The Bible not only tells us how to live but it also shows us examples of how not to live. One of these examples is the life of King David, the greatest king in the history of ancient Israel. David obviously accomplished many great things. David killed Goliath and rescued his people from Philistine oppression. David refused to harm his master, King Saul. David showed himself to be a great warrior and a great worshiper. David was known as a man after God’s own heart.
David also demonstrated some flaws–his indiscretion with Bathsheba being his most obvious. A less obvious flaw in David’s life is often overlooked. It would serve us all well, particularly us men, to understand this weakness and avoid it in our own lives.
The Apostle Paul tells Timothy, “The sins of some men are quite evident, going before them to judgment; for others, their sins follow after.”(1 Tim 5:24) My paraphrase: some car accidents you can see coming; others take you by surprise. What is this grievous error I am referring to? David, after winning his kingdom, succumbed to male passivity. I use the term “male passivity” because it is an actual psychological condition that affects mostly men. Male passivity, by definition, occurs when men abdicate their God-given role as leaders. Let me clarify David’s error to better explain.
After David’s adultery and his subsequent murder of Bathsheba’s husband, the prophet Nathan visits him in dramatic fashion (this is one of my favorite stories and can be found in 2 Samuel 12). Nathan rebukes David and gives a prophecy concerning the punishment David would reap for his gross misconduct. Nathan’s prophecy declared that God would raise an enemy against him in his own household and that the sword would not depart from his household. Nathan also predicted that although David had taken another man’s wife in secret, someone else would take his wives openly.
Nathan’s prophecy unfolds through David’s own sons. Amnon, David’s eldest son, lured his half-sister Tamar into his quarters and raped her. The book of Second Samuel says that “[David] was very angry.” Surprisingly, David did nothing to punish Amnon, at least according to what is recorded in Scripture. Two years later, disgusted at his father’s inaction, Absalom commanded his servants to murder Amnon. Absalom then flees the country to avoid his father’s wrath. Three years went by. David wanted to go find his fugitive son and bring him back. He had lost one son; now David feared that he would lose two.
David finally sent for Absalom when prompted by Joab, the commander of the army. By this time, Absalom resented his father’s lack of leadership. Absalom gathered allies and mounted a coup against his father. Absalom fulfilled the prophecy of Nathan but died in battle against his father’s loyalists. Upon hearing of the death of Absalom, David wept bitterly, wishing that he had died rather than his son.
We see in this story two places where David abdicated his leadership role as a king and as a father. He let others make decisions that were clearly his responsibility. First, he did nothing to correct the injustice of Amnon toward his daughter Tamar. Second, David left Absalom in a legal limbo. David would have liked to bring Absalom home, forgive him, and be reconciled to him. Instead, David remained trapped in indecision over Absalom.
Many men, including myself, struggle with passivity in light of our responsibilities. I see this in three areas: relationships, fatherhood, and community.
1. In relationships, women want men to lead. Girlfriends want their man to think about where the relationship is going and to pursue her. These ladies do not want to drop hints about what their man should be doing. When a man waits too long to move the relationship forward, the woman loses interest. She may still remain in the relationship, but she loses the intensity she once had in the relationship. I have seen many couples, who might have had good marriages, end their relationship because it wasn’t progressing and the woman got tired of waiting.
My wife and I explain to our church’s married and engaged couples that wives want husbands who will lead without being domineering. What we mean by domineering is generally understood. Leading in a relationship is a more difficult concept to define. We have to describe what leading looks like because our culture has an aversion to authority, thinking authority only exists to accumulate benefits for itself. Authority in the Biblical sense is for the benefit of those under authority. One of the examples I give our couples is getting ready for church on a Sunday morning. I tell them that my wife does not have to ask me if I am going to church. As the leader, I recognize my responsibility to attend to the spiritual needs of my wife, my children, and my community. I get up without being asked and help get the children ready. I make sure we are out the door on time. In some households, the wife (mother) must take the responsibility to make many of the family decisions alone and the added task of enforcing the decision herself. Men need to make a point not to abdicate responsibilities as a husband and leave the wife as the default decision maker. Men also must make a point not to abdicate responsibilities as a husband and leave the wife as the default enforcer of decisions they’ve made together.
2. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, children had the benefit of spending the bulk of their time with both parents during the day. Most children in the world grew up in some agricultural setting such as the family farm. Children worked alongside parents, learning how to manage the work of a farm. The Industrial Revolution transferred the father outside the home for work. The responsibility of parenting that was once shared shifted as the mother bore the brunt of child raising responsibility. Fathers working outside the home and mothers staying home to raise the children became so ingrained in our culture that today we speak of this as the “traditional” model of home life. Fathers went for work outside the home and left the mothers with the responsibility for the moral formation of their children. The Bible paints a different picture.
The Apostle Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians, puts the responsibility for training and instruction in the Lord squarely on the father’s shoulders. The children’s church workers, the public school teachers, the pastor, the youth pastor, or the children’s Christian television show only support raising godly children and can never replace the task of the parents. The responsibility falls on the father of those children with the support of the godly mother.
3. Men need to play an active role in our communities. As I look over the churches I have had the privilege to be a part of through my time as a Christian man, I notice that aside from the lead pastor and staff, there are very few men taking on the responsibilities of the church. I am certainly glad to see many women participating in the church. However, men bring a dynamic to the church community that women do not. As it would be a travesty to have a church with few involved women, so it is a devastating force when a church lacks involved men.
King David may have felt inadequate to correct a severe moral violation because of his own failure. There could be many reasons why we men abdicate our responsibilities. We do need to realize that this is a sin and that it has real consequences for our marriages, our children, and our communities. We must seek God’s help to overcome our feelings of inadequacy. We must step up as leaders in our marriages, in our families, and in our communities. We can’t shrink back from what God has given us stewardship over. Finally, we must encourage our brothers to live fully engaged as the leaders God intended us to be.
-by Pastor Shawn Martin