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Life of David

The Mechanics of Sin

2 Samuel 13

Today's passage is painfully instructive of the "mechanics" of sin. By mechanics, I mean the mechanisms by which sin gains its control over us. We can learn much by the failures in today's story:

(2 Sam 13 NIV) In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. {2} Amnon became frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her. {3} Now Amnon had a friend named Jonadab son of Shimeah, David's brother. Jonadab was a very shrewd man. {4} He asked Amnon, "Why do you, the king's son, look so haggard morning after morning? Won't you tell me?" Amnon said to him, "I'm in love with Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister." {5} "Go to bed and pretend to be ill," Jonadab said. "When your father comes to see you, say to him, 'I would like my sister Tamar to come and give me something to eat. Let her prepare the food in my sight so I may watch her and then eat it from her hand.'" {6} So Amnon lay down and pretended to be ill. When the king came to see him, Amnon said to him, "I would like my sister Tamar to come and make some special bread in my sight, so I may eat from her hand." {7} David sent word to Tamar at the palace: "Go to the house of your brother Amnon and prepare some food for him." {8} So Tamar went to the house of her brother Amnon, who was lying down. She took some dough, kneaded it, made the bread in his sight and baked it. {9} Then she took the pan and served him the bread, but he refused to eat. "Send everyone out of here," Amnon said. So everyone left him. {10} Then Amnon said to Tamar, "Bring the food here into my bedroom so I may eat from your hand." And Tamar took the bread she had prepared and brought it to her brother Amnon in his bedroom. {11} But when she took it to him to eat, he grabbed her and said, "Come to bed with me, my sister." {12} "Don't, my brother!" she said to him. "Don't force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don't do this wicked thing. {13} What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you." {14} But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her. {15} Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, "Get up and get out!" {16} "No!" she said to him. "Sending me away would be a greater wrong than what you have already done to me." But he refused to listen to her. {17} He called his personal servant and said, "Get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her." {18} So his servant put her out and bolted the door after her. She was wearing a richly ornamented robe, for this was the kind of garment the virgin daughters of the king wore. {19} Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornamented robe she was wearing. She put her hand on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went. {20} Her brother Absalom said to her, "Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don't take this thing to heart." And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom's house, a desolate woman. {21} When King David heard all this, he was furious. {22} Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad; he hated Amnon because he had disgraced his sister Tamar. {23} Two years later, when Absalom's sheepshearers were at Baal Hazor near the border of Ephraim, he invited all the king's sons to come there. {24} Absalom went to the king and said, "Your servant has had shearers come. Will the king and his officials please join me?" {25} "No, my son," the king replied. "All of us should not go; we would only be a burden to you." Although Absalom urged him, he still refused to go, but gave him his blessing. {26} Then Absalom said, "If not, please let my brother Amnon come with us." The king asked him, "Why should he go with you?" {27} But Absalom urged him, so he sent with him Amnon and the rest of the king's sons. {28} Absalom ordered his men, "Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, 'Strike Amnon down,' then kill him. Don't be afraid. Have not I given you this order? Be strong and brave." {29} So Absalom's men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king's sons got up, mounted their mules and fled. {30} While they were on their way, the report came to David: "Absalom has struck down all the king's sons; not one of them is left." {31} The king stood up, tore his clothes and lay down on the ground; and all his servants stood by with their clothes torn. {32} But Jonadab son of Shimeah, David's brother, said, "My lord should not think that they killed all the princes; only Amnon is dead. This has been Absalom's expressed intention ever since the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. {33} My lord the king should not be concerned about the report that all the king's sons are dead. Only Amnon is dead." {34} Meanwhile, Absalom had fled. Now the man standing watch looked up and saw many people on the road west of him, coming down the side of the hill. The watchman went and told the king, "I see men in the direction of Horonaim, on the side of the hill." {35} Jonadab said to the king, "See, the king's sons are here; it has happened just as your servant said." {36} As he finished speaking, the king's sons came in, wailing loudly. The king, too, and all his servants wept very bitterly. {37} Absalom fled and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, the king of Geshur. But King David mourned for his son every day. {38} After Absalom fled and went to Geshur, he stayed there three years. {39} And the spirit of the king longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon's death.

External Mechanics

Let us first consider the external factors that work upon us to keep us in sin.

Children learn best by example- even bad examples.

It is a truism among parents that we say, "Do what I say, not what I do." We all know that this does not work, but we keep using it because we think we have no other choice. (We do, as we will see later.)

  • David chased after a forbidden woman (Bathsheba); his oldest son does likewise, his step-sister Tamar.
  • To cover the crime of murder, Absalom gets Amnon drunk - just as David got Uriah drunk.
  • To cover his sexual sin, David resorted to murder. Absalom resorted to murder to revenge a sexual sin.

