Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The series of narratives that follow, as far as 2 Samuel 22, are chiefly accounts of the misfortunes that befel David and his household after his great sin. These are entirely omitted from the Chronicles, which also omit the account of that sin.
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her.(1) It came to pass after this.—This formula applies to the narrative which follows as a whole: not, of course, to the fact immediately afterwards mentioned, that Absalom’s sister was Tamar. This may illustrate the use of the same phrase in other places.
Absalom and Tamar were children of Maacah, daughter of Talmai, king of Geshur, and the former, at least, had been born during David’s reign at Hebron (2Samuel 3:3). It is probable that the events here narrated occurred soon after the war with the Ammonites and David’s marriage with Bath-sheba.
Amnon was David’s first-born son (3:2).
And Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do any thing to her.(2) Thought it hard.—Rather, it seemed impossible to Amnon. The modest seclusion of Tamar in the harem of her mother seemed to leave him no opportunity to carry out his desires.
It appears from the narrative that the king’s children lived in different households, and each grown-up son dwelt in his own house.
But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David's brother: and Jonadab was a very subtil man.(3) Jonadab, the son of Shimeah.—In 1Samuel 16:9, Shimeah is called Shammah, and appears there as the third son of Jesse. He had another son, Jonathan, mentioned in 2Samuel 21:21, as the conqueror of one of the giants. The word subtil is used simply to indicate sagacity and wisdom, whether rightly or wrongly exercised.
And Jonadab said unto him, Lay thee down on thy bed, and make thyself sick: and when thy father cometh to see thee, say unto him, I pray thee, let my sister Tamar come, and give me meat, and dress the meat in my sight, that I may see it, and eat it at her hand.(5) Make thyself sick.—Rather, Feign thyself sick. It has already been mentioned in 2Samuel 13:2 that Amnon “fell sick.” That was the real pining of ungoverned and ungratified passion; this was a crafty feigning of sickness. Yet the miserable condition to which Amnon was brought by the former would give colour and plausibility to the latter.
So Amnon lay down, and made himself sick: and when the king was come to see him, Amnon said unto the king, I pray thee, let Tamar my sister come, and make me a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat at her hand.(6) That I may eat at her hand.—This request from an invalid seemed natural, and was readily granted.
Sent home.—Literally, into the house; i.e., to the private apartments of the women—the harem.
And she took a pan, and poured them out before him; but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, Have out all men from me. And they went out every man from him.(9) He refused to eat.—This also seemed natural enough in a whimsical invalid, and for the same reason his next requirement, “Have out all men from me,” awakened no suspicion in the mind of Tamar.
And she answered him, Nay, my brother, do not force me; for no such thing ought to be done in Israel: do not thou this folly.(12) Do not thou this folly.—Tamar, now left alone in the power of her half-brother, endeavours to escape by reasoning. She first speaks of the sinfulness in Israel of that which was allowed among surrounding heathen, quoting the very words of Genesis 34:7, as if by the traditions of their nation to recall the king’s son to a sense of right. She then sets forth the personal consequences to themselves; if he had any love for her he could not wish that shame and contempt should meet her everywhere; and for himself, such an act would make him “as one of the fools in Israel,” as one who had cast off the fear of God and the restraints of decency.
And I, whither shall I cause my shame to go? and as for thee, thou shalt be as one of the fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray thee, speak unto the king; for he will not withhold me from thee.(13) Speak unto the king.—The marriage of half-brothers and sisters was strictly forbidden in the Law (Leviticus 18:9; Leviticus 18:11; Leviticus 20:17), and it is not to be supposed that Tamar really thought David would violate its provisions for Amnon; but she made any and every suggestion to gain time and escape the pressing danger. Amnon, however, knew the Law too well to have any hope of a legitimate marriage with Tamar, and, therefore, persisted in his violence.
Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred wherewith he hated her was greater than the love wherewith he had loved her. And Amnon said unto her, Arise, be gone.(15) Hated her exceedingly.—“It is characteristic of human nature to hate one whom you have injured” (Tacitus, quoted by Kirkpatrick), This result shows that Amnon was governed, not by love, but by mere animal passion.
