Image by James Best, (C) 2020,https://www.behance.net/gallery/90621713/Sermon-Illustrations-2020
Father’s Day is the one day a year dad gets an even break - maybe. (I know; break out your tiny violins.) We celebrate fathers, those clever kings of comedy who treat their families to those most blessed quips: dad jokes. How do you know a joke is a dad joke? When it is apparent. For example:
· What time did dad go to the dentist? Tooth hurt-y.
· Did you hear about the reupholsterer who hurt himself at work? He’s fully re-covered!
· How many tickles does it take to make an octopus laugh? Ten tickles.
· Dad invented a pencil with erasers at both ends but decided not to sell any because they were pointless.
· People were very emotional about the fire at the circus fire: it was in tents.
What would you think about a man who had children by multiple mothers and had more girlfriends than you could shake a stick at? This fellow’s kids did more than bicker; rape and murder were committed under his roof. Even so, this guy was unwilling to do much about it; he seemed content to let his kids be just about as wild as they wanted.
You would not be inclined to give this guy a very good grade on his parenting skills. It is surprising to note, however, that God called him “a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). This man was King David. We have an extensive biblical record of the life and achievements of King David, but when we look at his parenting, David left a lot to be desired. Let’s see what we can learn about family life at the palace in Jerusalem.
Being a godly father requires righteous involvement in the lives of your children.
1. David serves us as a negative example - don’t try this at home. (2 Samuel 12-19)
On the plus side, there were four occasions David demonstrated he was a caring father.
First, he prayed for the survival of his infant son in 2 Samuel 12:16-17. Following his sin with Bathsheba and the cover-up that eliminated her husband, a son was born to their union, but was sickly and not expected to survive. This text tells us the intensity of David’s prayers:
DAVID PLEADED WITH GOD FOR THE CHILD. HE FASTED AND WENT INTO HIS HOUSE AND SPENT THE NIGHTS LYING ON THE GROUND. THE ELDERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD STOOD BESIDE HIM TO GET HIM UP FROM THE GROUND, BUT HE REFUSED, AND HE WOULD NOT EAT ANY FOOD WITH THEM.
The child died. When this happened, David calmly returned to regular life because he knew the child’s death was God’s answer.
Second, his reaction to the news of his daughter Tamar having been raped was appropriate. In 2 Samuel 13:21 read, WHEN KING DAVID HEARD ALL THIS, HE WAS FURIOUS. As furious as he may have been, David was curiously slow to act.
Third, his reaction to the news of Amnon’s death is similar to his pleas for his newborn son’s life. In 2 Samuel 13:30-31 we read:
WHILE THEY WERE ON THEIR WAY, THE REPORT CAME TO DAVID: ABSALOM HAS STRUCK DOWN ALL THE KING’S SONS; NOT ONE OF THEM IS LEFT.” THE KING STOOD UP, TORE HIS CLOTHES AND LAY DOWN ON THE GROUND; AND HIS SERVANTS STOOD BY WITH THEIR CLOTHES TORN.
This report turned out to be false; it was corrected in the next two verses to the truth: that only Amnon had been killed. David’s other son’s had fled the scene. In v. 36, when all of David’s sons except Absalom returned to Jerusalem, David WEPT BITTERLY.
Fourth, even though Absalom was a killer and rebellious usurper, David’s heart ached for him. While Absalom was in self-imposed exile with his grandfather in Geshur, (2 Samuel 13:37) KING DAVID MOURNED FOR HIS SON EVERY DAY. Two verses later, David’s grief is reiterated: AND THE SPIRIT OF THE KING LONGED TO GO TO ABSALOM, FOR HE WAS CONSOLED CONCERNING AMNON’S DEATH (v. 39). In the very next verse (2 Samuel 14:1) David’s heart condition is mentioned again. JOAB SON OF ZERUIAH KNEW THAT THE KING’S HEART LONGED FOR ABSALOM. And again, at the end of the Absalom story arc, David is heartbroken, this time over Absalom’s death (see 2 Samuel 18:33-19:4).
