Amnon and Tamar

Warning: This deals with rape and incest and how in ancient times--in patriarchy--women's worth is often tied to their status as either an unmarried virgin or a married woman. I try my best to express that in reality or God's eyes a woman's value is not defined by these things. But your mileage may vary on how great a job I did on that. Feel free to change things up! Once again this is pretty deep topics, but this sort of stuff comes up as early as Middle School and I think it's important to deal with it head on. 

If you were here last week, you’ll remember we talked about how spring David decided to stay home instead of leading his army on the front—as was his duty as king. This led to David abusing his power as king, again and again. First in raping one of his subjects named Bathsheba and second ordering her husband named Uriah to be killed in battle to cover up the fact he got Bathsheba pregnant. God was really not happy with David and this blatant disregard for the law. David sinned and then tried to cover it up with more sin and didn’t even realize what he had done was wrong until confronted by the prophet Nathan.

In the end David did realize he sinned and asked for forgiveness; however, David was still going to have to live with the consequences of his actions and God felt the need to punish David as well, since his sins were so grievous. The punishments God said he would bestow on David were two-fold: First off, the child he had with Bathsheba would die—which as we saw last week did happen. Secondly, there would be discord in David’s own house—in his own family—and the sword—meaning battle and strife—would never leave his family.

This week is where the second half of that punishment begins to unfold. And it all starts with David’s oldest son Amnon.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 13:1-5.

13 In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar,the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.

2 Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.

3 Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. 4 He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?”

Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”

5 “Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”

So Amnon is the first born and heir of David, king of all Israel. If Amnon had been a good son, he might indeed have been king after David one day. But things did not go accordingly, because Amnon decided one day he was “in love” with Tamar. Now I put “in love” in quotations marks, because not only does it become clear very quickly that “love” is not what Amnon feels, but according to my Jewish Bible, Hebrew has no word to distinguish between “in love with” or “to lust after.” So you have to use contextual clues to see which meaning is really intended. In this case, it becomes pretty clear that he is lusting after her and love has nothing to do with it. In fact, the next verse says he becomes “obsessed” with her, so much so that he makes himself sick because he thinks “Oh she is a good virgin girl and she’ll never have anything to do with the likes of me.”

She’s also his half-sister. David is both of their dad. Now in the ancient world, it actually wasn’t all that uncommon among nobility for people to marry their siblings. This is crazy to us. Not only is it illegal in the modern world to marry your sibling, it’s also just icky to think about. But things were different in the ancient world. The pharaohs were well known for marrying their siblings. But the Israelites were not supposed to be like the Egyptians pharaohs, they were supposed to obey God’s law. And there is specifically a law in Leviticus that directly forbids marrying your full or half sibling. Leviticus 20:17 says “If a man marries his sister, the daughter of either his father or his mother, and they have sexual relations, it is a disgrace. They are to be publicly removed from their people. He has dishonored his sister and will be held responsible.”

So Amnon probably wouldn’t be allowed to marry her, and he wanted her, and well…he is his father’s son. So Amnon listens to the advice of his friend Jonadab and basically plots a way for him to be alone with Tamar.

Someone read 2 Samuel 13:6-10.

6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, “I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand.”

7 David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” 8 So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. 9 Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.

“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom.

Amnon pretends to be sick and David is a decent dad who likes his sons, so he comes and visits him to see how he’s doing. And Amnon says he would like his sister Tamar to come and comfort him. David, since he cares for his son and has no reason to suspect anything, sends Tamar out to Amnon—who apparently has his own house. He is a full grown adult living on his own.

So Tamar, once again, suspecting nothing because she has no reason to suspect something to be going on, goes and makes him bread. She goes to serve it to him and he refuses to eat it until they are left alone. And Tamar, having no reason to suspect her brother of wanting to harm her is like “okay.” So everyone leaves and she brings the bread to his bedroom to serve it to him.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 13:11-14.

11 But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”

12 “No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. 13 What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you.” 14 But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

As soon as they are alone he grabs her. And she protests. She says no, over and over again. She even tries to say that if he really wants her, maybe they can go to David and he’ll approve the marriage. Which seems unlikely since it’s against the law, but at this point she would probably say anything to keep such a horrible thing from happening to her.

Amnon ignores her and rapes her.

We talked about last week how rape is still a very prevalent thing in our society. If you guys keep up with the news and current events, you might have heard of the “me too” movement, which is a lot of women talking about how they have been sexually assaulted in their lives. I want to pause a moment on this story because so often when we think of rape we think of the stranger who jumps out of the bushes and attacks someone. But most cases of sexual assault are actually people the victim knows, like in this case.

There would even be some modern people who if something like this happened now would say, “Well what did Tamar expect would happen? She went to a man’s house alone? Obviously she wanted it.” But the Bible is very clear here. Tamar did absolutely nothing wrong. She was asked to help her brother, because he was supposedly sick. She obeyed her father, like a good daughter, and helped her brother, like a good sister. She assumed good intent on the part of Amnon.

