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David, part 16

Amnon and Tamar.

2 Samuel 13

The Sacred Scriptures have some characteristics which can hardly fail to impress any candid mind with the conviction that they are the Word of God and not the word of man. They have evidently been written for the purpose of teaching great truths and inculcating high principles, with a total absence of even the appearance of being trimmed to meet the views of human expediency. In recording the lives of those who profess to be the servants or the friends of God, deeds that tarnish the character, and actions that shed lustre upon it, are recorded with the same openness and fidelity; and those who occupy the highest stations or exercise the holiest functions, are treated with the same impartial judgement that is meted out to the meanest and obscurest in the land. In such cases human expediency would have suggested either a total suppression or great modification of the facts, on the ground that the misdeeds of religious men bring discredit on the cause with which they are connected. God has a tender regard for the honour of His Church and kingdom; but this does not prevent Him from exposing the misdeeds, or bringing to light the secret sins, of those who belong to them. David, for instance, is blamed, not only for having committed a grievous sin, but for having given occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme; but this does not prevent a public exposure of his secret crime. It has been remarked how faithfully the Evangelists chronicle events, even when their own failings and faults are to be recorded. Human policy inclines men to act differently. God blames, but does not conceal, the sins of His people. The Church may not be disinclined to censure the evils of her children, but she is disposed to hide them from the eyes of the world. Concealment sometimes even puts on the semblance of charity. Charity does not indeed delight in exposing the sins of others; but neither does she desire to conceal them merely to prevent a public scandal.

Another characteristic of the Scriptures which supports their claim to be the Word of God is this. They show no false delicacy. They speak of impure actions in a becoming manner; but they do not smooth them over so as to take away their true repulsiveness. The fact that the Scriptures mention them at all is considered by some as an offence against modesty. To treat impure subjects, or even to speak of them, in such a manner as to pander to a prurient feeling, is in itself impure; but when the truth is told for the sake of good as an end, the end justifies the means, and makes that pure which in itself is impure. "To the pure all things are pure."

The case of Amnon and Tamar stands alone in the page of Divine Revelation. The case may be briefly stated, and we shall do this as far as possible in the words of Scripture. "Absalom the son of David had a fair sister, whose name was Tamar; and Amnon the son of David loved her." It was against the law of Moses for a man to marry his sister, the daughter of his father or the daughter of his mother (Lev 18:9). Amnon's was therefore an unlawful passion; and the sequel shows it was as impure as it was criminal. But " Amnon was so vexed, that he fell sick for his sister Tamar; for she was a virgin; and Amnon thought it hard for him to do any thing to her." There was as yet something of honour in Amnon's passion. But he yielded to evil counsel. His cousin Jonadab, a very subtle man, saw his leanness, and having extracted from him his secret, gave him the advice which he acted upon. Amnon lay down on his bed and made himself sick, and when the king came to see him, he prayed that his sister Tamar might come, and make him a couple of cakes in his sight, that he might eat them at her hand. When he had allured the unsuspecting maiden into his chamber, where she brought the cakes for him to eat, "he took hold of her, and said to her, Come lie with me, my sister." She remonstrated and eloquently pleaded against the threatened violation of her virgin purity. "Howbeit he would not hearken to her voice: but, being stronger than she, forced her, and lay with her." "As the nightingale in Hesiod sung in vain to the ravenous hawk, so Tamar said all her words to a deaf man, who was wholly under the power of his furious lust, and was regardless of God and man."

But this was not the consummation of his crime, though the sequel was its not unnatural consequence. "Then Amnon hated her exceedingly; so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her. And Amnon said to her, Arise, be gone." Tamar again remonstrated against this second cruelty as being greater than the first, but he would not hearken to her. Thrust out by his servants, "Tamar put ashes on her head, and rent her garment of diverse colours that was on her, and laid her hand on her head, and went on crying." But Absalom her brother comforted her. "So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom's house."

