The Book of II Shmuel
Rav Amnon Bazak
This week’s shiurim are sponsored by Ruchy Yudkowsky
in memory of Yehuda Yudkowsky z"l
Lecture 87: Chapter 13 (iii)
The Murder of Amnon
I. “TAKE NOT THIS THING TO
Avshalom's reaction upon hearing what had happened to Tamar is quite
(20) And Avshalom her brother said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? But
now hold your peace, my sister: he is your brother; take not this thing to
From this verse alone, we might have understood that Avshalom thought
that Tamar should not "air the dirty laundry in public," for the matter involved
her brother, and it would be fitting for her to forget the whole thing. But as
we all know, later in the narrative Avshalom kills Amnon, and so it is clear
that he did not think that it would be appropriate to pass in silence over the
rape of Tamar. Why, then, did he tell Tamar to act in that manner?
It seems that Scripture is presenting us here with Avshalom's cunning,
which stands in total contrast to Amnon's aggressiveness and stupidity. Avshalom
is trying to lower Amnon's guard by creating the impression that it was not his
intention to “make a mountain out of a molehill.” Avshalom tries to convey this
message even to his sister Tamar, and indeed, she is left miserable in
So Tamar remained desolate
in her brother Avshalom's house.
Scripture, however, emphasizes that in truth Avshalom did not forget the
(22) And Avshalom spoke unto Amnon neither good nor bad; for Avshalom
hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.
As opposed to Amnon, Avshalom was graced with patience, and he waits for the
opportune time to take his revenge from Amnon.
First, however, we must go back to the verse that we had skipped, which
describes David's reaction to the entire affair:
(21) But when King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.
This verse expresses the depth of David's tragedy. He hears about the
incident, and the matter infuriates him, but he cannot say a word to Amnon for
two reasons. First of all, he cannot level charges against Amnon, for were he to
say to him, "Remove the chip from between your teeth," he would lash back and
say, "Remove the beam from between your eyes" – that is to say, Amnon would
remind him of his part in the Bat-Sheva affair. Second, this is an expression of
a broader phenomenon. From the end of the Bat-Sheva affair and on, David no
longer functioned as a king who enjoyed authority, and from here until the end
of the book, he conducts himself with extreme passivity.
II. THE PLAN
The story continues with Avshalom's cunning plan:
(23) And it came to pass after two full years, that Avshalom had
sheep-shearers in Ba'al-Hatzor, which is beside Efrayim; and Avshalom invited
all the king's sons. (24) And Avshalom came to the king, and said,
“Behold now, your servant has sheep-shearers; let the king, I pray you, and his
servants go with your servant.” (25) And the king said to Avshalom, “No,
my son, let us not all go, lest we be burdensome unto you.” And he pressed him; but he would not go, but
blessed him. (26) Then said Avshalom, “If not,
I pray you, let my brother Amnon go with us.” And the king said unto him, “Why
should he go with you?” (27) But Avshalom pressed him, and he sent Amnon
and all the king's sons with him. (28) And Avshalom commanded his
servants, saying, “Mark you 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.”
Avshalom's plan is based on several stages:
1) First of all,
Avshalom waits two full years, until it would be possible to think that he had
already gotten over what had happened.
2) Avshalom invites all
of the king's sons to participate in his sheep-shearing feast – a most natural
invitation. He then turns to David and asks him to honor the occasion with his
presence. But despite his pleading, David refuses the request. Why? It stands to
reason that David was still immersed in his sackcloth and fasts, and that his
heart was not open to celebration. Avshalom apparently foresaw David's refusal,
and thus he laid the groundwork for the next step.
3) Following David's
refusal, Avshalom makes a new request: "If not, I pray you, let my brother Amnon
go with us." This request seems reasonable: If the king is unable to
participate, he should at least send his son in his place. Avshalom even adds
the words, "my brother," in order to express closeness and to minimize the
suspicion – just as Amnon did, on the advice of Yonadav, when he requested of
David: "Let my sister Tamar come, I pray you."
4) David is slow to
agree to the request: "And the king said unto him, ‘Why should he go with you?’"
It stands to reason that he was not comfortable with the request, and that he
suspected Avshalom of malicious intentions. It is here that Avshalom's cunning
reaches its climax: Since David had already once refused Avshalom's pleadings,
he cannot refuse him a second time: "But Avshalom pressed him, and he let Amnon
and all the king's sons go with him."
The difference between Amnon and Avshalom is now fully evident. Amnon wanted to
meet Tamar on his "home court," and Avshalom likewise sought to reach a similar
situation with Amnon. Amnon was incapable of imagining what he should do, and he
fell into a deep depression, until Yonadav advised him what to do; and even
after he received the Yonadav's wise counsel, he ruined it with his haste.
Avshalom, on the other hand, did not need advisors; he drew up his plan with
meticulousness and patience, until he executed it. Both of David's sons did
things that are forbidden, but the difference between them is very evident.
The tragedy in the story is David's part in the serious misdeeds. In both cases,
the sons involve their father, and he actively participates in the realization
of a situation that leads to a terrible act. In both cases, David sends the
victim to his persecutor:
(7) Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go now to your brother
Amnon's house, and dress him food.”
