The sordid story of Amnon and Tamar is part of the disintegration of David’s family after his sin with Bathsheba. Amnon was the half-brother of Tamar, as they shared the same father, David. Tamar is described as a virgin and “beautiful,” and Amnon was highly attracted to her (2 Samuel 13:1–2). Amnon did not know what to do about his infatuation, and he soon confided in a friend named Jonadab. Jonadab was “very shrewd” and gave Amnon a plan, saying, “Go to bed and pretend to be ill. . . . When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand’” (2 Samuel 13:5). The idea was to get Amnon and Tamar alone together, and then Amnon could do as he pleased.
Amnon followed this evil plan. He asked for his half-sister to bring him some food, and Tamar, out of obedience to her father and the kindness of her heart, did so. Amnon sent everyone else out of the room and asked Tamar to come closer. Rather than take the food she offered, Amnon grabbed Tamar and tried to wrestle her into the bed. Tamar firmly refused the incestuous relationship, crying out, “No, my brother! . . . Don’t do this wicked thing” (2 Samuel 13:12). Amnon then forced himself upon Tamar and raped her (2 Samuel 13:14).
Afterwards, Amnon was said to hate Tamar more than he had “loved” her before the rape occurred—it was never really “love” at all, but brazen lust. Absalom, Tamar’s full-brother, found out about the deed, and so did David. David’s response was to become “furious” (2 Samuel 13:21), but he took no real action. Absalom cared for Tamar in his own home and would not speak to Amnon. Two years later Absalom commanded his servants to murder Amnon in revenge (2 Samuel 13:28–29). Absalom fled the country for a time and later returned to David.
Why didn’t David punish Amnon for his sin against Tamar? Many reasons have been suggested. One likely reason is that Amnon was David’s son and that David had been guilty of sexual sin himself (in the case of Bathsheba)—therefore, in the case of Amnon and Tamar, he felt inadequate to judge. Another possible reason is that there was no witness to the crime. Amnon’s friend Jonadab had carefully orchestrated the crime to avoid the possibility of witnesses; therefore, there was no way to prove the crime according to Jewish law.
Regardless of the reason, Absalom took matters into his own hands. He avenged Tamar by killing their half-brother Amnon, though it resulted in many problems for himself. Absalom lived away from his family for three years after the murder and then lived for an additional period in Jerusalem before seeing his father’s face. Absalom would also later seek to usurp his father’s throne, resulting in his own death.
The wretched, tragic story of Amnon and Tamar highlights some of the problems associated with sexual sin and its aftermath. No one should experience the treatment Tamar endured, and it is important to respond to such situations with integrity and justice. David neglected justice, and Absalom implemented his own standards, creating additional problems in the process.