Subtle Sins that Destroy the Soul

We have spent the previous three weeks talking about the story of David and Bathsheba. To be honest, I am wearied by the heartache of the story and very ready to move on. Unfortunately, in real life it doesn’t work that way. The consequences of our actions often go deep into our future. Such is the case with this chapter.

2 Samuel 13 records a story that is sordid even by today’s standards. It is a tragic story of abuse, murder, and manipulation. To be honest, I almost skipped this chapter. However, we are convinced that  ALL Scripture is inspired by God and valuable for our instruction. This passage is important to our study for a number of reasons,

1.      It shows that God carried through on his punishment to David

2.      It helps us understand the future events of David’s life

3.      And it gives us some negative examples as warnings for our own lives.

What we are going to focus on today are three of the principle players in the chapter (the other being Tamar). I want you to see and reflect on the subtle sins that destroyed lives.


The first man is a guy named Amnon. He was the oldest son of David. He certainly knew about his own father’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba and perhaps he also knew about his murder of her husband Uriah. As the “heir-apparent” to the throne he most likely had civic responsibilities perhaps similar to Prince Charles of England.

The chapter starts by telling us that Amnon “fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.” Tamar was his half-sister (the same dad, different mothers). The Bible specifically condemns relationships between any children who share a parent as incestuous.

In the second verse we are told that this “love” Amnon felt was not really love . . . it was lust. Amnon was frustrated “because it seemed impossible to him to do anything to her”. Amnon may have declared that he loved Tamar, but he really only wanted to conquer her. He saw her as an object for his pleasure and not as a person to be respected. True love is patient, kind, and not self-seeking. Lust is impatient, insensitive and only concerned about self.

Amnon was depressed and frustrated because he couldn’t have what he wanted. I suspect he was used to getting his own way. One day he was commiserating with his friend (and cousin) Jonadab (who is called crafty, shrewd, and streetwise; he was a master manipulator) and they devised a scheme to get Tamar.

Amnon pretended to be sick and asked the King to send Tamar to help take care of him. Amnon played up his desperate weakness, dismissed all the other servants and asked Tamar to feed him (since he was too weak to eat). When Tamar got close, he grabbed her and raped her. We read about the pleadings of Tamar who begged her brother not to do such a thing. She reasoned with him. She appealed to his sense of decency. She even suggested he go through proper channels and marry her but Amnon had only one thing in mind. He wasn’t looking for a relationship he just wanted satisfaction. He wasn’t concerned about Tamar, he was consumed with his own desires. He used his strength to treat her as simply an object for his pleasure.

When Amnon got what he wanted he showed himself to be an even bigger pig. We are told, “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!” (v. 15) He violated her sexually and then violated her again by sending her away in disgrace. In verse 17 we are told that he told the servants to “get this woman out of here and bolt the door after her.” In the Hebrew it is not this nice. Basically, Amnon said, “Get IT out of here” as if she was trash to be taken to the curb.

Tamar’s hopes and dreams were dashed. She was now “damaged goods”. Her prospects for marriage would be few. Her relationship with men would never be the same again. Her life was deeply scarred and Amnon didn’t care.

This is what happens when we nurture lust in our heart. Lust develops when we allow our minds into places they ought not to go. Lust develops when we fixate on our desires (lust is not just about sex, we can lust for anything… . .a position, fame, a big contract, a nice home) until they overshadow God’s Law and godly wisdom. When we give way to lust we allow our desires to control our lives. When that happens we inevitably fall into excess. We have already seen the example of David.

Think about someone burning stuff in the back yard. They do not intend for anything bad to happen. However, unless good precautions are taken a good wind can quickly turn things into a crisis. Suddenly the fire can be out of control. If you do not get help quickly barns, fields and homes can be in danger.

Lust is like this. It seems harmless. We feel like we have it under control but all it takes is an opening and suddenly things are out of control.  I believe this is why Paul tells us,

Brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. (Phil 4:8)

When you realize your mind or your eyes going where they should not go you must immediately get control of your thoughts. You must remind yourself that your thoughts involve a real person, and these thoughts, if acted on, will have devastating consequences. These are the times when we must turn to the Lord for help and immerse ourselves in His Word. The more we dwell on the good and godly the sooner we will be able to recognize when our mind begins to stray.

