THE BOOK OF 2 SAMUEL
Lesson 4: Chapters 11-13
David's Sin and the Beginning of David's Tragedies

Divine Father,
In the Scriptures we are continually assured of Your love for us even when we fall into sin and damage our relationship with You. In those times You have promised us that we can renounced the sin, offer penance, receive atonement through the sacrifice of Your Son, and return to fellowship with You. After years of faithful service, Your servant David had the occasion to fall prey to sin. However, You did not abandon him. You judged his sins and gave him temporal punishments. He submitted to Your divine justice, returned to You with all his heart, and therefore You forgave his sins. Give us the confidence David had in Your divine justice and the willingness to accept our temporal punishments so that our eternal destiny will not be jeopardized by failure to humbly repent our sins. We pray in the name of God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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These things I have written not to disconcert you but that the example of kings may stir you to remove this sin from your kingdom, for you will remove it by humbling your soul before God. You are a man, you have met temptation; conquer it. Sin is not removed except by tears and penance. No angel or archangel can remove it; it is God himself who alone can say, "I am with you;" if we have sinned, he does not forgive us unless we do penance.
Ambrose, Letter, 51:10-11

King Saul fought defensive campaigns to protect Israel from her enemies. David, however, went on the offensive by defeating and subduing the Philistines to the west, by neutralizing the Moabites to the east, and defeating the Aramaean coalition to the north, turning all these nations into Israel's vassal states. In conquering the Aramaean kingdoms David reached the Euphrates River, fulfilling God's promise to the patriarch Abraham (Gen 15:18). David also defeated the Edomites who occupied territory south of the Dead Sea and gained control of the valuable iron and copper resources in Edom, breaking the Philistine's iron monopoly (1 Sam 13:19) that had long hindered the Israelites until this victory (2 Sam 8:13). Israel is now recognized as formidable power in the region and David is recognized as a great king.

In gratitude David wanted to build a "house" for God's dwelling place (Chapter 7). However, God told David through the prophet Nathan that as a man of war he could not build God a "house" that was the sign of His presence among the nations of the earth. Instead, God promised to build David a "house," a Davidic dynasty that would last forever; and no matter what were the failures of David's "house" that God would punish those failures but He would never withdraw His covenant promise of an eternal Davidic dynasty.

Chapter 11: The Second Ammonite Campaign and David's Sin

Dadu, one of the Rephaim, whose bronze spear weighed three hundred shekels, was about to take him captive. Dadu was girt with a new sword and planned to kill David, but Abishai, son of Zeruiah, came to his assistance and struck and killed the Philistine. Then David's men swore to him, "You must not go out to battle with us again, lest you quench the lamp of Israel."
2 Samuel 21:16-17 (NAB)

The narrative in chapters 11-12 is the turning point in the book of 2 Samuel. In the first part of the book we have read about the triumphs in David's life through God's guidance and protection. In the second part of the book we will read about David's tragedies and God's judgments due to David's failures in yielding to temptation and sin in his life. God punished David for his sins with temporal judgments, but He never withdrew from David as He withdrew from Saul because David always acknowledged his sins, turned back to God, and humbled himself in sincere repentance. Despite his hardships, David continued to love God with all his heart.

The key word in Chapters 11-12 in recounting the narrative of the sin of David and Bathsheba is the verb "sent." It is used thirteen times in the Hebrew text in 2 Samuel 11:1, 3, 4, 5, 6, (three times), 12, 14, 18, 22, 27; 12:1 (chapter divisions were not added to Scripture until the 13th century AD and verse divisions were added later, therefore, chapters 11-12 can be viewed as one narrative). In Scripture the number thirteen is often seen as an ill omen representing hostility, rebellion, apostasy, defection, corruption, and judgment. For emphasis the word "sent" will be underlined in the text of our lesson.

2 Samuel 11:1-5 ~ David's Sins
1 At the turn of the year, at the time when kings go campaigning, David sent Joab and with him his guards and all Israel. They massacred the Ammonites and laid siege to Rabbah-of-the-Ammonites. David, however, remained in Jerusalem. 2 It happened towards evening when David had got up from resting and was strolling on the palace roof, that from the roof he saw a woman bathing, the woman was very beautiful. 3 David made enquiries [sent and asked] about this woman and was told, "Why, that is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite." 4 David then sent messengers to fetch her. She came to him, and he lay with her, just after she had purified herself from her period. She then went home again. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, "I am pregnant." [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 827.

It is the probably just after the spring equinox, which is the "turn of the year" in the liturgical calendar (Ex 12:1-2; 13:3-4). It is the time of the year when armies go the war after the rainy winter months. The Israelites have defeated the Ammonite's Aramaean allies in the first Ammonite campaign (2 Sam 10:6-19), and now David turns his attention to destroying the power of the Ammonites in the Transjordan in a second campaign by sending Joab and the Israelite army to attack the Ammonite capital of Rabbah-Ammon (also see 1 Chr 20:1-3).

Question: Why is David in Jerusalem instead of being with his army at the siege of Rabbah-Ammon? See 2 Sam 21:16-17.
Answer: After his near-death experience in the battle with the Philistines, his men have made him promise to stay in Jerusalem. Israel's future depends on him, and they tell him he is too valuable to risk his life in battle.

2 Samuel 11:2-3 ~ It happened towards evening when David had got up from resting and was strolling on the palace roof, that from the roof he saw a woman bathing, the woman was very beautiful. 3 David made enquiries [sent and asked] about this woman and was told, "Why, that is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite."
David is probably restless. This new arrangement of not leading his men in battle must have been difficult for David. For his entire adult life he has been a warrior. Now he is confined to his palace and forced to leave the war against Israel's enemies to his nephew Joab and his loyal commanders. David has taken a siesta after the main, mid-day meal and is now walking on the roof-top of his palace in the late afternoon, when, looking down on to the houses below the palace, he sees a very beautiful woman bathing.

