A new year often means a look back at successes and failures over the past year, which means new resolutions, new vision and new hope for the future. One of the great needs in 2016 is for men to be biblical fathers. An absence of fatherhood has calamitous reverberations in the home, church and culture, as wives and mothers are left with unnecessary burdens, and the church and culture are left with unloved, undisciplined and unruly young men and women.
Even in the past year, Tony Pulis – manager of West Brom football club – spoke on BBC radio about the great need for mentoring in football today. He noted that apprentices nowadays are undisciplined and lack self-control. He put it down to the breakdown of the family and absent father figures in the lives of young men. But he did cite Christian family values as one thing that had a good effect.
First Kings begins, “Now King David was old and advanced in years. And although they covered him with clothes, he could not get warm” (1 Ki. 1:1). David was waning and one of his sons, Adonijah, in collusion with Joab, David’s army commander, planned to take over the throne. David eventually took action and made Solomon king, but it took Bathsheba to remind her husband that Solomon was the heir according to David’s promise.
Solomon succeeded David to the throne. However, in the story of David’s succession we see the results of both wise and foolish fatherhood. In other words, David’s inconsistencies as a father were vividly displayed in the way he dealt with his sons, and in the consequences for his life, for their lives, and for the kingdom of Israel.
So what lessons can fathers today learn for 2016, as they look back to King David centuries ago?
1. Fathers Must Discipline Their Children
David’s regular failure to discipline his children is highlighted in First Kings 1:6. Speaking with reference to Adonijah, the author says:
“His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?’ He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom.”
David indulged Adonijah. He sinned by omission in not correcting him and training him. The result was a spoiled and disobedient son who eventually turned into an entitled young man. But this was not the first time David had failed in this regard. You only need to look back in Second Samuel 13 to see David neglect his responsibility to execute justice when his son, Amnon, raped his half-sister Tamar. Amnon was lustful, devious, immature, and violent. An undisciplined child had grown into an evil man. The further result of David’s abdication of the discipline of Amnon was that his other son, Absalom, became hardened and embittered against his father’s lack of justice. Seeking revenge, he eventually killed his own brother, Amnon, and fled from his father (2 Sam. 13:23-29).
David knew he had not taken decisive action with Amnon, but realized that if he forgave Absalom he would be admitting his error. Nevertheless, he dithered again and did not ban Absalom completely. Then, when Absalom eventually returned to the king’s presence, nothing was resolved: “…he came to the king and bowed himself on his face to the ground before the king, and the king kissed Absalom” (2 Sam. 14:33). David did not deal with Absalom’s heart, so his son’s bitterness remained. It eventually led to Absalom’s death. Like Eli before him (1 Sam. 3), David knew about the evil of his children yet consistently neglected to restrain and correct them.
Fathers must discipline their children (Eph. 6:4). Acting early prevents ruinous consequences later because a child left undisciplined today will become the bane of society tomorrow. When he exercises justice, a father shows care for the child he disciplines, and (if it is the case), for the one his child sins against. However, too often fathers are afraid to “displease” their children: they are afraid of pushback, or a bad reaction. Especially with teenagers there is often a fear that they will run away or indulge further in sin if a father imposes correction and restrictions. Ultimately a father who doesn’t discipline is seeking his own comfort. In that case, the father has forgotten his responsibility as head of the home and as the primary authority over his children. Too often the authority structure is reversed.
Solomon says in the book of Proverbs, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him” (Prov. 22:15). Discipline does not always require corporal punishment, like spanking, but it always involves training and correction. Fathers who will not exercise biblically mandated authority sin by their omission, doing harm to their children and others through them.
Nevertheless, fathers must discipline with the right attitude—not being harsh or domineering, so as to provoke children to anger (Eph. 6:4). In other words, the impatient self-serving attitudes and actions of a severe father can cause a child to become disheartened. But indulgent, negligent fathers who don’t discipline biblically may actually provoke their children to anger and resentment through their lack of loving correction, as in the case of Absalom.
