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Broken and Conflicted

Only the Cross can overcome family dysfunction.
This sermon is part of the sermon series "Broken". See series.


Today, we are finishing our series on David. Scripture talks about David a lot. The New Testament says God chose David because he was a man after God's own heart. But we also know that his heart was broken. All of our hearts are broken by sin. At times, sin reigned in David's heart and controlled him. But ultimately David was repentant.

Today, we are going to look at a dark time in David's life, a time when he was conflicted. We are going to look at what happened to his kids. I want us to reflect on the families around us. I want you to think about your own family. I want you to think about the families in our culture. Many families in America today reflect much of what we see in David's home.

In Psalm 51, David prayed, "Create in me a pure heart; renew in me a steadfast spirit." Unfortunately, David was not the best father. He needed to fix his eyes on God daily. Unfortunately, he reverted back to losing the moral high ground. He was frozen as a dad. He didn't step up for his daughter when she was raped. He didn't confront his son, the rapist.

We're going to look at five ingredients of a dysfunctional home. Perhaps you are experiencing these in your own home. We're going to talk about how you can move past the dysfunction in your family.

Setting a bad example

The first ingredient to a dysfunctional home is setting a bad example. That's what David did. He took another man's wife into his bedroom. He impregnated her, and he put her husband on the front lines of battle. Guess who was probably watching all along? His oldest son, Amnon, who was probably 17 or 18 at the time. Amnon had to witness his dad use another woman to fulfill his sexual craving.

Our kids don't necessarily do what we tell them to do. They do what they see us doing. They end up living out what we model. David blows it. He sets a bad example. He opens a door, and his kids walk through it.

Second Samuel 13:1 says, "In the course of time [about two years after David brings Bathsheba into his bedroom], Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David." What's going on here? Amnon is infatuated with his half-sister, and he begins to desire her sexually. Verse 2 says, "Amnon became frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her."

David modeled a bad example for his kids. He used someone else for his own sexual gratification. And that's exactly what Amnon is about to do to his own sister. This is disgusting. It's awful. Sadly, this type of thing happens more than we care to know.

Amnon tricks his sister. He pretends to be sick and he convinces Tamar to bring food to his bedroom. And while she's in his bedroom, Amnon begins to force himself on her. Verse 12: "'Don't, my brother!' she said to him. 'Don't force me. Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Do not do such a wicked thing.'" Amnon refuses "to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her. Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon then said to her, 'Get up and get out!'" (2 Samuel 13:14-15).

So he rapes his sister. He thought he loved her, but he really only lusted after her. After he raped her, his lust turned into hatred. This is what is behind sexual assault. It's never love; it's always power. It's always lust, and it's always hatred. Behind sexual assault is a hatred for God, a hatred for the other person, and a hatred for self. That's what is driving Amnon as he rapes his sister.

Failing to discipline

How does David respond? The second ingredient of a dysfunctional home is lack of discipline. Second Samuel 13:21: "When King David heard all this, he was furious." Now that's a good start. He's angry. He's furious. What he needs to do is confront and discipline Amnon. Then he needs to console Tamar. He needs to make sure this doesn't happen again. But he does nothing! He's furious, but he doesn't do anything. Why?

The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, and the Dead Sea scrolls say, "David would not punish his son Amnon because he loved him, for he was his firstborn." The dysfunction in David's home is about love. Amnon confuses lust for love. David confuses love for appeasement and enablement. David's family doesn't understand what true, godly love is about. As a result, David doesn't discipline his son.

Notice what happens when David doesn't discipline Amnon: "Absalom never said a word to Amnon, either good or bad" (2 Samuel 13:22). Absalom stopped talking to Amnon. What's going on in Absalom's heart? He is furious. His sister was raped. He's thinking, Dad, be a dad. Step in. Do something. Make this right. Don't just cover it up. And for a long time he says nothing to Amnon. "He hated Amnon because Amnon had disgraced his sister Tamar."

In order to discipline and confront sin, you and I need to know three things, especially if you're a parent. Amnon is probably about 20- or 21-years-old when he rapes Tamar. David needs to step in and confront him.

First, our concern for the well-being of the other person should be more important than the current comfort level of our relationship. All too often, parents don't confront and discipline their kids because they don't want to rock the boat. And that was true in David's case.

Secondly, we must realize our wayward child's need to get better is greater than our need to be needed. Many of us parents are needy. We want to be pals with our kids. But instead of being godly parents, we become their pals and we don't discipline them. God wants us to be parents, not pals.

