Women of the Bible – Tamar

The Disconsolate Princess (2 Samuel 13; 1 Chronicles 3:9)
by Kathryn Capoccia

© Copyright 2015 by Kathryn Capoccia.  This updated file may be freely copied, printed out, and distributed as
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Young Adults Sunday School Class

Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,_Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,_1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation _Used by permission." (www.Lockman.org)


Tamar was the beautiful virgin daughter of the second king of Israel, King David. She lived in a time of prosperity and had position, wealth, and a future that seemed bright. However, her story is a sad one, the first episode of a series of devastating family interactions falling under the LORD’s curse as a result of King David’s public sins of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah (2SA 11). The LORD had told David, “because you despised the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in His eyes…” and, “because you despised Me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own…the sword shall never depart from your house… Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you” (2SA 12:9-11). Thus God wove the freewill actions of David’s family into a tapestry of disaster as discipline on David, and Tamar fell under that judgment. A “disgraceful thing…” a thing that should “not be done in Israel” (2SA 13:12) was perpetrated against Tamar, and her anticipated future came undone.

I. Who Was She?

A. What was her name? Her name, Tamar, means “palm tree.”

B. Who were her people?

            1. She was an Israelite.

            2. She was the daughter of David, the king of Israel, “a man after God’s own heart” (1SA 13:14).

            3. She was the daughter of Maacah, a Syrian princess whom King David had married during his reign at Hebron (2SA 3:3; 1CH 3:2).

            4. She was the granddaughter of Talmai, the king of Geshur in Syria (2SA 3:3).

            a. Geshur was a small Aramean kingdom north of Bashan and was between Israel and Aram, E of the Sea of Galilee (JOS 13:11; 2SA 15:8; 1CH 2:23).

            b. Syrians were idolatrous; their nation would grow to become part of the Assyrian Empire, with their thousands of gods.

            5. She was the younger full sister of Absalom (David’s third-born son), and younger half-sister of Amnon (David’s first-born son), whose mother was Ahinoam the Jezreelitess (1CH 3:1).

            6. She had at least nineteen full and half-brothers from her father’s marriages, plus others from his unions with concubines (1CH 3:1-9).

            7. She was the first cousin of Jonadab, the son of her father’s 3rd oldest brother, Shimeah (1SA 16:9; 17:3; 1CH 2:13).

            8. She had seven step-mothers, the wives of King David (2SA 3:2-5; 1CH 3:1-9): Ahinoam, Abigail, Haggith, Abital, Eglah, Bathsheba and Mikal.

C. When and where did she live?

1. She lived in the city of Jerusalem, in Judah, Israel (1CH 3:9).

2. She lived sometime after 1004 B.C. (when David made Jerusalem his capital).

D. What were her circumstances?

1. She was a virgin:

Virginity was a requirement for a first marriage: a betrothed woman suspected of immorality was required to produce evidence of her virginity (“tokens of virginity”) on her wedding night or else be stoned to death (DEU 22:13- 21). Mosaic Law prohibited the violation of a virgin: a young man who dishonored a virgin was required to pay a dowry of 2.5 lbs. of silver to her father and to marry the woman, and he was prohibited from ever divorcing her (EXO 22:16-17); a betrothed virgin who was raped was guiltless of immorality in the city if she “cried out” – otherwise she and the attacker would both be stoned to death (DEU 22:23-24); if she was attacked in the country she would be held innocent because “there was no one there to save her” when she cried for help, so only the man would be put to death (DEU 22:25-27).

a. She was kept in seclusion from men and was never allowed to be alone with a man (MacArthur Study Bible notes, pg. 444.) The Hebrew word for virgin (bethulah) comes from a root word meaning “separated,” so a virgin was one who “lived apart” (The Eerdman’s Bible Dictionary, William B. Eeerdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1987, pg. 1039).

1) A young woman was eligible for marriage at puberty— officially at 12 _ years; usually a marriage was arranged for her within her clan, her father and the suitor’s best man working out the details of money and goods (Everyday Life in Bible Times, National Geographic Society, 1967, pg. 305).

