Three bad dads of the Bible (3)

Anthony Selvaggio Anthony T. Selvaggio (JD, The University of Buffalo School of Law; MDiv, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is an ordained minister, a lawyer, an author, a lecturer, and a visiting professo
01 July, 2010 3 min read

Three bad dads of the Bible (3)

Guest Column

Anthony Selvaggio, JD, MDiv

In the first two instalments, we’ve seen the failure of Eli, who refused to correct his sons, and the failure of Jephthah, whose spiritual ignorance sacrificed his daughter. While both permissiveness and ignorance are common problems today, there is a third problem that plagues many modern fathers – absenteeism.

Many fathers absent themselves from the lives of their children. Sometimes they are too absorbed in their careers or hobbies. But sometimes it is not so much a lack of time as a lack of concern.


Sometimes fathers see the struggles of their children, but avoid engaging with them. We see this particularly in David’s failure to deal with the rape of his daughter Tamar. She suffered because her father was not there in her time of need.

Tamar was a beautiful and godly young woman. Because of her many charms she caught the eye of her half-brother, Amnon. Scripture tells us that Amnon became infatuated with Tamar and was frustrated by his inability to have her (2 Samuel 13:1-2).

This frustration led Amnon to hatch a scheme to lure Tamar into his bedroom. The conspiracy involved Amnon feigning an illness. When Tamar learned of her brother’s illness she brought him a meal. Amnon dismissed his servants and called Tamar into his bedroom.

When she refused his advances, he took what he wanted by force. After abusing her physically, the Scripture notes that Amnon ‘hated’ Tamar and then proceeded to summarily dismiss her from his presence by declaring, ‘Get up, go away!’ (2 Samuel 13:15). He discarded Tamar like refuse.

Obviously, Tamar left this encounter emotionally and physically wounded. She did not hide her suffering from the world, but instead declared to it all by walking around the gates of the city with ashes on her head.


She expressed to everyone that she was a women in mourning and lamentation. She was crying out for help. Unfortunately, her father, who occupied the most powerful position in Israel, was totally deaf to her cries. David did nothing.

If you read the account in 2 Samuel 13:11-20 you encounter the word ‘brother’ ten times, the word ‘sister’ eight times, but only see the word ‘father’ once. David was utterly absent from the sufferings of his daughter.

David took no action to punish Amnon for his sins. Instead Absalom took action by exacting murderous vengeance on Amnon. David’s inaction contributed to Absalom’s desire to align himself against his father – a desire that eventually blossomed into outright rebellion.

In addition to failing to exact justice against Amnon, David also failed to comfort his mourning daughter. He did nothing to tend to her soul. Tamar lived the remainder of her life as a recluse and never married. She essentially died on that awful day in Amnon’s bedroom.

David’s absence from the suffering of Tamar not only cost him the life of his daughter, but cost him his two sons as well. Amnon was murdered and Absalom entered into conflict with his do-nothing father. David lost three children because of his absence from Tamar’s sufferings.

David’s failure should remind modern fathers of the importance of being there for our children, particularly during times of crisis. We fathers simply can’t afford to ignore their suffering.

We need to meet them in their hour of need. When they display the outward signs of emotional struggle we must be attentive, even if we don’t fully understand the nature of their struggles. Fathers must not absent themselves from the lives of their children.


In this series we’ve seen three bad dads – Eli, Jephthah and David. As fathers, we have been warned by God’s Word and it’s time for us to recognise the urgency of our calling as fathers.

But I don’t want to leave you without encouragement. Yes, being a father is a herculean task and the opportunities for failure are numerous. The good news, however, is that in addition to being fathers we are also children.

Every Christian father is also a son of God; and God is a faithful father. He disciplines us when we go astray. He teaches us through his Word. He is always with us and provides grace to us in our time of need.

He even forgives fathers who fail. So as you look upon the failures of these three fathers and your own failures as a father, remember that you have a perfect Father to go to for discipline, instruction and grace!

The author is visiting professor at the Reformed Presbyterian
Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA, and a teaching elder in the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America. He is the author of several books. His book Old Testament saints (EP) is due to be published later this year.

Anthony T. Selvaggio (JD, The University of Buffalo School of Law; MDiv, Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary) is an ordained minister, a lawyer, an author, a lecturer, and a visiting professo
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