and Tamar (whose name seems to mean "date palm") are half-brother and half-sister. Amnon's mother is Ahinoam of Jezreel, while Absalom's and Tamar's mother is Maacah, daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur (2 Samuel 3:3).[239]

The text says that Amnon "fell in love" (NIV, NRSV), "loved" (KJV) Tamar. Like our English word "love," the Hebrew verb ʾāhab can cover a wide variety of intents and emotions.[240] Probably Amnon's love could best be described as infatuation mixed with strong lust. Amnon doesn't care about his half-sister's welfare, but about fulfilling his own sexual obsessions.

Amnon doesn't have any way to spend time with Tamar. The king's grown sons live in their own homes rather than in the palace. However, Tamar, as the king's virgin daughter, would live in the palace, probably confined to the women's quarters and carefully guarded.[241] Amnon probably sees her at family gatherings, but otherwise has no access to her whatsoever.

Amnon's close friend and cousin Jonadab (whose name means "Yahweh is noble, liberal"), discerns something wrong with Amnon. The narrator refers to Jonadab as "crafty" (NRSV).[242]  Here, Jonadab -- who later in this chapter seems to be an advisor in the king's court (13:32-35) -- is wise, but not very ethical. Though I'm not sure Jonadab anticipated Amnon raping Tamar, he certainly gives advice that helps Amnon get Tamar alone.

Jonadab suggests that Amnon pretend to be ill and ask David, when he visits his sick son, "I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand" (13:6).

There have been all sorts of speculations about why having Tamar prepare food for Amnon was a believable ruse. Perhaps the food was thought to have some kind of special curative quality. We don't know. The Hebrew word translated "special food" (NIV), "cakes" (NRSV, KJV) may be "some kind of dumplings or puddings," since they were apparently boiled, perhaps heart-shaped. They may have been made from dough laced with healing herbs.[243]

As Jonadab anticipates, David comes, grants Amnon's request, and directs Tamar to go to her brother's house to make him the cakes. While she prepares the food, Amnon watches her through the open door from his bedroom. Then he demands that everyone leave the room -- his own servants, as well as the handmaid who probably serves as chaperone for Tamar.

When she hands him the food at his bedside, he grabs her, commands her to have sex with him, and tries to rape her. She resists. She tries to argue that raping her:

  1. Is an outrageous breach of the law of Israel.

  2. Will disgrace her publicly,
  3. Will hurt Amnon's reputation -- he will be regarded as "one of the wicked fools in Israel," and
  4. Is not necessary, since if he asks the king, David could grant Amnon's request to marry her legally.

Amnon doesn't listen to reason. He is stronger, overpowers her, and rapes her.[244]

Whether this would be considered incest in David's time, we're not sure. To marry a half-sister is forbidden in the Torah (Leviticus 18:9), but there is the precedent of Abraham and Sarah. At least Tamar tells Amnon that marriage would be possible. She is doing everything she can to avoid being raped!

For the crown prince to rape his sister will certainly be considered an outrageous breach of Israel's law![245] Tamar's words -- "Such a thing should not be done in Israel!"-- are a deliberate echo from the story of the rape of Jacob's daughter Dinah by Shechem, who "had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob's daughter, for such a thing ought not to be done" (Genesis 34:7).

Amnon Rejects Tamar (8:15-20)

Now that Amnon has raped Tamar, his "love" turns to intense hatred. Why did Amnon now hate the sister whom he once "loved"?

First, because he never truly loved her. Rather he was infatuated, fed by obsessive lust.

Second, he was probably transferring to her the loathing he felt for himself for such a despicable act as rape, especially incestuous rape. This hatred is a form of projection. Amnon subconsciously denies his own sin and projects it on his half-sister. We saw projection at work with David's judgment on the man in Nathan's parable in Lesson 10 above.

Absalom commands Tamar, "Get up and get out!" She protests that sending her away is worse yet. The law requires the rapist of an unbetrothed virgin to marry her. By sending her away, Amnon is putting her in a position in this culture that no decent man will ever marry her -- and indeed that is the case!

Tamar rips her beautiful royal robe and puts ashes on her head -- marks of deep mourning -- and goes away weeping loudly. She leaves with her hand on her head, apparently another sign of grief (Jeremiah 2:37).[246] She is not slinking away, hiding her shame. She is shattered, unable to contain her grief!

