David was a great man, a great king. David was so close to God that he was likened to a messenger of God, a being that is constantly in God’s very presence. (2 Sam. 14:17;20) Yet David was still human and made mistakes. Perhaps one of the biggest mistakes was inaction when he should’ve acted, sorting things out in his own household.
When David learned of Amnon’s violence against Tamar, he became “very angry” (2 Sam. 13:21) but there’s no record of what he did about it, leaving the impression that he did nothing. (In fact, there is a footnote in one of my translations that says according to the Dead Sea Scrolls and Greek version there is an addendum of, “But he did not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.”) When Absalom asked for Amnon to accompany him, David, despite being suspicious, let Amnon wear him down instead of standing firm in his decision of saying no. (2 Sam. 26-27) These instances of inaction became a gateway for a lot of heartache for David.
Later on, when Absalom stood at the gate and hindered people from going to David with their cases, again David did nothing about it. This action went on for years and David’s inaction allowed Absalom to “steal the hearts of all the people of Israel,” allowing for Absalom to create an uprising against David. (2 Sam. 15:1-12)
I have to wonder just what David was thinking at the time. Did he simply choose inaction because it seemed easier at the time? Was he too focused elsewhere? Did he think inaction was an act of mercy? Throughout his lifetime, David was very merciful to those who had done him wrong. However, Mercy is not the same as inaction.
For this, as in all things, we can look to Jesus. I think we can all agree that Jesus is one of the most merciful beings to every walk this earth. He went to the cross pleading for forgiveness for those who put Him there. (Luke 23:34) When Jesus was confronted with a sinner, He met them with mercy and the admonishment, “Go and sin no more.” He constantly taught the people around Him how to live according to God’s nature. Jesus constantly took action. When Peter denied Jesus, He didn’t ignore it. He first warned Peter of his betrayal and when the time came, He looked at Peter. (Luke 22:31-34;54-61)
So what does mercy look like for us? In the broad prospective, it can be calling sinners to repentance. It can be greeting the visitor who may not meet our expectations but still being kind to them. In the personal, it can be correcting our children when they have misbehaved, perhaps even helping them become aware of their misbehavior. It could be lovingly confronting a friend or spouse when their actions are not in line with God’s nature. It could be not judging a friend or spouse when they come to us with their struggles or sin, and instead showing them God’s love and helping them out as they need it. In short, Mercy is acting in Jesus-level love.
Perhaps if David had acted in true mercy, things would’ve turned out differently for him and his sons.
In whatever we do, may we act in mercy. May we act with compassion and forgiveness, the very definition of mercy.