Absalom and Amnon

Now Absalom had commanded his servants, saying Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant. 

And the servants of Absalom did unto Amnon as Absalom had commanded. . . . 

But Absalom fled and went to Talmai, the son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. And David mourned for his son every day. 

II Samuel 13:28, 29, 37

Absalom had always despised Amnon. Amnon was simply by every measure his inferior. Not only was he of inferior birth with a mother who was an ordinary commoner while his mother was a princess from Geshur, but Amnon was inferior in intelligence, appearance and bearing too—a crude man, however a person looked at him. It was that which to the mind of Absalom had always constituted the irony of the whole situation for Amnon was the older and the proper heir to the royal throne. It just did not seem right that one so all-over inferior should have the preference because of a mere matter of age. Even David their father, Absalom had every reason to believe, preferred him over Amnon. For years Absalom had mulled over these thoughts until they formed a deep well of bitterness and resentment within his soul.

It was the rape of his sister Tamar, however, that finally brought everything to a peak. Here was brought out and thrown in Absalom’s face everything that he despised in his brother. Here was that rough crudeness that marked Amnon’s inferior nature; here was that arrogant presumption that made him so unworthy to be a king; here was that selfish presumption that could only make him despicable in everybody’s eyes; and, above all, here was the ignoring of the fact that Tamar was the daughter of a princess, just as he was her son,—a slight which. Absalom could never forgive. For days upon days Absalom found himself consumed with suppressed fury while he waited for his father to do justice to Amnon as the law demanded. But no, his father did’ nothing, and it only increased his internal fury. Where was his father’s sense of justice? Where was his father’s commitment to the law? Why was not Amnon put immediately to death for such a heinous sin? Slowly’ the rage of Absalom began to grow and broaden out until it included in its sphere also his father. 

Absalom was by nature, though, a careful and thorough man. Outwardly he did and said nothing at all. In fact, he even tried to calm the feelings of Tamar by saying, “Hold now thy peace, my sister: he is thy brother; regard not this thing.” But inwardly he began to lay his own plans. 

It was a full two years before the opportunity came for which Absalom was waiting. As it was, their father had given to each one of his matured sons a farm or large plot of land from which they could take their living. Absalom’s portion included a stretch of pasture land upon which he grazed a large flock of sheep. It meant that each year at sheep shearing time, after the custom of the nation, a large feast was held for all of the workers and for whatever friends one might like to invite. For Absalom his problem regarding Amnon was simply this—how could he get his brother to come into his own home where his servants would be able to give to him his just deserts. It was not an easy thing to do, for Amnon was quite aware of Absalom’s animosity toward him, particularly because ever since the rape of Tamar Absalom had absolutely refused to speak to him. But the way he had it planned, Absalom was quite sure that in the sheep shearing feast, he could find the opportunity he was looking for. 

The plan of Absalom was to get Amnon to come down to his farm by inviting all the brothers to the sheepshearer’s feast. In fact, he went even a step further to alleviate any hesitancy which Amnon might have to come along with the rest; he invited also their father David to come along. Surely no one would suspect his intended violence when the king himself was being invited to be among them. Possibly Absalom had suspected already that David would not be able to make the trip, and maybe his fury had reached such a peak that he wanted even his father to witness what was in his mind, an execution of perfect justice. As it was, though, David .was quite aware of Absalom’s sensitive and conniving nature, so that he suspected that there must be some ulterior motive that brought forth this gesture of generosity from his son. Thus he answered with the excuse, “Nay, my son, let us not all now go, lest we be chargeable unto thee.” And, although Absalom pressed him, he would not change his mind. In fact, he did not even like the idea of letting Amnon go down into the stronghold of Absalom; but upon this point, Absalom was even more insistent so that finally David gave his consent at least to that. 

Only when all had reached the stage where the plans had been laid and his brothers were actually gathered together at his feast did Absalom share his intentions with any other. He called to him several trusted servants and instructed them, “Mark ye now when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say unto you; Smite Amnon; then kill him, fear not: have not I commanded you? be courageous, and be valiant.” It was a cowardly move, as justice taken into one’s own hand is always cowardly. It was almost as though Absalom had taken a page from the example of his father, who had used the stupefying effects of wine, albeit unsuccessfully, in his efforts to ensnare Uriah. One can only imagine the shock which came to the rest of the sons of David as, in the midst of a most light-hearted and jovial occasion, they lifted their eyes to witness the execution of their eldest brother and the heir apparent of Israel’s throne. To their minds, there could be only one intention—that was, to kill all of them one by one. The result was that rather than turning upon Absalom they all fled from the room and from the farm as quickly as they could. 

