Jonadab, A Shrewd Friend

A shrewd friend

References: 2 Samuel chapter 13.

Heart of the Story: Prince Amnon’s friend Jonadab gave him advice that led to King David’s sons being killed and David being dethroned temporarily.

Story Line: Jonadab was King David’s nephew and a friend of Amnon, King David’s heir. One day Jonadab asked Amnon why the king’s son looked so haggard morning after morning. Amnon admitted that he was in love with Tamar, but couldn’t possess her. Tamar was David’s daughter and Amnon’s half-sister. Mosaic law forbid a man from having sex with the daughter of his father’s wife (Leviticus 18:11).

The Bible called Jonadab a “shrewd” man. The Hebrew word was châkâm which translates as subtle and cunning. In English the archaic meaning of shrewd is mischievous, harmful and dangerous. Certainly, what Jonadab proposed next was both cunning and harmful. Jonadab advised Amnon to pretend to be sick. When King David visited him, Amnon should request that Tamar come to his home and prepare and serve him bread; thus, Amnon would get his beautiful sister alone.

The plan proceeded exactly as Jonadab counseled. David indulged his heir and sent Tamar to wait on him. As Tamar fed Amnon, he brutally raped her. His lust satisfied, Amnon expelled Tamar from his home. Devastated Tamar went to Absalom, her full-brother’s home. Abaslom advised Tamar to be silent about the rape; however, King David and the entire court knew Amnon raped Tamar. Certainly, Jonadab knew his plan succeeded.

For two years Absalom neither said nor did anything toward Amnon for raping Tamar. It is tempting to speculate whether or not Jonadab’s role in the planned rape was public knowledge. Indulged, demanding Amnon doesn’t seem the type to keep Jonadab’s role a secret if telling it absolved him from some responsibility for the heinous act, e.g., “it was cousin Jonadab’s idea.”

Then, Absalom invited Amnon and his other half brothers and sisters to the countryside to celebrate his sheep-shearing. At a banquet, Absalom had Amnon murdered; but allowed his other brothers and sisters to return home. Absalom fled to his mother’s family in Geshur.

Before David’s children returned to Jerusalem, David received word that Absalom killed all of them. As David began to grieve, Jonadab spoke up saying that only Amnon was dead and it was Absalom’s plan all along to kill Amnon because he raped Tamar. Soon the watchman saw many people coming toward Jerusalem. When the watchman told David that his children were alive, Jonadab didn’t hesitate to say I told you so.

 Pondering Relationships: It’s tempting to wonder why Jonadab wasn’t at Absalom’s sheep-shearing celebration. Maybe Absalom didn’t invite his cousin. Alternatively, Jonadab was invited but cunning enough to not attend.

One Bible commentator speculated that Absalom and Jonadab colluded to remove Amnon from succession to the throne (Hill, 1987). He proposed that Absalom and Jonadab recognized that Amnon was ruled by his lusts and would be a poor king. Consequently, Absalom and Jonadab set up Amnon so he could rape Tamar, ostensibly giving Absalom a reason to kill him. This account explains how Jonadab know that Absalom didn’t kill his other brothers and sisters and that Absalom held a grudge against Amnon for two years.

Counter arguments are that Tamar lived out her life in Absalom’s house. Absalom loved his sister Tamar and wouldn’t participate in her pain; Absalom had a daughter who he named Tamar after his sister. Finally, after Absalom returned to Jerusalem and eventually overthrew David, there isn’t any mention that Jonadab was one of his counselors or a member of his inner circle.

Reflection: Jonadab wasn’t an admirable man; however, he was an astute problem solver. Unfortunately, he was amoral and gave advice without consideration for who was hurt in the process. Often we see Jonadab’s behavior in national politicians, in church leaders, and even in ourselves at times.

A proverb is that a friend loves at all times. That may be true but friends don’t always give good advice. If you want to read more about lesser know Bible friends, check my book: Lesser Known Bible Characters at

Copyright January 2, 2016; Carolyn A. Roth; all rights reserved.



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