Let me speak candidly to the women. Ladies, understand that simply giving a man what he wants will not make them love you. It may actually make them hate you. Be careful about dressing in a way that provokes lust. You may light a fire that may start something that will burn you and leave scars for the rest of your life. I don’t in any way mean to place blame for sexual assault on the victim. I do want to help you protect yourselves.

Absalom: Resentment

We wish this was the end of the story, but it’s not. Absalom was Tamar’s brother. He was the number 2 man in line for the throne. It is possible that Absalom knew of Tamar’s trip to help her brother Amnon. It is likely that Absalom already resented his brother for his privileged position. So when Tamar returned obviously shaken, with her richly ornamented robe given her as one of the Kings Virgin daughters torn (out of shame and mourning), and with ashes on her head, Absalom didn’t have to think long to know what happened. He asked a direct question: “Has Amnon your brother been with you?”

Absalom’s next words stun me. “Be quiet now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” Put yourself in Tamar’s shoes. She had been raped and now her brother was telling her to stop making such a big deal out the event.

In fairness, Absalom does take care of his sister. He lets her live with him (since she can no longer live with the virgin daughters of the King). However his immediate response seems cold. Tamar needed someone to weep with her.

Now it wasn’t that Absalom wasn’t upset by what happened. We are told that he hated Amnon for what he did to Tamar. For two years he avoided Amnon and wouldn’t (perhaps couldn’t) talk to him. Instead he nursed his grudge and waited for an opportunity to get even. He went from being a brother to a vigilante. He took justice into his own hands and in doing so usurped the role of God. The Bible clearly says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Absalom became consumed by his anger. He possessed a cool and calculating hatred.

Like Amnon had done with Tamar, he designed a ruse to get Amnon to his home under false pretense. He invited the King and all the family to a sheep shearing party. The King could not make it (Absalom seems to have known the King would not attend). He pleaded for Amnon to attend (perhaps as the King’s representative). The King seemed to know that sending Amnon was a bad idea, but he sent him anyway.

When the brothers were all gathered Absalom had Amnon killed. It was cold, it was calculating, it was filled with bitterness. By killing Amnon, Absalom was able to avenge the disgrace to his sister and also remove his barrier to the throne. All the other brothers fled in terror.

Maybe you identify with Absalom. Perhaps someone did something to you, or worse, they did something to your spouse or children. Now you spend hour after hour dreaming about getting even. You may not go to the extreme Absalom went to (murder), but you may strike

  • By telling everyone that will listen about what a horrible person they are.
  • By constantly finding fault with their work in order to undermine them on the job
  • By looking for opportunities to confront them about anything

And the thing is, you may be surrounded by people who agree with you. You may be applauded by people who “understand”. You might even be able to get a jury to acquit you. However, the problem is that when we harbor bitterness and resentment we are playing God. It places us in the role of Judge, Jury and executioner. It is a mistake.  Max Lucado writes,

Resentment is the cocaine of the emotions. It causes our blood to pump and our energy level to rise. But, also like cocaine, it demands increasingly large and more frequent dosages. There is a dangerous point at which anger ceases to be an emotion and becomes a driving force. A person bent on revenge moves unknowingly further and further away from being able to forgive, for to be without the anger is to be without a source of energy.[1]

This was not Absalom’s only option. Absalom could have sought the counsel of the Lord. He could have talked to his dad about an appropriate response. He should have sought to gain justice and left the vengeance to God. Instead he chose to take matters into his own hands and only ended up pouring gasoline on the fire. Revenge and resentment do not make anything better; it simply makes us bitter and miserable. Resentment inevitably makes things worse.

The same is true for you. You don’t have to seethe with resentment. You can choose to right the wrong. You can choose to forgive. You can choose to trust the righteous Judge of Heaven to redress your wrongs. You can break the addiction of anger by letting go.

