Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
2 Kings (2 Samuel)
Amnon's Incest, and Absalom's Fratricide - 2 Samuel 13
The judgments threatened to king David in consequence of his sin with Bathsheba soon began to fall upon him and upon his house, and were brought about by sins and crimes on the part of his own sons, for which David was himself to blame, partly because of his own indulgence and want of discipline, and partly because of the bad example that he had set them. Having grown up without strict paternal discipline, simply under the care of their different mothers, who were jealous of one another, his sons fancied that they might gratify their own fleshly lusts, and carry out their own ambitious plans; and from this there arose a series of crimes, which nearly cost the king his life and throne. Amnon, David's eldest son, led the way with his forcible violation of his step-sister Tamar (vv. 1-22). The crime was avenged by her own brother Absalom, who treacherously assassinated Amnon, in consequence of which he was obliged to flee to Geshur and take refuge with his father-in-law (vv. 23-39).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:1
Amnon's Incest. - Sa2 13:1-14. The following occurrences are assigned in a general manner to the times succeeding the Ammonitish war, by the words "And it came to pass after this;" and as David did not marry Maacah the mother of Absalom and Tamar till after he had been made king at Hebron (see Sa2 3:3), they cannot well have taken place before the twentieth year of his reign. Amnon, the eldest son of David by Ahinoam the Jezreelite (Sa2 3:2), loved Tamar, the beautiful sister of his step-brother Absalom, so passionately that he became ill in consequence, because he could not get near to her as she was a virgin. Sa2 13:1 and Sa2 13:2 form one period. ויּצר is a continuation of אהרי־כן ויהי; and the words from וּאבשׁלום to בּן־דּוד are a circumstantial clause. ויּצר: literally "it became narrow (anxious) to Amnon, even to making himself ill," i.e., he quite pined away, not "he pretended to be ill" (Luther), for it was not till afterwards that he did this according to Jonadab's advice (Sa2 13:5). התהלּות: to make one's self ill, here to become ill, in Sa2 13:5 to pretend to be ill. The clause היא בתוּלה כּי is to be joined to the one which follows: "because she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to him to do anything to her." The maidenly modesty of Tamar evidently raised an insuperable barrier to the gratification of his lusts.
Amnon's miserable appearance was observed by his cousin Jonadab, a very crafty man, who asked him what was the reason, and then gave him advice as to the way in which he might succeed in gratifying his desires. Shimeah is called Shammah in Sa1 16:9.
"Why art thou so wasting away (דּל, thin, spare, here equivalent to wasting away, looking miserable), king's son, from morning to morning?" i.e., day by day. "The morning" is mentioned because sick persons look worst in the morning. The advice given in Sa2 13:5, - viz., "Lay thee down upon thy bed, and pretend to be ill; and when thy father comes to visit thee, say to him, May my sister Tamar come to me, and give me to eat?" etc., - was very craftily devised, as Amnon's wretched appearance would favour his pretence that he was ill, and it might be hoped that an affectionate father would gratify him, since even if the wish seemed a strange one, it might easily be accounted for from the marvellous desires of persons who are ill, particularly with regard to food-desires which it is often very difficulty to gratify.
Amnon acted upon the advice, and begged his father, when he came to ask him how he was, to allow his sister Tamar to come and bake two heart-cakes for him before his eyes, which she very speedily did. לבּב is a denom. from לבבות, to make or bake heart-cakes. לבבות is a heart-strengthening kind of pastry, a kind of pancake, which could be very quickly made. It is evident from these verses that the king's children lived in different houses. Probably each of the king's wives lived with her children in one particular compartment of the palace.
"And she took the pan and shook out (what she had prepared) before him. The ἁπ. λεγ. משׂרת signifies a frying-pan or sauce-pan, according to the ancient versions. The etymology is uncertain. But Amnon refused to eat, and, like a whimsical patient, he then ordered all the men that were with him to go out; and when this had been done, he told Tamar to bring the food into the chamber, that he might eat it from her hand; and when she handed him the food, he laid hold of her, and said, "Come, lie with me, my sister!"
