The Old Testament: 2 Samuel, I: Is it Easy to Judge a Parent’s Choice?

At the mall, I’ve witnessed some awful kids.  You know the ones, the brats who, when told by their parent to do (or NOT do) something, they ignore the parent or tell them off.  Although I must admit that it’s rather amusing to see a five-year-old tell his or her parent to go you-know-what themselves, you can’t help but notice that something is very wrong with that picture.  For whatever reason, the parent does nothing (in some cases).  These are the times I want to tell these parents: punish this child before he or she grows up to be a nightmare for the rest of us.

Still, there is a part of me that believes I would feel differently were I a parent: after all, it’s easy to say what you would do if the bad kid was yours; it’s another thing to make a hard decision when the kid IS yours.

In the 2 Samuel, King David is a parent that lets things slide when it comes to his children; although the problems he lets fester with his children don’t spill into society—that doesn’t make them any less heinous though.

Bad kids are nothing new in the Old Testament, but these kids take things up a notch.  David’s son Amnon falls for his sister.  This isn’t a case of one sibling really admiring his sister. He WANTS her.  So he concocts a scheme with the help of a friend (13:5).  Feigning sick, he asks his sister to feed him (13:6).  A caring sister, Tamar obliges, and while feeding him, he asks her to have sex (13:11).  Repulsed, she declines (13:12).  So he rapes her (13:14).

And like the scum of the earth that he is, he adds insult to injury by despising his sister post-rape. Given the severity of the action, you would think punishment would be swift.  Yet, when David learns of this heinous act, he does nothing (13:21-22).

That’s right, David does nothing.

But not everyone in the household is content to sit on his hands.  Amnon and Tamar’s brother Absalom is out for blood—Amnon’s action will not go unpunished.  He waits for a moment, and then two years later, while Amnon is drunk, Absalom has his men kill Amnon (13:29).

It’s hard not to see the justice in this, especially in a time of eye-for-an-eye; however, as a father, and as king, you’d think David would step in to at least say something.

Again, David does nothing.

Absalom took no chances, and fled to Ammihud, where he lives in exile until the king sees the wisdom to bring his son home (14:21)… although he will not meet his son. So maybe this is his form of punishment? Seems about as effective as a time out for killing someone.

Once back in Jerusalem, Absalom eventually gets a taste for power and—shockingly—takes back-handed means to assume the throne.  He amasses power through cutting off access to the king (15:3) and in so doing was able to garner favor of the people (15:6). He then plots a scheme where he assumes power in a particular town (15:10) and then moves on Jerusalem, which causes David to flee (15:16).

This action leads to a showdown, with King David’s supporters on one side and Absalom’s on the other.  During a fight between the sides, Absalom is killed (18:14-15). And in grief David calls out his son’s name (Absalom, Absalom! which apparently inspired a Faulkner novel that bears this title).

Although it’s nice to finally see a reaction from the King (and an understandable one); unfortunately, this outpouring of grief for the enemy demoralizes the troops (19:5). True, the man was grieving for his son.  It’s also easy to see that some of this could have been avoided had David handled his children when he had the chance, instead of letting things snowball out of control.

Of course, the message here is that being a parent compels a person to make hard choices in life—for your sake, the child’s sake and for society’s sake (ultimately).  This decision is of course made significantly more difficult when you’re the ruler of a kingdom.  Therefore, one of the interesting lessons in 2 Samuel is asking the reader to look at a challenging character in a challenging situation, see how he reacts, and then ask yourself, not what you think you should do, but rather what you think you would muster the courage to ACTUALLY do.

When the problem is a kid talking back at the mall, the decision is easier.  What happens when the stakes are higher?

Next up: The Book of Kings.  This has got to be confusing, for my Bible edition comes with a flow chart of who’s who before the actual Book.

About virgowriter

Brad Windhauser has a Master's in English from Rutgers University (Camden campus) and an MFA in creative writing from Queens University of Charlotte. He is an Associate Professor (Teaching/Instruction) in the English Department at Temple University. His short stories have appeared in The Baltimore Review, The Santa Fe Writer's Project Journal, Ray's Road Review, Philadelphia Review of Books, Northern Liberty Review, and Jonathan. His first novel, Regret (a gay-themed thriller set in Philadelphia) was published in 2007. You can read more about (and buy) it here: His second novel, The Intersection, is being published by Black Rose Writing September 2016. He is one of five regular contributors to On his solo blog, he is chronicling his experience as a gay writer reading the Bible for the first time: Follow his work at:
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2 Responses to The Old Testament: 2 Samuel, I: Is it Easy to Judge a Parent’s Choice?

  1. Dad says:

    Why is David being a very poor important to the story? God said David is a man of his own choosing. Why would God choose David? Why do you think?? Dad

    • virgowriter says:

      It seems to me that he picked a humble person to establish that anyone can rise and be great, that it doesn’t take someone who was given a lot in life to be a good person. In this way he would be a good example to similar people about their own possibilities in life.

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