Despite being known as a man after God’s own heart, David as a father has been described as horrendous, absolutely awful, and an utter failure. Something seemed to go wrong with his children. Amnon forced himself on his half-sister Tamar. Absalom killed Amnon out of revenge and later tried to steal the thrown from David. Adonijah attempted to take the thrown over Solomon against David’s wishes. Solomon, even with all his wisdom, allowed himself to be led astray by his many wives.
While it does seem that David failed as a Father, the Bible never actually says David was a bad father. This is an assumption we make based primarily on his son’s actions as adults. However, we really don’t have a complete picture of David as a father. David had over 19 sons and only one of his daughters, Tamar, is named. Of David’s children, we only really know about how four of them turned out: Ammon, Absalom, Adonijah, and Solomon. The actions of these sons are recorded, not to show that David is a bad father, but because major events regarding David’s rule revolved around them. As far as we know, the rest of David’s sons and daughters could have lived righteous and upright lives. I often wonder what would happen if our lives were judged by the same standard we judge the lives of Bible characters. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to make the mistake of judging the Bible characters with a standard I don’t want to be judged with (cf. Matthew 7:1).
An examination of the text reveals that David was probably a better father than most. While he certainly made mistakes in his parenting and the example he set, there were good qualities to his parenting as well. In another article, we are going to look at some things he did wrong as a father, but first, let’s look at what he did right.
First, David deeply cared for his children
Throughout the stories of David’s sons, we find hints that in general he had a good and close relationship with his children. His sons come and talk with him when they have problems. David is so clearly involved in his son Amnon’s life that Amnon’s best friend Jonadab knows that David will come see his son if he is sick (2 Samuel 13:4-6). David was one who spent time with his children. There was a predictability to David’s parenting. David could be relied on to be there when his children needed him or even when they were just sick and everyone knew it. Unfortunately, Amnon uses David’s dependability as part of his plot to rape his half-sister. When David finds out, he is furious, but he never stops loving his son (2 Samuel 13:21).
A loving relationship can also seen between David and Absalom. In 2 Samuel 13:25-27, Absalom is inviting his father to his sheep sheering celebration (although he has ulterior motives). David refuses to go, but not because he doesn’t want to be with his son, but he doesn’t want to be a burden on his son. It is interesting that David, as the king and one of the richest men in the country, did not provide everything for his sons. He helped them to be able to stand on their own. After politely refusing, David then blesses Absalom. These words, in the courtly language of the East, not only mean that David parted from Absalom with kindly feelings and good wishes, but probably that he made him a rich present as well. He sends his son off with kindness and support. David loved Absalom and had a relationship with him.
As the story unfolds, Absalom gets permission to invite his brothers to the celebration and has Amnon killed at the feast. When David first hears the news it is reported that Absalom has killed all of his sons and David goes into deep mourning (2 Samuel 13:30-31). They soon realize the report must be wrong and it is confirmed when the rest of David’s sons come to him. When tragedy struck, David’s children knew exactly where to go—to their father. When they are united, they all weep together (2 Samuel 13:36). If a caring relationship was not present, they would not have come together as a family this way.
David mourns for Amnon but when the mourning is over, he longs to see Absalom again (2 Samuel 13:38-39). David is put in a tough situation here. He is faced with the loss of one son and possibly having to execute another. Absalom does not flee to a city of refuge where justice would be done but flees to Geshur, a principality in Syria. Notice, David does not hate Absalom. He most certainly hates what Absalom has done, but Absalom is still his son and he longs to see him.
