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Established May 2009, Little Rock, AR

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Faith, Justice, and the Trials of Being Tamar

October 7, 2018

FAITH, JUSTICE, AND 

THE TRIALS OF BEING TAMAR

New Millennium Church, Little Rock, AR

October 7, 2018 (Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost)

 

2 Samuel 13:1-22


13Some time passed. David’s son Absalom had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; and David’s son Amnon fell in love with her. 2Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. 3But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah; and Jonadab was a very crafty man.4He said to him, ‘O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?’ Amnon said to him, ‘I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.’ 5Jonadab said to him, ‘Lie down on your bed, and pretend to be ill; and when your father comes to see you, say to him, “Let my sister Tamar come and give me something to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, so that I may see it and eat it from her hand.” ’ 6So Amnon lay down, and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, ‘Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, so that I may eat from her hand.’

7 Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, ‘Go to your brother Amnon’s house, and prepare food for him.’ 8So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. She took dough, kneaded it, made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. 9Then she took the pan and set them* out before him, but he refused to eat. Amnon said, ‘Send out everyone from me.’ So everyone went out from him. 10Then Amnon said to Tamar, ‘Bring the food into the chamber, so that I may eat from your hand.’ So Tamar took the cakes she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. 11But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, ‘Come, lie with me, my sister.’12She answered him, ‘No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile! 13As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel. Now therefore, I beg you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.’ 14But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she was, he forced her and lay with her.

15 Then Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her. Amnon said to her, ‘Get out!’ 16But 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. 17He called the young man who served him and said, ‘Put this woman out of my presence, and bolt the door after her.’18(Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves; for this is how the virgin daughters of the king were clothed in earlier times.*) So his servant put her out, and bolted the door after her. 19But Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying a loud as she went.

20 Her brother Absalom said to her, ‘Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart.’ So Tamar remained, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. 21When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.* 22But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad; for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had raped his sister Tamar.

 

Sovereign God,
you make us for each other,
to live in loving community
as friends, sons and daughters,
sisters and brothers, wives and husband,
partners and companions.
Teach us to choose love
that is committed and devoted;
teach us like little children
to wonder and to trust,
that our living may reflect the image of Christ. Amen.

 

Some sermons deal with topics and issues that are comfortable to address.  This sermon does not fit that category.

The passage for this sermon requires us to face the realities associated with sexual violence.  We read the first 22 verses in 2 Samuel 13 and crash head-on with patriarchy, male privilege, and how men abused power over a woman.  Her name was Tamar.  She is described at verse 1 as a beautiful sister of Absalom, the third son of King David.  

 

Tamar was Absalom’s full sister, and was half-sister to Amnon, David’s oldest son and the crown prince.  The Biblical account reports that Tamar was raped by her older half-brother, Amnon, in his home (verses 7-14).  After he raped Tamar, Amnon had a servant send Tamar from his home, having violated her body and her spirit (verses 15-19).  

 

Tamar’s brother, Absalom, told her to “be quiet for now, my sister, for he is your brother; do not take this to heart” (verse 20).  Meanwhile, Absalom stopped speaking to Amnon out of hatred, because Amnon raped Tamar (verse 22).  

 

We learn at verse 21 that King David, father to Amnon, Tamar, and Absalom, learned that Amnon raped Tamar.  We learn that David “became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.”  

 

And we learn at verse 20 that Tamar “remained, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house.”  In Absalom’s house and David’s kingdom, Tamar lived as a sexual abuse victim and survivor.  In Absalom’s house and David’s kingdom, Tamar waited for justice.  In Absalom’s house and David’s kingdom, Tamar waited for someone to speak her pain and demand justice.

 

Tamar has been very much on my mind lately.  

 

I thought about Tamar during the closing weeks of 2016 presidential election as news media reported that then-candidate Donald Trump verbally abused women and bragged that his maleness, wealth, and popularity enabled him to sexually assault women.  

 

I thought about Tamar as sexual abuse and assault allegations have been made by women and men against powerful journalists, media company owners, entertainers, politicians, and religious leaders.  

 

I thought about Tamar when Bill Cosby was accused, tried, found guilty, and sentenced to prison for drugging and raping a woman who trusted him as a mentor.  

 

I thought about Tamar when reports emerged weeks ago that Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted Dr. Christine Blassy Ford when they were teenagers.  

I thought about Tamar when Deborah Ramirez accused Kavanaugh of sexually exposing himself to her when they students at Yale University.  

 

I thought  about Tamar when Julie Swetnick came forward, through her attorney, and issued a sworn statement that she was a victim of gang rape at a house party where Kavanaugh was present.  

 

I thought about Tamar a lot in recent days as politicians jockeyed and journalists speculated about whether the allegations against Kavanaugh would be thoroughly investigated by the FBI.  

