King David is a popular figure of Biblical history, isn’t he? It’s impossible to think of him without also thinking about one of the many stories that share a snippet of his life. Both adults and kids know at least a handful of adventures he had from his anointment to his death.
But with every thrilling tale comes an often overlooked aspect of his life—in this case, the tragedy involving his son Absalom.
It all started when his sister Tamar was raped and disgraced by their half-brother Amnon. Though furious, David supposedly did nothing to punish Amnon for what he did. Absalom took his sister in and became her caregiver, all the while hating Amnon. A few years after the fact, Absalom finally took matters into his own hands and killed the unsuspecting half-brother. He immediately fled Jerusalem and didn’t come back until years later, when David requests his return. Another chunk of time later, Absalom started conspiring to usurp his father’s throne. First he rose in popularity with the Israelites, then he spoke to them on his father’s behalf, then he crowned himself king, and then he declared war on David and his followers. In the end, Absalom lost the war and paid for it with his life.
So…what happened? When David pardoned Absalom and allowed him to return home, this gesture should’ve guaranteed a happier ending. Yes, he’d have to live with his brother’s murder for the rest of his life. And yes, Tamar would still live with the consequences of Amnon’s wrongdoings. But David’s gift of mercy could’ve at least helped them live the rest of their lives quietly and come to terms with everything that happened, right? So what went wrong down the road? What made Absalom turn against his own father in such a violent, self-destructive way? Well, let’s take another look.
First, Amnon raped Tamar. Back then, rape victims received little to no justice. And nowhere was this more painfully obvious than in the way David reacted to what happened. Though the Bible records his fury, it doesn’t give any indication that he punished his son for such wickedness. Whether out of embarrassment over his actions with Bathsheba (for this is after David committed adultery, killed a man, and took his wife) or any other contributing factor, Amnon got to strut around without any repercussions for his actions.
Understandably, this left Absalom feeling indignant for his sister. So if David wouldn’t do anything, then Absalom would. And as we know, he did. He killed Amnon, and then fled for his life. And while David did invite him back, this wasn’t until years later. According to the Bible, he didn’t take action right away out of grief—not just for Amnon’s life, but also for Absalom’s soul. And while Absalom was eventually invited back, he didn’t reunite with his father until another good chunk of time later. And then, after another good chunk of time, Absalom declared war and lost his life.
My theory is this: As much as we love David for his devotion to God and for his service to Israel, he may not have been the greatest father figure. Don’t get me wrong, he loved his children and wanted the best for them. But when it came to dealing with their bad behavior, he couldn’t be the teacher and protector they needed him to be. If he had taken action against Amnon aside from just getting angry, maybe Tamar would’ve gotten the justice she deserved. If David had been more cautious about allowing Amnon and Absalom alone together, maybe Absalom wouldn’t have had the opportunity to kill his brother. If David had been less passive and actively searched for Absalom when he fled, maybe he would’ve mended the already strained relationship. But as the Bible alleges, David did none of these things. He allowed Amnon to walk away free. He allowed Absalom the perfect opportunity to murder. And he allowed himself to wallow in grief and self-pity rather than try to set things right.
Now, this may not have been the only contribution to the greatest tragedy of his life. The Bible doesn’t always give a lot of detail to its stories, so there may be other factors that played a role. Nevertheless, this serves as a cautionary tale of what happens when evil is addressed but never dealt with.
Photo source: http://thereforenow.com/2016/02/o-my-son-absalom/