Sin Multiplies; The Mistakes of King David
“Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” King Solomon wrote those words in Proverbs 22:6. While there are obvious exceptions to this rule, in general, what you get out of a child is what you put into him. Conscientious parents know that the goal is not to rear children, but rather to create adults. Proverbs was written from father to son and is full of down-to-earth advice, reminders that the world is not as it should be, and practical, yet gentle guidance.
Proverbs is not only a book of father-knows-best, even mother gets in a few words (1:8, 6;20) as she reminds her son to bind the parental teaching around his heart. The thread that runs through the Book of Proverbs is encouragement and verbal instruction, though discipline (but not punishment) makes several appearances as well. 29:15 reminds the son that “The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself is a disgrace to his mother.” Discipline is the parental fruit of love as chapter 3:12 states “The Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in.”
Solomon, the wisest man in the world at the time, knew the importance of properly raising children. Because he loved them he wanted them to grow up right, and in his wisdom, he knew that he was in a position to teach them. Perhaps he had learned by example from his own father. Not an example of what should be done, unfortunately, rather of what not to do.
“The rod of correction imparts wisdom, but a child left to himself is a disgrace to his mother.” Discipline is the parental fruit of love.
The Seed is Planted
King Solomon was the son of King David. 2 Samuel 11 teaches that one spring David noticed a woman bathing. She was a beautiful woman and David lusted after her in his heart. David wanted Bathsheba and what a king wants, a king gets. At least in ancient Israel. David asked about her and was informed that she was the wife of Uriah the Hittite. That bit of news did not deter the lustful king, so he sent his men to bring her to him. They lay together, and their union resulted in pregnancy. Now that put a bit of a damper on things. David was king. Nobody was going to tell him what he could or couldn’t do, everything seemed fine until Bathsheba got pregnant.
To cover for his affair, David sent an order for Uriah to return home from the army, hoping that Uriah would have sex with Bathsheba and think the child was his. Unfortunately for David, Uriah was too much of a military man to leave his brothers-in-arms behind. David rewarded Uriah’s loyalty with murder. David sent Uriah to the front lines, knowing that he would be killed in action. With Uriah out of the way, David was free to marry Bathsheba. David was king. Ancient kings did as they pleased with no one to hold them accountable for their actions.
David showed why he was great: he was a man of God. He sinned, quite terribly, but rather than deny his wicked and murderous actions, he showed true repentance.
A Higher Authority
David was surrounded by yes men who wouldn’t stand up to him, but one thing set him apart from other ancient kings: a higher authority. While the belief that kings were near deity was a common conviction for neighboring countries at the time, the Israelites had no such delusions. They knew that there was only one king—the King of all kings. And He had a spokesman by the name of Nathan. After David married Bathsheba, Nathan confronted David and called him out for his sins. David could have ignored Nathan or ordered him killed. Instead, David showed why he was great: he was a man of God. He sinned, quite terribly, but rather than deny his wicked and murderous actions, he showed true repentance.
David admitted to Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:13 that he had sinned against the Lord. David acknowledged his sin but feeling remorse for murder won’t bring the deceased back from the dead. David still had to be punished. 2 Samuel tells us that the son borne to David and Bathsheba grew ill and died. Now one may take issue with this point; David sinned. David committed adultery and covered it up with murder. Bathsheba and her son were punished for this. Is this just? Perhaps the child’s death was a natural event, the infant mortality rate was extremely high back then. Infants died all the time. Up until about a hundred years or so, a 90-year-old had a greater life-expectancy than a 9-day old. At any rate, whether the event was natural or supernatural, the important thing to remember here is that David believed that he was punished for his sin. And David believed that the punishment was the loss of his son. For all intents and purposes, David had paid for his crime.
Over time, David again lay with Bathsheba and she again became pregnant. She gave birth to another son and named him Solomon. Solomon was only one of David’s nineteen sons, and the one who would be heir to the throne. David had many daughters as well, but only one is mentioned by name, the unfortunate princess, Tamar. Apparently good looks ran in David’s family, 2 Samuel 13 teaches that Tamar was a beautiful virgin. As princess, Tamar was likely betrothed to the prince of a neighboring kingdom. As a young woman, she had her whole life ahead of her. Unfortunately for the young princess, her life didn’t turn out as planned.
