How do you deal with people behaving badly? Particularly if you are the one in charge? We see examples, good and bad, in the relationship of David to his sons. Now David’s problems were ultimately the result of his sin with Bathsheba; they were God’s discipline for that sin. But they still had particular causes. So while the main point is, be sure your sin will find you out (Numbers 32:23), it is still worthwhile to look at the specifics. David’s oldest son Amnon rapes his half-sister Tamar. Absalom, Tamar’s full brother, kills Amnon and goes into exile. When he is finally allowed to return, he ends up leading a rebellion to claim the throne. David is forced to flee, but ultimately there is a pitched battle and Absalom is slain. What does this show us about how we should deal with such situations?
We need to intentionally deal with situations and not just let them fester (1 Corinthians 5:1,2; Matthew 18:15-17; 2 Thessalonians 3:10-14). An example of this is the church in Corinth, which tolerated blatant sin until Paul forced them to deal with it. David, for a great warrior and leader, seems surprisingly passive. He is mad at Amnon but does nothing (2 Samuel 13:21-23). David wants to recall Absalom (2 Samuel 13:39), but does not do anything until Joab convinces him to do it (2 Samuel 14:18-33), and even then he does it in stages. And finally, Absalom plots a rebellion under his nose and he does not notice it (2 Samuel 15:1-18). It is only then that David begins to take steps to deal with the situation. There is a point to use caution and carefully consider how to deal with a situation. But ignoring it and hoping it will go away is not a good option.
We need to deal with such situations with grace (Galatians 6:1; 2 Timothy 2:24-26; 2 Thessalonians 3:15). There is a difficult balance to maintain here between firmness and forgiveness. Now David does show real concern for his sons (2 Samuel 13:39; 14:33; 18:5). But he has to be reminded of God’s grace (2 Samuel 14:12-17). He does, perhaps remembering his own forgiveness (2 Samuel 12:13), seem to avoid clear bitterness and hatred. But he does not seem to have a thought-out approach to forgiveness in dealing with the situation. He tends to more react than act, which is not a good thing.
The core of balancing these issues is in the gospel. God forgives us based on faith in Christ (Romans 4:4,5; 8:33,34; Ephesians 1:7). But He calls us, as a result of that, to live a life of obedience (Titus 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:10; Romans 12:1,2). He disciplines us when we sin (Hebrews 12:5-11; 1 Corinthians 11:31,32; Acts 5:1-11). But He restores us when we turn to Him (Proverbs 28:13; 2 Corinthians 7:10; 1 John 1:9). It is sometimes hard to know how to translate this into our dealings with others. But it should be our goal.