In a sense, the sins of the father are being "visited upon" the children - by example.

Sin increased by having the wrong friends

Your mother told you to be careful in picking your friends. Amnon was careless. He had his cousin Jonadab for a friend.

  • Jonadab was a "sin enabler." He relished getting other people into trouble. Have you ever had a friend who was quick to find ways for you to get into trouble? That's no friend, is it?
  • Jonadab is a smoother, a man of glib tongue. When the first reports are brought in, he's the one who says, it was only one son. This is a man who minimizes sin, who covers it in a blanket of soothing words - and thus sin continues to increase.
  • Jonadab is also a flatterer - Amnon is the king's oldest son, and presumably heir, and this guy hovers around him. When you have power, this is a particular danger.
The spiral of revenge

One of the most powerful external mechanics of sin is revenge. Taking revenge is sinful in and of itself, but it also tends to increase the sin of others. Sadly, as Machiavelli said, "Men avenge slight insults, not grave ones." Here is a counter example, but for most of us our revenge is confined to trivial insults. But once our pride is engaged, the power of revenge is awesome.

Have you ever seen an office feud that went on for years? That's revenge. The original argument is long forgotten; only the latest offense counts. There is always a "latest offense," on both sides.

Internal Mechanics

The starting place of sin, however, is the human heart. The sad fact is that our prior evil deeds give Satan a handle with which to grab us. We see in this passage how David's guilt and pride combine to render him helpless in a matter which should be a major concern. The remarkable feature of this passage is not what David does - it is what he does not do.

  • Why did David grant Amnon's request in the first place? Was it possible that he did not see the potential danger? It certainly wasn't for any medicinal reason! Perhaps he understood Amnon's intentions quite well, but wasn't prepared for this result.
  • After the rape, did David punish Amnon, as the king should? No; he got angry - and did nothing. Was this not because it would appear so hypocritical to do so? David's pride would not let him appear as such.
  • Indeed, David did nothing for Tamar, his daughter. The Old Testament Law forbids such marriage, but Tamar was right in saying that David would grant this, for this too is the Law. When a girl who is not betrothed is raped, the man is forced to marry her, with no possibility of divorce. This was to take away the disgrace of not being a virgin. David did not even do this.
  • When Absalom asks for Amnon to come to the shearing, David is suspicious - but doesn't push it. Perhaps this is because he didn't press the question when Amnon came with his strange request.
  • Finally, after the murder, David does not pursue, or even send pursuit, of Absalom. How does a man guilty of adultery and murder chastise another murderer?
Forbidden Fruit

Parents have known for years: "No, you can't have broccoli. It's an adult treat. You can't have it." That's the method you use to get your kids to try broccoli. It relies on a constant of human nature: If it's forbidden, we want it. It's been that way since the Garden of Eden.

The Old Testament Law prohibits Amnon from marrying his step-sister Tamar - and she therefore is forbidden fruit. Consider two things about such:

  • The problem here is not in Tamar's beauty but in Amnon's eyes. The lust is there.
  • But - if the fruit is forbidden, doesn't that mean there is a reason? Does God forbid what is good and right?
Guilt must be transferred

Of all the drivers behind sin, this may be the most insidious. Why did Amnon's lust, which he described as love, turn so suddenly into hate? Was it not because the enormous guilt inside him had to go somewhere? Since he could not live with it, it must be her fault - look at the mess she got him in! So he compounds his sin to deal with his guilt - just as David added murder to adultery.

The cure for the mechanics

There is no sense describing the problem if you are not willing to tackle the solution. This entire episode is full of things which someone did not do. There is a very compact example of the right way to handle these things in the New Testament, the much neglected book of Philemon. If you will recall our study on that, you will recall its three characters and how they worked together to break the cycle of sin.

  • Philemon was a generous man; because he was not one to hoard his wealth, he could forgive one who stole from him.
  • Philemon was a man of prayer, and in his time of prayer he could know the heart of forgiveness the Lord desires.
  • Philemon was an example of the faith; his righteousness now gives birth to further righteousness.
  • Onesimus was a man willing to repent at the call of Christ.
  • Onesimus was willing to go back to his master - and take the risk of not being forgiven.
  • Paul avoided the problem of his own sin by publicly acknowledging it, putting it on display - and therefore gave no handle for Satan.
  • Paul was not disturbed either by the sin or the sinner, but kept his eyes on Christ.
  • Most important, Paul was willing to seek forgiveness for Onesimus from Philemon - at Paul's expense.

Sin abounds; but we can break the cycle of sin if we try. As Paul taught us:

(2 Cor 5:17-21 NIV) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! {18} All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: {19} that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. {20} We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. {21} God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

David did not enter into the ministry of reconciliation - and paid dearly for that failure. May it please God that we should not make the same mistake.

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