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; for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend, whose name was Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother; and Jonadab was a very crafty man. 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.” 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 Amnon lay down, and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, “Pray let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight that I may eat from her hand.”
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’s house where he was lying down. And she took dough, and kneaded it, and made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. And she took the pan and emptied it out before him, but he refused to eat. And 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. But when she brought them near to him to eat he took hold of her, and said to her, “Come lie with me, my sister.” She answered him, “No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do this wanton folly. As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the wonton fools in Israel. Now therefore, I pray you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.” But he would not listen to her; and being stronger then she, he forced her, and lay with her.
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, “Arise, be gone.” But she said to him, “No, my brother, for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other which you did to me.” But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, “Put this woman out of my presence, and bolt the door after her.”
One of the television’s most popular game shows is “The Dating Game.” On this program, glamorous young singles question each of three persons as to their tastes, values, and sense of humor, then decide which one they want to go out with.
The story here in Samuel 13:1-17 is also about a date. There are perhaps several ways to interpret this story. I understand it as an example of what we today would call “Date Rape”. Amnon cleverly lies in order to lure Tamar to his apartment. David, the father, acts in good faith, though perhaps not with the best of judgement, as he sends Tamar there. Tamar, unsuspecting, makes the mistake of going to a man’s apartment— cooking for him, caring for him, and staying alone with him even in his bedroom! Amnon betrayed both his father and Tamar’s trust by premeditated assault and rape. So, certainly, there seems to be a measure of immaturity all the way around, though Amnon is the extreme. By asking questions about this twosome we may find answers to many of the basic questions we have about dating today.
THE question teenagers pelt their parents most with is, “When?” — “When will I be old enough to date?”
We’re not told the precise age of either the boy or girl in the text, though Amnon and Tamar most certainly were up in their teens. But their behavior certainly reveals immaturity on both their parts. Amnon was driven by lovesick lust, deceit, and a desperate lack of commitment, while Tamar allowed herself to become involved in a violent sexual experience by going into a man’s apartment, fixing his supper, and then joining him alone in the bedroom.
The question— when will I be old enough to date— is not really a question of age, but one of maturity. And here I think two basic questions are in order:
1. Are you mature enough to stand alone?
When peer pressure is great— when the crowd is stampeding headlong into sin, and the music is blaring, “But everybody else is doing it!”, — can you then smile and say, “Yes, everybody else is doing it. But I choose not to!”? Do you know how to say “No?” Are you willing to call your parents to come get you when the party gets out of hand? Are you willing to sit home alone in righteousness rather than go out in a crowd of unrighteousness? If you do what’s right and your friends laugh at you, do you know how to continue doing what’s right anyway? Are you mature enough to stand alone? To say no? Are you strong enough to walk out of Amnon’s apartment at the first hint of danger?
2. Do you value your body as God does?
If I give you twenty dollars to spend, you may waste it and have absolutely nothing to show for it. Yet there is always the hope that you can get another twenty and spend it more wisely the next time. But it is not so with your body. God gives you a healthy body, a pure mind, and balanced emotions, but you choose how you spend it. And once it is used, you cannot earn another one. There is no second chance. So a mature person is going to want to spend his sexuality that one time so that he or she have the most to show for it. Do you fully comprehend the importance of this decision? Do you refuse to gamble with your body the way Tamar did when she went to Amnon’s bedroom by herself? Do you realize how loved you are by Christ, and how fearfully and wonderfully made you are? Do you understand that you are unique among the people of the world— that you are the only one of your kind? Do you love yourself enough to say “No” to experiences that might leave you shortchanged?
When you can answer “Yes” to both questions, only then are you mature enough to date.
The next question about dating is “Why?” — “Why do I want to date?”
In the text, Amnon clearly stalked Tamar for purely sexual motives, while Tamar helped Amnon because her father unwisely told her to do so. And she may have helped him because she was personally flattered by his attentions, and enjoyed playing house and toying with sexual romance. Both motives are very poor reasons for dating.
In Genesis 2:18, God makes the first negative statement in the Bible: “It is not good that man should live alone.” And from that point onward, God calls the human race to companionship, to marriage, to the family, and to community. And He is still doing so today. Part of our motivation for dating, therefore, is to learn to live responsibly among other people.