(27) But Avshalom pressed him, and he sent Amnon and all the
king's sons with him.
It is difficult to ignore the fact that we are dealing here with an
instance of measure for measure. In chapter 11, we saw that the root of David's
sin was his sense of power, the clearest expression of which was his authority
to send agents wherever he wanted, and among other things, to send agents to
bring Bat-Sheva to him, to send agents to bring Uriya to him, and to send Uriya
to his death. We saw that the guide word in that chapter is in fact the root
sh-l-ch (send), and that it was his bringing agents into the picture that
complicated things for David.
It is very symbolic then that David's punishment arrives in similar fashion:
David himself sends his children off to their bitter destiny.
III. “AND [DAVID] MOURNED FOR HIS SON EVERY DAY”
After Avshalom succeeds in bringing Amnon to him, he does not hesitate
even for a moment:
(28) And Avshalom commanded his servants, saying, “Mark you 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. (29)
And the servants of Avshalom did to Amnon as Avshalom had commanded.
Then all the king's sons arose, and every man got him up upon his mule,
Assassinating the crown prince is not a simple matter for Avshalom's
servants, and he strengthens them and emphasizes his responsibility for the
order. Avshalom's servants accede to his request, and as soon as the rest of the
king's sons see what is happening, they quickly flee. Presumably, they feared
that Avshalom did not mean only to strike out at Amnon, but rather to destroy
the royal seed, in order to ensure his ascendancy to the throne, as others had
done before him.
At this stage, the king's sons were wrong in their understanding of Avshalom's
motives, but the news about it quickly spread:
(30) And it came to pass while they were in the way, that the tidings
came to David, saying, “Avshalom has slain all the king's sons, and there is not
one of them left.”
This is followed by a slightly ironic situation:
(31) Then the king arose, and rent his garments, and lay on the earth;
and all his servants stood by with their clothes rent. (32) And Yonadav,
the son of Shim'a David's brother, answered and said, “Let not my lord suppose
that they have killed all the young men the king's sons; for Amnon only is dead;
for by the appointment of Avshalom this has been determined from the day that he forced
his sister Tamar. (33) 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
We already (shiur 85) explained that Yonadav's words here reflect his
anger with Amnon, who distorted his advice and thus made himself liable for his
life. But this ironic situation also expresses scorn for Amnon – the information
about his death was received as a relief after the initial, erroneous
announcement about the death of the king's sons. This is also expressed in the
(34) But Avshalom fled. And the young man that kept the watch
lifted up his eyes, and looked, and, behold, there came much people in a
roundabout way by the hill-side. (35) And Yonadav said to the king,
“Behold, the king's sons are come; as your servant said, so it is.” (36)
And it came to pass, as soon as he had made an end of speaking, that,
behold, the king's sons came, and lifted up their voice, and wept; and the king
also and all his servants wept very sore. (37) But Avshalom fled,
and went to Talmai the son of Amihud, king of Geshur. And [David] mourned for his
son every day. (38) So Avshalom fled, and went to Geshur, and was
there three years.
The central theme in these verses seems to the mourning over Amnon's
death. It is not by chance, however, that three times and in a most astonishing
manner, Scripture "plants" the information about Avshalom's flight. It seems
that in this way, Scripture wishes to say that what was especially difficult for
David was not the murder of the crown prince at the hand of Avshalom, but rather
the latter's flight from Eretz Yisrael in its wake.
This is especially emphasized in the words, "And [David] mourned for his
son every day." Regarding whom were these words stated? Surely at first glance,
the reference is to Amnon, for mourning is for the dead. The problem is that in
the beginning of that very verse, the subject is Avshalom! In this way,
Scripture creates an intentional double entendre,
which comes to teach us that David's feelings with respect to the killer and his
victim were divided. There is no doubt that this reaction to the death of his
firstborn son also stems from a certain measure of understanding for Avshalom's
In any event, with the passage of time, the gap between David's feelings about
Amnon and those about Avshalom grow, and the chapter concludes with the
(39) And the soul of king David failed with longing for Avshalom; for he
was comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead.
And so, by the end of the chapter, David was already comforted concerning
the death of his firstborn, and his thoughts continued to be troubled by the
pain connected to the forced departure of Avshalom.
The difficult structure of this verse is striking: What is the meaning of
"Va-tekhal David"? Most of the commentators explain that the verse is
defective, and that it means: "And the soul of David failed with longing."
But why was the verse written in this defective manner?
It may be that we must make use of a rule that was discussed already in
the past, that the striking omission of a word comes to tell us something.
It seems to me that in our case, Scripture comes to tell us that David's conduct
here was inappropriate. Later in the book, we will discuss at length the meaning
of David's surprising attitude towards Avshalom, his cruel and wily son, until
the battle in which the latter found his death. For now, let us suffice with
Scripture's allusion here; its slight hint, not yet especially striking, to
David's exceptional attitude toward his son Avshalom.
(Translated by David