2 Samuel 13:1-22 – One Of Those Passages That We Try to Avoid: The Rape of Tamar (And What It Says to Us Today)

Posted: June 30, 2018 in 10-2 Samuel
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2 Samuel 13:1-22
The Rape of Tamar

It’s all too common: More than 31 percent of women in the United States have been physically abused by an intimate partner at some point in their lives, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to a recent article at CNN.com, A new survey of college students, one of the largest ever focusing on sexual assault and sexual misconduct, has reignited the debate over just how big a problem sexual assault on campus really is. Among female college students, 23% said they experienced some form of unwanted sexual contact — ranging from kissing to touching to rape, carried out by force or threat of force, or while they were incapacitated because of alcohol and drugs, according to the new survey by the Association of American Universities (AAU). Nearly 11% said the unwanted contact included penetration or oral sex.

These alarming statistics bring us to one of those passages in the Bible that we often do not want to deal with as Christians – 2 Samuel 13:1-22. Non-believers will point to this passage and say that the Bible condones violence against women. And how do we respond to that? The Old Testament is full of incidences of immoral and reprehensible behavior that we must learn from. The Old Testament is humanity often at its worst and pointing us to the need we have of Jesus Christ.

In this passage, we see the ugly side of men. Not just in ancient history but also in modern society as the previously noted statistics prove. This passage is ugly, nasty, raw and hard to deal with. It is incest. It is lust. It is rape. And it is worst of all cover-up. There is no social justice for Tamar. She is raped by her half-brother. And she is told to keep it quiet and there would be family justice at some point. The men in this sad tale are reprehensible. Jonadab, the male cousin of Amnon, who gives the advice to Amnon on how get Tamar alone with him. Amnon, the epitome of spoiled brat (similar to college boys who rape girls at college and get away with it) creates this whole mess with his unrestrained sexual desires and being a prince with no checks and balances. Absalom, telling Tamar not to worry about it and that he will handle it. David, the king, who does absolutely nothing! David the ultimate authority this side of heaven for the people of Israel does nothing about the rape of his daughter. This passage thus is one of those that rarely gets preached on, rarely gets written about, but in the light of the statistics on unwanted sexual contact for women in this country. It is one whose time has come. We must preach on it. We must teach on it. We must examine ourselves as Christ followers because we as Christ followers in His church are not immune to this issue that can have deafening effect on our witness to the world around us.

In a recent article in Church Leaders, the online magazine, J.D. Greear, the recently elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention speaks out on the issue. Pastor Greear is pastor of The Summit Church in Durham, NC, a widely renowned author and leadership expert and one of the more popular and respected megachurch pastors around. His election to the SBC presidency signals a changing of the guard toward a younger generation of pastoral leadership in the SBC. He was elected amidst a firestorm within the convention concerning the president of one of the flagship seminaries of the SBC, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Prominent Southern Baptist leader Paige Patterson has been removed from his job as president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary amid an evangelical #MeToo moment: a massive backlash from women upset over comments he made in the past that are newly perceived as sexist and demeaning. In the article, Greear begins addressing the issue of how the church, not just the SBC, has handled sexual abuse in the past when he says:

I have begun to hear more and more from many of my sisters in Christ (and some brothers) who have been championing this cause for much longer than a few weeks. Hearing their stories and sensing their passion, I am realizing that we need to be more humble and sober than this. Our awakening to the issue of abuse, even if just to new nuances of the issue, means that we were previously asleep. And as we struggled to learn how to care for the vulnerable well, people were suffering. The church’s clumsiness has often meant that the suffering of others was longer in duration and deeper in impact than it should have been.
Is it better to wake up late than never at all? Absolutely. But I believe we are only beginning to see how profound this “lateness” is, and how damaging its consequences.

So to my sisters:
• who talked to a pastor and received counsel not to report abuse to the authorities
who were advised to return home without your safety being a first priority
• who were raped or otherwise assaulted, and upon confiding in your church leaders, were doubted or cross-examined more than cared for
• who have had to endure objectification or crude humor in sermons and, therefore, had such speech validated in your Christian community
• who were made to think men’s purity was more a byproduct of your modesty than the responsibility of your brother’s in Christ maturity
• who wondered why these issues were not addressed in a more direct way before recent weeks

I believe you deserve to hear your brothers in Christ, particularly those of us called into pastoral ministry, say:

“We are sorry and we should have heard you before now. We know our deafness has added to your suffering. For many that suffering was direct, as it put you in unsafe or abusive contexts. For others, that suffering was indirect, as we allowed a toxic culture to grow up in our churches, one in which you were not as safe and valued as your should have been. You deserved better.”

It is late. But it needs to be said.

Return with me, if you will, to Tamar’s story. Tamar, the young royal princess, wears a distinctive robe, “a sign of favor and special affection.” She lives in a world where her powerful father and brothers hold sway over her, but have responsibility to protect her. Tamar has abundant privilege, yet little power. Tamar is obedient, trusting, and kind. When her father instructs her to help her ailing half-brother, Amnon, she goes and cooks for him. When Amnon bids her to bring food to his room, dutifully she goes, unaware that he has schemed and lied in order to get her alone, because he is obsessed with desire for her (2 Samuel 13:7-11). So, let us now take time to read the ugliness of this passage. It is not for the faint of heart. It is a raw passage but a timely one. Let us read it now together:

Chapter 13
1 Now David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar. And Amnon, her half brother, fell desperately in love with her. 2 Amnon became so obsessed with Tamar that he became ill. She was a virgin, and Amnon thought he could never have her.

