I recently saw a photo of three expensive cars encased in ice in the garage of a million-dollar house when the pipes froze while the owner was away. One of the rules for living in a cold climate is to take special precautions so your water pipes don’t freeze. Disregarding that rule can exact a heavy price as it did for this man in Michigan.
II Samuel 12 reminds us of the high cost of disregarding God’s expectations. God has provided moral and ethical principles for us to live by. When we violate those principles, we can be sure that our actions will have a detrimental effect on us and, very often, on other people. It was true for King David. It is true for us.
Just last week I heard of a very young woman who had surgery for cervical cancer. Health professionals say that this particular kind of cancer is often the result of sexual promiscuity. Unfortunately, many people in our society have chosen to disregard God’s laws. In a poll of cultural trends related to religion and morality released in November, George Barna found that 42% of those polled said it is ok to commit adultery; 45% said it is ok to have an abortion, 60% percent said that cohabitation is ok, and 61% approved of gambling. (AFA Journal November 2003) God’s laws are not to be trifled with. As the hymn says, “This is my Father’s World.” God is running a decent and orderly universe.
The Bible describes God as holy. That means he is distinct from his creation and that He has majesty and power over it. We get some idea of his majesty from II Samuel Chapter 22. These words make clear that God is not in nature; He is above it. He uses nature to accomplish his purposes. Even his anger can be expressed in nature.
God’s holiness also means he is separate from all that is evil. His holy character is the standard for moral perfection. And because we are created in his image, he expects us to live holy lives. We are to cultivate the character of God in our lives. That is why Paul says in Eph 5:1 Be imitators of God. Our lives are to reflect the goodness of God. If you had to mark yourself on a holiness scale of 1 – 10, what mark would you give yourself?
In the Old Testament, people understood that they lived in the presence of God. The Ark of the Covenant symbolized their recognition that God was right there with them. God was their leader. He was their king. And they knew that as long as they obeyed him God would guide and protect them. Even when God allowed them to have an earthly king, they understood that their king did not have absolute power over the people like kings in other nations had. The king of Israel served only as God’s executive officer on earth. Their king was not above the law. Their king was subject to the Word of the Lord just like everyone else was. He could not make the law except as it reflected God’s law. His job was to administer the law and to do it fairly and justly. And any one, king, priest, or judge, who disregarded God’s Word was doomed to fail. And that is what happened to David.
In the 15 verses we read, four times we see expressions like these:
• v. 1 the thing that David had done displeased the Lord
• v. 9 why have you despised the word of the Lord?
• v. 10 you have despised me.
• v. 14 you have utterly scorned the Lord
These words describe David’s blatant disregard for God’s expectations. And David’s transgression sets off a downward spiral in the history of God’s people. From here on in II Samuel, everything seems to go downhill. At first we may wonder why one act of sin should have such consequences. But as we think about it, we realize that David broke nearly all of the 10 commandments. Not only did he commit adultery, he coveted, he lied, he stole, he killed and worst of all, he usurped God’s power for himself.
One of the amazing things about the Bible is that it does not varnish over David’s disobedience. There is no attempt to cover up his misdeeds as happens so often in our own political and economic atmosphere. There is no attempt to present David as this hero who has no faults. Everything is there for all to see. The Bible shows us the good with the bad. God wants us to use it to grow in life. If we learn these lessons well we will save ourselves a lot of heartaches.
What then does David’s experience of moral failure teach us? From this story we can learn seven rules to live by. I believe that following them will keep us from the trap of despising the Word of the Lord.
1. Stay focused on the mission. (11:1)When we turn to chapter 11, the first thing we see is that while other kings are out leading their battles, David remained in comfortable Jerusalem. He sent Joab and his officers out to do the work he should have been doing. Israel continued to be threatened by enemies around it and throughout II Samuel we see that David was in charge of their defense. But this time David did not go. That may or may not have been appropriate; we can’t tell for sure from the text. Nevertheless, it provided an opportunity to turn his eyes from the purpose for which he had been appointed king. Here is the point: Know what your job is and stay at it. That’s true for the church. We have a mission to fulfill. Let’s be faithful. It’s also true for the way we spend our time. Paul warned some of the Thessalonians about idleness. They were becoming busybodies instead of contributing to the financial wellbeing of their families and the church. We have all heard that idleness is the devil’s workshop. Again and again the Bible warns us to remain occupied until Jesus comes. Stay focused on the mission.
