He was a king who united and ruled his nation effectively for forty years under difficult conditions, including numerous rebellions and attempts on his life. He was a great poet, musician, composer, organizer, and military leader who inspired and motivated his fighting forces in repelling and conquering numerous invading foreign armies. And, as a man after God’s own heart, King David ruled his people justly.
Yet, his leadership in his family was weak and ineffective, and his secret sin of adultery and murder had disastrous consequences on his children and his household:
• His first marriage to Michal, Saul’s daughter, was bitter and childless. Though she loved David at first, he did not return her affection and later had her five nephews killed in retaliation for Saul and his family murdering the Gibeonites. (I Sam. 18:20-28; 19:10-18; 25:44; 2 Sam. 3:12-16; 6:20-23; 21:1-9)
• David had at least eight wives (1 Sam. 18:27; 25:42; 1 Chron. 3) and ten concubines (2 Sam. 15:16; 16:22; 20:3) with whom he had twenty known sons (2 Sam. 3:2-5; 1 Chron. 3:1-4; 14:4-7) and unknown number of daughters—an ideal recipe for explosive family conflicts.
• Because of his adultery with Bathsheba and her subsequent pregnancy, David had her husband killed in battle, after which he married her. (2 Sam. 11)
• The prophet Nathan confronted David about his sins of adultery and murder, and although David repented and was forgiven, God caused the newborn from that adulterous union to die after seven days. As a result of David’s sins, God declared that turmoil and rebellion would plague his household throughout his life. (2 Sam. 12:1-23)
• Amnon, David’s eldest son, raped his half-sister Tamar, but David did nothing to confront or discipline him. (2 Sam. 13:1-22)
• Absalom, third son of David and brother of Tamar, waited two years before he murdered Amnon in revenge for the rape. Absalom then fled and took refuge in his grandfather’s home for three years. David mourned Amnon’s death and pined for Absalom’s return, but did nothing to punish him. (2 Sam. 13:23-39)
• Absalom returned to Jerusalem, reconciled with David, but spent the next four years secretly planning to overthrow David. He finally led a rebellion against David, proclaimed himself king, and publicly raped David’s ten concubines to demonstrate his dominance over his father. (2 Sam 15 and 16)
• David escaped from Jerusalem with his household and some of his faithful warriors. He eventually took decisive action and ordered his commanders to attack Absalom’s army. Absalom was killed and the rebellion squashed. (2 Sam. 18:1-18)
• Absalom’s death so devastated David that he mourned inconsolably, weeping and crying, “O my son, Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I could have died instead of you! O my son Absalom, my son, my son.” (2 Sam. 18:24-33)
• David’s mourning stunned and insulted his troops who had risked their lives to save him and his kingship. His response turned their victory to shame and defeat. Joab, the commander who killed Absalom, sternly rebuked David and forced him out of his self-pity and back before his troops to publicly thank them for their support and victory. (2 Sam. 19:1-8)
• As David neared the end of his long life, his fourth son, Adonijah, tried to set himself up as king in an effort to beat his younger half-brother, Solomon, to the throne. But Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother, fearing that Adonijah would kill her and Solomon if Adonijah became king, persuaded David to declare Solomon king. Despite Adonijah’ treachery, Solomon spared Adonijah’s life as long as David was alive. (I King 1)
• After David’s death, Adonijah, with the help of Joab, asked Bathsheba to influence Solomon to give him the virgin Abishag as his wife. Since Abishag was part of David’s harem, Solomon saw this as Adonijah’s attempt to claim the throne, so he ordered the execution of both Adonijah and Joab. (1 Kings 2:1-34)
• Solomon followed God and ruled wisely the united kingdom of Israel and Judah for most of his life. But because of the influences of his 700 wives and 300 concubines, he forsook God and increasingly worshiped their numerous false gods in later life. This allegiance to pagan gods by Solomon and succeeding kings led to the downfall of the kingdom.
Although David repented and received forgiveness from God (2 Sam. 12:13; Psa. 51), this did not change the consequences of his sins upon his family, for as God declared to Israel centuries before:
“I am the Lord, I am the Lord, the merciful and gracious God. I am slow to anger and rich in unfailing love and faithfulness. I show this unfailing love to many thousands by forgiving every kind of sin and rebellion. Even so I do not leave sin unpunished, but I punish the children for the sins of their parents to the third and fourth generations.” (Ex. 34:6,7)
It’s a theme that is echoed in the New Testament where we are warned in Gal. 6:7,8:
“Don’t be misled. Remember that you can’t ignore God and get away with it. You will always reap what you sow. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful desires will harvest the consequences of decay and death.”
And even though 1 John 1:9 assures us that “If we confess our sins, he [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness,” this forgiveness may still involve consequences, including God’s discipline:
“My child, don’t ignore it when the Lord disciplines you, and don’t be discouraged when he corrects you. For the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes those he accepts as his children.” (Heb. 12:6,7)
However, there is good news—we don’t have to repeat the cycle of our parents’ sins! We can break the cycle by following the Lord, for we are assured that:
“The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sin. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own goodness, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” (Ezek. 18:20)
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2 Cor. 5:17, English Standard Version)
“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. For the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you through Christ Jesus from the power of sin that leads to death.” (Rom. 8:1, 2)
May we always earnestly confess our sins, seek God’s mercy and forgiveness, crave the restoration of the joy of God’s salvation, patiently accept God’s discipline, and live in the life-changing power, grace, and freedom of Jesus, our Lord.
Pictured above: A panel on the great bronze front door of La Madeleine Church, Paris, in which the prophet Nathan confronts David and Bathsheba over their adultery and David’s murder of her husband Uriah.
All Bible verses are from the New Living Translation, except those otherwise noted.