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The sin of the second look

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Topical Scripture: 2 Samuel 11:1-5

There’s an old fable about a frog preparing to swim across a river. A venomous snake slithered up to him and asked for a ride across the swollen stream. The frog said, “If I pick you up, you will bite me and I will die.” The snake promised he would do no such thing, that all he wanted was a way across the river.

Against his better judgment, the frog picked up the snake, placed him on his back, and began to swim across the river. Just s they reached the opposite shore, the snake bit the frog on his neck. The frog gasped, “Why did you bite me?” The snake replied, “You knew what I was when you picked me up.”

Last week we watched David’s greatest triumph. This week, we’ll explore his greatest failure. As we consider our relationships in biblical perspective, let’s remember the story of David and Bathsheba. And learn how not to make it our own.

Remember the tragedy

The tragedy begins “in the spring, at the time when kings go off to war” (v. 1a).

David has been established in Jerusalem about 10 years, and has been King of Israel about 17 years. He is probably in his late 30’s.

The “spring” is after the grain harvest in April and May, about this time of year. Ancient armies did not typically go to war during the winter months, due to the cold and rainy conditions; or during the harvest, lest the crops be ruined and the people starve.

So “David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army” (v. 1b). Leading his troops into battle was the primary responsibility of ancient Near Eastern rulers. If David had gone with his armies he would not have been home to sin with Bathsheba. But he would have come home some day. We must learn to defeat the enemies of the soul, for we cannot avoid the battle forever.

From the roof of his palace “he saw a woman bathing” (v. 2).

This should have been as far as it went, his first red light. Luther often said, “We cannot keep the birds from flying over our heads, but we can keep them from nesting in our hair.” We cannot prevent the first look, but we can prevent the second look. David did not.

To the contrary, he acted on his lust: “David sent someone to find out about her” (v. 3). He learned that she was the daughter of Eliam, one of the thirty members of his own royal bodyguard (2 Samuel 23:34), son of his personal counselor Ahithopel. She was the daughter of a close and trusted friend. This should have been his second red light.

And he learned that she was married to Uriah the Hittite. This should have been his third red light. She was married, as was he. And to a member of his personal bodyguard like his father-in-law (2 Samuel 23:39), one of his most loyal and faithful soldiers. What he contemplated would hurt his wife, her husband, her father, and their families.

But instead he sent for her, “she came to him, and he slept with her” (v. 4).

Perhaps she had no choice; but given the freedom David granted the citizens of his kingdom, most interpreters believe Bathsheba to have been a willing participant in this sin. Perhaps she was flattered to have been noticed by the king. Perhaps her bathing out in the open tells us something about her own moral condition. Or perhaps not.

Whatever her motives, the law was clear: “If a man is found sleeping with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman must die. You must purge the evil from Israel” (Deuteronomy 22.22). And they both knew it.

After their affair, “the woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, ‘I am pregnant'” (v. 5). The law of unintended consequences came to life. The old adage is true once again: sin will always take you further than you wanted to go, keep you longer than you wanted to stay, and cost you more than you wanted to pay. Always.

Now one sin leads to others, as is inevitable.

David recalls her husband Uriah from the war and sends him home, assuming he will sleep with her wife and believe the child to be his. But Uriah, unlike his king, has too much honor and character to sleep at home while the armies are on the battlefield.

So David arranges for Uriah’s death in battle. He takes Bathsheba, now a widow, into his palace. To the unsuspecting world he is doing a great kindness, helping a bereaved and helpless woman. When her pregnancy becomes known, none will know that it occurred as it did.

But, “the thing David had done displeased the Lord” (v. 27). He knows our secret thoughts and sins, even if we think no one else does. The God of the universe “searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts” (1 Chronicles 28:9). He asks, “Can anyone hide in secret places so that I cannot see him?” (Jeremiah 23:24).

He sent his prophet Nathan to the king. Taking his life in his hands, Nathan boldly proclaims, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). He rebukes the monarch for his multiple sins. And the king responds, “I have sinned against the Lord” (v. 13).

What’s wrong with lust?

Let’s total the score. David coveted another man’s wife and stole her for himself, breaking the eighth and tenth commandments. He lusted after Bathsheba and committed adultery with her, breaking the seventh commandment. He then lied about his sin, breaking the ninth commandment. To cover up his sin he had Uriah killed, breaking the sixth commandment. His sin dishonored his parents, breaking the fifth commandment. He made Bathsheba an idol, breaking the second commandment, and dishonored the Lord his God, breaking the first and third commandments. The only commandment he left untouched was the fourth, requiring the Sabbath. This one act led to King David’s shattering of nine of the ten commandments. That’s the tragedy of sexual sin.

