The Lord asked a provocative question in his day and he asks
it still: "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do
what I say?" (Luke 6:46.) We have determined to bow our knee
before him, we have made the choice to name him Lord, and we express
determination when we call him, "Lord, Lord"-so how
can people in such a condition fail to do what he says?
The question of how people like us end up making choices of unrighteousness is the subject of this message. In 2 Samuel 11, we're going to work our way through the account of adultery, cover-up, murder, exposure, and the long-term outcomes that make up the story of David and Bathsheba. We're doing that for the obvious reason that today in our nation a similar story is unfolding. The existence of lust and lies, cover-ups and exposures in the highest place of national leadership is certainly not new, and it's not even particularly rare.
But our task as Christians is to understand how God operates in such times and circumstances, to know his purpose and his perspective. If we listen to the commentaries of all of the pundits, we will get many types of analyses, but we won't find anyone answering the question, "Where is God in this?" For that perspective we need to go to the Scriptures.
The Biblical account of David's sin is mostly concerned with the cover-up of adultery, which expanded to include conspiracy and murder. It also tells of the unmasking of sin by a prophet of God, and finally about the king's repentance and restoration. So the bulk of the story concerns what happens after David commits adultery with Bathsheba.
But in this message we're going to look at how he got into the mess. It's recorded in only five verses, but in these verses there is a subtle description of how someone with David's history-his greatness of heart, his many years of knowing God's faithfulness, his courageous willingness to step out and trust God-how David, the remarkable sweet singer of Israel, the man after God's heart, allowed himself to descend to the place where he was taking to bed the wife of his good friend. There are important lessons to learn here that will help us answer Jesus' question: "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?"
2 Samuel 11:1-5:
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king's men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, "Isn't this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite?" Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, "I am pregnant."
Let me make some observations about things in the text that might not be obvious in our setting. First, warfare was carried out in ancient Israel by farmers, not professional soldiers. There were no standing armies in Israel or any other nation. These farmer-soldiers had to take a break from war periodically to go back and farm the land and care for their families. When the seed was in the ground and the harvest was some months off, there was a period in which the armies would re-engage. So it was in the springtime, and we are told it was the time for kings to go off to war. They were properly expected to lead their armies in battle.
The second thing we might note is in verse 2. It says, "One evening David got up from his bed...." The word "evening" is probably best translated "dusk" in this case. The telling point here is that David had been napping in the late afternoon, indulging himself when his men were on the battlefield. He got up from his bed, and at dusk, when it was still light enough for him to make the observations this verse speaks of, he started to walk around on the roof of the palace.
The third observation is in verse 4. It says of Bathsheba that she had purified herself from her uncleanness. I think this verb is best rendered here in past perfect tense, which means the action was completed prior to this event. Uncleanness is a reference to her menstrual cycle. The point is that she had recently had a period, which means that she wasn't pregnant when this event took place. The text is being very clear that she was not pregnant by her husband, when David had intercourse with her.
Now, what should we learn from this text? What warnings are sounded? David had a profound prayer life, he wrote songs of praise that we sing today, he had suffered for the Lord's sake, he had known God's strengthening. Everything that David had been through declares that he was a man who knew better and had resources in God to draw on. But he chose not to.
DISENGAGING FROM RESPONSIBILITY
Let's begin with the observation that in the time when kings
went off to war, David did not go. The battle language of the
Old Testament is reproduced in the New Testament, where we are
counted as soldiers in a number of places. We are engaged in a
conflict, and there are times when you and I are called on by
the Lord of the church, the Commander of the army of the people
of God, to go into battle. We are every one of us royal children,
kings, and there are times when kings should be in battle.
However, we are not a nation defending territory and fighting human armies who are defending other territory. The church is a "holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9). Ephesians 6:12 says, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Our battle is against unseen forces that blight and ruin people, that destroy cultures, that terrify hearts, that bind them up with wickedness and with impossible restrictions.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says, "For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." The war we're fighting is very often inside of us: taking thoughts captive, forbidding ourselves to be afraid of things that have no right to make us fearful, forbidding ourselves to be captivated by things that have no right to captivate us, telling ourselves the truth, choosing humility when we would prefer to be arrogant and proud, thinking of the things we've been given as God's to use and not ours to own.
If we're called to represent our Savior in a battle with unseen forces, and we're called to take thoughts captive to Christ, then like David, we have no business shirking the responsibility.
I'm not saying there aren't times of Sabbath rest when God himself may draw us back and put his arms around us, when he may allow us to be protected by him and be disengaged from the worst of the battle, and we should be grateful for such times. Not every day is an evil day.