Question: When he makes enquires about the woman what does he discover? It is unusual that both her father and husband are named so the inspired writer wants us to take notice of that information. What more can we learn about these men from the lists of David's commanders? See 2 Samuel 15:12; 16:23; 23:34, 39; 1 Chr 27:33; Josh 15:51.
Answer: The woman's name is Bathsheba; both her father and husband are commanders in David's army, and her husband is a Gentile Hittite. Her grandfather is a man from the Judean town of Gilo/Giloh.

2 Samuel 11:4 ~ David then sent messengers to fetch her. She came to him, and he lay with her, just after she had purified herself from her period. She then went home again.
The beautiful woman is a welcomed distraction and he sends for her despite the fact that her father and husband are men who are among David's elite commanders. He sends for her and sleeps with her. We are not told of Bathsheba's feelings; was she a willing accomplice to David's adultery or was she too afraid to refuse?

Question: What two sins has David committed that are listed in the Ten Commandments? See Ex 20:14, 17 and Dt 5:18, 21.
Answer: First he coveted his neighbor's wife and then he committed adultery.

Question: Jesus raised the bar on the temptation of lust for New Covenant believers. The temptation in itself is not a sin so long as one renounces the temptation and turns away from it, but what did Jesus say about lust and sin in Matthew 5:27-28. Also see CCC 2336, 2380; 2528-30.
Answer: He said as soon as one imagines committing the sin even before the actual act, that person is guilty of sin.

Bathsheba's father is a man name Eliam whose name in Hebrew means "God is kin" or "God is uncle." He is one of David's elite commanders (2 Sam 23:34). Eliam is called Ammiel in 1 Chr 3:5; both names include the same components but in reversed order. He is the son of the Gilonite Ahithophel.(1) There is no general agreement on the meaning of Ahithophel's name but it may mean "brother of folly." Bathsheba name is rendered Bath-Shua by the writer of 1 Chronicles (1 Chr 3:5). The feminine name Shua refers to a foreign goddess, and if that is the case her name would mean "daughter of Shua" or "oath of Shua) which may indicate that Bathsheba's family was of non-Israelite origin. This theory may be supported by Jesus' genealogy in Matthew's Gospel that names three Gentile women (Rahab, Ruth, and Tamar) but only refers to Bathsheba as "Uriah's wife." Since only Gentile women were being listed as Jesus' ancestresses, it is perhaps another indication that Bathsheba/Bath-Shua was a Gentile. Bathsheba's husband Uriah is a Gentile Hittite. Uriah the Hittite is also listed among David's elite commanders (2 Sam 23:39; 1 Chr 11:41). Since Uriah has a pious Hebrew name and not a Hittite name he is likely a convert, which his conversation with David will support in verse 11.

Question: Why is it significant that she bathed as part of the purification ritual after her period? What impact might that information have on the story? See Lev 15:19, 24, 28-29.
Answer: She has been ritually unclean for the week of her period and for seven days thereafter, and she has not had intimate relations with her husband during the time she was ritually unclean.

Question: What does this mean for the state of Bathsheba's fertility?
Answer: It is now the 15th day of her monthly cycle which means she is at her most fertile time of the month.

That she was at her most fertile time of the month is confirmed in verse 5: The woman conceived and sent word to David, "I am pregnant." Her pregnancy poses a serious problem. It will soon become obvious, since her husband is away at the war, that he is not the father of her child. The palace servants know that she has been with the king and David and Bathsheba could be accused and found guilty of adultery, destroying David's reputation as a righteous king and putting both of them in mortal danger.

Question: Under the Law of the Sinai Covenant, what is the penalty for adultery? See Lev 20:10; Dt 22:22.
Answer: The penalty was death for both the man and the woman.

2 Samuel 11:6-13 ~ David sends for Uriah
6 David then sent word to Joab, "Send me Uriah the Hittite," whereupon Joab sent Uriah to David. 7 When Uriah reached him, David asked how Joab was and how the army was and how the war was going. 8 David then said to Uriah, "Go down to your house and wash your feet." Uriah left the palace and was followed by a present from the king's table. 9 Uriah, however, slept at the palace gate with all his master's bodyguard and did not go down to his house. 10 This was reported to David; "Uriah," they said, "has not gone down to his house." So David asked Uriah, "Haven't you just arrived from the journey? Why didn't you go down to your house?" 11 To which Uriah replied, "The Ark, Israel and Judah are lodged in huts; my master Joab and my lord's guards are camping in the open. Am I to go to my house, then, and eat and drink and sleep with my wife? As Yahweh lives, and as you yourself live, I shall do no such thing!" 12 David then said to Uriah, "Stay on here today; tomorrow I shall send you off." So Uriah stayed that day in Jerusalem. 13 The next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk. In the evening, Uriah went out and bedded down with his master's bodyguard, but did not go down to his house.

David sends for Uriah under the pretext of inquiring about the progress of the war, but his real intent is to lure Uriah into sleeping with his wife to account for her pregnancy.

2 Samuel 11:8 ~ David then said to Uriah, "Go down to your house and wash your feet." Uriah left the palace and was followed by a present from the king's table.
In the days before paved roads it was the custom to wash one's feet upon entering a house, but in this case the phrase "wash your feet" is a Semitic euphemism for enjoying sexual intimacy in one's home. To help set the mood, David sends along a meal from his table for the couple.

David's plan is foiled by Uriah who stays at the palace. The next day when an irritated David inquires as to why Uriah didn't go to his house, his answer is a reflection of both his loyalty and his piety. Uriah appears to be astonished that David should not understand why he did not go home in verse 11b, using an oath formula and saying: "As Yahweh lives, and as you yourself live, I shall do no such thing!"
Question: What are Uriah's reasons for not going to his own home for the night?
Answer:

  1. The Ark and the armies of Israel and Judah are not in comfortable houses but are in temporary structures.
  2. The king's commander Joab and his guards are camping in the open.
  3. It is unseemly for him to go to his house when others who serve Israel and the king are deprived of such comforts including their wives.

