Forty women: 31. The wise woman

Oh, Tamar, how long was the shadow of your rape.

She fled, you may remember, to seek shelter in the home of her brother Absalom. For two long years, Absalom did not forget what was done to his sister and when the moment came, he avenged her, ordering his men to kill Amnon. At which point Absalom himself fled.

David, father of all three, mourned the death of his son Amnon. But he also missed his son Absalom and longed to go to him in exile. We are not told how he felt about his daughter Tamar.

Not for the first time, David needs to be told a parable to help him understand his own situation. Joab, one of David’s advisors, sends for a wise woman and tells her what the king needs to hear. Wise women, and indeed wise men, would usually be the ones dispensing wisdom, they would be consulted on all matters of life and faith. Perhaps Joab chose this woman because he thought David might listen to her. Perhaps simply because he knew she would be confident enough to speak to the king.

The wise woman does as she is asked. She dresses as a grieving woman and pleads with David to hear her story and tell her what to do. One of her sons has killed the other, she tells him. The rest of her clan think the murdering brother should be put to death for what he has done – but she doesn’t want to lose both her sons.

David tells her that her remaining son will be pardoned. She will not lose him. And then she says what she’s really come to say, “Why then have you devised a thing like this against the people of God? When the king says this, does he not convict himself, for the king has not brought back his banished son? Like water spilled on the ground, which cannot be recovered, so we must die. But that is not what God desires; rather, he devises ways so that a banished person does not remain banished from him.” (2 Samuel 14:13-14)

If her fictional son can be pardoned, why not David’s real one?

The wise woman, David realises, is speaking for his advisor. This may not be her own wisdom, but she has recognised the wisdom in what she was asked to do. And David recognises the wisdom in it too. He calls Absalom to return to the kingdom.

And for a time at least, there is something of a happy ending for this troubled family: “Three sons and a daughter were born to Absalom. His daughter’s name was Tamar, and she became a beautiful woman.” (2 Samuel 14:27)

Perhaps this third Tamar had a happier future than her namesakes. Let’s hope so.