This is one of the most disgusting chapters in the Bible. In it, Amnon, the oldest son of David, rapes his half-sister, Tamar. David becomes furious and does nothing. Absalom, her brother, becomes furious, initially does nothing, and waits for an opportune moment to take revenge. Absalom murders his half-brother Amnon, and David overwhelmed by grief again does nothing. The mess created by all this will never be resolved.
20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman. 21 When King David heard all this, he was furious. 22 And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.2 Samuel 13:20-22 NIV
One explanation for David’s inaction is that his guilt from his affair with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah prevent him from executing justice on a son who does something similar. While this might explain David’s inaction it does not justify it. There is no way of knowing how the story would have changed had David done something to discipline his son Amnon. What we do know is that the revenge and murder that result almost tear the kingdom from David’s hands.
Another explanation for David’s inaction is his love for his eldest son Amnon. David would give Amnon anything as he is being prepared to be the future king. David’s unwillingness to say no to Amnon followed by his refusal to discipline him result in Amnon’s murder.
Absalom ends up being the second villain in this story. His anger leads him to plot and eventually take revenge against Amnon by murdering him. His anger should have led him to confront his father and push for something to be done to discipline Amnon. Amnon’s death deserved death under the law and his immediate execution would have greatly pained David but opened the opportunity for healing within the royal household. Instead, Absalom does nothing for two years while brokenness in David’s family continues to grow.
I do not know exactly what Absalom could have done, but it seems that someone should have done something for Tamar. Absalom provides a home for her where she lives in desolation the rest of her life. No one in this story takes any action to bring healing and restoration for Tamar. She has been deeply wounded and no one seems to care.
What About Us?
When we don’t face our past, we leave stumbling blocks in our way that prevent us from doing what is right in the present. Inaction adds to the pain of the past and increases the size of the barrier to doing the right thing in the future. When I am afraid of the consequences of taking action in response to a situation that demands one, I most often freeze. Unfortunately, the consequences of inaction are often greater than those of action. This passage, and my experience, teach me that time does not diminish fear. Often the negative consequences of inaction grow, and fear grows with them. I know this is a negative cycle and an obvious case of prevention (taking action) being much less costly than repair.