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A Cautionary Tale

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry (2 Samuel 13:21, esv).

Even though David was the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), he was a disaster as a dad. Like us, he got a lot of things right, and like us, he got a lot of things wrong.

Like parenting. David was a permissive father. The permissive parent says to his kids, “Whatever you want!” This is a very short-sighted, disastrous strategy, and we see it clearly in the lives of David’s children.

“Because we love our children, we discipline them for their own good.”

Second Samuel 13 records the sad, cautionary tale. The plot is downright crazy. Read the whole thing in your time with the Lord this week. This story is heartbreaking on many levels. Let’s consider it through one lens: the consequences of a permissive father wound.

Let me summarize the story for you:

One of David’s sons, Amnon, lusted for his half-sister. He convinced himself he was in love with her, but as you’ll see, this is not what love looks like. All Amnon’s life, his dad had never said “no” to him. Following the advice of a so-called friend, Amnon invented this sick-ruse ploy to trick his dad into sending Tamar in to take care of him. Guess what David said to Amnon? The same message he always told his sons: “Yes.” Once alone with her, Amnon raped his half-sister and then threw her out like a piece of trash. “When King David heard of all these things, he was very angry” (2 Samuel 13:21). And? What did David do in response to the rape of his daughter? He did nothing. After all these years of giving his boys exactly what they wanted, he wasn’t going to stand up to one of them now.

Tamar put ashes on her head, tore her clothes, and went away crying, and she “lived, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom’s house” (13:20b). Absalom hated Amnon for hurting his sister. For two years, Absalom comforted his sobbing sister and watched his permissive dad protect an indulged, cruel son from any consequences. So he took matters into his own hands, and he killed Amnon. When the story ends, we see David grieving . . . and still doing nothing.

And there you have it—three of David’s children devastated in one fell swoop: Amnon, indulged and dead; Tamar, raped and devastated; Absalom, angry and exiled. But this story didn’t really begin in 2 Samuel 13:1, when Amnon noticed how beautiful Tamar was. No, it began long before, decades before, when Amnon and Absalom were little boys.

And their dad wouldn’t tell them “no.”

Permissive parents teach their children that “no” really means, “In a minute you’re going to get exactly what you want.” The result is an Amnon, who had no strength of character, no sense of value, no shuddering at calamity, no shouldering of consequences.

When we refuse to let our kids learn through natural consequences for their bad behavior, others may step in to do our job with great cruelty. If we as parents refuse to discipline the toddler, refuse to train the little kid, refuse to say “no” to the adolescent, then what will he or she be like as an adult? Somehow we mistakenly think that because we love our children, we give them what they want, but the opposite is true: Because we love our children, we discipline them for their own good.

That’s how God parents us, and this is where hope comes in. Even if our earthly parents failed us, God never will. “For the Lord disciplines the one he loves” (Hebrews 12:6).

For those in the trenches of parenting or shaping children, learn a lesson from David. Love does not equal permissiveness. The results are disastrous. Like God, discipline those you love.

For those who are still suffering from the wounds of a permissive father, God the Father fills the void of all human father failure and heals the hurt of every human father wound.


  • Why do we often confuse love with permissiveness? How have you experienced this? How have you done this?
  • In contrast, how have you experienced the love, discipline, and comfort of your Heavenly Father?

Father God, thank You for being the perfect Parent. Thank You for filling the void of all human parent failure and for healing the hurt of every parent wound. Thank You for loving me enough to discipline me. Thank You for not giving me everything I want, for deep down I know that wouldn’t be good for me. Please teach me how to discipline and shape my children, because I love them, and because I love You. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen.


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