A Royal Mess in Israel's Royal Family (Part 3 of 3)

2 Samuel 13 tells how Amnon, son of King David, became consumed with desire for his half-sister Tamar. Of course, his desire was a moral dead end; it could never be lawfully fulfilled. But Amnon dwelt on it until his frustration began to have a visible effect on him.

Amnon’s distress caught the attention of his friend Jonadab. The two young men were cousins, in fact: Jonadab was the son of Shimeah, a brother of King David. The Bible describes Jonadab as “shrewd” (Hebrew chakam). The word can mean skillful, wise, or prudent; but it can also mean crafty or cunning, and that is the sense here. Jonadab asked why the prince looked so haggard, and Amnon explained. We don’t know the full extent of their conversation, but it’s obvious that Jonadab understood Amnon’s intentions toward Tamar — and that he was ready to do what he could to encourage them. It was Jonadab who devised a way for Amnon to get Tamar alone, which led to the prince’s shameful sin against his own flesh and blood.

The text introduces Jonadab as Amnon’s friend, but he didn’t act like a true friend. When Amnon revealed his lustful obsession with his own half-sister, Jonadab should have tried to talk some sense into him. He should have told him that his desire for Tamar was misguided, that he needed to put the thought out of his head. He should have told him that following through on that desire would be sinful and destructive. If only some of the courageous words of Tamar herself had been spoken to Amnon by Jonadab instead (see verses 12-13). If only Jonadab had applied his wit toward dissuading his cousin rather than enabling him. How very differently things might have gone. But instead, Jonadab encouraged and helped Amnon on his sinful course.

Let Jonadab’s role in this story remind us that a true friend will stand up to you to keep you from falling. The ever-practical book of Proverbs stresses this often:

  • “Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (27:5-6).

  • “Reprove a wise man and he will love you” (9:8b).

  • “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances. Like an earring of gold and an ornament of fine gold is a wise reprover to a listening ear” (25:11-12).

  • “He who rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with the tongue” (28:23).

Much of our culture has bought into two lies that are opposite sides of the same coin. One is that loving someone means accepting, even celebrating, everything they do. The other is that to reject something a person does as morally wrong means that you don’t love them. Nowhere are these lies more readily applied than when it comes to people’s sexual behavior — the very thing with which Amnon’s story is concerned. Love and disapproval are treated as mutually exclusive. It’s nonsense, of course — but it’s very popular nonsense.

Instead, God teaches us that a true friend is someone who seeks to make others better, holier, wiser. If I really want to be a friend to someone, then I may sometimes have to say things they don’t want to hear in order to steer them away from evil. I should even be willing to risk losing a friend by confronting him rather than become an enabler of his sin. And if I am wise, I will accept reproof and correction from others, and I will love a friend who gives it. “Let the righteous smite me in kindness and reprove me,” wrote David. “It is oil upon the head; do not let my head refuse it” (Psalm 141:5).

We could point to many other warnings in this story. David’s inexcusable failure to punish Amnon for his vile crime holds lessons about parenting and justice. Absalom’s murder of Amnon holds lessons on the perils of wrath and vengeance. We could even speculate about the extent to which David’s own sexual sin (2 Samuel 11) set a bad example for his children and diminished his moral authority in their eyes. 2 Samuel 13 does not make for pleasant reading. But it reminds us of important principles that are relevant in every age. Learning those lessons can help keep us — members of Christ’s royal family — from making a mess in our own lives.