When Amnon made his intentions clear, she said “no.” She said it clearly “No, my brother.” And then she even said it again, telling him not to force her, telling him that what he was doing was wrong, reminding him that doing so would disgrace her in the eyes of society, and telling him he was like a wicked fool. And then when that didn’t seem to be working grabbing on to a desperate straw, suggesting he go to the king. Anything just to stop this from happening.

But he didn’t listen to her and the Bible directly says he was stronger than her. Tamar had no chance.

If something like this happens to you, it is not your fault. And remember, rape is not just something men do to women. It can happen to men to. Remember the story of Joseph, and how he was a slave, and his master’s wife tried to force him to have sex with her. Joseph is lucky that he managed to escape, but then because of it, she had him sent to jail. Like Joseph, like Bathsheba, like Tamar, the repercussions of these things are often greater for the victim than for the actual rapist or abuser. And that is so unfortunate. We are very lucky to live in a time where people are actually beginning to talk about these things instead of sweeping them under the rug.

No means no, male or female. And proceeding after someone says no, is rape. Even if it is was someone you were on a date with, even if it’s your spouse. No one owes anyone else sex, and you should always ensure your partner is 100% on-board with whatever is about to happen.

And if something like this has ever happened to you, if someone has ever touched you inappropriately or sexually, or raped you, and I hope to God that has never and will never happen, it is not your fault. It is not Tamar’s fault. It was not Bathsheba’s fault, and it was not Joseph’s fault. The only person at fault is the person who harmed you.

And if something like this has happened to you or does happen to you, and for whatever reason you are afraid to tell your parents, you can always talk to me or Halecia or Megan or any of the pastors at this church.  

Moving on with this Bible story can someone read 2 Samuel 13:15-19.

15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”

16 “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.”

But he refused to listen to her. 17 He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.” 18 So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. 19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.

After he rapes her, Amnon suddenly despise her. Why? I don’t really know, but sometimes there are people who only want things they can’t have. And once they have it, they don’t want them anymore. Perhaps Amnon was like that. And so as soon as he’s done raping her, he’s like “Leave me!”

Now you would think Tamar would be happy to be sent away, to escape her attacker, and in modern days that would be often how a modern woman or victim would react. But things were different in the ancient world. In Deuteronomy 22:28-29 it says, “28 If a man happens to meet a virgin who is not pledged to be married and rapes her and they are discovered, 29 he shall pay her father fifty shekels[a] of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives.”

So according to ancient Israel Biblical law, if a man rapes a virgin, he has to marry her. And then instead of the father paying him a “dowry” which was what fathers in the ancient world often did—they paid money to the man who married their daughter—the man has to pay the father. And then this man—this rapist—can never divorce her.

This seems all sorts of wrong by our modern standards. And in the modern world, no one can make you marry your rapist. So why was the law like this back then?

This goes back to the idea of the “patriarchy” and how women were viewed as property. Raping a woman in the ancient world was basically viewed like…opening a bag of chips in the store. If you open a bag of chips in the store before you buy it, you have to buy it. And if you don’t—if you put it back on the shelf, no one else is going to buy that bag of chips. It’s going to sit on that shelf forever and eventually be thrown out.

So if you opened the bag of chips—if you raped the virgin—you had to buy her. And in that time period—as horrible as it would be to marry your rapist—it would be better than becoming a pariah in society—an outcast—because no one will ever marry you, eventually your parents will die—and you’re a woman so you can’t earn your own living, so you will be destitute and die in poverty.

That’s a really horrible thought for us. That people would think of women as property. And I cannot underscore this enough. God does not think of women as property. God did not create only men in his image and then the women are whatever is leftover. Genesis 1:27 says “in the image of God he created [humans]; male and female he created them.” Women too are the image of God. And in the Old Testament God uses women in unexpected ways to subvert this idea that women are things who men must control. From Rahab hiding spies and making decisions for her entire family, to Ruth who follows her mother-in-law to a new land and then scandalously does what she thinks is right even if in the eyes of society she might be viewed poorly. And even God who is constantly compared to a father in the Old Testament is often compared to a mother. Because God is neither male nor female, even if it’s easier for us to use a male adjective to refer to him. Isaiah 66:13 “As a mother comforts her child, so I [God] ill comfort you.” We also talked about how the first person who even knew Jesus’s name, the person God chose to use to bring Jesus into this world, was a woman. How for the first years of his life, the incarnation of God would be completely dependent on a woman for care and nourishment.

And then there is Jesus. I can’t wait until we reach the stories of Jesus in this class and we can see how Jesus constantly fights the patriarchy, raising women up to be the equal of men even as society fights it. In Jesus’s time Rabbis only taught men, it was considered crazy to teach a woman, but Jesus taught women. When a little girl needed to be healed, in a time when girls weren’t valued, Jesus healed her, because she was just as important to him as any man or boy. And finally when Jesus was resurrected, it wasn’t a man who saw him first, it wasn’t a man who Jesus revealed himself to first. It was a woman. “For a brief, beautiful time after meeting the Resurrected Jesus in the garden, Mary Magdalene was the only Christian in the world.”* Jesus trusted and lifted up women over and over again as the equals of men, that he taught and cared for the same as men, and the fact that women were both the first person who ever knew Jesus—in the case of Mary his mother—and the first person who knew him as he truly was as the Resurrected Christ—in the case of Mary Magdalene, these are important and show that God values women just the same as he values men, and it is society, it is the sin-filled world, it is the sin of patriarchy that doesn’t value women.

