The Lord's Day Morning
May 3, 2009
II Samuel 11
“Can a Christian Fall Into Serious Sin?”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me if you would to II Samuel 11. Before we read this passage, let's once again look to God in prayer.
Lord our God, we bow once again before the Scripture. It searches us, it knows us through and through, it points the way to our blessed Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now this morning, Father, we ask for the blessing of the Holy Spirit that as we read this passage it might be hidden deep within our hearts. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.
This is God's word:
“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel. And they ravaged the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
“It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king's house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, ‘Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?’ So David sent messengers and took her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she had been purifying herself from her uncleanness.) Then she returned to her house. And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’
“So David sent word to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab was doing and how the people were doing and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house and wash your feet.’ And Uriah went out of the king's house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the door of the king's house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, ‘Uriah did not go down to his house,’ David said to Uriah, ‘Have you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?’ Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah dwell in booths, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field. Shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing.’ Then David said to Uriah, ‘Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. And David invited him, and he ate in his presence and drank, so that he made him drunk. And in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
“In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, ‘Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, that he may be struck down, and die.’ And as Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant men. And the men of the city came out and fought with Joab, and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite also died. Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting. And he instructed the messenger, ‘When you have finished telling all the news about the fighting to the king, then, if the king's anger rises, and if he says to you, “Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? Who killed Abimelech the son of Jerubbesheth? Did not a woman cast an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?” then you shall say, “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.”’
“So the messenger went and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell. The messenger said to David, ‘The men gained an advantage over us and came out against us in the field, but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate. Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall. Some of the king's servants are dead, and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.’ David said to the messenger, ‘Thus shall you say to Joab, “Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another. Strengthen your attack against the city and overthrow it.” And encourage him.’
“When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”
Thus far God's holy, inerrant word.
There are few passages as deep and dark as this one. Deep, because this is David. This is the man after God's own heart. This is the king of Israel. This is the author of so many of the Psalms we still sing to this day. And dark because of this sin…or perhaps more accurately these sins, for they are many. I want us to think about this passage this morning along four lines of thought.
I. The circumstances of David's temptation.
Let's begin, shall we, considering the circumstances of David's temptation. The author is telling us something in the very first verse. It's springtime, when kings go off to war. And he tells us that he sends Joab, the commander of his army, he sends his best men, including Uriah the Hittite, and all Israel. But David stays behind in Jerusalem. Now you all know from perhaps even a modest sense of ancient history, running up until at least the Middle Ages, that it was customary for a king to go into battle with his men. You will know, of course, that the king would carry (or at least, someone would carry) the king's banner to show where he was in the fighting, and that in the course of a battle he would be surrounded by his personal entourage of troops. So the author is telling us at the very outset of this chapter there is something wrong here.
It is a time of neglected duty. Something is not right in the soul and heart of King David. He is not the man he used to be. The battles that we have read about in the previous chapters (that we would have read about, had we read the opening chapters of II Samuel, chapters of glory and triumph) have now begun to give way. Time has passed, and David…I can't help but think that David has begun to think that he is the most powerful man in all the world — invincible, untouchable. He's lost sight of God. He's begun, I think, to imagine that all of this he has done by the power of his own hand and by his own strength. And something is terribly wrong in David's heart, because he is neglecting his duty.
It's also a time of dampened zeal. There is no zeal in David's heart to sing the songs of Zion. It's nighttime and he cannot sleep. Time was when David would have composed a psalm, and would have (according to the Psalms he has written) spent the night in prayer and watchfulness. God has put him in an extraordinary position, but something is terribly wrong.
My dear friends, I want you to understand something this morning. The only reason…[I speak to all of us here this morning who profess to be the children of God]…the only reason you and I have not fallen into sin, gross sin, terrible sin…maybe not this sin here, but gross and terrible sin nevertheless…the only reason why we haven't fallen into that sin is not because of a lack of desire on our parts.
It is because there has been a lack of opportunity.
