November 20, 2014.
I was talking with a good friend today about stories in the Old Testament that are less popular but could have some applications to our lives and I thought about the story of Amnon and Tamar, half-brother/sister by their father, King David. When asked about what this has to do with our lives today, I thought about six lessons we can draw from this story where sin takes its toll on a whole family and apply certain truths to our lives so that we can avoid the mistakes made in this story. Before you read on, I would suggest reading II Samuel 13 to get the entire story as it will make the points much easier to understand.
This story comes right after the prophet Nathan rebuked David for his sin with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah, one of David’s mighty men. David had been reigning as King for some time now, and he decided that he wanted Bathsheba, so he sent for her and committed adultery with her, eventually sending her husband to his death in battle to cover up the sin. When all of this blew up in David’s face, he didn’t get defensive, but owned up to his sin and repented. His sin was removed, but he still had to live with the consequences. One of those consequences was that “the sword would never depart from his house,” a phrase basically meaning that he would always have something bad going on in his family.
This begins in the very next chapter (well, if you count the death of his newborn, then it begins in the same chapter) with the rape of one of his daughters, Tamar, by her half brother, Amnon. Amnon falls “in love” with his sister to the point where he makes himself ill over her because he knows he can’t have her. But along comes his good for nothing cousin Jonadab and tells Amnon, “Hey, you’re the son of the King! You can have whatever you want!” So they then devise a plan where Amnon and Tamar would be alone together and he violates here in a shameful act of lustful sin. Afterwards, Amnon hates Tamar and sends her away. When the thing is known, the King gets very angry. Absolam, another son of the King and Tamar’s full brother, hates Amnon with a cold, calculating hatred. He waits for two years to pass before exacting his revenge, striking down Amnon in cold blood without warning. When this story gets back to David, he first is told that Absolam has killed all his sons. David tears his clothes in lament over this. But when David finds out that it is only Amnon that has been killed, he is relieved, but he still morns for his son Amnon.
If you just read this story in a modern translation without all the verse numbers and chapter numbers, you might think this story came straight out of a Hollywood thriller. It is full of family drama and the consequences of bad decisions and sin. There are at least six things that I think we should consider from this story, most of which to avoid the evils that befell this family. Let dive deeper.
1. Drives are strong; we must be aware of this.
“Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her.”
(II Samuel 13:1-2)
There is one sin in the bible that we are told repeatedly to flee: sexual immorality. In the wake of other sins we might read that we are to be steadfast, or we are to resist, but with sexual immorality we are told to just run. Get away. Remove yourself from the situation. This is what Joseph had to do when Potipher’s wife tried to get him to lay with her. He fled the scene when she pressed hard. We are told to do likewise. But why?
At least for men (though I know some women struggle with this too), the sex drive is almost an overwhelming thing. I said almost. Our lust and desire are such strong motivators, and once something is set in our mind, it is very hard to fight against that drive. Amnon’s lust for his half-sister was so intense that he made himself physically ill over it. I don’t know if you have gotten to that point (though not necessarily with your half-sister), but I would say that I have almost been to that point at least. If you have not experienced this, then it is really hard to convey the feeling. The sex drive is so powerful.
This is why we are told to flee. One of the best ways to fight against sexual temptation is to simply get away from the temptation and hope the harm hasn’t already been done. Run away. Distract yourself. Do not try to stay in the situation and “be strong.” You are very likely to fail. Amnon failed, and failed hard. We need to recognize that this drive is so powerful if we are to take the correct precautions to overcome it. If we pretend like it’s not a big deal, then we will not be adequately prepared. We would be playing with fire.
2. Unwise counsel is… well unwise.
“But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. And he said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.” Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’”
(II Samuel 13:3-5)
It’s pretty obvious in retrospect that a bad counsel is not a good thing and in this case led Amnon to a horrible decision. But during the moment of temptation, I believe we often fail to recognize what bad counsel is. Even in times of no temptation and we are just making a decision, we can fail to recognize bad counsel. To be clear, if you want to do something (especially something you know you probably shouldn’t), I promise you that you can find someone who will tell you it is a good idea. Anon had a cousin that told him that raping his half-sister was a good idea since he was the King’s son. Can you imagine? How could someone give such bad counsel? And who would it take to listing to such bad counsel? But Amnon wanted to do the deed, thus he was more than willing to listen.
As we go throughout our lives, so much of what we do is influenced by what other’s think. We can deny this all we want, but in practice, when there are people who tell us we should do a certain thing or live a certain way, we tend to follow their advise, to differing degrees. This is especially true when we want to do something but we know we shouldn’t, or we are on the fence about it. As long as we have a few people (or in Amnon’s case just one) tell us it is alright, then that justifies the action in our mind and we typically carry it out. This is nothing new, as I believe that it is human nature. It is for this reason that we need to be very careful who we take counsel with and consider other people’s words instead of just accepting them at face value. And more importantly, we should take counsel with the Lord above all, studying His word to see what we should do in any given situation. If human counsel goes against godly counsel, then we should reject human counsel, though it may be very hard to do. Amon knew that he couldn’t have his half-sister in this way, that’s why he made himself physically ill. But when he got bad counsel that told him what he wanted to hear, he changed his mind.
We do not need to seek out counsel that is only going to tell us what we want to hear. We need to seek out wise counsel.
3. It is hard to own up to our actions.
“But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!”But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her.He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.”
(II Samuel 13:14-17)
This part of the story seems to be spot on what we would do today. When we do something sinful and guilt starts to set in, what is one of the first reactions we have? We tend to project our guilt in other ways or on to the object of our sin as a way to pass the blame. This is exactly what Amnon did. After he had violated Tamar, a sin that was completely his own, he hated her. He couldn’t stand to look at her and sent her away. He could see all the evil he had done by looking at her, and I just don’t think he could stand it. Yet, instead of owning up to what he had done, he projected his guilt onto her and would not look at her anymore.
