|Volume 24 Number 9 September 2022
T. Pierce Brown
There are few stories in the Bible more poignant and heartbreaking than the story of David, ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (Acts 13:22) whose sordid affair with Bathsheba still shocks and moves me even after having read it for 60 years. One reason it may be so touching to many of us is that we may be saying, “There but for the grace of God go I.” There may even be those who say, “There in spite of the grace of God went I.” In any case, it may be helpful to examine the story and to see some of the circumstances that may have led to this sad debacle in David’s life. These principles need to be taught to our young people from the earliest age.
First, a contributing factor in his fall may have been the prosperity and indolence to which he had come. There are some expressions in 2 Samuel 11:1-2 that suggest it. “When kings go forth.” “David sent Joab.” “David remained in Jerusalem.” “One evening…David arose from his bed.” The usual place for David was leading his army, but this time he apparently had been lying in his bed while someone else was fighting his battles. I do not remember whether it was Ben Franklin who said, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop,” but he did say, “Troubles spring from idleness, and grievous toils from needless ease.”
David had said in Psalm 55:17, “Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice” (NKJV). Here, though, he was not praying and crying aloud to God. There is little doubt that a person who feels, like Jesus, “I must be about my Father’s business” (Luke 2:49) will not so easily be led into sin.
In the second place, he chose to look in the wrong direction. He may have been on the roof at one time looking up and thinking, “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1), but this time, he was looking down and thinking something differently. Many have been deceived in thinking that it does not really matter which way they look or at what they look. There are many Christian parents who allow themselves and their children to look at filthy programs in the assumption that it does not really matter. It does!
Although David did not necessarily sin by looking, it led to sin. As in the case of Eve, God had not said, “Do not look at the fruit,” but it is relatively certain that if she had not seen that “the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes” (Genesis 3:6) and dwelt on that fact, she would not have been so likely to have taken it. It was after Lot looked toward Sodom and saw the well-watered plains that he cast his tent in that direction. It was after his wife looked back that she became a pillar of salt. It is certain that a man may look at a pretty woman with appreciation without lusting after her, but it is equally certain that a man who continues to look at a pretty woman in a condition similar to that in which Bathsheba was seen will be more likely to lust after her.
I can visualize David looking at her and thinking something like this, “She is beautiful, and no doubt with her husband out fighting battles for me, is lonely and in need of comfort. I will try to let her know that I am concerned about her welfare and that of her family.” It is my opinion that most good men, especially preachers who have fallen into those kinds of sins, did not do so with the thought at the beginning, “I believe I will commit adultery with her.” They probably started with, “Here is a nice person who needs comfort, consolation, help, advice or encouragement. I will try to give it to her.”
Until a person comes to the place where he is fully conscious that he is responsible for his own actions, not only will he be more liable to fall into sin, but he will also find it difficult if not impossible to repent. It is impossible for one to repent of a sin of which only some other person is guilty. If I think that God made me that way or the devil made me do it or if there is any other one I blame, I am in mortal danger. This is not to deny that there are mitigating circumstances and contributing factors, but none of them relieve us of our own responsibility.
Playing with sin, dallying with the idea, following the example of Balaam who knew what God wanted, but who said, in effect, “I need to check it out again,” will always lead one into danger. Joseph is a good example of how one should respond. He even left his coat and fled. Paul may have had that in mind when he told Timothy, “Flee also youthful lusts” (2 Timothy 2:22).
Habit or persistence in any sin diminishes our sense of the evil of it. Pope was right when he said, “Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, as to be hated needs but to be seen; yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, we first endure, then pity, then embrace.” We do not know that David persisted in his adulterous activity with Bathsheba, but he persisted in sin to cover it. No doubt he could rationalize each one. I can almost hear him saying, “I did wrong, but it would hurt my influence for good if I made open confession of it, so I will try to get Uzzah to come home. It is not merely to protect me, but to protect her or God’s cause.” Then when Uzzah would not go to her, I can imagine David reasoning, “It is the lesser of two evils if I just allow (note “allow”) him to get drunk and then go home.” Even when it all failed and he had Joab put him in the front of the battle and withdraw support from him, it is easy to reason, “The sword devours one as well as another. An army cannot always give support to every individual who gets in trouble in battle.”
A man whose life is dedicated to evil may not even recognize a sin, but a man who normally upholds righteousness usually begins by recognizing sin but making excuses for it. Have you ever offered excuses for eating too much (being a glutton), passing a car when the yellow line was in your lane or any other things you knew to be wrong?
Usually there is a deliberate refusal to examine ourselves too carefully. We have two sets of names for vices, one for ourselves that excuse or mitigate them and another for others that shows their true nature. Even when we recognize it is bad, it is merely a mote in our eye but a beam in our brother’s, as we see it, not the other way as Jesus put it. You are stingy; I am thrifty. You are stubborn; I am tenacious or persistent.
On many occasions, we find persons who assent to the right principles but do not seem to be able to make a personal application. The problem with condemning sin in general is that there is none. If you doubt it, try to name a general sin. If each of us had a Nathan to say, “You are the man” (2 Samuel 12:7) before the event, it might help us. We do not, but we can learn the causes of such downfall and be our own Nathan if we will. That is, we can watch and pray that we might see the kinds of circumstances that caused David, and many after him, to fall into these grievous sins and then correct them before they bring forth such fruit.