David’s son, and Tamar’s half-brother, Amnon fell in love with Tamar. Amnon sulked about the palace because he couldn’t have Tamar, he was so obvious in his distress that his friend Jonadab (David’s nephew by his brother Shimeah) noticed and commented on Amnon’s appearance. Upon learning that Amnon was upset because he couldn’t have Tamar, Jonadab offered him advice; trick the poor girl into spending time with him. Amnon pretended he was sick so as to have an excuse to be alone with Tamar and once he had her to himself, he raped her.
As much as he previously lusted after Tamar, is how much he now hated her. Amnon had a servant forcibly remove her from his sight and bolted the door after her. Tamar was wearing a beautiful ornamental robe which she tore as a sign of grief and poured ashes on her head as was the custom at the time. Her brother, Absalom, comforted Tamar and took her in. Sadly, Tamar was now ‘damaged goods” any betrothal she had was now void. Her future had been stolen along with her virginity. She was lucky to have Absalom to look after her. She moved into Absalom’s house, and for his part, Absalom never forgave Amnon, but harbored bitterness and hatred towards his half-brother.
King David heard about what happened, and 2 Samuel 13:21 says that he was furious, but he never acted. He failed to discipline Amnon for his crime. As both a father and a king he had the authority to punish Amnon, but he didn’t. Perhaps, due to his previous crimes, though he had legal authority, he may have felt he lacked the moral authority. Mere Biblical speculation. At any rate, Amnon got away with rape.
Tamar was David’s daughter, maybe David himself harbored hatred and bitterness just as Absalom did. Maybe David felt guilt. If he had properly punished Amnon for his crime, maybe he would still be alive. David had lost two sons by his inaction; Amnon and Absalom.
A Brother’s Revenge
David failed to properly discipline Amnon for his crime against his sister. It’s possible that if he had, Absalom may have been able to let go of his hatred. As it was, the animosity festered. Two years after the fact, Absalom invited David and all his sons to a sheepshearing event. David declined, but all of Absalom’s brothers, including Amnon attended. When Amnon was good and drunk, Absalom ordered his men to kill Amnon. His brothers, witnessing the murder, jumped on their mules and fled for their lives. (2 Samuel 13: 23-29)
Word reached David that all his many sons had been killed, and he was filled with unimaginable horror. I imagine then that there must have been some relief when his nephew Jonadab informed him that only Amnon had been killed. Jonadab told David that ever since Absalom had heard that Tamar had been raped, he had openly intended to kill Amnon. The Bible doesn’t go into any detail about what Jonadab had been thinking when he relayed this information to David.
Amnon had raped his sister at Jonadab’s advice. Did Jonadab feel guilt at his involvement? Did he originally intend for Amnon to rape Tamar, or was he just trying to get them alone together? Whether or not Jonadab had meant for Amnon to rape Tamar, he was still an accomplice. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility that had Jonadab never tried to ‘’help’’ Amnon, Tamar would still have a future, and Amnon would still be alive.
As it was, David had lost two sons; one was murdered while the other had fled to his mother’s family in the neighboring kingdom of Geshur. 2 Samuel 13: 39 tells us that David mourned for Absalom and longed to go to him, he had felt “consoled concerning Amnon’s death.” Maybe David felt the death was justified. Tamar was David’s daughter, maybe David himself harbored hatred and bitterness just as Absalom did. Maybe David felt guilt. If he had properly punished Amnon for his crime, maybe he would still be alive. David had lost two sons by his inaction; Amnon and Absalom.
Joab, David’s military commander, knew that David missed Absalom, so he arranged for Absalom to return to Israel. Though David had given Absalom permission to return, he still didn’t want to see him. This was unfortunate, both men needed to speak to each other as they had a lot that needed to get out into the open. To let a wound properly heal, eventually you need to take the band-aid off. Neither men did that, so the wound continued to become infected.
