David was quite the hero in his life. He was chosen to be King and anointed by Samuel. He slew Goliath while yet a young man. He conquered all of Israel’s enemies and united the kingdom after Saul’s death. But he couldn’t raise his family. I once met a woman who was telling me that her daughter was a drug addict in the ghetto and made her living by selling herself to get drugs. Her son was a lazy bum who was always begging for money. She said, “If I had known what my children would turn out to be, I would never have had them.” I prayed with the woman and tried to console her but the disappointment with her children could not be assuaged. I think David was more disappointed in his children. It appears he was too busy with the affairs of the state to raise his children. His sons not only disappointed him, but they attempted to usurp the throne from him. In 1 Kings 1:5-6, we read about it, “Now Adonijah the son of Haggith exalted himself, saying, ‘I will be king.’ 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?’ He was also a very handsome man, and he was born next after Absalom.”

Adonijah was not David’s eldest son. Amnon and Absalom were both older but they have both died by this time along with another brother, Chileab (called Daniel in 1 Chronicles). Since he’s not mentioned of him we can assume he died young. Amnon raped Absalom’s sister and Absalom murdered him in return. Absalom was killed in the war against his father’s troops. Adonijah was the fourth son in David’s list of sons. We don’t know much about his mother Haggith but she is referred to as his wife, so her descendant might have a claim on the throne if so designated by David. But Adonijah decided to designate himself. According to one writer, Adonijah’s behavior “refers not to the preparation of an armament for war, but to a kingly retinue which should attend him wherever he went. The runners were a bodyguard, and the word is applied to those guards who kept the door of the king’s house. By such a step Adonijah let his intention be known and found out who was likely to be on his side.” The mention that he was a handsome man brings back memories of King Saul. The outward appearance of a person is never a good measure of his or her character.

 It seems that the key to understanding David’s domestic problems lie in Verse 6. David never “displeased” his son. This means to “…show that David had not disciplined Adonijah as he was growing up. So Adonijah’s behavior now is the result of this lack of correction and discipline by his father.”[1] He never told his children “no.” For the sake of their future and the welfare of society as a whole, the first thing every child should learn is the meaning of the word “no.” As every father soon learns, we cannot discipline our children without displeasing them at times. I like the way David Howard explains this. He writes, “That’s because our children are sinners, just as we are, and sometimes they must be made to suffer consequences for their wrong actions. Being a father is not a popularity contest; sometimes good fathering requires that we make unpopular decisions and that we do indeed interfere with our children’s lives. We need to interfere to protect them from self-destructive behaviors. We need to interfere when they hurt others. We need to interfere when they displease God.”[2] Notice also in this passage that the text does not seem to hold Haggith responsible for the rebellion. David is the father and the one pointed out in error. David did not step up and take the responsibility that was his: to provide the proper limits to his son’s behavior. His position as the king did not excuse him from stepping in and disciplining his children.

[1] Slager, Donald. 2008. “Preface.” In A Handbook on 1 & 2 Kings, edited by Paul Clarke, Schuyler Brown, Louis Dorn, and Donald Slager, 1–2:24. United Bible Societies’ Handbooks. New York: United Bible Societies.

[2] https://bcsmn.edu/king-david-a-permissive-father/