2. Make a covenant with your eyes. (11:2) David’s temptation came to him by way of his eyes. As he walked on the flat roof of his palace on this warm day, he was able to look out over other roofs. And his eyes were drawn to a woman across the way who was bathing. And the language of the Bible says she was exceedingly beautiful. That image came to him through his eyes. Our modern world provides many temptations for the eyes. For weeks, a battle has been going on regarding the ads that will air during the Super bowl this evening. Protests from Christians have put a stop to some. We learned recently that 7-11 stores are testing the market for Playboy and other pornographic magazines. In the late 80s, 7-11 stores ended their sale of those magazines as a result of pressure from concerned customers. (AFA Journal November 2003) And unless you have a powerful filter on your computer, emails and ads unfit to talk about will come up on your computer screen. Job said, “I have made a covenant with my eyes.” (Job 31:1) Decide in advance that you will not open certain types of emails or follow internet links that get you to pornographic sites. Make a promise to yourself to look for the pure, not the impure, to look beyond, not at temptation.
3. When temptation comes at you, move. (11:3) For David, it was a warm afternoon. Houses around his palace probably were not far away. Why Bathsheba was bathing on her roof at that time of day, I don’t know. But according to these verses, David was responsible. The ability to use and misuse power was in his hands. What should David have done? The Bible says again and again to flee temptation. II Timothy 2:22 says “Flee youthful passions.” I Corinthians 6:18 says “Flee fornication.” As Martin Luther said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from building nests in your hair.” When temptation comes, get up and walk away from it and pray for power as you walk!
4. Apply the golden rule. (11:6ff) David finds out that this woman is married to one of his most loyal men. Uriah has been with David for many years as a faithful friend and follower. Now David is about to do him in. How can he do that to a trusted friend? David has already taken this man’s wife. His next move is to take Uriah’s life. I know that sometimes people say that this or that temptation only affects me, so what should it matter? The fact is that most temptations don’t affect just you. Yielding to the temptation might lead to physical illness; who will take care of you? It might lead to debt; who will bail you out? It might lead to death. On whom will it place hardship? Never say it won’t affect others. It could very well impact people around you, your friends, your family. In David’s case, his act of adultery cost not only Uriah’s wife and his life, but the life of his son born to Bathsheba, the life of his son Amnon, the life of his son Absalom, and possibly another son. Generations were affected. When faced with temptation, ask yourself, ”Would I like to be treated that way?” “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you..” Mt. 7:12.
5. Be an example. (Ch. 13,14) One question my dad often asked when I did something bad that still rings in my ears was “What will people think?” The fact is we all live our lives as examples or models to others, especially to our children. One of the most foolish statements is the one that parents sometimes make to their children: "You should do as I say, not as I do." People who look up to you will learn from who you are. Jesus said that when a disciple is mature, he will be like his teacher. As we read chapters 13 and 14, we see that David’s sons, probably in their 20s, followed his example and appear to have made decisions based on what they saw in their father. In chapter 13, we see that Amnon learned lust from his dad. Amnon, the crown prince, was so infatuated with his step-sister that he raped her. And it appears that David was powerless to do anything. David had lost the moral power to act. His other son, Absalom, had learned violence and later snuffed out the life of his brother, Amnon. David could trace the sins of his children to his own conduct. Always remember that others follow you. Would you want them to use your life as an example?
6. Honor the word of the Lord. Throughout these chapters we are made to understand that the word of the Lord is not to be trifled with. God has given his word to be honored, to be followed. At one time in his life, David was able to say, “I call upon the Lord, who is worthy to be praised.” (II Sa. 22:4) At another time he said, “O how I love your law.” No doubt he wished he had followed his devotion with his actions. I don’t know if you have thought about it, but the Word of God is central in our mission statement. Part of our mission is to study, follow and share the Word of God. And part of your commitment to the family of God is to keep that mission central in your life.
7. Repent when you sin. (12:13) Today when famous people break the law, the first thing they do is hire a spin doctor to show that what they did was not so bad. Kobe Bryant said he didn’t rape the girl; he just committed adultery. Michael Jackson, according to his lawyers, is supposed to be such a nice, gentle guy, he would never do what he has been accused of. Martha Stewart is working on a public face lift as well. I don’t know which of them is guilty, if any. David did not deny his wrongdoing. When Nathan came to David with his parable of the little, stolen lamb, David confessed his sin. “I have sinned against the Lord,” he said. True repentance is not just regretting being found out. It is remorse that leads to a changed life. Psalm 51 expresses his sense of guilt and shame. (v. 1-4) The good news is that God forgives. I Jn. 1:9 If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” And if God can forgive, then you can forgive. You can forgive yourself. You can forgive others. Incredibly, in spite of David’s sin, the Bible says David was a man after God’s own heart. That can only be because David recognized his sin and because of God’s grace.
These steps provide a recipe to avoid moral failure. None of us is free from temptation. And none of us wants to turn our back on the Word of God and be accused of displeasing the Lord. I Corinthians 10:13 says that God will provide a way of escape. God has promised to do his part. Will we?