“Where could I carry my shame?” (2 Samuel 13:13)
Please open your Bible at 2 Samuel 13. There are some stories in the Bible that should make us weep. This is one of them.
It is the story of a woman who was horribly abused and violated. She suffered at the hands of a member of her own family, and it happened in the king’s household.
This is a story that speaks directly to an issue that continues to dominate our news. It is much on my mind, that many among us will have been violated in one way or another. My prayer is that God will bring help, hope and healing into many lives through his Word today.
God’s Word speaks to every area of life. Why would this story be preserved in the Scripture if it were not for the purpose of ministry to those who need help, hope, and healing today?
If the issues before us today are painfully personal for you, I want to recommend a book entitled Rid of My Disgrace. It is written by Justin and Lindsey Holcomb, a pastor and wife with extensive ministry experience in this area. It includes stories of people who have been abused and who have found help and healing through our Lord Jesus Christ.
The story that is before us today, unfolds in six ugly scenes.
Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time Amnon, David’s son, loved her. And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar… (2 Samuel 13:1-2)
Amnon was David’s eldest son (2 Samuel 3:2), and he was drawn to his stepsister.
Amnon speaks here about love. Amnon “loved her” (2 Samuel 13:1). And again, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister” (2 Samuel 13:4).
Amnon knew very little about love. Love seeks the good of another person, irrespective of the cost. But for Amnon love was nothing more than getting what he wanted.
Amnon became obsessed with Tamar. His eye was always on her and he couldn’t get her out of his mind.
Amnon lived without God, and when you live without God, something else takes the place of God, and so his passions became his god. They took control of his life and Amnon was tormented by his own desires.
You would think the fact that he was tormented to the point of making himself ill would be a sign to him that his desire was not pushing him in the right direction. But perhaps Amnon reasoned, as so many do today, that feelings so strong must be right. This is always a false piece of reasoning.
If God is not sovereign in your life, something else will be. And if you allow your passions to gain control of your life, in the end, they will torment you.
But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. (2 Samuel 13:3)
Jonadab was close enough to Amnon to know when something was wrong with his friend. He comes to Amnon, and says, “I see you each day and you look miserable. What’s up?”
Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister” (2 Samuel 13:4). So Jonadab came up with a scheme that would get Amnon some time alone with Tamar.
Jonadab’s idea of love seems to be: affirming his friend’s desires and supporting whatever he wants. But affirming what Amnon desires and supporting what he wants is a long way from seeking his good. Beware of the friend who only ever supports what you want.
Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house and prepare food for him.” So Tamar went to her brother Amnon’s house, where he was lying down. And she took dough and kneaded it and made cakes in his sight and baked the cakes. (2 Samuel 13:7-8)
Tamar was not only a beautiful woman, but she was clearly a godly woman. We see this in what she does. She goes where the king sends her. She comes to her sick brother in order to serve him. She is a princess dressed in a royal robe, and yet she does not hesitate to knead the dough with her own hands as she bakes bread and cakes for her brother.
Tamar is a godly woman and she is following the instructions of her father, the king. But shame was heaped on her in three ways:
David sent home to Tamar… (2 Samuel 13:7)
That tells us Tamar was living in the king’s house. She lived under the protection of the king, and the king sent her to her brother’s house—a place where she should have been honored, a place where she had every right to feel that she would be completely safe.
She trusted Amnon, but her trust was betrayed. She came as a servant, and she was betrayed by the very person who she came to serve.
Amnon… took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me my sister.” (2 Samuel 13:11)
Again, you see the godliness of Tamar in what she says. She answered him, “No, my brother, do not violate me, for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this outrageous thing.
As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel” (2 Samuel 13:12-13).
Tamar knows the true meaning of love. She seeks Amnon’s good, as well as her own: “Amnon, don’t do this to me, and don’t do this to yourself!” Then Tamar says, “Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you” (2 Samuel 12:13).
It is hard to know precisely what she means here. I suspect it was simply an attempt to get out of Amnon’s trap. Marriage to her stepbrother, which seems to be what she suggests here, would have been against the law of God (Leviticus 18:9, 11; 20:17; Deuteronomy 27:22). Perhaps she reckoned that even a marriage that broke God’s law would have been better than this.
What’s clear is that she was convinced that the king was the one who could help her. But Amnon would not listen, and we read these tragic words: “Being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her” (2 Samuel 13:14).
Then Amnon hated her with very great hatred, 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, “Get up! Go!” (2 Samuel 13:15)
Notice how quickly Amnon’s lust turns to loathing—in a moment. He essentially says to Tamar, “Get up and get out of here!” Tamar is thrown out like a piece of trash and the door is bolted behind her.
