By Joel Ryan, Crosswalk.com
David was many things in life. A shepherd, giant killer, folk hero, singer, songwriter, warrior, fugitive, exile, and eventually a king. The Bible even refers to him as a "man after God's own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).
However, while we may see David as a legend and hero of the faith, we must also remember that he was just as much a son, a brother, a husband, and a father as he was a king or a warrior. David loved the Lord and loved his children, but he too made mistakes, failed in many areas as a parent, and cried out to God for wisdom and forgiveness throughout his life.
But who were David's children exactly, who did they grow up to be, and how were their lives shaped by their complicated and sometimes troubled relationship with their famous father?
Who Are King David's Children in the Bible?
The Bible records at least twenty named children born to David and his many wives, though it is possible he had even more than those listed. We know that David's first children were born in Hebron, where David was made king following the death of Saul (2 Samuel 2:1-4, 1 Chronicles 3:4).
1. Amnon, whose mother was Ahinoam of Jezreel, one of David's first wives (1 Samuel 25:43).
2. Chileab (or Daniel), whose mother was Abigail, the widow of Nabal, who David married after the death her husband (1 Samuel 25).
3. Absalom, whose mother was Maacah (or Maakah), the daughter of Talmar, King of Geshur, and wife of David.
4. Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, David's fifth wife.
5. Shephatiah, whose mother was Abital, another of David's wives.
6. Ithream, whose mother was Eglah, yet another wife of David.
Prior to fleeing from King Saul, David had also married Michal, the daughter of Saul (1 Samuel 18:27-28). Michal, however, did not bear David any children (2 Samuel 6:23). After David had moved his kingdom to Jerusalem, where he ruled for thirty-three years, he had four more children with Bathsheba. Bathsheba, married David after he famously murdered her husband Uriah (2 Samuel 11). It was not David's best or brightest moment. In fact, it was probably one of his worst; and this sin had devastating consequences that rippled throughout David's family. The Bible tells us that Bathsheba gave birth to a child following her adulterous affair with David. That child died shortly after birth as a consequence of David's sin, which the prophet Nathan warned of (2 Samuel 12:14-23).
Bathsheba, however, would go on to have three additional sons with David. They are:
David's remaining children that we know of were born in Jerusalem to unnamed wives. They are:
-Tamar, the only daughter named amongst David's children.
It is likely David had even more sons and daughters that the Bible does not record since we know he had several more unnamed wives and perhaps even more concubines through which he fathered children (1 Chronicles 3:9). Their names are not recorded.
What Does the Bible Tell Us about King David's Children after They Grew Up?
What happened in the lives of David's children is mostly unknown; however, several of his sons, and one daughter, in particular, grew up to play a major role in David's later years and the future of Israel.
Amnon – David's oldest son grew up to be a selfish, licentious young man who was consumed with lust for his virgin half-sister Tamar. The Bible tells us that Amnon lured his sister to his chambers one night under false pretenses and proceeded to rape her. Enraged by his brother's actions, Absalom, the son of Maacah and full brother of Tamar, murdered his half-brother Amnon in revenge (2 Samuel 13).
Absalom – Absalom, David's third son, or at least the third in line, was handsome, cunning, ambitious, and hot-tempered. He had planned the murder of his half-brother Amnon for years, allowing his hatred of Amnon to "boil" over past the point of no return. Following Amnon's murder, Absalom fled Jerusalem and did not return for another three years. In his arrogance and lust for power, Absalom eventually turned the hearts of the people against his father and later succeeded in taking the throne of Israel, plunging the nation into a civil war (2 Samuel 15). To consummate his insurrection, Absalom slept with his father's concubines in public for everyone to see (2 Samuel 16:20-23). Absalom was later killed by David's commander Joab, against David's wishes (2 Samuel 18)
Tamar – After Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar, the Bible tells us that he "hated her with a very great hatred; for the hatred with which he hated her was greater than the love with which he had loved her... now throw this woman out of my presence, and lock the door behind her" (2 Samuel 13:15,17). Amon treated Tamar as a used and unwanted outcast, a reputation she likely carried for the rest of her life.
Adonijah – as David neared the end of his life, Adonijah, David's fourth son by his wife Haggith, exalted himself as king. Unfortunately for Adonijah, God had already chosen Solomon, Bathsheba's son, as David's successor. Though several of David's most loyal followers, including Joab and Abiathar, threw their support behind Adonijah, David turned to Nathan (the prophet), Benaiah (the mighty man), and Zadok (the priest) to establish Solomon as the rightful king of Israel. Adonijah was later executed by his brother Solomon for his insurrection and failed attempts to steal the throne (1 Kings 1-2).