God in His graciousness has put a hedge about us, preventing us from doing the thing that we otherwise would do. I want you all to understand that this morning. Every day, every single day we need to thank God that we have been spared from falling into certain sins not because of a lack of desire on our part, but because desire has not coincided with opportunity. And it was all of God's doing. It was His sovereign providence. It was His graciousness. He had set a hedge about us.
Now, friends, you understand that there are times when God removes that hedge to test us, especially when we grow too big for our boots; especially when pride lingers in the heart; especially when we begin to think that we are invincible and untouchable. And woe betide us, then, when God actually provides the opportunity and says to us, ‘Have your way. Let's see.’
II. The progress of his enticement.
I want us to see, secondly, the progress of his enticement. In the first few verses, especially verses 2 and 3 and 4, the writer uses some verbs, and I want us to pay attention to the verbs this morning. Because it's late in the afternoon…dusk has begun to fall…David is on the roof of his house. He's maybe waiting for those cool breezes that blow in the Mediterranean when the sun goes down. And he spies across the way the roof top of a house. And on the rooftop of that house is a woman bathing. And the writer says, using a very particular Hebrew word, that she was very beautiful. He saw, he sent for, and he lay with. Do you see the progress? He saw, he sent for, he slept with. It is a progress. It is precisely what James tells us in chapter 1:
“Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived brings forth sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
It's exactly the same. There is a morphology, a pattern to sin. It is the morphology and pattern of enticement. He saw, he sent for…he slept with. You understand he should have dealt with it at the moment he saw. You understand that. The moment he saw, the moment the idea entered into his brain, he should have dealt with it. He should have mortified that thought, he should have mortified that sin. He should have destroyed it. He should have called upon God. He should have done whatever was necessary to prevent that sin from following its course to its conclusion.
Sin, you see, sometimes says to us, ‘Don't ask what the long-term consequences of this action will be, just live for the short term gratification and worry about the consequences later.’ My friends, I want you to understand this this morning (the words of Robert Murray M’Cheyne): “The seeds of every known sin… [of every known sin]…lie within our hearts.” Every one of us…the seeds of those sins lie within our hearts.
III. The complexity of his sin
Thirdly, I want us to see here the complexity of his sin. It's a bit like “spot the broken commandment.” Was there adultery? Of course. Did he dishonor the glory of God? Of course. Did he lie? Of course. Did he covet? Of course. Did he dishonor his mother and father and bring them to shame? Of course. There's hardly a commandment that he hadn't broken by the end of this miserable, wretched story. It's almost beyond belief, isn't it (unless we recognize it in our own hearts), the extent to which David tried to cover up his sin, bringing Uriah home that he might sleep with his wife and therefore that the child might be at least perceived to be his. But it didn't work. Getting him drunk…but that didn't work either. And writing a letter and making Uriah carry his own death warrant. You wouldn't credit this story if you didn't know it was in the Bible, would you? You wouldn't believe it, that the author of the Twenty-third Psalm — “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters…and restores my soul” and so on — you wouldn't credit that that man is this man. “Spot the broken commandment”…the lying, the deception, the cover-up. All sin is like that.
I’ll never forget [I think I've told you before, and I’ll keep on telling you because it never really leaves my mind], I was just a young boy — seven, eight, nine years of age — in my mother's bedroom where on Christmas Eve…. I knew, as we all knew — my brothers and sister, we all knew that my mother hid the Christmas presents in her wardrobe. I knew that. We all knew that. And it was dark. She was outside the window, looking up. I had the light on, so I couldn't see her. She could see me perfectly. I had my hands on the presents…I had them in my hands, and I heard this voice as though it came from nowhere, “Derek, what are you doing?” And my instant response without hesitation…I said, “Nothing.” I said, “I'm not doing anything.” But she could see me with my hands on the presents! The instant response of deception. If it wasn't so desperately tragic and serious….
You see, my friends, sin is deceptive. It doesn't come up to you and draw out a sword and say, ‘I am your enemy, fight me.’ It doesn't happen like that. Sin comes like Judas, kisses you on the cheek and says, ‘I am your friend. I will honor you. I will never leave you nor forsake you. I’ll make you feel good. I’ll make you a better person. I’ll gratify your most inward desires.’
