As most of you know, I often try to begin my sermons with something a bit humorous or light-hearted. But this morning, I just didn’t feel it was appropriate to do that. Because there are some stories in the Bible that are so tragic, there’s no place for humor. This morning’s story is one of those.
It’s the story of a woman who was horribly abused and violated. To make matters worse, she suffered at the hands of one of her own family members.
It’s a story that speaks directly to an issue that continues to be relevant today. Statistically speaking, 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 7 boys by the age of 18 will have been the victim of some form of sexualized violence. Around the world, at least 1 out of every 3 women has been beaten, coerced into sex, or otherwise abused in her lifetime. Most often the abuser is a member of her own family or her partner. (https://supportingsurvivors.humboldt.edu/statistics)
Those are the statistics. But domestic violence isn’t just a collection of numbers. It’s made up of real people whose lives have been devastated because of someone else’s sin.
As I prepared this lesson, I did so with the understanding that there are many of you here in this room who have been violated in one way or another. And so, my prayer is that God will use this lesson to bring help, hope and healing to your lives through his Word this morning.
We’ve been studying the life of King David in 2 Samuel, and it would have been easy for me to just skip right over chapter 13 and ignore it because of how difficult it is to hear this story. But we need to remember that God’s Word is intended to speak to every area of our lives. And I believe that this story has been preserved in the Scriptures for the purpose of ministering to those who need healing today.
I will say before I begin this lesson that if the issues I talk about this morning are painfully personal for you, there are some resources that I can recommend to you if you will get in touch with me later.
Our story in 2 Samuel 13 unfolds in six ugly scenes.
Scene One: An Obsessed Son
“Now David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister named Tamar. And Amnon, her half brother, fell desperately in love with her. Amnon became so obsessed with Tamar that he became ill.” (2 Samuel 13:1-2)
Amnon was David’s oldest son, and he was attracted to his half-sister Tamar. It says here that Amnon “fell desperately in love with her”. Later, in verse 4, he will say to his cousin, “I am in love with Tamar.”
But it’s clear that Amnon didn’t know a thing about love. Love always seeks the best for another person. Love is always willing to do whatever it takes to take care of someone else. But for Amnon, love was nothing more than getting what he wanted.
This wasn’t love. Like so many people today, Amnon confused love with lust. Tamar was beautiful, and Amnon wanted to have sex with her. It didn’t matter that God said it was wrong. It didn’t matter how it would affect her. Amnon wanted to have sex with Tamar. And the more he saw her, the more he wanted it. Amnon became obsessed with Tamar. He wanted to be around her, to look at her, to talk with her, and he couldn’t get her out of his mind.
Amnon lived without God, and when you live without God, something else will take the place of God, and so his passions became his god. They took control of his life and Amnon was obsessed by his own desires.
You would think the fact that he was obsessed to the point of making himself sick would be a sign to Amnon that there was something wrong with his desire. But Amnon probably felt, like so many people do today, that he had no choice but to give in to these feelings that were so strong. A country song back in 1997 asked the question, “How can it be wrong when it feels so right?” But no matter how good something may feel, wrong is always wrong..
But Amnon reminds us — if God is not the Lord of your life, something else will be. And if you allow your passions to gain control of your life, in the end, they will torment you just like they did Amnon.
Scene Two: A Terrible Friend
Verse 3, “But Amnon had a very crafty friend — his cousin Jonadab…One day Jonadab said to Amnon, ‘What’s the trouble? Why should the son of a king look so dejected morning after morning?’” (2 Samuel 13:3-4)
Jonadab could tell that something was wrong with Amnon. And so, he said, “Every time I see, you always look so miserable. What’s going on?”
Amnon confesses to him, “I am in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” (2 Samuel 13:4). Now if Jonadab was truly a good friend, he would have said, “Whoa, wait a minute. This is a dangerous thing to be messing around with. This is not in your best interest. You need to get your head on straight.”
But that’s not the kind of friend Jonadab was. He was the kind of friend who said, “I’ve got your back. I’ll go along with you whatever you want to do, right or wrong. If you want to have sex with her, let’s make it happen.
So Jonadab came up with a scheme that would allow Amnon to get what he wanted. He 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.” (2 Samuel 13:5).