The recurrence of a case like that of Amnon and Tamar is not much to be feared, and therefore need not be greatly guarded against. But the passion in which it originated is common to all men, and the form it took in Amnon was not an unnatural but only an unrestrained development; and it is no doubt recorded in Scripture to show us, by an extreme case, what evil the desire, when ungoverned and unhallowed, may produce. The sinful indulgence of the sexual passion, which unhappily is not uncommon, is fraught with such ruinous consequences, especially to that half of the human family on whose unstained purity the moral beauty of social and domestic life so greatly depends, that a strong sense of duty overcomes any scruples of conventional delicacy there may be against treating of the subject. We cannot perhaps do better, in drawing attention to Amnon's sin, than to show the difference there is, in some essential respects, between love and passion.

The first and most essential difference between them is, that love is a human affection and passion is an animal desire. Both of them exist in man, but one belongs to his human nature, the other to his animal nature. Man is human by virtue of what he enjoys above what animals possess. In common with the inferior creatures he inherits all the natural desires and appetites, and among them those which draw the sexes to each other. But besides the animal nature man has a rational soul; and it is this which makes him human. Strictly speaking, the rational soul, as inherited by birth, is rather the faculty of becoming human than humanity itself. Humanity, as we have had occasion to remark, consists of goodness and truth, or love and wisdom, which are the principles of human life, and which make man truly human, because truly rational. Now passion is an affection of the animal nature, and love is an affection of the rational soul. Passion is therefore a natural affection, and desires only natural gratification; while love is a rational affection, and desires rational satisfactions and enjoyments. Nay, love, in its best state, is spiritual and celestial, and aspires after a spiritual and eternal union.

Notwithstanding the possession of a rational soul, man may remain natural and sensual. He may live so much in his animal nature, that his rational faculty may remain comparatively undeveloped. He may therefore be more an animal than a man. The main difference between a sensual man and an animal is, that the animal follows its desires, uninfluenced by any higher end, and undirected by any higher law, than those which the Creator has inscribed upon its nature. Man may combine other motives, such as worldly advantage, rank, dignity; and may be outwardly ruled by the laws of his country and of social life, or by the love of reputation. There is, on the other hand, this difference between a sensual man and an animal. The animal never employs force or cunningly devised schemes to gratify its sexual desire, but man employs both, so that his human faculties, when perverted, make him more dangerous and viler than a beast.

The present historical circumstance affords an instance of a passion so strong as to consume the body, and yet be merely natural, a proof that the ardency of a passion is no test of its purity. The character of an affection is determined by the state and condition of the man. With the sensual man love is sensual even as it is in the mind; with the spiritual man love is spiritual even as it is in the body. It is the merit and advantage of religion, that it enters into the inmost of the mind, and creates a motive higher than the world and more enduring than time; and that it permeates and purifies and sanctifies all the affections, passions, and appetites of man's nature.

The second difference between love and passion is, that love is orderly, and passion is disorderly. Order is prescribed by laws. We do not here refer so much to the laws of man as to the laws of God. From a merely natural point of view laws seem to be simply limitations and restraints; and some natural men have held that the only difference between marriage and free love is, that one is artificial and the other is natural. If man, like the animal, had the law inscribed on his nature, he would need no outward rules. As this is not the case, he requires to be made acquainted with what is necessary for his guidance in the order and conduct of life. To a rational man law is not so much a restraint as a direction. The law does not restrain him, he restrains himself by the law, and walks in it as the divinely appointed means of order, which leads to happiness. It is necessary for our welfare and happiness that our natural appetites and passions should be restrained and kept in order. The greatest misfortune that could overtake us would be to abolish all law, and leave our natural man to do as wished. And yet there is a time and state when law can be dispensed with; and that is when the law has done its work by reducing all unruly things to subjection and bringing all right things into order; when love takes the place of law; for love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:10). Amnon's was a disorderly love. There are instances indeed in the early parts of Scripture of marriage between what were afterwards made prohibited degrees. Abraham and Sarah were brother and sister, being, like Amnon and Tamar, children of the same father, but not of the same mother. But arrangements that are suitable to a simpler state of society and purer state of life, are not always safe and proper in what is called a more advanced state of civilization, in which life is more artificial.