TRANSITION = It’s clear from these verses that King David’s heart was in the right place. On the other hand, David did not always do right by his children. One may imagine that the writer of 2 Samuel wanted to show David cared about his children because there were no caring actions to write about, so the character of David had to be balanced. On a practical level, however, all the proper emotions count very little without actually acting upon those emotions.
David was too passive on four occasions; he needed to act decisively to discipline his children and failed to do so. I freely admit all four of these examples rely on argument from silence. However, if David had acted (wisely or foolishly) I would assume the king’s actions would at least receive some mention.
The first example is His response to Tamar’s rape: David did not get involved. While the text tells us David was FURIOUS that the rape occurred, it does not record any action that he took. The brutal crime against Tamar left her a disgraced woman who lived out her days in Absalom’s house. There is no record of David having done anything for her, no punishment or even rebuke of Amnon. There are two years of silence between the crime and the next thing that happened. In 2 Samuel 13:23, the account resumes TWO YEARS LATER, when Absalom carries out his plot to kill his half-brother Amnon.
The second example is the murder of Amnon. Though he was grief-stricken to lose his first-born son, David did not pursue Absalom after Amnon’s murder. He did not seek justice; not even a rebuke is recorded in the text. 2 Samuel 13:38 tells us Absalom fled the scene of the crime and went to the city of Geshur, where his grandfather ruled as king. Another THREE YEARS passed with Absalom in exile. Though David’s heart longed to be reconciled to his third eldest son, there is no record that he did anything to reach out to him.
In fact, in 2 Samuel 14 Joab had to essentially trick David into welcoming Absalom back to Jerusalem. Maybe in THREE YEARS David’s heart had hardened! Even then, David insisted on this condition (14:24):
BUT THE KING SAID, “HE MUST GO TO HIS OWN HOUSE; HE MUST NOT SEE MY FACE.” SO ABSALOM WENT TO HIS OWN HOUSE AND DID NOT SEE THE FACE OF THE KING.
The third example is in chapter fourteen, where the text notes Absalom had lived in Jerusalem for two years before David called for him. 2 Samuel 14:28 plainly says, ABSALOM LIVED TWO YEARS IN JERUSALEM WITHOUT SEEING THE KING’S FACE. In v. 29 Absalom made the first overture toward reunion, attempting to arrange a meeting with his father through one of his advisors, Joab. At first Joab was unwilling to make the arrangements, but Absalom pressured him into it. (We see Absalom’s persuasiveness on display more than once in this story arc.)
Finally, in v. 33, father and son were reunited:
SO JOAB WENT TO THE KING AND TOLD HIM [WHAT ABSALOM HAD SAID]. THEN THE KING SUMMONED ABSALOM, AND HE CAME IN AND BOWED DOWN WITH HIS FACE TO THE GROUND BEFORE THE KING. AND THE KING KISSED ABSALOM. Don’t let the kissing fool you - this was not a reunion, not a reconciliation. In the next chapter we see Absalom put in motion a coup against his father, so I assume this was staged to make David unwary or give a wholesome public appearance to make the people unwary.
The final example may be the most serious act of apathy: David did not oppose Absalom’s “hostile takeover,” but left Jerusalem to Absalom without a fight (2 Samuel 15:13-16). This passage comes after twelve verses describe how Absalom slowly turned the people to him and then staged a “publicity stunt” where he was proclaimed king.
David appears to be thoroughly intimidated:
A MESSENGER CAME AND TOLD DAVID, “THE HEARTS OF THE MEN OF ISRAEL ARE WITH ABSALOM.” THEN DAVID SAID TO ALL HIS OFFICIALS WHO WERE WITH HIM IN JERUSALEM, “COME! WE MUST FLEE, OR NONE OF US WILL ESCAPE FROM ABSALOM. WE MUST LEAVE IMMEDIATELY, OR HE WILL MOVE QUICKLY TO OVERTAKE US AND BRING RUIN UPON US AND PUT THE CITY TO THE SWORD.” THE KING’S OFFICIALS ANSWERED HIM, “YOUR SERVANTS ARE READY TO DO WHATEVER OUR LORD THE KING CHOOSES.” THE KING SET OUT, WITH HIS ENTIRE HOUSEHOLD FOLLOWING HIM; BUT HE LEFT TEN CONCUBINES TO TAKE CARE OF THE PALACE.