Tamar attempted to escape by pointing to the wickedness of such a desire: "Pray, do not, my brother, do not humble me; for they do not such things in Israel: do not this folly." The words recall Gen 34:7, where the expression "folly" (nebalah) is first used to denote a want of chastity. Such a sin was altogether out of keeping with the calling and holiness of Israel (vid., Lev 20:8.). "And I, whither should I carry my shame?" i.e., shame and contempt would meet me everywhere. "And thou wouldst be as one of the fools in Israel." We should both of us reap nothing but shame from it. What Tamar still further said, "Now therefore, I pray thee, speak to the king, for he will not refuse me to thee," is no doubt at variance with the law which prohibits marriage between step-brothers and sisters (Lev 18:9, Lev 18:11; Lev 20:17); but it by no means proves that the laws of Leviticus were not in existence at the time, nor does it even presuppose that Tamar was ignorant of any such law. She simply said this, as Clericus observes, "that she might escape from his hands by any means in her power, and to avoid inflaming him still more and driving him to sin by precluding all hope of marriage."
(Note: Josephus adopts this explanation: "This she said, as desirous to avoid her brother's violent passion at present" (Ant. viii. 8, 1).)
We cannot therefore even infer from these words of hers, that she really thought the king could grant a dispensation from the existing hindrances to their marriage.
Amnon would not listen to her, however, but overpowered her, forced her, and lay with her.
Amnon had no sooner gratified his animal passion, than his love to the humbled sister turned into hatred, which was even greater than his (previous) love, so that he commanded her to get up and go. This sudden change, which may be fully explained from a psychological point of view, and is frequently exemplified still in actual life, furnishes a striking proof that lust is not love, but simply the gratification of the animal passions.
Tamar replied, "Do not become the cause of this great evil, (which is) greater than another that thou hast done to me, to thrust me away," i.e., do not add to the great wrong which thou hast done me the still greater one of thrusting me away. This is apparently the only admissible explanation of the difficult expression אל־אדות, as nothing more is needed than to supply תּהי. Tamar calls his sending her away a greater evil than the one already done to her, because it would inevitably be supposed that she had been guilty of some shameful conduct herself, that the seduction had come from her; whereas she was perfectly innocent, and had done nothing but what affection towards a sick brother dictated, whilst it was impossible for her to call for help (as prescribed in Deu 22:27), because Amnon had sent the servants away, and Tamar could not in any case expect assistance from them.
Amnon then called the boy who waited upon him, and ordered him to put out this person (the sister he had humbled), and to bolt the door behind her, so that it had the appearance of her having made a shameful proposal to him.
Before stating that this command was obeyed, the writer inserts this remark: "She (Tamar) wore a long dress with sleeves (see Gen 37:3); for in this manner did the virgin daughters of the king dress themselves with mantles." מעילים is an accusative belonging to תּלבּשׁנה, and the meaning is that the king's daughters, who were virgins, wore long dresses with sleeves as cloaks. The cetoneth passim was not an ordinary under-garment, but was worn over the plain cetoneth or tunic, and took the place of the ordinary mel without sleeves. Notwithstanding this dress, by which a king's daughter could at once be recognised, Amnon's servant treated Tamar like a common woman, and turned her out of the house.
And Tamar took ashes upon her head, rent her sleeve-dress (as a sign of grief and pain at the disgrace inflicted upon her), laid her hand upon her head (as a sign that a grievous trouble had come upon her, that the hand of God was resting as it were upon her: vid., Jer 2:37), and "went going and cried," i.e., crying aloud as she went along.