There might also be another reason. Yahweh's holy warriors were to remain ritually pure and to refrain from sexual intimacy with their wives while on a campaign. Uriah may not have wanted to be tempted to becoming ritually unclean for battle by sleeping with Bathsheba (Ex 19:14-15; 1 Sam 21:6/5). David tried a second time to get Uriah to go to his home but with the same lack of success.

Question: What is the irony in the contrast between David the Israelite king and Uriah the Hittite warrior?
Answer: David the Israelites is supposed to be God's righteous warrior, but it is Uriah the Gentile who is the righteous man and pious warrior.

2 Samuel 11:14-21 ~ The Death of Uriah
14 The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by Uriah. 15 In the letter he wrote, "Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest and then fall back, so that he gets wounded and killed." 16 Joab, then besieging the city, stationed Uriah at a point where he knew that there would be tough fighters. 17 The people of the city sallied out and engaged Joab; there were casualties in the army, among David's guards, and Uriah the Hittite was killed as well.
18 Joab sent David a full account of the battle. 19 To the messenger he gave the order: "When you have finished telling he king all about the battle, 20 if the king's anger is aroused and he says, Why did you go near the town to give battle? Didn't you know that they would shoot from the ramparts? 21 Who killed Abimelech son of Jerubbaal? Wasn't it a woman who dropped a millstone on him from the ramparts, causing his death at Thebez? Why did you go near the ramparts?' you are to say, "Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead too.'"

Question: What is the irony in Uriah delivering David's letter to Joab?
Answer: He is faithfully carrying his own death warrant.

Question: How did Joab revise David's plan and why?
Answer: Instead of putting Uriah in the front of the battle and then ordering the men to withdraw from him, Joab sent a unit of men (probably under Uriah's command) into a dangerous position where they were exposed to the enemy archers on the city wall and did not withdrawn them. He realized that David's plan was flawed and either Uriah would withdraw when he saw the other men falling back or their murderous plan could be exposed by one righteous soldier who revealed the conspiracy. Joab sacrificed other soldiers to ensure Uriah's death.

It is the insidious nature of sin that one sin usually leads to another and another. David's sin that began with coveting another man's wife has led to adultery and now murder; and his plan to have Uriah killed in battle has not contributed to Joab's cooperation in the sin but to the unjust deaths of loyal Israelites including Uriah.

Joab knows that David will be upset with the loss of so many of his men and will criticize Joab for exposing them to the archers on the city wall. He even knows the example David will use in his criticism from an event that took place a century earlier in Israel's history. Notice that the Israelites are very aware of their history and probably not just from an oral tradition but from the books of their inspired writers. The story of Ahimelech is from the Book of Judges which, according to tradition, was written by the prophet/judge Samuel.

Question: Who was Abimelech son of Jerubbaal and what happened to him? See Judg 8:30-31; 9:1, 52-53. Note that the Judge Gideon was also known as Jerubbaal.
Answer: Abimelech was the son of the Judge Gideon (also called Jerubbaal) who died at the city of Thebez after a woman threw down a millstone from a tower that struck him (Judg 9:52-53). The story was probably an example David used in training his soldiers concerning the dangers of fighting too close to a city wall or tower.

Question: After David has vented his anger, what is the soldier to say to David and why?
Answer: He is to simply say that Uriah has died too, then David will realize what Joab has done to secure David's command.

2 Samuel 11:22-27 ~ David Receives the News of Uriah's Death
22 So the messenger set off and, on his arrival, told David everything that Joab had instructed [sent] him to say. David flew into a rage with Joab and said to the messenger, "Why did you go near the ramparts? Who killed Abimelech son of Jerubbaal? Wasn't it a woman who dropped a millstone on him from the ramparts, causing his death at Thebez? Why did you go near the ramparts?" 23 The messenger replied to David, "Their men had won an initial advantage and then came out to engage us in the open. We then drove them back into the gateway, 24 but the archers shot at your retainers from the ramparts; some of the king's retainers lost their lives, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead too."
25 David then said to the messenger, "Say this to Joab, Do not take the matter to heart; the sword devours now one and now another. Attack the town in greater force and destroy it.' That will encourage him." 26 When Uriah's wife heard that her husband Uriah was dead, she mourned for her husband. 27 When the period of mourning was over, David sent to have her brought to his house; she became his wife and bore him a son. But what David had done displeased Yahweh.

Joab had correctly anticipated David's angry response to the number of men who were killed, but the messenger felt it was necessary to provide more information about the conditions of the battle than Joab told him to give. He is probably unaware of the plan and wants to defend his commander's decision have warriors deployed beneath the city wall. However, when he says the key sentence, "Uriah the Hittite is dead too," David completely understands that Joab has changed the initial plan to bring about the main objective. He then sends back an "encouragement" to his commander in what was probably a common saying for soldiers: "the sword devours now one and now another," which might be comparable to the modern expression "every bullet has its billet." David must have realized with a shock that now he is not only responsible for the death of one innocent man but for the deaths of many. His message to Joab is that he understands what Joab has done for him. And it should be noted that David arranging for Uriah's death is a crime that is equal to Joab's murder of Abner (2 Sam 3:27). Now the two men have more than the love of kinship linking them; they have the sin of murder.

2 Samuel 11:26-27 ~ When Uriah's wife heard that her husband Uriah was dead, she mourned for her husband. 27 When the period of mourning was over, David sent to have her brought to his house; she became his wife and bore him a son. But what David had done displeased Yahweh.
Bathsheba probably mourned her husband the customary seven days and then David "sent" for her and married her. They were probably anxious to be married before she began to show that she was pregnant. The information that she bore him a son looks ahead to the next chapter when David is called to account for his sins, which we are made aware of through the statement: But what David had done displeased Yahweh.

