The A9 is one of Scotland's most dangerous roads. At 270 miles long, it links Perth with Inverness and is mainly single-carriageway. Because of that, people get easily frustrated and take stupid risks trying to overtake. When I lived in Scotland it was a road I travelled regularly and I remember vividly one of my first trips south on it. As we came to the end of a short overtaking lane, the traffic slowed to a crawl and we passed by a scene of utter devastation on the right hand side. And I'm sure some of you will know what this is like – the traffic slows right down to take a good look at the accident, before speeding off again. It was a horrific sight. Multiple vehicles involved and a lorry that that had literally squashed a car into an embankment. All that was left was the side of this car and as we crawled past I remember seeing this lifeless, limp arm hanging down outside the smashed driver's side window. There was no way anyone could have survived. To a car, that scene of devastation affected our driving styles all the way down the A9. I remember the adrenaline physically making my arms shake as I held the steering wheel. Cars that normally jostled for position, ready to overtake in the smallest of gaps, were now separated by at least 50 to 100 metres each. No-one was going more than 50-55mph.
Tonight we take a brief dip back into our series in 2 Samuel, and our passage is a metaphorical car crash of epic proportions. In Chapter 13 the writer of 2 Samuel wants to slow us down as we pass by. He wants us to take note of all the gory, unpalatable details and he wants us not just to speed off again having done so, but he wants us to change as a result. Let me just remind you of where we're up to. The previous two chapters have been all about how God has convicted and judged David because he was guilty of adultery and murder. In response David confessed and was forgiven. But he was also disciplined. 2 Samuel 12.10-11 says:
"Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me … Thus says the Lord, 'Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house."
And so from the end of chapter 12 and the beginning of chapter 13 we begin to see just how this discipline unfolds. And it's not pretty. Right from the outset of this chapter we can see there's going to be trouble. 2 Samuel 13.1:
"Now Absalom, David's son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David's son, loved her."
Amnon is David's firstborn son. Absalom and Tamar are his son and daughter from a different mother. So the trouble begins with a tale of forbidden attraction: Amnon thinks he's in love with his half-sister. You know, when I realised I'd been assigned this passage, on Valentine's Day of all days, I took a deep breath. Because, despite Amnon's initial claims – this chapter isn't about love. Far from it. So let's briefly work our way through it, to ensure we see what we should. Verse 2:
"And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her."
Enter cousin and so-called friend Jonadab. Jonadab comes up with a scheme to enable Amnon to get what he wants. He tells Amnon to pretend to be even more ill than he already is, and then to ask Daddy to get the gorgeous Tamar to come to his house to cook some healing nosh for him. Tamar dutifully obliges but Amnon refuses to eat unless she comes into his chamber and feeds him herself. Now you and I can see where this is going. It's one of those moments, like in a film, when there is an inevitability about what comes next and you want to shout back through the centuries: "Tamar don't do it." But she did. She couldn't see the danger. Verses 10-14:
"And Tamar took the cakes she had made and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, "Come, lie with me, my sister." [hardly treating her like a sister] She answered him, "No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. [The sad irony was though that such an outrageous thing had been done in Israel – who by? Daddy!] As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you." [Actually he probably would have, and Tamar knew this, but right now she knows she needs Daddy's protection]. But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her [i.e. he raped her] and lay with her."
It probably just took a few minutes. But in those few minutes Tamar's whole life was changed forever. She put up a good fight, but her pleas were ignored. It's sickening, and yet it gets worse. Verses 15-17:
"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!" [Again she puts up a good fight]: "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. He called his personal servant and said, "Get this woman out of my sight and bolt the door after her.""
In fact, in the original Hebrew it is not even certain that the word woman is used here. Absalom has so much contempt for Tamar now that he dehumanises her by saying "Get this out of my sight" as if she were simply a piece of rubbish. This is a terrible situation. Amnon has raped Tamar, he has committed incest and now he simply abandons her. The tragedy is made even worse by the fact that the damage to Tamar has been inflicted by someone who should have protected her. So Tamar flees to her brother Absalom (or her brother finds her - we're not told) and it's hard to know exactly what to make of his response. Verse 20:
"Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart."