Dating helps us to learn about people, to communicate, to make choices, and express values. It stimulates emotional growth as we begin to leave the home and try out our own wings. And, too, courtship is an opportunity for fun, friendship, and service to others.
Have you ever watched an orchestra tune up? The first violin sounds the premier note. Next follow the other violins, the violas, the woodwinds, and finally the tuba. The tuba is last because it is so loud and domineering. If it were to sound too early, the other finer instruments couldn’t hear to tune themselves and the result would be an incompatible orchestra. Dating works something like this, too. Two people meet and begin “to tune up” together. Is there a oneness in their commitment to Christ? Are both in tune with each other’s tastes? Are they compatible conversationalists? Do they have the same goals for career?
The real danger in dating is that the physical dimensions will begin to play a significant role too early in the romance. And, like the tuba, sex begins to overwhelm the other dimensions so that it dominates everything else. This is exactly what happened to Amnon and Tamar. They didn’t get to know one another’s faith or career goals, or tastes in art, or even come to appreciate each other’s intellect. And, as a young lady once said to me after she’d broken up with her boyfriend of two years, “Sam and I never really got to know each other. We never took time to talk or worship or discuss ideas. I guess we just sort of used sex as an excuse for not really getting to know one another.”
We should not only ask how mature one should be to date, and what the purpose of dating is, but also advance a third question in the dating game: “Where?” — “Where is the best place to date?”
In the text, Amnon invited Tamar into his apartment. She cooked for him, and they ended up in the bedroom with Tamar a victim of “date rape.”
If the purpose of dating is really to get to know another person— to tune up, to check out your compatibility— then it makes good sense to take long walks together, to eat out, visit the zoo, go on a picnic, tour the museum or art gallery, play games, attend church, or just sit together on the front porch. Such places and activities promote healthy dating relationships.
It’s hard to get to know each other at loud dances or movies. And, as with Amnon and Tamar, private apartments or cars parked on the back row of the drive-in theater, aren’t healthy places to date either.
Why not wash the car or clean out the garage together? See if the other person knows how to work, — how to be polite when he’s hot and dirty and tired. Meet for a date over breakfast and look to see what each is like in the early morning hours. Join a small Bible study group together, fly a kite, swim, rake leaves, play tennis. There is so much more to discover about living compatibly with another human being than hugs and kisses and sex.
Another crucial question in the dating game is, “Who should I date?” Amnon picked Tamar because she was good-looking, young, and vulnerable.
In 2 Corinthians 6:14 Paul strongly warns Christians, “Don’t be unequally yoked.” The imagery used is of a team of horses or oxen harnessed together to pull a wagon. One horse is strong and cooperative with the driver, while the other horse is weak and rebellious, always slowing down or turning aside. The harness they share rubs them both raw until they both start kicking and biting one another. And soon the wagon and its occupants are going nowhere fast. Such is the case with Christians who begin to date non-Christians or uncommitted Christians. They are immediately incompatible on life’s most important point: spiritual maturity. But a willingness to say yes to such a date rather than sit alone at home so often leads to emotional involvement. Soon the Christian begins to delude himself by saying, “I just know he’ll become a Christian. I love him so much!” The relationship becomes physical. A marriage is planned. Vows are given. Children are born. More weight is added to the wagon. And soon it becomes obvious: One partner couldn’t care less about spiritual things. He’s full speed ahead after fun and money and work. Meanwhile, the other partner has a different idea about things: her focus and strength are pulling in the direction of Christ, the home, and love. And the unequal yoke begins to chafe and cut as they drag one another along until the man and wife begin to fight and plan a divorce.
If the headliner on the bus says “Washington, D.C.” and you get on it, don’t be surprised if you end up in Washington, D.C.! Busses seldom change
destinations once set. The same is true with people. If you meet an Amnon with lust, selfishness, deceit, and bad friends written all over him, and you begin a relationship with him, and you even fall into the marriage bed with him, don’t be surprised if you wake up and find out he hasn’t changed his path but has instead picked you up and carried you along with him!
And another question: “What should you wear on a date?” Well, certainly that depends on what you’re planning to do. If you’re going bowling you probably don’t want to wear your tuxedo or formal gown!
