The section we will look at here concerns the rise of Absalom, David’s son. His rise parallels the rise of Saul in the structure of the book of Samuel. But his rise is much worse than Saul’s early years.
It begins when Amnon, another of David’s sons, magnified his father’s sexual sins. Whereas David slept with a kinswoman who was barely not related enough to be incest, Amnon slept with his half-sister Tamar (who was the full-sister of Absalom). Tamar was a virgin.
Tamar’s response, unlike the servants of David, was the proper outrage: “No, my brother, do not violate (or humiliate) me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you” (2 Sam 13:12-13). “But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her” (2 Sam 13:14). Leithart says the Hebrew is more crude, he “laid her” instead of the normal idiom “lay with her.”
Tamar tried to convince her half-brother to ask his father for her hand in marriage. Such a relationship would not be lawful, but he might plausibly have assented to it. Nevertheless, the law is clear that the one who does lie with a woman before marriage must pay the bride price and usually marry her (Exo 22:16-17, Deut 22:28-29). However, the text tells us, “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” (2 Sam 13:15) so he sent her away. But she noted, correctly, this was an even worse than the rape.
Tamar’s name is no accident. Her name is meant to remind us of Genesis 38 where two of Judah’s sons were married to Tamar and both sons died. Now we have a new Tamar with two brothers who will die. Amnon even tried to seduce Tamar in the way that Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, even using the same line and Joseph and Tamar responded in similar ways. Moreover, Amnon was like Shechem who did the disgraceful thing of lying with Jacob’s daughter and so Levi and Simeon slaughtered Shechem and his fellow countrymen.
The comparison with Shechem highlights the contrast that Shechem loved Dinah and was willing to marry her whereas Amnon hated Tamar and would not marry her. Additionally, next Absalom will play the role of Simeon and Levi and slaughter Amnon.
Also in the context of the book of Samuel, Eli’s sons had slept with the temple virgins and now David’s son slept with the princess virgin (she even had a special robe as a virgin, thus she was supposed to be in a similar protected state as to that of the temple virgins).
But just as Eli could not restrain his sons, neither could David. Perhaps could is not accurate, just as Eli did not restrain his sons, neither did David. David failed to do so primarily because he did not hold his sons to YHWH’s standards but instead only focused on his own personal failings. In other words, it was David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite that he allowed to prevent him from disciplining his sons.
And like father, like son. Amnon multiplied his father’s sexual sin and then Absalom his father’s sin of murder.
Both the adultery and the murder had food as a cover. Tamar had been asked to bake cakes for Amnon and now Absalom has a feast to kill Amnon.
And just as the previous adultery and murder had been followed by a prophetic rebuke, now there is a rebuke by the wise woman of Tekoa. This is a parody of what Nathan had done in rebuking David. She tricked David into letting Absalom live by using a parable. She claimed that her son killed the other son and now the community is going to kill the only remaining son.
If David’s was the sin of Adam, then Absalom’s sin is Cain’s. The parable that the “wise woman” (likely a wisdom teacher in Israel) told sounds awful similar to the story of Cain and Abel. She is not much of a wise woman but is the tool of Joab in this plot. The story itself may have been planned that way so that David would hear echoes of Cain and Abel and decide the way that God did in Genesis 4. Two sons struggled “in the field” and one strikes down the other and the rest of the kin are avengers of blood. David was convinced and invited Absalom back home.
Why Joab wanted Absalom back home is not clear, but these events set the stage for Absalom to set fire to Joab’s field in order to set up the reconciliation of Absalom and David. However, Absalom did not really desire reconciliation but instead conspired to take the throne. Absalom even crowned himself king at Hebron as his father David had done. In fact, Absalom basically followed the pattern that David v. Saul had set. David had become like Saul and now he was going to be plagued by a new David who was worse than Saul.
The text leaves us hungering for the son of David who will be the Prince of Peace and will be a righteous judge – for the son of David who will be without sin who does not fall into sin at temptation.