This Old Testament Bible Study is an excerpt from my recent book The Creator’s Healing Power—Restoring the Broken to Beautiful. It is about Tamar, the daughter of King David who was raped by her brother Amnon and then lived the rest of her life “a desolate woman.” The story is quite tragic but it helps us wrestle with some very tough questions. Ultimately we must relinquish control and give God our deepest hurts and pains.
May God heal the deep places within all of us.
And She Lived her Life a Desolate Woman: a Meditation on II Samuel 13
Amnon took hold of Tamar and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my 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. 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.” But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.
Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Get up! Go!” But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.” Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves, for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud [zaaq – a distress signal or cry for help] as she went.
And her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” So Tamar lived, a desolate [samem – stunned, denotes something so horrible that it can leave a person speechless] woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry. But he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, since he was his firstborn. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad, for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had violated his sister Tamar. ~ 2 Samuel 13:11-38, ESV
Like a large pill, this passage is hard to swallow. If I’m honest, it tears at my heart. I don’t like it at all. However… let’s see what God might be teaching us through His Word.
Allow me to set the stage for this terrible tragedy. Amnon and Tamar were half-siblings. Amnon was the firstborn son of King David by his wife Ahinoam. Tamar was also a daughter of King David by his wife Maacah, a princess from the neighboring kingdom Geshur. Therefore, Tamar was not only a princess through her father but also through her mother, who would have been one of the highest ranking woman among David’s wives. Tamar was royal through and through. The Bible also indicates she was both very beautiful and a virgin. As the custom of the day dictated, she was likely promised in marriage to a prince in a neighboring country. As far as women go in that era, she was at the top—the only thing that would have gained her more rank was to be the mother of a son. The future looked bright. Tamar was beautiful, pure and desired, elevated in a society that did not hold many women in very high regard.
And then selfish, evil Amnon destroys her! Filled with lust, he takes what he wants and then literally throws her out of his room with utter disdain! Notice her actions—she rips her clothing and covers herself with ashes—both indications that she is grieving a death. And the hand to her head indicates that she bears an unbearable burden. News of Amnon’s actions and Tamar’s ruin would’ve traveled very quickly through the palace.
And then, not only does Amnon fail her, so does her father David. Amnon should’ve been punished, but his father lets him get away with what is essentially murder in that culture. David also could’ve forced Amnon to marry Tamar, which may have gone against God’s law, but was not out of the question in that culture. By requiring Amnon to marry her, it would’ve secured her place in the king’s harem, even if he never had relations with her again. But David fails to act on her behalf.
Should’ve. Could’ve. Would’ve.
So her brother Absalom tries his best to make things right. In vengeance, he takes the life of Amnon and tries to take over David’s throne. But as I said, he tries. Eventually his “trying” will cost him his life. I am amazed at the dysfunction of King David’s family. David, the man after God’s own heart, how far from God’s heart your family has traveled.
And amidst all the violence, deception, injustice and death is Tamar. Scripture tells us she lived out her life a desolate woman in the house of her brother Absalom. Once elevated to the highest place in society, she has fallen almost as low as possible for a woman in her culture. Only leprosy would’ve made her situation worse.
I’ve often pondered those words
—“a desolate woman”—
what that meant for her….
My heart breaks for her. I long to know what really happened to our beautiful Tamar. I have often looked at the words of her brother Absalom, “Be quiet now, my sister. Don’t take this thing to heart,” and begin to wonder if this speaks to the real cause of her desolation.
Her injustice is never recognized.
Her pain is never given a voice.
No expression: only repression.
Read the passage above again, paying close attention to the words in italics.
Amnon refused to listen to her pleas.
He refused to listen to her!
Her distress signal, her cry for help, went unanswered.
Her burden so heavy, her violation so deep, it left her stunned, without words.
Then, her brother Absalom, who actually cared for her tells her to be quiet. I know he was trying to say the right thing, but it fell so extremely short of what she needed at that moment. In my head, my heart, my soul, I hear all the words Tamar left unspoken:
All that I am and have ever lived for
has been stolen from me!
By my own brother!
He violated me in the worse possible way!
I will never have a husband who cares for me!
I will never have children to love and be loved by in return!
Don’t take this thing to heart?!?!?!
My heart has been ripped from my very chest
with no one to bind my wounds!
There is no hope for me! Ever!
I was a princess!
While the men around Tamar paid her voice no heed, her words still echo eerily through this passage that is so hard to swallow. When I question why this story is included in our scriptures, I realize it’s because God wants us to hear Tamar’s voice.
We hear you, Tamar! We hear the depth of your pain calling out from the pages of this ancient story, crying out for justice against the violation you have endured. Keep screaming! Keep weeping aloud! We hear your distressed voice crying out for help, for justice, for the wrong to be made right. We know there is no way not to take this to heart—it grows ugly, twisted roots into the very soil of your soul! Even though you are stunned into silence, we hear all the words you cannot say. All the words frozen in your throat, frozen in your heart, frozen in your soul.
I think God not only wants us to hear her voice, but also to learn from Tamar’s voice. In her book Coping with Depression, Myra Chave-Jones describes depression as “frozen rage.” And David Seamunds, author of Healing for Damaged Emotion, agrees: “If you have a consistently serious problem with depression, you have not resolved some area of anger in your life. As surely as the night follows day, depression follows unresolved, repressed, or improperly expressed anger.” In addition to anger, I would also add grief, pain and fear.
When you have no voice, it claws at your God-given need for significance, belonging, and the need to feel both safe and loved. Ultimately only God can fulfill these God-given needs. Yet he has also placed people around us with gifts of compassion, grace, faith and discernment to help us process these deep emotions. This isn’t a journey meant to be traveled alone.
If you suffer from depression, you must be given a voice to express the unresolved or repressed anger frozen in your own heart. The heart cannot let go of what it has not grieved, so you must give yourself permission to grieve. Read the laments found in Psalms 69, 102 and 109. Send up your own distress signal to God, expressing the depths of your anger, grief and pain. If someone you love suffers from depression, don’t quiet them or try to minimize their pain. Help them find their voice. A caring counselor, a peer group, a caregiver trained in formational healing prayer are just a few of the ways to help find a voice for pain, for anger, for the injustice against you or your loved one.
Isaiah 58 says this:
“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet… Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
…The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”
As you give your heart voice for your pain, anger, fear and grief, may this blessing fall on you and fill the places in your soul left void and empty. Like a well-watered garden, may the Holy Spirit’s living water fill you and never fail you. Let those around you help you rebuild, repair, raise up and restore all that has been stolen from you. May you find a voice in Him whose voice created the heavens and the earth.
And may your spirit be set free, in Jesus’ name!
Blessings of Healing & Hope, Jody
(C) 2014 Jody Thomae
Jody Thomae is the author of God’s Creative Gift—Unleashing the Artist in You, The Creator’s Healing Power—Restoring the Broken to Beautiful, and Jesus In My Practice: Bringing the Questions of Jesus to My Movement, My Meditation & My Mat, all devotional Bible studies to nurture creativity and embodiment. Her passion is for the revelation of God to be made more real through the prophetic use of the creative arts in church and formational ministry. It is her desire to portray the message of Christ’s desperate and unfailing love for His people to help sustain the hearts of the broken and weary. She is particularly interested in the way in which God uses the arts and embodiment to bring formational development and healing to His people.
NOTE: This post originally appeared on Defying Shadows (below). However, that site is no longer available, so all of the original post is above.