I want you to notice the response of the two men to whom Tamar might have looked for some help and some comfort in her trauma and in her ordeal.
Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has Amnon your brother been with you? Now hold your peace, my sister. He is your brother; do not take this to heart.” (2 Samuel 13:20)
Absalom is clearly loyal to his sister, but his counsel is sadly mistaken: “Hold your peace!” In other words, “Don’t say anything about this to anyone. Keep quiet and move on.” The world never changes.
Then he adds, “Do not take this to heart.” He speaks to Tamar as if what had happened was no big deal. It was all in the family.
Absalom knew that this was a big deal, so big in fact that he took the law into his own hands and killed his own brother Amnon as an act of revenge. In fact, verse 32 tells us that Absalom decided that he would take his brother’s life on the day that Amnon violated his sister.
What Absalom should have done that day is to confront Amnon with the truth. But he never spoke a word to Amnon (2 Samuel 13:22). He simply ignored him. Hatred burned in Absalom’s heart for two years. And in the end, that hatred led to the destruction of his own life several chapters later as well as Amnon’s.
When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry… (2 Samuel 13:21)
The whole of this story revolves around David. This is the life of David. Amnon is David’s son (2 Samuel 13:1). Absalom is David’s son by another mother (2 Samuel 13:1). Jonadab is the son of David’s brother (2 Samuel 13:3). Tamar is David’s daughter and she lives in David’s house (2 Samuel 13:7).
So what will David do about this outrage in his own family and in the kingdom in which he had been given power and authority? We are told that David was very angry. I should think so! But what did he do? Absolutely nothing.
David does nothing to comfort his daughter. He does nothing to discipline his son. He does not even bring his daughter home. From that day on, Tamar lives as a “desolate woman” in the home of Absalom (2 Samuel 13:20).
The point is often made that David would not have felt that he was in a position to deal with the sin of Amnon because he saw a reflection of his own sin in his son. The parallel is very pointed in the way this story is told. Bathsheba was a beautiful woman. Tamar was a beautiful sister. But this is no excuse for David. As a father he has a duty to love his daughter and a duty to discipline his son. And in this he failed completely.
David’s failure left Amnon without discipline. It left Tamar without justice, and the door was opened for Absalom to take the law into his own hands.
There are two men in her life who she might have turned to for help, and no one tells the truth about what happened to Tamar. Absalom hides it. David ignores it. Will anyone speak the truth about what happened to this godly woman?
God does. Why do you think we are reading about this in the Bible? God will not ignore and he will not hide what happened to Tamar. God tells her story when no one else will. When he breathes out his Word, God says, “This is what happened to my daughter, Tamar. I will not have it hidden and I will not have it ignored.”
And Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the long robe that she wore. And she laid her hand on her head and went away, crying aloud as she went… So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. (2 Samuel 13:19-20)
Try to take in the pain of this godly woman. She feels so wretched that she puts ash in her hair. This beautiful woman who has been treated like trash by someone else, now treats herself like trash. She disfigures her own beauty by putting ash in her hair. She tears the royal robe she no longer feels worthy to wear. She puts her head in her hands and cries out in pain.
She feels completely and utterly worthless. And her sense of shame did not go away. She lived as a “desolate woman” (2 Samuel 13:20).
There are some words of Job that speak very powerfully to the experience of a person who has been abused. And they are very appropriate because Job was a righteous man. What he suffered was not the result of anything that he had done.
Listen to what he says, “Even if I am innocent, I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame and drowned in my affliction” (Job 10:15, NIV). I know I did nothing wrong here, but I still feel that this shame has been heaped upon me, and it feels like I’m drowning in this shame.
That’s where Tamar was, and maybe you know what that is like. Tamar had done nothing wrong. Shame was heaped on her and she felt the weight of it. Her great, unanswered question was where should she go with it and what should she do with it.
“Where could I carry my shame” (2 Samuel 13:13)? That’s what she is living with, and no one in David’s house could answer Tamar’s question. Amnon abuses her, Absalom silences her, and David ignores her. And she lives with this unanswered question: Where can I carry my shame?
In scene six, Tamar is a desolate woman. Is this the end for her? Will she live like this forever?
Or will there be a scene seven for Tamar? Can there be a scene seven for you?
I want you to see the remarkable parallel between the story of Tamar and the story of Jesus Christ, and a better ending than we find in 2 Samuel 13.
“Where could I carry my shame?” (2 Samuel 13:13)
I wonder if you have noticed the parallels between the story of Tamar and the story of Jesus.