Despite longing to see his son, David doesn’t take any until Joab hires a woman to claim she is a widow with two sons and one of them killed the other (2 Samuel 14:1-23). She begs David to spare the life of the murderer for her and the sake of her husband’s name. David is willing to make an exception for her. The point seems to be if David is willing to make an exception for others, why not for his own son. David agrees to let Joab bring Absalom back. Although David has been longing to see Absalom, however, he refuses to let Absalom see his face (cf. 2 Samuel 14:24, 28). For some reason, David is denying himself his hearts desire. There seems to be some form of discipline going on. Some have thought that David was using God’s dealings with Cain as a model for his own actions (cf. Genesis 4:16). David wants Absalom to know that what he did was not right and so does not welcome him back with open arms even though he wants too. It is another two years before they meet and when they do, David kisses Absalom (2 Samuel 14:33).
Second, David showed his sons unconditional love
Absalom is not satisfied with his return to Jerusalem or the return of his father’s affections. He seems to have taken David’s love as a sign of weakness and he plots to take his father’s throne. He steals the hearts of the people. He announces that he is king and gathers the people to him, The situation is so dire that David has to go hiding in caves again. Not from Saul, but from his own son. David is wise and strategic throughout all this. Finally, it comes down to a battle between David’s men and Absalom’s. Notice what David instructs his men: “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (2 Samuel 18:5). He doesn’t want his son to die. Even now, as Absalom has humiliated him and tried to steal his throne, he does not want his son to die.
His men do not deal gently with Absalom. They could have, but they didn’t. In 2 Samuel 18:31-33, a messenger is sent to tell David the good news: the battle is won. David, however, is not concerned about the battle, he is concerned about his son and immediately asks about Absalom. When David hears of Absalom’s death, he utters some of the saddest words recorded in the Bible: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” David is deeply grieved by what has happened. Victory that day was turned into mourning, and the victors into those that were ashamed (cf. 2 Samuel 19:1-3). Joab rebukes David for this and points out something that was probably true: David cared more for his son, than he did for his friends, his kingdom, and his own life (2 Samuel 19:4-7). To others Absalom, was a murder, an enemy, a rebel, and a wicked man, a rebellious son, but to David, Absalom was his son.
The love that David shows towards Absalom is about as close as you are going to find to the unconditional love that God shows towards us. No matter what we do, God loves. It doesn’t mean our actions are approved of, but the love is always there. Likewise, David loved his sons. He never wanted harm to come to them, he always wanted good for them.
Third, David taught his sons
David didn’t just love his sons, however, he taught them and encouraged them to follow God’s ways, at least he did with Solomon. In the Book of Proverbs, Solomon is instructing his son to seek wisdom. As he does so, he describes how his own father taught him to seek wisdom (Proverbs 4:1-4). Notice, Solomon said that David began these instructions at a very early age while he was still the only child in the sight of his mother. Some of what David taught is found in Proverbs 4:5-9 which basically says: “If you get and value wisdom and understanding, you will find protection, honor, and success.” Years later as Solomon is becoming king, God is going to grant a favor to Solomon and Solomon asks for wisdom (1 Kings 3:5-9). Perhaps because his father had pointed him this way. Solomon is known as the wisest man in the Bible, but it might be that he became what he was because his father taught him from an early age to seek after God’s wisdom.
As David is nearing his death, he gives Solomon a final charge in 1 Kings 2:1-9. David has some housekeeping matters he wants Solomon to handle. Before he gets that, however, he tells Solomon: “be strong, therefore, and prove yourself a man. And keep the charge of the Lord your God: to walk in His ways, to keep His statutes, His commandments, His judgments, and His testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Kings 2:2-3). One of the last things David did for his son was to encourage him to be strong and follow God’s ways. From the start of Solomon’s life to the end of his own, David instructed and encouraged Solomon to follow God.
David was by no means a perfect father and some of his sons didn’t turn out well to say the least, but you can’t fault David for the love he shows his sons and his desire to point them towards God. Let us learn to imitate David’s good qualities as a father and avoid his poor qualities.
by Jeremy Sprouse
Jeremy Sprouse has been married to Erynn since 1999. They have six children. Jeremy preaches for the Patrick St. Church of Christ in Dublin, TX and is the author of To Train Up a Knight.