Solomon – as David's life on earth came to an end, God chose Solomon, Bathsheba's fourth son, to succeed David as king of Israel. Not only would God grant Solomon favor in the form of wisdom, riches, and long life (1 Kings 3), God would honor His promise to David by allowing Solomon to finish the construction of the temple in Jerusalem (1 Kings 6). Solomon was known for his many foreign wives, who were able to turn his heart away from God to foreign gods (1 Kings 11). Solomon would repent and return his heart fully to God, going on to write many of the Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and the book of Ecclesiastes.
Nathan – little is known about Nathan, David's third son by Bathsheba; however, he is worth mentioning for his inclusion in Luke's account of the genealogy of Jesus as one of Jesus' ancestors via the line of David (Luke 3:31).
What Lessons Can Parents Learn from King David in His Trials with His Children?
Parenting is never easy, and it really doesn't get easier or cheaper by the dozen, as the saying goes. However, the love, discipline, instruction, and example set by godly parents can make all the difference in the lives of our children, and there's a lot we can learn from David's own parental trials and failures.
1. Children Learn from Our Example
Nothing encourages and inspires a child to follow God like a parent who walks with the Lord. Similarly, sin and bad character can set the example for our children to learn from and imitate.
Is it any wonder that Amnon, Absalom, and even Solomon would also be caught in sexual sin later in life? How many of David's sons became lustful, greedy, and ambitious like their father? How many of them learned these bad habits from their father?
Like many things in life, we are all impacted by the choices and behavior of our parents. Bad decisions have lasting consequences. Financial missteps can impact families for generations. Family disputes can cause rifts that take years to mend. Unfortunately, bad habits can be learned and passed on to our children if not challenged or corrected early.
2. Discipline and Instruction Matter
We don't know if David dealt with Amnon's sin following Tamar's rape, but there's not much evidence in the Bible to confirm that he did much of anything. By failing to provide justice for his daughter, David not only failed Tamar, but he also failed Amnon, whose sin had gone unpunished. This opened an even bigger door for Absalom to take matters into his own hands.
Years later, Absalom became convinced he could do a better job as king than his seemingly passive father. How much of Absalom's arrogance and ambition was born of David's passivity and neglect in dealing with Amnon? Had David intervened and been more active in guiding and correcting his children's sin and bad behavior early, he might have saved the lives of Amnon, Absalom, and even Adonijah, whose ambition and lust for power had gone unchecked for most of his life.
The lesson here is that David often took a more passive approach to discipline his children, allowing their base emotions, sin, and selfish ambitions to go unchallenged and grow into reckless, even deadly behavior. Unfortunately, neglect and sins of omission in parenting have lasting consequences in the lives of our children, who we are called to instruct, discipline, and lovingly reprove (Ephesians 6:4).
It's our job as parents to build a biblical foundation for our children, teaching them to know God and stand firm in the truth of God's Word early. Judging from Solomon's later wisdom, which we read in the Proverbs, it seems David had succeeded in instructing and building a solid spiritual foundation for his son to stand upon (1 Kings 2).
As parents, sometimes we must rebuild and repair this foundation when cracks begin to form. The earlier we can identify and address problematic habits and behavior in our children, the better. Unfortunately, this is where David failed many of his other children. Early intervention, discipline, and instruction could mean the difference between life and death later on. Let the demise of Absalom, Amnon, and Adonijah be our warning.
3. Children Must Make Their Own Choices
No matter how active we are in our children's lives, our children grow up and must one day choose for themselves whether they will serve the Lord or go their own way. Some of David's children did; many did not. This trend continued through the succession of Israel's kings.
Solomon wrote in the Proverbs to "start a youth out on his way; even when he grows old he will not depart from it," and for God-seeking parents, this is always the goal (Proverbs 22:6). However, no matter how faithful or righteous David may have been, David's children and descendants were responsible for their actions and accountable to God for their choices, not David's (Deuteronomy 24:16)
As the prophet Ezekiel wrote, "the soul who sins shall die. The son shall not suffer for the iniquity of the father, nor the father suffer for the iniquity of the son. The righteousness of the righteous shall be upon himself, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon himself" (Ezekiel 18:20).
4. God Redeems Broken Families
Our children may inevitably adopt some of the bad habits and practices they learn from us. However, God's mercies are proven to be far more powerful than any sin or parental mistake (Deuteronomy 5:9-10).
David was not a perfect father, but he was still a man after God's own heart who loved God and loved his children. More importantly, God's mercy and promise to David remained true. The true king of Israel, the messiah and the one who would sit on the eternal throne, would be an heir of King David (2 Samuel 7:12; Psalms 89:3-4; Psalms 132:11).
Though David was both a good and bad father at times, he was never meant to be the perfect example to follow. That example would come through his descendent, Jesus Christ, in whom David's broken, imperfect family would be redeemed, and all people could be forgiven, restored, and redeemed.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/artisteer
Joel Ryan is an LA-based children’s author, artist, professor, and speaker who is passionate about helping young writers unleash their creativity and discover the wonders of their Creator through storytelling and art. In his blog, Perspectives off the Page, he discusses all things story and the creative process.