Strolling into temptation

June 17th, 2018

2 Samuel 11:1-15

The biblical writers were suspect with regard to public relations. They revealed most dirty secrets, foibles, and skeletons concerning major Bible characters. We read of Adam the liar, Jacob the cheat, Moses the murderer, and the mentally impaired Saul. Then we find David—brave shepherd boy, Israel’s greatest king, God’s favorite—caught in a steamy affair with the wife of Uriah. Proof of the Bible’s veracity is that the dirty linen was rarely washed; the editors rarely censored the truth. We should be thankful. If we did not know the mistakes of the ancient Bible heroes, we would more likely repeat their errors. We might learn as much through the vice and failures of these characters as from their virtues and victories.

The story of David and Bathsheba, tragic as it was, reveals to us the subtle power of temptation and the step-by-step progression into deeper sin. Step one happens to all of us; temptation crosses our paths daily. For David, it was sexual temptation. For you, it may be something else. David had resisted the temptations of power, fame, and wealth. These “usual suspects” did not corrupt him. Temptation came at David’s weak point: he was a romantic.

We regularly pray for God to “lead us not into temptation,” knowing that temptation is a routine, unavoidable part of life. Even Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. It was not David’s fault that Bathsheba was visible at her bath. Strolling on the rooftop, he had an innocent encounter that could happen to any of us. Here is what happened to me.

Years ago, we were staying overnight with my wife’s family. I went to the bedroom we had been using and knocked. I heard my brother-in-law’s voice reply, “Come in.” I opened the door, and to my shock, there stood my sister-in-law in her underwear! She screamed, I closed the door and turned red. My brother-in-law, it turns out, was in the room next door; he thought I had knocked on his door so he invited me in. My sister-in-law, even in her unmentionables, was covered up better than the modern bikini, and we all had a good laugh. After all, it was her husband who had inadvertently invited me in!

We can understand how David’s peeping might have been innocent. If David had simply said “oops” and turned away, he might have defeated temptation instantly. But he didn’t. He stared. He examined this beautiful naked woman as animal instinct took over. David moved then from the first step of innocent temptation to the second: lust. Even President Jimmy Carter, the Baptist Sunday school teacher, admitted being guilty of lust. In our sex-crazed culture, it is difficult to avoid.

Sex is not the only ubiquitous temptation. We can’t keep temptations from coming to mind, whether it be envy or covetousness or anger. But we can keep them from becoming obsessive. Martin Luther wrote: “You can’t keep a bird from flying over your head; you can keep it from building a nest in your hair.” Our attitude toward temptation should be something like my dad’s attitude toward stray dogs. If a stray dog came into our yard, Dad would not allow us to feed it. He said if you feed a stray, it makes its home with you—you’ll never be rid of it. If you feed an impure thought, sin will make its home with you.

This brings us back to David: he fed his lust. He went on to the third step. He inquired about his fantasy. He invited Bathsheba to his palace. Perhaps David still intended no harm. But from there, he took the final step: active sin, putting thoughts into action. David slept with Bathsheba.

So that we would not be hypocrites and Pharisees, Jesus warned us that even evil thoughts could be sinful. Nevertheless, once a sinful thought becomes an action, the damage is greater. God can easily forgive us for mental sins and free us from any harmful consequences. But actions always have costly consequences that forgiveness alone cannot undo.

For David and Bathsheba, their adultery had a serious consequence: pregnancy. Her husband, Uriah, was off at war. David could not contrive any way to make it look like the child was Uriah’s. His secret sin would soon become public. This led to an even deeper sin: David conspired to have Uriah murdered!

How could this be possible? How could a godly man like David fall to such a low level of deceit and murder? The day he saw Bathsheba on the roof, he did not think: “I will break my marriage vow, enjoy that woman, and kill her husband.” No, the sin began incrementally. This is how evil works. Evil weaves its temptations slowly, subtly, insidiously, and deceitfully. We fail to see how deeply we are entangled in sin until it is too late. We are blinded to the secondary costs of sin, the consequences upon ourselves and upon innocent others. Sin and temptation blur the facts; the fantasy is always more beautiful, easier, and less costly than reality. In our fantasy, no one gets hurt by sin; in reality, everyone is hurt.

Again, this is not a lesson just about adultery. The steps to sin revealed in David’s sad story are universal. Your weak point, your emotional “hot spot,” may be different; it may be a temptation to money, or power, or selfishness, or something else.

So what are we to do in the face of temptation? Simple. Turn away. An example: Three men being interviewed for a job as bus driver were each asked the same question: “How close could you drive to the edge of a cliff without losing control of the bus?” The first applicant said, “I could get within a foot of it without a problem.” The second applicant boasted, “I have a strong, steady grip on the wheel. I could drive within four inches of the precipice.” But the third one wisely said, “I don’t know—I would never drive that close to danger.” Would you like to guess who got the job?

When we toy with temptation, we are too close to the edge. Stay away from the precipice! Make a decision for love to reign. Keep your vows to God and to spouse. Stay strong in prayer, in Bible reading, in church attendance. Be honest with spouses and seek help from friends. We may, with God’s help, have the strength to flee at sin’s first appearance. As David later learned and wrote in what we believe was his seventy-third psalm, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (73:26).

The final word from the life of King David is one of grace. Despite David’s terrible sins, God forgave him. And God will forgive you and me. David also wrote, “You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you” (Psalm 86:5 NIV). Amen.

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