There are few bits of teaching that have affected me more than Dan Allender's The Wounded Heart. These 14 hour-long talks are especially directed at recovery from childhood sexual abuse. But to be honest they are the best thing you'll ever hear on pastoral theology. I've listened my way through the whole thing at least 6 times in the last few years. They're well worth the $95 - the book has much less impact if you ask me, but it's heaps cheaper.
And here's a sermon I preached last December on 2 Samuel 13. It's the heart-breaking story of Tamar, raped by her half-brother Amnon, at the advice of her uncle Jonadab. She's silenced by her brother Absalom, and utterly failed by her father David. The virgin princess is desecrated by a perverted house of David. Our only hope is the Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace who rules on David's throne (I end on Isaiah 9 since it was preached a week before Christmas).
The text follows...
Our first reading was a while back in the service. Let me give you the highlights.
Boy loves girl.
Boy wants girl.
Boy can’t have girl.
It’s the stuff of holiday novels and Hollywood. Except that this story shines a spotlight into some far darker places.
You see it starts:
Boy ‘loves’ girl.
Boy wants girl.
Boy can’t have girl.
Friend advises boy.
Boy tricks girl.
Boy grabs girl,
Boy rapes girl.
Boy hates girl.
Boy silences girl.
Boy discards girl.
It’s not Hollywood. This is reality.
This week I read an estimate that 1 in 3 women in their lifetime will face sexual abuse, broadly defined. 1 in 3 women. 1 in 4 men will face sexual abuse, broadly defined.
And 2 Samuel 13 does not flinch from revealing life as it is. This morning we’re not going to turn away either. We know that here this morning there will be people who know Tamar’s pain first hand. And we grieve with you. We’re going to look at this chapter, not with detached interest but with a heavy heart. Not to stir up pain but to acknowledge the existence of such evil. One of the greatest abuses which Tamar suffered was the abuse of being silenced. But this morning we will not silence Tamar, we will not brush her under the carpet as many do in this chapter. Instead we will grieve with her and acknowledge the evil which she suffered.
Because this is not an isolated evil. We cannot hold 2 Samuel 13 at arms length, because here is an evil that is as old as Adam.
Ever since Genesis chapter 3…
[SLIDE: Genesis 3]
… the wickedness of the human heart has played itself out in terms of:
[SLIDES x 4: Desire, Deception, Unlawful Taking, Death]
Desire, Deception, Unlawful taking and Death. Adam and Eve were forbidden just one fruit. But the serpent deceived them. He cultivated their desire for the forbidden fruit. They desired, so they took unlawfully. And death and chaos was the result.
2 Samuel chapter 11 showed a very similar pattern.
[SLIDE: David and Bathsheba]
Just two chapters prieviously we’ve seen David desiring Bathsheba – another man’s wife. He took her unlawfully. He deceived Uriah and when the deception didn’t work, he killed him. Desire, deception, unlawful taking and death. And from this event in 2 Samuel 11, chaos broke out. David’s kingdom, from this point on, becomes not the mirror of Christ’s Kingdom which it was meant to be. Instead it becomes a broken mirror, reflecting not Christ’s Kingdom but the wicked kingdoms of this world. The chapter in front of us is part of that fall-out.
Desire, Deception, Unlawful taking and Death.
[SLIDE: Sermon on the Mount]
Jesus, in the sermon on the mount, as He described our chaos put His finger especially on two sins: lust and murder. We all lust in our hearts, which makes us adulterers. And we’re all angry in our hearts which makes us murderers.
How does that play out? Let me give you one more Scripture.
[SLIDE: James 4]
James, which has many links with the sermon on the mount, says this.
He looks on the chaos of the world and he gives this diagnosis:
What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires [lusts] that battle within you? You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight.
Do you see the picture here? I desire something. I lust after it. And when I cannot have it, I kill. I murder those who get in the way. I cheat and I steal and I quarrel and I fight until I get what I want. I am lustful (I want things) and I am angry (if you block me from getting what I want, watch out!) I am an adulterer and a murderer. And so are you.
[SLIDE: 2 Samuel 13]
So as we look at 2 Samuel 13, we see this same spiral of desire, deception, violent taking and murder. It’s the problems of the whole world boiled down to a kingdom – in fact boiled down to a family. 2 Samuel 13 is not a distant tragedy. We live in the chaos generated by just these problems. And we are, all of us victims of this chaos. And we are, all ouf us, perpetrators of this chaos. We are all Tamar but we are also Amnon and we are Jonadab, we are Absalom and we are David.