Chapter 12: God's Judgment for David's Sins

For the choirmaster: of David when the prophet Nathan had come to him because he had gone to Bathsehba.
Have mercy on me, O God, in your faithful love, in your great tenderness wipe away my offences; wash me thoroughly from my guilt, purify me from my sin. For I am well aware of my offences, my sin is constantly in mind. Against you, you alone, I have sinned, I have done what you see to be wrong, that you may show your saving justice when you pass sentence, and your victory may appear when you give judgment, remember, I was born guilty, a sinner from the moment of conception.
Psalm 51:1-5

The Lord took away his sins, making his strength even greater; he gave him a royal covenant, and a glorious throne in Israel.
Sirach 47:11/13

2 Samuel 12:1-6 ~ Nathan's Story and David's Response
1 Yahweh sent the prophet Nathan to David. He came to him and said: "In the same town were two men, one rich, the other poor. 2 The rich man had flocks and herds in great abundance; 3 the poor man had nothing but a ewe lamb, only a single little one which he had bought. He fostered it and it grew up with him and his children, eating his bread, drinking from his cup, sleeping in his arms; it was like a daughter to him. 4 When a traveler came to stay, the rich man would not take anything from his own flock or herd to provide for the wayfarer who had come to him. Instead, he stole the poor man's lamb and prepared that for his guest."
5 David flew into a great rage with the man. "As Yahweh lives," he said to Nathan, "the man who did this deserves to die [is a son of death]. 6 For doing such a thing and for having shown no pity, he shall make fourfold restitution [shall repay fourfold] for the lamb]." [..] = IBHE, vol. II, pages 830.

Verse 1 is the thirteenth and last time the word "sent" is used in the David and Bathsheba narrative. It signals the coming judgment of their sin. Yahweh sends His prophet to accuse David of his sin; it is not an easy job for a prophet to confront a king. The prophet Nathan tells David a parable, but he presents the story as though it is a genuine event where an injustice has taken place involving two men in David's kingdom.

Question: What is the contrast between the two men in Nathan's story? What crime did the one man commit against the other?
Answer: One man is wealthy and the other is poor. The wealthy man has stolen the one thing of value the poor man possesses. But the lamb the rich man has taken was more than a possession to the poor man because he loved it like a child.

Question: What is David's reaction? What article of the law does he refer to? See Ex 21:37, in some translations Ex 22:1.
Answer: David is furious when he hears of the injustice that has been committed by the rich man against the poor man. He pronounces that the rich man deserves to die because in addition to the theft the rich man has shown no compassion for the poor man's love for the animal. But under the law, the man must provide a four times restitution, providing four sheep for the one that was taken.

2 Samuel 12:7-15 ~ Nathan Delivers God's Judgment
7 Nathan then said to David, "You are the man! Yahweh, God of Israel, says this, I anointed you king of Israel, I saved you from Saul's clutches, 8 I gave you your master's household and your master's wives into your arms, I gave you the House of Israel and the House of Judah; and, if this is still too little, I shall give you other things as well. 9 Why did you show contempt for Yahweh, by doing what displeases him? You put Uriah the Hittite to the sword; you took his wife to be your wife, causing his death by the sword of the Ammonites. 10 For this, your household will never be free of the sword, since you showed contempt for me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite, to make her your wife.' 11 Yahweh says this, "Out of your own household I shall raise misfortune for you. Before your very eyes I shall take your wives and give them to your neighbor, who will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You have worked in secret, but I shall work this for all Israel to see, in broad daylight.'" 13 David then said to Nathan, "I have sinned against Yahweh." Nathan then said to David, "Yahweh, for his part, forgives your sin; you are not to die. 14 But, since you have outraged Yahweh by doing this, the child born to you will die." 15 And Nathan went home.

Nathan's rhetorical trap is complete with David's pronouncement of judgment against the "rich man." Imagine David's shock when Nathan tells him: "You are the man!"
Question: What is ironic about David's judgment in verses 5-6? Who are the main characters in Nathan's parable?
Answer: It is ironic that David has pronounced judgment on himself.

  1. David is the "rich man."
  2. Uriah is the "poor man."
  3. Bathsheba is the "little ewe lamb" the poor man loved.

Up to this point in David's life, God has blessed and protected him.
Question: What are the ways God lists that He has blessed David?
Answer:

  1. God anointed David king of Israel.
  2. God saved David from Saul's attempts to kill him.
  3. God gave David Saul's kingship over Judah and Israel, including Saul's wives.

This is the first time we have heard that David took possession of Saul's harem. We knew that he demanded the received the return of Saul's daughter Michal (2 Sam 3:13, 16). It was the practice in the ancient Near East for the new king who is not an heir of the former king to take the throne and the royal wives/daughters of the former king.

Now God will lift his hand of protection and David will reap what he has sown in his sin against Uriah and the other innocent men who lost their lives because of Joab's plan.
Question: What is God's judgment against David in verses 10-12?
Answer:

  1. David's family will never be free from violence.
  2. David will experience betrayal from within his own household.
  3. His betrayer will even sleep with David's wives.

Question: What is David's reaction to God's judgment against him for his sin? To whom can David's response to being accused of sin by God be compared? See 1 Sam chapter 15.
Answer: David, without making excuses, immediately confesses his sin which he acknowledges is ultimately a sin against Yahweh. His confession of guilt is unlike Saul who argued and made excuses for his behavior in failing to put the Amalekites under herem (curse of destruction) as God commanded.

Question: Why does David say he sinned against Yahweh in verse 13a? See Gen 39:9; Ps 51:1; Is 59:2; and also Ps 65:3 and Mk 2:5.
Answer: When one sins it is not just a violation of the moral or social order between human beings. Sin is primarily a breach of the personal relationship between man/woman and God (see Gen 39:9; Ps 51:1; Is 59:2) which only God can reestablish (Ps 65:3; Mk 2:5).

Question: What is God's response to David's admission of his sin and what is the fourth judgment for David's sin?
Answer: God forgives David's sin, but the child he has with Bathsheba must die.