So while we are in the Old Testament, yes it can often seem like women are just property and when they do make decisions they are criminalized for it. This is not God’s view of women. This is the view of the men around these women. It is not to God who Tamar is property. It is to David and Amnon who she is just a piece of property.

So this law that says a woman has to marry her rapist, is not because God thinks women are bags of chips. It because God knew all the men of that time viewed women that way. And he made a law that would protect women from being discarded in this harsh cruel world of patriarchy.

Biblically it was Amnon’s duty to marry Tamar. But he refuses to.

So Tamar makes it super obvious what happens. She is loud about, she is acts as if she’s mourning—cuz in many ways she is. She is mourning her trust of her family and her place in society. So you would think her father, David, might care about her and do something about this. You would think he might hold Amnon accountable wouldn’t you?

Well let’s see what he does. Someone please read 2 Samuel 13:20-22.

20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman.

21 When King David heard all this, he was furious [but he would not punish his son Amnon because he loved him, for he was his firstborn]. 22 And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.

Absalom, her brother who has the same mother as her, takes her in. He can’t provide her with a husband or take away the pain of what has happened, but he can—for as long as he lives—provide her a place to stay so that she doesn’t end up destitute and alone. He comforts her as best he can, even if to us it seems a little callous to say “don’t take this horrible thing that happened to you to heart” but he’s trying to be a good brother.

It then says when David heard what happened he was furious but he did nothing. This is something we’re going to see over and over again, David letting his kids off easy when he really shouldn’t.

Meanwhile, Absalom doesn’t say anything good or bad about Amnon, but he is quietly seething.

And as we’ll see planning.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 13:23-29.

23 Two years later, when Absalom’s sheepshearers were at Baal Hazor near the border of Ephraim, he invited all the king’s sons to come there.24 Absalom went to the king and said, “Your servant has had shearers come. Will the king and his attendants please join me?”

25 “No, my son,” the king replied. “All of us should not go; we would only be a burden to you.” Although Absalom urged him, he still refused to go but gave him his blessing.

26 Then Absalom said, “If not, please let my brother Amnon come with us.”

The king asked him, “Why should he go with you?” 27 But Absalom urged him, so he sent with him Amnon and the rest of the king’s sons.

28 Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.” 29 So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled.

Two years pass, two years in which Absalom is seething and hating his brother for the very real crime Amnon did against Tamar. After two years, Absalom finally decides to take matters into his own hands. Because obviously David decided to do nothing to punish Amnon. So Absalom will do it himself.

So Absalom’s plans a sheep-shearing party for all his brothers and he invites David but David says, “No. We shouldn’t all go, that will be too difficult.” Absalom insists that at least Amnon go and David allows it. So all of the King’s sons—his brothers—go with him. And then when they are out there, eating the feast that Absalom made for them, Absalom has his servants kill Amnon.

The rest of his brothers flee in fear.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 13:30-33.

30 While they were on their way, the report came to David: “Absalom has struck down all the king’s sons; not one of them is left.” 31 The king stood up, tore his clothes and lay down on the ground; and all his attendants stood by with their clothes torn.

32 But Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother, said, “My lord should not think that they killed all the princes; only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom’s express intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. 33 My lord the king should not be concerned about the report that all the king’s sons are dead. Only Amnon is dead.”

Before any of his sons arrive back at the palace, David gets a report that Absalom has killed ALL OF HIS SONS. And he freaks out. But Jonadab, who if you’ll remember was Amnon’s friend with the plan, tells him that only Amnon is dead. How does he know? Was he there and got back first? I don’t know. But he definitely knew that Absalom has had it out for Amnon since Amnon raped Tamar. And assures him only Amnon, David’s heir, is dead.

Someone please read 2 Samuel 13:34-39.

34 Meanwhile, Absalom had fled.

Now the man standing watch looked up and saw many people on the road west of him, coming down the side of the hill. The watchman went and told the king, “I see men in the direction of Horonaim, on the side of the hill.”[a]

35 Jonadab said to the king, “See, the king’s sons have come; it has happened just as your servant said.”

36 As he finished speaking, the king’s sons came in, wailing loudly. The king, too, and all his attendants wept very bitterly.

37 Absalom fled and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur. But King David mourned many days for his son.

38 After Absalom fled and went to Geshur, he stayed there three years.39 And King David longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon’s death.

Absalom feels rather than go back to Jerusalem, but the other sons come back and David is reassured that they’re not all dead. But David id still devastated by Amnon’s death.

Absalom stays away for three years, but eventually David wants him to come back. And eventually David does forgive him and bring him back to Jerusalem.

However, that is not the end of Absalom’s story, which we’ll pick up with next week.