Selected highlights from this sermon.
What does an abusive, destructive family look like? Surprisingly, King David’s family was pretty dysfunctional.
“Love” was used to cover the violation of Tamar by her half-brother Amnon. People thought everything was okay in the royal family, but it really wasn’t. Facts were disregarded, Tamar’s cries went unheard, and she was shamed, blamed and demeaned.
Her story is one that’s repeated thousands of times each day in today’s world.
But to the abused, Jesus says: you don’t have to stay where you are. You don’t have to live with that shame.
Jesus defined his mission very clearly. To rebuild the soul and minister to the brokenhearted.
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As you may know, this is the second in a series of three messages on the topic, Let God Redeem Your Story. I’m speaking on the sensitive topic of abuse, and as I mentioned last time, if you wish to weep while I speak (because memories are coming back that are very difficult for you to handle), feel free to do so—at least to cry quietly. And I hope that those of you who have experienced abuse in your life of whatever kind will be open on the Godward side, and maybe you’ll hear something today that you’ve never really heard before, and I pray that it will be transforming for you.
The purpose of this message, first of all, is for us to discuss what an abusive, dysfunctional family looks like. What happens in a family like that? What are the dynamics? And then the last part of the message is going to be on healing. How does Jesus heal the broken hearts? Thanks for being with me on this journey.
I begin today with a story that some of you will probably recognize if you are familiar with the Old Testament.
I came from a large, dysfunctional blended family. My father was a very powerful and famous man. He had several wives. They said I was beautiful. I was a virgin. My half-brother was sick—at least that’s what he told our father. He asked if I could come and fix him a meal. My father sent me a message, and he asked me to go to my half-brother, so of course I went. He was lying down and wanted me to make a cake for him in the kitchen. Then my half-brother said, “Bring the food to the bedroom and feed it to me.”
I can’t believe that I trusted him. I should have known that something was wrong. I can’t believe I was this naïve. He even told everyone around to leave. I should have left with them. Then he grabbed me and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister.” I knew then that I was in trouble. I said, “Don’t, my brother. Don’t force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel. Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where would I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked in Israel.” But nothing worked. He was very strong, so he sexually assaulted me. Then he kicked me out as if I were the bad one. I remember pleading and saying, “No, no. Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you’ve already done to me.” He called his servants and said, “Get this woman out of here. Bolt the door after her.” It was as if I were trash. I was violated, discarded, shamed, nameless, and exposed. I tore my clothes and put ashes on my head. I put my hand on my head and went away crying, and nobody did anything. My father, King David, was angry, but he never came to me and never spoke to my half-brother about what happened.
Well the story, of course, is recorded in 2 Samuel, chapter 13. If you have your Bibles it’s important that you follow along with the text, and what I’d like to do is to give you some characteristics of a dysfunctional family, and then we’ll talk about Tamar’s possibility of being healed. What happens if you aren’t healed, and what happens if you are, and why the difference?
First of all, with reference to the family itself, I need to give you some background. In the Old Testament God tolerated polygamy and so David had many wives and that meant, of course, that there were many brothers and half-brothers and half-sisters. Absalom and Tamar are from the same mother. Both of them were drop-dead good looking. That’s what the Bible says in my rather loose translation. They must have had a very beautiful mother. Amnon was from a different mother. He was actually the oldest of one of David’s wives and so that sets up the scenario as to what’s going to happen between the half-brother, Amnon and his half-sister—the beautiful sister, Tamar.
One of the things that you notice about dysfunctional families that is very evident is that not all family members are protected, or we could say that not all of them are treated equally. That certainly was true in this case. Look at what the text says in chapter 13, verse 1: “Now Absalom, David’s son, had a beautiful sister, whose name was Tamar. And after a time, Amnon, David’s son, loved her.”
Now wait a moment. Notice that Absalom is referred to as David’s son, and later Amnon is referred to as David’s son, but nowhere do we find that Tamar is referred to as David’s daughter. Isn’t that interesting? You see, in many cultures, even in the Middle East, the girls are sometimes more expendable, and the men are more important. It would have been nice for her dignity, since she was a princess and her father was the famous David, if the text had said that she was the daughter of King David, but it doesn’t say it. And by the way, if you are in a dysfunctional family, isn’t it important for you to understand how words are used? It says that Amnon loved his half-sister. Loved? Are you kidding? You know there are many people who say, “I love you,” and what they really mean is, “I love myself and I want you.” Amnon was nothing but an adult predator in terms of relationship to his half-sister but, you know, love is used to cover what is going to become a horrendous crime, and isn’t that the way it is? A molester says to children, “Well, you know I’m just teaching you how to love,” or “I care so much about you.” And so language is used to deceive.