We often do the same thing. It is very hard for us to own up to sin. This is, at least in part, due to our pride. If we admit that we have sinned, we are admitting that we have failed. We are admitting that we have made a bad decision. We are admitting that we are indeed flawed. It’s much easier to pass the blame and just try and forget about what we did, hiding from the consequences. This is what Amnon tried to do. His plan would ultimately prove to be futile.
The lesson that we should take from this is that when we sin, we should own up to our sin. We should be ready to take the consequences. We should also know that we are not alone, as everyone on earth sins. We all mess up, make mistakes and bad decisions. We are a flawed people. But Christ came to give His life as a ransom, to cleanse us from these sins, so long as we own up to them.
“This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”
(I John 1:5-10)
4. Hatred will lead us to bad things.
“And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar.”
(II Samuel 13:20-22)
Sometimes when I read through this story, this part gives me chills. Just think about how cold and calculating Absalom was. When he found out that his sister had been raped by Amnon, he hated him thoroughly, so much so that he wouldn’t even express his hatred, probably already planning his revenge. Absalom waited two full years. Two full years! I can only imagine what that hatred he harbored did to his soul in those years, and the rest of his life seems to be an indication of how evil it made him. Hatred is a strong, strong motivator, which can lead us to doing things that seem inconceivable when we are not in this emotional time. For two years, Absalom plotted his revenge, and then he cunningly carried it out, striking down Amnon in cold blood, without warning.
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
There is a reason that Paul gives us this admonishment. There is a reason that Jesus told us to love our enemies. Hatred is a bad thing, and it will eat away at your soul. When we harbor hatred, our own future gets destroyed, not necessarily the future of the one we hate. It only serves to degrade us. This is not a hidden concept. Many books and movies convey this very well, as a character that is good in the beginning starts to harbor hatred and is slowly turned into a very evil person who doesn’t think he or she could ever get back to where they were in the beginning. Absalom went on to undermine his father, displace him as King and sleep with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel. He lived a very wicked life, and I believe that this harboring of hatred had a lot to do with the man he became.
What’s our lesson? No matter how evil of a action that has been taken against us or our family, we should avoid hatred at all cost. Nothing good will come to our soul if we start harboring hatred. Period.
5. Lack of spiritual leadership is detrimental to a family.
“When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.”
(II Samuel 13:21)
He was very angry. That is all that is said about the actions that David took when he found out about Amnon’s actions. He just got angry. As far as we know, no disciplinary action was taken. There were no written repercussions. We can infer that Amnon soon came back into good graces with the King, as nothing evil is said about him two years later. A lot of this is speculation, but I think we can see a pattern in David’s life after his sin with Bathsheba.
In class last night, a point was made that many godly men in the Old Testament raised horrible children. This is certainly true. David did not seem to provide the right kind of spiritual leadership that he needed to with his children. Amnon raped his half-sister. Absalom grew up to be a thoroughly wicked man. And Solomon was led away to foreign gods via his love for foreign women towards the end of his life. Why did David’s children not turn out to be all that godly even though David was a man after God’s own heart?
I think the answer can be implied from stories like this. When he found out about Tamar, he really didn’t do anything. When he found out about Absalom killing Amnon, he really didn’t do anything. When Absalom came to take over his throne, David just left without standing up to him. I believe, though can’t overtly prove it, that David’s spiritual leadership was severely dampened after his great sin with Bathsheba. It almost seems like he gave up. He thought he was no longer good enough. Yes, he still incorporates God into his life and it seems he maintained part of his spirituality, if not most of it. But you don’t read any more stories like his courageous encounter with Goliath, or his loyalty to God through not killing King Saul when he was given the chance or his humility when taking the throne. “Man after God’s own heart” stories, so to speak, kind of slack off after his sin with Bathsheba.
Spiritual leadership in a family is key to a successful raising of children. We need to heed this warning and be sure that our house is well equipped.
6. We must learn about the culture to understand the bible.
“And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!” But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her.”
(II Samuel 13:15c-16)
Though this is not implicit in the story, I think one thing that we can learn from this is our need to understand the culture in which the words of the bible were written in before we can understand what’s really going on. When you read the passage above, does not not sound strange? Why would Tamar say sending her away would be a worse evil than the rape he had just committed? To us, this sounds like nonsense. But with a better understanding of culture and Mosaic law, we can make much better sense of it.
“If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.”
This too sounds awful to us in the 21st century, but you must understand the culture. First of all, before this it was written that if the woman that was raped was married, then the rapist would be put to death. This is a key point. So, if she wasn’t married, why would he only have to pay 50 shekels of silver and then take her as his wife? In Jewish culture, an unmarried woman who was not a virgin had little to no hope of real survival. If she was not married, she would not be able to function well in society. Thus, this marriage was actually a protection to the woman. Notice that the point is clearly made that the rapist could never divorce her for any reason. This was to ensure that she would live a protected life and be sustained throughout it. This why if the woman was married, then the rapist would simply be put to death. She didn’t need to be sustained, because she had a husband. This is why Tamar said that Amnon did a worse evil by putting her away. He was basically banishing her to a life of poverty and hardship. Fortunately, or as fortunate as can be, Absalom took her in to his house.
This shows our need to understand culture to understand the bible. If this was taken outside of its cultural context, it would not make any sense to us whatsoever. It is so cool to me when I make connections between different parts of the bible like this. It is amazing how it all fits together to produce a cohesive story. I am amazed with the Almighty and the narrative he has given for us to read. Let us study His word with great passion.
Suggested Daily Reading: II Samuel 11-14.
The Lord give you strength.