In the text, Tamar wore the long and modest robe often worn by chaste women of her day. Amnon, however, wore his pajamas! Nothing much hidden in his agenda— his clothes told the whole story!
All young people today especially need to learn that they can dress modestly and yet still be stylish. And girls in particular need to be very aware the men are quickly sexually aroused by what they see: clothing too tight or too short or too see-through or too low-cut can leave a fellow in a constant state of arousal. So why tease your date? Why offer his eyes what he may not rightfully have?
But you say, “This all sounds good and true, but it’s too late for me. My date and I are going too far already.”
What should you do if you’re already deeply involved? How do you back up? Several suggestions:
- Envision the consequences of immorality: Alienation from God, possible unwanted pregnancy, damaged emotions, unhappy flashbacks, and acute embarrassment.
- Ask yourself, “If my date can’t control his sex drive, what else might he not be able to control? His temper? His money? His ambition? And what makes me think if he’s willing and eager to be immoral with me now that he won’t be immoral with others after we’re married?” Do you really want to risk being married for life to a person like that?
- Try double-dating with another mature Christian couple. It’s hard to be intimate with an audience.
- Spend less time together.
- Plan and structure your dates so that you only have time to do healthful things. Avoid open-ended dates where your only plans are to be together and “fool around.”
- Dress in clothes which are hard to take off and have lots of layers! (Not too easy to accomplish this July!)
- If all else fails, then break up. For it is always better to suffer a broken romance than a broken sexuality. A romance can be replaced. Sexuality cannot.
How to Break Up
The song says, “Breaking up is hard to do.” And it is! That’s why so many couples who are going steady are really just stuck with each other. Deep down it is clear to one or both of them that their relationship is not going anywhere, but the trauma of separating is so fearsome that they keep holding on. It’s as a young woman said to me recently, “With Jimmy I don’t have everything I think is necessary for a growing relationship. But without him I don’t have any of those things. So I stick with him hoping somehow it will work out.”
What it all comes down to is faith. Do you trust in God to have what is best for you at heart? If you break up, do you believe God is capable of bringing someone else meaningful into your life?
After you break up, go ahead and cry. Talk out your hurts and feelings with your parents and with a good friend.
Make a clean break by returning rings, throwing away pictures, and discarding old mementoes of romance.
Admit to your friends, “We’ve broken up.” This serves notice that you’re now available for other dates.
And, finally, develop your relationship with God. The times that I’ve been left alone were times when the Lord drew me to himself and established a foundation of Bible study, prayer, meditation, obedience, and so much more in my life.
Handle With Care
In closing, let me hasten to emphasize how an innocent meeting between Amnon and Tamar ended in disaster. Two immature young people came together for a few hours of deceit, flirtation, and sex but the end result was anything but love.
After he had sex with Tamar, the Bible says that 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 he threw her out of his apartment and locked the door.
And Tamar— in grief that she’d given her best so cheaply— tore her clothing in shame, wept, and “dwelt a desolate woman.” (2 Samuel 13:15-22)
The text makes clear, therefore, that sex did not lead to a good marriage. And it seldom ever does, for it’s mostly the other way around: It’s good marriage that leads to sex.
Tamar learned the hard way that for men, “A conquered fortress holds no attraction.” Her man had gotten what he wanted— he was through, and he was moving on.
But the pain still was not ended. Tamar’s brother, Absalom, avenged her honor two years later by killing Amnon.
And in all of this, the parents grieved.
Beside “dating” in your mind mark this with indelible ink: “Fragile” Handle with care!” Yes, mark it twice! “Danger: High voltage!” And commit yourself to making your sexuality something you spend just once for a lifetime, and to having marriage to show for it. Commit yourself to making dating and sex not a bed for the night, but a home for the years. Commit yourself to dating someone in a thoughtful manner so that when you break up you don’t leave an emotional cripple, but a more mature person. Commit yourself to handling sex and dating God’s way as expressed in 2 Thessalonians 4:4-8: “That each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God: that no man transgress, and wrong his brother in this matter… for God has not called us for uncleanness, but in holiness…”
Lord, How I need your mercy in my life. I ask you, Jesus, to forgive me, cleanse me, and give me strength to walk in your light. Amen.