A third difference between love and passion is, that love is a principle, passion is an impulse. Passion has a view to its own gratification, without having any regard for the honour, welfare, or happiness of the object to whom it is directed. Love has respect to them all. No more clear and unmistakable characteristic of love, as distinguished from passion, is its delicate sense of propriety, its scrupulous regard for the honour and purity of its object. Love does not extinguish passion, but it quells its unruly motions, and brings it into compliance with the dictates of honour, and the sentiments of admiration and esteem. So far from desiring or meditating anything that could, in the smallest degree, injure the object loved, it becomes her guardian and protector. No desire is so debasing as mere passion; no affection is so ennobling as true love.

Lastly, love, as distinguished from passion, is constant. Amnon, when his passion was gratified, hated Tamar, so that the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he loved her. Sensual love may not in all cases change its character so suddenly and completely as his, but its tendency is to pass off into indifference or loathing. Inherently it is not the love of another but the love of self. And that hatred which Amnon exhibited lies within such a passion from the beginning. The love of self is the hatred of others. And that very passion which seems like love is hate, because it seeks its own in the ruin of another. And this its hidden nature comes, in some instances, to be its outward and obvious character. But whether it takes this outward visible form or not, unscrupulous passion is in its essence hatred. Love is constant, because it is founded, not on the love of self, but on the love of another. It rests on esteem and on inmost confiding friendship. It is the love of character more than of person, therefore of inward more than of outward beauty. Love thus lies within passion as a diamond in its matrix; and the union which it desires is essentially a union of soul with soul and of mind with mind, without which outward union and passionate gratification are mean and inhuman. Love, as distinguished from passion, is therefore not only constant, but increases in all the qualities that produce constancy. Union formed by love becomes more perfect, and the more perfect the more enduring. Indeed the union of two souls, formed by true conjugal love, survives the death of the material body, and cohabitation increases in constancy, happiness, and delight through eternity.

We may remark, in conclusion, that the principles of the Christian religion, as restored and exalted in the Writings of the New Church, afford just ground of confidence that those who adopt them in heart and life will be preserved from every form of Amnon's sin, as well as from sin in every other form. The light that now shines forth from the sacred page of Divine Revelation, exhibits so clearly the hidden springs of human action and the root and radicals of sin, and shows us how certainly we may detect the evil in ourselves, that the teaching of the New Church affords a powerful protection against the specious grounds on which deviation from the strict line of religious virtue is often presented and urged upon us both from within and from without. On the particular subject of the relation of the sexes, the teaching of the New Church is highly instructive and eminently practical, and so exalts our ideas of the purity and sanctity of conjugial love, that every true member of the Church must regard chastity as the tenderest part of the moral sense, and that he who offends against it touches the very apple of the eye.

The sin of Amnon has some relation, as it has some family likeness, to the sin of David, which it immediately follows in the series of the history, if we except David's terrible treatment of the conquered Ammonites. The Divine record seems as if intended by its Author to reveal the effects, in their worst forms, of ungoverned and unsanctified passion. But these evils spring from spiritual causes, which they therefore represent. On this subject it may be sufficient to say that "in the Word, in the internal sense, adulteries signify adulterations of good, and whoredoms, falsifications of truth; but the filthy conjunctions which, in Leviticus 18:6-24, are called the prohibited degrees, signify various kinds of profanation." As the state of the Church at the time of its end, when the Lord was in the world, is here represented, these are the evils which had come to prevail in it, and which He by temptation-conflicts overcame and removed. The pure truth and good of the Word, and, as a consequence, the faith and love of the Church, had become so corrupted that hardly anything of pure and undefiled religion remained. These the Lord came to restore. But, in order to remove the corruption, He had to contend against it still more in its inward invisible essence than in its outward visible form. He reproved the corruptions of the Jews, and through them of the world, and taught that lust is adultery and hatred murder; but He also had to endure the temptations of the wilderness, the agony of the garden, and the shame of the cross, because men had ceased to resist the devil, or to be agonized by sin, or to crucify the lusts of the flesh.

