No More Tamars

After I began to accept and process my rape, I read everything I could get my hands on regarding rape. I read books and I also searched the Bible to see what it had to say about rape. As I searched the Bible I came across the story of Tamar. There are two Tamars in the Bible, one in Genesis and one in 2 Samuel. I want to focus on the latter. This Tamar was the daughter of King David, a man known as being a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14 NIV).

Tamar’s story was tragic. Tamar was said to be beautiful (2 Samuel 13:1 NIV). Her half-brother, Amnon, the first in line to the throne, noticed her beauty and fell in love with her (2 Samuel 13:1 NIV). Although, it says he fell in love with her, I think it would be better described as he was consumed with lust for Tamar. His actions soon proved there was no love for her found in him. In fact, he lusted for her so strongly, and obsessed over he so much, he made himself physically ill. As his half-sister she was “forbidden fruit.” Leviticus 18:11 clearly states that it is unlawful for an Israelite man to sleep with his sister. Perhaps in Amnon’s eyes this made her even more desirable as something he couldn’t and shouldn’t have.

Amnon’s cousin, friend and confidant, Jonadab, noticed how ill he had become. Jonadab is a “very shrewd man (2 Samuel 13:3 NIV),” however I would call him downright evil. He asked Amnon what was bothering him. Amnon shared with Jonadab that he was in love with his sister Tamar. Now, instead of being shocked or discouraging Amnon’s unnatural feelings toward his sister, he immediately devised a terrible plan to get Amnon what he wanted. Jonadab laid out a plan for Amnon to rape his sister. Problem solved. Amnon would get what he wanted. Jonadab saw that Amnon didn’t truly love his sister. He simply wanted to sleep with her. Amnon had no honorable intentions toward his sister.

To Tamar (and Amnon’s) detriment, Amnon listened to his friend’s advice. He pretended to be even sicker than he already was, to the point that his father King David came to visit him (2 Samuel 13:6 NIV). When his father visited, he requested that his sister Tamar be sent to him to make him bread in his sight and feed it to him (2 Samuel 13:6 NIV). King David saw no harm in this. His firstborn son was ill and requested his sister to help nurse him back to health. King David was unsuspecting. He had no idea the evil intentions Amnon had for his sister and neither did she. King David obliged.

Tamar willingly went to nurse her brother Amnon. After all, he was her older brother, one who should have protected and loved her. In 1 Chronicles 3:1-9, David’s sons are mentioned and at the end of this list of sons it states: “and Tamar was their sister (NASB).” No other sisters are mentioned.  Why should she suspect anything? She didn’t. Red Flags aren’t even raised, when he sent everyone out of their presence and requested that she bring the bread to him in bed (2 Samuel 13:9-10 NIV). After all, he was very ill, presumably too weak to come to her. However, when she reached his bed with the bread: “he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister (2 Samuel 13:11 NIV).” Now his intentions were frightfully obvious. She knew he intended to rape her:

“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 (2 Samuel 13:12-13 NIV) .”

She immediately tried to reason with him. I am amazed at her response. Despite the severity of the situation and the fear she must have faced she kept her wits about her.

She gave him four very good reasons not to rape her. First, it’s wicked, remember Leviticus 18:11? Second, she would be disgraced. Third, Amnon would be disgraced, thought of as a fool. He was the next in line for the throne, public opinion of him was important. Would Israel stand for a foolish King? Fourth, just ask the King for her in marriage. I am not sure if she truly believed the King would go against the law and allow them to marry, or if she was just trying to get herself out of harm’s way. Regardless he ignored her pleas:

But he refused to listen to her, since he was stronger than she, he raped her (2 Samuel 13:14 NIV).”

If I had to sum up my rape in one sentence that would be it: “But he refused to listen to her, since he was stronger than she, he raped her (2 Samuel 13:14 NIV).” It just makes my stomach turn to read that. Poor Tamar. Just one brief sentence contains so much pain and horror. I never knew one act could be so devastating until I was raped. My eyes were opened to a whole new kind of fear when I was physically overpowered and raped. For such a brief statement, there is so much more to the act of being raped. The devastation to the victim. The emotional torment, depression and hopelessness that can ensue, originating in one brief statement: “But he refused to listen to her, since he was stronger than she, he raped her (2 Samuel 13:14 NIV).”

After Amnon raped her he turned on her even further, and treated her with disgust and disdain. The Bible says he “hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her (2 Samuel 13:15 NIV).” Then he yelled at her: “Get up and get out (2 Samuel 13:15 NIV)!” He couldn’t even stand to be in her presence after he raped her. Tamar refused to leave. According to The Law, Amnon’s actions would have required that he take Tamar as his wife (Deuteronomy 22:29 NIV). Sending her away in disgust implied that he had no intentions of “redeeming” the situation and doing what was required of him to right his wrong. She told him: “No…Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me (2 Samuel 13:16 NIV).” She wanted him to do the right thing, but he refused. She meant nothing to him. His lust had been satisfied and now he was done with her.