 

I thought about Tamar as members of the U.S. Senate announced whether they would vote to support or oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

 

The Senate voted yesterday by a margin of 50 to 48 to  confirm Brett Kavanaugh  as the 114th Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.  Justice Kavanaugh now joins the eight other members of the nation’s highest court.  Politicians and media pundits will argue for years about the Kavanaugh confirmation battle.  Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Clarence Thomas were confirmed to the nation’s highest court in the face of allegations that they engaged in offensive sexual conduct towards women.

 

For anyone who wonders why this concerns the religion of Jesus, I point to the lesson in 2 Samuel 13 about Tamar.  That lesson illustrates, plainly and painfully, the many ways politicians and preachers deny justice to victims of sexual violence while according favorable treatment to powerful men who prey upon them.  

 

Tamar, like so many other sexual violence survivors, was violated by someone she trusted when Amnon raped her.  Like so many other sexual violence survivors, Tamar received no support from the people who she needed most.  Her brother Absalom told her to be quiet.  The Biblical account does not indicate that her father David said anything to her, and states that David refused to punish Amnon.

 

How was it that Tamar was raped in Amnon’s house when Amnon had a valet on hand?  We read nothing in the passage about a female member of Amnon’s family.  Perhaps that is because this passage, like so many others in the Bible, may have been written by men from the perspective of men.  Perhaps the women in Tamar’s family were afraid to speak up out of fear they might offend David or Amnon.  We do not know.  We only know that Tamar is the only woman mentioned in this passage.    

 

Scripture does not show that Tamar was comforted, protected, or supported by any religious figure.  Where was the prophet Nathan?  Why didn’t he speak up for Tamar?  Nathan was the prophet who confronted David for taking Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, and then arranging to have Uriah killed in battle.  Nathan’s prophetic confrontation with David is mentioned at 2 Samuel 12.  What happened to that Nathan after Amnon raped Tamar?  Did he take a prophetic sabbatical?  Did Nathan come down with a case of prophetic laryngitis?  How was it that Nathan nor any other priest or prophet confronted David and demanded justice for Tamar?  Why did no priest or prophet condemn David for shielding Amnon from prosecution for raping anyone, not to mention raping David’s own daughter?  

 

Do not dismiss these questions from your minds, beloved. Instead, remember that over the past several weeks the religious leaders who brag about advising and praying for President Trump paid lip service to Dr. Christine Blassy Ford’s courage.  Meanwhile, they did not join calls for a full and impartial FBI investigation into the sexual assault allegations against Brett Kavanaugh made by Dr. Ford, Deborah Ramirez, and Julie Swetnick.  

 

From Amnon to Brett Kavanaugh, prophetic people appear weak concerning sexual violence.  Perhaps prophetic people appear weak on this fundamental violation of divine love and justice because our sensitivities have been impaired by patriarchy, male privilege, and sexist views about women.

 

Tamar, like victims of sexual violence today, lived in a society where notions of morality were defined by men.  Tamar, like victims of sexual violence today, depended on men in her family, in religion, and in government to speak up for her.  When they didn’t, Tamar, like victims of sexual violence today, was forced to bear the pain of her plight without help from the people she needed most – the leaders of her family, her faith, and her government.

 

The lessons for us are clear.  If we are to be true to the love and justice imperatives of God, we must speak up for people like Tamar.  If we are to be true to the love and justice imperatives of God, we should condemn and denounce people who commit sexual violence, whoever they may be.  

 

The Brett Kavanaugh nomination and confirmation controversy shows that we continue to repeat the mistakes today that were made long ago after Tamar was raped by Amnon.  Powerful men are protected while their victims are mistreated.  Religious and governmental leaders side with those who perpetrate sexual violence rather than with people who have been violated.  

 

The Biblical account concerning how Tamar was raped and then mistreated because of male privilege, patriarchy, and sexism against women happened is an old story with a clear meaning.  Tamar was not vindicated because powerful men cared more about protecting her rapist than they cared about her, about God, about other women, and about justice.  

 

The sad truth is that thousands of years later, Brett Kavanaugh has been treated like Amnon.  Thousands of years later, victims of sexual violence continue to be treated like Tamar.  

 

Meanwhile, we should not stop thinking about Tamar and other victims of sexual violence.  We should be saddened and angered that people who claim to be followers of Jesus urged politicians to confirm Brett Kavanaugh to a lifetime appointment on the highest court in the United States in the face of reports that he engaged in sexual violence, was present and complicit when other men committed sexual violence, and that he has been dishonest about it.

 

We should be saddened and angry that politicians who claim to be followers of Jesus have chosen to confirm a man accused of sexual violence against and towards women and did so knowing national leaders refused to thoroughly investigate those accusations.

 

Today, one thing is clear like never before.  This society, including those who are leaders in the religion of Jesus, has a lot to repent about when it comes to how we treat people like Tamar.  

 

Amen. 

 

©Wendell Griffen, 2018