Thirdly, if we ignore destructive behavior, it will only get worse. David ignores this, and the situation gets worse. Tamar becomes more devastated. She lost her virginity when she was raped. Only virgins could get married. Her future was destroyed. She ended her days in desolation. Amnon thinks he got away with his sin, but he drifts more and more. Absalom becomes increasingly angry at Amnon. I'm most concerned about Tamar at this point. David doesn't stand up for her. He doesn't do anything to help her. He doesn't confront the issue, and she basically becomes the lightning rod of the family.

If sexual assault is ignored, the victim becomes the lightning rod. When a child is inappropriately touched by a relative, the abuser tells the child to keep quiet. The young victim becomes the lightning rod and grows up bearing the shame of what happened. That's what happens with Tamar, and Absalom is angry because he knows what she is experiencing. David is ignorant because he's more interested in protecting his identity and the reputation of his family. But nothing good happens.

In our culture today, one of three girls is raped or sexually assaulted by the time she's 18, and 1 of every 5 boys is sexually assaulted by the time he's 18. This problem hits a large number of families. Tamar is devastated because David doesn't enforce discipline. All too often, we allow the Tamars to bear their shame. We do it in our families. We even do it in the church.

In the 1990s, I was the senior associate pastor at a church. I had other pastors reporting to me, including one student pastor. I received a phone call that no pastor ever wants to get. I got news that the student pastor had been molesting one of the boys in the youth group for an entire year. So I called the student pastor. I met with him at 11:30 at night. After an hour, he finally confessed. Then I called the senior pastor, at 12:30 in the morning, and said, "We've got to meet as soon as you can. We've got to figure this out, and we need to move on this." We met at six in the morning, and we had the district attorney in our church. We immediately turned in the student pastor to the district attorney. Within 24 hours, we had news crews in our parking lot. A picture of our church was on the front page of all the magazines and newspapers in south Texas. I thought to myself, We did the right thing. We did what we needed to do. We came out with it.

And then the mail started trickling in. I wasn't prepared for this. The senior pastor and I got 30 to 50 letters each. These letters were essentially hate mail. The majority of the letters expressed disappointment and shame that we made public our church's dirty laundry. I had people saying, "Shame on you for coming out with this. You should have kept it quiet." I got a glimpse at why Roman Catholic churches move pedophilic priests to other states. They have a tremendous amount of pressure from without and from within. People would rather have the illusion of health than health itself. I found that out, and I was incredibly upset. I almost gave up on the church because I was so miserable. I couldn't believe it. The situation gave me a glimpse into a dysfunctional setting.

God wants us to discipline sin. He wants us to see sin for what it is. He wants us to confront it and deal with it. He wants us to expose it. What we bring into the light no longer has power over us. We need to bring sin into the light. All along, I was thinking, What about the boy who was touched by the youth pastor? Should he bear the shame of what happened? That's basically what people were saying. And that's basically what David says to Tamar. It's sick. It's dysfunctional. It's wrong. David doesn't discipline.

Denying the reality of the situation

The third ingredient of a dysfunctional home is denial. Absalom waits for his dad to be a dad. How long does he wait? Second Samuel 13:23 says, "Two years later, when Absalom's sheepshearers were at Baal Hazor near the border of Ephraim, he invited all the king's sons to come there." It's been two years since Amnon raped Tamar, and nothing has happened. David hasn't stepped up. He hasn't set things right. He hasn't consoled Tamar. He hasn't confronted Amnon. He is frozen. He has lost the moral high ground. He is probably thinking, If I confront Amnon, Amnon's going to say to me, "Thank you for confronting me, Dad. By the way, how's Bathsheba doing?"

Verses 24 through 26:

Absalom went to the king and said, "Your servant has had shearers come. Will the king and his attendants please join me?" "No, my son," the king replied. "All of us should not go; we would only be a burden to you." Although Absalom urged him, he still refused to go but gave him his blessing. Then Absalom said, "If not, please let my brother Amnon come with us."

David knows something is going on. He is in denial, but he's not ignorant. He knows that Absalom hates Amnon. He knows that Absalom hasn't spoken to Amnon. Now two years later, Absalom wants Amnon to go with him to this other community, with the sheepshearers, for some strange reason. And David's dragging his feet. He finally agrees. He says Amnon can go with Absalom as long as two other sons tag along. And Absalom's okay with that.

Verse 28 says,

Absalom ordered his men, "Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, 'Strike Amnon down,' then kill him. Don't be afraid. Have not I given you this order? Be strong and brave." So Absalom's men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered.

When problems are ignored, when we deny problems in our family, they only get worse. They expand. It's like a snowball. Problems never go away when we ignore them. Resentments grow stronger. Patterns of denial get deeper. The dysfunctions in the entire family become increasingly worse.