Confession leads to repentance and contrition and contrition leads to forgiveness and reestablishment of fellowship with God (CCC 1450-51, 1455). But there is also the matter of justice being served through the sinner's penance for the sins he committed (CCC 1459-60). The death of the innocent child seems a harsh judgment, but we must remember that God is the author of life. It is God's prerogative to give life and to take it away. The child will reside with the righteous in Sheol until the coming of the Redeemer-Messiah when he will be liberated from death and restored to eternal life in heaven.

There is also another way to see the law fulfilled in the fourfold restitution that David must suffer in penance for his sin even though Uriah is not alive to receive restitution. The prophecy of death and violence from within his family during his lifetime will come through four events that fulfill God's judgment in verses 10-12:

  1. The death of his son with Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:18).
  2. The rape of his daughter Tamar (2 Sam 13:1-22)
  3. The murder of his son and heir Amnon (2 Sam 13:28-29).
  4. The betrayal and death of his son Absalom (2 Sam 15:10-12; 16:22; 18:28-29).

2 Samuel 12:15b-25 ~ The Death of the Child
15b Yahweh struck the child which Uriah's wife had borne to David and it fell gravely ill. 16 David pleaded with Yahweh for the child; he kept a strict fast and went home and spent the night lying on the ground, covered with sacking. 17 The officials [elders] of his household stood round him, intending to get him off the ground, but he refused, nor would he take food with them. 18 On the seventh day the child died. David's retinue [servants] were afraid to tell him that the child was dead. "Even when the child was alive," they thought, "we reasoned with him and he would not listen to us. How can we tell him that the child is dead? He will do something desperate." 19 David, however, noticed that his retinue [servants] were whispering among themselves, and realized that the child was dead. "Is the child dead?" he asked the officers [servants]. They replied, "He is dead." 20 David got off the ground, bathed and anointed himself and put on fresh clothes. Then he went into Yahweh's Sanctuary and prostrated himself. On returning to his house, he asked to be served with food and ate it. 21 His retinue [servants] said, "Why are you acting like this? When the child was alive, you fasted and wept; now that the child is dead, you get up and take food!" 22 "When the child was alive," he replied, "I fasted and wept because I kept thinking, Who knows? Perhaps Yahweh will take pity on me and the child will live.' 23 But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him but he cannot come back to me." 24 David consoled his wife Bathsheba. He went to her and slept with her. She conceived and gave birth to a son, whom she called Solomon [Selomoh]. 25 Yahweh loved him and made this known by means of the prophet Nathan, who named him Jedidiah [Yedidiah], as Yahweh had instructed. [..] = IBHE, vol. II, pages 831-32.

Notice that is verse 1 Bathsheba is still called "Uriah's wife," as she is in Matthew's genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1:6b. She will not be called "David's wife" until 12:24 when Solomon/Jedidiah is born.
Question: To what three acts did David commit himself when the child became ill?
Answer:

  1. He committed himself to intercessory prayer
  2. He fasted
  3. He wore sackcloth and slept on the floor as acts of penance

Question: How did David explain his change in behavior to his servants after he learned the child had died?
Answer: His behavior was not a sign of grief but of repentance and supplication. While the child was still alive he had the hope that God would take mercy on him and spare his child, but when the child died he accepted and submitted to God's judgment which he demonstrated by going into God's presence to pray.

Question: What did David mean when he said the child could not come to him but one day he would go to his son and they would be together in verse 23b? Also see Gen 37:34-35.
Answer: David believes that life is eternal and that one day, when he dies, that he will be reunited with his son in Sheol. It is the same sentiment Jacob expressed when he believed his son Joseph was dead when he said they would be reunited in death in Sheol/Hades.

2 Samuel 12:24-30 ~ David consoled his wife Bathsheba. He went to her and slept with her. She conceived and gave birth to a son, whom she called Solomon [Selomoh]. 25 Yahweh loved him and made this known by means of the prophet Nathan, who named him Jedidiah [Yedidiah], as Yahweh had instructed.
As a sign of God's forgiveness, God gave them another son born from their legitimate union. For the first time Bathsheba is referred to as David's "wife" in verse 24. Bathsheba named the son Selomoh, a name derived from the Hebrew word for "peace," salom, which the inspired writer of Chronicles makes clear: Look, a son will be born to you. He will be a man of peace, and I shall give him peace from his enemies on all sides; for Solomon [Selomoh] is to be his name, and in his days I shall give Israel peace and tranquility (1 Chr 22:9). Solomon will be his throne name. But God, through His prophet Nathan, gave the boy the personal Hebrew name Yedidiah, a theophoric which means "Yahweh's beloved." You will recall that David's name means "beloved" but this child is known by name as "Yahweh's beloved" in fulfillment of God's covenant promise to David in chapter 7:12-16.

See the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 20:1-3.
2 Samuel 12:26-31 ~ Israel's Victory over the Ammonites at Rabbah
26 Joab assaulted Rabbah-of-the Ammonites and captured the royal town. 27 He then sent messengers to tell David, "I have assaulted Rabbah and captured the water supply. 28 So now muster the rest of the army, lay siege to the town and take it, or I will take it and the town will be called after me!" 29 So David mustered the whole army and marched on Rabbah; he assaulted the town and captured it. 30 He took the crown off Milcom's head; it weighed one talent of gold, and in it was set a precious stone which went on David's head instead. He carried off great quantities of booty from the town, and he expelled its inhabitants, setting them to work with saws, iron picks and iron axes, employing them at brickmaking. 31 He treated all the Ammonite towns in the same way. David and the whole army returned to Jerusalem.

Joab sent word to David that the capital of the Ammonites was about the fall. He told David to come immediately to take charge of the army in the final assault on the city so the credit will be his. Joab may be ruthless but he is also completely loyal to David. That Joab has captured the water supply means the inhabitants of the besieged city cannot hold out against the Israelites without water.