But our culture doesn’t care. Recent research indicates that 2.5 billion pornographic e-mails are sent every day. The New York Times reports that every month, 21 million Americans go to at least one of the more than 60,000 pornographic sites on the Internet. 53% of Americans say they would cheat on their spouse, given the right opportunity. Our culture’s position on sexual activity boils down to this: if you love someone, sex is how you say it.

With all this confusion, we need a clear word from the Lord.

Let’s begin with this fact: sexual attraction is not lust. God made us to be attracted to the opposite sex. It is not a sin to notice a beautiful woman or attractive man. It is only sin if we take that attraction to the next step. The sin is not the first look, but the second.

Jesus was clear: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).

Any desire for sexual relationship outside of marriage is wrong. Premarital or extramarital sexual relationship is wrong. Looking lustfully at another person, whether in person or on the Internet or television or magazine, is wrong. Lustful activity in a dating relationship is wrong.

Why? James, the half-brother of Jesus, knew the answer: “after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:15). Lust makes an eternal soul, a child of God, into a thing, a means to our end. It demeans us. It grieves the Holy Spirit who dwells in us, and uses the temple of God for immorality. And it never stops with the second look. It didn’t for David, a “man after God’s own heart.” It won’t with us, either.

How to win over lust

So how do we win this battle over sexual temptation? Consider these “ten commandments for defeating sexual sin.” The first eight deal with prevention, the last two with damage control.

One, expect to be tempted: “everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world” (1 John 2:16). We live in a fallen world, where Satan is a roaring lion seeking someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8).

Two, decide now to say no: “Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes, for the prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life” (Proverbs 6.25-26).

Follow Job’s example: “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1). Make that covenant today.

The tempter tells us that we can always quit, but it will never be as easy as it is right now. If it’s hard to refuse this temptation today, think how hard it will be tomorrow.

Three, see the end from the beginning.

Your sin will trap you: “You may be sure that your sin will find you out” (Numbers 32:23).

Others will know: “There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known” (Luke 12:2). There is no “secret sin.”

Think out the consequence of this thought or temptation: adultery, divorce, shame, children damaged severely. This is where Satan is taking you. He wants to destroy you, not fulfill you! He’s like the drug dealer who gives you the first one free, to get you addicted, knowing the result before you do.

Four, transform your mind through time with God:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).

“Live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature” (Galatians 5:16).

Richard Dobbins is founder of “Emerge Ministries,” working with pastors who have fallen into sexual sin. He states that every single one of these pastors has one thing in common. In the days, weeks, and months leading up to their moral failure, not one of them had maintained a consistent time of daily devotions.

Five, ask someone to help you: “Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). Accountability relationships are crucial in this area of life. Is someone praying for your moral purity? Are you praying for his or hers?

Six, know you can defeat any temptation God allows: “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Corinthians 10:13).

God only allows those temptations he will enable us to defeat. Thus, if I’m being tempted by this, I can know immediately that I can defeat it, with his help. But Satan also knows which temptations I cannot defeat on my own; he’ll always bring these against me. So, every time I’m tempted I must say to myself: “I cannot defeat this myself, or Satan wouldn’t bring it against me; I can defeat this with God’s help, or he wouldn’t allow it.” There is no sin you must commit.

Seven, pray about the temptation immediately: “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

The most effective thing we can do against sexual temptation is to take it to God immediately. This is especially true if this is a habitual problem. Admit to God that you don’t have the strength to defeat this sin, and ask for his help now.

Eight, flee temptation: “Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:22). As Luther put it, if your head is made of butter, don’t sit by the fire. Flee—don’t stand and fight. When a lion is coming, you don’t put up your fists—you put on your track shoes and run.

Nine, if you have failed, confess your sin immediately: Speak to God: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

And as he leads you, speak to someone you trust: “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).

It’s easier to sin sexually after we already have; so stop the cycle now. Make things right with God now. Ask him to guide you in making things right with others.

Ten, refuse guilt after confessing sin: “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

It’s easier to continue to sin if we think we’ve already blown it; so claim God’s grace now. He knew how you would sin when he made you, and he made you anyway. And died for you. He loves you as his child, no matter your failures, today.

Conclusion

Is there a snake on your back? Is one asking for a ride? Which commandments are God’s word for you this morning?

Will you imitate David this week, or will you learn from him today?