The Failure of a Father: King David’s Shallow Version of Reconciliation

I recently finished a book entitled, “A Tale of three Kings: A Study in Brokenness.” It’s a short and fascinating read that was written to help brokenhearted Christians heal from the pain of authoritarian groups and individuals. These confused and bitter Christians desperately seek some solace and peace from the confusion and bitterness that they harbor in their soul. The book gives a portrait of submission to authority within the kingdom of God through a young David’s response to King Saul’s oppression and an older David’s response to his young son’s (Absalom) rebellion.

While I enjoyed the book and would recommend it to anyone, I have some criticism. I feel like it placed the older King David in a spotlight that makes him seem unblemished. When you read of the Scriptural account of Absalom you can certainly see his obvious failings. This was a man who murdered his half-brother and led an insurrection against his father that resulted in the death of thousands. Absalom gives the reader a vivid portrait of the harmful effects of letting emotional pain poison your soul. However, I still feel that the book should have mentioned the brokenness and failure of King David.

You can find the story of David and Absalom in 2 Samuel. This book chronicles the life of David, first as king of Judah and then king of all of Israel. The story of Absalom’s rebellion is an intriguing tale ridden with familial strife and blind ambition. The tragic events that occurred in this Old Testament narrative had enormous consequences for the nation of Israel. Property was destroyed, lives were lost, and families were torn apart.

I posit that Absalom’s rebellion could’ve been avoided if David had taken actionable steps to close the relational gap that had formed between them. By no means am I advocating that Absalom’s rebellion was just because of David’s inaction, but I believe that healing could’ve occurred rather than pain festering in this young man’s soul if his father would have had compassion on him.

When reading this narrative the tendency is to demonize Absalom because of his insurrection. However, through this story, I see how important it is with my position as an authority/public figure to reconcile with those who I have hurt by my action (or lack thereof). We leaders, carry an immense amount of weight and stature in the lives of the people that God has entrusted us to care for.

2 Samuel 13:22 gives the reader a snapshot of the inner turmoil that raged in Absalom’s soul: “And though Absalom never spoke to Amnon about this, he hated Amnon deeply because of what he had done to his sister.” This particular Scripture verse paints the picture the reader is starting to see in very vivid colors; it tells the reader that there was no interaction between the brothers over two years (Amnon raped Absalom’s sister, Tamar).

Absalom’s revenge on Amnon occurred two years later. His anger wasn’t directed solely at Amnon. I believe it was also directed at his father for his subsequent inaction. Scripture says that David was very angry, but we see no justice taken on behalf of Tamar. David had the power to do something as the person of privilege here in the story. He was the king of Israel and yet Amnon gets away with this horribly unjust crime. David had the power to confront and to provide consequences for Amnon’s crime, but did nothing.

For Absalom, two long years went by where he passed by Tamar every day in his household and was reminded of her injustice and his father’s dereliction of duty. David was known to be a man of action, a giant killer, a warrior that could put whole armies to flight. However, this same man of action failed to take action in his own household despite blatant injustice. Perhaps this was a pattern in David’s life? We see in 1 Kings 1:6 that David had never disciplined his son Adonijah. “Not even by asking, why are you doing that?”

If you find yourself in a position of privilege then you have a responsibility to name injustice and actively work to remedy it’s harmful effects in your sphere of influence. 2 Samuel 13:21 states: “when King David heard what happened, he was very angry.” The Dead Sea Scrolls and Greek versions add “but he did not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn and likely to succeed him on the throne.”

Scripture doesn’t tell us whether David consoled his daughter Tamar and if he tried to help Absalom. I would imagine that he didn’t, given Absalom’s subsequent action. Part of being a good King is having a strong situational awareness of what’s going on in your kingdom. Part of being a good father is being aware when your children are hurt. But I wonder if David in his old age allowed privilege and his position to blind him to the suffering of others.

People of privilege can have a hard time hearing the rage and anger of those who have been victimized. I wonder if David failed to empathize and embrace the anger of his young son because he was afraid of how he would respond. Absalom had good reason to be angry. His sister was brutally raped by her half-brother and nothing was done. If David would have embraced the anger that Absalom had they might have developed a deeper unity. Instead he chose to hold onto his tidy worldview and maintain a sense of security in his kingdom and household.

As a person of privilege, King David had certain benefits, advantages, and prerogatives available to him. He had the ability to execute justice which was foundational to Hebraic kingly leadership. J. J. M. Roberts elaborates on kingly responsibility in his book, In Defense of the Monarchy: The Contribution to Israelite Kingship to Biblical Theology, “The ideology of kingship emphasized the king’s duty to promote justice, and the royal administration of justice probably offered the powerless the first effective check against the oppression of powerful local leaders that they had experienced in a long time.” If David’s encounter with Bathsheeba was a misuse of royal power and Solomon’s excess was an abuse of royal power, David’s handling of Amnon (or lack thereof) was simply him not putting his power to proper use.

What am I trying to say with all of this?

We are privileged to be Christ’s ambassadors. We are a new creation and live in a new reality. We must participate with God in the ministry reconciliation and close relational gaps that occur from offense, miscommunication, and mishandling of people.

I called a friend of mine today who worked for our young professionals group several years ago and apologized for how I mishandled a tense situation that we both found ourselves in. I told him that I had the position of privilege as the pastor of the group and should’ve been more empathetic, conscientious, and merciful to him. I used my authority in a cavalier way and did not give him the grace that God gave me. A gap formed in our relationship and I let it remain that way. He was incredibly gracious to me on the call and forgave me.

What relationships are in need of mending in your life? Have you allowed the gaps to grow? Do you feel like the situation is hopeless? It is not! According to 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 God has given us the ministry of reconciliation. Partner with the Holy Spirit and believe God for a miracle in relationships that are riddled with dysfunction. Close the gap! Look out for part two of this blog next week.

I’m Harold Dorrell Briscoe. Thanks for reading. 

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