2) A king’s daughter might be married outside of the clan for political reasons; Tamar’s mother was given to David as the consummation of a political alliance between King Talmai and King David (2SA 3:3; 1CH 3:2).

b. She wore a long sleeved robe as a symbol of her chaste state (2SA 13:18).

2. She lived in wealth:

a. She lived in the king’s palace at the uppermost part of Jerusalem (2SA 13:7). Her father, King David was wealthy by virtue of his conquests, tribute money, and enterprises.

b. She had a “robe of many colors” or “richly ornamented robe” as the king’s daughter, something that would have taken weeks or even months to produce by hand (2SA 13: 18).

3. She was of marriageable age, though probably young since she was unmarried (2SA 13:13).

II. What Did She Do?

A. She Was Desired:

1. She was “beautiful” (vs. 1) (Heb., yapeh, “fair, lovely, handsome”). a. Her father, David was a handsome man (1SA 16:12; 18).

b. Her brother Absalom also was handsome: he was considered the best-looking man in the kingdom (2SA 14:25).

2. She was a “virgin” (vs. 2) (Heb., betula, “a marriageable woman who has never had sexual relations with a man and still is under the authority of her father”), and therefore, a desirable marriage prospect.

3. She was a king’s daughter; marriage with her would have been a great honor (1SA 18:18, 23).

4. She was the object of her half-brother Amnon’s unrequited passion (vv. 2-4).

a. Amnon was David’s first-born son (3:2) and, under normal circumstances, would have been heir to the throne; however, God had decreed that his half-brother, Solomon, should be king in his stead (2SA 12:25; 1KI 1:13, 30). His mother was Ahinoam, David’s second wife, a Jezreelite, whom David had married while he was reigning in Hebron (1SA 25:43; 27:3; 30:5; 2SA 2:2; 3:2; 1CH 3:1).

b. Amnon was “in love with her” (2SA 13:4b).

1) He declared he “loved” her (Heb. aheb, “dearly love”), but marriage between half-siblings was outlawed by God (Lev.18:11).

2) It was “hard in his sight” to do anything to her (vs. 2).

3) He was described as “loving her” (Heb. ahabah, “lovesick”) vs. 15.

4) He “was so distressed over his sister Tamar that he became sick” (vs. 2).

5) He was “becoming thinner day after day” (vs. 4).

B. She Was Debased:

1. She was betrayed:

a. She was betrayed by Jonadab, who counseled Amnon with a plan to seduce her (vv. 5-6).

Why? Perhaps because Amnon was David’s firstborn and, under normal circumstances, would inherit the throne; anyone in favor with the heir-apparent would rise with him when he ascended to reign. Since Jonadab would not inherit power, being only one of many nephews of King David, his best avenue to power and position was to ingratiate himself with the his cousin, the first prince of the land, Amnon (“O son of the king”).

1) Jonadab was Amnon’s “friend” (Heb. rea, “companion”): i.e. his close friend.

2) Jonadab was “a very crafty man” or “a very shrewd man” (Heb. chakam, “wise”).

a) He might have devised a course of action that benefitted both Amnon and Tamar. While marriage between half-siblings was forbidden by the Law (LEV 18:11) it was a common practice in other nations of the Middle East, especially Egypt, and with the example of Abraham (GEN 20:12) in Israel’s history and David’s laxity in abiding by the Law, it might possibly have been arranged.

b) He could have redirected Amnon’s lust toward a more suitable woman.

2. She was manipulated:

a. She was maneuvered to Amnon’s apartment:

1) Amnon deceived his father, King David, and requested that Tamar tend him in his “sickness” (vv.6, 7). 2) David ordered Tamar to go to cook for Amnon in his sickroom (vv. 6-7).

