Bible study: The story of Tamar

Bible studyGender-based violenceSexual violence

Footsteps 106 - Sexual and gender-based violence

Footsteps 106 explores how we can end sexual and gender-based violence and provide holistic support to survivors.

Illustration from Petra Röhr-Rouendaal, Where there is no artist (second edition)

Bible study: The story of Tamar

Sexual violence is not just something that happens in society today. It has happened throughout history. The story of Tamar illustrates a chain of events that leads to a devastating act: the rape of Tamar. This Bible study can be used as a tool to engage churches and communities with the issue of sexual violence, breaking the silence that often surrounds this subject. 

Read 2 Samuel 13:1–22  

The story of Tamar is a clear account of a planned act of sexual violence taking place in the house of David. The perpetrator, a half-brother who is full of lust towards his half-sister Tamar, admits to his passion for Tamar and is advised to create a story that would make it easy for him to have access to her.  

The sexual violence that results has a severe effect on Tamar: she tears her dress and covers herself with ashes as a symbol of mourning that she has been violated. This story is a reminder that sexual violence is an abuse of human rights. Together, in partnership with all survivors of sexual violence, we need to speak out against it and stand firm. We must join hands in prayer and action for justice and restoration of broken relationships. 

Discussion  

In small groups, share with each other what you think the Bible passage is about. Then as a larger group, discuss the following questions: 

  • Who are the characters in this story and what do we know about them? 
  • What is the role of each of the male characters in the rape of Tamar? 
  • What does Tamar say and do? Why does she act in that way? 
  • What opportunities were there during this story for sexual abuse to have been avoided? 
  • Tamar spoke out against her abuse both before and after it happened. What was the response to this? What is the response to women who speak out in our culture? 

What can we learn from this passage?

Amnon abused his power and authority to get what he wanted, despite the harm done to Tamar. 

The silence of those involved in this story is shameful. Christians should not stay silent within our society if they know that abuse is taking place, whatever the personal cost to them. 

Tamar’s role in the household made her vulnerable: she could not refuse to serve or cook for this man. Young people, especially girls, are very vulnerable to sexual violence. We need to ensure they are educated about the risks from a young age and that effective protection is provided for them within our own families and communities. 

Sexual violence can take place anywhere, even in Christian homes and churches. (David was a man of God, and yet sexual violence occurred in his home.) It is important to create more awareness that survivors are NOT to blame for the violence. 

Prayer points 

Pray for healing of the pain and suffering caused by sexual violence (physical, mental and emotional). 

Pray for the protection of girls like Tamar who are vulnerable to sexual violence. 

Pray for caring and godly men and women who will speak out against sexual violence and seek to protect the most vulnerable people. 

Adapted from Hand in hand: Bible studies to transform our response to sexual violence. See Resources page for details.