2 Samuel 13:1-22.
 Domestic Violence and Abuse

Copyright © 2008, American Journal of Biblical Theology
www.biblicaltheology.com   Scripture quotes from KJV


Galatians 6:7.  "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows."

We live in a world that is evil.  Sin abounds everywhere, and we are immersed in it.  We are not protected from either the act of sin or its consequences.   As Christians we are given God's grace so that we will not be condemned for our sinful acts, and we are given the power of the Holy Spirit to turn from the sin that the Spirit reveals to us.   One of the most devastating sinful acts is that of sexual abuse. 

Sexual abuse is not a conduct peculiar to our generation.  In fact, it has been a part of human existence for a long time.  What is new is the openness with which sexual abuse is discussed and debated.  In many Christian circles, sexual abuse has become a new topic. Christians are beginning to understand their roles as "salt and light" in a dark and troubled world.  Christians are talking about and delaing with the needs of those tho have been sexually assaulted.  Adults who tend to view life realistically may find themselves on the cutting edge of these ministry opportunities.  Understanding any kind of abuse is essential.  The challenge to learn more in order to ministre more effectively is found in this lesson.

Sociologists and psychologists have suggested that sexual abuse is at epidemic levels.  People are sometimes surprised to learn that sexual abuse takes place both inside and outside the church.  The effects of sexual abuse last a lifetime.  This lesson provides an opportunity to help us to understand the nature of sexual abuse, to empathize with the victims, and to determine ways to help people who have been so abused.

As Christians we cannot be ignorant of the prevalence of sexual abuse - in the home, on the job and in social settings.  A terrible, but instructive example is provided in 2 Samuel, chapter 13.   Here we will find a tragic act that had profound consequences for King David and the nation of Israel. 

2 Sam 13:1. 

In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.

It doesn't take long to note in this verse the relationship between Amnon and Tamar.  What is it?  (Tamar was Amnon's stepsister)  Consider for a moment the type of family situation we have here.  Amnon and Tamar had separate mothers and were, therefore, raised in separate homes.  Given the protection of unmarried girls, Amnon probably had little opportunity for contact with Tamar.  Amnon would probably observe the beautiful Tamar from a distance.  What does the verse say that Amnon thought about Tamar?  (he fell in love with her.)  Actually, the Hebrew word used here is ahab.  (Where have you heard that word before?)  Its definition includes not only love as we first think, but also refers to sexual attraction, legitimate or illicit.  It is also used to describe the relationship between close friends.  As is usually the case in Hebrew, we must consider the context to understand the full meaning of what is taking place here.  We will find that a better translation of the application of the word love in this case would be the word, LUST.

Amnon was David's eldest son, heir to the throne.  Tamar was the daughter of Maacah, another of David,s wives.  David took these wives before he succeeded Saul as King.

2 Sam 13:2. 

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.

Amnon was unable to establish any kind of contact with Tamar, and was so "vexed" as the King James correctly describes[1] that he became depressed.  He could not turn his thoughts away from his desire to have Tamar.

Let's consider more of the setting.  We see from the accounts of 2 Samuel that David's kids were the worst "spoiled little rich kids."  They were used to getting anything they wanted.  What was preventing Amnon from his desire to have Tamar?  (Tamar's mother.)  He thought that it would be impossible for him to get to her.

Let's not forget that Tamar is Amnon's half sister.  Sexual relations between such siblings was forbidden by law, as it even is today.  The sinful desire of Amnon was compounded by the nature of this relationship.  However, when we dwell long enough on a sinful act, what pattern of behaviour takes place?

Amnon was ready for the planning stage, but had no plan until he discussed his dilemma with his first cousin and friend, Jonadab

2 Sam 13:3-5. 

Now Amnon had a friend named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David's brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. 4  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." 5  "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.'"

Jonadab was described as shrewd.  Since Amnon could not get past Tamar's mother, he could pull rank by going directly to the King.  Jonadab came up with a plan that would get Tamar away from her mother and put her in Amnon's home.

2 Sam 13:6-7. 

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." 7  David sent word to Tamar at the palace: "Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him."

David's acquiescence to Amnon's request says a lot about the relationship between David and his sons.  Obviously, David had a lot to do in running the kingdom and, consequently, did not know his own children very well.  Also, there were a lot of children.  How many do you suppose there were?  The Old Testament names 19 sons and this one daughter by eight wives.  These are only the named children.  David also had many concubines.[2]  In their culture, leaders of nations gave wives to the leaders of other nations in order to ensure peace.  Often the daughters of a nation’s leaders, they were essentially hostages for peace, to be persecuted if an offense were committed.  Solomon is said to have had approximately 1000 wives.   David could have had nearly as many.  Note that this polygamy was forbidden by Mosaic law.[3]  But like so many of the rich and powerful, Israel’s kings often considered themselves beyond corruption.  "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."[4]

Consequently, Amnon did not have a normal home life.  He lacked the love and nurture from a father, and was unable to develop normal and healthy relationships with girls.  Being the spoiled brat that he was, he placed in motion a web of deceit that would get him what he wanted.

The fact that David did not see through this unusual request only reinforces the conclusion that he was not involved in his son's life.  What happened when David had similar desires for Bathsheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite.  The parallels here are significant.  Tamar was forbidden to Amnon because they were siblings.  Bathsheba was forbidden to David because she was married and a Hittite, not a Jew.  What were the consequences of David's lust?  He sent for Bathsheba and fulfilled his lusty desires.  He then murdered her husband in order to hide his sin.   His family would then be continually impacted by the consequences of the sin, including the death of the child conceived in this union.

So, like father, like son, Amnon carried out his plan.

2 Sam 13:8-10 

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. 10  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.