Then Absalom said to her, namely when she came home mourning in this manner, "Has Amnon thy brother been with thee?" This was a euphemism for what had taken place (cf. Gen 39:10), as Absalom immediately conjectures. "And now, my sister, be silent; it is thy brother, do not take this thing to heart." Absalom quieted the sister, because he was determined to take revenge, but wished to conceal his plan of vengeance for the time. So Tamar remained in her brother's house, "and indeed desolate," i.e., as one laid waste, with the joy of her life hopelessly destroyed. It cannot be proved that שׁמם ever means single or solitary.
When David heard "all these things," he became very wrathful; but Absalom did not speak to Amnon "from good to evil" (i.e., either good or evil, not a single word: Gen 24:50), because he hated him for having humbled his sister. The lxx add to the words "he (David) was very wroth," the following clause: "He did not trouble the spirit of Amnon his son, because he loved him, for he was his first-born." This probably gives the true reason why David let such a crime as Amnon's go unpunished, when the law enjoined that incest should be punished with death (Lev 20:17); at the same time it is nothing but a subjective conjecture of the translators, and does not warrant us in altering the text. The fact that David was contented to be simply angry is probably to be accounted for partly from his own consciousness of guilt, since he himself had been guilty of adultery; but it arose chiefly from his indulgent affection towards his sons, and his consequent want of discipline. This weakness in his character bore very bitter fruit.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:23
Absalom's Revenge and Flight. - Sa2 13:23, Sa2 13:24. Absalom postponed his revenge for two full years. He then "kept sheep-shearing," which was celebrated as a joyous festival (see Sa1 25:2, Sa1 25:8), "at Baal-hazor, near Ephraim," where he must therefore have had some property. The situation of Baal-hazor cannot be precisely determined. The clause "which (was) beside Ephraim" points to a situation on the border of the tribe-territory of Ephraim (juxta Ephraim, according to the Onom. s.v. Baalasor); for the Old Testament never mentions any city of that name. This definition does not exactly tally with v. Raumer's conjecture (Pal. p. 149), that Baal-Hazor may have been preserved in Tell Asr ((Rob. Pal. ii. p. 151, iii. p. 79); for this Tell is about five Roman miles to the north-east of Bethel, i.e., within the limits of the tribe of Ephraim. There is greater probability in the suggestion made by Ewald and others, that Baal-hazor is connected with the Hazor of Benjamin (Neh 11:33), though the situation of Hazor has not yet been thoroughly decided; and it is merely a conjecture of Robinson's that it is to be found in Tell Asr. The following statement, that "Absalom invited all the king's sons" (sc., to the feast), somewhat anticipates the course of events: for, according to Sa2 13:24, Absalom invited the king himself, together with his courtiers; and it was not till the king declined the invitation for himself, that Absalom restricted his invitation to the royal princes.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:25
The king declined the invitation that he might not be burdensome to Absalom. Absalom pressed him indeed, but he would not go, and blessed him, i.e., wished him a pleasant and successful feast (see Sa1 25:14).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:26
Then Absalom said, "And not (i.e., if thou doest not go), may my brother Amnon go with me?" The king would not give his consent to this; whether from suspicion cannot be determined with certainty, as he eventually yielded to Absalom's entreaties and let Amnon and all the other king's sons go. From the length of time that had elapsed since Amnon's crime was committed, without Absalom showing any wish for revenge, David might have felt quite sure that he had nothing more to fear. But this long postponement of revenge, for the purpose of carrying it out with all the more certainty, is quite in the spirit of the East.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:28
Absalom then commanded his servants to put Amnon to death without fear, as he had commanded, as soon as his heart should become merry with wine and he (Absalom) should tell them to smite him. The arrangement of the meal is passed over as being quite subdrdinate to the main purpose of the narrative; and the clause added by the lxx at the close of Sa2 13:27, καὶ ἐποίησεν ἈβεσσαλὼϚ πότον κατὰ τὸν τοῦ βασιλέως, is nothing more than an explanatory gloss, formed according to Sa1 25:36. The words "Have not I commanded you?" implied that Absalom would take the responsibility upon himself.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:29
The servants did as he commanded, whereupon the other king's sons all fled upon their mules. - Sa2 13:30. But whilst they were on the road, the report of what Absalom had done reached the ears of the king, and, as generally happens in such cases, with very great exaggeration: "Absalom hath slain all the king's sons, and there is not one of them left."
