David and Bathsheba, Bill and Monica
A sermon on 2 Samuel 11 & 12 by Coty Pinckney, Community Bible Church, Williamstown, MA 8/30/98
What is your reaction to the Clinton/Lewinsky imbroglio?
I think most of us have a mixture of reactions:
We wish it had never happened;
We wish we could ignore it;
Yet we feel compelled to follow the continual revelations.
These last several months have given us profound insights into the character of the man who should be leading the world. Our country faces a precarious situation because of the sin of this one man. Anyone who cares about the future of this country and, indeed, the world, must follow this crisis.
Yet we Christians seem to be particularly confused about how to respond. President Clinton claims this is a matter he should deal with personally, before his family and before God. We hear Scripture quoted, "Judge not, that you be not judged." We frequently pray, "forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." Should we, then, simply forgive the President and forget? Should we quit reading any news reports about the crisis? Should we simply acknowledge that all of us are sinners, including Bill Clinton, and then pretend that this never happened?
This morning I want to address these questions by going back 3000 years, to a similar incident that occurred in the nation of Israel. The political leader of a powerful country committed adultery and murder; an accuser then stood before him and confronted him with his sin. How did that political leader react? What light does this shed on the actions of our president? And, most importantly, what insights do both of these incidents give us into the nature of sin?
Before we open the Scriptures together, let us pray:
Dear Lord, thank you for the revelation of your word. Thank you that the truths you teach hold for all time. Open my mouth this morning, and open the hearts and ears of all of us. Help me to focus only on your revelation and your word, and keep away from my political opinions. Help us all to gain insight today into the terrible reality of the power of sin -- and the wonderful power over sin you give us in salvation. In Jesus name, Amen.
Sin Always Deceives
Please turn with me in your Bibles to 2 Samuel chapter 11. Verses 1-4 give us the first of four insights into the nature of sin, four principles that we would do well to remember:
1 ¶ 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. 2 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. 3 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?" 4 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.
David should have been fighting with his army; instead he sent his men out into battle while he remained in the comfort of Jerusalem. As we learn at the end of chapter 12, David evidently intended to let Joab do the difficult work of breaking down the defenses of the city, and then to arrive just in time to take the city himself.
Now, one clear night David is out on the roof of his palace. Even today, many houses in the Middle East are flat-roofed; people often sleep on their roofs in the cool night air during the warmest seasons.
The palace roof, naturally, was the highest in the city. So on this warm evening, David surveys what he had named the city of David, his capital, the supposedly impenetrable mountain fortress he himself had taken from the Jebusites. He must have been feeling some sense of pride and accomplishment when he notices a movement on another, lower roof. A lantern; water splashing. David peers and sees -- a woman undressing, then bathing. He notices her great beauty. The Hebrew literally reads, 'She was of good appearance -- exceedingly."
Now, remember, David already has multiple wives; if he simply wanted to engage in sexual relations, he had several women to choose from. But I suggest this was part of the problem, not part of the solution. Instead of following God's intention that one man should be united in marriage with one woman in a one flesh relationship, David has followed the pattern of other prosperous men in the surrounding nations, indulging his sexual appetites by bringing attractive women into his harem. When he sees an attractive, available woman, he brings her to himself. And indulgence inevitably leads not to satisfaction but to more and more indulgence.
So David figures this will be one more case of the same, one more beautiful woman for the harem. He inquires about her -- but doesn't get the answer he wants. He supposes this young woman to be unmarried, but not only is she married -- her husband is one of David's most loyal men, Uriah.
Uriah joined David's band in the wilderness, while David was running from Saul and appeared to have no future. Uriah has fought beside David for years, serving his master faithfully.
David now has a choice; either to commit adultery, explicitly breaking one of the Ten Commandments, and cuckolding one of his best friends -- or to control himself. David chooses adultery.
Think about this: God uses David as a type of Christ, a foreshadowing of Christ; God has called him a man after His own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). David himself has written "I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart" (Psalm 40:8). Yet David violates that very law, explicitly, knowingly. Why?
Here we come to our first principle: Sin always deceives. Sin always promises something it cannot deliver. When we hear these promises, we are tempted to give in, to accept the deception and justify our action. David must have done that; he knew he was doing wrong, but he tried to justify himself, perhaps by saying
"It's only one night -- I can go back to delighting in God's law tomorrow;" or,
"She's willing -- we're just consenting adults;" or,
"No one is hurt by this; Uriah will never know; Indeed, no one will ever know;" or,
"Think of all I've done for this country; surely I deserve this one little fling!"