For David the shock was even greater. In that day there was, of course, no faster means of communication than what could be carried by word of mouth. Accordingly it was considered to be a great attainment and often worthy of great reward to bring an important message first to the ears of a commander or king. Thus it was that as soon as the first thought arose as to the intent of Absalom to slay all of the king’s sons, one of the messenger servants left the room and ran as swiftly as possible to bear the message to the king. To him it did not seem to be too much of an embellishment to state the massacre which he had seen begun with his own eyes with the slaying of Amnon, as an already completed fact. Thus the word delivered to David was, “Absalom bath, slain all of the king’s sons, and there is not one of them left.” It was a stunning blow which came with such numbing force that all David could do was to tear his outer garments and to fall in near faint to the earth. 

There David might well have lain for some time except for the presence of Jonadab. Jonadab, a nephew of David’s, was one of those cold and calculating but extremely clever men who often do so well in the presence of the mighty. This man had been living in the court and watching with detached but careful interest the feud which was developing between Absalom and Amnon. In fact, he had been the one who had suggested to Amnon how the opportunity for the rape of Tamar might be set up; and then, once it was an accomplished fact, he had watched with keen interest the reaction upon Absalom. To him the message of the servant came with absolutely no surprise at all. He had been expecting it. But at the same time, he was absolutely sure that the design of Absalom was directed exclusively against Amnon and no one else. So confident was he of this evaluation that he did not as much as hesitate to step forth to contradict the messenger that had claimed to have seen all and say, “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. Now therefore let not my lord the king take the thing to his heart, to think that all the king’s sons are dead: for Amnon only is dead.” 

It was strange, but the deductions of Jonadab seemed to carry more conviction in them than did those of the messenger who had come directly from the scene. Even more, there was something about his cool, calculated bearing that seemed to carry across the feeling that what had happened was not really so serious after all. To be sure, it was with tears and weeping that the sons of the king were greeted as they began to arrive terror stricken and trembling at the palace very soon thereafter. Nevertheless, there remained the feeling underneath that it was a wonderful thing that only Amnon was dead of them all. 

Nevertheless, a terrible thing had happened in Israel which could not be ignored and forgotten David knew this, and Absalom knew this too: His plan from the beginning had included the realization that he would have to flee from the land of Israel, at least for a time. But that was not so bad. His mother’s father was king in Geshur and he could stay there with as much ease as he had known in Jerusalem. Moreover, although David would have had it completely within his power to pursue him there for the sake of justice, he would undoubtedly hesitate to endanger friendly relationships with another king, even one who was subject to him. 

Beyond this, there was also another factor which Absalom was counting on considerably. This was the very special favor which he had always held in the eyes of his father. It had always been there for as long as he could remember, and it was perhaps this that had first aroused within him the conviction that he was the natural successor to the throne rather, than Amnon. From his earliest youth David had taken to his son Absalom like he had never taken to any of the others. Possibly it was the prettiness of the child together with his cleverness of mind, the intensity of his feelings and the winning nature of his personality. All told it had made of Absalom a child which David could not resist. To have the child with him and to keep him in a happy smiling mood was one of the greatest pleasures the king ever had. Here was something Absalom remembered, and upon which he was sure he could count to return him to favor in the end. 

What Absalom had anticipated was actually very true. It was not long before Amnon, being dead, was almost forgotten by the king; but Absalom was never far removed from his mind. Again and again David’s thoughts went out in longing for this favorite son far removed from him in banishment. So intense were his feelings of longing that soon all evidence of pleasure and happiness were removed from the face of the king, and accordingly also from the court which gathered before him. Absalom did in very deed hold a very special place within the king’s heart. 

Nevertheless, in one thing Absalom had underestimated. Not having himself any real sense of justice, he had failed to allow for the intensity of his father’s commitment to God’s law. As much as David loved Absalom, he could not forget that he was a murderer. It was all that he could do to leave the young man in banishment without pursuing after him; but to bring him back without exacting punishment was more than David’s conscience could bear. Thus it was, that rather than being soon recalled into the presence of his father, year after year passed by with Absalom left in banishment away from all of the activity of the great city of Jerusalem and the splendor of the court. It was more than a disappointment to him. It became the occasion for greater bitterness and hatred within the recesses of his wicked soul.