2 Samuel 12:30a ~ He took the crown off Milcom's head; it weighed one talent of gold, and in it was set a precious stone which went on David's head instead.
Milcom is the Ammonite's chief deity (1 Kng 11:5). David entered the Ammonite temple of Milcom after the city was taken and took the golden crown off the idol's head. The crown contained a great quantity of gold; a talent is more than 75 pounds. It is David and not the Ammonite's false god who is now in charge of the Ammonite's future (also see 1 Chr 20:2).

2 Samuel 12:30b-31 ~ He carried off great quantities of booty from the town, and he expelled its inhabitants, setting them to work with saws, iron picks and iron axes, employing them at brickmaking. 31 He treated all the Ammonite towns in the same way. David and the whole army returned to Jerusalem.
The Israelites looted the town. They did not put the Ammonites under the curse of herem because they were only given permission by Yahweh to use herem against the Canaanites living in the Promised Land. Forced labor of captives was customary in the ancient Near East. David turned the Ammonites into laborers who were conscripted to make bricks for the Israelites, perhaps to build fortifications for Israelite towns and to increase Jerusalem's defenses.(2)

Chapter 13: Discord in David's Family

A long series of great tribulations followed, and an almost unending succession of misfortunes scarcely left his house. Tamar was corrupted by the madness of Amnon, and Amnon was slain by Absalom. A grave crime was committed by one brother, but it was avenged more grievously by the other. In this way David, the father, was punished for the crimes of both.
Salvian the Presbyter, The Governance of God, 2.5

2 Samuel 13:1-22 is the first of a trilogy of stories that fulfill God's prophetic judgment against David's family and the second of the four part restitution he must make for his sins. David's handsome son Absalom will become the central figure in the dramatic events that follow in chapters 13:23-20:22.

2 Samuel 13:1-6 ~ Amnon's Plan to Seduce his Sister
1 After this, the following events took place. Absalom son of David had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; Amnon son of David fell in love with her. 2 Amnon was so obsessed with his sister Tamar that it made him ill, since she was a virgin and Amnon thought it impossible to do anything with her. 3 But Amnon had a friend called Jonadab son of Shimeah, David's brother, and Jonadab was a very shrewd man. "4 Son of the king," he said, "tell me why, morning after morning, you look so worn? Won't you tell me?" Amnon replied, "I am in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister." 5 Then Jonadab said, "Take to your bed, pretend to be ill and, when your father comes to visit you, say, Please let my sister Tamar come and give me something to eat; let her prepare the food where I can see. What she gives me I shall eat.'" 6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. The king then came to visit him and Amnon said to the king, "Please let my sister Tamar come and make a cake [heart-shaped cake/dumpling] or two where I can watch. What she gives me, I shall eat." [..] = literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 835.

Amnon is the eldest son and heir of David and his wife Ahinoam of Jezreel (2 Sam 3:2; 1 Chr 3:1). Jonadab is Amnon's cousin and David's nephew. Absalom and Tamar are David's children by Maachah, princess of the neighboring vassal state of Geshur that is located in the southern Golan east of the Galilee in northern Israel. Do not miss the comparison between David's sin in chapter 11 that began when he sees and lusts after a "beautiful woman" who is forbidden to him because she is another man's wife (11:2-3) and Amnon's sin that began when he sees and lusts after a "beautiful woman" who is forbidden to him because she is his sister (13:1). In the narrative there is also the comparison between the betrayal of Tamar by her brother and the betrayal of Joseph son of Jacob by his brothers in Genesis 37:3-7, 18-35. In both the Genesis 37:3, 23 and 31 passage and in 2 Samuel 13:18 and 19, the victim of betrayal wears a passim, a special long decorated coat designating status. These are the only two passages where this Hebrew word is found in the Bible (IBHE, vol. I, pages 98-100; vol. II, page 835).

2 Samuel 13:2 ~ Amnon was so obsessed with his sister Tamar that it made him ill, since she was a virgin and Amnon thought it impossible to do anything with her.
Amnon has developed an unnatural passion for his half-sister Tamar. Under the Law, a virgin's virtue was protected. If a man seduced a virgin who was not betrothed to be married, he had to pay her bride price, he had to take her as his wife to secure her material and social position, and he was never permitted to divorce her. However, her father could refused to allow his daughter to marry her rapist/seducer, but in that case he still had to pay the bride price to help with her material support (Lev 22:15-16/16-17; Dt 22:28-29). If the girl was betrothed and was raped, the penalty for the man was death (Dt 22:25-27). The contemplation of the sin in this case is even more serious because it includes the sin of incest: The man who marries his father's or mother's daughter: if they have intercourse together, this is an outrage. The will be executed in public, for the man has had intercourse with his sister; he will bear the consequences of his guilt (Lev 20:17).

Amnon's cousin helps to formulate a plan for Amnon to rape his sister, and the plan involves making David an innocent accomplice.
Question: What is the irony concerning David's sin with Bathsheba and the sin Amon intends to commit that will dishonor both David and his daughter?
Answer: David committed a sexual sin first by being tempted and then by committing adultery. Now his son has followed his father's bad example and will even use his father to help him achieve his objective.

2 Samuel 13:7-18 ~ The Rape of Tamar
7 David then sent word to Tamar at the palace, "Go to your brother Amnon's house and prepare some food for him." 8 Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon who was lying there in bed. She took dough and kneaded it, and she made some cakes [heart shaped cakes/dumplings] while he watched, and baked the cakes. 9 She then took the pan and dished them up in front of him, but he refused to eat. Amnon said, "Let everyone leave me!" So everyone withdrew. 10 Amnon then said to Tamar, "Bring the food to the inner room, so that I can eat what you give me." So Tamar took the cakes which she had made and brought them to her brother Amnon in the inner room. 11 And as she was offering the food to him, he caught hold of her and said, "Come to bed with me, sister!" She replied, "No, brother! Do not force me! This is no way to behave in Israel. Do not do anything so disgraceful! 13 Wherever should I go? I should be marked with this shame, while you would become disgraced in Israel. Why not go and speak to the king? He will not refuse to give me to you." 14 But he would not listen to her; he overpowered her and raped her.
15 Amnon was then seized with extreme hatred for her; the hatred he now felt for her was greater than his earlier love. "Get up and go!" he said. She said, "No brother! To send me away would be worse than the other wrong you have done me!" But he would not listen to her. 17 He called his personal servant. "Rid me of this woman!" he said. "Throw her out and bolt the door behind her!" 18 She was wearing a magnificent dress [passim], for this was what the king's unmarried [virgin] daughters wore in days gone by. So the servant put her out and bolted the door behind her. [..] =literal translation IBHE, vol. II, page 834-35.