Have you ever heard such temptations? Satan is the deceiver, a liar and the father of lies, and he uses similar lies with all of us. Satan presents sin to us as the way to life, the way to enjoyment, the way to fulfillment -- when really it is the way to death and destruction. Satan persuades us that engaging in sin will fulfill our desires, when sin gives satisfaction only to our least important desires, and that only briefly, leaving us dying for true love, for true joy, and for true peace. Sin always deceives.
Sin Always Destroys
David and Bathsheba have their fling, and she returns home. Weeks pass. David doesn't see her again, and figures it is all over. He even pretends that once again he is delighting in God's law. Then one day, maybe four weeks after the event, he receives a message: "David, I'm pregnant." Now, Uriah has been away from Jerusalem for months; when Bathsheba's belly starts to grow, her adultery will be evident to all. According to the law, she should then be stoned -- along with her accomplice (Lev 20:10).
David tries to think quick: "Let's see, one month has passed. It's not too unusual for children to be born four weeks early. If I can just get Uriah home, he and Bathsheba will have sexual relations. While she may seem to be a bit big for the number of months she's been pregnant, maybe people will just think she's having twins. Surely no one will raise questions then."
So David has Joab send Uriah home. Let's continue reading in verse 7:
7 When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, "Go down to your house and wash your feet." So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master's servants and did not go down to his house. 10 When David was told, "Uriah did not go home," he asked him, "Haven't you just come from a distance? Why didn't you go home?" 11 Uriah said to David, "The ark 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!"
Uriah's statement must have cut David to the quick. Uriah has not seen his wife for months, but will not even visit her. All the army of the living God is undergoing hardship in the field; Uriah knows that is his place, that is where he belongs. He is fully loyal, fully devoted to Joab and David -- and to the God of Israel (even though he is not an Israelite by birth). What a contrast to David, who should have been out in the field with that army, but instead chose to indulge his sensual appetites -- and to do that not with his own wives, but with the wife of this most loyal subordinate.
David proceeds to get him drunk that evening, hoping that this will overcome his loyalty, and that he will then sleep with Bathsheba. But even a drunk Uriah shows considerably more restraint that a sober David; Uriah does not go home. He sleeps on a mat at the palace with David's servants.
So David has to come up with Plan B, and a monstrous plan it is:
14 ¶ In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, "Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die."
David has Uriah carry instructions for his own execution -- because he trusts him! He knows this loyal servant will never think of opening the letter. This is murder, plain and simple.
Joab carries out David's orders, with a twist. This plan seems too obvious -- won't the whole army see that Joab ordered Uriah to be left on his own? How can he tell those soldiers who serve Uriah to desert him? So instead he has Uriah lead a suicide charge; a number of men die, including this faithful old friend. Joab sends a messenger to notify David, who responds cynically (verse 25):
25 David told the messenger, "Say this to Joab: 'Don't let this upset you; the sword devours one as well as another. Press the attack against the city and destroy it.' Say this to encourage Joab."
What started as a one night stand, as a consensual relationship between two people, has led to destruction and death. And the destruction and death are far from over, as we will see. This is our second principle: Sin always destroys. Sin destroys our relationships to man and God, sin destroys what is best in us, sin destroys whatever we love most. One sin is always wrong, in part because we never stop with one sin.
We have a kid's tape that expresses this thought clearly, with regard to lying:
When you tell one lie, it leads to another,
So you tell two lies to try to cover
Then you tell three lies and, oh brother,
You're in trouble up to your ears.
Dostoyevsky describes the progressive destructiveness of lying somewhat more eloquently, through the voice of Father Zossima in The Brothers Karamazov:
Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love, and in order to occupy and distract himself without love he gives way to passions and coarse pleasures, and sinks to bestiality in his vices, all from continual lying to other men and to himself.
Sin always destroys: One sin leads to lying as a cover up, leading to more and more lies; in David's case leading to the murder of Uriah and "collateral damage" to more of his men. For all of us, choosing to sin first puts a barrier between God and us, lowering our sensitivity to sin; we eventually lose all self-respect and reach out desperately for love, joy, and peace, yet we reach out to sources that will never bring the desired result.
Don't listen to anyone who tries to tell you that there is a sin that hurts no one. Sin always destroys.
