Originally published June 16, 2019
I recently finished reading through the life of David during my quiet time. When we think of David, the first thing to jump to mind is probably “and Goliath” or “and Bathsheba” or maybe that he was a king or a psalmist. But have you ever thought of David and the first thing to come to mind was “lousy father”? I haven’t. And the Bible doesn’t explicitly tell us that he was a bad dad. And, let’s face it, even the most godly parents in the world can have a kid or two who turn out to be prodigals. But if you look at how some of David’s children turned out, you have to at least wonder about his parenting skills.
First you’ve got Amnon – as disgusting a specimen of a human being as ever walked the planet. He makes himself physically ill lusting day after day for his half sister, Tamar. That’s a lot of lust. But at least – at least – he keeps it to himself. For a while, that is.
Amnon’s got an equally disgusting cousin, Jonadab – who, instead of smacking him senseless when Amnon shamelessly confesses his dastardly daydreams – devises a scheme to help Amnon indulge his foul and festering flesh by tricking David into making Tamar available to him. David sends Tamar to Amnon’s house, and Tamar pleads with him not to force himself on her.
(While Tamar is pleading with her pustule of a brother, she says something interesting: “Please speak to the king, for he will not withhold me from you.” Now, arguably, it’s likely she was just saying whatever she could think of in the moment to get away from Amnon and didn’t really believe David would allow Amnon to marry her. But if she did believe that to be true, that definitely says something about David. Because, by that time in Israel’s history, intermarriage between two people who shared a parent was big-time illegal with severe consequences for the offenders. And David and everybody else in the kingdom knew that. Did David’s children think he would break the law for them and excuse them from punishment? And for such a nauseating reason?)
But Amnon ignores Tamar’s heartbreaking pleas and forcibly rapes her. He rapes his sister. David finds out what happened and is understandably angry. But does he follow the law and have Amnon executed? Nope. (So we at least have our answer to the question of whether or not David would break the law for his children.) If David did anything about the situation, the Bible doesn’t record it.
Fast forward two whole years. David has still not made his rapist son face the music, so Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, metes out his own brand of justice, putting Amnon to death.
Fast forward a few more years and Absalom thinks, “I believe I’d make a better king than dear old Dad.” So he sets about manipulating and stealing the hearts of his countrymen away from David and stages a bloodless coup. David ends up having to flee for his life from his own son. Meanwhile, Absalom moves into the palace, sets up a love nest on the roof where everybody can see, and sleeps with David’s concubines. Then, Absalom gathers up an army to hunt David – his father – down in order to kill him and secure his throne.
David’s men fight valiantly for him, risking their own lives. Joab, the commander of David’s army – perhaps considering David’s command to “deal gently” with Absalom as ludicrous after all Absalom has done – seizes an opportune moment, and kills Absalom. David flips out in grief, so much so that Joab has to rebuke him: all these men risked their lives to save you, David, and you’re crying and moaning over this wretch who was trying to kill you! Snap out of it or they’re going to turn on you! Fortunately, David has the sense to listen to him.
After some more wars, some famine, and a “sin-sus,” Adonijah decides he can pull off the coup his brother Absalom so spectacularly failed at. David is old and sickly, and it should be easy for Adonijah to make a grab for the throne. And in the description of Adonijah, here’s what was said that initially got me thinking David wasn’t Dad of the year:
His [Adonijah’s] father [David] had never at any time displeased him [Adonijah] by asking, “Why have you done thus and so?”
Are you picking up what the author of 1 Kings is laying down? David was an indulgent father. He had never at any time questioned his son’s actions or intervened in a way that upset him. He let Adonijah run wild and do what he wanted to do. And the way Amnon and Absalom acted, it’s reasonable to surmise that David raised them the same way, along with all the rest of his children. It’s a miracle Solomon turned out as well as he did (at least until his wives drew him away from the Lord into idol worship). Reading the first nine chapters of Proverbs, I can’t help but wonder if Solomon observed David’s parenting and was determined not to follow his poor example. Listen to my instructions, son. Get wisdom. Don’t be a fool.
Sometimes Bible characters set a great example for us. David, a man after God’s own heart, set many. But sometimes God lets us see their poor and sinful behavior so we can learn not to follow their example. Moms and Dads, let’s make sure we are men and women after God’s own heart when it comes to parenting our kids.
Happy Father’s Day, y’all.