Ancient Near Eastern kings were accustomed to taking what they wanted whenever they wanted it, including the wives of other men and the lives of their subjects. The king of Israel, however, was not supposed to live according to the ethics of the pagans. But that is exactly what David did when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and orchestrated Uriah’s death. God forgave him, but the lasting consequences for his sin formed a lesson for the Israelite kings. They were not “gods” who were above the laws that the rest of the nation followed, but they were to obey the commandments of the Lord just like everyone else (2 Sam. 11–12).
When Israelite kings acted like the neighboring pagan rulers, disaster ensued. Today’s passage reveals how David’s transgression caused great trouble for his family. We read about Amnon, David’s son, who was so consumed with lust for his sister Tamar that he despaired of being able to do anything “to her” (13:1–2). Note that description—Amnon viewed Tamar as a mere object to satisfy his own wickedness, something to be possessed for his own gratification.
Amnon was so distraught over his desire to lie with Tamar and his apparent inability to do so that his friend and cousin Jonadab noticed (vv. 3–4). David, however, was apparently oblivious to the goings-on in his own house. He did not notice the strange behavior of Amnon and even sent Tamar to him at his request, with the result that Tamar was sexually assaulted (vv. 5–14). We should not think that David’s failure here was disconnected from his sin with Bathsheba. When people fall into grievous sin, their moral senses are inevitably affected, and their ability to detect evil can be deadened. To play with sin is to play with fire, as God hands people over to moral confusion and transgression the more they indulge in it (Ps. 81:11–12; Rom. 1:24–25).
David’s negligence resulted in Amnon’s assaulting Tamar. Though Tamar resisted and even reminded her brother that incest was forbidden in Israel by the law of God, Amnon raped her (2 Sam. 13:7–14; see Lev. 18:9). The son repeated the sin of his father, though Tamar’s clear lack of consent and the incestuous nature of the act made Amnon’s act even worse than David’s adultery. Moreover, Amnon used Tamar and then threw her away. Hearing of this, David became very angry, yet he did nothing to bring Amnon to justice, further revealing the dulling of his moral senses (2 Sam. 13:15–22). His failure to act would ultimately endanger the entire kingdom.