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:31
The king rent his clothes with horror at such a deed, and sat down upon the ground, and all his servants (courtiers) stood motionless by, with their clothes rent as well. This is the rendering adopted by Bttcher, as נצּב has frequently the idea of standing perfectly motionless (e.g., Num 22:23-24; Exo 5:20, etc.).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:32
Then Jonadab, the same person who had helped Amnon to commit his crime, said, "Let not my lord say (or think) that they have slain all the young men the king's sons, but Amnon alone is dead; for it was laid upon the mouth of Absalom from the day that he forced his sister Tamar." The meaning is either "they might see it (the murder of Amnon) by his mouth," or "they might gather it from what he said." שׂימה היתה: it was a thing laid down, i.e., determined (vid., Exo 21:13). The subject, viz., the thing itself, or the intended murder of Amnon, may easily be supplied from the context. אם כּי is undoubtedly used in the sense of "no but." The negation is implied in the thought: Let the king not lay it to heart, that they say all the king's sons are dead; it is not so, but only Amnon is dead. Jonadab does not seem to speak from mere conjecture; he is much too sure of what he says. He might possibly have heard expressions from Absalom's lips which made him certain as to how the matter stood.
"And Absalom fled." This statement follows upon Sa2 13:29. When the king's sons fled upon their mules, Absalom also took to flight.
Sa2 13:30-33 are a parenthesis, in which the writer describes at once the impression made upon the king and his court by the report of what Absalom had done. The apparently unsuitable position in which this statement is placed may be fully explained from the fact, that the flight of Absalom preceded the arrival of the rest of the sons at the king's palace. The alteration which Bttcher proposes to make in the text, so as to remove this statement altogether on account of its unsuitable position, is proved to be inadmissible by the fact that the account of Absalom's flight cannot possibly be left out, as reference is made to it again afterwards (Sa2 13:37, Sa2 13:38, "Absalom had fled"). The other alterations proposed by Thenius in the text of Sa2 13:34, Sa2 13:37, Sa2 13:38, are just as arbitrary and out of place, and simply show that this critic was ignorant of the plan adopted by the historian. His plan is the following: To the account of the murder of Amnon, and the consequent flight of the rest of the king's sons whom Absalom had invited to the feast (Sa2 13:29), there is first of all appended a notice of the report which preceded the fugitives and reached the king's ears in an exaggerated form, together with the impression which it made upon the king, and the rectification of that report by Jonadab (Sa2 13:30-33). Then follows the statement that Absalom fled, also the account of the arrival of the king's sons (Sa2 13:34-36). After this we have a statement as to the direction in which Absalom fled, the king's continued mourning, and the length of time that Absalom's banishment lasted (Sa2 13:37, Sa2 13:38), and finally a remark as to David's feelings towards Absalom (Sa2 13:39).
Jonadab's assertion, that Amnon only had been slain, was very speedily confirmed (Sa2 13:34). The young man, the spy, i.e., the young man who was looking out for the return of those who had been invited to the feast, "lifted up his eyes and saw," i.e., saw as he looked out into the distance, "much people (a crowd of men) coming from the way behind him along the side of the mountain." אחריו מדּרך, ἐν τῇ ὁδῷ ὄπισθεν αὐτοῦ (lxx), per iter devium (Vulg.), is obscure; and אהר, "behind," is probably to be understood as meaning "to the west:" from the way at the back of the spy, i.e., to the west of his station. The following words, ההר מצּד, also remain obscure, as the position of the spy is not given, so that the allusion may be to a mountain in the north-west of Jerusalem quite as well as to one on the west.
