My friend Leigh Ann and I were hanging out in my living room on a chilly January afternoon, each enjoying one another’s company and fuzzy blankets when the conversation took a very weird turn. To be fair, if I’m involved, conversations usually take a weird turn, but I digress…
LA: So, have you read the story of Absalom?
Me: Yeah. 2 Samuel is one of my favorite Old Testament books.
LA: Did you read how he died? He was FREAKING CLOTHESLINED!
Me: Yeah, so violent!
LA: CLOTHESLINED! I mean, it’s kind of funny. But he was a bad person so it’s okay to laugh.
Me: His hair was STUCK in a tree! And his horse just kept on running! I mean, what a bad way to go!
After we laughed at Absalom’s unfortunate demise, we talked about Absalom and David. I asked her if she knew about Tamar. I’m no bible scholar, but it seems that Absalom behaved himself until Tamar’s tragedy.
The story breaks my heart.
Have you read the story of Absalom, King David’s son, who rose up against him and made the once proud giant-slayer frightened of his own shadow? Was he just a bad seed? Or was it something more?
2 Samuel 13 New International Version (NIV)
Amnon and Tamar
13 In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.
2 Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.
3 Now Amnon had an adviser 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.’”
6 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.” 8 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. 9 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.11 But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”
12 “No, 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.” 14 But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.
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!”
16 “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 my sight and bolt the door after her.” 18 So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate[a] 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 ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands 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 for 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.
21 When King David heard all this, he was furious. 22 And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.
Did you see the key text here? “When King David heard all this, he was furious.” What does that mean? He was upset? Well, he’s the king of Israel! If anybody can demand justice for Tamar (his daughter!), it’s him! After all, it was not too long ago when Nathan made David feel guilty with a fictional story about a lamb, and ordered that the man who stole it would not live. Shouldn’t his daughter, his very own baby girl, deserve more than this? Keeping in mind the time period. She’s ruined now. Nobody will marry her. She won’t be acceptable in social circles of any type. The once blameless princess ripped her gown, the one that identified her as a virgin, and put ashes on her head. She knew she was done for. Though Absalom said, “Don’t take this thing to heart,” he very much did so. He harbored hatred against his brother (he later killed him) and then he went after his father.
The next verse we read begins this way: “Two years later…”
For two years, Absalom watched Tamar waste away. She’s not mentioned again in the scriptures.
For two years, Absalom watched as King David did nothing.
When Absalom turned, it was BAD. It wasn’t your typical young man’s angst. He actively charmed and recruited David’s people to support him. He raped David’s women on the rooftop of the palace. He was ruthless.
Now, I’m not saying that it’s David’s fault. Absalom crossed many lines when he went after David.
I just wonder–what would have happened if David has listened? If he had punished Amnon himself? Tamar would not likely be restored, regardless. But what would have happened if David had done the right thing?
We will never know.