Failed Fathers




II Samuel 13:20-22

20 And Absalom her brother said unto her, Hath Amnon thy brother been with thee? but hold now thy peace, my sister: he is thy brother; regard not this thing. So Tamar remained desolate in her brother Absalom's house.

21 But when king David heard of all these things, he was very wroth.

22 And Absalom spake unto his brother Amnon neither good nor bad: for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had forced his sister Tamar.


David was the youngest son of Jesse and the great grandson of Ruth and Boaz. He was a red-haired, handsome young man, possessed of great physical prowess. We all remember how David killed Goliath. If he was around today, he might be a pitcher in the major leagues. He was also a great military leader. He became king of Israel at a national low point, and led his people to victory after victory. He created an imposing empire that stretched from Syria to Egypt. He was also a man of deep spirituality. Like a good ARP, he was a singer of psalms. Scholars argue about how many of the psalms David actually wrote. We do not know for sure but it likely that he wrote many of them. So David was an immensely talented individual, charismatic, intelligent, and a man of God.

He was also a failed father. Like all oriental kings, David had many wives and concubines, and he had a passel of kids. Absalom and Tamar were the children of one of Davidís wives. Amnon was the son of another wife. Amnon was Davidís eldest son, and the heir to the throne, and David loved him. Amnon conceived a lust for his half-sister Tamar. He feigned sickness, tricked David into sending Tamar to his apartment to take care of him, and raped her. But having raped poor Tamar, he then despised her. This makes no sense but it seems to happen all too frequently. Amnon said that she got what she deserved. He called her a slut, and kicked her out into the street. This was his way of justifying an unjustifiable action.

Well this was a terrible scandal, and everybody said, Tamar was terribly wronged and something ought to be done to Amnon. Since Amnon was the crown prince, the only person in the kingdom who had the authority to do anything was the king, Amnonís father, David. We are told in v21 that David was angry, but he did not do anything because he loved Amnon. We wonder, did he love Tamar? Apparently not.

Absalom was Tamarís brother, and at first he did not do anything either. He did not even say anything about the rape of his sister. But we are told in v22 that Absalom hated Amnon for what he did to Tamar. Absalom took Tamar into his house and took care of her. Two years went by. Everybody forgot about poor Tamar, everybody except Absalom. One day Absalom organized a party, invited all the kingís sons including Amnon. It was a good party. They were eating mutton and lamb, they were singing songs, the wine was flowing freely, and Absalom and his servants sort of gathered around Amnon, and right at the height of the festivities, they drew their knives and stabbed him to death. Then Absalom fled for his life, because he had not only killed his half brother, he had killed the heir to the throne.

Now we have mixed feelings about Absalom. He was an assassin, and we certainly cannot condone that, but Amnon should have paid for what he did to Tamar, and clearly David was not going to do anything.

David when he learned about this was distraught because he really loved Amnon. What was David to do now? Absalom was the second son and now Absalom was the heir to the throne, but Absalom had commited fratricide, and thereby removed himself from that position. David had other sons, but he could not figure out what to do with Absalom. He let him stay in exile for three years and then he brought him back to Jerusalem, but still would not see him and would not recognize him as crown prince. Two more years went by before David finally forgave Absalom, but Absalom never forgave David and Absalom organized a revolt, which temporarily drove David from Jerusalem. David regained his throne only after a bloody battle in which Absalom was killed. Once again, David was a failed father.

Now David had a third son, Chileah, who disappears from the narrative. Perhaps he died of natural causes, but we wonder about that. Davidís fourth son was Adonijah, who probably should have been king, but at the end of Davidís life, Bathsheba convinced David to set aside Adonijah and make Solomon king. Solomon promptly killed Adonijah. Solomon was a disaster as a king. He had a long reign but he so completely bankrupted the country that at his death the whole thing collapsed. So you can argue that once again David made the wrong choice. He failed as a father.

Today is fatherís day, and as I considered a sermon this week, I thought that I would turn to the scripture and find an example of an outstanding father and hold him up before you today, and say to all fathers, Be like him. It seemed like a good idea for a sermon, but it did not work because I found no example, none.

We could start with Adam, but he was the one who got us kicked out of paradise in the first place, and of his first two sons, one killed the other. No, Adam will not do.

Then there was Noah. Noah was a good man, a man who walked with God, but he wound up cursing his son Ham because ham mocked him, mocked Noah, when he was drunk.

Then there was Abraham, another good man who walked with God. A couple of weeks ago I preached on Abraham and Hagar and Sarah and pointed out that Abraham allowed Sarah to banish his son Ishmael and Ishmaelís mother Hagar. This is the same Abraham who was ready to cut his son Isaacís throat on Mt Zion, until God stopped him. I do not think I can recommend Abraham as an example of good parenting.