But when it's time to go to battle, we have no right to hold back, to tell our Commander it doesn't please us to go to war this spring. David's downfall began with the determination early on to pamper himself, to disengage from rightful responsibilities.
The descent into adultery and its outcomes usually doesn't happen overnight. A series of steps, none large, take us nearer and nearer the precipice. Each small step by itself isn't particularly dangerous, but if they accumulate, we end up in a very dark place indeed. Dave Roper has said that moral failure of the type in this passage is never a blowout. It's always the result of a slow leak over a period of time.
What other warning flags might go up in this account that can keep us from ending up in such a place? I want to mention three things. One of them is complacency, laziness, or sloth. Do we discover a kind of laziness of spirit, a complacency of heart if we look hard at ourselves? The second is self-importance, a promotion of oneself, being too impressed with what we see in the mirror. The third concerns the process of lust. All of these together are what brought David to the place where we find him in verse 4.
What are the components of complacency and laziness? First
of all, what David was saying in his choice not to go to battle
was that he could predict what would happen. David had fought
hundreds of battles. He had been in wars since he was a young
man, and he knew what the enemies, his own armies, and the conditions
were like. He said to himself, "I can send the army out because
I can predict victory. There is no reason for me to ask God for
his insight in this time and place, no reason for me to be alert
to the possibility of problems. I know circumstances like this."
When we begin to think that the life God has given us to live,
especially regarding the things that we have to fight against,
is predictable-"I can handle this problem, I've been here
before, I'm confident of my abilities and insights and experience"-then
we're more vulnerable than we realize.
I've found myself sometimes in a counseling session with someone thinking, "Oh, I know people like this," or, "I know problems like this." I start rattling off verses that were appropriate last time a similar question came up. I'm not listening very carefully, I'm not asking God, "Is there something more at stake here than I can see?" At times as a father I'll think to myself, "These children have said these things before; I know what this is like." So I'll give them some kind of routine response. Even my wife Leslie and I can get in that situation, where she'll say something and I'll think, "Oh yes, I know this. We're about to have this conversation again." And so I'll just click on the tape, so to speak. Because we assume that life is predictable and that nothing ever changes and nothing important is at stake, we imagine that we can respond in a routine way. Once we begin to think that, we're setting ourselves up, because the enemy encourages our carelessness and inattention.
Another component of complacency or laziness is seen when David decided that someone else should do what he had been called to do. "I don't want to go out in the field, live in a tent, eat war rations. I don't want to leave my house. I don't want to be in danger. Someone else should put his life in danger, make the hard decisions, shoulder the responsibility." Listen to what Uriah, David's friend, says in verse 11. David must have been cut to the heart when he heard this: "The ark [the dwelling place of God] and Israel and Judah are staying in tents, and my master Joab and my lord's men are camped in the open fields. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!" It's dangerous to think that you can hand off to someone else what God has given to you to do because you're tired of it. That sort of indulgent thinking was creating greater and greater dangers for David.
A third component of complacency is the restlessness and boredom we see in David. These to me are always important signs that something is terribly wrong. What was he doing taking a nap in the afternoon, lying around in his house, not only not engaged in battle but not doing anything else worth doing? Life had become bland. The text says he got up and was walking around on the roof of the palace. The suggestion is that this was a kind of restlessness, that everything tasted the same, every opportunity looked the same. Yet here was somebody who could write the greatest praise of God that has ever been written, who had fought giants in his youth, who had united a nation in adulthood, who had dealt with his enemies fairly, who had administered justice.
How can you be bored when there are people to love for God's sake? How can you be bored knowing that you are the object of God's love and constant attention? How can you be bored when you know that you've been called to live a life of accomplishment and usefulness with the gifts you've been given? If you are, then something is gravely wrong. The last thing in the world a believer should be is restless and bored. Yet we find David in essentially that condition, and that too should have been a red flag. It should have stirred him awake. Everything about the circumstance he was in should have alerted him to the problems that were coming up.
Consider also that David was dripping with self-importance,
much too impressed with himself. He listened too much to the people
who patted him on the back. He was the king. Kings can do anything
they want-who was going to tell the king no? He saw a woman he
wanted, and he thought, "why shouldn't I have the woman,
the lifestyle I want, the good things I want? Why should a person
like me be denied anything?" David sent a servant to find
out who she was. Was the servant going to raise an objection?
When the answer came back, "She is the daughter of your good
friend Eliam, the wife of your good friend Uriah," who was
going to tell him, "You have no business at all pursuing
this"? Who was going to say, "Stop, David! Listen to
what you're saying!" David's self-importance led to isolation.
There was no one who would stand up to him, challenge him, hold
him accountable, say the hard thing.
