Last week, the Genesis-Tamar beguiled her former father-in-law into sleeping with her, thus getting pregnant and continuing her dead husband's line. For this, she was deemed "righteous" by Judah, the father of her twins. Not only that, she gets a mention in the gospel of Matthew in Jesus' lineage. The Bible doesn't tell us if her life was all that she had hoped for (after burying two husbands) but we'd like to think that she found joy once more, caring for her boys.
There's something special about mothers and sons. I've noticed the same thing with daddies and daughters. My first son, Caleb, is 34 today. We were a married couple for a year when Caleb was born; we were a family of three for less than two years when our first daughter came along. But those months with just Caleb were happy ones. Being a new, proud mother, I loved taking care of him.
The second Tamar's story has no happy endings, no chubby-faced sons bouncing on a mother's knees. In fact, I can't think of how Tamar Two's story could be much sadder.
Here is the context: King David has wives and assorted concubines, but still, he must have the wife of one of his mighty men. The heart wants what (and who) the heart wants. And too, from this spot in history, we know that David had to be married to Bathsheba in order for the wise King Solomon to be born - David's DNA + Bathsheba's DNA at that particular time = baby Solomon. It was, in some mysterious way I cannot fathom, God's perfect will for David and Bathsheba to meet and mate. Probably there was another path that didn't include adultery and murder (see 2 Samuel 11) but I may be wrong about that. I've been wrong before.
So. David and Bathsheba are married, bury a child, rejoice over the birth of Solomon. He also manages to battle the Ammonites and then, "in the course of time" (How much time? Scripture is vague on this point, as it is about so much.) one of his sons has a heart issue of his own.
Amnon was the son of David and Ahinoam, while Tamar and her brother Absalom were born to David and Maacah. Ahinoam and Maacah get little press, but their children provide quite a cautionary tale. It happened like this:
Amnon fell in love with Tamar. The Bible doesn't routinely describe its characters, but Tamar was beautiful. But get this:
Amnon became frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. (2 Samuel 13:2, italics mine, of course - Bible do not use them, as you know)
We know right off that Amnon is a skunk, and that his so-called love for Tamar is only an infatuation, a physical attraction, lust - simple, and anything but pure. Real love, however misplaced it may appear to others, is still focused on bringing pleasure to the object of one's desire, of bringing him or her joy. Amnon's "love" is completely selfish.
The words for love used in this passage are the Hebrew aheb and ahab, but clearly, the Hebrews could have used another word for love, just as English could. There's love, and then there's love. We may love pizza, the Dolphins, Tim Tebow, the color blue, a favorite song, the way the water sparkles on a perfect Florida beach. We may love grandchildren, chocolate pecan pie, a friend's new hairdo, the fact that The Glades is back on tv. These loves are as different from what God intends for the crowning glory of his creation as...well, as Amnon was from Tamar.
Amnon is consumed by lust (I can't bring myself to use the word love in his case) for Tamar. He moans about it to his buddy and cousin Jonadab, equally maggot-like in character, who suggests a plan. Amnon should feign sickness, knowing that dear old dad will check on him (which actually surprises me...King David made visits to his kids when they were sick but didn't know what creeps they'd turned into?).
The oblivious David visits Amnon as planned. Amnon asks that Tamar come and minister to him, fix him some special bread, feed him herself. David thinks it's a fine plan. Perhaps he's touched, as any father would be, that his kids get along so well. Talk about clueless!
Tamar compliantly mixes the dough and cooks the bread before him. I assume they're making small talk during the process, catching up on family news -- when you've got that big a family, it would take time. The Bible doesn't say who else is hanging around, but it's clear that others are there, because when she finally offers him a plate, he won't eat and sends everyone else away.
|"Amnon and Tamar" by Jan Steen (year, unknown)|
"Bring it to me in the bedroom," he says, reminiscent of the wolf of Red Riding Hood fame. When she does, he grabs her and says...smooth talker that he isn't..."Come to bed with me." Or words to that effect. You get the idea that the writer of the story decided to make the X-rated circumstances as PG as possible.
