To read the series from the beginning, click here.
Of the many positive things about David that people can take away, being a great father is not one of them. In my six previous articles on David, we have gone over his highlights: being a man after God’s own heart, slaying the giant Goliath, becoming the King God had anointed, and his lowest point: committing adultery and murder.
So, as we approach Father’s Day, why would I write an article about David? The reason is simple: David experienced unparalleled success in several areas of his life, but with many of his children, he did not prepare them to be the kind man that he was. There was a breakdown in making his children into followers of the Lord. David was a much better king than he was a father. Many men who are great at their jobs or in church work fail to lead the next generation of their family—the very people who live in the same house with them.
David’s parenting also shows how generational problems (or curses) can manifest repeatedly in a bloodline. We do not hear a great deal of preaching on generational curses (or blessings) in modern sermons because it is not a happy topic or one that is easy to understand—it is ‘meat’ not ‘milk.’
However, I would venture to say the spiritual blessings and curses we place on our children have a greater effect on their lives than the genetic material they receive from us. David affected his children in two ways: his parenting style in terms of being too permissive and his sins with Bathsheba and Uriah.
Before being too hard on David, I want to point out he was part of a culture where Israel’s leadership had, quite notoriously, not done a great job raising their sons to take on their roles. Eli was the second to last judge of Israel as well as the High Priest, and the Bible calls his sons “worthless men” and says that they “did not know the Lord” (1 Sam. 2:12, ESV).
It is almost unimaginable that a man could be in the role of High Priest and Judge for forty years walking closely with the Lord yet his sons not know the God of their father. This story proves the old adage that ‘God does not have any grandchildren.’ God replaces Eli’s wicked sons with Samuel, who grew up and saw the disaster (he prophesied) that would come on the House of Eli.
So one would think Samuel would take care not to fall into the trap of Eli and raise his sons in the fear of the Lord. The Bible says, “Yet his sons did not walk in his ways but turned aside after gain. They took bribes and perverted justice” (1 Sam. 8:3, ESV).
Samuel would go on to anoint two kings of Isreal: Saul and David. Before laying all the blame at David’s feet for his way of raising his sons, I will point out David’s father Jesse was estranged from his son. In the article “The Life of David Part I”, I discussed in great detail when Samuel the prophet, the most important religious leader in Israel, asked to see all of Jesse’s sons—Jesse did not include David and left him in the field. We are never told why, but Jesse was neglectful and distant toward David and did not include him with his older brothers.
In fact, when the Lord did not choose one of Jesse’s other seven sons, the prophet had to prompt him to even admit there was another child. That lack of care and neglect affects the psychology of a child as does any form of ill-treatment from anyone, but the relationship between a father and child is one of the most significant in the human experience. The Bible is not a book of psychology specifically, but when it speaks of the human mind, we see an accurate portrayal of consciousness.
We may not know the “why” of Jesse’s treatment to the future king, but we do know some of the facts surrounding his upbringing. David’s life was both one of being ignored by his father and of hard labor. The young shepherd learned how to care and leadership skills in those lonely fields as well as a closeness to his Heavenly Father, but David did not understand how to properly lead a family. He carried the estrangement from his earthly father throughout his life.
David does not adopt Jesse’s style of parenting. In fact, David rejects the emotional distance and hard work of the farm in favor of a permissive style of parenting—a common mistake for men raised poorly is to swing their parenting pendulum too far in another direction. David’s unwillingness to criticize or discipline his sons has grievous effects on his house.
In 2 Samuel 13, David’s son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar—a great shame for her and a violation against the Mosaic law for lying with his sister. Tamar is forced to live out what the Bible calls a ‘desolate’ life—one without marriage and in shame. David gets angry but fails to discipline his son Amnon for his crime, and it was against his own daughter.
Tamar’s brother and David’s favorite son Absalom retaliates and kills Amnon. Remember, David as the king was in charge of enforcing the law even in the case of his own sons, but now, he has a rape and murder to deal with (sound familiar?—sowing and reaping). Absalom then flees the country to go to his grandfather, the king of Geshur.
David brings Absalom home and then refuses to see his son for two years for the murder of Amnon, essentially exiling him from the court. Notice the harshest punishment David is willing to give Absalom is to treat him like Jesse treated David. David then forgives Absalom but does not serve justice for the murder of his brother—the Old Testament law was clear in the case (2 Sam. 14).
Absalom then leads a conspiracy against his father, which David ignores as the young man wins the heart of the people by criticizing the government of his father. The actions lead to a civil war where many are killed, including Absalom (2 Sam. 15-18). Later in David’s life, his son Adonijah sets himself up as king even though David had named Solomon as his heir (1 Kings 1). After David’s death, Solomon has Adonijah executed.
Notice throughout his life, David refused to deal with his sons as required by the Old Testament law. In other words, his children knew he was not going to discipline them. We do not know for sure, but my suspicion is that the lack of discipline did not suddenly start when the children reached adulthood. God will not bless the raising of children contrary to His expressed commands.
Most of us do not operate on a national level as the leader of an entire people group like David did. But we do have jobs and responsibilities that require our attention beyond our homes. And in terms of our families, the stakes are as large as David faced as we try to raise our children. Our love, lack thereof, closeness, distance, teaching, criticism, discipline, and willingness to follow our Heavenly Father all affect our children.
The Bible is clear on our role as fathers: “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4, ESV). The Bible also calls us to train our children in the ways of the Lord as their primary teachers, not their mothers, the school, or the church (Prov. 22:6).
Our Heavenly Father gave us a model to follow in the story from Luke 15 of the Prodigal or Lost Son—that is to be our level of love for our children. Many other Scriptures denote the role of the father to be a provider, protector, and disciplinarian of their children. Putting all the Scriptures together, we get a clear picture of the many requirements of biblical fatherhood.
Success and blessing in the area of fatherhood start not with triumph and conquering objectives in life but with a humble following of God’s instructions. Fathers should first instruct and train their kids about the Lord, discipline them, and always show them the kind of love of the Heavenly Father exemplified by the sacrifice of Jesus.
Featured Image by Katherine Chase
In-text Image by Kelly Sikkema