Bible Study Tools / Parenting

Lessons Learned from King David’s Family

by UNC Contributor

God had a destiny for the shepherd boy chosen to be the King to bring expansion to the nation of Israel. The outcome of his life’s walk with God culminates in becoming millennial King of future Israel (Ezekiel 37:24). How do we put into focus his failed family relationships?


There must have been times as a new father that David rejoiced in a newborn son or daughter. Like us, he no doubt delighted in their childhood. But as a father who had at least eight wives plus “more” and some 20 children plus “other sons,” he could not, as one man, emotionally supply what they all independently needed. Polygamy was not God’s intent. The lesson could have been learnt from the patriarchs, or the recent example of Saul and his harem. Sadly, culture played its hand with David who, following Saul’s precedent, took on the tragic chain of events leading to the breakup of his family.

Each generation seems bent on having to learn for themselves. The royal harem, with its palace intrigues, could only produce an unequal love from a father. Busy with expanding the kingdom, he may have had little time for children except favorites, like Absalom. Regrettably, David’s inner character did not rub off onto the son he loved most.

Events came to a head in adulthood when eldest son Amnon raped his beautiful half-sister Tamar (2 Samuel 13). Her brother Absalom was outraged, and hatred for his half-brother turned to a burning desire for revenge. If at this point David had punished Amnon, the royal family might not have split asunder so disastrously. But David, though “very angry” with Amnon (2 Samuel 13:21) apparently did nothing. From the sparse biblical record, he seemed unable to discipline his grown children. Is it evidence of a lack of early child training? Proverbial wisdom loudly proclaims, “Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” (Proverbs 22:6).

Because David failed to act with Amnon, Absalom took justice into his own hands by ordering his servants to murder his half-brother. Absalom then fled to his grandfather, the King of Geshur, and remained in exile. After five years he was restored to the palace court. David appeared unaware or unable to prevent this son’s ambition that led to a successful palace coup against his own father. Here a much-loved son would not return that love to his father. (Is this a type of the heavenly Father loving a sinful, uncaring world?) When David later gives orders before engaging Absalom’s rebel army he says, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (1 Samuel 18:5). But David’s commanders knew a rebellion could not be successfully crushed if its leader wasn’t executed. Yet on learning the death of Absalom, David uttered his heartbroken cry of mourning and grief, perhaps mixed with self-reproach for his tragic inability to influence as a father: “O my son Absalom – my son, my son Absalom – if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). This depth of emotion is expressed later with Christ weeping over Jerusalem, in Paul’s wish to be accursed for his brethren’s sake, and is it not true of us? If only we had power to effect change to the course of errant children or people.

Passion and the “stripes of men”

Lovingly, God forgives sin, as with David’s, but there is a price to pay – the law of cause and effect. To wayward but repentant children, God converts the effect of our sin into needy purifying. As He dealt with David, so He’ll deal with us. He will forgive, but He may also use the rod. He will restore us to favor, yet require us to drink the bitterness our sin brings. We learn through David’s family tragedies that when we choose an action we also choose its consequences.

David’s bitter harvest started with Bathsheba’s newborn child. An innocent baby died for the sin of its parents and a three-fold prophecy unfolded as the prophet Nathan revealed God’s judgment. Because David despised God’s commands by murder and adultery, “the sword shall not depart from your house…I will raise up an adversary against you…your wives will be taken from you...and because you did this secretly, I will do this publicly...and the child will die” (2 Samuel 12:10-14).

God was not going to allow David’s pagan enemies conclude His King could have an heir through murder and adultery. All was fulfilled. The “stripes of the children of men” was God as Father disciplining His children for sin (2 Samuel 7:14). God was chastening David his chosen, while David’s own children are yet to face future repentance. For David, paying the price unfolded in his inability as a father to lovingly guide a polygamous household.

David’s innermost dilemma

When Amnon forcibly humiliated his half-sister similar to the way David treated Uriah’s wife, what could David do? He was looking in a mirror. In Amnon’s sin he was confronted by his own unbridled passion. In Amnon’s murder two years later, David encountered again his own blood-guiltiness with Uriah. Absalom’s fratricide might never have happened if David had taken measures to punish Amnon. But how could he administer the penalty due his son’s sexual impurity (Leviticus 18:6,9,29) when he had evaded it himself? How, too, could he punish Absalom for murder, when he himself had eluded the murderer’s fate?

Even in death there is failure

The account of David’s dying doesn’t illustrate a loving devoted family hovering around his bedside. Instead, cold-hearted political forces were at work. Adonijah, the next firstborn, is more concerned to be the next King than about his dying father. He initiates a crowning of himself supported by Joab the military commander and Priest Abiathar. How could a son be so uncaring, so openly ambitious? Perhaps it’s not too unlike family squabbles today over inheritance before one has even died! There is a poignant bracketed thought. His father had not rebuked him at anytime saying, “Why have you done so”(1 Kings 1:6). Proverbial wisdom leaps to mind again with, “Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of correction will drive it far from him” (22:15). And, “Do not withhold correction from a child, For if you beat him with a rod, he will not die. You shall beat him with a rod, And deliver his soul from hell” (23:13-14).

It leaves us with sobering thoughts about the importance of early childhood training. “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, But a child left to himself brings shame to his mother”(Proverbs 29:15), and “Correct your son, and he will give you rest; Yes, he will give delight to your soul” (verse 17).

David didn’t seem to get much rest from his children during his lifetime, as with many today. Despite our best efforts, increased child and family knowledge, we may also be thwarted by culture, passion and “the stripes of men.”

In the world to come, David will find rest and delight in all his children. And we too, like him, will share in that marvelous parental delight.

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