Recently I’ve been meditating on the rape of Tamar and the coming of the Christ. These two are connected.
This might need some explaining. King David was anointed by God Himself. He was the king “after God’s own heart.” After the oppression and abuse against him by King Saul in 1 Samuel, your heart is cheering as David is finally anointed king. The good guys won! You expect the fairy tale ending, “And they all lived happily ever after…”
But the accounts of Israel’s history rarely end that way. Ever since sin entered into the world, our stories never end well. David was a righteous king – compared with Saul. But he was never really the point of the account. If salvation could come by government, David’s kingdom would have succeeded and Christ need not have come. But the problem with the world is universal. Not even David is immune. The sin that lies in the heart of every man also lies in the heart of David – and not “sin” in the mild “everyone sins” kind of way, but hateful, ugly, destructive and vile sin.
Like every good story teller, the author of 2 Samuel doesn’t just give us a treatise on total depravity and our need for a greater king and greater savior; instead, he shows us. David’s fall into murder and adultery has consequences for his whole family, including his virgin daughter, Tamar.
Tamar is beautiful, which means she is a target for the kingdom of the devil who hates beauty. Her half-brother Amnon is consumed with lust for her. His lust is not a lust for her beauty, but the lust of a hungry wolf in the presence of a sheep. His lust to kill, consume and destroy has been sexualized, which is what rape is.
He is constricted by Tamar’s position as a daughter of the king and one thing a man like Amnon hates is to be restricted by anything. He has two conflicting beliefs going on. First, he believes as the crown prince that he is entitled to whatever he wants. And second, the king has the authority to command. So what happens when the king’s rights conflict with the prince’s “rights”? It is this conflict that consumes Amnon and makes him sick. To Amnon, Tamar’s personhood and will don’t even enter into it. She’s just an object to be used.
Amnon, like all wicked men, has an advisor that promises to help him through the dilemma. Jonadab says, “Go to your sick bed. When your father comes to visit, ask him to send Tamar to nurse you back to health.”
And Amnon does. We are not told why David didn’t see through such a ridiculous ruse, but based on simple observation, we can make an educated guess. People have no problem confessing total depravity when it comes to people that are different than they are. If one is outside of your circles, you have no problem with confessing their corruption. It is easy to see the sin of Philistines, Moabites – even those of other tribes. The sins of Benjamin are easy to see if you are from Judah.
But where it hits hard is when you are confronted with the total depravity of your children, your brothers, your sisters, your church. “Those kinds of things don’t happen in Israel!” “Not in my church. Not in my family. Not in my tribe.”
But sin doesn’t give us a pass because of who we descended from. In fact, it is the opposite. It is precisely because of who we descended from that we are all conceived and born in sin.
Even Amnon. Would David have allowed a non-family member to be alone with his daughter under such a flimsy excuse? I think not.
At any rate, David commands Tamar to attend to her brother. Tamar makes food for poor, sick Amnon and he watches her. She brings the bread to him, but he refuses to eat. Then he sends everyone else out of the room.
Tamar stands there alone, afraid, powerless. He commands her, “Come here. Lie with me.”
She protests strongly. “A thing like this shouldn’t be done in Israel!”
She begs him. She pleads for him to remember pity. “Where will I take my shame? I will spend the rest of my life ashamed and reproached. Unable to marry. Unable to live. What will I do? Who will take this shame away from me if you do this horrible thing.”
She pleads with him to remember his own reputation. “You will go down as a fool in Israel! Why would you do such a thing?”
She even gives him a desperate alternative, “Ask our father to give me to you as wife. He won’t withhold me from you!” It seems desperate, but it is her only option in that culture before Christ. If she is raped, no one will marry her. She will be cut off without children, without protection, without support. She will have nothing but shame and reproach. Even today, in many cultures a girl who is raped faces excommunication from her family, her people, and sometimes is even tried and punished as an adulterer. The devil’s kingdom is ugly, hateful and cruel. How many women do we know who have been driven from their churches and families even in America because they were raped?
Amnon refuses to listen. He wants to destroy her innocence and beauty. His destructive desires are sexually charged. He is not lusting after her beauty. He is lusting after her destruction. So he forces her, because he is stronger than she is. And he rapes her.
The word “forces” is the Hebrew word, ‘anah, which means to afflict, oppress, humble. We will come back to that word.
After Amnon is done with her, he hates her. He hated her before, but now he has what he wants from her. He says, “Get up and get out.”