Sin is Always Discovered
Uriah dies; Bathsheba mourns for him, and then moves into the palace as David's wife. She grows great with child -- and everyone in the palace was able to count. Everyone knew that Uriah had come home but never saw his wife -- remember, he slept with the other servants. So at least the palace insiders know exactly what happened. Behind the king's back, people are talking. But David pretends that this is a natural occurrence, that he is doing his old friend a favor by taking care of his widow. Bathsheba gives birth to a healthy boy -- and to David all seems well. It looks like he has gotten away with adultery and murder. Let's pick up the story in verse 27:
But the thing David had done displeased the LORD.
1 ¶ The LORD sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, "There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. 4 "Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him."
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the LORD lives, the man who did this deserves to die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity."
7 Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man! This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. 8 I gave your master's house to you, and your master's wives into your arms. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. 9 Why did you despise the word of the LORD by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.' 11 "This is what the LORD says: 'Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.'"
Picture this scene: Nathan comes before David, one of the world's most powerful monarchs, to confront him with his own sin. Nathan tells his parable; David seethes with anger, calling out, "The man who did this deserves to die!" Nathan looks him in the eye and says, "You are the man! You are the man!"
As Paul says in Romans 2:1, David passed judgment -- and he condemned himself, for he was guilty of the same crime. David thought it was all arranged; he pretended that no one knew. Well, other people did know, but more importantly, God knew. God always knows. As the author of Hebrews puts it:
Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (Heb 4:13)
This is our third principle: Sin is always discovered. In the long run, there are no secret sins. As Jesus states,
There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 3 Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. (Luke 12:2,3)
Or as Paul says:
7 Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. 8 For the one who sows to his own flesh shall from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit shall from the Spirit reap eternal life. (Gal 6:7-8)
Satan tempts us to believe that no one will ever know, that we can hide our sin; Satan is so effective in this that many of us here this morning are even lying to ourselves, thinking that our sins are known only to us, thinking that we have succeeded in covering our tracks. But God sees all; everything is laid bare before his eyes; what we have whispered will be shouted for all to hear; God will not be mocked. Sin is always discovered.
Confessed Sin is Always Forgiven
What is David's reaction? Does he try to justify himself? Does he attack his accuser, saying, "Hey, Nathan, that wasn't fair! I bet you made that whole story up! Liar!" Does he try to wriggle his way out, saying, "Well, yes, I'm responsible, but nothing I did was exactly illegal." Does he argue that Nathan shouldn't have brought up the matter, saying, "This is a private matter, and none of your business. Leave me alone! Let me deal with this among my wives and children!" No. Look at verse 13:
13 Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the LORD." Nathan replied, "The LORD has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the LORD show utter contempt, the son born to you will die."
No excuses. No attempt to mitigate the seriousness of the sin. Simply, "I have sinned." So Nathan replies immediately, "The Lord has taken away your sin." This is our fourth principle: Confessed sin is always forgiven.
But there must be a true confession! Had David made excuses, Nathan would not have proclaimed his forgiveness.
What is the nature of true confession? David elaborates on his confession in Psalm 51, to which I'd like us now to turn. We will note three characteristics of true confession brought out by this Psalm.
For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.
5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
6 Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place.
7 ¶ Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9 Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. 13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you.
14 ¶ Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. 15 O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
18 In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem. 19 Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar.
(1) True confession addresses all those affected by the sin.
The first lesson is found in the notation that begins the Psalm: "For the director of music." David wrote this Psalm -- and then gave it to the director of music, for use in public worship! David admitted his guilt not only before Nathan, but also before the entire country. Why?
Because the entire nation of Israel was hurt by David's sin. When Nathan told David that the sword would never depart from his house, he was not just threatening. In the future, one of David's sons will rape one of David's daughters; two sons will die through their acts of rebellion; one son will lie with David's wives on a rooftop where all can see.
But beyond this, the worship of God had suffered. Everyone in the palace knew what was going on -- what did this do for the morality of the young men in the palace? What lessons did they draw from their king's behavior? What jokes were told about the "man after God's own heart?"
This was not a private matter between David and Bathsheba, or David and Uriah's relatives. The king sinned, and all Israel suffered. So David must confess before all Israel.
(2) True confession admits that punishment is justified
David says that God is justified when he judges. He admits that his sinfulness is not only one of outward actions; he is sinful at the very heart of his being. Look particularly at the contrast between verses 5 and 6. God desires truth in the inner parts; but our inner parts are absolutely sinful. We must be broken and contrite when we come before God and those we have sinned against; we must not downplay our sin or blame the other person, but admit that we deserve judgment.
(3) True confession depends on God's mercy alone.