Finally, fathers must discipline their children by dealing with the heart issue behind their sin. They should angle their children towards what pleases the Lord, not simply their father. They must display the displeasure and the mercy of God in their discipline, always pointing their child towards the grace of the cross of Christ. Behaviour modification is superficial. So much of a father’s work is heart work. Remember, Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah had rebellious hearts that were never dealt with.
So we can see that David’s consistent, sinful failure to discipline his children had widespread reverberations, resulting in the deaths of three of his sons. Even when we are saved in Christ, our sin always has consequences.
2. Fathers Must Be Examples To Their Children
It is ironic that Amnon’s, Absalom’s, and Adonijah’s sins reflect David’s sins of ommission. David was greedy, sexually immoral, and murderous, committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband Uriah killed (2 Sam. 11). The immediate consequences were seen in the death of David and Bathsheba’s child (2 Sam. 12). David was not a good example to his children.
Fathers must be what they teach their children. Otherwise, a child will see a hypocrite. They will follow what they see in their father’s life as much as what they hear from their father’s mouth. There should be no gap between a father’s life and doctrine. Integrity of character is king because a father must not only teach his children what to do, but he must show them how it’s done.
A father can be a bad example to his children if he speaks to and treats their mother harshly. Sons may think that is the way to treat women, and daughters may think that is the way they should expect to be treated. The sins of the father are then repeated in the children.
3. Fathers Must Teach Their Children
For all David’s failures to discipline his sons and to be an example to them, he is not without merit. He was still a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam. 13:14; Acts 13:22). He did teach Solomon. Solomon’s Proverbs, which are written in the early chapters as a father’s instruction to his son, indicate that David taught him the fear of the Lord as a child (Prov. 4:3-4).
1. Fathers should teach their children from an early age.
David taught Solomon from a “tender” age (Prov. 4:3). There is a time when the spirit of a child is most flexible and that is when they are young. Character building in the early years is far easier than later on when bad habits are ingrained.
2. Fathers should teach their children to love and obey God.
David says to Solomon:
“…be strong, and show yourself a man, and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn” (1 Kings 2:2-3).
A father’s instruction must always be in the context of commitment to God’s ways and words. David tells his son, “be strong,” and shows that true strength is connected to obeying God. In the New Testament Paul tells fathers, “…bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). He has Christian teaching in view.
3. Fathers should teach their children biblical masculinity and femininity.
David also passes on some final words of instruction to Solomon as he passes on his throne to him. David’s instruction to Solomon is distinctly masculine. He says, “show yourself a man” (1 Ki. 2:2). That means there is particular manly behavior, which is different from that of a woman.
David unpacks this as leadership involving sacrificial provision and protection for the sons of Barzillai, and exacting justice upon Joab and Shimei (1 Ki. 2:5-9). He teaches Solomon what it means to be a man. Fathers must not only teach their children to love God and obey him. They must also teach them to be a biblical man or woman, not simply a generic Christian.
The Son of David Redeems Fatherhood
In many ways David is like many fathers today. He was, in fact, a mixed bag as a king and as a father, even in his kingly role of governing and nurturing his own children. His faults show how the sins of those in leadership can impact others, and consequently demonstrate the responsibility of those fathers who lead their homes. David’s sins of commission as well as omission had devastating effects in his life, the lives of his children and in the lives of those around. And Solomon’s successes were learned in the hard school of failures with Amnon, Absalom, and Adonijah. But God never intended to make David our ultimate example. His failures showed the need for a perfect King and a perfect Father.
God promised that this King would be from David’s line and would rule in righteousness reflecting the perfect, loving rule of his Heavenly Father (2 Sam. 7:12-15; cf. Jer. 23:5). The true Son of David, Jesus Christ, redeemed David’s fatherhood and all fatherhood, and through his atoning death and resurrection, he alone leads us to our one true Father in heaven (John 14:6-7). Now, in the New Covenant, Christian fathers are able to reflect God’s fatherhood and Christ’s kingly rule towards their own children.