Some of us have experienced the painful journey of being divorced. It may start with a surprising conversation with your spouse where he shares that he has been having an affair with a woman at work and wants to get a divorce. You experience hurt, anger, betrayal, and inexpressible loss. You begin to experience suffering at a level you never imagined because of the broken choices of your spouse.
Some of us have experienced the difficulties of journeying with someone who has addictive behaviors. Your life is filled with the roller coaster of lies, theft, physical abuse, and then hope when the person promises to get clean, only to have your hopes dashed as she falls of the wagon again and the cycle is repeated.
Others of us have experienced pain through physical abuse, emotional abuse, and sexual abuse as a person continues to live out of their own pain and chooses to inflict that pain on others.
In all of these cases, we experience suffering because of the broken choices of others.
In this post we explore a story in II Samuel 13 where a young woman’s life is ravaged due to the broken choices of a family member. However, in order to better understand our passage, we need to get a better sense of the stories that have come before this one.
A story of bad decisions and indifference
One of the most significant people in the history of Israel was King David. David was able to unify the twelve tribes of Israel and establish his kingdom through wisdom and military might. One day he saw a woman bathing on the rooftop of her house and he had to have her. He had her brought to his palace where he used his power and position to rape her, even though she was the wife of one of his trusted soldiers. The woman becomes pregnant and David does everything he can to cover up the misdeed, but eventually has the man killed in battle to cover up the offense. God sends a prophet to confront him and David repents and seeks forgiveness from God. However, the prophet makes it clear that the consequences of David’s decisions are going to rip his family apart. Our story immediately follows these events where we will witness the words of the prophet come true.
In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. Amnon became frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. II Samuel 13:1-2
We are introduced to the key characters of this story: David, Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom. Amnon is first in line to the throne to David and his stepbrother Absalom is the next in line behind him. We believe we are being told a beautiful love story between Amnon and the attractive sister of Absalom, Tamar. Amnon is deeply in love with his cousin, but is miserable because he believes there is no chance he can be with her because of various social norms or protection surrounding the daughters of the king.
Amnon is unable to hide his misery, and he shares his frustrations with his friend Jonadab.
Now Amnon had a friend named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. 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.”
“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.’ ” II Samuel 13:3-5
Jonadab is the cousin of Amnon and appears to be a friend. After Amnon shares his frustrations, Jonadab provides a brilliant plan for him to gain access to Tamar by pretending to be sick and seeking permission from David for Tamar to aid him in his recovery.
It seems that Jonadab was an important voice in the life of Amnon and provided him with wise advice, but not good advice. Friends are very important in our moral and spiritual development. Our friends can be wonderful teammates in our spiritual growth, but they can also be the voices that draw us away from God.
Consider these questions as you think about the people in your life:
- Who are the voices that you allow in your life?
- Do you have good people around you who speak the truth in love or do you have people around you who simply say what you want to hear?
- Are you the type of friend who says the difficult truths that a friend needs to hear or do you simply say nice things in order to avoid the hassle?
The cycle of bad decisions continues
Amnon listens to Jonadab’s advice and proceeds with the plan.
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.”
David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.” 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. 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. 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. II Samual 13:6-10
King David hears about his son’s illness and makes an appearance to check in on him. Amnon makes the request concerning Tamar and David honors his request, completely unaware of Amnon’s feelings for Tamar or his elaborate scheme. Tamar takes care of her brother as Amnon continues to remove people from the room and drawing her closer to his bedroom.
Tamar enters his room, but when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”
“Don’t, 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. 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.” But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her. II Samual 13:11-14
Amnon grabs his sister and demands that she have sex with him. Amnon appears to be a man driven by his passions and he does not care what the consequences will be at this point. Tamar is the person of wisdom in this story and responds by denying his request, but gives Amnon numerous reasons why this would be wrong, as well as making a legitimate path for them to become married. Amnon does not hear anything she says, but demands her now and rapes her. Amnon did not love Tamar, he only lusted after her and now he makes his heart very clear.
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!”
“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. He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her.” So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. II Samuel 13:15-18
Immediately, Amnon’s lust turns to loathing and he wants Tamar out of his sight. Once he gets what he wants, he now discards her. Tamar is devastated and she continues to be the voice of wisdom by reasoning with Amnon. By sending her away, Amnon is using divorce language, which Tamar fully understands, which causes her even greater devastation than she had experienced before. Amnon was simply a sexual predator with an elaborate scheme, while Tamar was innocent throughout all of these actions.