David could have stepped in at any point. He could have made things right, but he didn't. He was conflicted. He probably couldn't forgive himself.

Avoiding reconciliation

The fourth ingredient of a dysfunctional family is avoiding reconciliation. Second Samuel 13:38 says, "After Absalom fled and went to Geshur …." Absalom has his brother Amnon killed, and he runs away. He goes to a town called Geshur where he stays for three years. He's running from his dad. It's been five years since Tamar was raped. Things have only gotten worse. Absalom has had Amnon killed. Now he's a runaway. Verse 39 says, "And the spirit of the king longed to go to Absalom, for he was consoled concerning Amnon's death." Joab, one of David's advisors and generals, hears and sees that David wants Absalom to come back home. So he goes to Absalom and he talks with him. He tells him his dad wants him to return. This probably gave Absalom joy. He probably thought, My dad wants me home. Maybe he's finally going to be a dad. Maybe he's going to set things right.

But notice what happens next. Second Samuel 14:28 says, "Absalom lived two years in Jerusalem without seeing the king's face." So he moves back to Jerusalem because Joab says David wants him home. But for two years his dad won't see him. Jerusalem is not a big city, especially back then. It was only a couple of square miles. They live in the same, small city, but David won't see his son. Why? He's avoiding him. He's avoiding reconciliation. He's still in denial. He doesn't want to make amends with Absalom because that would mean he has to face all of his own dysfunctions. And David can't do that. He's not ready to do that. He's frozen.

So what happens next? After two years—seven years since Tamar was raped—Absalom has finally had enough and he starts extorting. He sends people to burn down Joab's field. He wants Joab to know that he will continue to do this kind of stuff until he sees his dad. So Joab confronts Absalom. Second Samuel 14:31 says,

Then Joab did go to Absalom's house, and he said to him, "Why have your servants set my field on fire?" Absalom said to Joab, "Look, I sent word to you and said, 'Come here so I can send you to the king to ask, "Why have I come from Geshur? It would be better for me if I were still there!"'

So Absalom explains to Joab that he still hasn't seen his father. It's been two years. Absalom says, "Now then, I want to see the king's face, and if I'm guilty of anything, let him put me to death." Many commentators think Absalom is trying to take his father's throne, but that's probably not the case. He probably wants his dad just to be a dad. He wants his dad to step in and call sin what it is.

So Joab talks to David. David summons Absalom. "And Absalom came and bowed down with his face to the ground before the king." He prostrates himself in front of David. He's basically saying: Do whatever you want with me. But the elephant in the room is being ignored.

David never says, "Let's talk about your killing your brother Amnon. Let's talk about what happened to Tamar. Let's talk about your anger. Let's talk about the fact that you deceived me so that you could kill your brother." David doesn't even go there. He's still avoiding reconciliation. The text says, "He bent down and kissed him." This is essentially a formality. He kisses him, but he doesn't do anything else. He doesn't address the problem. He just tries to cover it over with a kiss, but that doesn't cover it over. It doesn't expose the problem. It doesn't punish the sin. It doesn't deal with the infection. It doesn't undo seven years of dysfunction.

David could have said, "Absalom, let me come clean. I have messed up big time. Forgive me." But he doesn't do that. He doesn't. He just kisses him. And Absalom goes away and becomes even angrier, more bitter, and more resentful.

Failing to express emotions

The fifth ingredient of a dysfunctional home is the lack of expressing true feelings. Long story short, Absalom starts a rebellion against his dad. He forms an army, and they march into Jerusalem. He takes over Jerusalem. He runs his dad out of the palace, and he takes over the palace. David is caught by surprise. He leaves the palace barefoot and he runs up the Mount of Olives, the same place where Jesus came down years later. He runs up the Mount of Olives barefoot, weeping. In the meantime, Absalom overtakes his dad's kingdom, and he starts looking for advice.

Whenever you and I abandon our kids, whenever we refuse to speak truth to them, whenever we ignore the elephant in the room, someone will step into our kids' lives and fill that void. So who does Absalom turn to? He turns to Ahithophel. Second Samuel 16:20 says, "Absalom said to Ahithophel, 'Give us your advice. What should we now do?'"

It's the vacuum of abandonment. Absalom is looking for fatherly advice, so he goes to Ahithophel:

Ahithophel answered, "Lie with your father's concubines whom he left to take care of the palace. Then all of Israel will hear that you made yourself a stench in your father's nostrils, and the hands of everyone with you will be strengthened." So they pitched a tent for Absalom on the roof, and he slept with his father's concubines in the sight of all of Israel.

He has public sex with his dad's concubines in the sight of everybody. What David did privately has now been done to him publicly. His kids walked right through the door that he opened. It's generational sin, and it got worse. It snowballed and became more devastating.