Did David inquire as to why Amnon wanted only Tamar to attend him?

b. She was tricked into Amnon’s bedchambers:

1) She came to his private quarters to cook “cakes,” Heb., lebibah, “food for the heart,” for him (vv. 8, 9). (Amnon would have had his own, separate quarters, as was the custom of the children of polygamists (MacArthur Study Bible, pg. 445).)

2) He ordered everyone out of his apartments but she: “Have everyone go out from me” (vs. 9).

3) He lured her into his bedroom saying, “Bring the food into the bedroom, that I may eat from your hand” (vs. 10).

3. She was violated:

a. He tried to seduce her (vv. 11):

1) He “took hold of her:” (Heb., took, chazaq: “to be or grow firm or strong:” hold, chazaq); i.e. he firmly grasped her.

2) He enticed her saying, “Come, lie (Heb., shakab, “to lie down”) with me, my sister” (vs. 11), a euphemism for intercourse.

What kind of “love” would bring potential ruin to the one so loved?

b. He turned a deaf ear to her (vv. 12-13):

1) She “answered” (Heb., amar, “to utter, say”) him;” in a calm manner she tried to reason with him not to “violate” (Heb., anah, “to be bowed down or afflicted”) her.

a) She pointed out that the act was “disgraceful” (Heb., nebalah, “senselessness, disgrace”) and violated the Law (LEV 18:11).

b) She pointed out that fornication would be seen as a reproach against her, and that she would bear the stigma of a defiled fornicator: “Where could I get rid (Heb., halak, “to go, come walk”) of my reproach?” (Heb., cherpah, “a reproach, shame.”)

c) She pointed out that Amnon would gain the reputation of being a “fool” (Heb. nabal, “senseless”); i.e. a man who has rejected God and is, therefore, unfit for the throne.

d) She pointed that out marriage was possible and the proper avenue for his desire.

2) He would not listen (Heb., shama, “to hear”) to her.

c. He took her (vs. 14):

1) He over-powered her resistance (“he was stronger than she”).

2) He “violated” her (Heb., anah, “to be bowed down or afflicted, ravish”).

4) He “lay” with her (Heb., shakab, “to lie down”).

Did she cry out as was prescribed by the Law?

Scripture is silent. We know that she resisted, but the servants had all been sent away, and even if they had heard would anyone in Amnon’s household have come to her aid?

C. She Was Desolate:

1. She was abandoned by Amnon (vs. 15-17).
“Then Amnon hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her” (2SA 13:15).

a. He suddenly hated her (Heb. sane, “to hate, detest”); he was revolted by her.

Why? John MacArthur’s “study notes” suggest that:

1) He knew she had not desired him and had been an unwilling partner in his seduction.

2) He knew he had committed an atrocious act by defiling a virgin, the king’s daughter, and his own sister.

3) His feelings of remorse were overwhelmed by his dread of exposure and punishment; her presence was therefore, intolerable and she was completely undesirable.

b. He ordered her out (vs. 15-19): “Get up, go away!”

c. He would not listen to her protests (vs. 16): “No, because this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you have done to me!” (vs.16)

1) The first wrong was in destroying her virginity. 2) The second wrong would have been in destroying her reputation, for in sending her away the seduction would have appeared to have been her fault. (The seduction of a virgin normally required marriage without the possibility of divorce (EXO 22:16; DEU 22:28-29).)

d. He had her forcibly ejected (vs. 17):

1) “Throw this woman out.” 2) “Lock the door behind her.”

2) She went about mourning (vv. 19-20): “She put ashes on her head and tore her long-sleeved garment which was on her; and she put her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went.”

a. She “put ashes on her head”—a traditional sign of deep sorrow, of mourning, or of repentance. Sackcloth and ashes were a sign of inward grief in the O.T. as well as in the N.T. (1SA 4:12; EST 4:1, 6:12; ISA 58:5; JER 2:37, 6:26; JOB 2:8; JON 3:6; DAN 9:3; MAT 11:21).

b. She “tore her robe”—another sign of deep mourning. Possibly tearing the bottom edge of her “virgin” robe symbolized the end of her life as the king’s virgin daughter, her “death” as it were.

c. She “laid her hand on her head;” she covered her head with her hand as a sign of extreme shame (EST 6:12; 2SA 15:30; JER 14:3, 4).

d. She, “… went away crying” (Heb. zaaq, “calling, wailing”), crying bitterly: she openly mourned in the same manner as mourning for the dead.