When she refused to leave, “He called his personal servant and said, “Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her (2 Samuel 13:17 NIV).” “This woman.” Not my sister, just “this woman.” You can almost sense his disgust, disdain and complete disregard for her. He raped her and then had her immediately thrown out of his house. Not only thrown out of his house, but he commanded that the door be bolted after she was thrown out. That was incredibly harsh. Now that he had raped her, he wanted nothing to do with her. He completely rejected her.

Since Tamar was a virgin daughter of the King, she was wearing an ornate robe. After she was thrown out of Amnon’s house, “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 (2 Samuel 13:19 NIV).” Tearing her ornate garment symbolized that she had lost her special standing as a virgin daughter of the King and the ruin of her life (MacArthur, 438). “The ashes were a sign of mourning…The hand on the head was emblematic of exile and banishment. The crying showed that she viewed herself as good as dead (MacArthur, 438).” She was devastated.

She went directly to her full-brother’s house, Absalom. When Absalom saw her he immediately knew what happened: “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 (2 Samuel 13:20 NIV).” For the time being, Absalom seemingly dismissed the rape. He told her basically not to take it personally or worry about it. At first glance, I would say his response is incredibly insensitive. However, he was plotting revenge. Two years later, he had his servants kill Amnon as revenge for this crime against his sister. However, for the time being all he tells Tamar is to keep quiet. Don’t tell anyone, because he is your brother. Essentially, I believe he was telling her to forget it and go on as if nothing had happened. How could she keep quiet? How could she act as if nothing happened? I am sure people saw her fleeing her brother Amnon’s house a complete wreck. News of what had happened reached King David, so no doubt people knew what had happened and were talking about it. Yet, Tamar was told to do the impossible: go on as if nothing had ever happened.

I will revisit the second part of verse 20 in a minute, but I want to skip ahead to verse 21 for a moment: When King David heard all this, he was furious (2 Samuel 13:21 NIV).” As the King, he was the head of Israel. Not only was he the King of Israel, but he was the father of Tamar and Amnon. As a father, should he not have acted on their behalf? Should he not have intervened and demanded justice for his daughter? There is no mention of him visiting his daughter Tamar, as he did his first-born son Amnon, amidst her pain and suffering. He was responsible for keeping order, yet when his firstborn son raped his daughter, he did nothing beyond being furious.

There is no mention that he took any action whatsoever. He could have rectified the situation. He could have held Amnon accountable. Out of mercy for Amnon, David could have required him to marry Tamar as per Deuteronomy 22:29:

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 of silver. He must marry the young woman, for he has violated her. He can never divorce her as long as he lives (NIV).

David however did not enforce this (even though I think this practice would have been horrific for the victim, culturally it was a different time). However, the other consequence required of the law was execution for such an act (Deuteronomy 22:23-24 NIV). David didn’t demand justice. He was “furious,” but he didn’t hold his eldest son accountable and thus help his daughter as well. If he had demanded justice I believe her fate would have been different.

The last mention of Tamar is the second half of verse 20:

“And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman (2 Samuel 13:20 NIV).”

As an unmarried woman, she had no other option, but to remain with family and she chose to remain in her full-brother’s home. He would look after her, provide for her and protect her. The description of Tamar breaks my heart: “a desolate woman.” The Orthodox Jewish Bible uses the term: “shomemah,” which translates: “desolate, appalled, causes horror, destitute, destroy, devastations, horrified, ravaged, ruined (1).” While most translations describe her as desolate, other descriptions include: “bitter and desolate (MSG),” “secluded (AMP),” “a broken woman (CEB),” “sad and lonely (NLV),” “desolate and inconsolable (EXB),” “depressed (GW),” “devastated (NET),” “very lonely (NIRV),” & “mourned her state (WYC).”

As I read all those descriptions I could not help but flashback to after I was raped. I experienced every single one of those reactions and emotions. But for the Grace of God I would still be trapped in that place as Tamar remained. My heart aches for Tamar, and for other “Tamars” who are stuck in that place of complete and total devastation! God never intended for anyone to live in bondage and that is exactly what that is:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1 NIV).

In a broken and evil world, we are faced with unimaginable evil, but we are not to be overcome by it:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21 NIV).

Jesus encourages us too:

 “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33 NIV).”

My prayer for every rape survivor is that they find hope and healing. That no rape survivor is ever described like Tamar as “a desolate woman.” As a person who is never able to move beyond what has been done to them. God can bring healing. God can restore hope. Jesus came:

“…to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners     and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Luke 4:18-19 NIV).”

May no one remain in the desolation, bondage and oppression of rape!

  1. NAS Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible with Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries Copyright © 1981, 1998 by The Lockman Foundation All rights reserved Lockman.org
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