And that’s exactly what Amnon did. Jonadab’s idea of being a friend was to go along with Ammon’s desires and support him no matter what. But that’s not what a good friend does. A good friend is honest with us when we’re about to do something really stupid. As Solomon said in Proverbs 27, “A truly good friend will openly correct.” (Proverbs 27:5, CEV)
Beware of any friends who always support whatever you want to do.
Scene Three: The Godly Daughter
“So David agreed and sent Tamar to Amnon’s house to prepare some food for him. 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.” (2 Samuel 13:7-8)
Tamar was not only a beautiful woman, but she was also a godly woman. She did what her father asked her to do. She was willing to go to her sick brother in order to serve him in his time of need. Tamar is a princess dressed in a royal robe, but she doesn’t hesitate to get her hands dirty as she kneads the dough with her own hands and bakes for her brother.
Tamar was a godly woman, but shame was heaped on her in three ways:
1. She was betrayed
Tamar lived under the protection of the king, and the king sent her to her brother’s house — a place where she should have been honored, a place where she had every right to feel that she would be completely safe.
She trusted Amnon, but her trust was betrayed. She came as a servant, and she was betrayed by the very person whom she came to serve.
2. She was violated
“[Tamar] baked his favorite dish for him. 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.
“Then he said to Tamar, ‘Now bring the food into my bedroom and feed it to me here.’ Tamar took his favorite dish to him. But as she was feeding him, he grabbed her and demanded, ‘Come to bed with me, my darling sister.’” (2 Samuel 13:8-11)
Amnon has one thing on his mind, and one thing only. And he has arranged this situation so that there are no witnesses, and he can gratify his lust.
But we see the godliness of Tamar in how she responded. She answered him, “No, my brother! …Don’t be foolish! Don’t do this to me! Such wicked things aren’t done in Israel. Where could I go in my shame? And you would be called one of the greatest fools in Israel.” (2 Samuel 13:12-13)
Tamar knew the true meaning of love. She was looking out for Amnon’s good, as well as her own. She said, “Amnon, don’t do this to me. It’s wrong, it’s sinful. And don’t do this to yourself! If you do this, you’re going to regret it.”
Then she said, “Please, just speak to the king about it, and he will let you marry me.” (2 Samuel 13:13)
Now I’m not quite sure what she meant by that. It’s hard to imagine that David would have allowed that because marrying your half-brother would have been a violation of the Law of Moses (Leviticus 18:9, 11; 20:17; Deuteronomy 27:22). So, I think this was probably just an attempt to say anything to get away. Or maybe Tamar figured that even a marriage that broke God’s law would have been better than this.
What’s clear is that she was convinced that her father, King David was the one who could help her. But then we read these tragic words: “Amnon wouldn’t listen to her, and since he was stronger than she was, he raped her.” (2 Samuel 13:14).
Simply by his brute strength, Amnon was able to get what he wanted and he violated his sister. There was nothing consensual about this. This was rape. Tamar did everything she could to avoid this and all the blame lies on Amnon. And then, if that wasn’t bad enough…
3. She was rejected
“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.” (2 Samuel 13:15)
I want you to notice how quickly Amnon’s lust turned to hatred — it happened in a moment. He tells Tamar, “Get out of here!” I think what’s going on here is that once Amnon got what he wanted, he was done with her.
The following quote comes from R. Payne Smith:
“Let me give a friendly, fatherly tip to all of you young girls, who may be in the position of Tamar, in that you have some fellow who is really pressing hard to have sex with you. He is the soul of kindness. He is very attentive. He calls all the time. He opens the door for you. He brings you flowers, but he’s pushing hard for a sexual relationship. Don’t give in. If you really love him, make him wait until you’re married. If he really loves you, he will. Over and over, time and again, the fellow will press and press until he has taken you to bed, and that’s the last you see or hear from him. You’re no longer a challenge. He’s conquered, and he’s off for new conquests. If you really love him and want him, make him wait. If you really love God, and love yourself, make him wait.” (Smith)
So, after Amnon got what he wanted, he wanted to kick Tamar out.
“‘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. He shouted for his servant and demanded, ‘Throw this woman out, and lock the door behind her!’” (2 Samuel 13:16-17)
Tamar was a beautiful princess. She was a family member. But, now, to Amnon, she’s just “that woman”. And Tamar is thrown out like a piece of trash.
