Gender-based violence is an ancient sin that for thousands of years has harmed countless women, children and men. It is a sin that Christians need to recognize, understand and confront, for our religious history also bears its stain.
Tamar’s Story: Power and Sexual Violence
Hebrew Bible: II Samuel 13
19 But 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 aloud 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.
21 When 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.
Tamar was King David’s daughter. Her half-brother Amnon, King David’s firstborn son, raped her after he tricked her into his house. Then he threw her out on her own.
No one listened to Tamar. Amnon ignored her pleas not to rape her and not to cast her out. She courageously begged Amnon to follow Israel’s laws and not sexually attack her. She tried to protect herself but could not.
Absalom, Tamar’s brother, told her to be silent about Amnon raping her. Two years later, he killed Amnon.
King David did nothing. Although David was angry when he found out what Amnon had done, he protected Amnon because he wanted him to be the next king.
He had the means to hold Amnon accountable and to care for Tamar. Instead, he was silent; he did not seek justice for her or become her ally.
Those who could have intervened on her behalf did not. They made her into “a desolate woman.” (See II Samuel 13:1-33.) Tamar was silenced and isolated. She alone lamented what others had done to her.
David and others completely failed Tamar. She is not mentioned again in Scripture. Although God loved Tamar, she suffered from human violence in this broken and sinful world. God also loved David. God sent prophets to confront him because his leadership often created a web of deceit, violence and silence.
Exegesis by Evangelical Lutheran Church in America