When her brother Absalom hears of it, he realizes what has happened. He says, "Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart" (13:20a). This sounds like little comfort to me. However, it also seems that Absalom is saying, "Don't worry about it. I'll deal with him." The narrator concludes this sordid business with the statement: "Tamar lived in her brother Absalom's house, a desolate woman" (13:20b). How sad!

David Does Nothing (13:21-22)

Now we read of David's reaction:

"21 When King David heard all this, he was furious. 22 Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar." (13:21-22)

David's reaction is anger -- but he takes no action to punish a criminal act. Indeed, some early versions of the text add a sentence to verse 21 that could well have been in the original, but was omitted by a copyist from the Masoretic text:

"But he did not curb the excesses (literally, 'spirit') of his son Amnon; he favored him because he was his firstborn."[247]

The king's son, the heir to the throne, can get away with rape and incest.

Here is another hint of a flaw in David's leadership that we first noticed in Lesson 7, when Joab murders Amasa and David takes no action to bring justice (3:39).

Perhaps the very reason that Amnon rapes his sister is because he is sure that his father won't do anything to him. If this were judged to be incest according to Leviticus 18:9, 29, the exact punishment seems vague,[248] but we are not sure this is the issue here.

For raping an unbetrothed virgin, Amnon could be forced to pay a bride price and marry Tamar (Exodus 22:16-17).[249] However, within the king's own household, payment of a bride price would mean nothing. In addition David doesn't want to cloud the crown prince's status by a marriage that neither he nor Tamar really wanted -- and a marriage which would be unacceptable to the people.

What David could have done -- and probably should have done -- would have been to formally remove Amnon from succession to the kingship for such a despicable act. However, beyond being angry, David doesn't do anything. Sadly, he has lost the moral authority he had as the righteous king who loves Yahweh. How can he judge his own son for sexual sins and not judge himself?

Where parents lose the moral leadership of their families, their children have neither a consistent role model nor an authority figure by which to guide their own actions. Dear friends, Satan would have us believe that illicit sex between "consenting adults" is no one's business but their own. That is a lie. Our sins have consequences beyond ourselves, and can damage anyone within our sphere of influence. At the political level, sexual misdeeds have toppled governments, made it difficult for presidents to lead, and kept people from running for high office. In churches, we have seen congregations devastated and parishioners disillusioned, their faith destroyed. On the home front, sexual misdeeds destroy families, create poverty, and mess up the lives of children. God help us and have mercy on us!

Absalom, who appears to be in second position to assume the kingship on David's death, does not do anything either -- for now. He makes no public statements. He waits.

Q1. (2 Samuel 13:21-22) Why do you think David doesn't discipline his son Amnon for his sexual assault on his half-sister? What are the consequences of David's inaction?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=1195

Absalom Murders Amnon, then Flees (13:23-39)

 Absalom's hatred simmers for two years. Then he makes his move.  Spring sheep shearing is often celebrated with festive meals and a spirit of generosity as the wool is harvested (1 Samuel 25:8). Absalom arranges a huge party at his ranch located in Baal Hazor, on a hill identified with Jebel ʿAsûr, 4 to 5 miles northeast of Bethel,[250] and about 17 to 18 miles north of Jerusalem.

Absalom makes a big point of trying to get his father and his court to come -- knowing that they will not attend. When David makes his excuses, Absalom moves to his real purpose: to request that his father send Amnon, the crown prince, to represent him and convey his blessings on this occasion. David questions this, but then agrees to send all his sons to the festivities. Now Absalom can get to Amnon unguarded.

 Absalom orders his men to kill Amnon when he becomes drunk and they do. The crown prince is assassinated by the second in line to the throne -- who now is in line for the throne himself! Absalom's primary motive is to avenge his sister's rape and rejection. However, this is aligned with another strong ambition -- to be king himself someday!

James J. Tissot, 'David Mourns His Son Amnon'(1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York.
James J. Tissot, 'David Mourns His Son Amnon' (1896-1902), gouache on board, The Jewish Museum, New York. Larger image.

