1 Looking for a leader (9) 2 Samuel 11:1-27 The Fallen Hero Introduction About ten years ago, the newspapers were rejoicing in the daily twists and turns in the saga of President Clinton’s relationship with Monica Lewinsky. It seemed fairly sensational at the time. And yet shortly afterwards a survey of journalists in the US ranked the affair as only the 53rd most sensational story of the 20th century. Perhaps rather predictably, when he heard about this survey, President Clinton made the memorable remark, “What does a guy have to do to get into the top fifty?” But that survey reminds us that our world has become accustomed to moral failure among those in power. The indiscretions of the rich and famous have almost become a cliché and no longer have the shock factor they used to have. But with King David we still feel uncomfortable when we read 2 Samuel 11. For one thing, probably the most important thing we have learned about David is that he is the LORD’s anointed. The LORD has made an everlasting covenant with him that affects the whole human race. If 2 David can behave like this, breaking at least three of the Ten Commandments in the space of a few verse, is the covenant secure? Can we be sure that God will stand by his promise of an everlasting Kingdom? We will say more about that later on. But David’s moral failure gets to us personally in a way that Clinton and the others don’t. It makes us uncomfortable partly because David is one of the Bible’s heroes. David has been walking with God for a long time. He is a godly man. He was not just a great warrior on the battlefield, but he was a prayer warrior as well. In fact, because he wrote so many of the psalms, the people of God have been praying David’s prayers for nearly three thousand years! And now at around fifty years of age, having been close to the LORD for more than thirty years, we see him caught up in this massive moral failure. So, there is a sense in which we don’t even want to read chapter 11. It seems to be so discouraging. But Paul says that, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the men and women of God might 3 be equipped for every good work.” All Scripture! Including 2 Samuel 11. So, what is this chapter teaching us? How can we be trained in righteousness by it? There are three contemporary lessons about moral failure here: 1. Moral failure never happens suddenly 2. Moral failure comes from a distorted view of reality 3. Moral failure is a time for confession not cover-up 1. Moral failure never happens suddenly It would be convenient to say that David’s failure was impulsive. A moment of madness that overcame him the moment he saw Bathsheba bathing. But the text won’t allow us to do that. There are at least two signs that point to a gradual but definite drift in David’s spiritual condition. Firstly, David had developed a casual attitude to God’s Word. The context here is that once he had been anointed King over all Israel, we are told in 5:13 that David had taken multiple concubines and wives. That was fairly standard procedure for kings in the ancient world. But the king of Israel was expected to be different. 4 Please turn back to Deuteronomy 17 on page 204. Here the LORD laid down His instructions concerning the King. Verse 14, “When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” be sure to appoint the king the LORD your God chooses.” (Now glance down to verse 17). “He must not take many wives or his heart will be led astray.” Had David read Deuteronomy? Of course he had! We are talking about the man who wrote the psalms! He was constantly celebrating the privilege of having access to God’s Word. But in this area, David had chosen to ignore it. No doubt there were good political reasons for having lots of wives. It was no doubt a great way to show favour to all the tribes and hold the nation together. But God had said, “Don’t do it!” David thought he knew better and of course his heart was led astray- and how! And the warning for us is clear enough. If a man as godly as David could not take liberties with the word of God without becoming spiritually vulnerable then neither can we! 5 Secondly, the text tells us that David has become careless about his duty to God. Verse 1 tells us that David’s failure occurred in the spring “when kings go off to war.” And the verse ends very pointedly with the words, “But David remained in Jerusalem.” Earlier in the book, we are told that the king’s duty was to go out and fight against the enemies of the people of God. Until now, David has excelled in this area. But here, for the first time, David is not being faithful with the entrustment God has given him. The point is that we are much less likely to be caught up in moral failure if we are faithfully doing what God has called us to do. Of course David’s wars are not our wars. God has not called us to go and destroy the Ammonites! No, the enemies we face are different, but no less real. We are called to fight the fight of faith. That is the sacred entrustment God has given to each one of us. And the New Testament tells us that our enemies are the world, the flesh and the devil. If we are going to fight successfully it means walking with God day by day, which means at least these three things. 