The account of Tamar’s rape by her half brother, Amnon, in II Samuel (13:1-21), is one of the most sordid stories of the Bible. Why is so much space devoted to this tragedy? What spiritual profit can it yield? One has to consider the potential lessons God is imparting.
Four things are apparent: Tamar’s story recalls David’s punishment for his sin with Bathsheba. Second, it explains the subsequent war between Absalom, David and the people. Third, it provides a cautionary moral tale for society’s elite. Finally, it shows God’s goodness to His people, and His use of historical events to rid the world of unsuitable leaders such as Amnon, David’s eldest son and heir to his throne.
After Tamar’s rape, according to II Samuel (13:19-20), life became joyless. “Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud. She lived in her brother Absalom’s house from that time on as a desolate woman.”
Why ashes? They signify man’s mortality and insignificance, absent a relationship with God.
Tamar suffered rape and betrayal by one brother, Amnon, and was counseled to remain silent by another brother, Absalom. Her father, David, who unknowingly put Tamar in harm’s way, was angered by news of the rape, yet did nothing.
Many women, and some men, in marriage today experience the ugly crime of forced sexual submission. Paul, speaking on marriage in Ephesians (5:22-33), often uses the word submission. But Paul does not advocate enslavement to another, or becoming a door mat.
Christ – at whose name, (according to Philippians 2:10), “Every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” – submitted His will to God, and we are to honor His example. When we submit to God, we are able to submit to others. Partners in a marriage able to submit to God gain ability to submit to one another.
Paul, in Ephesians (5:24), counsels: “As the church (the bride) submits to Christ (the groom) so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.” He advises husbands “to love their wives, just as Christ loved and died for the church.” It is this mutual submission that is the Oil of Joy.
Mutual Submission is a delicate balancing of love and respect. As Paul said in Ephesians (5:32), “This is a profound mystery. Each (man) must love his wife as he loves himself, and each wife must respect her husband.” In the story of Tamar and Amnon, we find neither the love nor respect which facilitates joy and harmony within the family, church, and community.
When properly employed, mutual submission is like the oil applied to a bicycle chain to keep its parts from squealing for attention. When love and respect are employed between wives and husbands, bosses and employees, church leaders and members, a healthy mutual submission lubricates the working components.
One cannot get around Paul’s bold recommendation in Ephesians (5:22-33): “wives submit to your husbands.” A wise husband who honors Christ will not take advantage of Paul’s call for submission.
Nor will a wife who honors Christ undermine her husband’s leadership.
Ignoring the tenets of mutual submission can cause disunity and friction in marriage, in families, and in churches. When love and respect are genuine, and supported by mutual submission, we create the Oil of Joy.
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at 6001 NW 8th Ave., Miami. To contact the church, call 305-759-0373 or email the pastor at firstname.lastname@example.org.