Daughters in the Bible: Tamar, Was Left Defenseless

Tamar was the daughter of King David and Maacah and the sister of Absalom.  She had a half-brother, who is prominent in what happens to her named, Amnon, who was David’s first born and the son of Ahinoam the Jezerite.

David had many children

In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.  {2 Samuel 13:1}

The name Tamar means date {the fruit}, date palm or palm tree.  Tamar is the only daughter mentioned in scripture of King David.  She is described as beautiful.

Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. {2 Samuel 13:2}

Amnon was so in love with Tamar that it made him ill.  He probably could not eat or sleep and was obsessed with her.

Thamar by Alexandre Cabanel from Wikipedia

Now Amnon had an adviser named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David’s brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man.  He asked Amnon, “Why do you, the king’s son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won’t you tell me?”

Amnon said to him, “I’m in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”  {2 Samuel 13:3-4}

Amnon shared his troubles with his cousin and advisor.  However, sadly the advice he was given was not wise.

 “Go to bed and pretend to be ill,” Jonadab said. “When your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.’”  {2 Samuel 13:5}  The next verse states that he does just that.

Amnon tells his father he wants Tamar to tend to him.  David had no idea what his son’s intention was.  Tamar, a loving sister, did just as she was asked.

Depiction of the rape, by Eustache Le Sueur (c. 1640) from Wikipedia

David sent word to Tamar at the palace: “Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him.”  So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it.  Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat.  {2 Samuel 13:7-9}

She carefully prepared all of the food for her brother, in his sight.  Baking this bread was not like popping it in the oven or the bread maker, but it took time and work.

“Send everyone out of here,” Amnon said. So everyone left him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom.  But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.”  {2 Samuel 13:10-11}


Absalom, was the son of Maacah

“No, my brother!” she said to him. “Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing… But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.  {2 Samuel 13:12-14}

Amnon defiled his sister in the most brutal of ways.

“A man she knew as a brother made her a woman who, in that culture, could no longer marry, a woman stripped of her dignity and made her a desolate woman.”  {Women of the Bible study Bible}

In just a moment she went from a bright future to no future at all.  She would never marry or have children.  But Amnon’s heart turned from love to hatred.

Absalom told Tamar to say nothing

 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!”  “No!” she said to him. “Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me.  {2 Samuel 13:15-16}

“Amnon had acted against what he himself knew was right.  No person can violate deeply held personal convictions without drastically affecting himself as well as others. The passion Amnon had had for Tamar was transformed into hatred, for now he saw her as the cause of his own moral failure.”  {Every Woman in the Bible}

So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing an ornate robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore.  {2 Samuel 13:18}

King David must have been heartbroken

As the king’s daughter, she was clearly dressed beautifully.  After all, she was in an ornate or intricate robe.

 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.  {2 Samuel 13:19}

Tamar mourned for what had been taken from her.  She tore her clothing, placed ashes on her head and wept.  This is a symbol of debasement, mourning and/or repentance.  Remember, her father did just this when his and Bathsheba’s first son was dying.  That is believed to have been only a short time before Tamar’s tragedy.

Absalom killed Amnon for raping his sister

“As soon as the storm of his passion died down, Amnon’s infatuation turned to hatred.  He threw Tamar out of his house, bolting the door against her, as though she, not he, were the guilty one.”  {Women of the New Testament}

Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman. {2 Samuel 13:20}

Tamar went from having options of where to live and who to marry to know hope for the future.  Her brother, Absalom, took her into his home.  But notice what he says to her.  He doesn’t tell her to talk about it, but to be quiet and not take it to heart.  Anyone that has been defiled knows this is very difficult to do and can later lead to all sorts of issues and problems.

“But Absalom’s advice—“hold your peace” and “do not take this thing to heart”—shows how little Absalom understood how devastating the rape was to Tamar…Clearly Absalom was not thinking of his sister’s welfare but of how he might take revenge on Amnon.  It served Absalom’s purposes to have Tamar remain silent; it did not serve Tamar’s needs.”  {Women—the Life and Times}

Absalom had no understanding of how devastating this act was on his sister.  He was only bent on devising a form of revenge.  He clearly was not concerned with the scars left on Tamar’s heart and soul.

Absalom was later murdered

But, how did her father act?

 When King David heard all this, he was furious.  And Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar.  {2 Samuel 13:21-22}

“Tamar, unprotected by her father, betrayed by her own brother, lived in Absalom’s house, a desolate woman, without the possibility of marriage or children because she was no longer a virgin.” {Women in the Bible}

Tamar was not just betrayed by two of her brothers {the one who raped her and the one who told her to keep quiet} but also by her own father.  He did not protect her or her honor.  He did not wrap his arms around her and provide comfort.

We are not told why, but probably because he was reminded of his own actions with Bathsheba. 

“It is likely that David felt he had lost the moral authority required to condemn another what he himself had done.  While we can understand David’s reticence, we cannot excuse it. As king and father, David was responsible to deal with his son’s actions.”  {Every Woman in the Bible}

David did nothing to deal with his son’s actions.  So, Absalom’s hatred festered and grew until he finally took his revenge.

“David’s failure to act left Tamar to suffer in silence and ultimately led not only to Amnon’s murder but also to the rebellion that Absalom led against him.”  {Every Woman in the Bible}

David reigned as king for 40 years but saw much of his family lost

The remainder of 2 Samuel 13 describes how two years pass and then Absalom kills Amnon for what he did and then flees.   However, nothing else is mentioned about Tamar.

“All we know of Tamar after this is that she remained desolate in her brother’s house…later Absalom named his own daughter after his sister.”  {Every Woman in the Bible}

Tamar was betrayed in the worst way with no protection or help.

We live in a society today where emotions are much easier expressed and there are place to turn for assistance with our pain.  Betrayal is never easy, but today we do not have to suffer in silence the way Tamar did.  There are support groups and places for counseling.  There are laws that protect us and we can go to the authorities.

But most of all, in our time of pain, we can always turn to Jesus.  He is our Lord and Savior and the best listener of all.

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