Then Isaac, when he had two sons, Esau and Jacob, loved Esau and apparently seldom noticed Jacob.

Jacob had 12 sons, but he loved Joseph so much and favored Joseph so much that he provoked his other sons into selling Joseph into slavery. We might say that in a sense Genesis is a story of failed fathers.

Skipping forward, the book of 1 Samuel opens with a failed father. Eli was the priest of the tabernacle at Shiloh. We are told his sons were a bad lot. That is why Eli accepted Samuel to be raised at the tabernacle, because his sons were too evil to serve at the altar of God. Apparently Samuel learned his lessons all too well because his sons were no better than Eliís sons. Thus Samuel was yet another failed father.

The people in their disgust turned to a king. Their first king was Saul. Saul is an exception. Jonathanís Saulís son was one of the most noble and admirable young men in all of Scripture. Saul must have done something right. He was not a failed father. Unfortunately, he was a failed king. He was defeated in battle by the Philistines, Jonathan was killed, and Saul commited suicide on Mount Gilboa.

Now at this point, you are probably saying is that the best that you can do? Is poor Saul the best example we have in the OT of a father? Perhaps we should turn to the NT. Do we find better examples of parenting there? What about the parents of our Lord? What about Mary and Joseph? One assumes that Mary and Joseph were good parents, but in fact the major example we have of their parenting was when they lost the boy Jesus for 3 days in Jerusalem. Three days! Today we haul such parents into court for child neglect and DSS seizes the children. Well maybe that was the only time Mary and Joseph messed up, but we do not know that. In fact, Joseph disappears from scripture after that incident and we do not know what happened to him. Some say he died and some say that he just abandoned his family, but we do not know, and therefore we do not know that Joseph was a good father.

What about others? We are told that all the apostles were married except Paul, and we assume that they had children, but we are given no examples. They may have been good fathers, but we donít know that.

Now at this point, you may be thinking that I have missed something here. I have missed the best parent in all of scripture, the loving father who dotes on all his childrenóGod. God is obviously the perfect parent. God created us, so he is literally our parent, our father. God loves us the way a parent ought to love us. God is faithful to us, even when we are not faithful to him. God never gives up on us. That is a parent. That is the way every parent ought to be. So you might say. If you want to know how to parent, look at God.

This is true, but that does not really work for us, because we are not God. God is almighty, infinite, incomprehensible. In some ways, God is totally with us. In some ways, God is totally distinct from us. God is to be worshipped and adored, and God does show us the perfect parent. But we know that we are never going to be that. And all these imperfect human fathers in the Bible demonstrate exactly that same point.

I have listed a lot of fathers who did not do a very good job of being a father. Some, like David, did a horrible job. I suppose that to some extent that reassures us who are fathers. Sometimes we doubt our ability to be a father. Sometimes when I look back on the job I did as a father, I do not think I did a very good job, but maybe I was not as bad as some. At least I knew better than to give one son a coat of many colors. Every family counselor will tell you that favoritism toward one child is destructive to a family.

But I am sure that if a psychologist went back over every event and instance of my fathering career, she would find many places where I messed up. What does that prove? That I am an imperfect human being like everybody else. To put it in biblical terms, I am a sinner like everyone else. Perhaps that is the major point the bible is making with all these failed fathers I have mentioned today. We all mess up. We are all sinners. We all need forgiveness.

The perfect parent knows that. God loves us with a total fatherly love and therefore God forgives. God sent Jesus to us to announce his love and forgiveness. The point of the animal sacrifices of the OT was to show us how seriously God takes Sin. Something had to die to pay for our mistakes and misdeeds. But these animal sacrifices were only a shadow of the real sacrifice. Ultimately, the son of God was the real sacrifice for our sins.

Sometimes we laugh about our goofups and messups. We belittle our sins. We are all imperfect people, ha, ha, so lets now worry about it too much. The cross brings us up short. Holy God takes any infringement on his holiness very seriously, so seriously that God had to die for our sins. Christ was incarnate God. He paid the penalty or price for our goofups and messups on the cross.

So whether we are talking about fathers or mothers or children, we are all sinners in need of a savior. Our loving father has given us that savior in Jesus Christ.

But he has not given us Jesus to use as an excuse for sin. We cannot say we are saved by the grace of God in Jesus Christ and therefore we should go out and sin some more. That is not the way it works. We are saved by grace and therefore we should strive to do better.

No human father is a perfect father. What then should he do? Accept the forgiveness of God in Christ, and donít make the same mistake next time. That is all any of us can do. God does forgive. That is the good news. God does forgive. And, God forgives so that we can do better. That is also the good news.


If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant

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Last Modified: 01/14/12