Chapters Grim

Chapters Grim

If you don’t mind, I have a homework assignment for you. I’d love for you to read 2nd Samuel chapters 13 and 14 before Sunday.

Like most homework assignments, this one isn’t a whole lot of fun. Chapter 13 describes “probably the most horrible story in all of the Bible.”¹  Chapter 14 isn’t any more uplifting! The sordid story of lust, rape, murder and injustice is sort of 18 rated fare we’d probably avoid on a television screen. It’s also the sort of thing we’d rather keep away from the innocent ears of younger children. (For that reason, and since we’re not in a face to face setting, I’ve decided not to preach directly on 2nd Samuel 13 and 14 this Sunday. We’ll be largely reflecting on 1st Timothy 1 v 12-17 instead).

So please read the passage – 2nd Samuel 13 and 14. Then take a look at the five reflections below.

Five reflections then on these grim chapters:

1. These chapters don’t happen in isolation: they  fit into the bigger plotline of 2nd Samuel. David’s sin had been ultimately forgiven, yet the LORD had predicted that immediate consequences would follow it. “The sword”  (ie. violence and strife – 12:10) would “never depart“ from David’s house. Mere verses on from that prediction, we see David’s family spectacularly imploding. His son Amnon assaults his daughter Tamar. Then his son Absalom murders David’s firstborn, Amnon.

2. No character in these chapters (save Tamar) comes out smelling of roses. Dale Ralph Davis summarises the guilt of each character.

  • Amnon: passion without love.
  • Absalom: hatred without restraint.
  • Jonadab: wisdom without principle.
  • David: anger without justice.

3. Amnon and Absalom’s sins cannot be excused, but we can’t help noticing the parallels to the sins of their father, David (2 Samuel 11). David’s taking of Bathsheba is now matched by Amnon’s raping of Tamar. David’s murder of Uriah receives it’s echo in Absalom’s murder of Amnon. Did the sins of their father, make the sins of the sons easier to ‘justify’, in their minds at least?

Example counts. This is why there is such an onus on church leaders to set an example, not just teach theology (see 1 Timothy 4:12, 1 Peter 5:3, Hebrews 13:7)

4. David’s failure to discipline Absalom for taking the law into his own hands is probably related to his own failings in the past. When we feel that our own moral authority has been compromised, it can be harder to call out the sins of others. But whatever our chequered history, we can and we must. God’s standards are always God’s standards. 

5. These two horrible chapters seem to cry out to God for justice. Will God  not step in to right the wrong done to Tamar? Will God stand idly by when his earthly king fails to bring justice? These are reasonable questions to ask, but remember they are answered in the broader sweep of the whole Bible. The wider teaching of Scripture is that God is inflexibly rigid in his justice. No sin ever goes unpunished. The only question is who receives the punishment for the sin and when that punishment takes place. Either we justly bear that judgement ourselves on a Day to come, or Christ has borne that punishment for us on the cross. Only those who are trusting in Jesus can be confident that God’s wrath has been averted.

The cross preaches a God of justice, but it also proclaims a God of mercy. In fact: even the worst of sinners can be saved if they truly repent and believe in Christ (1 Timothy 1:15). 


¹ John Woodhouse.