Amnon, Jonadab and the Affirmation of Sin.

Most mornings I get up, I get on the treadmill, and I listen to the bible while I walk for about a mile.   One morning, as I was listening, my journey through the Bible, brought me to 2 Samuel 13. I was struck by the contents of a story that I had read many times before.   Specifically, I was gripped by the description of Amnon as he had given himself over to a deviant sexual desire in verse 2 and the way that Jonadab affirms him by supporting and aiding his wickedness toward Tamar.  

Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her. 2 And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. 3 But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. 4 And he said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” 5 Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.'” 6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. And when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.” 7 Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house and prepare food for him.” 8 So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. And she took dough and kneaded it and made cakes in his sight and baked the cakes. 9 And she took the pan and emptied it out before him, but he refused to eat. And Amnon said, “Send out everyone from me.” So everyone went out from him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes she had made and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. 11 But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” 12 She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing.

 13 As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” 14 But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.

 15 Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!” 16 But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. 17 He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.”  18 Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves, for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her.  19 And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went.

 20 And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. 21 When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. 22 But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar. (2 Sam. 13:1-22 ESV)

Amnon’s Desires are Disordered.  

It is undeniable when we begin looking at this text that Amnon is overcome by his desires.  In verse 1 it tells us that Amnon loved his sister Tamar.   This expression in verse 1 put into the context of the passage is not the kind of love that we should expect between a brother and sister. Instead, it is a sexually driven lustful desire that he has for Tamar.   Further, when we consider the standard of the Law, we find that this desire that fills Amnon is an ungodly and disordered desire.

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your sister, your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether brought up in the family or in another home. (Lev. 18:9 ESV)

You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, brought up in your father’s family, since she is your sister. (Lev. 18:11 ESV)

Amnon wants what God tells him that he should not have and therefore what he ought not to want. There is a historic theological error that must be pointed out as we move forward.  Amnon’s concupiscence[1], his inclination to sin in this particular fashion is wicked even if he never acts upon it and he should repent of it.

His disordered affections harm him.

In verse 2 we are told that Amnon is tormented, He is overcome by mental distress.  The root of his torment is that he was not able to have what he desired.  “It seemed that it was impossible to Amnon to do anything to her.”  There is in this text a correlation between a person’s sinful desires and a person’s mental instability. When we counsel people, we regularly find that their mental distress is related to a desire for something that God has not given them and will not be given to them.  Sometimes it is a desire for something that they aren’t supposed to have. An example of this is how we would understand Anxiety. Anxiety is rooted in a desire for control. The problem is that the desire for control is a rejection of God’s word and nature.  Sin destroys and destabilizes us, body, mind, and soul. Rebellion against God even when done internally has a destabilizing effect on our psychological well-being.  

Jonadab Affirms His unrighteous desire.

In Verses 3-5, Jonadab arrives and finds Amnon in a terrible way. He is tormented, laying in bed.  He hasn’t eaten or slept. He is filled with distress so when Jonadab arrives he seeks to remove his distress.   Jonadab never engages whether what Amnon wants is righteous or unrighteous. Instead, his concern sounds much like the modern argument of the affirming church where the mental disturbance of the person with concupiscence is of greater concern than their righteousness.   He comes in and asks why he looks so haggard and then when Amnon tells him of his aberrant desires Jonadab lays out a plan for Amnon to gain what he wants so that he can be free of his haggard state.   He never condemns, instead, he enthusiastically supports, His solutions feed Amnon’s flesh rather than call Amnon repentance and righteousness.

The Fall Out of Affirmation and Sinful Desire

Today the affirming church either seeks to minimize their affirmation and the sinner’s wicked sexual desires as victimless or they deny that affirmation and wicked desire are in any way sinful. That position is in stark contrast to what we see in the rest of the text where Amnon’s concupiscence and Jonadab’s affirmation swiftly and purposefully move to dehumanize and violate Tamar.  The fallout from Amnon’s fulfilled desire is catastrophic harming everyone it touches.

  1. As Tamar arrives Amnon seeks to persuade her to sleep with him.  Immediately she protests participating in this fornication. In her protestation, she pleads with him to appeal to the king that she might be given to him in marriage.   Now this shows us that it is possible that the Law against these incestual marriages has not been kept.   That the law is being violated not only in the heart of Amnon but in the whole of Israel.   The other option is that she is grasping desperately at straws to be free from his grasp.   Either way, Amnon ignores her plea and rapes her in verse 14.   His response to her following his achieving his great desire is brutal.   He dehumanizes her in verses 15-18. She is hated, talked about as subhuman, thrown out in the street by Amnon’s servant like garbage, and left desolate and broken mourning the terrible crime that has been committed.   Tamar is the first victim of Amnon’s sinful desire and Jonadab’s affirmation.
  2. Absalom finds out what his brother has done and goes to the king seeking justice for his sister.   David gives no justice and instead ignores the situation doing nothing to hold Amnon accountable.   This incident is the match that lights the fuse in Absalom’s rebellion, a rebellion that ultimately ends in his death in 2 Samuel 18. Absalom is the second victim of Amnon’s sinful desire and Jonadab’s affirmation.
  3. David and the Nation of Israel.   David’s sin here is that he participates in the affirmation of Amnon because he will not hold him accountable for the incestuous rape of his sister. And through the events that follow, David is driven out of Jerusalem by his son Absalom and then as he regains his throne, he does so at the cost of two of his sons.   The nation of Israel never recovers. The seeds of discord that are sown in the events of 2 Samuel 13 rot in the foundation of the nation.   A foundation that will never recover.   David and his kingdom are the third and fourth victims of Amnon’s sinful desire and Jonadab’s affirmation.

The wages of sin is death

Finally, as the narrative concludes the story of Amnon the reader finds that he escapes judgment for his unrighteousness at first but is ultimately killed by his brother Absalom.   Amnon’s end is just.  He is a man who is an unrepentant rapist He is consumed by his incestuous desires and therefore is a man of the flesh rather than the spirit.  His end in 13:28-28 is a testimony of what Paul would tell us in Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death”,  Amnon gets the fruit of his sin in that field at Baal-Hazor.

All the pain and suffering, the death and chaos that we find for the next several chapters are rooted in the reality that Amnon gave himself over to wickedness and Jonadab failed to be an actual friend to Amnon.  Jonadab should never have affirmed desires that are in contradiction with the Word of God, instead, he should have told Amnon to rise from his couch, bath and clothe himself, eat food to gain strength, and then go on to his labor and the worship of the creator of the Universe.   Instead, as sin was excused and affirmed, suffering was expanded exponentially.


[1] Concupiscence means, “Strong Sexual Desire.”

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