There’s a second characteristic and that is that appearance masks reality. The appearance is one thing. The reality is another. You know, if we had the time we’d go back to chapter 12 as it ends. David is a great hero. Now it’s also true that he committed adultery and murder, and we know that story, but God forgave him, and now he’s called into battle against the Ammonites, and they capture the king of the Ammonites, and they take his crown and they put it on David’s crown. And all the people are cheering and saying, “Isn’t it wonderful that we have such a great royal family?”
Well, what they don’t know is that this royal family is dysfunctional and in trouble. In fact, it becomes very clear that even as the story unfolds, what happens is this: Tamar is told by her father to go to Amnon who said that he was sick and he wanted Tamar to make some food that he might eat out of her hand. David, wake up! Okay? I mean, don’t you get it? Amnon was somebody who was not a very pretty young man. Now he was in line for the throne, and so David turned the other way, and there’s evidence that we shall uncover here that David was not a good father. And so the reality of what is happening is masked, and everybody on the outside thinks that the royal family is doing well, and David is famous for winning battles, but he has no idea as to how to control his sons and control his home.
Isn’t that true of a lot of people? They may be very good at their business and are successful, but when it comes to knowing what to do with the family they just don’t have any natural ability to know how to handle situations. And abusive families come in and out of churches and they are there everywhere and, lo and behold, people think everything is fine but the appearance is one thing and reality is quite another.
Another characteristic is that facts are disregarded. I’ve already implied that and so we shall hurry to number four. The victim’s cries (this is very important) are not heard. Now look here. Here’s what happened. I’m picking it up in verse 11: “When she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her and said to her, ‘Come, lie with me, my sister.’ She answered him and she really says no three times. ‘No, my brother, do not violate me, (another no) 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. Now therefore, please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.’” What she’s implying is “If you talk to our father he might allow us to marry.” She is probably buying time here. Verse 14 says, “But he would not listen to her, and being stronger than she, he violated her and lay with her.”
One of the things about abusers is what that they always want to do is to show their power. They want to make sure that the person that they are abusing is weak and powerless. Powerlessness to them is very important, and that’s why a child who is abused may actually go with the abuser and be obedient to the abuser. People say, “Well, why don’t they run away?” The bonding is such, the humiliation is such that they feel that they should stay and continue the abuse. The psychological insights to unpack are interesting but we must hurry on.
And so she says no three times but he disregards it. Abusers don’t listen. The father who is abusing that little boy, slapping him or whatever, disregards the crying of the child who says, “No, Daddy, no, Daddy.” He has no ears to hear that, and that’s a characteristic of an abuser.
Later on I’m going to be giving some hope to you who are abusers, because I know that you are out there, but until I get to the end of the message, I have a word for you until we get there. And if you are an abuser I want you to hear me carefully. (pause) STOP IT! Stop what you are doing! Who do you think you are to be abusing anyone whether it’s your wife or your children? STOP IT!
All right—the victim’s cries are not heard. We must hurry on. The victim is shamed, blamed and demeaned. Now notice what the text says: “Amnon hated her with a very great hatred (verse 15), so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her.” I mean, isn’t that interesting? Maybe the experience wasn’t all that he thought it was going to be. There are other dynamics that are going on. It happens a thousand times in Chicago every week, if not more. He gets what he wants and now he throws her away like the peeling of an orange.
Well, she doesn’t want to go and says, “If you send me away I’m going to be desolate for the rest of my life.” He tosses her out and asks the servants to bolt the door and as far as Tamar is concerned, she is ostracized and will be an outcast in Israel.
Now notice it says in verse 19 (we must skip to there), “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. 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.’” Actually Absalom is now planning to kill Amnon, and that’s about the best comfort he could give to his full-blooded sister.
Verse 21, “When King David heard all these things, he was very angry.” Well good for you, David. And what is it exactly that you are going to do about it? The answer is nothing.
You know, Amnon should have been put to death according to the Law. The guy should have been stoned, but Amnon is going to become the king (theoretically). He never was, but he was in line to become the king after David as one of his firstborns, and so David backs off. David is not a good father. I know there are some of you who say, “You can’t say such things about David.” Oh yes I can. I just did as a matter of fact.
