Compounding the Problem (II Samuel 13 & 14)
Topic: II Samuel Passage: 2 Samuel 13:1–14:33
Crying for a King
Compounding the Problem
II Samuel 13 & 14
(One Lord: What is Man?)
January 12th, 2014
I. Are You Listening?
This morning we are returning together to the book of II Samuel. Why is that so important? Because as the Apostle Paul reminds us in II Timothy 3, “All Scripture is inspired”, that is, it is “breathed-out” by God. God has something to say to us, something to teach us in our verses for this morning. Are your ready to hear from Him? Alright, then let's get going.
Now, while it IS extremely profitable to spend time studying and meditating on just a few verses and the context of those verses, and the key words they contain, it is also profitable to think about larger sections of Scripture; especially larger sections that are telling us a story. That's what we are going to do this morning. So turn over to II Samuel 13.
II. The Passage: “But Absalom Fled” (13:1-14:33)
I'd like to look together at two chapters this morning: II Samuel 13 and 14. No, we are not going to read all seventy-two verses. What I've done is narrowed our readings down to ten parts, for a total of twenty-nine verses. Now, these two chapters do tell one complete story. It is a story that takes place over the span of seven years. And this story, as we will talk about, this story is part of a larger story that continues all the way through chapter 20 of II Samuel.
So since we are 'flying over' these two chapters in order to get a broad view of what's happening here, and since we, therefore, cannot talk about all of the details of this story, I would encourage you to go back and 'take a drive' or 'take a walk' through every verse in chapters 13 and 14.
A. Amnon's Desire (13:1, 2)
But let's begin by looking at verses 1 and 2 of chapter 13. This is what we read...
Now Absalom, David's son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David's son, loved her.  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.
Amnon is King's David firstborn son. Tamar is his half-sister. As a virgin, or a young woman of marriageable in age in the royal court, she would have lived under strict guidelines. But right away, we know this is not a good situation. As we read on, we are told that Amnon's cousin Jonadab devised a scheme that involved Amnon pretending to be sick and then asking Tamar to bring food to his home. That's where we pick up in verse 10-12. We read...
B. Amnon's Deception (13:10-12)
Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes she had made and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.  But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.”  She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing.
Clearly, Amnon's so-called “love” is nothing but lust. Tamar's desperate plea in verse 12 exposes the real nature of what is happening here. This is a violation. This is unheard of. This is an outrageous thing. Actually the Hebrew word translated “outrageous” would be better translated as “vile” or “disgraceful” or “profane”. In both Leviticus 18:9 and Deuteronomy 27:22, God prohibits this kind of incestuous relationship. But Tamar's pleas are futile. Look at verse 14 and 15. It tell us...
C. Amnon's Disgrace (13:14, 15)
But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her  Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!”
In spite of her pleading and her protests, Amnon rapes his sister. And in spite of her pleading afterwards, he will not deal with what has happened. He calls for his servant and has her thrown out. This is the irrationality of sin. Once Amnon gets the very thing he desired, he ends up despising the very thing he desired. But look at what we read about Tamar in verses 19-22. We read...
D. Absalom's Rage (13:19-22)
And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went.  And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom's house.  When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.  But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar.
In a matter of minutes, Tamar's life is ruined. In fact, the last sentence of verse 20 is all we are told about what happened to Tamar. We don't know the rest of her story. But that's because this story is not about Tamar. It isn't even about Amnon. Chapters 13 and 14 are about Absalom, David's third son, and Tamar's full brother. It becomes apparent right away that Absalom, once he finds out what happened, immediately begins to manage the situation. He redirects his sister and then restrains himself from responding right away.
We are also told in verse 21 that David has learned about Amnon's wicked act, and that he is “very angry”. But...that is all we are told about David. There is nothing else. What remains is simply the hatred of Absalom.
E. Absalom's Revenge (13:28-29)
But after two whole years according to verse 23, Absalom's hatred has reached it's boiling point. His plan is simple. Sheepshearing was an occasion for celebration, just like the harvest would be. So Absalom has a sheepshearing celebration about 20 miles north of Jerusalem and invites all the king's sons, including Amnon. Look at what we read in 28 and 29...
Then Absalom commanded his servants, “Mark [take notice of] when Amnon's heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon,’ then kill him. Do not fear; have I not commanded you? Be courageous and be valiant.”  So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king's sons arose, and each mounted his mule and fled.
Absalom has taken his revenge, and chaos ensues. All of the princes scatter, hoping they are not going to be next. And when David hears about this situation, the first report states that all of the princes have been killed. But David finally learns that only Amnon is dead, and that Absalom is responsible. So what will Absalom do at this point? Look at verse 37-39...
F. Absalom's Retreat (13:37-39)
But Absalom fled and went to Talmai the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son day after day.  So Absalom fled and went to Geshur, and was there three years.  And the spirit of the king longed to go out to Absalom, because he was comforted about Amnon, since he was dead.
