As you read through the Old Testament, you encounter dozens of men who may have been recognized for their faith in God but failed miserably at fatherhood.[^1] Lot offered his daughters to wicked men in Sodom and then committed incest (Gen. 19:8, 36), Isaac and Jacob showed favoritism (Gen. 25:28; 37:3), and the sons of both Eli and Samuel did not fear God (1 Sam. 2:12, 22; 8:3). Although children are ultimately responsible for their sinful decisions, we can learn some important lessons from these fathers who failed in various areas of parenting.
King David is known as a “man after God’s own heart,” but even he made several parenting decisions that had disastrous consequences. Here are three parenting principles we can glean from David’s shortcomings as a father.
1. Discipline for sin (2 Samuel 13).
In this outrageous story, David unintentionally facilitated the rape of his daughter Tamar by sending her to care for her immoral half-brother Amnon. Although David was angry about Amnon’s evil actions, he did nothing to correct him. Perhaps he showed favoritism for his eldest son, or maybe he lacked the courage to administer justice on the heels of his own lust and immorality with Bathsheba. Whatever the case, his failure to appropriately discipline his son paved the way for more sin in his household.
If you truly love your children, you will correct them promptly and consistently. Proverbs 3:12 says, “The Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights.” The Bible even goes so far as to say that any parent who refuses to discipline their children actually hates them (Prov. 13:24). If your default personality leads you to overlook offenses in the home, remember that sin leads to bondage (John 8:34) and death (James 1:15). Consistent and patient discipline is actually more loving than ignoring your child’s sin.
It’s important to note here that discipline is not a method of venting your frustration when your child does wrong or annoys you. It is intended for your child’s well-being. Also, discipline involves more than mere correction for wrong. It includes training your child to do what is right.
2. Pursue restoration (2 Samuel 14).
After Absalom took matters into his own hands and avenged the rape of his sister Tamar by murdering Amnon, he fled to live with his grandfather, the king of Geshur. Though David longed to restore Absalom, he did not pursue him. Even when Joab convinced David to allow Absalom to return to Jerusalem, David failed to pursue complete restoration with his son, refusing to see him in person for two years. Restoration would have required him to admit his own failures and confront Absalom, but David avoided both.
Just like removing a splinter, restoration can sometimes be painful, especially when we as dads are partly to blame for our child’s sin. However, the freeing results are worth it. Pursue restoration with your child through a sincere spirit of humility.
3. Don’t ignore rebellion (2 Samuel 15).
With a bitter spirit, Absalom proudly rebelled against his unresponsive father and publicly undermined his authority. Absalom then launched a full-scale coup, so that, by the time David decided to act, the time for reconciliation had long passed. Unfortunately, David responded the same way years later when Absalom’s brother, Adonijah, followed in his brother’s footsteps. 1 Kings 1:6 records that “his father had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?’” The lesson here is clear: address the seeds of rebellion before bitterness takes root in your child’s heart.
First, recognize that your child’s sinful rebellion is not just rebellion against you and your requirements, but against God as their ultimate authority. The priority then is not to force conformity to your house rules, but rather to guide them in submission to God as their King.
Second, find hope in the one who specializes in transforming rebel hearts. If God can replace a heart of stone, he can root out your child’s rebellion (Ezek. 36:26). When your faith fails and all seems lost, remember the picture of God as that good Father who is waiting for his prodigal son to return home.
Address your child’s rebellion as sin against God, pray for repentance, and patiently trust God’s sovereignty as you wait for your child to return to their heavenly Father.
The Domino Effect
As you read 2 Samuel 13–15, each sinful act seems to lead to the next. Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah are involved in immorality, murder, and rebellion. However, the domino effect of sin initially began in chapters 11–12 when their father committed both adultery and murder, rebelling against the King of Heaven. Consequently, David would spend much of his life mourning the death of many sons, including Bathsheba’s first baby.
Disciplining for sin, pursuing restoration, and addressing rebellion are important parenting principles to remember, but as a father you must never forget that the most important thing you can do for your children is to walk with God personally. If you fail in this area, your sin will end up hurting your children. Every time you are confronted by the failures you see in your child, take a moment to consider (and repent of) your own sin before continuing with discipline or restoration. Don’t let the domino effect of sin destroy your family.