You know, there’s a hint in 2 Kings, chapter 1, and verse 6. It speaks about Adonijah, another son, who is going to have to be put to death because he has a rebellion against Solomon. And it says regarding Adonijah and his rebellion, “Never did the king cross him or ever speak to him, ‘Why are you doing thus or so?’” David should have acted differently. Even if he had not put Amnon to death, what he should have done is hurry over to Tamar and say, “Tamar, I am absolutely heartbroken over what has happened to you. This is not your fault. Why don’t you let me write a Psalm about you, because you know, I do write Psalms, and I want it to be a Psalm of lament but also a Psalm of hope. And Tamar, I am going to be here with you in your emotional distress. I am going to walk with you through your experience.” How differently it would have turned out for Tamar, but the famous King David, the author of the Psalms, didn’t do that. He was angry. Maybe because of the moral compromise of chapter 12, he had lost his ability to have moral input into the lives of his family. The dysfunctional family keeps going. Now, when the father doesn’t do anything, the kids take care of it. They all respond differently. Absalom ends up killing Amnon, and so forth.
Now the question that we have to ask is, “Was Tamar’s problem (I know it really wasn’t hers) or was her shame ever redeemed? We don’t know for sure, but look at what it says there. I read it to you a moment ago: “Tamar lived a desolate woman in her brother Absalom’s house.” In those days that would have meant that even though it wasn’t her fault, she was, in effect, damaged goods and as damaged goods she would never have the opportunity of marrying and of bearing children. I suspect she died as the text describes her, a desolate woman, ostracized from society, and that is her story.
Now the question that I want to ask is, “Could she have been redeemed?” That is to say, could God have redeemed her story? Maybe He did because we don’t know how her life ended. I hope that He did, but if He would have, one way would have been by pouring grace into her soul. She didn’t have as much information as we do. She lived, of course, before the cross. We live after the cross. She lived before the prophets wrote. She may have known some of her father’s Psalms, but I don’t know how much she knew, but today my heart breaks for Tamar and my heart breaks for all the Tamars who are listening to me right now. The Tamar of the past can’t be helped, but you can be, and I want to encourage you to let God redeem your story.
Let’s take our Bibles and go to Isaiah 61 (for just a few moments) where Jesus actually defines His mission as rebuilding of the soul. And I want you to give permission to God to rebuild your soul, no matter what kind of abuse you have endured. Jesus quotes this in the fourth chapter of the book of Luke when He goes into the synagogue and picks up the scroll: “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 (the Tamars of this world), to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, (the last part of verse 2—the day of vengeance—will come later) to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness.”
Now, what I want us to do is to see quickly that there are three statements here that would really help Tamar, and they are in God’s Word because they can help you. Notice God says, “I’m going to substitute beauty instead of ashes.” Do you remember that I read that Tamar put ashes on her head? That was symbolic of her shame. God says, “Instead of ashes I am going to give them a beautiful headdress—a garland—so that the ashes are not going to define who you are but rather the garland,” that was a garland of beauty on festive occasions. That’s who you really are going to become. Isn’t that beautiful? I invite you today to get rid of the ashes of shame and I’ll talk about that in a moment.
Now there are two different kinds of shame. There is healthy shame. Healthy shame is when you and I feel shame because we ought to feel shame. We’ve all had healthy shame. In fact, in the Old Testament, God goes on sometimes chapter after chapter saying to Israel, “They can sin and they have no shame.” Amnon did this crime and he apparently had no shame, so that’s terrible. Sociopaths have no shame. They have no feelings. They can destroy. They can hurt. They can cut and they have no feeling about it, so shame can be very healthy and good to remind us that we violated God’s laws. But thank God we don’t have to live with it, as I’ll point out.
Then there is unhealthy shame. Unhealthy shame is when you take somebody else’s shame upon you. That’s what Tamar was enduring. Ashes on her head! Desolate woman shamed! She is taking the shame that should have belonged to Amnon and she is carrying it upon her soul and that’s what the problem is. She’s bearing someone else’s shame, and some of you who were abused as children, the shame that you bear is not yours. It is your parents’ shame, your babysitter’s shame, and your uncle’s shame—whoever it was. That’s not your shame. That’s why I want to help you get rid of that shame.
So God says, “What I’m going to do is to give her a garland.” By the way, if you don’t deal with the unhealthy shame, I can tell some things about you. You’re a very defensive person. You may be a very angry person. When somebody points out a wrong in your life, you’re all there to defend yourself because you were brought up possibly in a shame-based home, and therefore you fear exposure; you fear that people will somehow find out who you really are, and so all your defenses are up. And that’s why, if I might put it in a very pretty way, you are very, very difficult to live with, but think that you are just fine, thank you very much.