With the crown prince dead on the ground, the other princes flee to Jerusalem while Absalom flees in the opposite direction, north to the Aramean kingdom of Geshur, northeast of the Sea of Galilee, his mother's birthplace. Absalom seeks asylum with his mother's relatives -- a powerful royal family. True, at some point David had conquered the Aramean kingdoms and made them his vassals (8:3-8; 10:6-19), but it would be embarrassing -- and potentially expensive -- to force Geshur to extradite Absalom. David doesn't try. The narrator says, "King David mourned for his son every day" (13:37b). His firstborn is dead.

Joab Conspires to Bring Absalom Home (13:39-14:24)

Absalom's exile is now in its third year.

 "The spirit of the king longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon's death." (13:39)

David's nephew Joab has known him for a long time -- ever since the fugitive days in the Judean desert. Occasionally, Joab acts purely in his own self-interest, as he did when he murdered Abner. However, Joab is loyal to David. He knows David longs to see Absalom again (14:1). In addition, he realizes the importance for a succession plan to be in place, so when David dies there won't be a bloody civil war. Absalom is next in line for the throne and is the logical choice. He is headstrong, perhaps, but he is handsome. He looks like a king. So Joab devises a way to get David to reconcile with Absalom.

Now we might look down proudly on all this petty court intrigue. But consider the manipulations that take place in households or workplaces to get the father or the boss to do something. Palaces are pretty human places after all -- only richer.

Map: David's Family Troubles (2 Samuel 13-15).
Map: David's Family Troubles (2 Samuel 13-15). Larger map.

The problem with kings (and bosses and fathers) is that you cannot tell them what to do -- directly. So Joab comes up with a "judicial parable," something like Nathan had used to help David understand his sin with Bathsheba (12:1-4).

He sends for a wise old woman from Tekoa, a town about 10 miles south of Jerusalem, which would be known centuries later as the birthplace of the prophet Amos.[251] This is a woman who is a good enough actress that she can pull off Joab's ruse, sharp enough to think on her feet, and wise enough to keep from offending the king while still pressing her point home. Not an easy task.

Joab tells the woman to dress as if she were a widow who has been mourning for a long time. Then she is to ask for an audience before the king to plead for justice.

She is to explain that her sons got in a fight and one killed the other. Her clan demands that the murderer be put to death for the crime. The result would be that neither son would be alive to take care of his mother, and since women didn't normally inherit, her husband's property would go to another. She would be destitute, and her husband's name and descendants would be cut off.

The story is carefully devised to gain David's sympathy. She is mourning for a son; so is he. The murderer may be cut off, but that would leave her fully bereaved. David feels her hopelessness. He wants to help. "Go home, and I will issue an order in your behalf," he says (14:8).

The woman gets David to affirm it twice. Moreover, David swears that he will protect the son from anyone seeking blood vengeance. "As surely as the LORD lives," he said, "not one hair of your son's head will fall to the ground" (14:11b).

She has the king firmly on her side. Now is the time to spring the trap. She asks permission to speak freely -- and then she confronts the king directly regarding Absalom:

 "13 Why then have you devised a thing like this against the people of God? When the king says this, does he not convict himself, for the king has not brought back his banished son? 14 Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him." (14:13-14)

She admits that this is so, concluding with sweet words designed to turn away any anger: "My lord has wisdom like that of an angel of God -- he knows everything that happens in the land" (14:20)..

It works. David sees the logic in it and tells Joab to bring Absalom back to Jerusalem -- on one condition.

"He must go to his own house; he must not see my face." (14:24a)

Perhaps you have heard the expression in the Aaronic blessing:

"The LORD make his face to shine upon you,
and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance [face] upon you,
and give you peace." (Numbers 6:25-26)

 To "make his face to shine upon you" is another way of saying "to smile at you." To "lift up his countenance" means to look at you. David neither admits Absalom into his presence nor smiles upon him.

Absalom comes home a free man -- essentially pardoned for murdering Amnon the crown prince. But since the king refuses to readmit him to court, it is clear to everyone in the kingdom that Absalom is out of favor with the king. No one wants to associate with a person under this kind of cloud. Absalom is home from exile, but the stalemate continues for another two years (14:28).

Q2. (2 Samuel 13:39-14:24) Why do you think Joab conspires to get David to bring Absalom home? Why do you think David does not immediately show Absalom his favor?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=1196

Absalom Is Restored to David (14:25-33)

The narrator paints an appealing picture of Absalom so that we will understand why so many people began to like Absalom and shift their loyalty from the father to the son.