This morning we’re just going to look at the victim and the perpetrators in this tragedy. The victim is Tamar and the perpetrators are the four men: Amnon, Jonadab, Absalom and David. Between them they make up a perverse household, indeed a perverse kingdom. Then, once we’ve seen the chaos, we’ll finish by thinking about the hope of Christmas. What does Christmas have to say to Tamar?
But first let’s look at the characters. And here’s the victim in this tragedy. Tamar. What do we learn?
Verse 1. She is beautiful. Her name means palm tree, which according to Song of Solomon is a very desirable thing to be like. It makes you think tall and fruitful. In fact she is so beautiful that she makes the crown prince of Israel literally love-sick.
But she is also skillful, industrious and caring. Verses 8 and 9 go into great detail about how she made all this food for Amnon herself. Beautiful, skillful, industrious, caring. And virtuous. Nobody in this chapter speaks any kind of godly wisdom, except Tamar. Look at verses 12 and 13:
12 "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."
Tamar makes 6 pleas to Amnon, any one of which should have stopped him in his tracks. First she says ‘Don’t’. That’s it. Don’t. That should have been the end of the matter. But it wasn’t, so secondly she calls him ‘my brother.’ She reminds Amnon – they are related, they have the same father. Leviticus 18 should have been resounding in his ears at this point.
“Do not have sexual relations with your sister, either your father's daughter or your mother's daughter.” (Lev 18:9).
But the law of God won’t stop Amnon’s lust. So thirdly, she appeals to his sense of dignity. Here is the crown prince, the heir to the throne, doing something that no member of God’s people should do. Fourthly, she asks him to pity her. If he loved her as he said, then shouldn’t he care for her disgrace? Fifthly, Tamar appeals to his own sense of shame. Amnon would become a wicked, contemptible fool if he went any further. And sixthly, here is the last resort, if you’re that determined Amnon, let’s marry. Tamar is a desperate woman, but she is a voice of reason and great integrity.
Nonetheless Tamar is silenced. And humiliated, abused and disgraced. Yet even after Amnon rapes her, she is still the only voice of reason in the chapter. Verse 16 she pleads with Amnon to let her stay. Perhaps they could still marry and save face. But she is thrown out, and the door is bolted after her. That’s a harrowing detail for me. Amnon has dragged her into his bed, he’s come crashing into her world against every barricade she could possibly erect. But now, she is turfed out by Amnon and the door is bolted.
No wonder, v19, she tears the royal robe of a virgin princess, she puts ashes on her head and weeps aloud. She acts just like David acts in v31 when he thinks all his sons are dead. She is in mourning. This has been a death. And, v20, she lives out her days in Absalom’s house as a ‘desolate woman.’ The word for ‘desolate’ here certainly means she remained single and childless. But more than this, the word is a violent word. It’s the word used for a body ravaged with tumours, it’s the word used for a whole family killed in disaster. It’s used of war-torn lands, of famine for the crops and of the desecrated temple. Tamar, whose name means tall, fruitful palm tree, has withered and died.
In the hands of this kingdom, run by these men, the virgin princess has been thoroughly defiled, dismissed and destroyed.
Let’s look at her abusers.
[SLIDE – Amnon]
Amnon. The heir to the throne of Israel. He is the firstborn son of David about whom there must have been high hopes. His name means faithful. Here is a faithful ruler. And he is a lover, v1. In fact he is literally love-sick for Tamar. Amnon is depressed, he’s losing weight, (v4) he’s become haggard with desire for Tamar.
But look at what lies behind these feelings. See the last half of v2. It does not read: “It seemed impossible for Amnon to do anything for her.” That would be love. Love in the Bible means service, it means sacrifice – putting yourself out for the other. But Amnon’s love was a love that wanted to do something ‘to’ Tamar.
And what happened once Amnon does what he wanted to do to Tamar? Verse 15:
15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her.
Amnon’s love really is hatred. And it probably always has been hatred – really. You see, a desire to do something ‘to’ another person is not love in any biblical sense. It might qualify as love in today’s pop songs, it might qualify as love in films, but it’s not biblical love. The feelings that Amnon had nursed for Tamar actually find their fulfillment in violent sexual abuse. Amnon’s ‘love’, which had made him ill with longing, was a love that found its consummation in rape. I wonder how many love songs betray Amnon’s love. A desire to do something to her. I wonder how many of our romantic desires are actually like Amnon’s love.