3) She found no emotional comfort (vs. 20).

a. Absalom, her brother, did not help her:
“But now keep silent, my sister, he is your brother; do not take this matter to heart” (vs. 20).

1) He downplayed her hurt.

2) He told her to not to report the incident.

3) He asked her to overlook the sin because of the family relationship.

4) He told her not to worry about the consequences of the incident.

Why did Absalom tell Tamar to “keep silent?”

The answer is found in verse 32: “this [death of Amnon] has been determined [by Absalom] since the day that he [Amnon] violated his sister Tamar.” In other words, Absalom wanted to personally take revenge for his sister’s shame and plotted to do so from the moment he knew that his sister had been violated (vv. 22, 32).

Was this just an excuse to remove Amnon from the line of succession?

While it suited Absalom’s purpose to have Amnon removed, the Scriptures say that, “Absalom hated Amnon because he had violated his sister, Tamar” (vs. 22), so much so that he could not bear to even speak to him (vs. 21). Similarly, in Genesis 34 when Dinah, the daughter of Israel, was raped by a Canaanite man her brothers “were grieved and… were very angry” (GEN 34:7). Two of them killed the man and all the other men of his city “with the edge of the sword” and said, “Should he treat our sister as a harlot?” However, those brothers faced consequences for their vigilantism (GEN 49:5-6), as would Absalom (vv.34- 37). Not only did Absalom hate Amnon, he loved Tamar and honored her by naming his only daughter Tamar (2SA 14:27).

Why did Tamar not go to David to report the matter? The Scriptures do not say.

Perhaps she needed advice as to whether she should subject the royal family to open shame, since court proceedings were conducted publicly, at the city gates (2SA 15:2); perhaps she went to Absalom to ascertain whether she had any chance of victory in a court case against her half- brother, Amnon; perhaps she went to him to have him act as her intercessor before King David; or perhaps she believed that her cause was hopeless and she went to Absalom merely because he was her older brother and she was shocked and distraught and needed his comfort.

b. She remained inconsolable (vs. 20):

1) She was “desolate”: (Heb. shamem, “to be desolated or appalled”); Webster’s, “bereft of friends or hope; sad and forlorn.”

(Similarly, in Genesis, chapter thirty-seven, Scripture tells the story of Jacob and the loss of his favorite son, Joseph. It says, when Jacob saw his missing son’s bloody coat, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth, mourned, and “refused to be comforted” (GEN 37:33-37), and he remained thus until he learned years later that his son was still alive (GEN 45:27). Jacob described the years of his life as, “few and unpleasant” (GEN 47:9).)

2) She remained exiled in the home of her brother, Absalom, unmarried and childless (vs. 20).

4. She did not get judicial justice (vs. 21);

a. David was “very angry” (Heb., charah, “to burn or be kindled with anger”) when he learned about the incident, but did not act.

1) As Tamar’s father he probably reacted with anger to the fact that his daughter had been violated.

2) As Amnon’s father he was probably also angry at his son’s sinful actions.

3) As king he was probably angry that he had been deceived and used to enable his son to sin.

4) As sovereign judge he was probably angry that the crime between his children meant that he would be forced to enforce the Law and execute or banish one or both of them, or else abrogate his responsibilities.

b. David did not prosecute Amnon for the rape:

1) He had previously acted against the Law when he had sent for Bathsheba, the wife of “mighty man” Uriah the Hitite, committed adultery with her, killed her husband by “the sword of the Ammonites” (2SA 12:9) and then married her (which had brought the curse of the LORD upon him and his household (2SA 12:10).)

