Wisdom in 2 Samuel 13

I find that 2 Samuel 13 raises quite a few interpretation questions for me as I read it. In some ways the broad themes are very clear but there are all these small details and words and phrases which connect with other passages which convey other themes. As one examines these it draws one to reconsider what the real theme and message of the chapter is.

For example, it is very clear that the chapter details a shocking wrongdoing, the rape of Tamar by Amnon, and then the consequent judgement which follows when he is killed by Absalom’s men.

Theme: evil is judged. The wages of sin is death. 

But then one examines the chapter more closely and there are all these details in the way the story is told. There is the theme of ‘wisdom’ which runs through the passage. Jonadab is a ‘wise’ man (v 3 – ESV translates it ‘crafty’). This wisdom theme percolates through the chapter – links are created with the Joseph story back in Genesis 37-38 which is renowned for the ‘wisdom theme’. Here are some of those links:

1          The name ‘Tamar’ takes us back to Genesis 38 and the woman who is more righteous than Judah and who ends up bearing the twins. 

2          There is the theme of ‘pretence’ and deceit in both Genesis 38 and 2 Samuel 13 – dressing up or pretending. 

3          The robe that Tamar wears is described with the same adjective that is used to describe Joseph’s coat in Genesis 37. The Hebrew adjective ‘pas’ is variously translated ‘long robe with sleeves’ (ESV) or ‘robe with many colours’ (ESV footnote), or ‘richly ornamented robe’ (NIV). But this adjective is only used five times – three time of Joseph’s robe in Genesis 37:3, 23, 32 and twice here of Tamar’s robe in 2 Samuel 13:18-19.

4          When Jacob identified the blood-stained robe of his lost son, Joseph, he said: ‘It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” (Genesis 37:33). Jacob then tore his garments. In 2 Samuel 13:19 the ‘richly ornamented robe’ is torn by Tamar in her grief. The response of Tamar after her violation by Amnon (13:19) connects Tamar with Joseph’s experience and underscores the deeds of Amnon to be those of a ‘fierce animal’. In the words of the patriarch, Jacob-Israel, ‘a fierce animal has devoured’ Tamar.

5          The phrase ‘Send out everyone from me’ (13:9) is the same expression used by Joseph in Genesis 45:1, though the situation is very different. As Chester notes, in Genesis 45 it is ‘a preface to fraternal reconciliation. Here they will lead to fratricide.’ (Chester, 2 Samuel, p 108).

6          The narrative informs us that the death of Amnon took place when it was sheepshearing time (13:23). It was in a similar context of the sheepshearers that Judah was deceived by Tamar in Genesis 38:12-13.

7          Of course, the narrative of 2 Samuel 13 comes within the context of the whole story of the reign of David which is now under the prophetic word of Nathan: ‘Thus says the LORD, Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house.’ (12:11). That is, while this chapter is an illustration of ‘the wages of sin bring death’ – there are other matters at play. It is not merely the death of one man, or even of a fool. It is the death of the son of David – the death of the son of the king of Israel.

That detail introduces a lot of questions into how we are to understand what is being communicated.

But then the question is raised: So how do we understand the meaning of 2 Samuel 13? Especially, as we know the other stories in Scripture like that of the Joseph wisdom account in Genesis 37-50. It would be different if 2 Samuel 13 had no links to that account but it seems to deliberately connect with that story. A story which itself closes with the death of Israel (lengthy focus for 5 chapters from Genesis 46-50) and also notes the death of the ‘son of Israel’ – Joseph – in its final lines (Gen 50:22-26).

All of that is from an Old Testament perspective. The question of meaning expands further when we consider the passage from the perspective of the New Testament. For when one reads such themes from the perspective of the New Testament there is a development of these themes. 2 Samuel 13 has the theme of wisdom flowing through it, and recounts the death of the son of David, the King of Israel. This son who is killed is explicitly described as a fool. Is it unwarranted to link 2 Samuel 13 to the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 1:18-31 about the foolishness of the cross and God’s wisdom. And what about the themes of love and hate (especially 13:15), justice as well as grief and mourning over death and wrongdoing.  

There is much to ponder in 2 Samuel 13. I’m just touching upon some of the issues. They will continue to expand and recur as I work my way through 2 Samuel 13-20.  But for now, I simply note this question. David is the king of Israel – note he is called ‘King David’ in 13:21. What are we to make of the wisdom theme in 2 Samuel 13 co-inciding with the death of the son of David?

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