David – Inaction

David’s role in all of this is pretty disappointing. He learned of Tamar’s rape and we are told David was furious. That reaction is appropriate. Unfortunately, David did nothing. Some suggest David was caught between a rock and a hard place. He wasn’t going to punish his son . . . because he was his son. He couldn’t make him pay some kind of restitution to Tamar because money was irrelevant to the first family. He couldn’t demand that Amnon and Tamar get married because that was considered incest by the Lord. Sure, it was a difficult situation. However, doing nothing was the wrong option. Edmund Burke said it best, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Some suggest that David didn’t say anything because David knew that he had no credibility. He had pretty much done the same thing. Who was he to correct his son for following in his own footsteps?  Many parents fall into this same trap. They don’t correct their children because they have done the same things or they were reckless when they were younger. To think in such a way is to fail as a parent.

The thing is that even though David had failed he, more than anyone, knew the consequence of unrepentant sin. He knew the ripple effect of sin. He had lived this horror. David’s failures actually gave him a perspective and a passion that could have helped the situation. David could have actually used his failure as a teaching point for his son.

By doing nothing, David diminished the value of his daughter (it would seem that avoiding scandal was more important than Tamar), he did nothing to curb the destructive behavior of Amnon, and his inaction fueled the resentment of Absalom (and eventually cost David both of his sons).

Let’s be honest, it is always easier to do nothing; to wait for someone else to speak up; to hope that a problem just fades away. Martin Niemõller, a German Pastor who ended up in a Nazi concentration camp once wrote,

“In Germany, they first came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist; then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me—and by that time no one was left to speak up”[2]

Inaction allows the cancer of sin to grow unchecked. It is just as naïve to think problems will be solved by doing nothing as it is to think cancer will go away if you simply ignore it.


These are three subtle sins that destroy the soul. There is the unbridled lust of Amnon, the resentment of Absalom, and the inaction of David. These sins are so dangerous because they lurk beneath the surface of our lives. They eat away at our character before they even express themselves in our behavior. We must stand guard over our hearts to root such things out of our lives.

Instead of thinking about people you know who may possess these subtle sins, look at your own life for a minute.

1.      Are your thoughts constantly drifting toward someone who is not your spouse? Do your thoughts about another focus on the pleasure you believe you can derive from that person? And you building a fantasy relationship in your head with someone you need to leave alone? If so, think about their needs, their family, and the hurt that would result from your imagined actions. The key is to see that this person is not an object to be exploited but a person to be respect.  Turn your mind toward that which is pure, lovely, acceptable and godly.

2.      Are there events and hurts in your life that you cannot get “over”? Do you play out in your head the cutting things you’d like to say? Do you take every opportunity to put someone down? If so, you may be caught on the runaway train of resentment. If this is your situation you need to go before the Lord, repent for standing in the place of God, and ask God to change your heart.

3.      Do you see a friend heading for destruction while you say nothing? Are your children doing things that are destructive while you remain silent? Recognize your silence as a lack of love. Dare to gently seek to restore these people to the path of godliness.

One more thing, let’s not overlook Tamar in all of this. These are not just case studies.  This woman’s life was changed forever because of one moment of unbridled lust. Just as a person who has been raped must live forever with the scars of that brutal and personal assault so are those who are wounded by these subtle sins. Real people are hurt by these sins.

Did you notice what was missing in this chapter? God is missing. No one consulted the Lord. No one sought His strength. No one gave a thought to what God would want them to do.

Every sin starts in motion a cycle of destruction. If you are in one of these cycles you have a choice: you can keep making excuses about your destructive behavior, you can keep blaming others, or you can break the cycle. You can stop thinking about yourself and start thinking about others. You can stop approaching the issues of life from man’s perspective and start approaching them from God’s. The way of the world leads to deeper heartache. The way of God leads to new levels of love and deeper understanding.

If those in this chapter had looked beyond what was easiest and most desirable, if they had pursued that which was honorable, right, good, and godly, the story would have been completely different. This chapter would have been a whole lot less difficult to read and Israel’s history may have been vastly different too.

It’s the same for your life. If you let these subtle sins take root in your life they will change the course of your life . . . but you won’t like where you end up.

%d bloggers like this: