Fire and Ashes
Scripture: 2 Samuel 13
Our text this morning is 2 Samuel 13, and it is one of the most tragic stories in the Bible. It is a powerful lesson in the consequences of sin, but God is never even mentioned in the entire chapter. It’s just a mess. But let’s get into it.
1 Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time, Amnon, David’s son, loved her. 2 And Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her.
The writer begins the story by telling us about a love-sick young man. Tamar was Amnon’s half-sister. This is shocking because incest was just as forbidden then as it is today. And this young lady was not just a virgin, she was a daughter of the king.
3 But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother. And Jonadab was a very crafty man. 4 And he said to him, “O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?” Amnon said to him, “I love Tamar, my brother Absalom’s sister.”
5 Jonadab said to him, “Lie down on your bed and pretend to be ill. And when your father comes to see you, say to him, ‘Let my sister Tamar come and give me bread to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.’”
So far, this sounds like a foolish prank being cooked up between two teenage cousins. But it is far more serious than they realize.
And this is a good time to offer some practical encouragement if you’re dealing with sexual sin or temptation, which is Amnon’s problem.
Notice the emphasis on the eyes and the hands in this story. “Prepare the food in my sight, that I may see it and eat it from her hand.”
That sounds a lot like something Jesus said about sin. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out – for it is better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be cast in hell.
And do you know what sin Jesus was talking about in context? Sexual sin. Specifically, adultery. Quit playing with fire. If you can’t handle social media, get off of it. If you can’t handle a smart phone, get a dumb phone. If you don’t have accountability, get some.
No one thinks they are capable of serious sin until it happens.
6 So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. And when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, that I may eat from her hand.”
7 Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, “Go to your brother Amnon’s house and prepare food for him.” 8 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. 9 And she took the pan and emptied it out before him, but he refused to eat.
And Amnon said, “Send out everyone from me.” So, everyone went out from him. 10 Then Amnon said to Tamar, “Bring the food into the chamber, that I may eat from your hand.” And Tamar took the cakes she had made and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother.
You can see this becoming more and more dangerous. It’s sort of an allegory for sin in general. It always seems to start small in our eyes, then escalates. That is especially true of sexual sin.
We cannot trust ourselves to do the right thing in the wrong circumstances, especially when it comes to lust. And we need to talk about it.
In fact, the Bible talks about sex and sexual temptation far more than the church typically does. I’m guilty of that as well because it is awkward. But we need to be clear about what the Bible teaches. Otherwise, our kids are going to get all their information from the world. 1 John 2:16 says that the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes are not from the Father but from the world. Our lust is a distortion of God’s gift. Sex is meant to be a gift. It is an amazing gift in the right context, but it can also be very destructive.
In our house, we have a fireplace. In the winter, we burn wood safely in the fireplace. The smoke goes up the chimney and the fire warms the house. It’s beautiful and pleasant. But what happens if I start a fire a few feet away, in the middle of the living room floor? A fire in the wrong place is destructive. Sex is like that and the fire in Amnon burned in the wrong place.
11 But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, “Come, lie with me, my sister.” 12 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.
13 As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the outrageous fools in Israel. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” 14 But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.
In Hebrew, this is not the typical term for sex. He did not “lay with her” as it reads in English. Instead, he “laid her”, which is a very crass way of describing what happened.
Ralph Davis describes this action by Amnon as “flagrant godlessness”. Tamar pleads with her brother to consider the consequences. And frankly, I am amazed at her wisdom and grace in the middle of such a traumatic situation.
She’s not only thinking of herself, but also the consequences for Amnon. She suggests that David might let them get married, even though it was forbidden by law. What a tremendous example of a godly woman she was. But Amnon was consumed by his sin.
15 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!”
That’s only two words in Hebrew. Up. Out. And I think the writer is very intentionally showing us that Amnon’s lust was never actually love.
Our world has always confused the two – lust and love. Being physically attracted to someone is not love. Love is commitment and sacrifice. What Amnon did to his sister was the opposite of love. It was hatred. And obviously, this is worse because it was nonconsensual. But the Bible actually makes that case that any and all sexual activity outside the context of marriage is closer to hatred than love. It is moving the fire outside the fireplace. There are always negative consequences to sex without covenant commitment.
“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:18
You can see this clearly in Amnon. The object of his lust quickly became the object of his hatred. This is powerful stuff, to impact relationships the way sex always does.
And our world sends us mixed signals about this. On the one hand, our culture wants us to believe that sex is no big deal as long as it is consensual. But if an alien from another planet visited earth, one of the first things they would notice is that our world is absolutely obsessed with sex. It’s everywhere. And it’s having greater consequences than the world wants us to believe.
Let’s keep reading.
16 But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. 17 He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence and bolt the door after her.”
Tamar is trying to accept the reality that sex represents covenantal union. She’s willing to stay with the man that just raped her because her theology of sex and marriage demands it. In her mind, it was a greater evil to be violated and then cast aside. But that’s exactly what Amnon does. And look at what he says.
Again, the English misses something. In Hebrew, he doesn’t even say “woman”. He actually says, “get this thing out of my sight”.
18 Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves, for thus were the virgin daughters of the king dressed. So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. 19 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.
The writer clearly wants us to hate this man’s sin. It is repulsive. He is heartless. It should make us angrier than it probably does, numbed as we are by our own sinfulness.
But that’s the problem. We are quick to think we would never do something like this but be careful of casting that first stone. Watch what happens next.
20 And 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.” So Tamar lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house. 21 When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry.
Verse 21 is crucial to understanding the significance of this story in redemptive history.
Let me try to summarize what happens next in the story. David does nothing. He’s angry. He’s very angry. But he does nothing. Absalom waits two years to see if David will punish Amnon and nothing happens.
Finally, Absalom decides to kill his brother Amnon himself and runs away. Again, David is angry, and he mourns the situation but again he does nothing. Eventually, Joab convince David to let Absalom return to Jerusalem, but the damage had already been done. All of this sets up a lengthy feud between David and Absalom.
And if you remember, what did God say to David after he committed adultery with Bathsheba and murdered her husband? God said the sword would not depart from David’s house.
There’s a lot of speculation in the commentaries about why David did nothing, but it is clearly a failure of leadership. David was the king. His son raped his daughter. Doing nothing was the wrong decision.
Amnon was probably the oldest son – the first in line to the throne. Maybe that’s why David let him off the hook. Or maybe this sin hit too close to home for David. How can I punish my son for something I am publicly guilty of myself?
And this is why sin is so destructive. It spreads like a forest fire. God had forgiven David. David had repented. But his sin still had consequences. Our failures are never isolated. They are never innocent or small. It is easier for us to think of our sins as small and isolated, because we don’t want to feel the shame.
And that’s the question on Tamar’s lips as she walks away violated and cast aside like a dirty towel. What will I do with this shame? She even put ashes on her head, the Bible’s symbol of the shame we carry with us. And what are ashes? Ashes are the only thing left after fire has choked the life out of something. And some of us are carrying a lot of ashes.
What will we do with our shame, we who live in a sexually explicit culture? Not a single person in this room will leave this world unburned by sexual sin. So, what do we do with our shame?
The answer is, we give it to Jesus. When God said to David, the sword will never depart from your house – it was both a curse and a promise of blessing. The sword would pass down the family tree to the Son of David, the Messiah, and ultimately that sword would fall on him.
Jesus would endure the violence we deserved on the cross so that our shame can be erased.
Listen to the promise given to the prophet Isaiah:
61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
2 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
3 to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
7 Instead of your shame there shall be a double portion;
instead of dishonor they shall rejoice in their lot;
therefore in their land they shall possess a double portion;
they shall have everlasting joy.
That’s good news for Tamar. It’s good news for any of us feeling the weight of shame and guilt this morning. There is forgiveness. We are so much more than our failures, in Christ. Flee from sexual sin and run to Christ Jesus.