Amidst the tragedy of this story of sexual violence, I believe there’s a missing piece, and that is David, a father missing in action. David, who was chosen by God as a young shepherd boy, anointed by Samuel to be the king of Israel, and who was known as a man after God’s heart, is really nowhere to be found in this Scripture account. What happened? Why was he so noticeably absent? As we think about David, I would like to use him to help us focus on what I would propose are several duties of Christian fathers.
First of all, I believe fathers are called by God to help create, in the home, a positive view of male/female relationships. One of the most powerful teaching methods in families is a positive role model. David failed in this role. First of all, he had multiple wives, which, while seemingly allowed in the Old Testament, was not God’s plan. We also know of David’s adulterous relationship with Bathsheba in the chapters preceding this account, where David also used murder to cover up the fact that Bathsheba became pregnant as a result of David’s uncontrolled sexual desire. While David repented of his sin and was forgiven by God, his moral failure was there for his adult children, especially his sons, to see. Perhaps this is why David took little action after Amnon raped Tamar. Scripture says “he was furious” with Amnon, but took no disciplinary action against him. Was it because his own failure stood in the way?
I believe one of our duties, as fathers, is to create in our homes an atmosphere of healthy respect for women. This involves exemplifying a positive view of women, the gifts and potential they bring to our lives and portraying them as equal partners with us. This also means protecting the femininity of our wives and daughters by not making demeaning statements about women, or participating in any type of sexual innuendo or sexually suggestive stories or jokes around women, or anyone else, for that matter.
Our homes ought to be a place where sons and daughters feel loved and nurtured equally while recognizing their individual potential given them by God. Therapist Beth Erickson writes: “A father’s emotionally engaging with his daughter helps share her confident vision of happiness as an adult as well as her goals regarding work and love. [Emotionally open, nurturing] Fathers are safe men with whom daughters can practice being women.” What would Tamar’s life have been like had David taken more of a nurturing and protective role in their home?
Secondly, I believe fathers are called by God to exemplify, and articulate, God’s principles of sexual purity in male/female relationships. As I said just a bit ago, David had compromised his ability to do this by his inability to control his sexual desire which led to his adultery with Bathsheba. Does this mean if we have not fully kept God’s principles regarding our sexuality that we cannot teach our children? No, I don’t think so. We fail in other areas of our lives and God forgives our sins. Our duty, as fathers and mothers, is to teach and model God’s way in every facet of life, and this includes our sexuality.
Third, I believe fathers (and mothers) are responsible to teach sexual boundaries within the home. As a therapist, I have heard firsthand the pain that results when sexual boundaries between siblings are violated. It is the duty of parents to teach our children to respect each other’s bodies, to respect boundaries of personal privacy, and teach about appropriate touch and language in the home. This violent and emotionally and physically painful violation of Tamar’s personhood could have been avoided, had David been more vigilant to teach and exemplify sexual boundaries within his family, especially among his sons.
Finally, I believe God calls us as fathers to be decisive and proactive when there are potential or real crises in relationships in our homes, whether it be between siblings, between a parent and child, or between parents. David seemed frozen into indecisiveness; he became very upset, but took no action that we know of to minister to Tamar’s emotional or physical needs, or to discipline Amnon, which possibly led to Absalom’s murder of his brother Amnon two years later.
It is our duty, as fathers, to know what is happening in our homes. Are there conflicts between siblings? Is there potential for inappropriate behavior, or worse? Am I as a husband recognizing and addressing relationship issues between my wife and me? Am I willing to look outside the home for help if needed?
May God give us, as fathers and mothers, the courage, wisdom, and grace we need to be godly and compassionate parents in this generation.
Submitted by Tom Horst, MAMarriage and Family Therapist