The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
And it came to pass after this, that Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her.The Wickedness of Amnon
2 Samuel 13
NO other book but the Bible dare have inserted such a chronicle as this and yet have hoped to retain the attention and confidence of the whole world through all ages. A chapter of this kind is not to be read in its singularity, as if it stood wholly alone and unrelated to other currents of human history. Coming upon it as an exceptional story, the only possible feeling is one of intense and repugnant disgust. If this chapter, and a few others almost like it, occupied any considerable space in the Bible, without being relieved by a context of a very different quality, they would certainly and properly wreck the fortune of the whole book as a public instructor and guide. The only thing which a Christian commentator can do with such chapters is to pronounce upon them the utmost possible moral condemnation. But in doing this, let it be noted what is in reality being done, for the condemnation does not relate to Amnon the son of David alone. Amnon did not represent a human nature different from our own. It must always be considered that such men as Amnon and Judas Iscariot represented the very human nature which we ourselves embody.
It would be curious to measure the exact difference in distance between Amnon and the Pharisee who justified himself in prayer, according to the parable given by Jesus Christ. From the outside the distance would seem to be little less than infinite. It would be curious also, in the same direction of thought, to compare Judas Iscariot with the elder brother of the prodigal son, and to estimate, as it were, in moral miles the distance between the one and the other. But it is exactly in such comparisons that a deadly sophism lies. Comparing ourselves with ourselves, we become respectable, but the comparison does not lie as between one man and another, it lies wholly as between human nature according to the purpose of God and human nature as self-depraved. Again and again we have had occasion to stop and look at cases of monstrous iniquity, and to point out that they are always to be regarded as but exemplifications of what human nature is innately and universally. It is indeed horrible to imagine that some young fair child is to be compared with Amnon the son of David, who outraged every moral sensibility and shocked the deepest instincts of human nature; but such a comparison must be made, and all its consequences must be accepted. The difference between the sweet child and the corrupt and infernal Amnon may in reality be but a difference in appearance and form. Time alone can tell what is in every human heart, and not time only, for circumstances sometimes awaken either our best selves or our worst selves and surprise us by what is little less than a miracle of self-revelation. Again and again, therefore, let it be said—for the tediousness is well compensated by the moral instruction—that when we see the worst specimen of human nature we see what we ourselves might have been but for the restraining grace of God. The Bible was bound to report even such instances as these. Any Bible that excluded examples of this kind could not have been inspired by the living and holy God. It would have been a mere artist's book, filled with beautiful instances and charming specimens and tempting examples, but would have been no revelation of the human nature which Jesus Christ shed his blood to redeem.
A relieving feature in the whole record is certainly to be found in the anger which was felt in regard to the outrage committed by Amnon. Here again we recover our balance and take hope even of degenerate human nature. The outrage was not looked upon as a mere commonplace, or as a thing to be passed by a casual remark; it aroused the infinite indignation of Absalom, and in this case Absalom, as certainly as Amnon, must be taken in a representative capacity. The sinner himself, inspired by evil passion and overburdened by cruel and infernal forces, is really hardly master of himself in some crises of life. Judgment is deposed, conscience is silenced, all holy feeling is expelled from the heart, and the whole man rushes upon his destruction with fury that cannot be restrained. Whilst, therefore, it is right to look upon this most heart-rending and discouraging aspect of human nature, it is right also to remember that those who observed it answered the unholy deed with burning indignation. It is thus that the Spirit of God reveals itself through the spirit of man. This is not the voice of Absalom alone; it is the voice of the Spirit which fills and rules the world. We need men who dare express their angriest and holiest feelings in indignation that cannot be mitigated or turned aside; we need men who have courage to go forth and make their voices heard in moral darkness. It is not enough to feel outraged and shocked; in addition to this feeling there ought to be a responsive judgment and condemnation. It is difficult indeed to restrain violence under such circumstances. The necessary effect of sudden and ill-regulated feeling is to inflict vengeance upon the criminal. We should always distinguish between vengeance and just punishment. Herein is seen the advantage of Christian civilisation. It is no rude justice that is dispensed, but measured and calculated penalty, sometimes all the heavier for its apparent moderateness, and all the more useful because of the coolness with which it is pronounced and executed. Not in anger but in love God punishes those who outrage his righteousness. Not in anger but in love Jesus Christ dies to save the world. Absalom killed Amnon, and killed him in a somewhat cowardly