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|25 June, 2000|
When a person starts with an idea that a little bit of excitement in his or her life will not hurt anybody, he or she makes the biggest of errors. Especially if the bit of excitement is with some other person when he or she is already married. Extra-marital affairs, no matter how much fun they seem at first, always end with a great deal of hurt. The problems do not end with just the people involved. The consequences of infidelity can spread until they touch dozens of other people: children, relatives, parents and grandparents, mutual friends and neighbours, and spread downwards into the next generation and the one afterwards. Even when no children are involved, other people are. Even people far removed are called upon to mop up the mess and to pay for the consequences.
I do not need to produce the statistics. The results are well known to all. Such human failure is not a recent result of humanity's moral slide. Unfaithfulness has been around as long as faithfulness. Immorality and living with partners is more accepted by some in society today, and the opportunities for infidelity are ever so much more free available. So freely available are the opportunities for adultery today, that I am rarely surprised when I hear of moral lapses. Even among clergy and leaders within our denomination. But I am always thrilled to witness marital faithfulness and personal fidelity seen in the lives of so many attending here at Wesley Mission. Your personal example of faithfulness encourages us all. The Bible account of the life of David instructs us all on the never-ending consequences to infidelity.
1. The Sinfulness Of Infidelity V1-4
David is not perfect, especially in his personal relationships. In his downward slide from temptation into sin, David disobeys three of the Ten Commandments: "You shall not covet your neighbour's wife"; "You shall not commit adultery"; "You shall not murder". Exod 20:17, 14, 13 His conduct is an example of the truths expressed in James 1:14-15: "Each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death."
David's adultery with his next-door neighbour, Bathsheba, has long aroused dismay and anger. Dismay that King David, with his manifest piety, could stoop to such an act, and anger that so many innocent people suffered because of it. But the Bible is open and factual. There are dreadful consequences to infidelity. In fact you cannot understand the character of David in all of its complexity unless you consider his adultery with Bathsheba and the subsequent consequences.
The affair began v1"in the spring, at the time when kings go off to war." This was March, named after Mars the Roman god of war. Springtime, which marks the end of the rainy season in the Middle East, assures that roads will be in good condition, that there will be plenty of fodder for war horses and pack animals, and that an army on the march will be able to raid the fields for food. The narrator thus leaves the impression that every able-bodied man in Israel went to war-everyone, that is, except the king himself: "But David remained in Jerusalem." He was in the wrong place at that time. He should not have been alone at home.
The contrast between David and his men could not be more stark. David's place in war was with his men in their battle against the invading Syrians. Staying home opened the way for royal behaviour that is more despicable still. He shirked his duty. Because of the heat of a spring sirocco, he has apparently lengthened his afternoon siesta into the cooler part of the day. Getting up from his bed and taking a stroll, from the high roof of his palace he sees a woman bathing in the private courtyard of a house next door. The woman is "very beautiful". The sight of her naked body arouses him.
Master of all he surveys, David has everything and yet does not have enough. David sends messengers to "get" her." Upon being summoned, Bathsheba "came to him, and he slept with her" meaning "had sexual intercourse." Do not romanticise this. There is no romance here. They did not know each other. There was no love, just a show of power. She came, maybe enamoured with his wealth and prestige. This was just casual sex to satisfy their lust. David did not guard himself by having about him people to whom he was accountable.
Having gotten into a situation, he did not have the courage or wisdom to get out. A man may not help wandering into temptation, but he can always run out! The Bible says Bathsheba was having a ritual bath following menstruation. Why this detail? Because it wants you to know Bathsheba was clearly not pregnant when she came to David, since she had just been "purified from her uncleanness". Shortly thereafter she was with David and that leaves no doubt that the child is his, since her husband had been out of town during the interlude between the bath and her visit to the palace.
2. The Consequences Of Infidelity V5-27
The message she sends to David: "I am pregnant" brings delight or despair to people every day. They are the only words Bathsheba ever speaks in scripture, but they set in motion a course of action which ultimately results in her husband's death, many other people being killed, and within a year the death of her own baby. The consequences of their sin and a wild attempt to cover its hurt, involved dozens and implicated several.
Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite, was a loyal subject and servant of King David. He was a mercenary soldier who adopted the Israelite country and religion. He is soon to die, his only crime being that he gets in the way of royal lust and power. David hatches a three-phase scheme to solve the serious problem of Bathsheba's pregnancy, each phase more ruthless than the preceding: three "cover-ups": a "clean" one a "dirty" one and a "criminal" one.
The clean cover up, v6-11 was David's attempt to get Uriah to think the child was his. David sends word to his field commander Joab to send him Uriah. David asks about the progress of Joab, the soldiers, and the war. v7 Showing satisfaction concerning how things are going on the battlefield, David tells Uriah to go down to his house and "wash his feet" v8 a middle-Eastern way, where dusty roads are the rule, of saying, refresh yourself and relax. Uriah left the palace, "and Uriah slept...". For a moment it looks as though the king's plan is going to work, but Uriah slept not with Bathsheba, but "at the entrance to the palace with all his master's servants" thus foiling David's plan. The soldiers of the Palace slept in the barracks by the main gate.
When David learnt that, he wanted to know why. v 10 Soldiers on duty had to v11 "keep themselves from women" so Uriah refused to sleep with his wife, even while on brief furlough. David tries his dirty cover-up. v12-13 "Stay here one more day"... So Uriah remained". David gets him drunk, assuming Uriah's inhibitions will be overcome and that he will automatically go home, sleep with Bathsheba, and thus absolve David of any charge of her child's paternity. At first it appears that David's plan will succeed: "in the evening he went out to lie on his bed" - on his bed at home? with his wife? No, on his bed of the past two nights, "with the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house".
Now comes the criminal cover-up. v14-17 David decides to have Uriah killed. David "wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah" Uriah carries his own death warrant. David orders Joab to put Uriah in the front line of battle against the Ammonites where "the fighting is fiercest". v15 Uriah is then to be abandoned to his fate: he will be "struck down and die." But when Joab receives David's letter, he recognizes that to isolate Uriah as the only fatality in the attack would cast suspicion on David's motives. So he decides it is better for many to fall. Joab decides to besiege the city v16 and puts Uriah in the centre of a brigade of troops where many would be killed. Those soldiers were sacrificed so that one, relatively unnoticed, might die. Joab reports back to David that many were killed, and, unfortunately, this included Uriah. David resorts to a platitude: "The sword devours one as well as another". They were all loyal soldiers in the service of the King, but David has no pity for them.
When the news of Uriah's death reaches Bathsheba, she mourns for him. David sheds no tears for Uriah nor the others. After mourning, David brings her to his house and Bathsheba becomes David's wife. Some months later a son is born. David thought he had gotten away with the cover-up. But the Bible says "But what David had done displeased the Lord".
3. God's Rebuke Of David
God called a prophet, Nathan, to rebuke David. 12:1-7 Nathan, with great courage asked the see the King and told of a dreadful case of injustice. Nathan described a loyal citizen, a small farmer who only owned one lamb. He was very attached to his pet lamb. But a rich neighbour, who owned plenty of sheep and cattle, wanted a lamb to feed a visitor, and so took and killed the poor man's only lamb. David was shocked and angry and had great pity for the small farmer. His pity for the victim in the story is in stark contrast to his lack of pity for Uriah, his victim in real life. David's anger against the rich man bursts out: "The man who did this deserves to die." Nathan looks at the King with great courage and force. He declared the most dramatic sentence in the Old Testament. "You are the man" v7
David had exploited the weak by enjoying his superior position. The baby born of Bathsheba would also soon die, and David's three sons would in their turn commit adultery. The sins of the father impacted on so many innocent people even years afterward. What makes David great, however, was that when faced with this guilt David repented and sought God's forgiveness. It is a great man who accepts his own wrong-doing.
4. David's Soul Wrenching Prayer
In great humility David recognised his sin, repented and sought forgiveness. He even allowed others to hear and to learn from his experience. Psalm 51 reflects the feelings and prayer of David: "Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 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. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me." It is none of my business to know of the private transgressions of anybody. I have enough of my own to worry about. But I can assure you, that if you repent and confess your sin, "God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness." 1 John 1:9 Jesus came to bring us back to God, cleansed and forgiven. Despite whatever you have done, a life committed to Him means you can be right with God and have the offer of acceptance and forgiveness for your sins.
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Rev Dr Gordon Moyes