The account of David and Bathsheba is one of the better-known stories in the Bible. And like a modern soap opera, it tells of adultery, deception and cover up, murder and exposure. Ultimately, there were ripple effects from it that would tear David’s family and even the nation of Israel apart. The Ewing family from the TV show Dallas comes to mind when I think about the schemes, plots and counter plots that occurred. And when you look closely, there’s even a character who could go toe-to-toe with J.R Ewing in terms of his cunning and deviousness—Jonadab.
Before we meet Jonadab, let me give a recap of the David and Bathsheba story from 2 Samuel 11 and 12. King David was walking on the roof of his house in the cool of the evening when he saw a beautiful woman bathing. He sent someone to find out who she was, and was told she was Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite. She was the daughter of one of his best fighters (2 Samuel 23:34) and the wife of another man from his elite guard (2 Samuel 23:39). In addition, her grandfather, Ahithophel, was one of David’s respected advisors (1 Chronicles 27:34). Bathsheba was a woman of influence.
David stupidly slept with her, just after she had purified herself from her menstrual cycle (1 Samuel 11:4). This meant two things. She was not pregnant when David slept with her; and he did so when she was most likely to become pregnant. When Bathsheba discovered she was pregnant, she sent word to David.
His scheme to cover up their adultery was simple. He had Uriah sent to him as a messenger to report on the siege against the Ammonites in Rabbah. Afterwards he encouraged Uriah to go to his house and “wash his feet”, which is a polite way of suggesting that Uriah sleep with his wife. David even provided a present to help set the mood. But Uriah didn’t cooperate. Instead he slept at the door of the king’s house with the servants (2 Samuel 11:9).
When David heard this, he asked Uriah why he didn’t avail himself of the opportunity to be with his wife. Robert Bergen in his commentary suggested this could have been a thinly veiled attack on Uriah’s virility, something like this: “What’s wrong with you that you didn’t take advantage of the opportunity to sleep with your wife?” Bathsheba must have been really confused to have David’s present show up at her home, but not have Uriah come with it. But David had a “plan B.”
David invited Uriah to feast with him before returning to the battle. He encouraged Uriah’s drinking to the point of getting him drunk, but Uriah still would not go and sleep with his wife. So David gave him a sealed message to give to Joab, the commander of the army. The message Uriah carried was his death warrant. David ordered Joab to put Uriah at the head of a suicide attack on Rabbah. Then when the fighting was at its peak, withdraw and let Uriah be killed. Plan C worked.
When the time of mourning was complete for Uriah, David “generously” took Bathsheba as his wife. It would have looked like good PR. The king honored the wife of a fallen warrior by taking her into his household. Also recall her background. Bathsheba was not only beautiful, she was the daughter of one his elite warriors and granddaughter of his trusted advisor. “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27).
The prophet Nathan told David a parable, and in his judgment of the rich man from the parable, David condemns himself. Nathan then publically declared David’s actions against Uriah and his adultery with Bathsheba. God’s judgment against David will be both the death of the illegitimate son by Bathsheba and that “the sword shall never depart from your house.” God will raise up evil against David out of his own house. What David did in secret, God will do before all of Israel in judgment against him (2 Samuel 12:11-12).
David is sincerely repentant for his sin, and God forgives him. Psalm 51 is a beautiful illustration of David’s repentance. There David acknowledged his sin against God, pleading that the Lord not cast him away from His presence. He asks God to create in him a clean heart; to renew a right spirit within him. But the child does die; and the sword and evil rose up against him out of his own house.
In chapter 13 of 2 Samuel, the story turns to David’s children, Amnon, his firstborn son, Absalom his third born son and Tamar Absalom’s beautiful sister. Amnon “loved” (had the hots for) Tamar, but despaired of being able to do anything about it. Jonabab, the cousin and friend of Amnon, suggested that Amnon pretend to be ill and ask David if Tamar could make some cakes, perhaps laced with herbs to heal his supposed sickness. When they are alone, Amnon forces himself onto Tamar and then forcibly has her sent away (2 Samuel 13:11, 15-17). In doing this, Amnon acted like the Caananite prince Shechem when he raped Dinah, the daughter of Jacob (Genesis 34:2-3). The reader is then set up to look for a similar outcome as the story progresses.