When it comes to being loaded with shame, when you have done nothing wrong, Jesus can say, “Me too.” He really can. If you think deeply about what he endured, you will begin to feel that Jesus Christ is a Savior to whom you can come. And there is no one else like him.
The Bible gives special attention to the shame that was heaped upon Jesus on the cross. The hope for every person who has suffered abuse is that he was not overcome by it. “Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus… who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2).
Jesus endured the shame of the cross. The shame was not his own. It was put on him, but it did not overcome him. He was under it. He felt the weight of it. And yet he rose above it. He looked down on it. He despised it.
He was able to do that because he knew who he was and he knew where he was going. He was treated like trash, but he knew he was the dearly loved Son of God. He was nailed to a cross, but he knew he was destined for a throne in heaven.
In the book, Rid of My Disgrace that I referred to earlier, Justin and Lindsey Holcomb point out that we all have to face the question of identity: Who am I? Anyone who has had to endure this kind of experience will have struggled with the questions: Am I spoiled goods? Am I a piece of trash?
But then the Holcombs make this important point: To answer the question “Who am I?” you need first to answer another question: “Of what story do I find myself a part?” Writing for those who have been suffered some form of abuse, they say, “Being a victim of sexual assault is part of your story that you should not deny or minimize. But if it becomes the story of your life, your whole identity will be founded on a sense of shame.”
“The world will answer your questions of worth with affirmations of self-worth, self-esteem and self-love… These replies are insensitive to the suffering individual and do not answer the underlying problem of a distorted self-image. How do you receive or give love… when you believe that you are unlovable, dirty, worthless, impure and corrupt?” 
Where can I go with my shame? That is the question. The answer does not lie in a new story of loving yourself. The answer lies in the great story of the Son of God who loved you and gave himself for you. There is a love outside of yourself. The Son welcomes you, receives you, holds you, and he will never let you go—irrespective of the cost, even if it means laying down his life for you.
Jesus Christ came into the world so that your life could be part of a better story, so that the worst thing that happened to you would not become the defining thing in your life, so that there could be a seventh chapter for Tamar and for you—a new and better story of hope.
Jesus is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. He lives, so that in him you may be able to despise your shame and rise above it. He lives so that no shame will have the last word in your life.
Think of Tamar with the ashes in her hair. She put them on her head to convey her sense of shame: “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor… To give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes” (Isaiah 61:1, 3).
The headdress is a sign of dignity and honor. Christ can take the ashes of your shame and crown you with his steadfast love (Psalm 103:4), and he will pour that into your soul, so that over time, it will become a means of healing.
Picture Tamar in her royal robe. She tore it because she no longer felt worthy to wear it. But Christ clothes his people in a new robe of righteousness.
In the book of Revelation, we get scene seven—a great company of redeemed people. They are clothed in white robes, and they are not crying out in agony, they are shouting in triumph: “Salvation belongs to our God… and to the Lamb” (Revelation 7:10).
Scene seven in Tamar’s story is that right now she is part of that great company. Christ came into the world so that the outrage of Amnon’s sin should not have the last word in Tamar’s life. He came into the world so that neither your sins nor the sins committed against you would be the defining story of your life. He came so that your life could be part of a great story of Christ’s marvelous redemption.
I want to end by suggesting three uses of this story.
I hope that you feel with a new intensity today how sexual abuse is, in any of its many forms, a foul and a hateful thing. The Word of God is given to us today for that end. What we have spoken of today is a great evil that brings immeasurable pain wherever it manifests itself.
Use this story—take it deeply into your soul—to strengthen your loathing of sin and to increase your compassion for all who have suffered because of it. This is never something to be taken lightly.
In a world when everyone talks about love, there are many who know little of what true love is. For Amnon, love was getting what he wanted. For Jonadab, love was affirming his friend’s desire. For David, love seems to have been giving his children whatever they wanted, and then turning a blind eye when there was the most foul sin in his own family.
Love seeks the good of another person, whatever the cost. Jesus shows us what love is because he came to do us good, and he did it at immeasurable cost. And he says to us: “Love one another: just as I have loved you…” (John 13:34).
Tamar asked the painful question: Where could I carry my shame? And the question remains unanswered in 2 Samuel. You can bring it to Jesus.
If you have been abused in any way, a great step of faith for you today would be to believe that the Lord Jesus Christ can make your life part of a better story. I want to challenge you to believe that today.
You can ask him to do this for you. Lord, you’ve spoke about this to me today, and I want to take you at your word. He can take your ashes and crown you with his steadfast love (Psalm 103:4). He can take what is torn, and wrap you in the robe of his righteousness. And he can bring you, in time, to the place where you will be able to say in the company of the redeemed, “Salvation belongs to our God, and to the Lamb!”