Amnon's plan is successful. Tamar comes to his house in obedience to her father's request and cooks for him. He dismisses his servants and invites her into his inner room, the bed chamber where he assaults her. Notice the shape of the cakes he requested her to make in verse 6 which she made in verse 8. Biblical scholar Robert Alter writes: "The verb and its object are both cognate with the Hebrew word lev (or levav), heart'. The term could refer to the shape of the dumplings or to their function of "strengthening the heart..." (Ancient Israel, page 497). How ironic that she should make "heart" cakes for the one intent on breaking her heart.

2 Samuel 13:12b-13 ~ "No, brother! Do not force me! This is no way to behave in Israel. Do not do anything so disgraceful! 13 Wherever should I go? I should be marked with this shame, while you would become disgraced in Israel. Why not go and speak to the king? He will not refuse to give me to you." 14 But he would not listen to her; he overpowered her and raped her.
She protests that Israelites do not act this way. Other Near Eastern countries did not have an incest taboo, especially in the Egyptian royal household where the heir was expected to marry his royal sister. She protests that if he shames her in this way no man will marry her and she will become a disgraced, unmarriageable outcast. Finally in desperation, she suggests that he should get permission from their father to marry her, but they both know permission would never be granted.

Question: After he rapes Tamar, why does he despise her?
Answer: It is probably because he knows he has committed a terrible sin and despises both himself and the object of his lust that in his mind caused him to sin.

2 Samuel 13:17-18 ~ He called his personal servant. "Rid me of this woman!" he said. "Throw her out and bolt the door behind her!" 18 She was wearing a magnificent dress [passim], for this was what the king's unmarried [virgin] daughters wore in days gone by. So he servant put her out and bolted the door behind her.
Referring to Tamar as "this woman" is an expression that demonstrates Amon's utter contempt for her. That she was still wearing her royal garments is meant to show that the rape was both brutal and quick. He didn't even bother to remove her clothes.

2 Samuel 13:19-22 ~ David Fails to Punish Amnon
19 Tamar put dust on her head, tore the magnificent dress [passim] which she was wearing, laid her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went. 20 Her brother Absalom said to her, "Has Amnon your brother been with you? Sister, be quiet; he is your brother; do not take the matter to heart!" Tamar, however, went back to her brother Absalom's house inconsolable. 21 When King David heard the whole story, he was very angry; but he had no wish to harm his son Amnon, whom he loved because he was his first-born. 22 Absalom, however, would not so much as speak to Amnon, since he hated Amnon for having raped his sister Tamar.

Question: What are Tamar's actions and what do they mean?
Answer: Tamar's actions are all expressions of her grief:

When her brother discovered what has happened, he tells her to be quiet. He probably does not want to have her reputation destroyed by having her shame made public and expects their father to handle the matter privately. David is very upset (verse 21), but he does not take action against Amnon. He is probably fearful that if he does bring charges against Amnon that the just penalty under the law is the death of his heir. If he condemns other men to death for this sin, how can he save his son? This is, however, no excuse and his failure to give his daughter justice will end in tragedy.

God is our Divine Father. Human fathers are called to imitate God's care for His human children.
Question: How is David's fathering different from how God told David that He will be a father to David's son(s) in 2 Sam 7:14-15?
Answer: God told David that He will punish David's son(s) when they did that which was wrong, but He would also still love them. David is not imaging God's fatherhood. He loves his son but, by not disciplining his son, he is failing both his son and his family.

Question: This is the second time David has failed to render just punishment to a member of his family. When was the first time? What reason does Scripture give for David's failure to punish his son? See 2 Sam 3:26-39 and 13:21.
Answer: David failed to bring his nephew Joab to justice for the murder of Abner. He did not punish Amnon because he loved him and because Amnon is his heir and designated to succeed him as king.

2 Samuel 13:23-29 ~ Absalom Murders Amnon
23 Two years later, when Absalom had the sheep-shearers at Baal-Hazor, which is near Ephraim, he invited all the king's sons. 24 Absalom went to the king said, "Now, sir, your servant has the sheep-shearers. Will the king and his retinue be pleased to come with your servant?" 25 "No, my son," the king replied, "we must not all come and be a burden to you." And though Absalom was insistent, he would not go but dismissed him. 26 Absalom persisted, "Then at least let my brother Amnon come with us." The king said, "Why should he go with you?" 27 On Absalom's insistence, however, he let Amnon and all the king's sons to go with him. 28 Absalom prepared a royal banquet and then gave this order to the servants, "Listen carefully; when Amnon's heart is merry with wine and I say, Strike Amnon down,' then kill him. Don't be afraid. Have I not myself given you the order? Use your strength and show your mettle!" 29 Absalom's servants treated Amnon as Absalom had ordered. The king's sons all leapt to their feet, mounted their mules and fled.

For two years Absalom has planned his revenge for his sister's disgrace. It is the season of sheep-shearing which is always accompanied by a festival and Absalom plans a banquet on his lands at Baal-Hazor. It is a site some Biblical scholars have identified as about six miles northeast of Bethel and about five miles south and a little west of Shiloh. In order to avoid suspicion, Absalom first invites his father and his courtiers but when David declines he then focuses on his real objective, the presence of Amnon, the crown prince, at his banquet. When Amnon is drunk Absalom's servants carry out their master's orders to kill the crown prince.

