“Every Woman has a Story and every woman’s Story matters to God.”
The month of October is recognized in the United States, as Women’s Health and Domestic Violence Month. Each year, as the month approaches, women all over the nation restart the conversations of self-care and self-empowerment regarding women’s health, and our difficult and painful realities that force us to look at our tragic encounters with men, who abuse us (one of four women in the U.S., and one of three women globally).
Domestic violence, to the contrary of what has always been presented, is really a male issue. Yet, as the victims of male violence, women must shoulder the blows and find the ways and means to heal ourselves. It seems in this, as in many other ways, being a woman is both a blessing and a burden.
As we acknowledge the bewildering circumstances of engaging in the issues of domestic violence through the lens of biblical history, we must ask ourselves several difficult questions: Can the ancient story of the rape of Tamar, daughter of King David, make meaningful difference in our lives, as contemporary women? Is there any power to be found in this “text of terror” that can assist us in our own personal experiences, especially those of us who have suffered domestic abuse and violence at the hands of men? Should we look away and turn the pages of Scripture to a victorious female narrative, or confront the issue of domestic violence head-on in this text of terror, to discover its power, even as the story traumatizes us?
These are questions for real, grown women, who desire to be honest and realistic about the biblical narratives, even as we face the story of Tamar, head on. With courage, determination, and authenticity, we become a part of Scripture’s honest confessional, as the Bible refuses to deny the frightful circumstances that continue to wound us. Ultimately, when we open up Tamar’s story to read, study, and learn from, we discover one of Scripture’s undeniable truths: YOU CANNOT HEAL WHAT YOU WILL NOT FIRST ACKNOWLEDGE.
Tamar’s story, while brutally painful, teaches us, the daughters of God, an important and sacred lesson: “God will heal a bruised heart, but we need to give God our broken pieces, in order for the healing to begin.”
A Hymn for Tamar (Written & Sung by Joss Stone as: “Bruised but not Broken“)
“But I’ll be alright, and I’ll love again and the wounds will mend, I’m bruised but not broken. And the pain will fade, I’ll overcome my fear, it’s not the end of me. My heart is still open now. I’m bruised but not broken.
Gonna pick my heart up, take my life back, shake the hurt away. Pull myself together, put the pieces back in place. I learned love’s so hard. Love left my soul scarred. I was shattered inside……My heart is still open. I’m bruised but not broken.”
And now, THE WORD from Our Sponsor……………………………………………..
2 Samuel, Chapter 13: 1-22 (NRSV)
ONE, two, three, four………………..ONE, two, three, four………this is the reality of the abuse, rape, molestation, and violence, from the hands of men onto the bodies of women and girls, here in the United States. Imagine any encounter of women, anywhere in the United States, including church, and there is the likelihood of more than one of us, who have suffered from domestic violence, including rape. It is a modern day American horror story that so many of us want to avoid; whether it is communal denial, like our churches that will not deal with the subject; or familial denial, where we refuse to look at the elephant in our own living room, or personal denial, where we have decided to bury “it” deep within our psyche, hoping the issue is never uncovered nor discussed. But denial is deadly, and it refuses to be ignored, so it grows, even if underground, to build out its web of dysfunction and generational attachment.
The story of Princess Tamar, and “text of terror” as coined by the renowned feminist theologian Phyllis Trible in her classic book “Texts of Terror – Literary Feminist Readings of Biblical Narratives,” demonstrates to the traumatized audience, the nature and crime of rape and violence, and the cancer it spreads within the royal Davidic family framework:
“In 2 Samuel 13: 1-22, we encounter the heartbreaking story of Tamar, the daughter of David and the sister of Absalom, who falls prey to the ill intentions of Amnon, her half brother. Amnon devises a sordid plan with the help of Jonadab, his crafty [cousin], and involves amongst others, King David as accomplices to the execution of this plan.” (Tamar’s Voice of Wisdom an Outrage in 2 Samuel 13. Priscilla Papers, Vol. 28, No 4, Autumn 2014)
“BRUISED but not broken”
In the book of 2 Samuel, we find the continuation of King David and his royal house. David, “a man after God’s own heart,” is arguably the most important figure of the Old Testament. Upon inheriting the throne of Saul, David marries eight women: Michal, Ahinoam, Abigail, Maacah, Haggith, Abital, Eglah, and Bathsheba. David also had other wives and concubines; however, their names are not mentioned. The Bible reports that David had nineteen sons, and as many daughters or more; but daughter Tamar is the only female mentioned by name. Tragically, when Tamar is highlighted in the history of her father David, it is not honorable mention; it is due to the story of her tragic misfortune at the hand of her own half- brother, Amnon.
Tamar’s story begins before the crime. She is a princess, protected by the royal guard of the house of David, because of her pedigree and her status: Tamar is a virgin. She is described as “beautiful” in her story and listed as the sister to Absalom, and half-sister to Amnon. The first thing we notice is Tamar is not mentioned as daughter to King David. The story, written from a third person voice, narrates an odd acknowledgement: “David’s son Amnon fell in love with her. Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin and it seemed impossible for Amnon to do anything to her.” This is a sordid piece of narration.