So while David is mourning the death of his firstborn son, Absalom runs and hides in the small northern kingdom of Geshur. Why there? Because Talmai, the king, was his mother's father (his maternal grandfather). You see, if it wasn't also adultery, rape was not a capital offense in ancient Israel. And so the killing of Amnon was murder; and clearly, it was premeditated murder. So as we see from verse 38, Absalom's hides in Geshur for three years. Add in the two years between Tamar's rape and Amnon's murder, and were up to five years here.
But look again at verse 39. I think the phrase “longed to go out to” is better translated as “ceased to go out against”. What that verse is saying is that, since David was comforted in regard to Amnon's death, he no longer sought to go after Absalom. But look at 14:1-3...
G. Joab's Scheme (14:1-3)
Now Joab the son of Zeruiah knew that the king's heart went out to [or 'against'] Absalom.  And Joab sent to Tekoa and brought from there a wise woman and said to her, “Pretend to be a mourner and put on mourning garments. Do not anoint yourself with oil, but behave like a woman who has been mourning many days for the dead.  Go to the king and speak thus to him.” So Joab put the words in her mouth.
So Joab knows that David is still hostile toward Absalom, but he believes it would be in the best interest of all involved to bring the prince back. So Joab hatches a plan and recruits this clever woman in order to persuade the king to do just that.
What words does Joab put in her mouth? Well, the woman pretends to be a widow, and the mother of two sons. But one son has killed the other, and her community wants to put the murder to death. If this happens she will lose her heritage and her family will lose its land. What does this have to do with Absalom. Look at verses 11-13...
H. Joab's Switch (14:11-13)
Then she said, “Please let the king invoke the LORD your God, that the avenger of blood kill no more, and my son be not destroyed.” He said, “As the LORD lives, not one hair of your son shall fall to the ground.”  Then the woman said, “Please let your servant speak a word to my lord the king.” He said, “Speak.”  And the woman said, “Why then have you planned such a thing against the people of God? For in giving this decision the king convicts himself, inasmuch as the king does not bring his banished one home again.
David has mercy on this woman, and promises her that her son will be pardoned and protected. But according to Joab's plan, the woman turns the tables on David and asks why Absalom has not been pardoned and protected in this same way.
But even though the woman's story has been invented for this very occasion, the two cases are actually quite different. Yes, both involve one brother killing the other. But the fictional case would be considered manslaughter, because it did not involve premeditation. In this case, the killer could take refuge in one of Israel's six “cities of refuge”. But Absalom's case is different. So what will David do?
I. Joab's Success (14:21-24)
Well, after figuring out that Joab has arranged this whole thing, this is what we read about David's response in verses 21-24...
Then the king said to Joab, “Behold now, I grant this; go, bring back the young man Absalom.”  And Joab fell on his face to the ground and paid homage and blessed the king. And Joab said, “Today your servant knows that I have found favor in your sight, my lord the king, in that the king has granted the request of his servant.”  So Joab arose and went to Geshur and brought Absalom to Jerusalem.  And the king said, “Let him dwell apart in his own house; he is not to come into my presence.” So Absalom lived apart in his own house and did not come into the king's presence.
So Joab's little scheme has been successful. But did you notice that even though Absalom has come home, he is not allowed to see the king, his father. Clearly, David realized there was some political advantage to bringing Absalom home. In fact, we go on to read in vs. 25-27 about how handsome Absalom was. This may be connected to his popularity with the people.
But Absalom is not happy about being kept on the fringes, for two years (v. 28). And when Joab fails to respond to his phone calls and e-mails, Absalom tells his servants to go and set fire to Joab's fields. Burning crops are a great way to get someone attention, aren't they? So does Absalom's crop burning tactic work? Well, look at verses 31-33...
J. Absalom's Response (14:31-33)
Then Joab arose and went to Absalom at his house and said to him, “Why have your servants set my field on fire?”  Absalom answered Joab, “Behold, I sent word to you, ‘Come here, that I may send you to the king, to ask, “Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me to be there still.” Now therefore let me go into the presence of the king, and if there is guilt in me, let him put me to death.’”  Then Joab went to the king and told him, and he summoned Absalom. So he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom.
So Absalom's plan worked. He not only gets Joab's attention, but he also gets Joab's advocacy. And through Joab, Absalom, the murderer is reconciled, at least publicly, to his father the king. A seven-year saga that begins with lust and ends with a kiss. And Absalom is the thread that connects every character in this story. You can be sure that this is not the last we will hear about Absalom.
III. Responding by Compounding
But as we think about why the writer of Samuel included these two chapters, as we think about what God wants to teach us through this story, I want you to see the 'black chain' that stretches across this account. There are six links to this chain, and each link represents how one of these characters responded to some sin, some failure, some injustice, whether by them or someone else.
But these responses did not help, they only hindered and hurt. These responses only compounded the situation, that is, they only made things worse. See if you can relate to any of these in terms of how YOU would most likely respond.
1. Lust was compounded by deception and violence. Amnon should have recognized the danger of his desires, and dealt with those impure desires. But he didn't. He let them fester. And then he was encouraged to let them take control. Even today, lust still pushes us toward lies and toward taking that which does not belong to us.
