The Rape of Tamar

I’ll never forget when two members of my congregation at Cockrell Hill UMC (two members of what I affectionately call the “Blue-haired Biddy Brigade”) came up to me after worship one Sunday and told me that they didn’t like the Old Testament Reading for that morning, and that they just couldn’t believe that such a horrible story could be found in the Holy Bible. If you’ve never read the story of the “Rape of Tamar” from 2 Samuel 13:1-22, take a moment to read it before gong on.

This is, indeed, a horrible story! But it is in the Holy Word of God, along with a lot of other difficult to read and accept stories. I must admit that I, too, was troubled by what I read the first time I read it. A brother raping his sister is simply not something you like to think or read about while worshiping your heavenly Lord on a beautiful Sunday morning. But, if nothing else it will probably spark some interesting thoughts and reflections in us on the nature of sin and guilt. I know it did for me when I first read it.

Firstly, I was angry. When we hear of an injustice, or read of a horrible violation of human rights--such as rape--we should get angry, we should get incensed. We feel as if we, too, were violated. We, with Absalom, cannot help but feel hatred for Amnon because of what he did to our sister, Tamar.

Secondly, I was struck by the never-ending, never changing nature of sin. For some reason, we modern folk seem to think that the sins that people commit in the late twentieth century are far worse than the sins of previous ages. And, while there does appear to be more of it around today, the nature of sin really has not changed. Sin is still sin, be it committed in the 1900s BC, or in the 1900s AD. We can read about it on the front pages of the Morning News, or in the pages of the Bible. Sin is everywhere.

Thirdly, I was struck by my own reactions, my own thoughts and feelings. After all, one of the reasons for reading more than one scripture lesson on Sunday Morning is so that we might be more attentive to the voice of God, speaking to us in many ways. What could we possibly hear from God in such a horrible account of sin?

Perhaps we should first ask a more fundamental question: why did Amnon hate Tamar after he had raped her? Why did he throw her out of his house? Why did he treat her so horribly, even after he had gotten his way with her? One possible answer is that he felt guilty. He hated her not because of anything she had done, but because of what he had done to her. Her presence reminded him of his sin. By throwing her out, and hating her, he was trying to distract his attention away from his evil deed, and ignore the guilt of his sin. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?

We often find ways of ignoring our own guilt when we have sinned against God, or against others. We get angry at them. We hate the people we have sinned against. We avoid them for fear of being reminded of what we have done to them. We are masters at finding ways to distract ourselves away from our sins. We are virtuosos at convincing ourselves that our sins really aren’t sins, as I’m sure Amnon managed to do during the two years that he lived after the rape. The message is clear: we, like Amnon, are sinners--and we don’t like being reminded of it.

What else might God have been saying to us through this story? Perhaps what we most needed to hear--and certainly what I needed to hear--was that the sin of one person can have far-reaching repercussions. That’s one of the things that makes sin so horrible. It is an affront to God because we are not just failing Him and His trust, we are also harming uncounted others. I’m sure that Amnon had no idea that, nearly 3000 years after the fact, we would be reading in a worship service an account of how he raped his sister. His sin harmed her, her family, her father, and God. It also harmed us while, at the same time, it reminded us that we are, indeed, sinners, and as much in need of God’s Grace as was Amnon.

© 1993, Rev. Gregory S. Neal
All Rights Reserved