She weeps. She pleads. It is now clear to Tamar that it was not an act of extreme love gone bad, but an act of hatred and destruction. All rape is about destroying the image of God. It is never about love or even desire. It is about hatred and defacing God’s image.
Amnon calls in his servant and has her thrown out of the room. She leaves the room in tears. She tears her robe – the special robe of honor worn by the king’s daughters – and flees to Absalom’s house. Absalom is Tamar’s full brother.
Absalom immediately knows what happened and tells her, “Be quiet. Don’t take it to heart. He’s your brother.”
God gave men and women a wonderful gift when he created them. It was a gift of communication. Words and thoughts, the ability to hear, to meditate, to express. It is unique to man out of all creatures under the sun. We can open our lips, choose words and fellowship with one another and with God. We can talk about our feelings, our likes and dislikes.
We can use words like “love”; “joy”; “peace” – as well as “hatred,” “ justice,” “abuse.”
But the devil and his kingdom hate God and hate his image. He seeks the destruction of the voice, of the personhood, of the will. He seeks the annihilation and defacement of beauty and love.
The most effective way to achieve all of these goals of the devil is through rape. For this reason a rapist was not allowed to live in Israel under Moses’s law. There wasn’t anything to be done with him. A man who rapes is a man completely given over to the power of the devil and must be removed from society.
And rape removes the voice. Where will she take her disgrace? Does she have two or three witnesses? Does she have the courage to stand up to her attacker in an assembly of men who in her mind are just like her attacker? She tells her church, and is told to just be quiet. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t ruin the ministry. She tells the magistrate, and is often left just like Tamar. David knew about it. He was angry, but did nothing.
Her choice is gone, because he is stronger than she is. Her voice is gone – silenced by threats, intimidation, coercion. Where will she take her shame?
This is the hopelessness of the kingdom of the devil. After Absalom takes Tamar into his house, we are left with this: “And Tamar lived with Absalom, desolate, in her brother’s house.” She then disappears from the sacred record – except in the mind of God.
Her question still hangs in the air, leaving us empty and hungry for a solution. “Where will I take my shame?”
Many centuries later, Isaiah comes on the scene. He writes,
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion– to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isa 61:1-3 ESV)
The good news, the gospel, is proclaimed to the “poor”. The Hebrew word, as you may have guessed by now, is ‘anah – Afflicted, forced, humiliated, poor
And who is this one of whom Isaiah speaks? Does he speak of himself or does he speak of another?
When Jesus of Nazareth began to preach in Capernaum, he opened his Bible to this passage and read it. Then he said,
“Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luk 4:21 ESV)
Do you see? Do you see that Isaiah is giving the answer to Tamar’s question? Do you see those for whom Jesus came? He came into this world in the womb of another virgin daughter of Israel. He came for all who have been broken, bowed, and afflicted. He came for those who have been abused, raped, and humbled. He calls to the broken-hearted, those with no strength, and those who have been the victims of every Amnon of this present world. His gospel is for the weak, the downtrodden – those who mourn.
He never told the outcasts to “be quiet”. He spoke with them. He listened to them. But more importantly than all of that, he brought to them good news. He came to set his people free. He came to give a voice to the voiceless, justice to the oppressed, mercy to the repentant. He came to set the prisoner free.
I know that the world is full of those who are like Tamar. I know many of you personally and see the gospel of Jesus alive in you. Christ has indeed fulfilled his promise and proclaimed the good news to you and has called you his own.
If Tamar’s story is yours and you do not know Jesus, learn of him. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. He hates Amnon, and destroyed the power of the one behind Amnon on the cross. He bore the curse in his own body and then rose from the dead, proclaiming the season of God’s favor to all who are hopeless and voiceless. He came to restore the damaged image of God in you – to restore your beauty, your voice, your will, your courage.
You are fearfully and wonderfully made, a daughter of the king who will never look away and refuse you justice. You have your voice restored to confess his name. You have your will restored to choose for yourself whom you will serve. Have the courage to come out of the kingdom of oppression and darkness and bondage and follow your savior.
If we call ourselves Christians, should we not strive to imitate our Lord? Do we follow him and give the gospel to the Tamars of the world – justice and mercy and renewed hope? Or are we more like Absalom; “Be quiet, sister; don’t take the matter to heart.”
May God give us the courage to proclaim faithfully the gospel of the kingdom of Christ, even when the kingdom of the devil threatens and fumes. May we stand firm.