By Danni Moss
There’s a powerful little word in the Bible I’ve never heard a single sermon about. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a preacher mention this word in any context, even in passing. Yet, it is cataclysmically powerful. That word is “desolate.” What a barren and painful picture is painted by those eight little letters!
I think the “poster child” for desolation is Tamar, David’s daughter. Her story is found in II Sam. 13. She was raped by her brother Amnon. When Absalom, another of her brothers, heard about it he was angry. But he made a major mistake, which was complicated by David’s error. Absalom told Tamar to say nothing about what had happened to her. At first he took no action against Amnon, though the Word says Absalom hated Amnon because of what he had done to Tamar. And in one tiny little verse, David’s response was just anger – no action, no vindication and nothing at all to alleviate his daughter’s pain. The Word says “Tamar remained desolate in her brother’s house” (II Sam. 13:20).
Tamar remained desolate. Can you see her, living as an abandoned relation in her brother’s home for the rest of her life, watching her brother’s family go on as normal while her life is broken, devastated and forever marred? Can you imagine her grief, frustration and pain over the fact that her father and her brother will not stand for her? Can you feel her anger and bitterness as she sees her attacker seemingly living an unfettered life, not required to give an accounting for what he had done?
Look at the reality in which Tamar lived. At the time of her rape she was almost certainly a teenager. She was a privileged young woman with nothing but the best ahead of her as the king’s daughter. Amnon stole her life and her future in a culture where a woman’s worth was found only in marriage and motherhood. As a “used” woman, even though it wasn’t her fault, she had no value and no future as the incident was handled. Then Absalom shuffled her off to a corner of his own home – for all his “kindness” in providing for her, she still may have became the unpaid babysitter and housekeeper.
A couple years after Tamar’s attack, Absalom conspired to have Amnon killed because of what he had done to his sister. But there was no justification for Tamar. This action was taken “under the table” in a seemingly random act. Those directly involved knew the killing was retribution for Tamar’s attack and David knew this after the fact. Yet, it seems more about avenging the family honor than about bringing justice to Tamar. In spite of the fact that Amnon was killed, there is no indication anyone offered comfort to Tamar.
After Absalom killed Amnon he went on the run. Did his family have to run with him? Or did he leave his family behind? Do you think his family may have blamed Tamar for their circumstances? We don’t know, but it is quite possible.
We also do not see that Tamar’s father, David, ever offered her consolation. The passage mentions that David was “comforted concerning Amnon, seeing he was dead” (II Sam. 13:39) but what about his daughter? As the head of the family and the leader of the country, David had both the responsibility and the power to make things right for Tamar. At his word, Amnon would have received the punishment he deserved and Tamar would have been vindicated. Her father had the power to make a future for her – don’t you think the king could have found Tamar a good husband and restored her reputation in spite of what had happened?
Tamar’s life is a recipe for desolation – hurt, injustice, and endless hopelessness. Desolation is not a guaranteed result of circumstances like Tamar’s, but without some source of hope and consolation it is a fact of daily life for many people.