3 But Amnon had a very crafty friend—his cousin Jonadab. He was the son of David’s brother Shimea.[a] 4 One day Jonadab said to Amnon, “What’s the trouble? Why should the son of a king look so dejected morning after morning?”

So Amnon told him, “I am in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”

5 “Well,” Jonadab said, “I’ll tell you what to do. Go back to bed and pretend you are ill. When your father comes to see you, ask him to let Tamar come and prepare some food for you. Tell him you’ll feel better if she prepares it as you watch and feeds you with her own hands.”

6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be sick. And when the king came to see him, Amnon asked him, “Please let my sister Tamar come and cook my favorite dish[b] as I watch. Then I can eat it from her own hands.” 7 So David agreed and sent Tamar to Amnon’s house to prepare some food for him.

8 When Tamar arrived at Amnon’s house, she went to the place where he was lying down so he could watch her mix some dough. Then she baked his favorite dish for him. 9 But when she set the serving tray before him, he refused to eat. “Everyone get out of here,” Amnon told his servants. So they all left.

10 Then he said to Tamar, “Now bring the food into my bedroom and feed it to me here.” So Tamar took his favorite dish to him. 11 But as she was feeding him, he grabbed her and demanded, “Come to bed with me, my darling sister.”

12 “No, my brother!” she cried. “Don’t be foolish! Don’t do this to me! Such wicked things aren’t done in Israel. 13 Where could I go in my shame? And you would be called one of the greatest fools in Israel. Please, just speak to the king about it, and he will let you marry me.”

14 But Amnon wouldn’t listen to her, and since he was stronger than she was, he raped her. 15 Then suddenly Amnon’s love turned to hate, and he hated her even more than he had loved her. “Get out of here!” he snarled at her.

16 “No, no!” Tamar cried. “Sending me away now is worse than what you’ve already done to me.”

But Amnon wouldn’t listen to her. 17 He shouted for his servant and demanded, “Throw this woman out, and lock the door behind her!”

18 So the servant put her out and locked the door behind her. She was wearing a long, beautiful robe,[c] as was the custom in those days for the king’s virgin daughters. 19 But now Tamar tore her robe and put ashes on her head. And then, with her face in her hands, she went away crying.

20 Her brother Absalom saw her and asked, “Is it true that Amnon has been with you? Well, my sister, keep quiet for now, since he’s your brother. Don’t you worry about it.” So Tamar lived as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house.

21 When King David heard what had happened, he was very angry.[d] 22 And though Absalom never spoke to Amnon about this, he hated Amnon deeply because of what he had done to his sister.

Here in this passage, we see that love and lust are very different. After Amnon raped his half sister, his so called love for her turned to hatred. Although he claimed to be in love he was actually overcome by lust. Love is patient. Lust requires immediate satisfaction. Love is kind. Lust is harsh. Love does not demand its own way. Lust does. Love does not delight in evil. Lust does. And most of all love protects. Lust does not.

As men of faith, we must take our role as the leaders of the home and the church seriously. We must stand against anything that threatens and does not protect the women we love and the women in our church. As men of faith, we should not shrink from the difficult truth of this pervasive injustice that affects our communities. We should seek to confront the reality of the broken world in which we participate and pray for opportunities to be part of Christ’s redemptive work of healing and justice. One humble beginning may simply be greater honesty about what we are witnessing — in our communities, the news, and, sometimes, even in Christ’s own church. Confrontation with evil does not come easily. Mournfully, there was no justice in this life for Tamar. The unresolved pathos of her story transcends millennia to startle us awake. If we long for a just ending to this story, there really is not one. Sure, Absalom kills Amnon, but it is two years later and there is no justice in the murder. There was no public trial. There was no national recognition that there was a rape in the royal household. It was all covered up. Tamar was never comforted or counseled that we can see. The only thing that is said is that she “lived as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house.” Is that justice? Is that the signal we send to women today in the church?

Maybe, that is the point of the inclusion of this ugly story! Maybe, it is supposed to be a warning sign to us (if we do not ignore this passage altogether). In this time of history in which we live, we have abundant opportunities to begin writing the just and godly narrative in our own churches and communities. The work of justice and healing begs to be embraced. This passage speaks a truth we are reluctant to hear. May our response to it, and to every Tamar we meet, be holy and just.

To us as men in the church, we always think so fondly of the fact that God through Paul instructs women to submit to their husbands. However, we often forget the remainder of the passage where we, as Christ following men, are called to love our wives (and by extension women in general) as Christ loves His church. That’s a pretty tall order. Much higher than our women submitting to our leadership. We are called to be love our wives (and by extension all women) to the point of laying down our lives sacrificially for them. We are called to love and protect. We are called to provide safe environments in which God’s most lovely and tender creatures can flourish. We are not called to dominate them. We are called to protect them from all evil as Christ does for his church. We are not called to forceable make them do whatever we please. We are called to be willing to take a bullet for them. We are called to not to demean them. We are called to exalt them. We are called to lead them with their best interest at heart. We are called to be their spiritual leaders and not lead them astray with our own ideas of sexuality and servitude. We are to lead them in such a way that they are perfectly willing to submit to our leadership because they know that we would lay down our lives to protect them and provide for them.

This passage is raw and real. This passage must be read. This passage is current and timely. This passage is a wake up call. This passage holds the mirror to not just ancient Israelite society but it is recognition that not much has changed in 3,000 years since the reign of David. God calls us men to a higher calling. Christ following men must set the example to the women in our midst in our churches and to the society in general. Women do not deserve the fate of Tamar. The change starts with us – as the men who follow Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord.

Amen and Amen.

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