2) He unlawfully allowed his love for Amnon to supersede his duty as judge of the land and permitted his first-born son to remain free, instead of ordering his execution or banishment (DEU 22:25; LEV 20:17).

3) He unlawfully ignored his duty to his daughter, Tamar, to render justice for her and to restore her reputation.

c. David still had not charged Amnon two years after the incident.

5. She lost her brother Absalom (vv. 24-39):

a. She temporarily lost Absalom when he fled to Geshur after he had Amnon murdered, where he remained for three years (vv. 24-29, 34, 37-39).

b. She permanently lost Absalom when he was killed after he tried to overthrow his father, King David (2SA 15-18:15).

As recorded in the Scriptures, Tamar’s life played out like a Greek tragedy, with each act of man bringing her ever closer to devastation. Unlike a Greek tragedy, however, the true God was controlling the events, weaving man’s actions with His sovereign hand to accomplish His purposes. The discipline that God brought upon David did have its desired result in David’s life: he repented (PSA 51), was renewed to the fear of God, and recommitted himself to obedience (PSA 119:67). We do not have the full record of Tamar’s life, however. The Scriptures stop when she was still a young woman living in her brother’s house, broken and disconsolate. Did she draw near to living God as a result of her humiliation? Did she find grace in the LORD to forgive, forget and find a fulfilling life later? Scripture is silent. One can hope so.

III. What Can We Learn From Her?

A. “Bad” things happen to people:

The word “happen” is inaccurate since nothing in this universe is beyond the control of our all-powerful God, though from man’s perspective it often seems so (ECC 9:12). But nothing is random, nothing just occurs (ISA 14:24; 25:1; PSA 135; ROM 8:28), and everything has a purpose (PRO 16:4).

The sovereign God of creation is bringing discipline and trials into the lives of His children for their growth and conformation to the image of Christ (ROM 8:29): suffering brings holiness (2CO 7:1; HEB 5:8-9, 12:10). But God is also delivering tribulation into the lives of unbelievers, pouring out His wrath on them to their detriment, because their sins call for divine punishment (HEB 11:5-10; ROM 1:18-20).

Troubles can be in the form of familial conflict (EXO 34:7; MAT 10:36), sickness (JOB 2:7; 1CO 11:30; REV 2:22-23, 16:2), famine (REV 6:5-6), financial loss (JOB 1: 13-17; REV 18:2, 9-24), persecutions (MAR 10:30; REV 6:9-11), wars (JUD 3:12; 6:4:1-4; 11:4; 13:1; REV 6:4), disasters (EXO 7:20-21; 8:6-7, 24; 9: 6, 10, 23-26; 10:13-15, 21; 12:29; 1KI 8:35; JER 3:3; AMO 4:7; REV 16:1-11), and death (Isa 65:15; 1CO 11:30; REV 16:2) and more.
For the Christian it is helpful to remember that God lovingly regulates every aspect of our circumstances (PSA 16:5, 31:15, 103:19) and that everything He allows to happen to us is ultimately constructive for our faith and characters (ROM 8:28), shifting our affections, our appetites and our actions toward greater godliness (2CO 3:18; HEB 11:10). He has promised that He will always be with us (HEB 13:5), always love us (ROM 8:38-39), and always help us (ROM 8:31-33).

James 1:2-4 says,

“Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

And Hebrews 12:10-11,

“For they [our fathers] disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, that we may share His holiness. All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.”

Non-Christians, on the other hand, abide under God’s wrath (JOH 3:36; Rom 1:18; EPH 2:3, 5:6). They do evil (PSA 14:1, 53:1, 107:17; PRO 10:33), He is angry with them (HEB 3:10), He is their enemy (PSA 68:1, 21; 83:2; 139:22) and they are His enemies (DEU 5:9; JOH 7:7, 15:18, 15:23; ROM 8:7). God allows the outworking of their sins to plague them (EXO 34:7; PRO 1:32, 18:6, 19:3; ECC 4:5) or directly inflicts wrath upon them as punishment for their sinfulness (ROM 1:18-32). However, in His mercy He also uses His wrath to humble the rebellious and lead them to repent of their sins and to enter into a saving and blessed relationship with Him (DAN 4).

