The second “Text of Terror” story in Phylis Trible’s book is that of King David’s daughter, Tamar (2 Sam.13). If Hagar’s story was like Days of Our Lives, then Tamar’s is definitely something out of a Law & Order: SVU episode: A selfish brother, blinded by lust, horrifyingly violates his sister; a wicked friend helps plot the incestuous transgression; a father passively lets a crime done to his daughter go unpunished; a brother takes justice into his own hands committing murder on behalf of his sister; and a girl, once beautiful and pure, now scarred and scorned for the rest of her life.
Before the Crime (vv.1-7)
The story opens up by introducing the main characters: Absalom, Tamar, Amnon, and King David. Shockingly enough, Tamar’s half-brother Amnon falls in love with his beautiful sister, even to the point of illness (v.2). Amnon became obsessed with his lust for his sister and sought the help of his friend Jonadab, “a very crafty man” (v.3) who came up with a scheme to fool King David and get Tamar alone. Amnon plays the innocent sick victim to his father. David, wanting to make his son happy, unknowingly hands his daughter into Amnon’s devious hands.
The Crime (vv. 7-17)
After King David sent for Tamar to do Amnon’s bidding, she followed her father’s order and immediately went to take care of her “sickly” brother. As soon as Tamar got close to Amnon, he immediately tried to persuade her to “lie with him.” Without letting fear overcome her, she tells him, “Do not do this foolish thing, for it is not done in Israel.” Trible comments, “Her appeal is to the custom of their people, not to divine law or inner feelings” (45). But Lev.18:9 says the Law of the Lord forbids incestuous relationships. Tamar was appealing to the Law of Yahweh, not just a custom.
Amnon’s lust means both will be shamed among the people of Israel so Tamar seeks an alternative. Their father, the highest human authority, could give them permission for his desires to be fulfilled but in a proper way (v.13). She knows David will not deny Amnon the ability to marry Tamar, but Amnon could not be negotiated with. Amnon did not want to even hear her voice (v.14), it disturbed the fantasy, and so “being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.”
The text shows he did not actually love Tamar but was only filled with selfish lust. After he used her, his heart was filled with great hatred for her (v.15). True to fashion, the rapist is now done with his prey and he no longer wants his victim to be in front of him. Yet again, Tamar is shown to have strength and courage in the face of her attacker. She refuses to go because that would condemn her to lifelong sentence of isolation and shame from her people. She would be no different or any less in the eyes of God but her culture would unfortunately think differently. But yet again, Amnon did not want to hear his victim so he kicks “this thing” out like a disposable item rather than a woman created by God.
After the Crime (vv. 19-29)
Tamar left and sought consolation not from her father, but from her brother. Perhaps, she thought she couldn’t rely on her father David since he sent her to Amnon. Perhaps, her brother’s home was the safest place she could think of immediately after the crime. All we know for sure is that in her time of greatest need, she sought out her brother rather than her father.
As shocking as Amnon’s actions were, the next reaction is abominable. When King David heard about the crime committed against his own daughter he became angry, so angry he did ….NOTHING. He sought no justice for his daughter so instead Absalom becomes her advocate. Years later, Absalom’s hatred for Amnon leads him to murder his brother (v.32). The king did nothing so Absalom felt he had to take matters into his own hands, instead of letting the Lord take revenge (Deut. 32:35;Rom.12:19).
What does this all mean?
Unfortunately, because of Amnon’s lust, the princess suffered the immediate consequences. The greatest sins in this story were committed by two humans (Amnon and David) who didn’t follow God’s commands. That’s the way it can be in our own lives. Another person’s bad decisions can directly or indirectly hurt you deeply but remember that God is the one fighting for you, defending you, and there to comfort you through any pain you might have (Ps.23:4; 86:17). He will also be the Great Judge in the end and perfect justice will be had over the Enemy.
Phyllis Trible condemns David’s actions during this story and she does so rightly. He knew exactly what had happened to his daughter but did nothing. Trible makes an interesting note, “How appropriate that the story never refers to David and Tamar as father and daughter!” (53). David did not act as a father should. It was his job to protect Tamar and not let the grievance go unpunished, no matter how much he loved Amnon. David did not follow the example of his heavenly Father and provide a covering and safe place for his daughter, before or after she was violated. This may be one of the huge lessons of the story: how important the role of a father can be in his daughter’s life. Whether good or bad, it has a huge impact.
It is true that some theologians throughout the years have minimized the tragedy done to Tamar, but God never advocated their stance nor is it advocated in Scripture. And even though God isn’t really mentioned doesn’t mean He wasn’t involved. He saw everything and knew exactly what she was feeling. He hurt for His daughter (Ps.103:13; Isa. 63:9). God chose this story to be a part of Scripture for a reason and Tamar was used as a courageous example of strength and grace. In the people’s eyes, she may have been a desolate woman, but God saw her as the beautiful princess He created.
Some, like Trible, question how God could have stayed silent during such a tragedy, and yet when I read this story my mind always remembers the soveriegnty and goodness of God. When it comes right down to it: who are we to question the ways of God? He lets sin happen for a reason. Sometimes it’s to teach us or make our faith stronger but He has His perfect reasons (Ps.145:17). We can be assured He can work through anyone’s sin, anyone’s hurt, and He can use it to glorify Himself!
God chooses to end the story of Tamar with a homage from her brother. Absolam lovingly names his daughter after Tamar “and she became a beautiful woman (2 Sam.14:27).” “From aunt to niece have passed name and beauty so that the rape and desolation have not the final word in the story of Tamar.” (55) God redeemed her this much on earth, how much more will He in heaven?
If you’ve had an injustice done to you, God will deal with it. God will be a warrior on your behalf (Ex. 14:14;15:1-7)! He only asks for you to keep following Him, be patient, and continue on in love and good deeds until the day you are joined with Him in heaven so He can fully heal and comfort you in His arms. Be strong and courageous until that day!