David calls out for God to act in accordance with his unfailing love, in accordance with his great mercy. He calls out to God to cleanse him, to wash him, and then -- since the external washing is not sufficient -- to change his very heart, to create a new heart within him.
David deserved death for his sin, both the ending of his life on earth and eternal separation from God. God forgave him; those of us who are saved will join David in praising God eternally, and David did not die on earth in punishment for adultery and murder.
But note that there were other temporal consequences of David's sin. The judgment that Nathan states prior to David's confession still holds. Israel and, in particular, David's family suffer immensely from this sin. And Uriah remains dead. Forgiveness does not imply the absence of temporal consequences for sin. But, praise God, when we come to God with broken and contrite hearts, when we call out to God pleading for His mercy, when we depend only on the shed blood of Jesus to cover all our sins, God never turns his ear away. God always listens. Confessed sin is always forgiven.
What does all this tell us about President Clinton? The parallels with David are striking. Both were deceived by Satan's lies; sin always deceives. The President, like David, has a history of giving into his sexual impulses, so that even when he was being prosecuted for sexual harassment he continued to engage in sexual sin. He must have thought that there would be no consequences, that no one would ever know. But sin always destroys, and what destruction we have seen! The most powerful man in the world has become the butt of every obscene joke; our country is hamstrung by the absence of presidential leadership, as he spends his time and energy trying to hang on to power; every bold act, right or wrong, looks to be the desperate attempt of a beleaguered White House to divert attention from the President's sin.
And, of course, sin is always discovered. How could Mr. Clinton think that all these visits to the Oval Office, duly logged in by security, would never be discovered? His sins even now are being shouted from the rooftops -- and there is going to be more shouting in the weeks ahead.
Despite the similarities, there is a significant contrast between President Clinton and King David. First of all, note that David's sins are worse than Clinton's: few people believe that our President has engaged in murder. Yet we hold up David as a model, while no one wants their son to grow up to be like Bill. Why the difference?
The difference is primarily because of David's true confession, and Bill Clinton's fake confession. David publicly confessed to his sin, and made no attempt to justify himself. In his August 17 address, Bill Clinton never even said he was sorry; he tried to downplay the seriousness of his crimes, and then lashed out at the man who proved that Clinton lied to us. That is not confession.
So how should Christians react to Clinton's folly?
First, follow the story. Character matters. Sin matters. Don't be deceived by the White House spin doctors; the President's sins affect us all. Draw your own conclusions about what he should do and what Congress should do, and state those opinions in appropriate forums. We Christians are citizens of this country, and we have a responsibility to be engaged in the political process.
Second, examine your attitude toward the man himself. We can follow the story and make a judgment about what is in the best interests of our nation without showing contempt. There should be no anger or bitterness toward this President. God is his judge, not you or me; Bill Clinton, like you and me, will stand or fall before God depending upon one thing and one thing only: does he trust in the blood of Jesus to cleanse him from all sin? I see in Bill Clinton a sinner desperately in need of God's grace, a man who needs to escape from Satan's trap. So let us be in prayer for the President throughout this crisis.
Third -- and most important -- examine your own heart. Paul tell us, "If you think you are standing firm, take care that you don't fall." You men -- including myself -- how would you act if you were President? If you had young, attractive girls swooning over you, intoxicated by your power? Do you look at women with lust? Do you use pornography? If so, then you share in the President's sin. Confess to God, and to your wife or parents. This sin will destroy you; quit excusing yourself. Deal with your sin, and ask someone to hold you accountable so you will avoid it in the future.
All of us, men, women and children: What sin are you knowingly engaged in? Are you loving the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, and all your strength, and all your mind? Are you loving your neighbor as yourself?
My dear friends, sin always deceives. Sin always destroys. Sin is always discovered. Let us take the occasion of great sins by great men to ask God with David:
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps 139)
When He shows you the sin in your heart, confess it -- and know the joy of living a life blameless before Him. Confessed sin -- Praise God! -- is always forgiven, by the blood of Jesus.
This sermon was preached at Community Bible Church in Williamstown, MA on 8/30/98. The sermon outline is taken from Gary Vanderet's 1985 sermon on this passage, which I highly recommend; it is not available on the net, but can be ordered as Discovery Paper or Tape 3966 from the PBC web site. I am indebted to Cal Thomas's 25 August column for reminding me of the Dostoyevsky quote, and to David Roper's sermon for the literal translation of 2 Samuel 11:2.
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