Unity: Amnon and Tamar

This is part of a series of posts on the doctrine of Unity. Click here to see the entire series.


II Samuel 13 contains the disastrous account of Amnon and Tamar.  Both Amnon and Tamar were children of King David, although by different mothers.  In this particular bit of Bible history King David refuses to render a proper judicial decision because of his strong emotional attachment to another son, Absalom.  His abdication of judicial responsibility results in harlotry, murder, and the first recorded example of a church split.  It is a sordid story but it dramatically illustrates the negative consequences of the refusal to exercise judicial authority.

Amnon was wildly in love (eros) with his half-sister Tamar.  Verse 2 informs us that he was so much in love with Tamar that “he made himself ill” on her account.  Rather than asking for permission from his father to have her in marriage (something that would have been granted, vs 13), Amnon decided to rape her.  He concocted a scheme whereby they could be alone in his chambers and he raped her.

After the rape, two important things took place.  First, as is often the case with those who exercise no control over the emotion of eros, Amnon had a change of heart towards Tamar.  Verse 15 records, “Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.”  Second, because Amnon refused to follow the law and take her as his wife, Tamar realized that her legal status in Israel had become that of a harlot.  Verses 17-19 record her response:

Then he called his young man who attended him and said, “Now throw this woman out of my presence, and lock the door behind her.” Now she had on a long-sleeved garment; for in this manner the virgin daughters of the king dressed themselves in robes.  Then his attendant took her out and locked the door behind her.  And Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore her long-sleeved garment which was on her; and she put her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went.

Deuteronomy 24: 28-29 records the biblical punishment for Amnon’s sin:

If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.

David was the reigning judicial authority at this time.  It was his responsibility to make sure that Amnon married Tamar and thus removed the legal status of harlot from her.  What was David’s response?  II Samuel 13: 21 says, “Now when King David heard of all these matters, he was very angry.”  That’s it!  He got angry.  We are not given the reason he did not act on his anger in an appropriate fashion and force Amnon to marry Tamar.  Whatever the reason, he did nothing.  At this point, because of David’s refusal to act judicially, Amnon is in the legal status of being in rebellion against the law of God.  He could have done the right thing and married Tamar.  They both knew that King David would not deny the marriage.  However Amnon preferred to remain in a state of rebellion because of his hatred for Tamar, the innocent victim in this whole affair.

What is the biblical punishment for a person who refuses to carry out the lawful requirements of God’s law?  It is found in Deuteronomy 17: 12-13 which says:

And the man who acts presumptuously, by not listening to the priest who stands there to serve the Lord your God, nor to the judge, that man shall die; thus you shall purge the evil from Israel. Then all the people will hear and be afraid, and will not act presumptuously again.

II Samuel 13: 22 records the response of Absalom, Tamar’s brother, when it says, “But Absalom did not speak to Amnon either good or bad; for Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated his sister Tamar.”  Because of David’s refusal to do what was right, Absalom (who was next in line for the throne) wrongly takes the law into his own hands.  He conspires to have Amnon murdered and then he flees from the presence of his father David.  II Samuel 13: 39 records David’s emotional response to Absalom’s treachery when it says, “And the heart of King David longed to go out to Absalom…”!

To this point we have had rebellion against the law of God, rape, the status of harlot imposed upon an innocent victim, and a vengeful murder all because David allowed his emotions to overrule his responsibility to render a judicial decision.   But it gets worse.  Absalom eventually returns to Jerusalem and “the king kissed Absalom” (14: 23).  Perceiving that there were going to be no consequences for his actions, Absalom conspires to overthrow his father David and assume the throne for himself.  Chapter 15: 6 tells us that “Absalom stole away the hearts of the men of Israel.” David is eventually forced to flee from Jerusalem and a battle for supremacy ensues.

By this time, Joab (David’s general) had had enough of Absalom.  During an opportune moment during the heat of battle Joab kills Absalom, despite King David’s exhortation to spare his life.  The rebellion is put down and those who remained loyal to King David return to Jerusalem.  What is David’s reaction to all of this?  Does he rejoice that his kingdom is once again secure?  No, he lets his emotions get the best of him once again and he publicly mourns over the death of his son Absalom!  Chapter 19 records the response of Joab to the report that he received that “the king is weeping and mourns for Absalom.”   Chapter 19: 5-7 contains one of the most dramatic exhortations recorded in the Bible.  Joab said:

Then Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of  your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines,  by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you.  For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you;  for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased.  Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants,  for I swear by the Lord,  if you do not go out, surely not a man will pass the night with you, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.

This is the end result of allowing emotions to prevent the proper exercise of judicial authority.  The inevitable reality when emotions overrule judicial behavior is that the judge ends up “loving those that hate” and “hating those that love” him.  There is no other possible outcome.  As a direct result of the rebellion of Absalom, others in the kingdom were later encouraged to conspire against the King and the Kingdom of Israel was divided into two separate kingdoms shortly thereafter.  Hence, we have a clear record of the reasons for the first “church split” recorded in the Bible. Lost, as usual, in all of this was the fact that Tamar, a true victim,  lived out her life with the legal status of harlot.

Astute readers may wonder about the propriety of  Joab’s execution of Absalom in light of David’s dying advice given to Solomon.  I Kings 2 records the list of men that David encouraged Solomon to execute as soon as he assumed the throne.  Joab is listed among those men.  Was Joab on the list because of his execution of Absalom and, therefore, are we to consider his actions to be unrighteous in that affair?  Verse 5 contains David’s advice to Solomon.  The reason Solomon was exhorted to execute Joab was because of his propensity to “shed the blood of war in peace”.   In particular, this was seen to be true in the death of Abner (II Samuel 3: 27).  There is no mention of Absalom and it is fair to infer that David was fully aware that Joab’s execution of Absalom was a just action.

Does becoming emotionally involved with a situation aid an elder in making a judicial decision?  Absolutely not. In fact, it hinders an elder from his God ordained responsibility to act judicially.  Here we have seen that the emotion of love (eros) led directly to rape and hatred. We have seen that the emotion of anger led directly to vengeful murder. We have seen that the emotion of affection (David’s for Absalom) led directly to “loving those that hate and hating those that love” as well as the eventual division of the Kingdom of Israel.  All of this could have been prevented if David had simply exercised his judicial authority and enforced the law that Amnon was to marry Tamar.  His refusal to do so and his decision to follow his feelings led to disaster.

Earlier I mentioned that there are only two classes of doctrine. As a result there are only two types of disagreements:  disagreements that are the result of heresy and disagreements that are the result of the sin of factionalism.  I also stated that in this paper I am going to examine disagreements that originate from three different sources.  There are many sources of disagreement but I believe that the three that I am about to describe include most that are generally experienced in the Church today.   I begin with disagreements that originate due to sinful behavior. I will proceed to disagreements that are the result of weaker/stronger brother issues and I will conclude with conflicts that are the result of personal insecurities and unwise priorities.

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