2 Samuel tells us that Absalom was a handsome man with luxuriously thick hair. He had three sons, and a daughter who he named after his beloved sister Tamar. He lived in Israel for two years before demanding to meet with David. Their meeting appeared pleasant, Absalom bowed before the king, and David blessed him with a kiss. That’s all the Bible says about the subject, and it appears as if the men had another missed opportunity to heal.
Over time, Absalom plotted coup against his father. He sat at the city gate and addressed anybody who came with a complaint telling them “If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who as a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice!” (2 Samuel 15:4) This endeared Absalom to the hearts of the public. After four years of this, Absalom went to Hebron and gathered hundreds of men as his followers. His plot continued to grow, coming to a head when Absalom slept with David’s concubines on the roof of the palace. The Israelites now had to decide who to back; David or his son. The two had reached the point of no return.
David and Absalom went into battle, a fierce conflict of hundreds of thousands of men, that spread throughout the countryside. Though engaged in mortal combat, David still loved his son, instructing his men not to harm him, a difficult position for an army trying to stop the domestic invaders. Eventually David gained the upper hand, and as the skirmish moved from the field to the Forest of Ephraim, the number of casualties grew to over 20,000. Ironically, more were killed by the forest than the sword (2 Samuel 18:8). It was in this forest that Absalom’s good looks and thick head of hair betrayed him.
Absalom’s mule went under a large oak and Absalom’s hair got tangled in the branches. Absalom hung there helpless, one of David’s men saw Absalom hanging in midair and, following the king’s wishes, refused to harm him. So Joab had ten of his armor-bearers surround Absalom and kill him. David’s warriors were thrilled that they had won the fight. Their victory was short-lived however, as David was grief-stricken upon hearing about the death of his son. He cried out in anguish over his slain son, declaring that he should have died instead of Absalom. This greatly demoralized the troops who had risked their lives to defend David.
A Happy Ending?
David returned to Jerusalem, won back the hearts of the populace, and continued to lead until his death, when Solomon, son of Bathsheba, succeeded him as king. In his lifetime, David had no more trouble with rebellion, his kingdom, which was split between North and South, had remained tentatively repaired, but it wasn’t a permanent fix. During Solomon’s reign, the kingdom was irreparably divided.
Could all of this had been avoided? King David, though considered a man of righteousness, committed a deeply egregious sin. He had an affair and covered up his misdeed with murder. Nathan called David out for his sin and David repented. His infant son died, and David felt responsible for the loss of that son, believing it to be a punishment from God Almighty. In theory, the whole mess should have been over. He married Bathsheba, had another son with her, and life continued. Sadly, the consequences of his actions continued right along with it.
Amnon raped Tamar, he should have been exiled, but wasn’t. Absalom ultimately killed Amnon and David seemed to have considered the matter dropped. But it was far from over. David had proven himself impotent when it came to his children. Because of his own abominable sin, he lacked the moral authority to discipline his own children. And one thing that children need is loving discipline and guidance. David’s failure to correct his children, made Absalom believe that he could challenge David for his very throne. In the ensuing battle, David lost his son—the son whom he deeply loved, though he had previously tried to kill him. The seeds of sin that David had sown when he gave his own seed to Bathsheba had grown to destroy the lives of three of his children, two of whom were ultimately killed. 20,000 men were killed in the fight between David and his son, and a kingdom was divided.
We all sin. Adultery is a common sin, while thankfully, murder is not. When we sin our actions effect not only us, but others close to us. Some people destroy their own lives due to their sins and some people’s sins destroy the lives of others. Thankfully, most of us aren’t in a position to destroy a nation or cause the deaths of tens of thousands of people through our mistakes. David sinned three times; adultery, murder, and failure to effectively control his children. When we sin, it’s bad. When a leader sins it’s disastrous. We would all do well to remember that actions have consequences. And when we do sin, and we will, we shouldn’t let it affect how we raise our own children. They still need guidance and correction regardless of our personal faults.
Some people are a lesson in how to behave. Others are a lesson in how not to behave. At alternating point during his life, David was both.
© 2018 Anna Watson