It starts with fat, old Eli. He is a lousy father. Scripture records that Eli honored his sons above the Lord. He would not properly discipline them for despising the offering of the Lord and for sleeping with the women who served at the doorway of the tent of meeting. This was one father who certainly didn’t know best.
Samuel was privy to Eli’s weak fathering. In fact, the Lord made the young Samuel the message bearer when he warned Eli for the last time that He was carrying out judgment against his house “because his sons brought a curse on themselves and he did not rebuke them.” You would think the one thing that Samuel would not be is a weak father. But what do we read? “His sons, however, did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted justice.” It seems that he raised sons much like Eli. However, in fairness to Samuel, Scripture does not record the Lord commanding him to discipline them. Maybe Samuel tried. Nevertheless, Samuel still doesn’t seem like a father who knew best.
Skipping Saul for the moment, David is next up in our litany of fatherhood. Here’s a real zero for you. When you are feeling like a lousy father, read about David. You’ll feel much better. Where should I begin to list this man’s paternal failings? How about starting with the rape of Tamar? Tamar, David’s daughter, is raped by Amnon, David’s son. Scripture records that David heard all about this and “was very angry.” But he did nothing. Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, takes matters into his hands two years later and kills Amnon.
Now the trouble with Absalom starts. After murdering his half-brother, Absalom flees to where his mother was from. Far from being angry at his murderous son, David “mourned for his son every day….King David longed to go out to Absalom.” Finally, Absalom worms his way back to Jerusalem, stirs up a rebellion against his aging father, and drives him from Jerusalem. David fights back. But when he sends his soldiers out to do battle with Absalom he charged them, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” Well, they didn’t do that exactly. General Joab (a.k.a. The Butcher) puts three spears through Absalom’s heart as he is hanging helplessly by the head from a tree. Then ten other men finished him off. When David hears the news, he walks back and forth with his hands over his face crying loudly, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
There couldn’t be a father who knew less than David. I don’t have the space to tell you about how his weak parenting all the way to his deathbed almost led to the kingdom slipping away from the God-ordained Solomon into the hands of Adonijah. Saul may have been an unfaithful king, but he was a better father. Look at Jonathon! There was a well-reared son. Faithful to the Lord, to His chosen-king, David, and yet still faithful to his father! David is a weak father. If you want to teach a Bible class on poor fathering, there could be no better example than David. In fact, if you want such a Bible Study, the Reformed have them. They will show you how to be a father who knows best by not being a David.
But guess what? Though I have over the years taken such an approach to David, I don’t think that is why the Holy Spirit had these fathering foibles of David recorded. Romans 15:4 says, “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” I don’t find much encouragement or hope in David’s paternal atrocities except in a left-handed sort of way. If I do better than David, there is hope for my fathering. However, fathering skills is not what the New Testament highlights about David. No, St. Paul particularly notes this about David. He was a man after God’s own heart.
David’s life illustrates an unimaginable Gospel. A heavenly Father who forgives and forgives, and forgives yet again, and then still some more. A heavenly Father who would rather die than have sinners die for their sins. A heavenly Father who is constantly turning away from the sins of His children rather than ferreting them out.
Yes, this is the heart of David, and God tells us this man is after My own heart. We have a God who can’t bear to punish the sins of His children. We don’t have the God of Wesley who delights in roasting sinners over an open fire. We have a God who doesn’t want anything to do with sons (or daughters for that matter) of thunder who would call down fire from heaven on those who dare reject Him. We have a God who doesn’t turn away from a woman with five divorces, or a woman with seven devils, or a woman found in the very act of adultery. We have a God who tells men they will deny Him, but then tells them, “Let not your hearts be troubled.” We have a God who looks at the men nailing Him to a cross and forgives. We have a God who stoops to wash the feet of men busy arguing about who is the greatest and then gives them His Body and His Blood as if they were all greater than He!
David’s decisions don’t represent good parenting; Scripture doesn’t say they do. It does say his heart is representative of God’s. Our God is so forgiving that His way of dealing with us in our sins can only be illustrated by outlandish parenting, by a father who looks the other way so much, and tolerates so much that he looks like a fool; he looks weak; he looks guilty.
But what did we expect from a Father who gives up His only beloved Son for our sakes? But that’s the trouble. We have come to expect it to such an extent that His radical, forgiving love doesn’t come home to us like it should. Not only do we have a Father who knows best, He loves best…better than we can possibly know.