The thing about parenthood that weighs on me most is the responsibility to my children to “Train [them] in the way [they] should go;” (Proverbs 22:6). Ultimately I will not be responsible for their life choices, but it is the responsibility of my husband and I to lay a good foundation so that, by God’s grace, they may come to love the Lord and to live a life giving glory to Him.
This is a matter of daily prayer and practice. I do my best to pray for them each day, and we try to facilitate a household where God is at the center of everything. We know that because He loves us, God disciplines his children (Hebrews 12:6), and I need to love my kids by giving them discipline. But – now I know this is shocking – disciplining a toddler is stinkin’ hard.
Our oldest child’s favorite word is “no,” and she delights to test the limits of EVERYTHING. To get attention, she shrieks as loud as she can. The thing that makes me craziest? She smiles when she knows I’m angry. It is SO much easier to just let things go. It’s SO much easier to let her watch “Baby Shark” over and over again on YouTube rather than enforcing our “no screens” rule. It is SO much easier to let her run roughshod over everything rather than asking her to behave the way she is capable of behaving. I know it doesn’t get any easier. And this is just the beginning.
Over the last week as I’ve been reading further in 2 Samuel and Kings, I’ve come to realize just how merciful God is to parents to have recorded in his Word stern warnings about parenting. The story of Eli still floats through my mind all the time, but David – the man after God’s own heart – also provides a lot of warning.
David takes multiple wives, and has many children. So many children, apparently, it is difficult to be a fully-present father to them. This is highly evident in the story of Amnon, who rapes his half-sister Tamar in 2 Samuel 13. This should have never happened in the first place. David should have been around enough to ask, “Why is Amnon behaving this way,” when Amnon started “[making] himself ill.” (2 Sam 13:2) But he wasn’t, and a disgusting injustice was perpetrated against Tamar.
David is king. It is his responsibility to execute God’s justice in this situation (the penalty under the Mosaic Law for incest is death). David is Tamar’s father. It’s his job to protect her and her honor. But “When David heard of all these things, he was very angry.” (2 Sam 13:21) The Dead Sea Scrolls and Septuagint add “But he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, since he was his firstborn.”
So Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, murders Amnon. David again withholds punishment, and even lets Absalom return to Jerusalem, where there Absalom overthrows his father and attempts to reign as king. He dies as a result, but not for lack of attempts on David’s part to prevent his son’s death.
In 1 Kings, David’s fourth-born son, Adonijah senses a similar opportunity. In David’s old age, “…Adonijah … exalted himself, saying, ‘I will be king.’ [Instead of Solomon] And he prepared for himself chariots and horsemen, and fifty men to run before him. His father had never at any time displeased him by asking, ‘Why have you done thus and so?'” (1 Kings 1:5-6).
His father never displeased him by asking, “excuse me, what are you doing?” Woof.
David’s kids were all adults when these things happened. They knew they could get away with their actions because they could expect David to either not pay attention or to not follow through with a consequence, would be my guess. They were a product of their rearing.
So I have David’s example before me, as a warning to be diligent in my parenting – even when it’s hard – to protect and discipline and lead those whom God has placed under my care. But David’s example is also an encouragement. First, because his example is recorded in the Bible at all (as an aside, what other religion includes such terrible depictions of their heroes? Not many), and importantly because God still prospered David in spite of his sins. There were consequences for his actions, but David kept his heart set on God, and God had mercy. I am so thankful that God gave us His word to instruct us in this most important work, and His mercy for when we fall short.