Do you know what adultery is? John Piper says adultery is like casting Jesus in the title role of an X-rated movie. That's what adultery is. You see, when we sin we take Jesus with us. If you’re a Christian, if you’re a believer, if you profess to know and serve the Lord Jesus you can't leave Jesus outside the door like you leave your boots or your shoes outside the door, and then you come out and put them on again. You can't do that. You are in union with Christ. Paul, in
I Corinthians 6…you know, if Paul hadn't written it I wouldn't have believed that this was possible…but Paul says in I Corinthians 6 about the Corinthians who were complicit in a sin as bad as this one, that when you sin, when you commit adultery, when you go and visit prostitutes (in the case of I Corinthians 6), you take Jesus with you. You bring Him into open shame.
IV. The heart of David's failure.
Fourthly, I want us to see the heart of David's failure. Turn over the page to chapter 12 and verse 10, and Nathan is speaking. Nathan is a prophet. Nathan is the man who tells this little story. It's a heart rending story about a king who has lots of sheep of his own but he slays the sheep for a sacrifice and for food…he slays the only little pet lamb that this man has. And as David heard this story (he's a shepherd, remember), it just gets to him. The injustice of it all! And Nathan turns to him, you remember, and says, “You are the man.”
Well, Nathan is speaking in verse 10 of the next chapter (and it's the voice of God, of course):
“Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me….”
David has despised the Lord. That's what this is about.
You don't think that you could ever be brought to that position where you would commit a sin in willful defiance of what God says in His word. My friend, if you think like that, there's a word from scripture for you: “Take heed, you that think that you stand, lest you fall.” Take heed if you think that you can stand all by yourself and that these sins will never ever darken your doorsteps, will never tempt and allure you. “Take heed, lest you fall.” David despised the Lord.
But look at the last verse of chapter 11:
“The thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”
David despised the Lord, and the Lord was displeased with David.
This is the heart of this story. Can a Christian fall into sin? Big sin, gross sin, terrible sin, awful sin? Of course. Of course, is the answer. It is all so dreadfully possible.
This passage is here for many reasons, but it is here to warn us…to warn us. It says to us, I think, several things. It says to us first of all we need to guard our minds. We need to guard our hearts. We need to make sure that the word of God is dwelling deep within our hearts. It's telling us we need to make sure that we are keeping close fellowship with God. It's saying to us that we need to have regular — regular — times of prayer and fellowship with God.
And if this morning I'm speaking to you and you are not the man or woman that you once were…your heart doesn't sing for joy as it once did…you no longer sing, “How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believer's ear,” and you have begun to drift and to slip your moorings, then, my dear friend, you are in mortal danger. Do you understand that? You are in mortal danger. And this morning let this passage be a warning to you to pull you back from where you are and to set your course and sail in the direction it ought to be going. Don't let this day pass. Don't let this day pass until you have come to God and pleaded with Him to bring you back to where you once were and set your soul aflame for Him.
I may be speaking this morning — and I have no particular intent in doing so — but I may be speaking to someone this morning for whom this is the very sin…this is the very sin with which you are being tempted. To you especially, whoever you may be — businessman on the road, husband or wife whose marriage is perhaps in some degree of difficulty and trouble — my dear friends, learn to love your spouse again as the bride of your youth, as the husband of your youth, and heed the voice of Jesus in this passage. Maybe it's too late. Maybe it's too late. Maybe the line has already been crossed. And I want to say to you, yes, there is a way back. There is a way back. It's on the other side of repentance. It's on the other side of confession. It's undoubtedly on the other side of some pain, but there is a way back into the arms of Jesus.
Our gospel says to us this morning that the blood of Jesus covers all our sins, including these. What a gospel! What a Savior! I trust, my friends, that this passage will be a warning to you and to me today to “run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.”
Well, let's sing together Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus. It's No. 481.
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