6 First, it means a daily discipline of Bible reading a prayer. If David was here with us this lunchtime he would say, “My moral failure began with a casual attitude to God’s Word, so don’t make the same mistake!” So a daily time of listening to God and asking him to help us live lives that are pleasing to him is our first duty. Second, it means meeting with other believers to encourage them and be encouraged by them. We cannot fight the good fight on our own. You are God’s gift to each other and to me. That’s why Tuesdays are so important. And third it means telling others. If we are faithfully getting on with these things, then we are far less vulnerable to the spiritual drift that David experienced and which we see all around us today. 2. Moral failure comes from a distorted view of reality Isn’t it interesting that in this chapter the LORD is not even mentioned until the very last sentence! The writer is telling us that, at this point in David’s life God has become unreal to him. 7 This is a shock for us because right from the very beginning of this series we have got used to David being in constant dialogue with the LORD. Before he does anything David asks the LORD. And we have also seen a tremendous humility coming from a recognition that the LORD is in control of his life. We saw some of that last week when David responded to the amazing promises God made. He prayed “Who am I Lord and what is my family that you have brought me this far?” Great humility. But here we have a prolonged period of at least nine months from his night of passion with Bathsheba until after the birth if the child, where God was very unreal to David. There is no prayer and no prophet. Two comments. First a comment about how this happened. We notice that David’s failure comes at the peak of his success. We are at our most vulnerable spiritually during seasons of success. Hard times may not be much fun, but they make us cling to God. We are likely to be spiritually safer in the hard times. Too much success is not good for us because we are frail creatures and we so easily fall into the trap of believing we don’t need God anymore. Surely that’s part of what Jesus 8 meant when he said, “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God.” And David’s failure takes place when he is riding the crest of the wave and the result is that instead of thankfulness to God for his success and a humble exercise of his power in the service of others, he abuses his power for personal gratification with catastrophic results for the very people he was called to protect! The clue that opened my eyes to see this is that eight times in this chapter, we are told that David “sends” other people to do things either to gratify his lust or to help him in his seedy cover-up operation. So, verse 3, when David sees Bathsheba bathing “he sent someone to find out about her”. Verse 4, “David sent messengers to get her.” Then verse 6, “David sent this word to Joab.” We can’t look at them all, but all this “sending” by David in an immoral cause portrays a man who has forgotten where his success came from and why he had been given it. He had reached the point where he thought it was all about him. He had lost touch with reality. 9 Second, I want us to notice that David’s lust made him spiritually blind. When David saw Bathsheba bathing, verse 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?” So, there is a spiritual warning right there. Bathsheba was someone’s wife! She was married. In Scripture, the essence of marriage is a covenant – it’s a public promise between a man and woman to be committed to each other, permanently and exclusively until death. And sexual intercourse is limited to and reserved exclusively for the marriage relationship. That’s what the Bible means when it says in Genesis 2, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and they will become one flesh.” If anyone should know about covenants it is David! But when David is told that Bathsheba is Uriah’s wife, that she is in a covenant relationship with someone else, that piece of information simply bounces off him. His lust has made him spiritually blind. That is what lust does. On the reverse of the question sheet there is an extract from an essay entitled “Temptation” by the German pastor 10 Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Here he describes the spiritual effect that lust has on men and women. At the moment lust grips us God is quite unreal to us…He loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; … Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God.… The lust thus aroused envelops the mind and will of man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us. … It is here that everything within me rises up against the Word of God. Do you see the subtlety of that? The devil does not use lust to make us turn away from the Lord. If he did that, we might notice and come to our senses. No, the devil is far more crafty than that. He simply makes us forget Him! 3. Moral failure is the time for confession not cover-up Although David had forgotten about the LORD at this stage in his life, we should not think that the LORD had forgotten about David. I think it is very interesting that throughout this long period of nine months or more when David had been spiritually drifting further and further away 11 from God, the LORD himself was silent. It’s a slightly