And when Amnon’s so called love is consummated in rape, then the façade of love can no longer be maintained. Now he feels a hatred greater than his prior feelings of ‘love’. But really I think this is the hatred that drove him throughout.
This is Amnon: the faithful lover. In this kingdom he is anything but.
Here is a wise counsellor. Verse 3 calls him literally ‘a very wise man.’ Yet Jonadab is really cast as the serpent of this piece and we remember that the serpent of Genesis 3 was also wise and ‘crafty.’ Now it’s important to remember that without Jonadab, Amnon would simply be left in his love-sick depression. There would be no rape without Jonadab. His ‘wisdom’ is cunning and deceit. Here is a political animal who knows how to get what you want. If you have desires that you want to pursue, Jonadab can help you lie, cheat and steal to get them. His ‘wisdom’ makes him very dangerous.
Jonadab: he appears wise, but he is a dangerous schemer.
Tamar’s brother. He is cast as an avenger, a rescuer. But look at his words to Tamar in verse 20:
"Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart."
Notice how Absalom talks around the subject. The narrator says it was rape. Jonadab in v32 says it was rape. Absalom speaks of ‘being with’ Amnon her brother. Here he diminishes her ordeal and fails to face facts.
And notice how he tries to calm Tamar by calling Amnon ‘her brother’.
It’s fascinating to see in this chapter how people play the family card. Amnon plays the family card in order to get into bed with Tamar. In v11 he says “Come to bed with me my sister.” Now that’s no way to play the family card. Being brother and sister means they shouldn’t do this. Tamar plays the family card correctly, v12: “Don’t my brother.”
But now in v20, how does Absalom play the family card? Just like Amnon did. Not to prevent but to justify abuse.
“Be quiet now, my sister, he is your brother.”
Here is a family using family relations to abuse and re-abuse each other. Of course Absalom hates Amnon, of course he doesn’t want to be anything like Amnon. But he plays the family card to silence and repress. Just like with Amnon.
In fact Absalom uses the family card three times in this verse. Twice he uses it to downplay the rape – don’t worry, he’s only your brother. And once he uses it to silence his sister: ‘Be quiet now my sister.’ Absalom basically says ‘If you’re any kind of sister to Amnon you won’t make a fuss and if you’re any kind of sister to me you won’t make a fuss.’ Put yourself in Tamar’s shoes if you can. At that point you either scream or you shut down completely. Well Tamar has already shut down and Absalom just drives another nail into the coffin with those six words:
“Don’t take this thing to heart.”
Here is a woman destroyed, disgraced and in mourning, she’s told not to take it to heart.
Christmas is a time when families get closer together. It’s no wonder that Christmas can be so hard. I heard yesterday that more people file for divorce in January than any other time. Families coming together is not the joy it should be. The family card so often justifies abuse and then so often covers up abuse.
Now Absalom loved his sister. Later, Absalom even calls one of his own daughters ‘Tamar’ in his sister’s honour. But he is too much of a coward to face this event as it is. And so two years after this event, Absalom exacts vigilante justice. Real justice should be swift and proportionate. It’s revenge that is served cold. And this killing of Amnon is definitely revenge rather than justice.
Verse 28 is so ironic, Absalom gets his servants to kill Amnon and he tells them: ‘Be strong, be brave.’ Absalom is anything but. Absalom never faces the issue. He silences Tamar immediately. He silences himself immediately. He does not go to David his father. He does not face Amnon his brother. Instead he let’s his anger brood and even at the point when he exacts revenge he cannot face it. His servants have to be brave and strong for him.
Absalom may appear to be the heroic rescuer, the defender of Tamar’s honour. But he isn’t. He silences her just as Amnon did and then brings about, not justice, but only a cowardly revenge.
Tamar’s father. Israel’s king. What would he do to protect his beautiful princess? Verse 20:
When King David heard all this, he was furious.
Good. He ought to have been. But verse 20 should not stop there. We should read about David’s righteous anger leading to action. Here is the king. Here is her dad. He ought to have gone to his daughter and spoken words of comfort. He ought to have done all he could to restore her dignity and her reputation. He ought to have brought Amnon to account. Tamar was right, such things should not happen in Israel. So what is the king going to do about this? David does nothing. And the kingdom spirals down into greater and greater chaos. Because David does nothing, Absalom takes matters into his own hands. He kills the heir to the throne and then, as Absalom goes on the run he becomes a contender for the crown. If David had only acted here in chapter 13, then the turbulence and blood-shed of the next 5 chapters would not have happened. But David, the Almighty King, simply wrings his hands. His daughter and his kingdom needed him to act but he does nothing.