And she said unto him, There is no cause: this evil in sending me away is greater than the other that thou didst unto me. But he would not hearken unto her.(16) There is no cause.—The Hebrew is elliptical and difficult; various interpretations are suggested, among which that given in the Authorised Version expresses very well the sense, although not an accurate translation. Amnon was now doing her a greater wrong than at first, because he was now bound, in consequence of that, to protect and comfort her.
Then he called his servant that ministered unto him, and said, Put now this woman out from me, and bolt the door after her.(17) Put now this woman out.—Amnon doubtless intended to give the impression that Tamar had behaved shamefully towards him. The baseness of this insinuation is in keeping with his brutality.
And she had a garment of divers colours upon her: for with such robes were the king's daughters that were virgins apparelled. Then his servant brought her out, and bolted the door after her.(18) A garment of divers colours.—The word is used only here and in connection with Joseph (Genesis 37:3; Genesis 37:23; Genesis 37:32), and is supposed to mean a tunic with long sleeves, in distinction from those with short sleeves commonly worn. The fact is mentioned to show that Tamar must have been recognised as a royal virgin by Amnon’s servant, as well as by everyone else.
And Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of divers colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying.(19) Went on crying.—Literally, went going and cried; i.e., as she went away she cried aloud. Tamar put on every external mark of the deep grief within; and this was not only fitting in itself, but was a proper means to obtain justice for her wrongs.
And Absalom her brother said unto her, Hath Amnon thy brother been with thee? but hold now thy peace, my sister: he is thy brother; regard not this thing. So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom's house.(20) Hath Amnon.—The Hebrew, by a clerical error, has here Aminon. Absalom at once sees how the case stands, comforts his sister, but counsels silence as necessary to the purpose of revenge he had at once formed, and takes his desolate sister to his own house.
But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth.(21) He was very wroth.—The LXX. adds, “but he vexed not the spirit of Amnon his son, because he loved him, because he was his firstborn,”—which is doubtless in part the reason of David’s guilty leniency. The remembrance of his own sin also tended to withhold his hand from the administration of justice. David’s criminal weakness towards his children was the source of much trouble from this time to the end of his life.
And it came to pass after two full years, that Absalom had sheepshearers in Baalhazor, which is beside Ephraim: and Absalom invited all the king's sons.(23) Absalom had sheepshearers.—Absalom had now silently nourished his revenge for “two full years.” No doubt he chose also to give full opportunity for his father to punish Amnon’s iniquity if he would; and by this long quiet waiting he so far disarmed suspicion that he was able to carry out his purpose. Sheepshearing always was, and still is, a time of feasting. (Comp. 1Samuel 25:2.) The situation of Baalhazor and of Ephraim are quite unknown, but Absalom’s property was probably not many miles from Jerusalem.
And Absalom came to the king, and said, Behold now, thy servant hath sheepshearers; let the king, I beseech thee, and his servants go with thy servant.(24) Came to the king.—Absalom could hardly have expected the king to accept his invitation, but by pressing him to go he effectively disguised his real purpose, and secured David’s blessing.
Then said Absalom, If not, I pray thee, let my brother Amnon go with us. And the king said unto him, Why should he go with thee?(26) If not . . . let . . . Amnon.—Absalom then asks that if the king himself will not come, Amnon, as his eldest son and heir-apparent, may represent him at the feast. David hesitates, but as he could not well refuse without acknowledging a suspicion which he was unwilling to express, he finally consents.
But Absalom pressed him, that he let Amnon and all the king's sons go with him.(27) He let Amnon go.—The LXX. adds at the end of this verse an explanatory gloss, “And Absalom made a feast like the feast of a king.”
And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king's sons arose, and every man gat him up upon his mule, and fled.(29) As Absalom had commanded.—It was quite customary for the servants of a prince to obey his orders without question, leaving the entire responsibility to rest with him. In this case, if Chileab (or Daniel) was already dead, as seems probable, Absalom stood next in the succession to Amnon, and, however it may have been with himself, his retainers may have looked upon this as a preparatory step towards the throne. The blow was too sudden and unexpected to allow of interference by the other princes.
