"The Abuse of Tamar"
2 Samuel 13:1-22
A sermon preached by The Rev. Douglas M. Donley
September 30, 2018
University Baptist Church
I had a different sermon planned for this morning. It was a humorous story of a long-winded preacher and the dude who fell asleep on him. Although there is a time and a place for a sermon like that, today is not that day.
This week, we heard riveting testimony from Dr. Ford about her memories of sexual abuse at the hands of Judge Kavanaugh. It was an odd and telling display of power and courage. And it triggered many people who felt they had been either abused or even wrongly accused. And the power dynamic was on full display. For many who have been too afraid to speak up, it was a demonstration of what happens when one speaks truth to power. They are vilified and accused of destroying the good honorable man in question. The temperament of the judge was also exposed, making it all so surreal.
So, I want bring back this Biblical story for us to reconsider in the light of these present facts. It’s a story about a woman who was abused but then spoke truth to power.
I wrote a version of this sermon 15 years ago and entered it into a sermon contest for violence-free families. I have a picture of me receiving the award from the Hennepin County Prosecutor, a woman known as Amy Klobuchar.
Tamar’s story mirrors the stories many of us have heard from those who have felt the bitter sting of sexism and the powerlessness of abuse. Not surprisingly, we don't like to tell stories like this. For some reason, it doesn’t show up in the lectionary. The silence of these stories creates an atmosphere where abuse festers and continues unchallenged. We need to come clean about the fact that this is our story as a society, even as people of faith.
Now, Tamar was no ordinary woman. She was a princess. She was the daughter of David, the King of Israel. The Bible tells us that she was young and beautiful. The story also tells us that she was wise and courageous, a sharp contrast to the ugliness of her brothers and her father. She had everything going for her in terms of worldly status, as much as a woman could, that is. In spite of the glass ceiling of patriarchy, she had position, wealth and influence. What was working against her was a family that did not care about her.
Tamar's family, you see was more interested in saving face for the male sons of David, than they were about the dignity of Tamar.
It is important to tell Tamar's story because, again, her story belongs to many people who are the victims of incest and rape.
King David had many wives and many children as was the custom in the Holy Land 3000 years ago. The two oldest sons were in a struggle for power. Both wanted David's throne, and both would stop at nothing to get what they wanted. Amnon was the eldest and therefore the apple of David's eye. His younger brother Absalom hated Amnon, but dared not risk his father's favor by doing anything against Amnon. Absalom was savvy and even corrupt in his pursuit of power. The greed and arrogance of Amnon and Absalom brought both of them to an early death. I tell all of this as a way to set the stage for what happened to Tamar.
Amnon's mother was named Ahinoam. Absalom and Tamar's mother was named Maachah. Since they shared David as their common father, they were family. Tamar was Absalom's full sister and Amnon's half-sister.
Now, Amnon fell in love with Tamar. The Bible says he fell in love, but it was more like he fell in lust for her.
Many of us confuse lust with love. Survivors of incest confuse sex with love, since sex is seen through the immature eyes of a child as a way to earn the love of a certain family member. True love, according to M. Scott Peck in his book The Road Less Traveled, is the commitment to your partner's spiritual growth. Lust has a lot more to do with hormones than it has to do with love or respect. Lust is also not always shared by the object of the lust. When lust combines with arrogance, shame and the need for power, the result is often rape.
Amnon was so in lust with Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin and his half-sister and it seemed to him that he could do nothing about his lust but fantasize. Poor guy.
But where there is a will there is a way. Where there is power and disrespect for another, there is the abuse of power and the creation of a victim. Amnon had a scoundrel of a friend by the name of Jonadab who devised a cruel plan so that Amnon could have his way with Tamar. Jonadab told Amnon to act like he was sick and ask to have Tamar come to take care of him. "Then," he said, "you can have your way with her." You can almost hear their conspiratorial laughter.
There are plenty of Amnons and Jonadabs around even today. I’ve told you before that I remember ordering drinks at a fraternity party a lifetime ago. The bartender, let’s call him Jonadab, dutifully poured twice as much alcohol in my date’s drink. I hesitate to tell this, but if Dr. Ford can be courageous, maybe I can be too. The implication with a wink and a nod was obvious. The sad thing is that none of us objected to this practice, so arrogant were we, such products of a sexist and abusive culture. I am a recovering sexist with a propensity for abuse that I need to be conscious of. I am a product of my culture, my family, my gender, my religion. But that is not where I have to stay. I am also a believer in a God who calls us to have all of our relationships based upon justice and love.
As a father of daughters I am even more keenly aware of my need to do whatever I can to break the cycle of abuse. My daughters need my protection, my love, my loyalty and I need to be worthy of their trust. It’s my responsibility to see that the violence ends here. No abuse for my daughters or anyone else. Silence can prove a fertile breeding ground for abuse. It’s time to break the silence.
Tamar came to take care of her supposedly sick half-brother. Amnon fantasized as he watched her make cakes for him. When the cakes were ready, he refused to eat the food. He sent everyone out of his bed chamber except for Tamar. He said to her, "bring the food into the chamber, so that I may eat from your hand."(2 Sam. 13:9) No one knows what happens behind closed doors, unless you were in the room where it happened.
You know what happened next. When Tamar came into the bed chamber, Amnon grabbed her and said, "come lie with me, my sister." But she said, "NO!" Any sexual contact that happens after someone has said “no” is considered rape. Very clearly she said, "No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile!"(13:12)
Tamar did not want this to happen. She had trusted him, and now he was about to violate her. So Tamar fought back. She struggled with all of her power to maintain her composure and her pride. She even thought up a plan of her own. She told him, "speak to the King; for he will not withhold me from you." (13:13)
In those days, it was not uncommon to marry your own half-sister, but only with the permission of her father. If Amnon could simply ask David for Tamar's hand in marriage, he could have her. Tamar saw the writing on the wall. She knew that Amnon was going to have his way with her. All she asked of him was to provide her with a shred of dignity.