uncomfortable thought. We would prefer to think that when we start wandering off course that the LORD would step in and lead us back on course. But that is not the LORD’s way. In the first chapter of his letter to the Romans, Paul tells us that when people don’t take God seriously and start behaving as they please, rather than reaching out to stop them, the LORD just takes his hand off them and allows them to experience the consequences of their disobedience. It’s the same here in 2 Samuel 11. The LORD’s silence does not mean He doesn’t have an opinion! Quite the reverse. The last words in chapter 11 are the turning point in David’s life. Because the thing David had done displeased the LORD, David’s life was never the same again. But at this point, David seems to imagine that he is in control. When he hears Bathsheba is pregnant, instead of confessing his sin and asking the LORD for forgiveness, he launches a sleazy cover-up campaign to save his own reputation. But, instead of making things better, the cover-up just makes things worse. While David exercises all his human 12 skill and ingenuity to control the outcome, everything he does simply takes him deeper and deeper into sin. I think it is particularly interesting that the extent of David’s depravity is highlighted for us by the righteousness of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah. We are told plainly that he was a Hittite. So he had pagan ancestry with none of the spiritual advantages that David had. Both David and Uriah knew that during a military campaign soldiers were expected to abstain from sexual relations. This abstinence was a spiritual discipline, an act of consecration to the LORD. But while David is plotting and scheming to get Uriah to sleep with his wife, listen to Uriah’s response in verse 11, “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 and drink and lie with my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do it?” What’s he saying? He’s saying, “I am committed to being faithful to my consecration!” And Uriah was not just a man of pious words. He backed them up with action. Please notice that he avoided the 13 temptation by not even going home! Two nights running, he slept at the entrance to the palace. He didn’t put himself in a situation where he knew he would be tempted to sexual impurity. And second, he made himself accountable. He slept among the servants of the palace. They could see him! Even on the second night when David had got him drunk, he knew that if he was overtaken by lust and wanted to sneak off to see Bathsheba, they would see him! He wanted to be accountable. He wanted to be faithful to his consecration to the LORD and he took action to make sure that he was. Friends, there is much wisdom in Uriah’s actions here. These are strategies we can use in our own lives to keep ourselves sexually pure. Avoid places and situations where we know we might be tempted – and find someone we trust and hold ourselves accountable to them (Mike Farmer). BUT! In the end, rules are not enough. Rules like these are only going to help us if we are holding onto a promise that offers greater fulfilment and more lasting pleasure than sex. 14 In John Piper’s book “Battling Unbelief”, he talks about a pastor who was in bondage to pornography for years. But he learned that his guilt and a rules-based approach never set him free from his addiction. Then one day, he was meditating on Jesus’ words in the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” The pastor describes what happened, “The thought hit me like a bell rung in a dark, silent hall. So far, none of the scary negative arguments against lust had succeeded in keeping me from it…But here was a description of what I was missing by continuing to harbour lust. I was limiting my own intimacy with God. The love he offers is so transcendent and possessing that it requires our faculties to be purified and cleansed before we can possibly contain it.” Now, what is this love? Where do we go to find it? As I was preparing this morning, there was one verse that hit my like an express train. Please turn to Matthew 1:6 on page 1 of the New Testament. As most of you know, Matthew begins his gospel with the record of Jesus’ human ancestry. He traces it back as far 15 as Abraham to show that God’s promise to bring blessing to the whole world through Abraham was fulfilled in Jesus. Now look at verse 6. “David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” Notice Matthew doesn’t say “Bathsheba”. He says the line of promise comes through David’s messy relationship with Uriah’s wife! He wants us to see it that way. That means that God’s promise to make you and me members of his family, to wash us clean and make us new comes in spite of our human failure! It means we can have the promise of superior pleasure and fulfilment in knowing God as our Father, not just in this life but for all eternity. All that God requires is that we put our trust in Jesus. Do you see the love of God in that? Perhaps there is someone here today in bondage to sexual sin and wondering if they can ever break free, perhaps feeling God will never forgive them. Read verse 6 again and ask God to show you the superior promise of eternal happiness that He gives to all who put their trust in Jesus – and He will set you free! Let us pray.