Question: Absalom told his servants not to be afraid because they would not be held responsible for following his orders. Does following another's immoral orders free a person from being held morally responsible for the crime? What about Joab's part in Uriah's murder and Jonadab's part in Tamar's rape? See CCC 1868.
Answer: Following orders or even obeying what is an immoral civil law is not an excuse. As in the case of murdering the innocent in wartime like the Nazis in the "legal" murder of the innocent in concentration camps or in the case of "legal" abortions, all those involved who took part are guilty of the same mortal sin. The doctor who kills the baby during the medical procedure and the nurses who assist are as guilty as the woman who made the decision and paid the doctor. In addition, knowing about a crime or mortal sin that is about to take place and doing nothing to stop it makes that person morally culpable.

The Church's teaching on the moral implications of cooperating in sin is found in CCC 1868: "Sin is a personal act. Moreover, we have a responsibility for the sins committed by others when we cooperate in them:

The king's sons all leapt to their feet, mounted their mules and fled.
David's other sons are afraid that Absalom has attempted a coup and is going to murder all David's son. They fled on the mules, the royal mount of a king's son. Under the Law of the Sinai Covenant it was forbidden to cross breed animals, so mules were an expensive mount that had to be imported from other countries.

2 Samuel 13:30-29 ~ David's Response to Amnon's Murder
30 While they were on the road, word reached David, "Absalom has killed all the king's sons; not one of them is left." 31 The king stood up, tore his clothes and threw himself on the ground. All his officers tore their clothes too. 32 Jonadab son of Shimeah, David's brother, then spoke up and said, "do not let my lord take to heart the report that all the young men, the king's sons, have been killed, since only Amnon is dead: for Absalom has been promising himself to do this since the day when Amnon raped his sister Tamar. 33 So my lord the king must not imagine that all the king's sons are dead; only Amnon is dead 34 and Absalom has fled." The man on sentry duty looked up and saw a large troop coming along the road from Bahurim. The sentry came to tell the king, "I have seen some people coming down the Bahurim road on the mountainside." 35 Jonadab then said to the king, "These are the king's sons arriving: what your servant said is exactly what happened." 36 He had scarcely finished speaking when the king's sons arrived and wept aloud; the king and all his retinue wept aloud too. 37 Absalom had gone to Talmai son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. The king mourned for his son every day. 38 When Absalom had gone to Geshur, he stayed there for three years. 39 Once the king was consoled over Amnon's death, his anger against Absalom subsided.

David has received the false report that all his sons are dead. His nephew, Jonadab, assures David that only Amnon has been killed. You will remember it was Jonadab who suggested the plan to Amnon on how to lure Tamar to his house.

Question: How does Jonadab know that only Amnon was killed? Has he acted as Absalom's confidant to know that for the past two years Absalom has been planning to kill Amnon? What could be his motive for involving himself?
Answer: There are two possible motives Jonadab might have for involving himself:

  1. It is possible that when Jonadab suggested the way Amnon could lure Tamar to his house that he didn't know Amnon intended to rape his kinswoman and was angry that he was an unknowing accomplice.
  2. But it is more likely that a crafty Jonadab enjoys stirring up trouble in the royal family out of jealousy/envy of his royal cousins' status as the kings sons.

David's sentry sees David's other sons coming along the road from Bahurim, a road east of Mount Scopus by Jerusalem, and Jonadab confirms to David that these men are indeed his other sons.

2 Samuel 13:37-39 ~ 37 Absalom had gone to Talmai son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. 38 The king mourned for his son every day. When Absalom had gone to Geshur, he stayed there for three years. 39 Once the king was consoled over Amnon's death, his anger against Absalom subsided.
Absalom has had his revenge on both his half-brother Amnon for raping his sister and on his father for his failure to secure justice of Tamar. He gone into voluntary exile and has fled to the kingdom of his maternal grandfather, Talmai, king of Geshur. It is ironic that David, a warrior king who fears no man, who prides himself on being decisive in battle, and is responsible as king for carrying out just verdicts, fails so miserably in letting his personal feelings cloud the need for justice. He seems to be unable to make harsh decisions concerning members of his own family. He will pay the price for failing to bring Absalom to justice. It will be the fourth of his fourfold restitution in penance for the murder of Uriah.

Questions for reflection or group discussion:
Question: What are our responsibilities as parents when one of our children sins morally or breaks a civil law? Why is David's story a cautionary tale of what can happen when parents are not good role models and children are not held accountable for the wrongs they have committed?

Endnotes:

1. Bathsheba's grandfather Ahithophel will become one of David's advisors who is noted for his wisdom (2 Sam 16:23; 1 Chr 27:33-34). He will prove to be disloyal to David when David's son Absalom conspires to usurp his father's throne and will later commit suicide (2 Sam 15:17; 17:23).

2. Excavations in Jerusalem by archaeologists Ronny Reich and Eli Shukron have uncovered a second wall on the eastern side of the city that dates to the reign of either David or Solomon (Biblical Archaeology Review, "Everything You Ever Knew About Jerusalem is Wrong," Hershal Shanks, pages 20-29; Nov/Dev, 1999, vol. 25, no. 6). This second wall encompasses the Gihon spring, Jerusalem's only water source, and encloses access to the spring in a 30 foot tall tower. It is possible the fall of Rabbah-Ammon made David aware of how vulnerable Jerusalem was to having an enemy cut off the city's only water supply and that he used the Ammonites to make the bricks to enclose the eastern side of his capital city in a second wall that protected the spring.

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2014 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.

Catechism references:
2 Sam 11 (CCC 2336, 2380, 2390, 2528-30)
2 Sam 12:1-4 (CCC 2538)
2 Sam 12:7-15 (CCC 1736); 12:5 (CCC 1450-51, 1455, 1459-60)
2 Sam 13 (CCC 1868)