"25 In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him.
26 Whenever he cut the hair of his head -- he used to cut his hair from time to time when it became too heavy for him -- he would weigh it, and its weight was two hundred shekels by the royal standard. 27 Three sons and a daughter were born to Absalom." (14:25-27a)

The king's son is extremely handsome and has three sons who could succeed him.[252] Future succession won't be a problem. Absalom is seen be a perfect choice as David's successor. But Absalom is still out of favor with the king.

Joab helped Absalom be recalled from exile. Now Absalom needs Joab to help him be restored to the king's favor. But Joab refuses to see him. He won't return his calls.

Absalom is frustrated. Finally, he has Joab's barley field set on fire. Immediately, Joab comes to Absalom's house. If I were trying to gain Joab's favor, I don't think I would fire his crops. But Absalom is bold and direct:

"Look, I sent word to you and said, 'Come here so I can send you to the king to ask, "Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!"'Now then, I want to see the king's face, and if I am guilty of anything, let him put me to death." (14:32-33)

Absalom's demand has the desired effect. Perhaps Joab realizes that David wants to reconcile with his son and that it will be good for the kingdom. He can't foresee that Absalom will try to usurp the kingdom from his father. So he relays Absalom's message to David -- and apparently tells the king what he wants to hear:

"Then the king summoned Absalom, and he came in and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king. And the king kissed Absalom." (14:33)

The kiss is the sign of David's restored favor. David loves Absalom -- even after what he has done. It is good to have Absalom home again. David feels like the father in Jesus' Parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32). He is ready to celebrate!

David's Gradual Decline

Let's step back for a moment to look at the bigger picture. In his early years, David was strong in faith -- the ultimate warrior, full of a holy boldness. He moves from Hebron to Jerusalem and builds an empire that extends from Egypt to Mesopotamia.

Now we are witnessing a David who is corrupt and soft because of his wealth, his victories over all his enemies, his absolute power -- and from his lack of purpose. The once-righteous king has been compromised. Though his relationship with God has been restored, David's weaknesses are beginning to take their toll.

He has been coasting on the achievements and the faith of his vital years. He has become a victim of court intrigue and the accommodations he has made to stay in power and to reward his supporters. Instead of being a player, David is being played by Joab, by Amnon, and by Absalom.

One of the most serious problems is David's inability -- or unwillingness -- to discipline his family and his officers. Joab, it seems, can get away with murder, even if it works directly against his king's interest in uniting the kingdom. Amnon gets away with rape. Absalom gets away with murder. David seems incapable of restoring order to his family or to his kingdom. David's subjects aren't stupid. They see the decline -- and, no doubt, they begin to comment about it to one another.

Absalom's Public Relations Campaign (15:1)

The kingdom is ripe for overthrow and Absalom realizes it. He begins to take steps to endear himself to the people. Absalom becomes the consummate politician. The narrator informs us of his strategies.

Absalom begins to take full advantage of the perks of the crown prince to advance himself in the eyes of the people.

"In the course of time, Absalom provided himself with a chariot and horses and with fifty men to run ahead of him." (15:1)

Chariots are effective for making an impression. When Absalom goes anywhere, he doesn't walk. He rides in a chariot hitched to fine horses, and has a 50-man bodyguard jogging ahead of him wherever he goes. His retinue projects the intended message: Absalom is a very great and important man!

David had been born a shepherd and had spent years as a warrior and a fugitive. He doesn't mind walking barefoot (15:30) or riding on a donkey (16:2). He is used to hardship. However, Absalom has been born a prince and the trappings of power feel natural to him. They reinforce his position in the eyes of people.

Why does David allow such extravagance? Can't he see what is going on? David seems out of touch. As an indulgent father, he allows Absalom to satisfy his whims, even if they are overblown. What's the harm? he thinks.

Absalom Undermines the King's Justice (15:2-4)

Absalom is not just exalting himself. He also begins to undermine his father's reputation and point out his father's weaknesses.

"2 He would get up early and stand by the side of the road leading to the city gate. Whenever anyone came with a complaint to be placed before the king for a decision, Absalom would call out to him, 'What town are you from?' He would answer, 'Your servant is from one of the tribes of Israel.'

3 Then Absalom would say to him, 'Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you.'

4 And Absalom would add, 'If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice.'" (15:2-4)

Personal injury attorneys are sometimes criticized as "ambulance chasers," because some of them will stop at nothing to sign up newly injured clients for expensive lawsuits. In a way, that's what Absalom is doing.