2. Guilt was compounded by hatred and blame. Even in the aftermath of his sin, Amnon felt no conviction. He knew he was guilty. But instead of accepting responsibility, he decided to blame the victim. Somehow it was her fault. Our feelings of guilt often lead us into the same temptations: toward bitterness and blaming others.
3. Injustice was compounded by bitterness and murder. There is no doubt that something had to be done about this horrible violation against Tamar. But instead of becoming an advocate for Tamar before the king, Absalom decided to let his anger turn to hatred; and that hatred eventually led to murder. Is there anything simmering in your hear this morning? If there is, take it very seriously. Deal with it, before it boils over.
4. Favoritism was compounded by inaction. In this translation, we don't know why David did not take any action against Amnon, but it is clear that he didn't do anything, in spite of his anger over what happened. There are some very ancient versions of II Samuel, that do include this statement at the end of verse 21 (as you can see in your footnote)...
When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, since he was his firstborn
Though we can't be sure favoritism was involved, David's response of failing respond, definitely compounded the situation. Had David acted to punish Amnon, would Absalom still have his brother murdered?
5. Tension was compounded by deception and manipulation. I don't think anyone like the hostility that existed between David and his son Absalom. But instead of working with David to find a just resolution, Joab resorts to deception and manipulation. Unlike the prophet Nathan's convicting parable in chapter 12, this woman is not sent by God. And her comparison is inaccurate. And we're never told that David comes under conviction, or that he remorseful. In fact, his half-hearted attempt at restoration makes it clear that David's heart was not changed. How often have we tried to manipulate situations in order to change them, rather than working for heart change?
6. Estrangement was compounded by sabotage. Even though Absalom had come home, he still lived in a state of banishment. Obviously, no one would like to be stuck in that position. But burning your neighbor's field was not the best way to affect change. His sabotage was just another form of manipulation. But can you relate with Absalom? When you've struggled through tension in this or that relationship, have you been tempted to “go big or go home”, in a negative way, in order to make your point?
You see, I think all of us can relate to these kinds of responses. I think all of us know how we're also guilty of making a bad situation worse through an angry or a bitter or a jealous or a fearful or greedy or a manipulative response. But shouldn't this 'black chain' sober us? Shouldn't it cause us to slow down and really think about how we're going to respond to the next impure desire or hurtful feeling or clear injustice or strained relationship? Do you see how the dominoes were falling in this chapter. Bam! Bam! Bam! A chain of destruction. And as we will see in the coming weeks, there are more domino left to fall.
If only we could see how destructive our responses can be when we add 'fuel to the fire' by compounding this or that problem with our own sin.
So what will make a difference? How can our story be different? How can our responses be different? Did you notice who is absent from this story? Where is God in all of this? Why isn't Amnon seeking the change of heart that God can give? Why isn't Absalom asking God for justice? Why isn't David instructing his children? Why isn't he seeking God's direction, like he once did?
It is critical that we remember chapters 13 and 14 (and chapters 15-20) all flow out of these words from chapter 12:
“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’  Thus says the LORD, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house.” (II Samuel 12:10-11)
What is happening to David and his family is the outworking of God's punishment of David's sin in chapter 11, against Bathsheba and her husband Uriah.
And did you notice that the sins of chapters 13 and 14 echo what happened chapter 11? Just like David did with Bathsheba, Amnon took sexually what did not belong to him. Just like David did with Uriah, Absalom had Amnon killed. And even though God had mercy on David, the king still lost a son. Couldn't the same be said, in one sense, about his son Absalom?
You see, when we push God out, we find ourselves knee-deep in the painful consequences of our own sin. We suffer, and those around us suffer, especially those who are closest to us.
But in the kind of strange twist that only God can orchestrate, the Bible teaches us that our only hope for not responding like David's sons, for rejecting the example of David's sons, is too embrace David's son. Listen to the opening words of Paul's letter to the Christians in the city of Rome:
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God,  which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures,  concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh  and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord,  through whom we have received grace... (Romans 1:1-5)
Not only was Jesus descended from David, but Nathan was one of the prophets who spoke about the promise of his coming in II Samuel 7. And as we see here, Jesus was not only the son of David, He was and is the Son of God. He is alive! Even death could not stop him. And through Jesus, we can receive grace.
What is grace? It is God responding to us, not according to what we deserve, but according to His mercy and favor. We deserve death. He gives life. We deserve punishment. He gives forgiveness. We deserve eternal separation from Him and His blessings. He gives the gift of adoption and make us part of His family, forever. And all of that because Jesus Christ took our punishment upon himself. Our dominoes landed on Him.
And so, wonderfully, because of God's response to us, we can now respond differently in the face of lust, guilt, injustice, favoritism, tension, or estrangement. When we look to Jesus, and as we continue to look to Him, and consider His gift, and treasure His grace, our hearts change. And when our hearts change, our responses begin to change.
Won't you reach out to Him this morning? Bring Him that situation you are struggling with, that situation in which you are being tempted to respond badly. He wants your story to be different than the story of II Samuel 13 and 14. And if we are trusting Jesus as our only hope, we know our story will be different.
King David might have failed to act. But King Jesus did not. And his action, his sacrifice makes all the difference.