But remember, Tamar not only represented his sexual lust but also his lust for power. To shame Tamar would also shame Absalom, her brother, his nemesis. Tamar was an innocent pawn in this sibling rivalry; a victim of Amnon's pursuit of power.
Amnon did not listen to her. He was stronger than she, and he raped her.
And as soon as he had finished, the Bible says that Amnon was "seized with great loathing for her. Indeed his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her." (13:15) Amnon got what he wanted, and now could care less about Tamar. You can see that his interest in her was not love, but lust.
Amnon told her to get out. But Tamar was a courageous woman who would not shed her dignity. She pleaded with Amnon, "This wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me." (13:17) He would not listen to her and said, "Get this out of my presence and bolt the door." In most translations, verse 17 is translated, "Get this woman out of here." But in the original Hebrew, Amnon says, "Get this out of here." Tamar, the supposed object of his love, was no longer even viewed as a person in his eyes!
Tamar was adorned as a virgin with a long-sleeved robe. She tore the sleeves off her robe, put ashes on her head and went away crying. She told any who would listen what happened to her. She did her best to maintain her dignity and her power. If there was a polygraph back then, she would have taken it. But she was stuck in a system that punished eomen and not men. A woman who had been involved in an incident of incest, according to Leviticus 18 and 19, was to be punished. Tamar's punishment was to remain barren for the rest of her life. In a society in which a woman's worth was measured by how many sons she could bare, this served to make her a non-person in most people's eyes. The Bible says that she spent the rest of her years lonely and desolate.
But that is not where the story ends. Tamar's brother Absalom asked her what had happened, even though he already suspected that Amnon had violated her. Absalom heightened her shame by saying, "Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart."(13:20) Like Job's so-called friends, like our culture's minimizing of violence against women, Absalom all but said to his violated sister,
"Don't worry so much."
"It ain't so bad."
"Boys will be boys."
"He is your brother after all, it's not like he was a stranger."
"Too bad you are so good-looking, maybe this wouldn't have happened to you if you were uglier."
“Don’t smear the family name.”
King David heard of this and he was furious. Was he furious at Amnon or Tamar? We don’t know. But we do know that he didn’t conduct an investigation. He didn’t punish Amnon. He didn’t remove Tamar’s shame either, even though he could and should have.
The fact is that Tamar was abused by Amnon by his raping her.
Tamar was abused by Absalom by his not listening to her cries of pain.
Tamar was abused by David by his silence in the face of family violence.
Tamar was abused by a society which said that a man can get away with rape and a woman who is an innocent victim must bear the shame and disgrace for the rest of her life.
Tamar was abused by a religion which supported all of the men and ignored the women.
And the scariest part of all of this is that three thousand years later it is still happening. No wonder people don’t come forward with these stories if they are not going to be believed. I hear countless stories of people who have been violated by family or friends who were blamed and eventually scarred by the trauma of the experience and the desire of the men or the society, or the family, or the church to keep silent.
Tamar's witness to us today says that she too was an innocent victim. And if we are true to our faith which is a faith of love and justice, then we must say that Tamar's violation and the violation of countless other Tamars was not part of God's plan.
God's plan is that we must learn from these stories of pain and suffering and make sure they do not happen again. Think what would happen if all of the churches committed themselves to believing that we must not make any more Tamars in this world. We must not make any more innocent victims of our senseless desires for power.
You and I follow a Savior who rejected the injustices of a patriarchal and misogynist religion.
When a woman was supposedly caught in adultery, Jesus said to those who trumped up the charges, "Whoever is without sin, let them cast the first stone." To her, Jesus said, "Who stands here accusing you?" She answered him, "Why none stand here accusing me." Jesus responded, "Then I don't accuse you either. Go your way and sin no more." (John 8:1-11)
Jesus said in his sermon on the mount:
You have heard it said, "You shall not commit adultery, but I say unto you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery."
You have heard it said 'you shall love your neighbors and hate your enemies.' But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. (Matthew 5)
We follow the one who turned over the tables of the moneychangers and said that "My house shall be a house of prayer but you have made it a den of thieves."(John 2:16)
We follow a God who said through the prophet Micah that God requires us to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God.” (Micah 6:8) Not do violence, love hubris and walk arrogantly as if unaccountable to God.
We follow one who said we shall be the repairers of the breach and the restorers of streets to live in. (Isaiah 58:12)
We follow one who weeps at abuse and is impatient until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream (Amos 5:24)
We worship in a community that welcomes and affirms all people and says that we will know we are Christians by our love. And we do not confuse love with lust and abuse.
We follow a God who has not forgotten the Tamars of this world.
We follow a God who is furious with us for settling for a world in which rape and murder and injustice and apathy can reign supreme.
We follow a God who says that our churches must be places of hope and refuge—asylums, sanctuaries from the evils of the world—places where we can confess our sins and garner strength for the journey ahead of us.
The God whom we follow is the God of Tamar. God is a God who looks to the outcast with compassion.
So, today, we break the silence of Tamar.
We believe her story.
Today, we feel the pain.
Today, we commit our lives to the good news to such an extent that we will not permit this evil to happen again.
May our life together in this community of faith be one in which we can hear the cries of a sister in pain and disgrace.
May we provide the hope, the acceptance and all the love we can give.
May we never settle for silence in the face of abuse.
Instead, may the telling of these stories break down the walls of sexism, of abuse, of misogyny, of injustice and make room for us to one day live in peace and love.