All right. So that’s what happens when we don’t deal with the shame, and then God says, “Not only ashes are exchanged for a garland but the mourning because of the past is exchanged for joy.” It says right here: “the joy of gladness and the oil of gladness.” You never went to a funeral wearing oil. Oil was for the festive events. It was putting on your best cologne and going, and God says, “That’s what I want you to think of yourself—no longer defined by mourning and being desolate and saying, ‘Oh, you know, I’m condemned for the rest of my life.’” Yeah, we’ll talk about the fact that you might be to some extent, but on the other hand, God is going to rebuild your soul. You don’t have to stay where you are. You really don’t have to. Jesus defines His mission as the rebuilding of the soul and ministering to the broken-hearted.
And then notice next it says also, “Garments of praise instead of a faint spirit.” You are weary. It says in Zephaniah, “I will take away your shame and I will give you praise on your lips,” and by the way, praise is very essential to your recovery.
Now, as I begin to summarize this and apply it to your life, let me begin by saying that there are some wounds that people bear that will never really be healed until heaven, and you need to accept that. One day I was in this restaurant and there was a woman with a very prominent tattoo on her arm, and because we had connected and seen each other, I thought it was appropriate for me to ask her what that was all about, and then she said this. She said, “That was done by my ex-boyfriend. He was an alcoholic, and an abuser,” and she said, “I am now married happily to a good man, but I can’t get rid of it because it was deeply burned into my skin.” She said, “I wish I could get rid of it but I can’t. I am reminded of the past every single day.”
Some of you have a tattoo on your soul. Last week when we gave an invitation we had many of you come, and a woman said to me, “How do you deal with it when you look into the mirror every day and are reminded of your past?” And I believe it was a father who abused her, and she said her brother has scars on his body because of the whippings that he received, and so every time he showers he is reminded. Yeah, yeah, it’s a tattoo, isn’t it?
There are some things that will not really be healed until heaven, but here’s the good news. You don’t have to wait until you are “fully healed” or wait until heaven in order for God to use you mightily.
I was so blessed last week when a couple came forward, both of whom had been abused in their youth, and now studying for the ministry, asking the question, “Can God really use us?” The answer is God can bless you mightily; He can use you in ways that some of us who have never been abused know nothing about. Listen, don’t be so focused on your “healing” that you think that there’s no hope for you to function and be a blessing unless everything is taken care of. Some tattoos will remain, and Jesus will take care of them. In fact, in heaven we’ll even see His wounds too, won’t we? John says, “I saw as it were a lamb slain from before the foundation of the earth.” He will have nail prints. He will have wounds, but they will not be open wounds. They will be scars because scars signify that healing has taken place, and that’s my desire for you – that your wounds might not be open and that your wounds might be turned into scars. You may still remember it but it’s no longer who you are.
Now the question is, how do we apply this to our lives? I think that the answer is really a better fuller understanding of the cross of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ died on the cross, and that was a substitute for us. And the Bible says that He has borne our weaknesses and He has carried our sorrows. He carried our sorrows, so I want you to visualize for a moment that just like you might be bearing somebody else’s shame, Jesus actually bore your shame. In fact, the Bible says that. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Who for the joy that was set before Him, despising the shame, sat down on the right hand of the throne of God.”
Jesus said, “I endured your shame. Stop carrying it anymore.” Receive the healing and the forgiveness that goes down to the depths of your soul so that you know you don’t have to walk around with the big word “shame” on your forehead. Let Jesus deliver you.
In the past I have quoted Rodney Clapp who, speaking about Jesus Christ’s ability to rid us of shame said, “Does shame bind us? Jesus was bound. Does shame destroy our reputation? He was despised and rejected of men. Does shame reduce us to silence? He is led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before his shearers is silent so he opened not his mouth. Does shame expose our apparent weakness? The Bible says he saved others; the people mocked him. He saved others; he cannot save himself. Does shame lead to abandonment? Jesus took our abandonment. ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Does shame diminish us? He was crucified naked and exposed to gawkers. Jesus took your shame. You don’t need to be where you are. Accept that.”
So we have to understand the cross is a substitution. Jesus said, “I bore shame too, and your shame was included in that. Receive it from Me.” But you have to come with a heart that is open to grace. If you are not open to God’s grace unfortunately, like Tamar, you’ll just bear your shame until you die and your past will not be redeemed.
Now I promised a word to those who are abusers, as well as to those of us who aren’t, but who are also sinners. You see, if you’ve been abused, you have your own sin to take care of because most people, when sinned against, sin in return. We are all really seriously broken, so what is the answer to the person out there who is listening who says there’s no hope for me?
Years ago I told you a true story. Because we are on the radio there are many prisoners who listen to us throughout the country, and a prisoner wrote to me and said, “I have raped four women.” He said, “There’s nothing I can ever do toward their healing and I have to live with that,” and then he said, “Can I also be forgiven?” That’s a good question for any abuser to ask, and even those of you who aren’t abusers, we should all be asking that.