Amnon, with his cousin's advice set the stage of privacy that he desired.  He instructed all of his (and her) servants to leave the house and lured Tamar right into his bedroom.  What, do you suppose, were Tamar's thoughts at this time?  She was probably concerned with the quality of her bread, and whether or not her sick stepbrother would be able to eat it.  Her beauty was equalled by her innocence.

2 Sam 13:11. 

But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, "Come to bed with me, my sister."

The stage was set, and Tamar was now vulnerable.  What method did Amnon use to get his way?  Did he enrapture her with gestures of love and caring?  No, he grabbed her and demanded sexual contact with her.  Without looking ahead (though all of you already did,) what do you suppose Tamar's response would be?  (shock, revulsion, fear)

2 Sam 13:12-13. 

"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. 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."

What did Tamar do in response to Amnon's action?  She tried to reason with him.  She described what the consequences would be for her, and for him.  Also, she offered to marry him, knowing that the King had the power to annul her betrothal to another and approve the marriage.  Again, this illustrates the low moral state of the family, that David would approve a marriage between siblings. 

However, Amnon's acts were unreasonable to start with, and it is usually pointless to try to reason with someone who is unreasonable.  Their desire for action has already short-circuited the wiring that causes us to find the sinful act to be vulgar.  They don't see things the way we do, and rational discussion falls on deaf ears.

2 Sam 13:14. 

But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.

How is it now obvious that Amnon did not love Tamar?  (He forcibly raped her.)  His act was not an act of love, but an act of violence.  It was an illustration of his ability to dominate her, to get what he wanted at her expense.  What would be the consequences of this act in her life?  (No longer a virgin, she would be rejected for marriage (she was already betrothed to someone else) and would be forever shunned.)

Experts on the subject of rape tell us that rape is not about sex, and it is not about frustrated love.  It is about violence and domination.  Even lesser forms of sexual abuse primarily are about domination.  What satisfaction can come from forcing sexual favors from a helpless victim?  Answer:  the satisfaction of demonstrating a person's power over another; the satisfaction of showing a person's power to do whatever he or she wants without fear of punishment.  Sexual abuse, whether it consists of rape, fondling, or unwelcome suggestive remarks (sexual harassment) is always a demonstration of power to dominate, whatever other base impulses contribute to the act. 

2 Sam 13:15. 

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!"

What did Amnon do after he assaulted Tamar? His act of rejection of her (1) illustrates the violence of his act, and (2) further destroys her life.  He could still marry Tamar, and avoid most of the consequences of the act.  However, that was never Amnon's intent.  Now, any time he would look at Tamar he would see her weakness as well as his own.  She would always be a reminder of his act of sin.

2 Sam 13:16-17. 

"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. 17  He called his personal servant and said, "Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her."

So, Amnon forcibly sent the raped Tamar from his home, calling his closest servant to show her out.

Another of the great tragedies of this type of assault is the assignment of blame on the victim.  Tamar was thoroughly innocent.  When presented with Amnon's intent, she vigorously opposed him, but he grabbed her, was stronger than her, and sexually assaulted her.  Yet at this point, she is treated as if it were her fault.  Often, in this situation, the victim is further assaulted by feelings of guilt both personal, and projected by others.  Rather than being treated as an assault victim, often the victims of sexual assault are further abused by those closest to them by the ugly words and heartless actions of others.  The one who has been personally victimized is also a victim of the loss of their dignity and respect, when the one responsible for the violence is the one who deserves such a loss.

Because of this, many who sexually abuse someone else are protected by the silence of the victim.  The victim may see the consequences of revealing the act to be worse than the act itself.  Instead, the victim continually suffers.  Read on.

2 Sam 13:18-20. 

So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. 19  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. 20  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.

We find that Tamar did suffer, and Absalom, seeing her reaction to her meeting with Amnon instantly deduced what had happened.  He opened his home to her where she as a now “desolate” woman would live like a widow for the rest of her days.

Like David's sin with Bathsheba, Amnon's sin with Tamar had even more consequences.

2 Sam 13:21-29. 

When King David heard all this, he was furious. 22  Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar. 23  Two years later, when Absalom's sheepshearers were at Baal Hazor near the border of Ephraim, he invited all the king's sons to come there. 24  Absalom went to the king and said, "Your servant has had shearers come. Will the king and his officials please join me?" 25  "No, my son," the king replied. "All of us should not go; we would only be a burden to you." Although Absalom urged him, he still refused to go, but gave him his blessing. 26  Then Absalom said, "If not, please let my brother Amnon come with us." The king asked him, "Why should he go with you?" 27  But Absalom urged him, so he sent with him Amnon and the rest of the king's sons. 28  Absalom ordered his men, "Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, 'Strike Amnon down,' then kill him. Don't be afraid. Have not I given you this order? Be strong and brave." 29  So Absalom's men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king's sons got up, mounted their mules and fled.

What was the ultimate end for Amnon?  He was killed by Absalom as an act of revenge for his act against his sister, Tamar.  (It might be interesting to note that Absalom later married and had two sons and a daughter.  He named the daughter Tamar.)  David mourned the loss of Amnon and sought to kill Absalom, so Absalom fled the country.  Only through prophetic intervention was Absalom saved from his father's wrath.

Summary

Christians cannot ignore the evil of sexual abuse.  It damages the victim and the perpetrater.  Furthermore, the tidal wave that sexual buse sets off damages or even destoys a wide circle of others.

What conclusions can we draw from the terrible series of events in David's family?  How can we help to prevent the epidemic of sexual abuse that is ravaging our world?  How can we deal with sexual abuse when we encounter it - in the family, in the workplace, in society?


[1] We will see later that Amnon is not ill.

[2] 2 Sam 5:14-16, 1 Chron 3:1-9.

[3] Genesis 2:23-25.

[4] John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton, (1834–1902).