Someone recently asked me “can you see yourself marrying me?”… and for some reason I had no idea how to answer that. Not because I didn’t want to marry him, but because for a split second I wondered why marriage was on the cards before a relationship had even begun. Except that’s precisely the mindset I did want from a guy. Isn’t it funny how you can still be surprised when someone takes the approach you wanted.
“After this Absalom the son of David had a lovely sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her.” (2 Samuel 13:1)
The story of Amnon and Tamar is interesting for a variety of reasons and I believe that there are a lot of lessons to be learned from the perspectives of both characters. Only a handful of Bible verses have been included as the blog would be very lengthy otherwise. I recommend reading until v22 (or v33 if you’re interested in Amnon’s fate).
1. Love and infatuation aren’t synonymous (v1-2)
I’ve heard it said that the concept of love as red and fiery is misleading; rather, it should be pictured as blue and calming. I agree. Amnon was moved by his own insatiable desires and embodies this flawed, fiery love rather than the love described in 1 Corinthians 13. It’s interesting that he recognises that it would be “improper” for him to do anything to Tamar, yet he doesn’t pursue what would be proper. Too often wrongdoing occurs not for lack of knowledge, but a flagrant disregard for what is proper. Until knowing and doing are aligned, knowing profits you little.
2. Choose your friends wisely (v3-10)
On one hand, it’s nice that Amnon’s cousin/friend, Jonadab, notices that his ‘love’ for Tamar is quite literally causing physical distress; however, his remedy for restoring him to full health is far from nice. Proverbs 11:14 states that there is safety in a multitude of counsellors. Not one. Multiple. Least of all of one who is described as ‘crafty’ (v3). Amnon is all too pleased to follow Jonadab’s bad advice and ends up luring his half-sister into his bedroom. If it’s ‘love’, why would it need so much deceit and coercion? Surely no pretence would be needed if this were the real deal.
3. Love is patient (v11-14)
“He would not heed her voice; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her.” (v14)
Since Amnon’s version of love causes him to rape someone, then I’m scared to know what an act of hatred would have looked like. Whilst the Bible doesn’t give us an indication of how long he sat with his feelings before infatuation got the better of him, his experience is in stark contrast to Jacob’s. Genesis 29:20 is a such beautiful demonstration of what true love looks like! Jacob laboured seven years only to receive the wrong woman in marriage, and then laboured for another seven years for the right woman in marriage. Jacob valued Rachel’s purity and didn’t feel entitled to it by force (or consent). Meanwhile, Amnon was getting thinner by the day and increasingly ‘distressed’ that he couldn’t have Tamar. I’m sure his ‘agony’ would have lasted weeks or months at best, not years.
4. Love endures, infatuation dissipates (v15-20)
“Then Amnon hated her exceedingly, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, “Arise, be gone!” (v15)
I’d be intrigued to know what Amnon thought would happen after climax, or had too much time been devoted to planning the act that none could spared for after. Call me a romantic, but I have this image of Jacob toiling away in the field as he daydreams of a life with Rachel and what married life will look like. He knew what he wanted and his plans for after. Amnon acquires the object of his desire and in true toddler fashion, he doesn’t want it anymore. Except, Tamar isn’t a toy. She’s a human. With feelings. And right up until that moment she also had something that was prized in their culture: virginity. If what he felt in the beginning was love, there’s no way it would have disappeared so quickly. Infatuation is go, go, go! Whereas love pauses for thought. If Amnon had been thinking with anything other than his reproductive organ, perhaps he would have differentiated between love and infatuation.
1. Being undercautious is dangerous (v10)
Maybe she was just kind-hearted, but if I offer food to someone in the kitchen in front of people (v8-9) and they refuse because they’d rather eat it with me alone in their bedroom then that’s a red flag. Since when does the bedroom facilitate digestion? I’d certainly have questions. Of course, Tamar had no reason to suspect he had ill intentions; nevertheless, it’s a reminder that naivety is dangerous. She was safe in the presence of others and unfortunately it tends to be when you’re alone that boundaries are crossed (or in this case, bulldozed).
2. Pure thoughts inspire pure desires (v12)
Tamar associates sex with marriage. Full stop. Premarital sex is ‘disgraceful’ and ‘shameful’ (v12-13). When she realises how ‘thirsty’ he is, she even suggests getting married first (v13). I’m not sure I’d want to propose to my would-be rapist, but even here we see that she has a high regard for boundaries. In other words, she doesn’t see Amnon’s advances as a ‘welcome’ outlet for any pent-up sexual frustration. She still has marriage at the forefront of her mind. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure all Amnon would have been thinking about in the build up to this moment is sex. Boundaries were irrelevant. Especially those which prevented him from having what he wanted, when he wanted.
One thing to draw on is that her reasoning is slightly less robust than Joseph’s in Genesis 39:9. If the Romeo to her Juliet were trying to having sex with her, would she be quite as resistant? Or would the disgrace and shame suddenly seem bearable or irrelevant? Joseph’s rationale for his ‘no’ is much better for you to cling to. Nevertheless, the contrast between Tamar and Amnon’s thoughts about sex is a reminder of how much we need to nip sinful desires in the bud before they give birth to sin (James 1:15).
3. Shame shouldn’t be a reason to settle (v16)
“No she said to him, “No, indeed! This evil of sending me away is worse than the other that you did to me.” (v16)
The saddest thing about this entire passage is that she feels that their sexual encounter means they have to stay together. Yes, virginity was more of a big deal back then than it is now and thus she probably questioned whether anyone would want her. But, surely the rape revealed enough of his character that even she wouldn’t want him. Being single forever should have been more appealing than being with someone who clearly didn’t value her purity, or her as a person. Nobody should feel like crossed boundaries mean them and the other person must be bound to one another for life. Had she stayed with him or even married him, she would have been settling. Traumatic experiences (or mistakes) don’t disqualify you from better; there is newness in Christ.
I enjoy writing about relationships so I can’t help but signpost you to a few others by posing the questions below:
- Are you spending your singleness in a productive manner? (The #1 Priority For Single People)
- What steps are you taking to avoid infatuation? (Guarding My Heart)
- Are you ready for love, or are you rushing it? (3 Reasons You’re Not Ready For A Relationship; Expiration Date)
- Do you like the person you say you love? (Lovers and Friends)
- Was your relationship God’s will in the beginning and is that still the case? (I Prayed About Him And God Said ‘Yes’…)
If Amnon really loved Tamar then marrying her first shouldn’t have been an issue. If your ‘love’ is shortsighted and impulsive, then you’ve mislabelled it. There’s a time for everything (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8)… including sex. If you’re not married, that time is not now.