Where were all the men who could have stopped him? They were in battle. David had spent years forming a cadre of fighters, the gibborim or might men, listed at the end of 2 Samuel. They were remarkable, courageous, fearsome fighters who had served with David for decades. These were men who had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with him in every kind of difficult circumstance. They could have stopped David, but they were camped on the battlefield. There was nobody in David's life who could stop him except himself.
We need to be in environments of accountability where there is somebody who has the right and the standing in our life to grab us by the lapels and say, "What in the world are you doing, you fool? How can you possibly think such a thing? Look at what you're becoming! Evaluate what you're thinking!"
Where do such people who are seriously committed to each other come from? They come from fighting wars together. A group that just meets to sit around and hold hands and exchange pleasantries is not an accountability group. The people who go deep enough in your life to have those kinds of relationships with you are people with whom you have ministered, with whom you have taken risks, with whom you have been honest.
If you don't have a group of people like that in your life, it's because you've chosen not to. There is so much ministry in this church, let alone every other place-evangelism opportunities, service to the needy-many places where you and someone else can put your life on the line, get involved in something worth doing, stand shoulder-to-shoulder, fight the fight and then become one another's allies. The sad reality is that just as David chose to put himself in this unaccountable circumstance, to the extent that you and I find ourselves isolated, it's because we've chosen to be.
FROM LUST TO ADULTERY
The third warning flag is the progression of lust to adultery.
There's a series of steps that are mentioned here. Although David's
restlessness was indicative of a problem, his pacing around the
roof was probably innocent. And Bathsheba's bath-taking was not
inappropriate either. He noticed her, but not for the wrong reasons.
But every step that followed was wrong. After he noticed her,
he stared at her. The Hebrew is very clear. It says that she was
very beautiful. He had to observe her long enough to draw
that conclusion, to enjoy what he was seeing. Instead of just
seeing her bathe, he enjoyed it, wallowed in it, and then sent
a servant to investigate who she was.
When word came back that she was the daughter of one friend and the wife of another, everything should have stopped. But by then the fantasy had taken on a power. He overrode the warnings, brought her to his bedroom, and had sex with her. And then he thought it was over. This was going to be a one-night stand. It's very clear; she went home immediately. He didn't intend that the relationship should continue on.
Then the chilling result: She sent him word saying, "I am pregnant."
All the steps in this process were occasions to stop it. He could have stopped it at the first glance. He could have stopped the fascination when it was growing. He could have stopped before he investigated. Certainly after he investigated and heard who she was, he could have stopped. But he didn't. That process mirrors the progression of sexual sin in everybody's life that I know of: the beginning glance, the long look, the imagined experience, the growing fascination, and then the action. And toward the end it seems inevitable: "It's too late, I've sent for her. She's coming. There's nothing I can do to stop now. We're caught in circumstances too big for ourselves." But you can stop any time. You can come to your senses, you can call for help, you can dig your heels in, you can turn around and go the other direction.
Here's a warning to men: Deal with the visuals in your life. What are you staring at that you shouldn't be? What sort of "eye gate" information are you taking in? For women, it's more often an emotional entanglement-having conversations with some man in your life, a neighbor or a co-worker, that begin to take the place of the conversations you ought to be having with your husband; becoming emotionally fascinated with somebody you have no business being fascinated with.
Another word on the subject of sexual sin is the wisdom of Proverbs: "Drink water from your own cistern...." (5:15). If you're married, let your own spouse become the emotionally fascinating, sexually fascinating, desired person, the one who is to be sought out and with whom intimacy is appropriate. It's always the safest way to stop other kinds of thinking. Re-ignite your love for the one God has given you.
Periodically I imagine I can rise above the struggle of daily temptation and daily resistance. I refuse to be complacent, and I resolve to be alert every moment. It lasts for a little while. And I resolve to stop being self-impressed, give up this subtle arrogance that clouds everything I do, and be humble if it kills me. And the same with lustful thoughts and fantasy life-they will be a thing of the past. The problem is, none of these determinations work. It is not possible to advance to a place where there is no struggle with common weaknesses.
We're always waking up in some degree of compromise: "How did I grow this complacent again?" Our hope is to see the problems sooner and to cut through the rationalizations forcefully. We can stop the descent into ruin at any point.
I urge you to examine yourself. What's going on right now? What stage are you at in the process of fooling yourself? What are the little steps that have taken place, the tiny compromises, the apparently insignificant self-indulgences?
"The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature." (Romans 13:11b-14.)
Catalog No. 4591
2 Samuel 11:1-5
October 25, 1998
Scripture quotations are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
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