One theme that comes up again and again in David’s story is his ignorance regarding his children. David could not see the lustful intent of his son Amnon, the danger his daughter Tamar faced, or the murderous rage of his son Absalom (2 Sam. 13). He was unaware of Absalom’s desire to come home until it was too late, and Absalom began gathering allies to help him overthrow his father (14:1–15:12). Eventually, David did become aware that Absalom sought the throne, but even then he did not see that Absalom could not be reconciled to him, and he asked his army to spare his son (15:13–18:5). Absalom had become a committed enemy of God’s appointed king, and he had sinned grievously against his father by lying with his father’s concubines (16:20–22; see Gen. 35:22; 49:3–4; Deut. 22:22). But David was unwilling to do what had to be done because his enemy was his son. Yet because of Absalom’s unwavering intent to destroy David, the only way to preserve David’s kingdom was for Absalom to die. As Dale Ralph Davis comments, “God gives no secure salvation to his church unless he brings decisive judgment on her enemies.” If God and His people are to win, someone has to lose.
As a brief aside, we dare not miss how David’s negligence serves as a cautionary tale for all parents. Because we love our children, it can be hard for us to see their faults and even to punish them when necessary. Absalom was an extreme case; most of our children will not try to overthrow a kingdom or try to kill us. But Absalom got as far as he did only because of David’s indulgence. If we do not lovingly discipline our children, they may not turn out well (Prov. 13:24).
Second Samuel 18:19–33 describes how David learned of Absalom’s demise. Joab refused at first to send Ahimaaz, the son of Zadok the priest, to bear the news of the death of Absalom, possibly because he feared that David would take it poorly and kill the young man. He sent a Cushite instead. In any case, both men ended up coming to David, but the Cushite delivered the news. Somewhat understandably, David mourned Absalom’s death. Perhaps he even mourned his own role in it, for Absalom’s death was an outworking of the consequences of David’s sin (12:7–15). However, this does not mean Absalom was guiltless or that he did not deserve his end. Absalom had raised his hand against the Lord Himself by opposing God’s appointed king, but the extent of David’s grief shows that the king did not really understand that. He remained clueless about his son.