The older I get the more amazed I am that we are all sinners right down to the depths of our deceitful hearts. Can we be forgiven? Well, I wrote back and I said, “I want you to visualize two trails. One trail is muddy with deep ruts that go into the ditch. You look at the trail and it is ugly. That’s the only word that comes to mind. It’s just a mess. Then you look at another trail and it is very well traveled. It’s neat with little flowers along the path and it is a beautiful trail because it is made by somebody who grew up in a nice home and never had any abuse. The worst thing he ever did was to wrap his golf club around a tree when things didn’t go well, and that’s about it. It’s a very nice path. Do you know what both of us need if we are going to come into God’s presence, whether you belong to that trail or this one or something in between? We all need the righteousness of Christ,” so I said to him, “Visualize those two trails and then visualize eighteen inches of snow that covers both of them equally. If you flew over the area, you couldn’t tell the difference between this trail and that trail because both are under the beautiful blanket of snow which represents the righteousness of Jesus Christ.”
For David, who lived his life as an adulterer, all the tears in the world could never bring Bathsheba’s husband back to life. All the tears in the world could never restore her purity after what he had done, but he said, “Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” I never understood that until somebody explained that you can take a bucket of the clearest snow and melt it and there’s a little residue at the bottom, because even pure snow is not pure snow.
The righteousness of Jesus Christ covers it and you receive it, and David said, “Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven and whose sin is covered.” You have not sinned too much for God to forgive you. Now having said that, that doesn’t mean that all you need to do is to come to Jesus and receive His righteousness. If you are an abusive kind of person, you’re going to need help because the forgiveness of God is different than the deliverance of God and you need to go for help. Don’t keep doing what you are doing. Don’t! Go for help. Well, you say, “That might cost me something.” Hey, it’s better to have that cost you something than to be ruining lives that may never recover. David sinned and recovered. His kids sinned and never recovered.
One day I was with a pastor who had committed adultery and therefore had to leave the ministry and he put on in the radio program those beautiful words that Dave Boyer likes to sing. “Calvary covers it all, my past with its sin and stain (we could say shame); my guilt and despair, Jesus took on him there, Calvary covers it all.” God’s grace is big enough for you no matter who you are.
Now I’ve been thinking about Tamar this past week, and just this morning an idea came to me. Even though she didn’t live at a time when she had the New Testament. Obviously she didn’t have the prophets. I don’t know whether or not she had any access to her famous father’s Psalms. You know, I can imagine that maybe what happened is that Tamar said, “If my dad wasn’t there for me I’m going to hate him and I’m going to hate his God.” That’s just like many young people do today. You know, they are brought up in a Christian home. Their parents were very, very unchristian and they say, “I hate them and I’m going to hate their God, and I’m going to go the other direction.” God’s grace cannot enter your heart if that’s what you are thinking. But I began to use my imagination and thought to myself, “What if Tamar had access to her father’s Psalms?” Maybe she would have come across these verses, and if she had prayed them, she would have been on her way to emotional and spiritual healing.
“Let not the flood sweep over me, or the deep swallow me up, or the pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, oh Lord, for your steadfast love is good. According to your abundant mercy turn to me. Hide not your face from your servant for I am in distress. Make haste to answer me. Draw near to my soul. Redeem me. Ransom me because of my enemies. Oh God, you know my reproach and my shame and my dishonor. My foes are all known to you. Reproaches have broken my spirit so that I am in despair. I looked for pity but there was none, for comforters, but I found none.” And then a few verses later, “I am afflicted and in pain. Let your salvation, oh God, set me on high.” And then the next verse, “I will sing praise to the name of God with a song. I will magnify him with thanksgiving. I will please the Lord more than sacrifices. When the humble see it they will be glad. You who seek God, let your heart revive, for the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.”
She might have read her father’s Psalm. “Dad wasn’t there for me but he sure knew how to write,” and that would have healed Tamar’s soul. God is there for you. Jesus died so that you don’t have to be captive and a prisoner.
After the communion service we’ll give you an opportunity to come forward if you wish for prayer, but for now would you bow with me as we pray?
Father, today we think of all the little girls that have been abused and that are being abused, and the little boys, the teenagers, the wives, and the husbands. Father, we blush for our iniquities and our sins. Help us to remember that Amnon also was a man, the same kind of man that we are, but he was off the track. Would You bring healing and hope to all those who have listened to this message, and over and above the words, may Your Holy Spirit be spent to each heart to bring healing and hope and restoration, and may You redeem many stories for Your honor and glory we ask in Jesus’ name? Amen.
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