The Terrible Tale of Amnon and Tamar

Posted on January 21, 2019


By David Ettinger

Please read the account in 2 Samuel Chapter 13.

A Terrible Occurrence
What a horrible and tragic mess! Poor Tamar had been raped by her brother Amnon. What was her fate? Wicked Amnon. We know what his fate was, but what should it have been? Let’s take a look, starting with Tamar. (Trusting you either read the infamous account referenced above before reading this blog, or you are already familiar with it.)


Tamar’s fate can be summed up in one word: Devastation. Because she was no longer a virgin, her father David could not offer her to any potential husband. As a “fornicator,” Tamar would become an object of reproach throughout Jerusalem. Though innocent, she would bear the stigma of her defilement the rest of her days.

What of Tamar’s petition to Amnon when she realized he was about to take her by force? She pled with him, “Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.”[1]

This isn’t true; the Mosaic Law prohibited marriage between brother and sister and half-brother and half-sister (as were Amnon and Tamar). Leviticus 20:17 says, “If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, and they have sexual relations, it is a disgrace.” Tamar would have known this, but likely suggested marriage in order to stave off Amnon’s destructive intent. However, the wicked oldest son of David was not interested in marrying Tamar; he wanted her sexually.

The Aftermath
Following the heinous act, Amnon sent Tamar away to her new wretched reality. She put ashes on her head and tore her royal robes, both displays of intense grief and mourning. She had lost her purity, and with it any reasonable opportunity for marriage.

The tearing of her robe was significant. The beautifully ornamented garment had identified Tamar as a virgin daughter of the king, a lofty status. Following her rape, she would never wear that robe again.

David has been accused of blundering badly in leaving Tamar alone with Amnon. Virgin daughters were kept separate from men so that none could see them alone. However, when David sent Tamar to Amnon’s room, she was not alone.

After Tamar prepared the bread in sight of all who were in the room, Amnon refused to eat it. “‘Send everyone out of here,’ Amnon said. So everyone left him.”[2] That order set the stage for what soon happened. Now the question is, what action should David have taken against Amnon following the rape?

Clear Biblical Directives
Back to Leviticus 20:17, this time in its entirety: “If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, and they have sexual relations, it is a disgrace. They are to be publicly removed from their people. He has dishonored his sister and will be held responsible” (italic added). At the very least, Amnon should have been exiled – cut off from the covenant community of Israel. He should have been banished from the borders of Israel proper and sent to live in one of the neighboring nations.

But there was also the matter of the rape; this was not a consensual act between willing adults. Amnon was 100 percent at fault. The Mosaic Law dealt with rape. If a man raped a virgin woman pledged to be married, he was to be put to death.[3] If he raped a virgin not pledged to be married (as was Tamar), he was to “pay her father fifty shekels of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives” (Deuteronomy 22:28).


But this case was different. Amnon did not rape just any virgin; he raped his sister. So which law took precedence? Was Amnon to marry the virgin he raped, or was that law set aside because this particular virgin happened to be his stepsister?

It is unimaginable that God would have permitted such a perversion as sibling marriage to exist in Israel, therefore, at the very least, the law regarding relations between brother and sister should have been enforced. Amnon, plain and simple, should have been banished, forever cut off from the people of Israel and God’s blessings.

And yet, when told what had happened, King David, “was furious.”[4] And? Sadly, “and” nothing. David did nothing to discipline his son’s abominable crime. Why? Scripture doesn’t say, but it could be that David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah had become known, causing him to lose his moral authority over his family. His moral credibility was gone.

Two years later, Amnon would be murdered. For the rest of her life, Tamar would be a ruined woman. And David could do nothing about either. This is one of the most grievous events in the Bible and proves how far God’s chosen servants (in this case, David) can sink when sin is left unchecked.

[1] 2 Samuel 13:3

[2] 2 Samuel 13:9

[3] Deuteronomy 22:25-27

[4] 2 Samuel 13:21