So Absalom takes over. He does these horrible things. And at one point, he's riding his horse on a small path. The Bible says he has black, curly, flowing hair. And his hair gets caught in a tree. And Joab's men come upon Absalom who is stuck in a tree. They tell Joab. Remember, Absalom burned Joab's field. They ask what they should do. Joab says he'll take care of it. He goes to Absalom, and he plunges two spears through Absalom's chest and kills him. Word comes to David that Absalom is dead. Second Samuel 18:31-33 says, "The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and he wept. As he went, he said, 'O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!'"

He finally expresses what Absalom longed to hear for seven years. He finally expresses his love and care. But it's too late. His son is dead. If David had said this when Absalom prostrated himself before David, the tragedy would have ended. But he didn't. Only at Absalom's death does he come to his senses. But it's too late.

Some of us are like Absalom. We long to hear from our parents. We struggle in the absence of affirming words. When we are abandoned, we go to all sorts of places trying to find what we long for.

So what happens to David's kids? Nothing good. Tamar lives in desolation. Amnon is killed. Absalom is killed after he rebels. But David has another son, Solomon. Solomon grows up in the midst of this dysfunction in his home. He observes and he learns. He writes, "Discipline your son, for in it there is hope; and do not be a willing party to his death" (Proverbs 19:18). Perhaps Solomon was thinking about his brothers and his sister when he wrote those words. Solomon also writes, "He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge" (Proverbs 14: 26).

David's house was anything but a fortress and a refuge for his kids. David didn't fear the Lord in these times. He was conflicted. His eyes were on his own faults and failures. His eyes were no longer on God.

Overcoming family dysfunctions

We live in a world full of Davids, Tamars, Amnons, and Absaloms. I think American families look a lot like David's. We see children with the same sort of anger that Absalom had. Families in our culture struggle with similar dysfunctions that we see in this text.

So what do we do? The only answer is the Cross. Jesus died for our sins. He shed his blood so that we might be forgiven, so that we might get unstuck, so that we might not be frozen in our own sins. He died so that we might move past our failures. We need to return to the Cross, to the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. We need to receive it personally so that we might be able to move forward. When we turn to the Cross and accept Christ as Lord and Savior, we are no longer defined by our mistakes. You are no longer defined by sexual assault. You don't have to bear the shame anymore. If you sexually assaulted someone, you are no longer defined by your sin. If you ignored sin, if you failed to confront sin, you are no longer defined by your passivity. If you did drugs, if you had an abortion, or if you slept around, you are no longer defined by your sin. The Cross defines who you are. You now have the moral high ground. But it's not your moral high ground; it's God's moral high ground. It's not your righteousness and goodness; it's God's righteousness and goodness. And now you can be the parent God wants you to be. Now you can run the Christian race.

Hebrews 12:1 says, "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles." The Christian life is a race. It's not a sprint; it's a marathon. And you and I have to run this marathon. You have to throw off weights, burdens, and garbage. You can't carry those things while you run. You can't run with the weight of abuse. You can't run with the weight of unforgiveness. You can't run with the weight of shame. You have to throw off whatever is weighing you down so that you can run with perseverance.

But how do we do that? How do we throw off our burdens and how do we run with perseverance? Hebrews 12:1-2 says, "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and the perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." We need to fix our eyes on Christ. David fixed his eyes on his own faults and his own brokenness and his own failures. As a result, he froze. He was incompetent. He was a dysfunctional dad. God wants us to focus on him. Don't fix your eyes on the storm. Fix your eyes on him. Don't fix your eyes on your past. Fix your eyes on him. Once you've been to the Cross, fix your eyes on him. Run with perseverance. Throw off your baggage. By faith, fix your eyes on him.

Are you a Tamar? Do you need to forgive your abuser? Unforgiveness doesn't hurt the person who wronged you. It only hurts you. Throw it off. Run the race.

Or are you an Absalom? Have you been abandoned? Do you want injustice to be confronted? Are you becoming increasingly angry? Can you throw off that anger and forgive? Can you fix your eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of your faith?

Are you an Amnon? Or are you a David? Have you sinned, and do you struggle to forgive yourself? Can you forgive yourself and fix your eyes on Christ, the author and perfecter of your faith? Can you repent? If you have been to the Cross, do you see that you are a new creation in Christ? Fix your eyes on Jesus.

Philip Griffin is the Senior Pastor of the Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

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Sermon Outline:


I. Setting a bad example

II. Failing to discipline

III. Denying the reality of the situation

IV. Avoiding reconciliation

V. Avoiding reconciliation

VI. Failing to express emotions

VII. Overcoming family dysfunctions