“So the servant put her out and locked the door behind her….And then, with her face in her hands, she went away crying.” (2 Samuel 13:18-19)
Tamar was devastated. So, she turned to the two men that she thought could provide some comfort and help to her in her time of trauma.
Scene Four: The Vengeful Brother
“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.’” (2 Samuel 13:20)
Absalom obviously cared about his sister, but he gave some really bad advice: “Keep quiet!” In other words, “Don’t say anything about this to anybody else. Just keep quiet and pretend like nothing happened.” And unfortunately, this is the advice that too many people receive when they share their pain with someone else, especially with another family member. “Let’s just sweep it under the rug. Let’s not cause any family drama by talking about it. Just pretend like nothing ever happened.”
Then Absalom said, “Don’t you worry about it.” He makes it sound like what happened to Tamar was no big deal. But Absalom knew that this was a big deal, so big in fact that he will eventually take the law into his own hands and kill his brother Amnon as an act of revenge.
What Absalom should have done was to confront Amnon with the truth. But he never said anything about this to Amnon. “And though Absalom never spoke to Amnon about this, he hated Amnon deeply because of what he had done to his sister.” (2 Samuel 13:22). Absalom simply kept quiet, and hatred burned in his heart for two years. And in the end, that hatred led to murder.
Scene Five: The Passive Father
“When King David heard what had happened, he was very angry.” (2 Samuel 13:21)
This whole story revolves around David. Amnon is David’s son. Absalom is David’s son by another mother. Jonadab is the son of David’s brother. Tamar is David’s daughter and she lives in David’s house.
So, what is David going to do about this outrageous behavior in his own family and in this kingdom over which he has been given power and authority? We’re told that David was very angry. I would think so! But what did David do? Absolutely nothing.
David does nothing to comfort his daughter. He does nothing to discipline his son. He doesn’t even bring his daughter home. From that day on, Tamar lived in Absalom’s house.
Some have suggested that maybe David didn’t feel he was in a position to deal with the sexual sin of Amnon because of his own sexual sins. But that was no excuse. As a father, David had a responsibility to love and protect his daughter and he had a duty to discipline his son. And David failed completely at both of those things.
David’s failure to act left Tamar without justice, and the door was opened for her brother Absalom to take the law into his own hands.
There were two men in Tamar’s life that she should have been able to turn to for help. But Absalom told her to keep quiet, and David just ignored it. Isn’t there anyone who will speak up and tell the truth about what happened to this godly woman?
And the answer is yes — God does. Why do you think we’re reading about this in the Bible? God will not ignore and he will not hide what happened to Tamar. God tells her story when no one else will. When he breathed out his Word, God said, “This is what happened to my daughter, Tamar. I will not have it hidden and I will not have it ignored.”
Scene Six: The Desolate Woman
“Tamar tore her robe and put ashes on her head. And then, with her face in her hands, she went away crying….So Tamar lived as a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house.” (2 Samuel 13:19-20)
For just a moment, I’d like for you to try to feel the pain of this godly woman. She puts ash in her hair. This beautiful woman who has been treated like trash, now treats herself like trash. She disfigures her own beauty by putting ash in her hair. She tears the royal robe she no longer feels worthy to wear. She puts her head in her hands and cries out in pain.
She feels completely and utterly worthless. And that sense of shame did not go away. She lived the rest of her life as a “desolate woman”.
There are some words of Job that speak very powerfully to the experience of someone who has been abused. Keep in mind that Job was a righteous man. What he suffered was not the result of anything that he did wrong.
Listen to what he said, “Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame.” (Job 10:15, NIV). Job says, “I know I didn’t do anything wrong, but I still feel this shame that’s been heaped on me.
That’s how Tamar was feeling, and maybe you know what that feels like. Tamar had done nothing wrong, but shame was heaped on her and she felt the weight of it. Her great, unanswered question was where should she go with that shame and what should she do with it.
She asked in verse 13, “Where could I carry my shame?” (2 Samuel 13:13). Unfortunately, no one in David’s house could answer that question. Amnon abused her, Absalom tried to shut her up, and David ignored her. And so, Tamar lived with this unanswered question: Where can I carry my shame?
To answer that question, I want you to stake a look at the story of Jesus Christ, which has a much better ending than we find here in 2 Samuel 13.
