What you need to know:
- David spent all his time fighting, first to gain the kingdom, then to keep it, and then had several battles with countries surrounding him. He, quite obviously, didn’t invest much time to raise his children into good, responsible citizens.
When a man is too busy with politics or business to raise his children properly, there is always a chance some of his kids may not turn out very well...unless, of course, they have caring mothers who are keen on them, or they are seized of sheer natural prudence.
That was the fate of David, king of Israel, the man who led Israel to unprecedented success, after liberating the kingdom from the clutches of Saul – whose leadership had featured incompetence, economic ruin, political instability, human rights violations and state-inspired violence.
When David began fighting a whole government, no one gave him a chance, especially given that he was originally just a pastoralist and even then, a young man with just a small, rag-tag army of people nobody knew: poorly equipped and inexperienced.
David succeeded as a leader, but largely failed as a family man. It is hard to stay long in power and succeed at family level, especially if you have several women and many children.
David spent all his time fighting, first to gain the kingdom, then to keep it, and then had several battles with countries surrounding him. He, quite obviously, didn’t invest much time to raise his children into good, responsible citizens.
He had Amnon who was so stupid and perverted, he raped his own sister Tamar and then threw her out like trash. There was Absalom: cunning, calculating and manipulative. More important, he was ruthless and completely merciless. Absalom had no conscience at all; he could kill in the course of a meal and continue eating thereafter. He revenged by killing Amnon at a party - which did not stop just because Amnon had died.
There was Adonijah who had the stupidity to go behind his father’s back to try and hijack the throne when David was dying, and then later, the temerity to demand that David’s young, untouched concubine, Abishag become his wife. So the new king, his brother Solomon, ordered him killed. David’s was a house of blood! Family matters soon interfered with politics! Aware that his father was not getting any younger, Absalom, who certainly wasn’t David’s only son, began to position himself to take over, even though David had not indicated that he was stepping down or dying any time soon.
Absalom, the Bible tells me, was a good-looking fellow, easy on girls and he found favour with some people. He positioned himself, first as a broker of power: whoever wanted to access the king, would have to go through him. Then the power broker began to actively seek power for himself.
He wasn’t brave or bright; he hadn’t fought in the liberation war at all. David had some fantastic soldiers, men of valour, like Joab, Abishai and Benaiah, who understood what fighting actually meant.
Absalom was a coward, without a battle to his name and his only claim to fame was that his father was the great king who had liberated Israel and ushered in stability and good governance. David had made leadership look so easy, even Absalom, whose only excellence was loving the bottle and good girls, thought he could lead. He penetrated part of the army and recruited ambitious young fellows who did his bidding, because he knew he couldn’t count on the support of the generals who had fought the war. He was unhappy and complaining that generals like Joab and Abishai didn’t respect him!
Matters reached crisis point when Absalom felt ready to take over but his father wasn’t ready to hand over! Army and nation – even the priesthood – got divided between father and son, leading to civil war.
It is hard to fight your own child, so David was stressed, trying to work out how to keep the kingdom without losing his child. In the end, the generals, who had never been amused that a boy who had not participated in hunting the animal, was trying to take highest place at the dinner table now that stew had been served, finished off the young pretender!
David ruled Israel for 40 years and when he died, there was no Absalom to succeed him. Israel was lucky that wacky Absalom never made king; the kingdom would have been ruined. Completely.
Mr Tegulle is an advocate of the High Court of Uganda