10 September 2008

Sins of the Father

{This originally appeared in Tabletalk 27.10 (October 2003): 43}

"Like father, like son" could very well be an appropriate superscription above 2 Samuel 13 in our English Bibles. In it, we see the beginning of the fulfillment of Nathan's prophecy of woes against the house of David (2 Sam. 12:10–12). The rape of Tamar by the crown prince Amnon (2 Sam. 13:1–22; cf. 11:1–13) provides us with the first parallel to King David, while the murder of Amnon by the hand of Absalom provides the uncanny second parallel to his father (2 Sam. 13:23–29; cf. 11:14–27). Chips off the old block, indeed.

Second Samuel 13:30–33 brings us to the final section of this story of rape and murder—an event that eventually shattered all stability within the kingdom. It is during this chapter that one flaw repeatedly comes into view: David's growing lack of discernment.

The king should have been off to war with his army in the early spring (2 Sam. 11:1) instead of actually looking for trouble. Now, the same lack of discernment manifested itself when the nagging Absalom requested the presence of his brother Amnon at his feast, to which David gave his acceptance (13:24–27). Despite his suspicion, the king gave in for want of godly acumen.

The same flaw appeared again after the murder, when "news" came to David that all of his sons had been killed. The king reacted like a broken man, but was quickly corrected by his nephew, Jonadab (vv. 30–32). What David should have known about Absalom and the rest of his sons, Jonadab knew all too well:  "Only Amnon is dead. For by the command of Absalom this has been determined from the day he forced his sister Tamar" (v. 32). In essence, the possibility existed that the nation would have been rescued from civil strife if David had not lacked the discernment to punish Amnon in the first place.

This portion of scripture, then, serves as one of the clearest description of the effects of sin. To be sure, every biblical book speaks of it, but none so strikingly as the latter half of 2 Samuel. The wages of David's sin actually brought physical death. Enigmatically, God's chosen king, whose kingdom marked great success early on, suffered horrible decline after his great sins against Bathsheba and Uriah. But in the end, it is not so enigmatic: While God's standards cannot be violated with impunity, he worked and continues to work through the most wretched of sinners.


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