Traditionally, women have had good reason to feel as if they are of less value than men. In society and in the church, women have been treated as lower-class citizens for centuries, in spite of the efforts of religious and political action groups to elevate their status.
Probably the most devastating result of this erroneous view of women is the worldwide crisis of abuse. Women and girls are victimized by all forms of abuse with alarming frequency.
In the United States alone, one woman in four has been the victim of some form of violence against her body, soul or spirit. Statistics on domestic abuse, verbal abuse, sexual abuse, incest and rape cross all economic, social, racial, educational and geographical lines.
Abuse has devastating effects on its victims. One of the most detrimental is the shattering of self-esteem. Women who have been abused typically suffer from guilt, shame, self-blame and a poor self-image for the rest of their lives unless God intervenes.
In a sense they are victimized twice: first by the actual assault and then by the assumption of much of society and often the legal community that somehow they were responsible for the horrendous crimes perpetrated against them. The implicit blame adds the tremendous weight of guilt to the already overwhelming burden of the assault itself.
An Age-old Story Though abuse is a current phenomenon, it is not a new one, as the story of Tamar in the Old Testament shows (see 2 Sam. 13:1-20). Tamar was King David’s daughter, the sister of Absalom and the half-sister of Amnon. Her tragic story reveals that the abuse of women has been a part of history for a long time.
It also shows that abuse is not merely a personal tragedy. It impacts the perpetrator, the victim, the parents, the siblings, the extended family members, and even succeeding generations. The text in Second Samuel covers all these participants and gives us a clear picture of the circumstances and the consequences of abuse.
When the story begins, Tamar is a young girl, still under her father’s protection. In biblical times, girls were married or betrothed in their early teens. Since Tamar is single, we can conclude that she is perhaps 14 years old or younger.
Amnon, her half-brother, on the other hand, has his own land, his own home, his own flocks, his own independent homestead. He is clearly an adult.
Amnon is obsessed with wrong feelings for Tamar. In fact, he is so consumed with his inappropriate desires that they begin to take a physical toll on him. He becomes irritable and loses weight, and his countenance and demeanor are so altered that his cousin, Jonadab, notices and asks him what the problem is (see vv. 3-4).
When Amnon tells his cousin that he desires Tamar, Jonadab helps him plot a way to get her alone. In fact, Jonadab is the one who comes up with a plan to provide an opportunity for the assault, telling Amnon to pretend to be sick and to ask his father, David, to send Tamar to cook for him and feed him “from her hand” (v. 5).
Unaware of Amnon’s evil intentions, David agrees and sends Tamar to fix food for her brother (see v. 7). Her refusal, her pleading, her invoking of her father’s name, her efforts to defend herself when Amnon attempts to violate her are to no avail. In the end, Amnon’s superior physical strength overpowers her (see vv. 12-14).
As is the case with all women who have been the victim of rape, Tamar’s life is forever altered by this act of violation of her body, soul and spirit. Immediately after it occurs, Amnon’s attitude toward her changes. Burning desire turns to hatred, and he has her thrown out of his house by a servant (see vv. 15,17).
Ashamed and disgraced, Tamar is left alone to deal with the aftermath of Amnon’s crime. She must put the life he shattered back together by herself.
What is her response? The Scriptures tell us, “Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of divers colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying” (v. 19, KJV, emphasis added).