A tale of two Tamars: Power and who has it - Part 2

This is the second of three blogs on this subject.


In our first article we saw how David’s entitlement demonstrated in his sin with Bathsheba found itself perpetuated in Amnon his son and left him unable to perceive the dangers it held for his family and particularly his daughter Tamar. We saw how these missed opportunities to intervene and avoid unsafe environments mirror the opportunities and responsibilities we have to ensure the safety of the young, the vulnerable and the lonely – safety from predatory behaviours that we often have overlooked.

In this article we look at the consequences of Amnon’s rape of his sister Tamar and reflect on Judah’s mistreatment of his daughter-in-law Tamar.

Reality: rape is about hate and violence – it is not about sex or love

Following Amnon’s rape of Tamar, the record continues, 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!” (NIV).

The true nature of Amnon’s self-interest characterised as “love” is starkly demonstrated by this statement. The true nature of abuse and particularly sexual abuse is that it is justified under a veneer of “love” and supported by commitments of “undying love” or guilt trips that “you don’t love me”. Yet, once the violence is perpetrated, the equally overwhelming emotion communicated to the victim is often hate. This was so evident to the observer narrator of scripture that they compared it with the love with which he had “loved” her. An intense hatred.

Tamar stridently objects to him, and perhaps there is nothing he hated hearing more than a woman telling him, “No”. In this case, “No I won’t go”. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.” Tamar appears to be referring to the Deuteronomy 22:28-29 law which benefited the raped woman because she could not be abused and then discarded in the way Amnon was doing. The law was ensuring that a woman rendered unmarriageable by the rape would be able to have access to all the rapist’s resources until she died because he could not even divorce her.

He calls the servant and commands him to, “put this woman out and bolt the door” after her as if she were as shameful and wretched as she had warned him of.

Our response to rape needs to understand the violence and hatred inherent in the act. In our day sisters can generally find support structures within the society and community, even when they are unable to marry (and some may be so affected by rape). The law requiring the rapist to marry the victim has no place in our age. Parents faced with unmarried daughters who are pregnant must be careful to ensure they can discern the true nature of the situations that led to it, and be aware that a shot-gun wedding that commits their daughter to someone who is really her rapist may be assigning her to a lifetime of hatred and abuse, even when he cries he loves her, pleads his undying love and even when she says she wants to marry him. Not all pre-marital sex is rape, but we must not assume it is consensual.

Of rape in marriage

Rape in marriage is a criminal act in most developed countries including Australia. Rape is not about sex or sexual entitlements. It is a violent act intended to overwhelm, overpower, embarrass, and humiliate another person. It is an act of hatred, power and control. It can’t be true love if it is rape and this includes rape in marriage. A husband rapist is an unsafe situation for a sister to be in and if it is disclosed, ensuring her safety must surely be our priority. Such a husband fails in not providing for the emotional needs of his household (1 Tim 5:8), putting his own selfish interests ahead of his wife’s and is clearly not dwelling with her in an understanding way (Eph 5). He can be treated as an unbeliever and it is unsafe for us to be seeking to force a sister to live with a rapist.

Our Lord would say, “You are not alone” – God is a refuge to the oppressed (Psalm 9:9).

Our Lord would say, “It is not your fault”. Deuteronomy 22:25-26 made it clear the punishment (death) was due to the rapist and the raped was to be left alone.

Our Lord would say, “You are valuable”. God created you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139) and every hair of your head is numbered.

We need to ensure that our community provides a safe place for her. If we don’t we are walking in darkness – we lie and live not the truth. (1 John 1:5-7)

Tamar’s autonomy and voice – would we have been complicit?

Tamar’s response shows her real autonomy and voice. She tears her robe, puts ashes on her head and goes about the halls of the palace “crying aloud”. It is a mourning for her loss and grief. It emphasises the injustice just as the prophets cried aloud at injustices just like this one throughout the nation’s history (Isa. 58:1). Amnon would not hear her, and the deed was perpetrated in private but she would make sure everyone heard of it and was forced to confront the true nature of the act. Whilst Amnon was the perpetrator the bystanders played their part and the culture of the palace from Yahweh’s king and down made it possible.

Scripture does not criticise her action, or challenge her from Deut. 17:6 for the lack of two witnesses.

David does nothing. He hears of it, but chooses not punish his son – perhaps because he was morally compromised and unable to.

Absalom clarifies the situation and coerces her not to make a scene for the sake of the family.

Tamar lives in Absalom’s house, a desolate woman. Absalom holds that power and knowledge over his older brother and bides his time with hate seething inside of him and infusing a poisonous family relationship.

Justice is not done. Murder is bred. Hate is multiplied on hate.

In contrast to choosing to hear a victim’s autonomy and voice, the alternate choice to be silent makes us complicit like Absalom. Rape is a persistent problem, even amongst the saints and has been since Genesis. Silence is simply dangerous. Silence enables a violent status quo. It keeps a culture of violence alive. It leads to survivors blaming themselves and living with guilt for the rest of their lives.