Absalom takes Tamar in after her humiliating rape and rejection. David is furious that Amnon, his heir apparent, brought such public shame and embarrassment to the royal family. Remember Nathan’s prophecy? Absalom said nothing publically about his brother’s behavior, but he hated Amnon for what he had done (2 Samuel 13:23). There is some speculation that Amnon’s actions were intended to help him assure his claim on the throne. Absalom and Tamar’s mother was herself the daughter of a king (2 Chronicles 3:2). Perhaps his lineage made him a better candidate for kingship than the apparently common ancestry of Amnon and Daniel who were older than Absalom.
Two years later, Absalom has a feast for all the sons of David. Amnon was the eldest son. Absalom was the third son, but seems to have had precedence over Daniel, David’s second eldest son. Third in line for the throne was Adonijah (1 Chronicles 3:1-9). Absalom had instructed his servants that when Amnon was good and drunk, they should kill him, which they did. Chaos broke out, and the sons of David fled.
The word that reached David was that Absalom had killed all of the king’s sons. Both David and his servants tore their clothes in mourning. But then Jonadab (remember him?) corrected the false report, saying that only Amnon was killed. So the good news was that only the heir-apparent was killed—by the next son in line for the throne—in a very public way. Strangely, Jonadab seems to have known what happened at Absalom’s feast before any of them could reach David (2 Samuel 13:30, 32). Could he have known ahead of time what was going to happen? What was he plotting?
Jonadab is not mentioned again, but it does seem he assisted Amnon in an attempted plot to solidify his claim to the throne after David. But that failed, perhaps because of Amnon sending Tamar away after he had raped her. Tamar did try to change his mind, saying that the wrong in sending her away would be greater than what he had already done to her (2 Samuel 13:16). Jonadab saw the political winds changing and switched his allegiance to Absalom, whose killing of Amnon seems to have been as much politically motivated as it was by revenge. Could Amnon have been convinced to attend Absalom’s feast by Jonadab?
These are questions to which the Bible provides no answer. What we see is that David apparently didn’t have the heart to punish Amnon or Absalom for committing the same sins of adultery and murder that he himself did. His failure to reign in Absalom eventually led to Absalom’s attempt to take over the throne. He publically slept with David’s concubines, again as an apparent political maneuver (2 Samuel 16:20-23). Note that the person giving this advice to Absalom was Ahithophel, the grandfather of Bathsheba and the former advisor to David.
Robert Bergen suggested in his commentary that Ahithophel seems to have broken with David because of David having unlawful sexual relations with his granddaughter and then killing her husband. His plan would unambiguously demonstrate Absalom’s claim to Israel’s throne by exercising privileges reserved only for Israel’s king. Secondly, it would embolden those participating in the coup to also brazenly act in a way to become a stench in David’s nostrils.
For Ahithophel personally, the scheme must have seemed like a particularly satisfying application of the Torah’s lex talionis (“eye for eye, tooth for tooth …,” cf. Exod 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21). David had had unlawful sexual relations with Ahithophel’s granddaughter at the royal palace in Jerusalem, though she was married to another; so now, unlawful sexual relations with David’s harem would take place at the same palace—only in this case the retributive act would be ten times greater than the original offense, and in public!
David still didn’t have the heart to do deal decisively with Absalom, ordering his military leaders Joab, Abishai and Ittai to deal gently with him. But Joab had Absalom killed. The circumstances of how Absalom was caught are symbolic, in that his head was caught up in a tree so that “he was suspended between heaven and earth” (2 Samuel 18:5-14). Deuteronomy 21:23 declared that anyone hung on a tree was cursed by God.
Modern political intrigue in the U.S. is starting to look downright peaceful and civil after studying this section of 2 Samuel. Character assassinations are rampant in the election, but at least there aren’t any coups or killings going on.
Jonadab played a key role in fanning the flames of ambition, lust, revenge and intrigue that led to the deaths of both Amnon and Absalom. He was never said to have taken an active role in what transpired, but he was clearly there stirring the pot. J. R. Ewing and he were cut from the same cloth. Some might find parallels to individuals who are “pot stirrers” in the ongoing presidential election. I don’t follow politics close enough to point to “Jonabad’s” behind Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump. But I can guess they are there. It’s a tradition that goes at least back to the time of King David.