How Much Do You Care About Your Child’s Safety?

I’ll never forget the day my first child was born. My wife had been intensely laboring for what felt like an eternity, but the baby just wasn’t coming. My boys have all been blessed with some pretty large craniums, and, as we discovered later, this one had complicated that by putting his hand to his forehead before entering the birth canal. Each contraction made my little boy’s heart rate go down. When it went down a bit too low for a bit too long, the doctor decided to take some extra steps to get him out. Thankfully, she was successful, and my wife and I were both elated and incredibly relieved when our son was born.  

Because of the issues with his heart rate and the prolonged, intense labor, they immediately took our son over to a machine that was supposed to automatically check all of his vitals. As with all such machines that are intended to make people’s jobs easier, it was absolutely hopeless. It kept sounding out this ridiculously loud error alarm. Above the alarm sounds and the voices of the frustrated hospital staff trying to get the machine to work arose the cries of my newborn son. Were they hurting him? Another emotion began to swell up within me; it was an intense desire to protect. Without even thinking, I bellowed out, “Can you please just give us our son?!?”  In retrospect, I’m thankful to God that He helped me put the “please” there.
 
The desire to ensure a child’s safety can really blind a parent to just about everything else; just ask David. Near the end of king David’s life, the nation of Israel found itself embroiled in a bitter civil war between one side that was loyal to David and another that was against him. The decisive battle between the two factions was waged in the forests of Ephraim, while David waited a safe distance away from the battlefield. David’s son Absalom was involved in the bloody conflict. Though roughly 20,000 men died in the battle and though David’s reign was hanging in the balance, David only wanted one question answered when the battle was over: “Is the young man Absalom safe?” (2 Samuel 18:29, 32).

Though this question represented a very natural, fatherly response from David, there’s more than one thing wrong with it. For starters, Absalom was actually the leader of the forces who were opposed to David. Weeks before the battle, Absalom had thrown himself a coronation ceremony and marshalled enough support to make David feel that a defense of his throne at Jerusalem was untenable. As in the days of his youth when he ran from King Saul, David found himself fleeing for his life from his home. What’s more, to further pronounce himself king through a custom found in gentile nations, “in the sight of all Israel,” in a tent on top of David’s own house, Absalom had sexual relations with ten of David’s concubines who had stayed behind “to keep the house” (2 Samuel 15:16; 16:22). Absalom’s aim in this very battle in Ephraim had been to kill David “and all the men who [were] with him” (2 Samuel 17:12).

As it was, Absalom was not safe. Though David had begged his military leaders, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom” (2 Samuel 18:5), one of them by the name of Joab found him on the battlefield and killed him (2 Samuel 18:14-15). When David learned that Absalom was dead, he was beside himself: “O my son Absalom—my son, my son Absalom—if only I had died in your place! O Absalom my son, my son!” (2 Samuel 18:33). No, Absalom wasn’t safe; he was dead.

But there’s something else wrong with this question; it was asked too late. If David was really concerned with his son’s safety, he should have done something to ensure it long before he received the news of his son’s death. In fact, there were even things he could have done long before Absalom declared himself king and rebelled.

Absalom’s behavior didn’t come out of the blue. Absalom’s path toward rebellion seems to have begun when his sister and David’s daughter, Tamar, was raped by their half-brother Amnon (2 Samuel 13:1-13). The text reveals that David was “very angry” when this happened, but he did nothing about it. So, two years later, Absalom held a feast, and when David decided not to come, Absalom invited Amnon (2 Samuel 13:23-27). Amnon came, and Absalom ordered his servants to kill him, which they did (2 Samuel 13:28). Though David “wept very bitterly” and “mourned for his son every day” (2 Samuel 13:36-37), he ultimately did nothing, and Absalom was allowed to live for three years in exile. After three years, David agreed to his return, but for some strange reason refused to let him see his face (2 Samuel 14:24). Absalom waited a full two years, and then in what can only be described as an adult tantrum, burned Joab’s field to get his and David’s attention (2 Samuel 14:28-32). When David found out about all of this, he allowed him to come back without a single word of rebuke (2 Samuel 14:33). It was then that Absalom began to lay the groundwork in broad daylight that would allow him to proclaim himself king (1 Samuel 15:1-6).

At any of the points in the above story, David could have asked himself, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” and possibly made a difference. Had he asked it, he would have realized there were things that he could have done as a father (or even as a king!) to direct the affairs of his children that would have made them all safer.

Better still, David could have asked the question long before any of these events. It comes as no surprise that David’s inactivity as a father is highlighted after he committed adultery with Bathsheba. The text doesn’t let us see all of David’s heart, but I have a suspicion that David felt like acting when his children sinned would have been hypocritical given his failure. It’s the devil’s lie that sinners can’t condemn sin, but people believe it all the time. In any event, if he had asked, “Am I keeping my children safe?” when he saw Bathsheba on the rooftop that night and ran away from sin, he might have been a more active father later.  

But what if he asked the question even earlier – maybe before Absalom was even born? What if he had asked, “Will my future children be safe?” before he even had them? David did what God wanted His king not to do – “Neither shall he multiply wives for himself” (Deuteronomy 17:17) – and what was contrary to God’s design by marrying so many women (Matthew 19:1-5). He wasn’t involved as a father in his children’s lives, because he effectively had too many families. His many children by different women hated each other, and clearly, many of them did not love either David or God.

So, let me ask you: how much do you care about your child’s safety? It has nothing to do with your school district or neighborhood, your car seat or seat belt, your fire detectors or extinguishers, or any other thing that we typically associate with safety. It has everything to do with your willingness to build a home with God as its foundation, to remain committed to your spouse, to bring your child up in God’s nurture and His admonition (Ephesians 6:4), and to intervene, rebuke, and even punish when necessary. “The rod and rebuke give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame” (Proverbs 29:15).

 Again, is your child safe? The time to ask that question is now. It may have been better if you’d asked it yesterday, but it will certainly be better to ask it today than tomorrow. May God bless you with the wisdom and courage to bring up your child in safety and keep you from the tears that come from asking the question too late.
-Patrick Swayne  
patrick@tftw.org

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