A tale of two Tamars continues several decades after the story of Tamar and Judah. This time, Tamar is a princess, born to a life of privilege and tragedy.
Tamar the Princess
Tamar had a childhood unlike any other, growing up with not only a king for a father, but arguably one of the most famous kings of all time. The King. King David.
You see, Tamar and Absalom were siblings of incredible beauty. True royalty, they had everything…including a big, complicated modern family. After all, when daddy has over eight wives (and a number of concubines), life is bound to get interesting. And, in Tamar’s case, dangerous.
The long and short of it is this (2 Samuel 13:1-9): Amnon, Tamar’s half brother, fell in love with his half sister (recall that while this was not uncommon for the time period, it was not exactly condoned either). His friend/cousin, Jonadab , noticed how Amnon lusted after Tamar and devised a plan for some…romance…well, for some alone time at least. Amnon would pretend to be sick and ask dear ol’ dad to send his sister to cook some food for him. He wanted to eat it out of her hand, because they were so close I guess. David agreed. Tamar agreed. Tamar made the food, but Amnon refused it and sent everyone home…except Tamar. ‘Come feed me in my bedroom,’ he said. Tamar agreed, suspecting nothing, after all this is her brother with whom she should be safe. But in the height of the #metoo movement of the 21st century we see just where this is going.
As you can imagine, there is a lot going on in this story, which 2 Samuel 13: 10-19 wastes no time in getting to the crux of the story. Amnon requests Tamar to come into his bedroom to “feed him” but it isn’t his stomach that is aching to be satisfied—it’s another piece of anatomy. Tamar brings in the food and he grabs her, asking for her to sleep with him. When she refuses, asking him to do the honorable thing and marry her first (“[my father] will not withhold me from you”), he takes what he wants—forcefully and without hesitation.
Out of Control
Sadly, this is not an uncommon story in world history. This kind of violence and deception was the whole reason why 98% of the time women in a royal household were put under the protection of heavily guarded eunuchs. Regardless, the moment Amnon got what he thought he wanted, his mind and emotions changed and rather than listening to his sister’s pleas he cast her out—thereby completing her shame and dashing all hopes she had for any kind of happily ever after. What’s more, this one act would throw the entire kingdom in a state of utter turmoil as siblings see violence as a means to an end, and their father stand by and do…nothing.
Heinous crimes, unfortunately, will always be a fact of this fallen and broken world. We shouldn’t ignore this story, we should learn from it, as we do from all that is in God’s word. Let’s face it, the hard issues like this is what we need to talk about—what we need to learn from because life isn’t easy and while intellectually we know that ‘everything happens for a reason’, that doesn’t make it any easier. But knowing that God doesn’t make mistakes should give us hope that no matter what we experience, redemption and grace are always ours for the claiming.
All Actions (and inactions) Have Consequences
No matter what, our actions have far reaching effects and once we commit to a decision—good or bad—we lose control over what will happen next. Humans like to think that we have control, or at least that we can maintain some kind of control, but the fact is human control is an illusion. Tamar probably felt that she had the situation in hand. Sure, the requests her brother made were a little unorthodox, but it is so easy to feel in control when you are safe. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am in NO WAY blaming or victim shaming Tamar for how this story plays out. I’m simply pointing out that at every moment in our lives our decisions lead us down paths and into situations that can quickly get ‘out of control’. So Tamar says yes to the first unorthodox request, because her father sent her and she loves her brother in the way all sisters should.
By the time her brother has cleared the room and receded into his bed chamber, I hazard to guess that Tamar is feeling a little uneasy. She’s been sheltered her entire life, kept under close watch by servants and eunuchs, and suddenly she is alone in a room with a man who, culturally, could be a potential match for her (as she admits when she pleads with him). Tamar must have been pretty young, still a virgin, and not yet married off to a political match, so the attention she receives in this moment from her older brother—and the heir to the throne—probably felt kind of nice at first. All young girls like to feel special and her brother asked for her specifically. So, she draws close, still feeling in control, until he grabs her and everything changes. He asks, she refuses and begs, he takea—unraveling a series of events that will change the course of Hebrew history forever. Those actions, those moments would lead to Tamar’s shame, Amnon’s death, Absolom’s banishment, and conflict in David’s family forever.
But still, God was in control—God was there even in the midst of the tragedy—but in our fallen world we can never forget that all our actions (even ones out of our control) have consequences.
Emotions are Decieving and Capricious
I hate the term ‘fell in love’, because it implies so many things about love that are not really accurate descriptions of love. Amnon used “falling in love” as an excuse to do whatever he wanted—especially when a friend petted his ego enough to remind him of his position and ‘rights’ as a son of a king. Amnon confused “falling in love” with obsession and lust—because if he was really in love he wouldn’t be impatient to ‘get his hands on her’. He would want what was best for her—even if it meant that he had to sacrifice something he valued. After all, he should know that God is love, and as a God of love, he is constantly making sacrifices for his people. If nothing else, he should have at least heard those stories. But, his arrogance overrode his common sense, which is why when he got what he thought he wanted from Tamar his love turned to hate and shame. Momentary pleasure is always fleeting. And, our actions have consequences. Amnon didn’t think about the far reaching effects, he didn’t think about Tamar’s well-being, and, in fact, he ignored what would be best for himself and the kingdom. He sought that one pleasure that he believed would make him happy, and instead it made him miserable, which is exactly what happens when we let our emotions get the best of our common sense.
Leadership begins at Home
King David is known as the man after God’s own heart, but this story just reminds me that despite this, he was still an incredibly flawed man. First, he was gullible and didn’t see any flaws in his own children. Having been a teacher for over ten years and having had my own encounters with parents—this is a common theme I’ve noticed. For some reason it is easy to see the flaws in everyone but our own kids, which is why not only did he allow Tamar to be put in such a vulnerable position, he refused to do anything to fix the situation after it had erupted into chaos and as a result his second son, Absolom (Tamar’s full blooded brother) felt the need to take matters not his own hands. David’s lack of discipline and leadership in his own family also had far reaching consequences
When Justice Eludes
2 Samuel 13:20-29; 37 picks up the story of these consequences, which includes the death of Amnon and the exile of Absolom and the heartbreak of David. Tamar is never mentioned again, and we are left to mourn her shattered life, knowing only that her brother took her into his own household and by all appearances moved on with their lives until the time was right and then he struck. But revenge is not the same thing as justice.
Tamar’s life took a drastically different path than the one she had dreamed of, and we don’t know exactly where she ended up, but I can see two likely scenarios.
One, Tamar lived out the rest of her days in bitter mourning over what she lost.
Two, Tamar sought God in her moment of despair, because even when her brother got the revenge she so rightly deserved, the consequences remained. Justice will only be found in the safe, forgiving, reedeeming power of Yahweh. Only then could she find a new, potentially satisfying life, despite the trauma of her past.
And we are left with the same choices when life doesn’t go as we planned. Our emotions are capricious, our control is illusive, but God is constant, and it is up to us to decide if we will run to or away from God no matter what life throws at us.