Scene Seven: The Answer to Tamar’s Question
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed this, but there are a lot of parallels between the story of Tamar and the story of Jesus.
Like Tamar, Jesus was sent by his Father to a place where he should have been honored and welcomed. He came to his own. It should have been a safe place, but it wasn’t. Like Tamar, Jesus came as a servant and he was betrayed by the very people he came to serve. Like Tamar, Jesus was violated. He was stripped, beaten, spat upon and pierced. And then, like Tamar, Jesus was thrown out like trash. He was left to suffer outside the city, hanging in agony on the cross.
If you know what it feels like to be filled with shame when you have done nothing wrong, Jesus can say, “Me too.” He really can. If you think carefully about what Jessus endured, you\ll begin to realize that Jesus Christ is someone who understands exactly what you’re going through.
The Bible talks a lot about the shame that was heaped on Jesus on the cross. But the encouraging thing is, Jesus was not overcome by that shame. The Hebrew writer said, “Let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus…Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people; then you won’t become weary and give up.” (Hebrews 12:1-3).
Jesus disregarded the shame that was heaped on him. That shame wasn’t because of anything Jesus did, but because of what sinful people did to him. It was shame that was put on him, but it didn’t destroy him. Jesus was covered in shame. He felt the weight of that shame. And yet he rose above it.
Jesus was able to do that because he knew who he was and he knew where he was going. He was treated like trash, but he knew that he was the dearly beloved Son of God. He was nailed to a cross, but he knew that he was destined for a throne in heaven.
In the book, Rid of My Disgrace, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb point out that we all have to face the question of identity: Who am I? Anyone who has had to endure this kind of experience has struggled with the questions: Am I spoiled goods? Am I a piece of trash?
But then the Holcombs make this important point: To answer the question “Who am I?” you first need to answer another question: “Which story do I find myself a part of?” They say, “Being a victim of sexual assault is part of your story that you should not deny or minimize. But if it becomes the story of your life, your whole identity will be founded on a sense of shame. How do you receive or give love… when you believe that you are unlovable, dirty, worthless, impure and corrupt?”
Where can I go with my shame? That’s the important question. And the answer isn’t trying to love yourself better. The answer lies in the great story of the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you. Jesus Christ welcomes you, receives you, holds you, and he will never let you go — no matter what the cost, even if it means laying down his life for you.
Jesus came into this world so that your life could be part of a better story, so that the worst thing that ever happened to you would not become the defining thing in your life, so that there could be a new and better story of hope.
Christ came into the world so that the outrage of Amnon’s sin would not have the last word in Tamar’s life. And he came into the world so that the sins committed against you would not be the defining story of your life. Jesus lives, so that in him you may be able to rise above your shame. He came so that your life could be part of a great story of Christ’s marvelous redemption.
I want to close by suggesting three applications of this story.
1. Use this story to deepen your hatred of sin.
I hope that you feel with a new intensity how sexual abuse, in any of its many forms, is a horrible and hateful thing. What we’ve talked about this morning is a great evil that brings immeasurable pain wherever it manifests itself.
Use this story to strengthen your hatred of sin and to increase your compassion for all those who have suffered because of it. This is never something to be ignored or taken lightly.
2. Use this story to elevate your understanding of love.
In a world where everyone talks about love, there are very few people who actually know what true love is. For Amnon, love was getting what he wanted. For Jonadab, love was going along with his friend. For David, love seems to have been giving his children whatever they wanted, and then turning a blind eye when things went bad.
But true love seeks the good of another person, whatever the cost. Jesus showed us what love is because he came to do us good, and he did it at immeasurable cost. And he says to us: “Love one another: just as I have loved you…” (John 13:34).
3. Use this story to open the door of hope.
Tamar asked the painful question: Where can I carry my shame? And the question remains unanswered in 2 Samuel. But we now know the answer. We can bring it to Jesus.
If you have been abused in any way, you need to believe that Jesus Christ can make your life part of a better story. I want to challenge you to believe that today.
He can take your ashes and replace them with a crown of glory. He can take your robes that are torn, and replace them with the robe of his righteousness. And he can bring you to a place where you are loved and valued. Don’t allow what has happened in the past to become the defining thing in your life. Accept the story of hope that Jesus offers to you.