In the Bible, you will find an amazing array of…well, everything! The good, the bad, the downright ugly. The Bible portrays its heroes as truly human. Perhaps you’ve seen one of those lists called “Messed Up Bible heroes” such as Abraham, the forefather of faith, who let other men walk off with his wife on two different occasions. Or Abraham’s wife, Sarah, who let her husband sleep with another woman and later hated her for it. Then there is David, called a “man after God’s own heart,” who concealed his adultery with a murder.
David also played a part in one of the most disturbing and often skipped-over stories in all of the Bible: the heartbreaking account of a young woman named Tamar. Second Samuel chapter 13 tells of a man named Amnon who was burning with lust for his half-sister, Tamar. As David’s heir, Amnon was used to getting his own way but Tamar was unavailable to him. She was a royal princess and a virgin, closely watched by the King’s eunuchs.
Amnon planned his assault carefully, faking illness. He told dad that he could only possibly eat if Tamar baked special bread, brought it to his bedroom, and fed him by her own hand. David sent Tamar to Amnon and she had no choice but to obey. There, Amnon ordered all of the servants out of the room and grabbed Tamar’s hand. “No, my brother!” she pleaded. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. 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,” she cried (v. 12,13). “But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.”
Nothing in all creation is hidden from God. Everything is naked and exposed before his eyes, and he is the one to whom we are accountable. Hebrews 4:13 NLT
Then, he hated her more than he had loved her.
Our last picture of Tamar is of her piling ashes on her head, ripping her royal robes, and fleeing in bitter tears. She would remain, a desolate, unmarried, and childless woman all her life. King David, we read, was furious, but never dealt with his son’s sexual sin. “David is silent,” writes Jen Wilkin. “He takes no action against Amnon…And Tamar is left desolate.”
David didn’t want to talk about it and frankly, neither do we. Sixty-three percent of sexual assaults are never reported to police in the US, according to the National Sexual Violence Resource Service. The Bible story of Tamar is not the usual stuff of most Sunday morning sermons. But Jen Wilkin makes a good point: “Telling the uncomfortable story of “desolate” Tamar positions us to show a kind of compassion King David didn’t.”
Sitting with you in your church, listening to the words of this devotional right now are women who are borne the pain and shame of sexual assault. “By teaching faithfully, forthrightly, and compassionately about Tamar, we communicate the opposite to women: Your story deserves a hearing. Your grief is our grief. Your shame is undeserved. We will help you carry it to the cross,” Wilkin writes.
Telling the story of Tamar also reminds us that sexual sin has a drastically far-reaching impact. David’s original sin of adultery resulted in three murders, the death of his infant son and Tamar’s desolation.
The Bible speaks compassion and comfort to the oppressed and we need to also, even when it’s uncomfortable and heart-breaking. And to the one in sexual sin, God says, “Whoever conceals their sins does not prosper, but the one who confesses and renounces them finds mercy.”
Resource reading: Proverbs 28:13