After two full years Absalom had sheep shearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king’s sons. Absalom came to the king, and said, ‘Your servant has sheep shearers; will the king and his servants please go with your servant?’ But the king said to Absalom, ‘No, my son, let us not all go, or else we will be burdensome to you.’ He pressed him, but he would not go but gave him his blessing. Then Absalom said, ‘If not, please let my brother Amnon go with us.’ The king said to him, ‘Why should he go with you?’ But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king’s sons go with him. Absalom made a feast like a king’s feast. Then Absalom commanded his servants, ‘Watch when Amnon’s heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, “Strike Amnon”, then kill him. Do not be afraid; have I not myself commanded you? Be courageous and valiant.’ So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king’s sons rose, and each mounted his mule and fled. While they were on the way, the report came to David that Absalom had killed all the king’s sons, and not one of them was left. The king rose, tore his garments, and lay on the ground; and all his servants who were standing by tore their garments. But Jonadab, the son of David’s brother Shimeah, said, ‘Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men the king’s sons; Amnon alone is dead. This has been determined by Absalom from the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. Now therefore, do not let my lord the king take it to heart, as if all the king’s sons were dead; for Amnon alone is dead.’ But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. David mourned for his son day after day. Absalom, having fled to Geshur, stayed there for three years. And the heart of the king went out, yearning for Absalom; for he was now consoled over the death of Amnon.
Why? Why tell this despicable family saga? Why? What earthly good news can we find in this obscene revenge for an even more obscene rape? A king’s first born, goaded by a friend, rapes then hates his half-sister, a crime unreported by said King. This King of many wives, and even more lovers, gets deeply upset, not at the time of the rape of his daughter by his son, but at this killing of his rapist first born at the hands of the favourite other son. Why on earth would a faithful following of people want to retell this myth so fully again and again that it had to be written?? This is a shameful tale from beginning to end.
Perhaps that’s where our good news oddly is. There is violence, family abuse, hatred of women, goading of men, abusive leadership, deceit everywhere, even in a king’s household, often multiplied in a king’s household. It’s human nature, frustratingly and painful enough. Yet, myths are used to tell great truths, not historical facts. Perhaps the intention of this awful tale is to help listeners grow the courage to speak up with “me too.” Perhaps these stories are to have us argue about justice, expose truth, and bring ourselves to ask for help when we realise we can say, “me too.”
It seems shocking abuse to me that King David’s story has been washed of its shame in many Christian summaries – David is the little courageous one against the giant Goliath, faithful theoretical author of Psalms. Michelangelo gives him icon status in his beautiful statue in Florence. Abuse is typically silenced. Let’s not engage in that. Let’s bring David off his hero plinth. It’s OK for him to a flawed human. In the tales of flawed humans, we encourage truth.
Oh God, it is hard to tell truth. We can feel more victimised than at the time of abuse. Yet, we know that peace with ourselves comes when our experiences are heard.
Remind us deeply that with your Spirit-filled help, our story can be history rather than a hidden and raw present.
Give peace and insight to all who hear. Give gracious kindness to all who share these stories.
In the name of Jesus and in the power of your Spirit, Amen.
The Rev’d Elizabeth Gray-King, Education & Learning Programme Officer, member St Columba’s URC