Tamar now responds to these horrible events, She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore.
Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went. Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet 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. II Samuel 13:19-20
Tamar is faced with a choice: will she quietly accept what was done to her or will she make this public? Tamar chooses to make this public. She tears the ornamented robe she wore as a virgin princess, which is similar to the outfit that Joseph was given from his father Jacob (same word). She publicly proclaims her grief and laments what has been taken from her. Tamar has lost her virginity, future marital prospects, and innocence. Tamar makes this a very public act, making it clear that something has happened and she will not keep this a secret. Tamar is the tragic hero of this story.
We learn that her brother Absalom is aware of her situation and he takes her home to be a member of his household.
I want to pause here to address those of you who have experienced physical or sexual abuse. Can I say how sorry I am that this was done to you and can I make it clear, that it was done to you and that it was not your fault. I do not have any magical words to make your hurt go away, but it is my hope and prayer that you can have the courage and the support of people around you to step into the pain and begin the process of healing.
I would encourage you to go to watch this scene from Good Will Hunting entitled, “It’s Not Your Fault”, and allow that message to sink in. (Disclaimer, this scene does contain swearing.)
A response of indifference
When King David heard all this, he was furious. Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar. II Samuel 13:21-22
David is angered by the actions of Amnon, but here is the really frustrating thing: he does nothing. I believe David is in a difficult place because he realizes that his son Amnon simply did the same thing he did. Sure, he married the woman and Amnon did not, but Amnon did not kill anybody in the process. David’s indifference is rooted in his own broken choices and now those choices have ravaged his own daughter.
Indifference is so difficult to deal with, especially if you have been a victim of any form of abuse. How can people sit by and watch horrible things happening to other people and simply do nothing? The problem continues to exist today. We see horrible things going on in the world and we become angry and indignant about something, but do we ever really act? We like to deceive ourselves through activity on Facebook because it makes us feel like we did something because we hit like or a negative emoji or forward an article, but in reality it is simply indifference of a more sinister kind.
Our story ends with Absalom plotting his revenge on Amnon and this will take two years of planning that will end in Amnon’s murder and the continuation of the consequences of David’s sins.
Making sense of pain and suffering
What are some ideas we can take away from this passage?
I have some thoughts that I hope you will help you dig deeper into this passage, as well as provide some ideas on how to make sense of the pain and suffering you have experienced due to the decisions of others.
1. The sinful decisions of others can decimate our lives. We need to realize that people’s choices do not occur in a vacuum (including our own) and they definitely impact the lives of those around us.
2. The sinful inaction of others will make a broken situation even more broken. The indifference of others or their deliberate choice not to act on our behalf in the midst of horrible acts can sometimes be more hurtful than the actions of the perpetrator. We need to become more active as Jesus followers and become protectors of victims.
3. As hard as it may be to believe, God is present in the midst of these horrible moments and loves you. Please do not interpret these events as God’s abandonment of you. We do not fully understand God’s actions because they seldom meet our expectations, but horrible events in our lives do not mean we have been abandoned: it means that people make choices that can have horrible consequences for us.
4. The responsibility of these horrible events is in the hands of the perpetrators, not the victim. Please hear that the difficult things that have been done to you are not your fault. They are the fault of the victimizer, not you.
5. Healing begins with the truth and a process of grieving. One of the most difficult things is to have the courage to seek the truth about the difficult events in your life and be willing to place blame where it belongs: this may even mean admitting some really awful things about your parents and spouse. Part of this process is being willing to grieve what occurred to you and to feel the weight of those actions and experience fear, hurt, anger, or any other emotions these actions produced.
6. Trauma can be healed through time, prayer, forgiveness, a loving and patient community, and wise counsel. Do not continue on this journey alone. Seek the help of a caring community and possibly professional counselors who can give you the tools and support to journey through the suffering and pain.
A few thoughts for the community for those who have suffered because of the choices of others: Above all, be careful not to re-victimize the victim if he/she does not respond in a way you believe he/she should. Be a supportive listener and let them know you are sorry for what they have gone through.
Finally, I would encourage the community at SPC to continue to grow as a community that is a safe place for people to share their broken stories. May we be a place where hurting people can come and be honest about their pain and be joined by people who will journey with them to a place of health.
For more insight into this topic. Listen to the full message on Decisions & Indifference from Pastor Chuck.