The Editor’s Desk by Shawn McMullen
My dad was a great man—an ideal father in my eyes. But he wasn’t perfect, and he knew it. He loved his family deeply but always felt he could do better by them. I feel the same about my role as father to our three daughters. In fact, I imagine most Christian fathers feel this way. We want to do the best we can for our families. We want to glorify God in our roles as husbands and fathers. But we still make mistakes.
I think that’s why I go back from time to time to some of the fathers of the Old Testament. They remind me that there are no perfect fathers, and that God uses even imperfect men in his service. Take for example a string of Old Testament fathers, each connected to the next in Israel’s history.
Eli the priest raised young Samuel. He served God faithfully in the priesthood, but “Eli’s sons were wicked men; they had no regard for the lord” (1 Samuel 2:12). Eli warned his sons about their misconduct, but apparently he had little influence over them. They continued in their wicked ways until their deaths.
Samuel became a trusted prophet and judge in Israel. Sadly, his sons didn’t follow in their father’s footsteps. “When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as judges for Israel . . . . But his sons did not walk in his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice” (1 Samuel 8:1-3). In order to give the nation the leader it desired, Samuel anointed Saul as Israel’s first king.
Saul appeared to be the ideal king candidate. An impressive figure of a man who at first felt unworthy to lead the nation, he became rebellious toward God, arrogant, and envious. After enlisting David in his service, Saul grew jealous of the attention the young warrior received. He tried to eliminate David on several occasions, and when Saul’s son Jonathan defended his dear friend, “Saul hurled his spear at [Jonathan] to kill him” (1 Samuel 20:33).
David succeeded Saul as Israel’s king and led the nation with skill and integrity (see Psalm 78:72). But in the process he often failed as a father. When David’s son Amnon raped his half-sister, David’s daughter Tamar, “King David . . . was furious” (2 Samuel 13:21). But that’s all the Bible says. We have no indication David punished Amnon. David’s son Absalom (who shared the same mother as Tamar) was outraged by Amnon’s conduct. He waited for the right opportunity and then had Amnon murdered. Later Absalom attempted to usurp his father’s throne and in the process disgraced his father by sleeping with David’s concubines “in the sight of all Israel” (2 Samuel 16:22). Absalom was killed during the rebellion.
As David’s health failed, his son Adonijah “put himself forward” (1 Kings 1:5) in an attempt to seize the throne his father had promised to Solomon. Here the Scriptures add, “[Adonijah’s] father had never interfered with him by asking, ‘Why do you behave as you do?’” (1 Kings 1:6).
God used these men despite their poor parental track records. It doesn’t excuse their failures, but it reminds us that God can use even weak fathers to accomplish his purposes.
I, for one, am thankful.