Tamar used her autonomy and voice and her message comes down loudly and clearly to us. The violence occurred behind closed doors – likewise today, domestic violence and rape generally happen in secret. When victims and survivors use the little autonomy they have and when they find their voice and loudly call our their rapist or abuser we need to hear. Systems that sweep it under the carpet, people that enable it and people that could have changed the course of history and saved a world of pain but chose not to, fail to act as servants of our Lord. We need to hear the disclosures, believe them and act to relieve the oppression, ensure restitution is made and injustices are not permitted.

You and me in the narrative of 2 Samuel 13

The narrative of 2 Samuel 13 features you and me. The challenge for us individually is to find the clarity of mind, perspicacity of thinking and honest appraisal to allow each of us to recognise just exactly where we are individually featured in the narrative.

To the Tamar’s amongst us:

It is the character of Tamar herself that can first help us find that clarity. Brothers and sisters, too many of our sisters and even some of our brothers and the unbaptised children of brothers and sisters are “Tamars” in the story of our lives. Abuse including sexual abuse and harassment which ought not to be named amongst us happens with monotonous regularity. There are people in our ecclesias and some who were in our ecclesias who have suffered similarly to Tamar. They have suffered not just because they have been raped but because the injustice has been swept under the carpet, powerful people have been allowed to get away with it. Victims have been blamed, vilified and worse.

If you are, sadly, one of those people who have suffered this – if you have suffered the degradation and violence that is rape or other sexual violence or harassment, whether from within the ecclesia or without, we send our love. We pray for God’s healing arms to hold you and that you might find strength and comfort in His promise to relieve oppression and punish evil-doers whilst bringing justice for his chosen ones.

If you choose to use your autonomy and voice – if you choose to disclose your experience, there are people who will listen. The reality of our community around the world is that many of us live in places where there are few brothers and sisters, and perhaps fewer ecclesias. Unfortunately, not every ecclesia and not every brother or sister will understand. This is not acceptable as Christ’s followers, but it is what you can expect. You might need to reach out for help at a distance, but technology provides a lot of opportunities to do that. There are Christadelphians who are professional counsellors in many countries. They are often willing to help from a distance. There are brothers and sisters willing to support you engaging with family and ecclesias too, again reaching out over the internet or by telephone to teach and encourage a better response in our midst.

Let’s be clear. Whatever people might say, there is nothing wrong with you if you chose to use your autonomy and voice, and to cry loudly. You should not be vilified for doing that. Unfortunately even well-meaning people will want to shut you down. Please remember it is not your fault and neither should you carry the shame.

Just as Tamar was a desolate woman, so the consequences of the violence can be overwhelming and devastating. Those of us who have not been raped cannot and should not think we can understand the depths of the violation or the effects of the evil perpetrated. You should not accept other people’s prejudice and judgmental attitudes, even if this is the common view towards you. It is sadly, their problem, and an injustice that may well not be resolved until our Lord returns. You can hold your head high and to the extent you can find the strength, don’t let it affect you. If people are bad company don’t feel compelled to maintain their company – that may mean moving away from them. Judgmental people can be anticipated, so prepare yourself to tell them simply and directly that it is none of their business and you don’t want to hear them mention it again. You can remind them that they were not there and that gossip and slander is a gross sin.

Some people will tell you that it is your problem to forgive the offender, or perhaps that “he has repented in tears, and God has forgiven him so you should too” (as just one example). This is an offensive suggestion and does not reflect the reality of Christ’s teaching. Our Lord expected an acknowledgment of the offence caused, repentance and as John the Baptist would say, showing fruits “meet for repentance”. These are God’s expectations of all of us when we sin, and what we should expect of those who would have us forgive them.

Forgiveness and trust, however, are two different things. No one else can demand you trust a perpetrator. Ecclesias should prioritise a survivor’s spiritual needs ahead of the person who perpetrated the violence. If a survivor will not abide being in the same place as their perpetrator, ecclesias should respect this and find other ways to support the spiritual development of perpetrators in ways that do not involve them being physically with the ecclesia. It is a consequence of their offending. There is no entitlement for them – be it because they are forgiven, or for freedom to attend the assembly of the saints. In many jurisdictions the authorities will support court orders which prohibit offenders coming near the survivors of their offending. Ecclesias should find ways to support the needs of survivors by caring for offenders away from general ecclesial gatherings.

For the rest of us who do not carry this burden of being a survivor of sexual violence and harassment, we have the privilege of exercising a choice – a choice of who we are (and who we will be) in the narrative.

  • Are we a bad influence? For instance, are we a parent lacking moral fibre or providing a bad role model as David? Are we a spiritual leader breaking Christ’s commandments and leading others to think that they too are entitled to do that? Are we a friend, but a bad influence - a Jonadab who has bad morals and is prepared to scheme and counsel wickedness and evil for personal gain.

  • Are we a bystander like the servants who blindly did as commanded and left the room, leaving a woman in danger?

  • Are we an enabler – a person who when help is requested, is unwilling to care for the oppressed and relieve oppression, when it is clearly within our control? We know from David’s response to Samuel’s parable that he felt for the poor ewe lamb and its owner, yet he could not bring himself to put caring for the oppressed ahead of the interests of his family.

  • Are we a schemer like Absalom who swept the issue under the table whilst plotting and scheming human revenge? There is no room for “ecclesial power brokers” who “get things done” by intrigue and subtlety.