way; yet it would be difficult to blame Absalom for this act of fraternal reprisal and justice. Still, it is just at such critical points that the spirit of Christian civilisation intervenes and undertakes to do for the individual man what the individual man must not be permitted to do for himself. Here is the mystery of society. It would seem a short and easy method for every man who is outraged immediately to cause the criminal to suffer, but on second thoughts it will appear, first, that this is impossible, and, secondly, that it is utterly impracticable: impossible because in many cases the criminal may be stronger than the man who has been outraged, and impracticable because the criminal may by many cunning methods evade the punishment which the righteous man would inflict. It is better that society be inspired with the spirit of order and of justice, and that every man should feel himself called upon to act as if he himself were directly involved in the suffering and shame inflicted by wicked criminals. In this sense society itself would become a kind of hell to the evil-doer. Nowhere will the evil-doer feel himself to be welcome; everywhere will the evil-doer know that he is watched, suspected, despised, and hated. Hence the infinite benefit of such teaching and example as shall constitute society into an indissoluble and ever-sitting tribunal for the judgment of guilty men. There must of course be special magistracies and technical methods of proceeding to visit punishment upon the wrong-doer, but these should only express the innermost spirit and feeling of society at large. In fact, there can be no punishment of an orderly and permanent kind that is not supported by the spirit of society as a whole. Once let the social spirit be rendered careless regarding right and wrong, justice and injustice, and it will be simply impossible to maintain anything like technical order and right. At this point, therefore, will be seen the benefit of all Christian instruction as given through the medium of the family, the church, the school, and the press. Such instruction helps to purify social thought and social feelings, and in that degree inflicts terror upon men who would secretly or openly perpetrate that which is forbidden. To this end what can render such help as can be rendered by Holy Scripture? Holy Scripture can render that help all the more completely that it does not shrink from making such records as this. The sword is never to be sheathed as against evil. God will never allow peace to be proclaimed where there is no righteousness. The throne of God is established upon truth and purity, and whatever assails either the one or the other arrays against itself all the majesty and terror of that uplifted throne. These records are written not only for our instruction but for our warning. The most puristic mind may well pause before the record of this chapter and wonder as to his own possibilities of apostasy. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." "Be sure your sin will find you out." What is done in secret is to be proclaimed from the house-tops, and a sudden light is to unveil that which is supposed to be covered by the densest concealment. Society would be rent in twain by the very suspicion that there may be Amnons within its circle, but for the conviction that the Lord reigneth, and that all things make for righteousness and justice under his beneficent rule.
Almighty God, we pray for one another, and take up the words of old time, for they fit our immediate necessity. Thy servants have prayed all the prayers the race can ever dream of: no want has been unexpressed, no hymn has been withheld. We can add nothing to the experience of thy saints; behold, we are as they were in the ancient time; their sorrow is our sorrow, their praise expresses our thankfulness, and their upliftings of heart are our aspirations. Behold, thy Church is one, and saintly experience is one, and the confidence of all thy people from end to end of the world is one. Blessed be thy name for this sense of unity, this completeness and integrity: for therein we see the handiwork of him who made the firmament and set the stars in their places. The house is one, though the mansions are many; and thine hand is round about all things, keeping them in order, and shaping them towards their destiny. We come to thy throne by the way of the cross: by Jesus Christ, who is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world: he is the eternal Son: born or unborn, he was ever in the bosom of the Father. So we come by the way made manifest, but not invented for our use alone: it is the open way, the disclosed and avowed path, the historical road, but still expressing the mystery of thine eternity, the secret of thine everlasting love. Hear us at the cross: for there may men pray with effect; there they hear the Lord's own sweet prayer, concluding with the words, Nevertheless, not my will, but thine, be done. May this be our state of mind always; may our will be slain; may our wish or desire stand for nothing, but may thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven. Comfort us in all our sorrows: they are many, they are often heavy, they sometimes come unexpectedly, our whole outlook is darkened by them as by a thunder-cloud; but all things are under thine hand; thou wilt not allow any temptation to engulf us: with every temptation thou wilt find a way of escape. We look, therefore, with confidence to the living God, and without doubt or fear. Shine upon the eternal word: help us to hear with our souls the eternal music, and may we be confident in this one thing, that, come night or morning, winter or summer, the throne of the Lord standeth sure, and his covenant cannot be broken. Amen.