Why would David give up without a fight? The text gives us two motives. One, to save his own life and the lives of his family. Two, to save the city of Jerusalem from being sacked.
Even so, it’s hard for me to believe this is the same guy who, as a youth, defied Goliath on the battlefield. I only hope this was a “strategic withdrawal” on David’s part or a sincere desire to avoid damage to Jerusalem. I hope it is not the cowardice it appears to be.
One more thing: David made a mistake in trusting Absalom with all his sons, which lead to Amnon’s death (2 Samuel 13:23-27). We are backtracking in time, going back two chapters in the narrative to see how Absalom plotted to get his chance to avenge his sister’s disgrace.
After waiting TWO YEARS (13:23), Absalom used the annual festival of sheep shearing day as a pretext to draw out Amnon. This passage details a conversation between David and Absalom that could be described as “verbal fencing.” David did not truly trust Absalom, but gave in and allowed all his sons, including Amnon, to attend the sheep shearing. Absalom conspired with his men to do his dirty work for him; they actually killed Amnon. His revenge was made possible by David having given in to Absalom.
TWO YEARS LATER, WHEN ABSALOM’S SHEEP SHEARERS WERE AT BAAL HAZOR NEAR THE BORDER OF EPHRAIM, HE INVITED ALL THE KING’S SONS TO COME THERE. ABSALOM WENT TO THE KING AND SAID, “YOUR SERVANT HAS HAD THE SHEARERS COME. WILL THE KING AND HIS OFFICIALS PLEASE JOIN ME?”
“NO, MY SON,” THE KING REPLIED. “ALL OF US SHOULD NOT GO; WE WOULD ONLY BE A BURDEN TO YOU.” ALTHOUGH ABSALOM URGED HIM, HE REFUSED TO GO, BUT GAVE HIM HIS BLESSING.
THEN ABSALOM SAID, “IF NOT PLEASE LET MY BROTHER AMNON COME WITH US.”
THE KING ASKED HIM, “WHY SHOULD HE GO WITH YOU?” BUT ABSALOM URGED HIM, SO HE SENT WITH HIM AMNON AND THE REST OF THE KING’S SONS.
2. Righteous involvement includes the following godly actions.
Righteous involvement requires avoiding unnecessary exasperation and bitterness in the course of training your children. Ephesians 6:4 commands FATHERS, DO NOT EXASPERATE YOUR CHILDREN; INSTEAD, BRING THEM UP IN THE TRAINING AND INSTRUCTION OF THE LORD. Colossians 3:21 gives a similar instruction with a warning: FATHERS, DO NOT EMBITTER YOUR CHILDREN, OR THEY WILL BECOME DISCOURAGED.
Anyone who has been a parent or a child can recount times when a legitimate, necessary instruction has caused exasperation or bitterness because it opposes the child’s selfish nature. These verses do not forbid godly instruction where it causes the child to gripe. Instead, they forbid behaviors that cause unnecessary exasperation or bitterness. Examples of such fatherhood miscues would be teasing or misuse of authority to bully the child to serve the father’s sin nature.
Righteous involvement requires fathers to discipline children as necessary to train their hearts. The job of parents is not to merely control the behavior of their children. We have a much higher calling, to train them in godliness so that they will be godly of their own accord, apart from our control. Hebrews 12:9-11 alerts us to the godly purpose of discipline.
MOREOVER, WE HAVE ALL HAD HUMAN FATHERS WHO DISCIPLINES US AND WE RESPECTED THEM FOR IT. HOW MUCH MORE SHOULD WE SUBMIT TO THE FATHER OF SPIRITS AND LIVE! OUR FATHERS DISCIPLINED US FOR A LITTLE WHILE AS THEY THOUGHT BEST; BUT GOD DISCIPLINES US FOR OUR GOOD, THAT WE MAY SHARE IN HIS HOLINESS. NO DISCIPLINE SEEMS PLEASANT AT THE TIME, BUT PAINFUL. LATER ON, HOWEVER, IT PRODUCES A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PEACE FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN TRAINED BY IT.