Israel had a judicial system where most disputes were settled at the local level by tribal elders or Levites. But if a person didn't get the justice he desired, he or she had a right to appeal directly to the king -- as had the wise woman from Tekoa (14:1-20). We see two prostitutes appearing before Solomon to determine a baby's true mother (1 Kings 3:16-28). In Near Eastern countries that have monarchs, such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, common people have such a right even today.

Absalom now stands outside the city gate to spot people coming to Jerusalem to appeal to the king for justice. He inquires about them, listens to their case, and tells them that they should be entitled to win a verdict in their favor. But then he bemoans the weaknesses of the king's judicial system and promises that if he were appointed judge, he would bring justice.

He does this consistently for four years. His subtle disloyalty to his father is somehow overlooked. David probably chooses to interpret Absalom's interest in justice as good training for a future king. He has no clue that his son is seeking to undermine him with the people.

Absalom, Man of the People (15:5-6)

The third piece of Absalom's public relations campaign is a kind of baby-kissing politician role that we in the twenty-first century understand well.

"5 Also, whenever anyone approached him to bow down before him, Absalom would reach out his hand, take hold of him and kiss him. 6 Absalom behaved in this way toward all the Israelites who came to the king asking for justice, and so he stole the hearts of the men of Israel." (15:5-6)

Absalom is campaigning to be the people's king who loves the common man. But it's obvious that this is all a sham of image building, empty promises, and flattery. While David is the man for all seasons, his handsome son is merely an actor. Yet, for the moment, this hypocrisy is enough to help him achieve his objective -- the kingship.

Q3. (2 Samuel 15:1-6) What are the elements of Absalom's public relations campaign to win over the people to his side? How effective is it? What should David have done differently? Which of David's weaknesses does Absalom exploit?
http://www.joyfulheart.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=1197

Absalom Conspires in Hebron against David (15:7-13)

After four years of this campaign, Absalom receives permission of the king to return to his birthplace, Hebron, an ancient Yahweh sanctuary (Genesis 13:18), to fulfill some supposed vow made to Yahweh while he was in exile. Absalom needs a ruse so David won't suspect anything when 200 admirers accompany him out of the capital.

If Absalom were to stage a palace coup in Jerusalem, David's mercenary army would immediately crush him. But Hebron is far enough away to give his claim to the throne enough space to be accepted and time to draw followers to his cause. Hebron also has the honor of once being David's royal capital (2:1-4), a history that lends credence to Absalom's claim to the throne.

The 200 invited guests are not part of his secret conspiracy, but have been handpicked because of their influence in Israel -- and because Absalom knows they are likely to follow him when the secret plot is revealed. They are needed to lend credibility and acceptance to the new kingdom, since they will be named as supporters.

Once in Hebron, Absalom hatches his plan for the announcement of his rise to the throne to be made simultaneously throughout Israel.

"Then Absalom sent secret messengers throughout the tribes of Israel to say, "As soon as you hear the sound of the trumpets, then say, 'Absalom is king in Hebron.'" (15:11)

Absalom is successful. The coup is announced as if it were already complete, discouraging any resistance. The 200 guests are caught in the middle. They are naturally inclined towards Absalom, but now will be perceived by all as on Absalom's side, whether or not they would have chosen this allegiance on their own. Perception becomes reality.

As the news of Absalom's ascension to the throne spreads, it gains momentum; more and more people back him. The report comes to David, "The hearts of the men of Israel are with Absalom" (15:13). Perhaps the most prominent of these new followers is Ahithophel the Gilonite, David's revered advisor. To have Ahithophel on Absalom's side is considered decisive.