Upon his mule.—Although David had reserved a number of horses from the spoil of his Syrian victories (2Samuel 8:4), the mule was still ridden by persons of distinction (2Samuel 18:9; 1Kings 1:33; 1Kings 1:38). The breeding of mules was forbidden in the Law (Leviticus 19:19), but they were brought in by commerce (1Kings 10:25).
And it came to pass, while they were in the way, that tidings came to David, saying, Absalom hath slain all the king's sons, and there is not one of them left.(30) There is not one of them left.—The story of this exaggerated report, so true to the life, indicates contemporaneous authorship.
Then the king arose, and tare his garments, and lay on the earth; and all his servants stood by with their clothes rent.(31) Tare his garments.—Rather, rent his clothes, the words being the same as in the last clause of the verse.
And Jonadab, the son of Shimeah David's brother, answered and said, Let not my lord suppose that they have slain all the young men the king's sons; for Amnon only is dead: for by the appointment of Absalom this hath been determined from the day that he forced his sister Tamar.(32) Jonadab.—The same subtle counsellor who had led Amnon into his sin, now at once divined how the case really stood and reassured the king.
By the appointment of Absalom this hath been determined.—Literally, upon Absalom’s mouth it hath been set, an expression which has given rise to much variety of interpretation. The Authorised Version expresses the sense accurately.
But Absalom fled. And the young man that kept the watch lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came much people by the way of the hill side behind him.(34) Absalom fled.—This is connected on one side with 2Samuel 13:29, and on the other with 2Samuel 13:37. Several things were happening at once. When the king’s sons fled to the palace, Absalom, taking advantage of the confusion, escaped another way. The reason for mentioning the fact just here is that otherwise he would seem to be included among “the king’s sons” of the two following verses.
Behind him—i.e., from the west, the Oriental always being supposed to face the east in speaking of the points of the compass.
But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day.(37) Went to Talmai.—His maternal grandfather. (See Note on 2Samuel 3:2-5.) This verse may be considered parenthetical:—The king’s sons came . . . and wept sore. (“Only Absalom fled and went to . . . Geshur.”) In this case the omission of “David” in the latter clause of the verse is explained, as the nominative is easily supplied from 2Samuel 13:36.
For his son every day.—Amnon is certainly the son here meant, for whom David continually mourned until his grief was gradually assuaged by the lapse of time.
So Absalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was there three years.(38) Was there three years.—This is the third time the flight of Absalom has been mentioned; but, after the custom of Scripture narrative, each repetition has been for the purpose of introducing some additional fact. In 2Samuel 13:34 the simple fact of his flight is stated; in 2Samuel 13:37 it is added that he went to his grandfather, and here that he remained with him three years.
And the soul of king David longed to go forth unto Absalom: for he was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead.(39) The soul of King David.—The words, “the soul of,” are not in the original, and the most opposite interpretations have been given of the rest of the sentence. The sense of the English is that of the Chaldee and of the Jewish commentators—that David, after his grief for Amnon had abated, longed after Absalom and pined for his return. But it may be objected to this view, (1) that there is no ground for supplying the ellipsis in this way; (2) that the verb (which is a common one) never has elsewhere the sense given to it; and (3) that the representation thus made is contrary to fact, since David could easily have recalled Absalom had he chosen to do so, and when he actually was brought back, through Joab’s stratagem, the king refused to see him (2Samuel 14:24), and only after two years more (2Samuel 14:28), reluctantly admitted him to his presence. The other interpretation is better, which takes the verb impersonally, and gives the sense, David desisted from going forth against Absalom. He ought to have arrested and punished him for a murder, which was at once fratricide and high treason, as being the assassination of the heir-apparent; but the flight to Geshur made this difficult, and as time went by David “was comforted concerning Amnon,” and gradually gave up the thought of punishing Absalom.