I'm fairly sure that we shouldn't read "don't take it to heart" in the same manner that we hear it used today. A sort of "there, there, it'll all be alright" patronising kind of approach. Absalom is trying to comfort and console his sister. And so, as Tamar lives as a ruined woman in Absalom's house, the whole sorry affair spirals down another level. Over the course of a couple of years Absalom allows his righteous anger to turn to hatred and his hatred hatched a plan of retribution. Along with the rest of the King's sons, he gets Amnon to a sheep-shearing party, waits for him to get drunk and then has him killed. The second half of this chapter records the event and the ensuing panic. Absalom flees and is estranged from his Dad for five years. As Nathan had prophesied, the sword is firmly taking root in David's family. And that is the painfully, sordid story, that we are made to slow down for.
And if we take seriously 2 Timothy 3:16 which says that "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching…" we can't just drive on by on the other side of the road. We have to ask why? Why does the author make us slow down? Why does he spell out the lust, the rape, the hatred, the murder in such detail? There are probably many reasons, but I'm going to suggest three for us tonight. Firstly,
1. There is a Reality to Grasp: Our Sin has Catastrophic Consequences
It's not rocket science - at one level this is obvious. Just like there are fatal consequences to dangerous, risk-taking driving, there are fatal consequences to disobeying God. We need to remember that this is God's world. He created us. If we disobey him and his commands, terrible damage will be done – not only to us, but also to those around us. This chapter vividly shows us some of that human damage through four main perpetrators.
Firstly, there's lustful Amnon. This is a guy who gives in to the sin of sexual temptation. And if you've ever had even the slightest brush with giving in to sexual temptation, you know how it deceives; how it focuses on the self; how it dehumanises others; how it is never enough and how the desires become stronger and more perverse as you look for the next hit. And for Amnon that included incest and violence. Proverbs 6.27-28, 33 describes the consequences of sexual sin like this:
"Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? ….He will get wounds and dishonour…"
Amnon, needed a real friend. He needed a mate to say "Get a life Amnon. It's wrong and it's not gonna happen. Your clothes will get burnt and your feet scorched!" Unfortunately, he got a Jonadab. Jonadab is a scheming, self-serving, evil manipulator. At the beginning of the chapter he is advising Amnon on how to get his wicked end away, and by the end of the chapter he is on Absalom's side, scheming to stay in power and everyone's good books. Here is a man utterly without principle.
And then there's David. King David – stone-slinging, giant-slaying, God's-own-heart-chasing David. And he is completely ineffective. Sure he feels the right thing; in verse 21 he reassures us that he was very angry. But he did nothing. His own daughter was raped and he did nothing! His son was murdered and he did nothing! He failed to discipline his children and paid the price for his inaction. I sometimes wonder if David's inaction was because he felt compromised. He'd messed up royally. Who was he to tell his children what to do? I think the parents amongst us can sometimes feel the same can we not? We must heed the warning not to abandon our children – we must protect and correct them. That is our God-given job. And the best way we can do that is to observe the consequences here of not doing so and then guard our own integrity, truthfulness and character.
That's David. And finally there's Absalom. Unlike his father, here was a man who did act. But he allowed his actions to be determined by his hatred, which flowed from his anger. He couldn't keep it in check. He did keep calm, in many ways the calm and cool manner in which he planned and executed the murder of his brother over two years is chilling. But he forgot the truth that spelled out in Deuteronomy, that vengeance is not man's to dispense, but the Lord's. The Lord will bring justice.
Look at these four men; look and learn. Amnon's lust, Jonadab's scheming, David's inaction and Absalom's anger. Let's look where it led: abuse, shame, hatred, violence, ruin & murder… and let's resolve to learn the lessons they didn't. When I passed that crash site on the A9 I thought to myself 'That could have been me. I have taken chances as I impatiently drive to my destination.' Whilst not directly guilty for that particular accident, I realised I had the capacity to cause my own. And friends, as I reflect on these four men, I know that I not only have the capacity to do likewise, but that I have done likewise. We must not think that these evil, wicked, unprincipled and ineffective men are in a class all on their own, because they are not. Sadly, they are not some kind of rare exception, but the universal norm. They are you and me. You may think that that is harsh of me (and you may be worried what I'm about to confess from the pulpit!) but let me remind you of Jesus' own teaching on this that we had earlier… Murder? Jesus said that anyone who is angry with his brother, as good as commits murder! Adultery? Jesus said that anyone who even looks at someone else with lustful intent, as good as commits the deed! This is the reality to grasp – it's our sin just as much as it is their sin. And there are terrible human consequences to it.