Tamar, as you can imagine, is immediately upset, but shows her more excellent character. She doesn't knee him in the family jewels or scream for help. "Talk to Daddy," she says. "Don't bring shame on me or on the family or on Israel. I'm willing, if it will make you happy, but don't force me. Don't be a fool."
But he is what he is. He overpowers her, and rapes her. And this is how we know he didn't love her at all. Not only did he rape her, but this poster boy for bipolar suddenly discovers he hates Tamar, and tells her to leave.
Tamar, incredibly, is still concerned for Amnon's reputation more than her own. "No! If you send me away, that's even worse than what you've already done!" Tamar was quite a young woman, wasn't she?
And it just goes downhill from there. Absalom takes Tamar in, where she lives the rest of her life a desolate, sad, damaged girl. David gets wind of it and is "furious" but it's all bluff and bluster -- he does nothing. Absalom keeps quiet for the time being, but never forgives Amnon. Two years later, though, he orders his men to kill his half-brother.
David's first report is that all his sons have been killed, but the troll, Jonadab, tells David not to worry. "Only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom's expressed intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar."
Expressed intention. He'd talked about it. Jonadab was a cousin, closer to Amnon -- why hadn't he warned Amnon? Why hadn't David heard about it through the palace grapevine and dealt with it promptly?
Absalom flees, but it's not over yet. He makes a bid for the throne, breaks his father's heart, rapes David's concubines publicly, and is killed in battle. Tragic.
And you thought your family was dysfunctional. My mother commented recently that she never thought "our family" would be so messed up. And it's true, there are family members who won't speak to other family members. Division, divorce, personal devastation. Way too much drama. In fact, we've got just about everything within our extended family that King David had in his, or any other messed up family has in theirs. Because that's sort of the point: we are all messed up, to one degree or another. There are no perfect people. Ergo, there are no perfect families.
The best we can do is relish the happy times, like my son's birthday today, or Thanksgiving with so many of our loved ones last week, or getting to talk to my youngest grandson, or watching the other grandkids play together, or celebrating anniversaries this week: our 35th, our daughter Becky's 7th. We cling to all the joys we possibly can, wring out every drop of happiness we can manage in anticipation of the challenges we will face.
Jesus said that in this world, we would have tribulation. We will. If we haven't by now, we will eventually. We will fail others, and others will fail us. We will, most importantly, fail to live up to the standards God has provided. What makes the happiest families and the happiest people is the knowledge that nothing can happen that will turn true love to hate. The Amnons of the world don't understand that kind of love; they can't. They are not to be despised, but pitied.
Morals of the story: Fathers need to pay attention to their families, or things can get out of hand quickly. David was a man after God's heart, but he let down those closest to him. And if David did, it's a safe bet that we will too. But guess what? God used it all. He still uses it all.
I wonder what Tamar's reaction was when she learned that Absalom had avenged her? From the little we know of her, I'm guessing she wept. She was willing to marry a rapist and cover his sin for the sake of her family. I doubt his death brought either joy or closure. She lost her innocence, and two brothers, and must have lost respect for her father as well.
I told you it was a sad story. Perhaps God wanted it in the Bible to encourage us, much the same way people watch "Hoarders" on television....so we can say, with relief, "Well at least we're not that bad."
While we're sighing with appreciation that we manage to put the "fun" in "dysfunctional," we need to remember tat some families really do have it that bad, dealing with unmentionable tragedy every day. And they may live next door. May we be sensitive to others, grateful for what we have, and attentive to God's wisdom with everyone.
People. Sometimes you just shake your head and wonder what God thinking, and then someone comes along whose love and ability to bring you joy makes you shake your head for the opposite reason.
Caleb's one of those people for me....happy birthday, son!