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|2nd July, 2000|
There is concern when there is conflict within a family as to where the fault lies. Parents are often blamed for the example they have given and the influence they have had. Other blame the younger generation for responses that are quite unexpected when the good family home life is examined. Others blame the influence of the peer group influencing the younger generation and the social factors that are impacting upon their lives. Still others blame the social, educational and economic circumstances surrounding the family. Most people realize there are multiple factors involved and complex reasons for responses.
The family life of kings, presidents, prime ministers and people in the public eye is usually so well documented that we can easily see contributing factors. This is the case of people like President Richard Nixon who ordered that for posterity all of his conversations had to be recorded. Eventually he came to regret those tapes, for they recorded many things, he had wished were not. In the case of King David of Israel who lived about 3000 years ago, the same was true. So popular was the King, and so public his activities that court reporters wrote down everything, even things that David would have wished had been kept prtivate. The result however has been that we have insight into David and his family, including the terrible relationships between David and his sons and between the children themselves. One advantage this gives us, is that we are able to discuss contemporary family issues with a certain objectivity and at an emotional distance.
1. The Behaviour Of David's Children.
Because of David's undisciplined life, his adultery with Bathsheba, his changing of wives, and his sexual liaison with other women, his children were mostly step-brothers and sisters. They were also part of a wealthy family, undisciplined, with too much idle time. Here are enough factors to give any behavioural psychiatrist a field day.
Amnon was the eldest son of David, crown prince and heir to the throne. The prophet Nathan, who had convicted David of his adultery and violent behaviour, had said that public disgrace would follow him in his own palace. David's personal vices, his lack of discipline and his sexual excesses would haunt him in the behaviour of his own children. His eldest son Amnon was infatuated with his step-sister Tamar. He was used to getting what he wanted and he wanted his younger sister. Amnon plotted with his cousin how he could get her into his bedroom and get any servants out of the way. He pretended to be ill, and asked his father to send Tamar to him to give him some food. When alone, he grabbed her and threw her down on the bed. 2 Sam 13:12 ""Don't, 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." Rape within our community is still one of our worst crimes. Many people here in this service could tell their story of violent assault, physical hurt and subsequent demeaning emotional and mental torture. Many listening and watching by television have also known the trauma of rape.
But they could also tell you that after the rape there may also be dreadful consequences. The rapist often tries to shift blame. v15-16 "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." But he refused to listen to her." I have no words to describe what I feel about a man who treats a woman like that. The violation of the rape, followed by the rejection of the woman, then the words of love turned into words of hate, then having gained what he wanted, he tells her to get out. That is sickening behaviour of the worst type.
Amnon makes it even worse. Amnon knows that servants gossip, but he exposes his half-sister to the eyes of his servant. V17-19 "He called his personal servant and said, "Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her." So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went." How this deeply moves me. Her robe, the richly ornamented robe, was a symbol of her dignity and honour as a virgin princess. She tore the robe as she had been torn. She ripped up her dignity and holding her head in her hands wept!
What of the men in the family now? Of Amnon, I have nothing but loathing. His crime demands punishment. He saw something beautiful and he wanted it, regardless of the hurt to others. But that is exactly what he saw his father David doing. David got whatever he wanted, even if it involved violating Bathsheba and a cover-up that murdered her husband and a group of loyal soldiers. Amnon showed no repentance, no sorrow, no comfort for the young woman. Violation was followed by rejection and humiliation. Society must condemn those men and make them pay.
But note the reaction of her brother Absalom. He loved his younger sister. What is his response? Surely he will comfort and counsel her. v20 "Her brother Absalom said to her, "Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet 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." Absalom quickly judges from her ripped robe what had happened. His response is now crucial. Like many men in this situation, he fails. He tells her to "Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart." What a stupid man! He wants her to stop crying. He counsels: remember it is your brother who violated you so we don't want to get him into trouble. And to not worry about it, not take this to heart! What wrong counsel! What ignorance! Words cannot make this situation better, but these words can make it worse! If nothing else, then say "I love you". "I support you!" "I am so sorry".
What does Absalom do? Is there anything worse than telling his little sister to be quiet, and not get her half-brother into trouble, and to put it out of her mind? There is. Absalom might have felt for her, but he does nothing! He does not face his step- brother. He does not inform his father. He does nothing! v22 "Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar." He might hate, and seek revenge, but he was worse than useless to his young sister.
King David is just as useless. v21 "When King David heard all this, he was furious." And? And nothing! He said nothing and he did nothing! David did not take control of the situation, either to punish Amnon or to comfort Tamar. His own sin with Bathsheba and his cover up, makes him now impotent to help his teenage daughter. He felt he could not punish his son for doing what he had done himself, and he could not comfort his daughter when he did not comfort the woman he violated. But that is wrong. No matter our sin and guilt, we can still face others and comfort those who have been hurt. To remain silent in the face of wrong is moral cowardice. But that is part of the consequences of sin. Be compromised and you cannot easily act with integrity. David might have been furious, but fury must be channelled into the right kind of responses against those who have done wrong, and those who need comfort. If you have ever violated another or stood by silent after someone has been violated, then remember, repent! Otherwise the sin is compounded.
2. The Compounding Of Sin.
Absalom decides to get revenge on Amnon, and to take advantage of David's silence and inactivity. Absalom was the third son of King David. He resented being ignored by his father and resented his brother Ammon going unpunished for raping Tamar, his full sister. His nursed his hatred for two years, until the time of a traditional family gathering at the end of the harvest of barley. v28-29 "Absalom ordered his men, "Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, 'Strike Amnon down,' then kill him. Don't be afraid. Have not I given you this order? Be strong and brave." So Absalom's men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered." So rape is now compounded by murder.
Alarmed for the consequences, Absalom fled to his grandfather at Geshur, and stayed there for three years. David mourned his absent son, now branded with the guilt of fratricide. David invited Absalom back to Jerusalem, but when he came, David would not speak to him. For two years he refused to see him. Once more David refused to restore relationships, and just kept silent and did nothing. Absalom was now the oldest surviving son of David, and as he was of royal descent by his mother as well as by his father, he began to aspire to the throne. His pretensions were favoured by the people. Absalom became the spokesman for the people disenchanted by David's reign. They, in turn, supported him and when enough gathered round him, they proclaimed him king in Hebron 15:10 where David was first crowned.
The ambitious son could not be patient. David may have responded to family crisis by doing nothing, but he was always a determined commander against the Philistines and others who wanted his crown. David sent his army to find Absalom but not to hurt him.15:5 Twenty thousand of Absalom's army were slain in that fatal battle, and the rest fled. Absalom fled on a swift mule; but riding at full speed under a tree, his head was caught in a forked bough of an oak, and he was left suspended by the neck until Joab came up and speared him through the heart with his javelin. His body was taken down and cast into a pit, and covered by a heap of stones.
When David heard of Absalom's death he wept. 15:14 David's lament over the death of Absalom shows the depth of a father's love over the loss of a son as well as regret for personal failures which led to family and national tragedies. v33 "The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: "O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you -- O Absalom, my son, my son!""
David's personal sin impacted the way he brought up his sons. They in turn followed their father's example. We today must do all we can to help and comfort those who have been hurt, and try to break the cycle of sin impacting generations. If you repent of your sin, God is a loving father who will receive you. Jesus Christ becomes your elder brother in faith, and welcomes you into the family of God where there is peace and forgiveness.
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Rev Dr Gordon Moyes