The Bible is full of positive examples of how to live, love and work while we go through life. It is also full of the real mistakes made by real people, even the heroes of the faith. No one has his successes and failures listed more publicly than David. A great warrior king, a man of faith and boldness, tenderness and courage, David was not a great father. His shortcomings can become our wisdom, if we are willing to learn. Here are five things David missed as a parent.
1. David fails to discipline Amnon 2 Samuel 13:21
After Tamar is raped by Amnon, David is furious but he does nothing. His oldest son Absalom took note of David’s lack of discipline toward Amnon. He waited 2 years before he did anything, plenty of time to see if his dad would do anything, then he took matters into his own hands.
Perhaps David thought, “Amnon knows I’m furious at him and he knows what he did is wrong. He’ll never cross that line again or next time I’ll let him have it.”
Lesson #1: Discipline is not anger, but action directed at saving the life of the child.
It is not enough to be angry, or maybe not even helpful at times though righteous anger properly directed is appropriate. What Amnon needed, and the rest of the children needed to see, was proper disciplinary action that showed the value of all the children and upheld a standard of righteousness. David’s relationship with Amnon was not hidden from the rest of the family as the cry for justice was answered by Absalom.
2. Absalom returns but is not reconciled 2 Samuel 14:24, 28-30
Absalom flees Jerusalem after the murder of Amnon. Joab, a real friend to David, devised a plan to convince David to allow Absalom back into Jerusalem, but David still refused to see Absalom face to face. For 2 years Absalom lived in Jerusalem but was not allowed to see his father. He pleaded with Joab to gain an audience with David but he was rebuffed each time. Finally he set fire to Joab’s field to get the attention of his father. When David finally allows Absalom into his presence it appears there is reconciliation.
Lesson #2: Always resolve the issue, do not keep your presence from the child.
David has “sent Absalom to his room for a timeout” that never comes to an end. Some infractions require time apart from the child, but this should never be too long and should always end with the parent going to the child to bring about reconciliation. Reconciliation means there is an admittance of guilt, request for forgiveness and a path to a restored relationship established. None of this happened between David and Absalom.
3. David equates apology with repentance 2 Samuel 14:32-33
When you see the words of Absalom in v. 32 you get a clear picture of his mindset. “I’d be better off if I were still there.” His concern is only for his own well being with no concern for the wrong he committed against his own brother. “If I am guilty, let him kill me.” Clearly Absalom doubts his own guilt, and is directly challenging the verdict of his father, who also happens to be the king appointed by God. Eventually David allows Absalom to come to him, but even then there is no conversation or restoration, only the outward ritual of apology with no repentance. We know this because of what happens next.
Lesson #3: When there is a direct challenge, deal with it quickly, lovingly,and fairly.
Obviously David failed to deal with the challenge by Absalom in a timely matter, allowing him to live in Geshur for a time and then in Jerusalem for another two years before seeing him. Direct challenges to the authority of the parent cannot be tolerated. Don’t allow your pride to take over here, you are the parent and have a role and the child will challenge you because that is what children do. Be firm without losing your temper. Be fair with them, but also be clear about who makes the rules. Younger children don’t need an explanation for the reason behind the rule, they need assurance about who enforces the rules. It is a waste of time trying to explain to a 2 year old the details of electrical current, a quick slap on the hand is much more efficient and communicates better. (Note: there is a difference between a slap on the hand and beating a child. Those with common sense should understand this.)
4. David mistakes quiet for peace 2 Samuel 15:1-6
Every parent learns that the most disturbing sound in your home might be eerie quiet of a 2 year old alone in a back room. “It’s a little too quiet back there.” For the next four years Absalom quietly goes about the business of building a following among the Israelites, undermining King David while stealing the hearts of the men of Israel. It seems hard to believe that he could do this everyday for 4 years and David would never get wind of it from his sources in the kingdom. Perhaps he thought that Absalom would grow out of his rebellious stage,. The reality was that quiet did not mean peace.
Lesson #4: The old saying, “They’ll grow out of it” may not be true.
Sometimes it is a stage and our kids will grow out of it. There are dangers in hoping for growth without requiring something from the child. 1)They may step into mortal danger before they grow out of rebellion. 2)They may cause someone else great grief before their rebellious stage is complete. 3)They may fall into life altering consequences before they realize the futility of rebellion. 4)They may not grow out of rebellion. Do not fall into the trap of just trying to survive the teenage years or merely hoping that maturity will magically appear. Do all that you can, use every thing at your disposal and pray all along the way. Never give up hope and never give up trying. Be the parent, not the best friend.
5. David loses another son 2 Samuel 18:5, 9-15
Absalom’s rebellion reaches critical mass as he proclaims his own rule over Israel attempting to usurp David. Even as he sends his troops to war David pleads for mercy for Absalom. He is always the dad. But Absalom’s coup does not end well as Joab ends the battle by viciously killing him. Perhaps he was tired of seeing this son of David treat the King of Israel with such disdain. David wept at the news of the loss of his son as only a father could, but it makes us wonder if this is how it had to happen. Would things have turned out differently if David would have dealt with Absalom and Amnon more directly?
Lesson #5:If you do not adequately deal with rebellion you may lose your child.
What we do know is how this story ended and we know that there was no joy for anyone. David lost another son. Absalom’s family lost a father and husband. Israel lost a charismatic leader. Perhaps this was a path Absalom was going to take, but it seems clear that David did not do enough to alter that path. His anger turned to grieving, David missed so many opportunities to set Absalom on a different path. No doubt he cared for and loved his son, but this has to show itself in strong disciplinary actions. We tend to choose the path of least resistance. If a parent chooses that path he/she puts the life of the child at risk. Make your child’s path of least resistance one that includes righteousness, honor, integrity and love. This isn’t the easy way to parent, but it gives your child the best chance to live on their own as a mature adult (and that is the point of parenting after all).