So there we have it – the fallen house of David. One righteous woman destroyed. Four unrighteous men who between them allow and perpetrate horrendous evil. And this is what our fallen houses look like. This is what our fallen families look like. This is what the fallen kingdom of the world looks like. We are, all of us, to one extent or another victims and perpetrators in a fallen house. All of us are part Tamar and part Amnon. We are part Jonadab, part Absalom and part David too. Life in this fallen house looks like 2 Samuel 13 and it is unutterably tragic.
This doesn’t sound like a Christmas message does it? Well. I don’t know. Because it’s precisely this situation that the Christmas story speaks into.
Turn to Isaiah 9 our second reading.
Here in verse 2 we see where Christmas always begins. Christmas begins in darkness:
2 The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.
Now we from the southern hemisphere boast about going for a swim on Christmas day, but Christmas is not meant to be a summer celebration. Christmas ought to be celebrated in the dead of winter. Christmas begins in darkness. Because, perhaps the most basic message of Christmas is that God meets us in the dark, God meets us in the mess. He meets us on our level. On that first Christmas Herod was killing babies all around them. Rome was butchering the people of God left, right and centre. And right in the midst of that, is a baby who is called Immanuel: which means ‘God WITH us.’ Christ the LORD enters, He draws alongside, He is born into our troubles. And as a shining light, He comes to transform our darkness. Look at verse 6:
6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. 7 Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and for ever.
Having seen 2 Samuel 13 don’t we long for those words. ‘Justice’ and ‘Righteousness’. We have seen those who supposedly ruled the house of David and we are sick to the stomach to even look at them. Now comes the Mighty God Himself. And He will reign on David’s throne. God moves into the house. That’s the meaning of Christmas, God Himself moves in. And He establishes and upholds the Kingdom in righteousness, justice and peace.
And what kind of King is Jesus? Look at His four names. He is the Wonderful Counsellor.
[SLIDE – Wonderful Counsellor]
Not like Jonadab – the scheming adviser. Here is a truly wise Counsellor.
And He’s the Mighty God.
[SLIDE – Mighty God]
Not like David the impotent, hand-ringing king. Here is a God who will use all of His might to be God to His people.
He is also the Everlasting Father.
[SLIDE – Everlasting Father]
Amnon’s so-called love was so changeable. It quickly turned to hate. Yet here is One with an eternal and dependable love.
And finally Christ is the Prince of Peace.
[SLIDE – Prince of Peace]
Not like Absalom. He’s neither a coward nor a vigilante but One who rules to uphold Peace.
2 Samuel 13 showed us four parodies of men. The lover, the counsellor, the rescuer and the king – all of them perverted by sin. How wonderful it would have been if they were genuinely lovers, counsellors, rescuers and kings. Well such a kingdom exists, not because we have made the house of David into the house of the LORD. No it exists because at Christmas, the house of the LORD entered into the house of David. There in the manger God has entered the house to transform it the way light transforms darkness. Mary’s child established and upheld this kingdom and now sits enthroned – the government on His shoulders.
All we are asked to do is receive the king. To us a child is born. To us a Son is given. Here is the ultimate Christmas present. Addressed to us. To we who are walking in darkness. We who are victims and perpetrators in this fallen house of the world.
Each of us need to come to Christ for healing and we need to come to Christ for forgiveness. Are you Tamar? Have you been in her position? Christ is for you - with every drop of His blood.
He is not like all the other abusers in your life. Here is a Man you can trust - a Man who will heal you and restore you to the fruitful palm tree you were made to be. Come before Him and tell Him all the ways that you have been like Tamar.
And tell Him all the ways you have been like Amnon, Jonadab, Absalom and David. Come clean. Confess your need.
Let's now pray through what it means for Jesus to be our Wonderful Counsellor, our Mighty God, our Everlasting Father, our Prince of Peace.
Let’s be quiet.
Lord we often find ourselves as Tamar:
Desired, Deceived, Disgraced, Despised, Discarded, Distraught, Dismissed, Destroyed.
Lord bring us wholeness and hope.
Lord we often find ourselves as
Amnon – a lover who turns to lust and hate.
Jonadab – a schemer and deceiver
Absalom – a coward driven by fear and hate
David – hand-ringing impotence
Lord forgive us and change us.
And help us to see Christ again as our Wonderful Counsellor… Our Mighty God… Our Everlasting Father… Our Prince of Peace. Amen