I appreciate the fact that this passage recognizes that babies don’t come with manuals (OUR FATHERS DISCIPLINED US FOR A LITTLE WHILE AS THEY THOUGHT BEST). Parenting is, if we’re honest, a seat-of-your-pants exercise that often feels like we’re doing it for the first time. Knowledge of the word and intentional imitation of our heavenly Father must guide our decisions about fatherhood.
Righteous involvement requires fathers to teach their children the truth by living it. Read Deuteronomy 6:6-9 = THESE COMMANDMENTS THAT I GIVE YOU TODAY ARE TO BE UPON YOUR HEARTS. IMPRESS THEM ON YOUR CHILDREN. TALK ABOUT THEM WHEN YOU SIT AT HOME AND WHEN YOU WALK UPON THE ROAD, WHEN YOU LIE DOWN AND WHEN YOU GET UP. TIE THEM AS SYMBOLS ON YOUR HANDS AND BIND THEM ON YOUR FOREHEADS. WRITE THEM ON THE DOOR FRAMES OF YOUR HOUSES AND ON YOUR GATES.
Parenting is primarily teaching. No one can teach what they do not know and no one can truthfully teach what they do not practice themselves. Because “experience is the best teacher,” our instruction as parents doesn’t usually take place in a classroom setting, but amidst daily life. As this passage indicates, that is exactly how God wants it. Heart training is the true goal of parenting and God recognizes here that a parent must first possess a good heart before hoping to train a child’s heart.
Character is forged in the ordinary circumstances of life, in the mundane challenges of each day. Training happens; godly training happens when we commit ourselves and do it with intention.
Finally, righteous involvement of fathers requires us to be a husband; to love your wife (Read Ephesians 5:25-27, 32-33). Following the Old Testament prophets, the Apostle Paul put the highest possible value on the marriage relationship by using it as a symbol of the relationship between God and His people. In fact, Paul makes Ephesians 5:22-33 a difficult passage because he believed that marriage was more than just a symbol, it was the “flip side” of the divine relationship. That creates all kinds of pressure, doesn’t it?
That explains the lofty ideals for marriage that Paul sets forth here. Let’s look at a sample, the instructions directed at HUSBANDS. In vs. 25-27: HUSBANDS, LOVE YOUR WIVES, JUST AS CHRIST LOVED THE CHURCH AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR HER TO MAKE HER HOLY, CLEANSING HER BY THE WASHING WITH WATER THROUGH THE WORD, AND TO PRESENT HER TO HIMSELF AS A RADIANT CHURCH, WITHOUT STAIN OR WRINKLE OR ANY OTHER BLEMISH. And in vs. 32-33: THIS IS A PROFOUND MYSTERY - BUT I AM TALKING ABOUT CHRIST AND THE CHURCH. HOWEVER, EACH ONE OF YOU ALSO MUST LOVE HIS WIFE AS HE LOVES HIMSELF, AND THE WIFE MUST RESPECT HER HUSBAND.
This passage deals only with the marital relationship between a man and a woman. Admittedly, it has nothing to say directly about fatherhood or motherhood. However, as the marriage relationship is the relationship that constitutes a “family,” to which children become welcome additions, we understand the marriage relationship to be the one that has the most effect on raising children.
To put it bluntly; fathers who love their children love their children’s mother. In moments when you can’t find it in yourself to love your wife for your sake or her sake, love her for your children’s sake. Success in raising godly children depends most on our relationship with God, but the second-most important factor is the marriage relationship.
Being a godly father requires righteous involvement in the lives of your children.
One thing that’s particularly sad about this whole Absalom tragedy is that there’s a victim (Tamar) and a lot of bad actors (Amnon and Absalom), but no one really doing any good. David’s heart was in the right place, but in his actions he failed his children and his nation.
This is a cautionary tale preserved in the Bible so we can be informed and motivated to avoid making the bad choices David made. The takeaway from this soap opera I call “The Absalom Saga” is this: “Don’t be a David-type Dad.” Have David’s heart, but act upon it too: do the right thing at the right time in the right way.