Factors in Absalom's Favor

 Christians who have been raised on stories of David's faith and valor find it difficult to understand how the people of Israel could so quickly reject a truly great king in place of his upstart son. Let's consider ten factors (not necessarily in this particular order) that lead to Absalom's accession:

  1. David's Age. David is now over 60,[253] old by standards of the time. People know he isn't likely to live much longer, whereas Absalom is probably a bit less than 30 years old and in the prime of life. Who wants to fight to retain a king who won't reign much longer anyway? David's most ardent supporters are now old men. He is the hero of a previous generation. Most alive now only remember stories of David's exploits. They weren't even born when he was at his prime. David is an honored "has-been," while Absalom is the up-and-coming king for the new generation.
  2. David's Corruption. We get the perception in 2 Samuel 11 that David has slowed down. He is rich. He is arrogant enough to feel he can take any woman he wants and kill even a faithful and loyal comrade-in-arms who keeps him from covering it up. David's spiritual influence has been diminished, as well. Though he has repented from his affair with Bathsheba and Uriah, he is no longer perceived by the people to be the righteous king. David's actions have weakened the throne and "made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt" (12:14). His image has been severely tarnished.
  3. Absalom's Title. Absalom is the crown prince. For nearly a decade, Absalom has been the heir apparent -- even though he had killed the previous crown prince. People have short memories. They have gotten used to the idea that Absalom will be their next king.
  4. Absalom's Beauty. Absalom is a handsome man -- and studies show that handsome men and beautiful women succeed in life more easily than others, all things being equal. Absalom looks kingly!
  5. Absalom's Perceived Power. Absalom has been effective in projecting an image of power and glory with his chariot, horses, and 50-man escort. Since the people perceive him as powerful already, they are much less likely to oppose him when the coup is announced.
  6. Absalom's Populism. Absalom has positioned himself as a man of the people. His followers hope that he will be a king who will help them more than David has. Of course, David had delivered Israel from the Philistine threat, but that is now decades past. People forget what it was like. On the other hand, by this time in his long reign, David is more comfortable in the luxury of his palace than with the struggles of the average citizen. He is out-of-touch (see 19:5-7), while Absalom promises hope and change.
  7. Tribal Resentment of David. Anyone who rises to power makes enemies, if for no other reason than jealousy. In particular, David is resented by elements of Saul's tribe of Benjamin, who believe that Saul's house should still be on the throne (2 Samuel 16:5-13; 20:1-2). There is also tension between the 10 northern tribes and David's tribe of Judah (19:41-43).
  8. David's Taxation and Conscription. Though not in the forefront, because most of the national expenses are paid from tribute by vassal nations, we see hints of taxation and compulsory military service in chapter 24 and 1 Samuel 8:11-18. Growing an empire through taxation and the draft are never popular.
  9. Absalom's Brilliant Execution of a Coup. Absalom has brilliantly executed a coup d'état. By the time the coup is known, Absalom has gathered wide support and continuing momentum. Absalom has won the throne through a clever plan and consistent follow-through.
  10. Yahweh's Judgment. Last, but most important, Nathan had prophesied: "the sword will never depart from your house" (12:10). Now this prophecy is coming to pass. David is experiencing the Lord's discipline: "When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men" (7:14).

We are inclined to see David's monarchy as absolute and totalitarian. But that isn't quite the case. Though David is anointed king by Samuel under the Lord's direction, he doesn't actually become king until made so by the elders of Judah (2:4) and the elders of Israel (5:1-3). Even after David's troops overthrow Absalom, there is a lot of popular discussion and political string-pulling before an official decision is made to bring David back as king (9:8-15). Even then, he has to deal with Sheba the Benjamite, who leads a rebellion against the newly reestablished kingdom that is serious enough for troops to be sent to put it down (20:1-22).

I conclude that in David's time, even though the king's word is law, in a strong sense, the king rules only by the consent of the governed -- and with the permission of God himself.

Q4. (2 Samuel 13-15:13) It's difficult to find positive spiritual lessons in these sad and grim chapters. What negative spiritual lessons do you find?
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Disciple Lessons

Four lessons are hard to miss -- most of them negative examples to avoid:

  1. Prophecy. Nathan's prophecy (12:10-11) comes to pass -- with terrible results. God's judgment is inevitable.
  2. Learned Behaviors. The sins of the father often become the sins of the son. We don't sin in isolation. Our children see us and emulate our behavior. Parents, your most important ministry is to raise your children in the Lord by your godly example.
  3. Discipline. We must discipline our children so long as they are under our authority. In many cultures, children are considered adults in their late teens. In other cultures, children are under their parents' authority far longer. We must do what we can. To neglect our responsibility to discipline shows a lack of love for our children (Proverbs 3:12; 13:24; 19:18; 22:15; 23:13; 29:15; 29:17). Showing favoritism to your own children rather than disciplining them lowers you in others' minds. When the king excuses his children for blatant crimes, he rapidly loses any credibility for righteousness and justice.
  4. Situational Awareness. Pay attention to what is going on around you! Take action early, if you need to. David should have been aware of Absalom's attempts to undermine him, and taken steps to protect himself and his kingdom. In this case, neglect is extremely costly. Leaders in churches and other organizations need to know who is conspiring against them. We serve Christ in a fallen world.

