This past Sunday in Main Street, the story of the week was “The Conspiracy of Absalom.”

What precipitated Absalom’s nefarious coup against his father, King David?

It’s a little rated “R”. You see, Amnon, one of David’s sons was “in love” with his half-sister, Tamar (one of David’s daughters). Amnon pretended to be sick all in a ploy to get his father to invite Tamar in to take care of him. When he was alone with her, Amnon forced himself on his sister. After the despicable act, Amnon was filled with hatred toward Tamar – “as much hatred after as he had love before.”

Enter Absalom. Absalom was Tamar’s full brother (they had the same mom). Absalom took care of his sister because his father did nothing. Absalom absolved himself to kill Amnon for what he had done. Two years later Absalom had his revenge on Amnon, and fled the country. Three years later he returned to Jerusalem and began to woo his fellow countrymen into following him, then later declared himself king while his father fled.

Teaching in Main Street get’s a little tricky when we get to stories like these. The audience is filled with grades 1-6 students. So one has to approach stories like this with great care and wisdom. Feel free to watch the video of how I navigated this story with the large group.

I regularly teach the 5th and 6th grade boys, and this audience we can get in to the “trickier” parts of the story. After the large group teaching time, I sat down with the boys and we read out of the Bible what precipitated Absalom’s conspiracy (particularly the part about Amnon and Tamar). The boys were shocked. I asked them what they would tell their parents when they were asked: “What did you learn in Main Street today?” The boys didn’t know what to say.

I then shared with them the difference between prescriptive and descriptive elements of the biblical text. “What does prescription mean?” They knew this one. “Like medicine.” “Yep,” I said. “It helps you out, doesn’t it? Doctor prescribes you a solution to your problem and it will, hopefully, work out for you.”

“Does the Bible want you to rape your sister? Is this a prescription?” They knew the answer to this one as well: “No.”

“What does description mean?” This one confused them for a second until I shorted the word to describe. “Oh,” they said, “to dictate or share the unique qualities of a particular entity.” Okay, they didn’t say that exactly, but something like that! I had one of the students stand up and we described his appearance. They understood.

Then I gave them a scenario:

What if a person after reading the story of Amnon and Tamar proceeds to rape his sister. He is caught by the appropriate authorities after an investigation finds sufficient evidence for a trial. The perpetrator declines a lawyer because he wants to defend himself. At the trial, the defendant defends himself by reading 2 Samuel 13. He says, quite emphatically: ‘The Bible said it was okay!’

The Judge, dumbfounded, looks on the defendant with pity and says: ‘You idiot! Are you serious?!’

I then asked the 5th and 6th grade boys: “Did this guy get his prescriptive and descriptive mixed up?” Again, the young men get it: “Of course,” they confidently say, “the Bible isn’t telling us to do these things, it’s describing an unfortunate event that occurred that led to other unfortunate things that occurred.”

I smiled with pride. Lesson learned. We then went on to discuss how we can tell when a passage of Scripture is descriptive or prescriptive. We particularly tried to discern what might be prescriptive in such a traumatic story as the rape of Tamar.

These young men are really smart!