My sister, Tamar, is the most important person in my life. That may sound strange, but let me explain about my family life.
My father, a king, has a multitude of wives and, consequently, an even greater multitude of children. I am the third of six sons born very close together and all with different mothers. We were like a litter of puppies growing up together. We played, fought, and made a competition of everything—who could run the fastest, climb the highest, shoot an arrow the farthest, etc. You get the idea. We all wanted our father’s attention and so did his wives. Our mothers did what they could do to attract our father’s attention, but they also didn’t mind using us boys to enhance their own standings with the king.
I wasn’t going to mention this, since I in no way want this to be about my father (more than enough has been written about him), but I might as well get it out of the way. My father is King David of Israel. Yes, that King David. Killed a giant with a sling and a stone when he was just a “boy” (I hardly consider seventeen the age of a boy, but I suppose it makes a better story); chosen among all his brothers to be king by God Himself, wrote a few million songs, and continues to be a mighty warrior. Rah, rah, rah.
My mother was and remains the most beautiful of the six women. No, really. My brothers and I actually discussed this quite often. We compared our mothers in many ways because we knew our father did as well. Part of that competition thing, I suppose. Besides being a beauty, my mother is the princess of a small country. So small few have heard of it, but she never lets anyone forget she is the daughter of a king. She believes the other wives are “common” compared to her, and, of course, she is right. They all grew up as daughters of shepherds or winemakers or soldiers. Nothing unusual or shameful in any of those, but my mother never let me or anyone else forget her upbringing was of a higher quality.
Anyway, that’s not to say the other mothers are ugly. By no means. Our father may have had poor judgment in many areas, but he certainly has good taste in women. However, my mother stood well above the others in beauty, which was just as well as I’m afraid it is her only redeeming attribute. Her intelligence is average at best, her charm non-existent, and her personality might best be described as abrasive. She has never been the type of mother a child could run to when hurt and expect comfort. Rebukes or reprimands were her most often used forms of communication with her children.
Which brings me to my sister. Tamar is eight years younger than me so I remember the day of her birth very well. I had not been happy my mother was expecting another child (and in truth, neither was she). I had been quite content to be her only son and I did not want another brother to draw my father’s attention and affection. So, when Tamar was born, I was as delighted she was a girl as my mother was disappointed. Though she did grow to adore her daughter (as much as she was capable), at the time, my mother was despondent believing (wrongly as it turns out) that her husband would not be pleased with the birth of a daughter.
Though at first I was just pleased Tamar was a girl, it didn’t take long for her big brown eyes to capture my heart and to bring out in me fiercely protective feelings. And unlike with my brothers, competition never existed between us. If our father or mother showed her any type of favor, it did not stir up envy in my heart as it did with my brothers but rather delight and pride. In fact, I’m sure I took more pride in her than did our father, and I certainly did more to care for her welfare.
As Tamar began to grow into a young woman, others started to take note of her. At first, this only increased my pride in her, but I soon realized the attention of others was not always a good thing, and I would need to do more to protect her and keep her safe. I also expected my brothers to help keep an eye on Tamar, as I would do the same for their sisters. Though we might fight and compete–when it came to our sisters, we were united in our protection and loyalty to them. Or so I always thought.
Looking back now, I can remember when things began to change for us all, but I didn’t see it at the time. Three of my brothers, our cousin Jonadab, and myself decided to spend the evening celebrating our return from battle with the Philistines. We had been away from Jerusalem almost three weeks and were giddy with our victories.
Jonadab, the son of one of my father’s brothers, often spent time carousing with us. Of my three brothers: Adonijah is my younger brother by less than a year, and I was born between my two other brothers—Amnon and Chileab–who were as different from each other as night and day. Truth be told, Amnon and I were much closer to each other as we both enjoyed the women and playing pranks on the others. Chileab was a bit too serious for the rest of us, but he accompanied us that night. Probably to keep an eye on us more than anything. He was good about that, and though at times I found him annoying and pompous, he did keep me out of trouble more times than I deserved.
Anyway, it’s not so much what we did that night that’s important but rather something Amnon said as we were making our drunken way home. With the exception of Chileab, we were bragging about the women we had met, how much we had impressed them, and which ones we wanted to meet with later. I was walking beside Adonijah with the other three behind us. Chileab had been so quiet, I almost forgot he was with us until I heard him rebuke Amnon sharply.
“Hush, fool. Just because you’re drunk is no reason to say such things.”
I stopped, and Amnon ran into the back of me. I turned to look at him. “What were you saying, Amnon? Is Chileab jealous because that luscious dark-haired woman so obviously wanted to come home with you? Or is he still mad because you killed more Philistines than him?”
Amnon gave me a crooked grin, then put a finger to his lips. “Shhh! It’s supposed to be a secret!”
I laughed raucously, thinking I was right especially considering the grievous look Chileab was giving me.
Adonijah jabbed me in the ribs. “Hush! You’ll wake the neighbors, and they’ll complain about us to Father.” Then he looked at Amnon suspiciously. “What’s a secret?”
The five of us stood in the middle of a dirt road, darkened houses on either side of us. Above us, the moon shimmered as only a sliver in a multitude of stars in the surrounding darkness. The only sounds to be heard were croaking frogs, night insects, the occasional hoot of an owl, and the heavy breathing of my companions.
Still grinning, Amnon started to speak when Chileab stopped him. “It’s nothing. He’s just drunk, more than usual it would seem. We need to get home.” He took Amnon by the arm and started walking him past us.
Amnon turned to look at me, then winked. “He doesn’t want you to know who I really love.”
Everything still seemed funny to me, so I continued laughing and hollered after him. “Who, Brother? Who do you love?”
His reply came back to me, carrying loudly through the night air. “Tamar! I love Tamar, your beautiful sister!”
I cringe now to remember how I continued to laugh. Jonadab put an arm around my shoulders and laughed as well. “Your oldest brother has good taste, Absalom. Tamar is turning into a beautiful young woman.”
“That she is,” I agreed proudly. “The most beautiful woman in Jerusalem. No, in all of Israel!”
We all laughed together and somehow made our way back to our own homes. I immediately went to bed, fell asleep, and did not see my brothers or cousin for several days. In fact, the next time I saw Amnon and Jonadab, I made plans to kill them both.