Life of David, Discipleship Lessons in 1 and 2 Samuel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Available as a book in paperback, Kindle, and PDF formats.

We have traced the sad pattern of David's decline and fall. In the next lesson, we'll see how David handles defeat and rises again to rule Israel.

Prayer

Father, when we see David's decline from his greatness as a man of God, we are sad. How much it must have pained your heart! We pray with David: "Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me. Then will I be blameless, innocent of great transgression" (Psalm 19:13). Where we have fallen, have mercy on us and on our children. Renew your Holy Spirit's freedom within our spirits. In Jesus' name, we pray. Amen.

 Key Verses

"In all Israel there was not a man so highly praised for his handsome appearance as Absalom. From the top of his head to the sole of his foot there was no blemish in him." (2 Samuel 14:25)


[239] David apparently married Maacah while he was king in Hebron as a way to cement a treaty with Geshur, a small Aramean kingdom in Ish-Bosheth's rear, a few miles north of his capital in Mahanaim.

[240] ʾĀhab can be used of God's infinite affection for his people, of a parent's love for a child, even of illicit lovers and love for objects such as meat, oil, silver, and gifts (Robert L. Alden, ʾāhab, TWOT #29).

[241] Anderson, 2 Samuel, p. 174.

[242] "Shrewd" (NIV), "crafty" (NRSV), "subtle" (KJV) is ḥākām, from ḥākam, "to be wise, act wisely." The adjective occurs widely in Proverbs, and is used to describe Solomon as well as the wise woman of Tekoa who handles a delicate matter before David at Joab's behest later in this lesson (14:2) (Louis Goldberg, TWOT #647b).

[243] Anderson, 2 Samuel, p. 174; Holladay, p. 172; Bergen, 1 and 2 Samuel, pp. 380-381.

[244] "Rape" (NIV), "force" (NRSV, KJV) is ʿānâ, "afflict, oppress, humble." "The primary meaning of ʿānâ is 'to force,'or 'to try to force submission,'and 'to punish or inflict pain upon'" (Leonard J. Coppes, ʿānâ, TWOT #1652, ʿānâ III).

[245] "Wicked thing" (NIV), "vile" (NRSV), "folly" (KJV) in 13:12 is nebālâ, "folly, villainy, vile." The word implies a sinful "disregard for moral and spiritual claims." The word describes a request for homosexual sex (Judges 19:23-24; 20:6) and the rape of Jacob's Dinah by Shechem (Genesis 34:7).

[246] In reliefs and tomb paintings in the ancient Near East, putting one's hand on one's head seems to symbolize captivity, or perhaps the mourning of being taken captive. Baldwin (1 and 2 Samuel, p. 249), cites pictures in J.B. Pritchard, The Ancient Near East in Pictures Relating to the Old Testament (ANEP; Princeton University Press, 1954, 1969), illustrations 634, 640.

[247] Found in the Septuagint and the Samuel manuscript from Qumran Cave IV, quoted by Anderson, 2 Samuel, p. 176

[248] G.J. Wenham (The Book of Leviticus (Eerdmans, 1979), pp. 241-242) discusses the various interpretations of "being cut off from one's people": (1) be punished by God directly, (2) to receive the death penalty, (3) to be exiled, or perhaps even (4) a hint of judgment in the life to come. BDB takes "be cut off from his people" in the sense of the death penalty (kārat, BDB, Niphal, 504). However, only for some instances of incest is the death penalty specified in Leviticus 20:11-21, and incest with one's sister isn't mentioned there.

[249] The Torah apparently doesn't consider this a capital offence, as it would have been if she had been betrothed (Deuteronomy 22:23-29).

[250] "Baal-Hazor," ISBE 1:380.

[251] Tekoa is near the present Khirbet Teqûʿ.

[252] Perhaps his sons subsequently died, for later he complains that he has no sons (18:18).


Copyright © 1985-2017, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

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