There is another aspect in which this painful case is to be regarded.

Once erect and beautiful as the palm-tree, whose name she bears, but now bowed down under the insupportable weight of her unspeakable wrongs, the many-coloured garment of her maidenhood rent, and sitting desolate in sackcloth, Tamar is the very image of the affection for goodness and truth shamefully polluted and vilely cast away by the unhallowed lust of falsehood and evil.

King's daughters represented the affections of goodness and truth, and the garment of diverse colours which they wore was the emblem of truth as the clothing of goodness in its virgin purity. Truth is like light, which is so often used in Scripture as its emblem, as when God is said to clothe Himself with light as with a garment. Like light, truth consists of diverse colours, and can be divided into them. Pure truth exists only in the Divine mind; the finite mind sees only the appearances of truth, and these are the colours into which the pure truth of God is refracted when it enters the minds of angels and men. Tamar's garment of diverse colours is the truth of God as variously received and perceived by the members of the Church. The rending of her garment was thus a representative sign, that when the good of the Church is violated, its truth is rent in pieces, as the Lord's garment was at the time of the crucifixion. If, when good is destroyed or profaned, the truth were to remain, it would deceive, because it would be an appearance behind which there was no reality, a garment that would cover iniquity and give it the appearance of righteousness, or that would, as in the present case, conceal the violence which the good of the Church has suffered at the hand of sinful man. Tamar, when she rent her garment, put ashes, and laid her hand, upon her head, which indicated that when good is profaned, not only is truth divided and destroyed, but all true intelligence is lost; and she went on weeping, as a sign of mourning in bitterness of spirit over the desolate state of the Church.

According to the law of Moses Amnon's life was forfeited (Lev 18:9, 29). David was very angry, yet Amnon escaped unpunished. But Absalom, though he spoke to his brother Amnon neither good nor bad, determined to avenge his sister's wrongs; and the stroke came though it was long delayed. "It came to pass after two full years, that Absalom had sheepshearers in Baal-hazor, which is beside Ephraim: and Absalom invited all the king's sons." Wealth in those days consisted chiefly in flocks and herds; and sheepshearing was an honourable occupation, not beneath the dignity of princes. Sheep-shearing signifies the performance of use, and the fleece of the sheep the good of charity. But the place where this sheepshearing took place indicates the character of the use to which it was to be applied. Ephraim represented the intellectual principle of the Church, and the city of Ephraim, which is here meant, and which was in the tribe of Judah, not far from Jerusalem, signified the doctrine of the Church, while Baal-hazor, which means a fenced place, a castle, signifies reasoning by which her doctrine is confirmed. Absalom's position, which he assumed and no doubt justified to himself, was near and partly within the doctrine of the Church upon the subject, for the law awarded death to Amnon's crime, but it was against the law for him, of his own will, to inflict the punishment. Amnon's death was merited, but the act that deprived him of his life was lawless. But lawlessness characterised Absalom's subsequent conduct, and finally proved his ruin. Yet there is in this act a permissive and overruling Providence. Where legal justice sleeps, it is in certain conditions well that natural justice should rise up and redress a flagrant wrong. Natural justice is, however, a dangerous power, and is inconsistent with orderly and stable government. It rests on private feelings and interests, and is wanting in the dispassionate and impartial judgement that belongs to a tribunal which is based on general principles and regards the public good. But Amnon has fallen under a stroke that he had not unjustly drawn down upon himself. He who had dishonoured a sister has been slain by a brother. And these unnatural deeds may be regarded as counterparts of each other, and as teaching the solemn lesson that one evil produces another of a kindred nature, turning even domestic love into hatred and virtue into vice, and bringing upon the soul certain destruction.

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