The foreshadowing of what we know to come, reminds us of another royal crime against a beautiful woman: The molestation/rape of Bathsheba by King David. In chapter 11 of 2 Samuel, we are privy to the machinations of King David, as he covets another man’s wife, and with royal power and privilege he “sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her.” Could this have been rape? It sounds likely, and sets up a generational curse and spirit that follows David from his royal bedroom to his son’s.
The plot is set, as Jonadab, cousin to first born Amnon, assists him in trapping his sister for tragic results. It is not until verse 16 that we hear the voice of Tamar, the victim of rape. “No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels of Israel. Now therefore, I beg you, speak to the king ,for he will not withhold me from you.”
The bargaining for her life begins, and we understand that as Tamar’s failed negotiation with her brother continues, she is the ONLY WOMAN in the Bible, who being raped, is given voice to object and bargain. Hagar, Dinah, the Levite concubine, and Bathsheba are all violated, victimized, and voiceless. Even as Tamar pleads for her brother not to do this evil thing against her, the dynamic of her voice informs the reader, she refuses to relent or resign herself to the fate of victimization. Tamar fights back! Tamar uses her voice to remind Amnon who she is (the daughter of the King), who he will be (a scoundrel) and how there will be disgrace upon the throne (nothing like this is done in Israel). But, to no avail, Amnon rapes his sister.
“I’ll Overcome My Fear”
It has been said repeatedly that rape is not about sex; rape is about power. The story of Tamar underscores this idea, as the lust-sick “love” Amnon has for Tamar ends, when the sexual abuse is consummated. Immediately, Amnon is revolted by the sight of Tamar, and commands his servant to throw her out and bolt the door, as if she were a bag of garbage. Tamar has two choices: to hide in fear or push back against the violent act perpetuated against her. We see the strength and courage in this princess, as she overcomes her circumstances to announce the crime and the criminal to her community: “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.”
While this may seem a benign action to us, it was hardly the case in Tamar’s environment. Tamar demands justice immediately after the violent incident with her brother. Her story does not end by her brother, Amnon’s terms. Instead, Tamar uses her voice to highlight her suffering and the injustice perpetuated against her. Her outrage and anger is displayed through the tearing of her royal robes. Tamar demands justice! She was a princess and the dramatic display of her personal appearance, and the evident trauma, signaled to her community, an act of unacceptable violence against her.
“It’s Not the End of Me.”
Tamar’s plight is rejected by her own father, the king. Like some many of us who become victims of domestic abuse, denial is the reaction of those whom we expect to come to our rescue: “When King David heard of these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son, Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his first-born.”
But, what of Tamar? Where was King David’s love for her?
Some scholars suggest that Tamar lived out a life of desolation and hopelessness in the house of her brother, Absalom, who eventually revenges her circumstances, by killing their half-brother, Amnon. (13:28). Picking up on verse 20b: “So Tamar remained, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house,” some commentaries suggest Tamar lived a life of hopeless and prolonged despair. Yet, there is a piece of Tamar’s story ignored by those who would suggest that Tamar never received a healing from her woundedness.
“My heart is still open”
Our responsibility as women who not only read; but, reimagine the story of Tamar is this: We know there is LIFE after our woundedness AND if there is life for us, then certainly there was life for Tamar. While we do not know the official ending of her story, new beginnings is a part of her narrative. Her brother, Absalom, revenger of his sister’s circumstances, names his only daughter after his sister: “There were born to Absalom three sons, and one daughter whose name was Tamar; she was a beautiful woman.” (2 Samuel 14:27)
Understanding the importance and power of naming in the Bible, we can surmise an ending to Tamar’s story that culminates in healing and victory: “The community represented by the biblical writers, stands with Tamar, validates her voice, and acknowledges her suffering. Through the biblical writers, we hear Tamar’s voice of wisdom and outrage.” (ibid, Priscilla Papers)
As Apostle Paul suggested: “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair, persecuted but not forsaken, struck down, but not destroyed….So, we do not lose heart.” (2 Corinthians 4:8,9; 16).
And so we, the sisters of Tamar, stand and support her and our contemporary sisters, who have suffered and survived abuse. We understand the journey towards healing may be long; but nothing is too impossible with God, who has the power to mend a bruised and wounded heart and life. Tamar, we salute your courage, fortitude, and determination!
Questions for our consideration and discussion:
Can the ancient story of the rape of Tamar, daughter of King David, make meaningful difference in our lives, as contemporary women?
Is there any power to be found in this “text of terror” that can assist us in our own personal experiences, especially those of us who have suffered domestic abuse and violence at the hands of men?
Should we look away and turn the pages of Scripture to a victorious female narrative, or confront the issue of domestic violence head-on in this text of terror, to discover its power, even as the story traumatizes us?
Prayer and Praise Reports as our Sending Prayer
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