Old Testament, Parenting

Bad Dad David?

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 sisterTamar. 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 rapeshis 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.

If this article sounds familiar, it’s because you just read it in last Friday’s Random Ramblings, Ruminations, and Resources. A reader asked if I would make it a stand-alone article for easier sharing. :0)
Women of Genesis Bible Study

The Women of Genesis: Lesson 29- Judah’s Wife and Tamar

Previous Lessons: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 89, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28


Read Genesis 38


Questions to Consider

1. Who was Judah? (1) What do we know about him thus far? What do we know about his connection to Jesus?

2. What nationality was Judah’s wife (Shua’s daughter)? (2) Review previous lessons (links above) dealing with Abraham’s offspring taking Canaanite wives. What were some of the reasons it was problematic and undesirable for those in the Abrahamic Covenant to intermarry with the Canaanites?

3. What was Judah’s wife’s name? (2,12) How many sons did she have, and what were their names?

4. Who was Tamar, and what was her relationship to Er and to Judah? (6) What happened to Tamar’s first husband? (7) What was Onan’s relationship to Tamar? What did Judah instruct Onan to do after Er died? (8)

5. Verse 8 is the first instance we see in the Bible of levirate marriage. God later codified this practice into Israel’s law. What was the purpose of levirate marriage? How did it protect both the widow and the posterity of the family line? Put yourself in the sandals of an Old Testament woman involved in a levirate marriage situation. Describe some of the circumstances you might face, and the thoughts and emotions you might experience.

6. What happened with Tamar’s second husband? Explain verses 9-10 in your own words. What was Onan’s sin? Was it sexual sin or something else? (9) What does Onan’s sin tell us about his character as a man and as a husband?

7. Describe Tamar’s husbands and her experience with marriage thus far as she might describe it. Think back over Rachel’s, Leah’s, and Sarah’s desperation to have children as a reflection of the pressure that culture put on women to prove their worth and value through bearing sons. Could Tamar have been feeling that same sort of desperation, especially since she had gone through the “right channels” (levirate marriage) and had been cheated out of her legal recourse?

8. Explain in your own words the situation with Tamar marrying Shelah, Judah’s third, and only living son. (11, 14b, 26) Had Tamar followed Judah’s instructions? Had Judah kept his word to her? Briefly explain how Tamar had been let down by Er, Onan, and now Judah.

9. Read verses 13-26. What was Tamar’s plan? Was it premeditated? In what way(s) did Tamar sin in this situation? Did Tamar’s desperation and hopelessness over her situation and her mistreatment by Judah and his sons justify her sin?

10. Make a list of Judah’s sins against Tamar and against God, including any Scripture references you can recall of biblical principles he violated. Consider how Judah’s hypocrisy and judgment of Tamar in verses 24-26 is an example of the unbiblical judgment and hypocrisy Matthew 7:1-5 talks about. Describe how Judah could have treated Tamar in a godly way.

11. Did Judah’s sins against Tamar justify her own sin? If someone sins against you, is it OK with God if you act sinfully in response? How did Jesus act when He was sinned against by the Pharisees, Judas, and others? How can we follow His example, and why is it important for Christians to respond in a godly way to ungodly people and situations?

12. Compare and contrast Tamar’s mistreatment at the hands of men, and her response to the situation, with the current clamor in evangelicalism to respond to misogyny (both real and perceived) in the church. How does Tamar’s story teach us the importance of responding to misogyny and abuse in a godly and biblical way rather than taking matters into our own hands and doing what seems right in our own eyes?


Tamar was let down by an evil first husband, a second husband who didn’t want the responsibility of her and only wanted to use her for sex, and a father in law who broke his promise to her. Desperate for offspring, Tamar took matters into her own hands rather than trusting and obeying God. Compare the way Tamar took matters into her own hands with the way Sarah took matters into her own hands when she couldn’t conceive. What were the outcomes? Describe a time when you were in a difficult situation and were tempted to handle things your own way rather than trusting and obeying God. Explain why the cliché “Desperate times call for desperate measures,” would be better changed to “Desperate times call for prayer, obedience, and trusting God.”

Suggested Memory Verse

Then Judah identified them and said, “She is more righteous than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her again.
Genesis 38:26