(Note: The lxx have very comprehensive additions here: first of all, after ἐκ πλευρᾶς τοῦ ὄρους, they have the more precise definition ἐν τῇ καταβάσει, and then the further clause, "and the spy came and announced to the king," Ἄνδρας ὲώρακα ἐκ τῆς ὁδοῦ τῆς ὠρωνῆν (?) ἐκ μέρους τοῦ ὅρους, partly to indicate more particularly the way by which the king's sons came, and partly to fill up a supposed gap in the account. But they did not consider that the statement in Sa2 13:35, "and Jonadab said to the king, Behold, the king's sons are coming," does not square with these additions; for if the spy had already informed the king that his sons were coming, there was no necessity for Jonadab to do it again. This alone is sufficient to show that the additions made by the lxx are nothing but worthless glosses, introduced according to subjective conjectures and giving no foundation for alterations of the text.)
When the spy observed the crowd of men approaching, Jonadab said to the king (Sa2 13:35), "Behold, the king's sons are coming: as thy servant said, so has it come to pass."
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:36
Jonadab had hardly said this when the king's sons arrived and wept aloud, sc., as they related what had occurred; whereupon the king and all his retainers broke out in loud weeping.
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:37
"Only Absalom had fled and gone to Talmai the son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur." These words form a circumstantial clause, which the writer has inserted as a parenthesis, to define the expression "the king's sons" more particularly. If we take these words as a parenthesis, there will be no difficulty in explaining the following word "mourned," as the subject (David) may very easily be supplied from the preceding words "the king," etc. (Sa2 13:36). To the remark that David mourned all his life for his son (Amnon), there is attached, just as simply and quite in accordance with the facts, the more precise information concerning Absalom's flight, that he remained in Geshur three years. The repetition of the words "Absalom had fled and gone to Geshur" may be accounted for from the general diffuseness of the Hebrew style. Talmai the king of Geshur was the father of Maacah, Absalom's mother (Sa2 3:3). The lxx thought it necessary expressly to indicate this by inserting εἰς γῆν Χαμαχάαδ (al. γῆν Μαχάδ).
2 Kings (2 Samuel) 13:39
"And it (this) held king David back from going out to Absalom, for he comforted himself concerning Amnon, because he was dead." In adopting this translation of the difficult clause with which the verse commences, we take ותּכל in the sense of כּלא, as the verbs כלה and כלא frequently exchange their forms; we also take the third pers. fem. as the neuter impersonal, so that the subject is left indefinite, and is to be gathered from the context. Absalom's flight to Geshur, and his stay there, were what chiefly prevented David from going out to Absalom. Moreover, David's grief on account of Amnon's death gradually diminished as time rolled on. אל־אבש צאת is used in a hostile sense, as in Deu 28:7, to go out and punish him for his wickedness. The כּי before נחם might also be rendered "but," as after a negative clause, as the principal sentence implies a negation: "He did not go out against Absalom, but comforted himself." There is not only no grammatical difficulty in the way of this explanation of the verse, but it also suits the context, both before and after. All the other explanations proposed are either at variance with the rules of the language, or contain an unsuitable thought. The old Jewish interpretation (adopted in the Chaldee version, and also by the Rabbins), viz., David longed (his soul pined) to go out to Absalom (i.e., to see or visit him), is opposed, as Gusset has shown (in his Lex. pp. 731-2), to the conduct of David towards Absalom as described in 2 Samuel 14, - namely, that after Joab had succeeded by craft in bringing him back to Jerusalem, David would not allow him to come into his presence for two whole years (Sa2 14:24, Sa2 14:28). Luther's rendering, "and king David left off going out against Absalom," is not only precluded by the feminine תּכל, but also by the fact that nothing has been said about any pursuit of Absalom on the part of David. Other attempts at emendations there is no need whatever to refute.