But there is a spiritual reality to grasp here too. And it is the most serious consequence because our sin separates us from God. He is holy. He cannot and will not tolerate sin. Maybe that is one reason that God is not mentioned at all in this chapter. In these 39 verses God is not mentioned once. I don't know for certain, but maybe the writer is symbolically demonstrating the fatal reality of sin: eternal separation from God. God cannot be near an Amnon, a Jonadab, a David or an Absalom when they persist in such sin. However hard it is, we need to take a good long look and grasp the reality that sin has catastrophic human and spiritual consequences.
That's the first reason the writer of 2 Samuel slows us up past the crash site of chapter 13. But as I prepared this week, I came to see that there is another very significant reason this sordid tale is in our Bibles and that is because, secondly:
2. There is a Voice to Listen to: The Victim
Apart from death it can't really get any worse for Tamar. Here is a woman who was trapped, deceived, ignored, raped, despised, banished and ruined. As Dale Ralph Davis puts it in his excellent commentary on 2 Samuel:
"We must do what Amnon did not do: listen to Tamar."
(Dale Ralph Davis, 2 Samuel 'Out of every adversity' p.164)
So listen again to the victim's voice call out from across the centuries. Verses 12-13:
"No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing. As for me, where could I carry my shame?"
Just close your eyes for a minute and picture the scene: The vile deed is now done. Tamar is kicked out of the Prince's chamber crying uncontrollably. She is cast out into the street. The door slams shut behind her and is locked, the implication being it's all her fault and she is a wicked woman! Her shame is now visible to all. Her robe is torn and in all likelihood bloodied, her head smeared with ash and her hand laid on her head. In her confused state of mind, she has no idea what to do or where to go. It's uncomfortable isn't it, even for a few seconds, to contemplate exactly what victims of abuse have endured? And yet God has made sure that there is at least one story in his word that says to other similar victims "I know what has happened. I care and it is both wicked and wrong. I've not turned my back on you."
The latest statistics for our country say that 1 in 5 women aged 16 - 59 have experienced some form of sexual violence. Approximately 90% of those raped knew their abuser before the offence. (An Overview of Sexual Offending in England and Wales, the first ever joint official statistics bulletin on sexual violence released by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), Office for National Statistics (ONS) and Home Office in January 2013.) Now these figures are quite shocking and it may well be that this is a personal issue for you. If you are one of those 1 in 5 women I want you to know two things. Firstly, you are not alone. Don't believe the lie that you are the only one in this church for whom this is an issue. You're not. Secondly, you are way more than a statistic to God, and this story isn't just here to comfort you that God knows. It also provides you with a voice and an example to follow. Tamar does two things: she grieves and she tells. And if you are here tonight and you have not grieved or told anyone about the abuse you have suffered, can I gently encourage you to do so. Find someone you trust and tell them. As we have slowed down and looked at this crash site in 2 Samuel I have been suggesting that we need to look inwards and see how we all have a capacity to sin and share some of the blame for that. But it is quite possible that the person who's arm I saw on the A9 that day was entirely innocent in causing that crash. And that is another reason Tamar's story is here. Because it says to those who have experienced rape and sexual abuse: "It's not your fault!" Don't believe the lies your abuser may have told you: you are not the problem. The responsibility always lies with the perpetrator, not the victim. But do follow Tamar's lead. Please find someone you trust and tell them.
And for those of us here tonight who are not directly affected by this abuse, we must be prepared to listen and to help if, or when, the time comes. And here we would do well to follow Absalom's example - his initial example at least! Because he does get some things right. And while clunky in 21st century speak, his words were designed to comfort Tamar. To reassure her that she was not alone; that he wouldn't pressure her; that he was on her side and would help her through this. We would do well to do likewise. Sadly, of course, after that, his actions went astray.