Some verses to commit to heart:

“Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey Your word” (PSA 119:67).

“All things work together for good to those that love the Lord” (ROM 8:28).

“Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (HEB 5:8).

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the LORD, nor faint when you are reproved by HIM; for those whom the LORD loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives” (HEB 12:5-6).

“All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness” (HEB 12:11).

“Never will I leave you or forsake you” (HEB 13:5).

“Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life, which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (JAM 1:12).

B. Our sin can have terrible, unforeseen consequences for ourselves and for others:

Like the ripples in a pond after a stone hits the water the effects of our sin travel outward and touch other lives for ill. David never imagined that indulging in his lust with Bathsheba would lead to the death of his friend and her husband, Uriah, the death of his infant son, the deaths of three of his adult sons, the ruin of his daughter, and the unremitting sorrows of the rest of his own life.

Amnon never anticipated that his passion for Tamar would lead him to rape and disgrace and death, destroying both his own reputation and his sister’s, and would involve his cousin and his half-brother in these sins.

Absalom never dreamed that by bypassing the lawful prosecution of Amnon and pursuing a vigilante justice he was establishing a self-righteous and unlawful pattern for his life that would lead him to wantonly burn his neighbor’s fields (2SA 14:28-32), undermine his father’s popularity with his people and usurp his throne (2SA 15:1-12), and would lead to his ignominious death on the field of battle (2SA 18:6-15).

C. True love does not express itself in hurting the one loved:

Love is considerate: “Love does no harm to its neighbor” (ROM 13:10).

Love edifies (1CO 8:1): it, “is patient, kind, is not jealous, it does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly, does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, never fails” (1CO 13:4-8).

Love gives sacrificially. The Scriptures say, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son” (JOH 3:16), and, “be imitators of God, as beloved children; and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma” (EPH 5:1-2).

Lust, on the other hand, is self-centered: “You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. And you are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (JAS 4:2).

Lust destroys: [lust] “gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death” (JAM 1:15).

It is lust that says, “I want to take.” Love says, “I want to give.”

D. Vengeance is God’s prerogative, not ours:

We cannot take the law into our own hands to exact punishment for wrongdoing. God said, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself” (LEV 19:18), and, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay” (DEU 32:35). These commandments are Scriptures from the Pentateuch that Absalom surely knew but obviously ignored.

God has established the authorities to protect us and to administer justice (ROM 13:1-4).
If we are wronged we are to pray for whoever has mistreated us (MAT 5:44; LUK 6:28) and appeal to the authorities when matters are serious (ROM 13:4). These are God’s agents of wrath and we bypass them at our own peril. Perhaps if Tamar had gone to her father, the king, and reported Amnon to him, David would have had to act judicially, Absalom would have been forestalled in his vengeance, Amnon would have been dealt with properly, Tamar would have been vindicated, and, perhaps, some of the other family conflicts could have been avoided.

E. A terrible event need not permanently mar one’s life:

The Scriptures leave Tamar at the point where she was still a desolate woman, childless and unmarried, and living in isolation in her brother’s house. Scripture is silent about her spiritual life, about whether she feared the God of her father, Yahweh, or not; however, we do have the record of another rape victim who was assaulted in the king’s palace, a believer in God, Bathsheba (2SA 11:4). She went on to become a godly mother (PRO 31:1) and a respected member of the king’s court (1KI 1:15-31, 2:19, 2:13-22). If Tamar had called upon God in faith He would have surely ministered to her, for He heals broken hearts and mends broken lives (PSA 34:18, 47:3). He can make a sin-marred life be transformed for anyone who comes to Him in humility and faith (1CO 6:9-11; 2CO 5:17).