When she brought them to him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” But she answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this disgraceful thing! (2 Samuel 13:11-12 NASB)
There’s just something so creepy it’s shocking to pick up the sacred text of Scripture, the inspired word revealing the character of the God, Creator of the universe, and read therein, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” It’s wrong on so many levels I’m not sure where to begin…but I’ll try.
Level 1: The Legal Problem
First off, there are simply very clear legal issues involved; and by that I mean that God was very clear and unequivocal in His condemnation of certain acts, among them rape and incest. In order, I’ll bring up the laws regarding incest of Leviticus 18.
In Leviticus 18:9, sexual intercourse with ‘your father’s daughter’ is prohibited. In Leviticus 20:17, siblings (brother and sister) seeing each other naked is punishable by exile from the people (worship?), the implication is that if they have intercourse, they should be killed. In Deuteronomy 27:22, among the curses is one for anyone lying with his father’s daughter or wife; the implication here that they be executed to remove the guilt from Israel.
So, bottom line: God punishes incest with death, and does not accept it.
Next, the laws regarding rape, found in Deuteronomy, are worded somewhat different than the laws in Leviticus. But assume that any woman being so attacked in the city would cry for help and that others would come to her aid. In this account in 2 Samuel 13, where the perpetrator is the son of the king, his servants (and perhaps even his adviser) do not come to her aid. But she clearly refused, and her no is not ‘equivocal’, it truly means no.
In Deuteronomy 22:23-29, the various types of rape are listed, differentiated by locale: In the city or in the field. And then by whether the girl is engaged or not; with the perpetrator being executed if she’s engaged, and forced to marry her for life if not (not sure that’s so great for the girl).
So, bottom line: God punishes rape in a way to protect he victim, and does not permit or excuse it under any circumstances.
The legal situation in this case seems to be that Amnon deserves death for both incest, and for rape. There is no available for provision for his marrying Tamar since she’s his father’s daughter.
Level 2: The Political Problem
Amnon is the first born of David, born to him in Hebron. By rights of birth, he should be the one to inherit the throne. That means, as the story progresses, the character of this future king is reveal to be one of the worst examples of humanity. He has no regard for God and His laws. He has no regard for social propriety. He has no regard for family. He has no regard for his household. Such a person as king could not fail to be a wholesale disaster. At this point in the story of David’s life, Amnon cannot be allowed to become king.
Yet, as a child of the king, he has certain rights and privileges as well. He has tremendous influence in the kingdom, specifically in the court of the king, and on those around, influencing the king. What would happen if he were punished according to the law? After all, David had not been so punished for his adultery and murder. It would have been difficult for David to have such a ruling carried out on his own child (maybe – there are indications in the text that he may not have had such a difficult time with it).
Whether David could or couldn’t have brought himself to have Amnon executed, the fact was that do so would have had heavy repercussions in his kingdom. Between the family from which Amnon’s mother came and their influence on clan, tribe, and so on; all the way to those around Amnon who were also involved (by compliance with Amnon) in his despicable act; the number of people affected would be huge and send dangerous tremors throughout the kingdom. As it was, not punishing him also sent tremors throughout the kingdom. David was caught in a Catch 22. The fact that no one came forward to accuse Amnon made it impossible, or at least very difficult, to punish him in any way.
Level 3: The Family Problem
The effects of this sin of Amnon creates a series of problems in David’s family. On the other hand, it also indicates that there were a number of problems already present. It’s the ones revealed through this that I want to address now.
The problem of Amnon
One of the most frequent accusations leveled at David is that he didn’t raise his kids well, and Amnon and Absalom are used as examples. Obviously Amnon had ‘issues’ (the modern term for ‘the elephant in the room no one wants to talk about’). But I believe that to say that David didn’t raise them well is to judge him by a different standard than we use with ourselves. I believe the truth is a little different.
For instance, according to 2 Samuel 8:18, David has his sons in roles as priests (normally translated as ministers, but the word is the Hebrew word for ‘priest’). So he put them in the place they would learn the law and know what it was to worship God. This is actually a bit odd, and perhaps even excessive immersion in their understanding of roles. And yet to David it seems that it was important that they see themselves as he saw himself before God. In other places in both 1 Samuel and 2 Samuel, it is David who seeks God using the ephod rather than the priest. It actually fits his personality and relationship with God to put his children in the same place.
Another point I don’t see brought up much is that Amnon had problems even accepting that he could take Tamar. The difficulty bringing himself to cross that line made him sick. That means he knew it was wrong, and possibly on all these levels. If he knew, David should be credited with that. Also notice that Tamar knew that it was socially wrong as well, so even on the social as opposed to religious levels David’s children knew what Amnon was doing was wrong.
The problem wasn’t that they didn’t know it was wrong, the problem with Amnon was that he was able to bring himself to cross the line, and do so the way he did. So, Amnon wasn’t raised ‘wrong’ as far as we can tell from the narrative, but there was certainly something that enabled him to go so horribly off. I think it may be hasty to lay the blame at David’s feet.
The Problem of Absalom
Absalom is a more difficult problem, but not necessarily so. For Absalom, my questions have to do with why he tells Tamar to be silent, citing that Amnon is her brother. That is precisely why she shouldn’t be silent about this. Why was that accepted even at the surface level? Such a decision effectively blocked David from punishing Amnon. So, my suspicion is that Absalom was intending to use Amnon’s abuse of his sister to remove a rival for the throne. That is where my problem with Absalom begins.
He refuses to talk to Amnon, which is understandable, and for two years waits for revenge. To bring about the opportunity for revenge he first invites David to the feast. This demonstrates a level of shrewdness that may actually exceed David’s own. Not only does he disarm arguments about inviting Amnon, he also leaves David with the regret that he did not accept the invitation to avoid the ensuing disaster. The diversion is excellent.
An argument that Absalom learns his deceptive shrewdness from David runs into a few problems. First off, there isn’t a precedent for this behavior in David, nor has there been a successful (or unsuccessful) usurpation of the throne so far. The closest thing to a usurpation was David’s ascension and that took seven years. The only examples of what Absalom is doing would have to come from either Abimelech (Judges), or his mother’s family across the Jordan. Since he flees to the latter, I suspect his scheming ‘lessons’ came from that quarter rather than David’s.
The Problem of David
Finally though, some credence has to be given to the view that what David did with Bathsheba had to have been known by the people closest to him. Therefore, it could enable or embolden Amnon to cross the line, and give a sense of justification to Abasalom’s vengeance and revolt against his father.
In both cases seeing the divergence of their father from his prescribed beliefs makes deviating from them even easier for the next generation. But while this is true for his sin, this should also have been true for his repentance. Clearly it wasn’t. Both David’s sin and David’s repentance need to be held in tension, as both are true. David did sin. But David also repented. His children had to have seen both, but clearly did not learn from both.
The underlying problems in David’s children are very much human problems common when power corrupts whatever good character is present. Power and license enabled Amnon to cross lines he clearly understood. Ambition and pride encouraged Absalom to take advantage of his own sister’s degradation to further his pursuit of power. These are human problems, not just parenting problems. What kept these common human character defects from consuming David was his relationship with his Master and King. That is the lesson his children missed. But we don’t have to miss it. What worked for David will also work for us.
At least that’s my view through this particular knothole. What’s yours?