In verse 13 Tamar asks a really important question, one that many victims struggle with: "As for me, where could I carry my shame?" The answer, as it is for any victim of abuse, is "to Jesus". You can carry your shame to Jesus. One helpful preacher has said this:
"Our Lord Jesus knows all about shame. Jesus doesn't just forgive us of our sins at the Cross. He bore our shame and lifts it off of us. He clothes us in a new ornamented robe, one that is not torn. He gives us a new identity out of which we now live. He accepts us. He receives us. He loves us. We are not damaged goods to him. We are the apple of his eye. Because of him, we need not live a desolate life, even if we have been sinned against"
(Matthew Mitchell JBC 29:1 (2015) 62-70)
And you may say to me – 'Jon that's fine, but what about Tamar? How could she take it to Jesus?' Well, we don't know exactly what happened to Tamar after this, but we do know God. And God always deals very tenderly with the oppressed. That's his nature. This tragic story is here, in part, because God wants to ensure the abused have a voice. And God's people need to listen to that voice and respond appropriately. Finally, then, as we prepare to move on from this crash site, we must remember:
3. There is a Difficult Perspective to Keep: God is in Control
And it's a difficult perspective to keep for two reasons. Firstly, God had promised to establish his kingdom through this dysfunctional family – will he really? And, secondly, there's just so much mess – not just in 2 Samuel 13, but in 2016 too. It's even harder to get our heads around the fact that sometimes the abusers seem to get away with it – is he really in control? I want to suggest to you that although it's a difficult perspective to keep, it's not impossible. Here's why.
On one level 2 Samuel 13 is a story all about the 'Like Father, Like Son' principle. David's sin was sexual. So was Amnon's. Like Father, like son. David committed murder. So did Absalom. Like Father, like son. The disturbing truth is that children of flawed people are flawed. And that doesn't mean that I can blame my Dad for my sins, nor can my son blame me (fortunately!) - we are all responsible for our actions. But as flawed people we are incapable of changing ourselves.
However, the 'Like Father, Like Son' truth applies to God too. God is loving, merciful and forgiving. He is just, comforting and patient. He is perfect. So is Jesus. Like Father, like son. And the miracle is that God sent his son as a human into the family tree of David. And in that sense, God fulfilled his promise to David to establish his Kingdom through him. But Jesus also shows us that God is in control in a far more wonderful way too, because Jesus solves the fundamental problem that we can't – separation from God (that spiritual catastrophic consequence of sin). His death and resurrection paved the way for anyone to be brought back into a loving relationship with God. Jesus is the hope for the modern day Amnon. He came to call us into a Kingdom where corruption, even like that of Amnon, can be washed clean. Jesus is the hope for the modern day Absalom. Calling us into a kingdom where justice has been done and we don't have to take matters into our own hands. Jesus is the hope for the modern day David. Calling us into a Kingdom where he has taken action to deal with the devastating effects of sin. And Jesus is the hope for the modern day Tamar. Calling us into a Kingdom where shame, even like the shame of Tamar can be removed.
Friends, this side of glory we will never fully understand how human sinful choices sit under God's sovereign control. But if you have been sinned against, please do take heart that God knows. He hates the sin. He holds you in his grip and whatever happens to you, he will love you forever. Praise him that 2 Samuel 13 is not the end of the story. Revelation 21 and 22. Those chapters are the end of the story for all those who are trusting in Jesus, because they tell of the wonderful new future where all the mess we see around us will be put right. No more abuse, no more lust, no more violence, no more tears and best of all – no more death. Just an ecstatic eternity of pure joy and goodness with our loving Heavenly Dad. Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, as we move on from the horrific crash site that is 2 Samuel 13, please help us to grasp the reality of sin, let us compassionately listen to the voice of the victims, and 'come what may' allow us to hold onto the truth that you are in control and working out your purposes for the good of those who love you.
In Jesus' Name Amen.
Sexual Assault: Healing Steps for Victims by David Powlison