Needing a flight reservation for an upcoming business trip, Dalton picked up his office phone to make a toll-free call. Wrong number. The recorded voice of a sensuous woman offered the services of “girls who know how to have a good time.” When this very thing had happened one afternoon about six months ago, Dalton instantly ended the call. But today was different.
At breakfast this morning, Liz had started nagging him again about his lack of attention at home. Did Dalton think of his wife as a handy housemaid, someone to cook his meals and pick up his dirty socks? Why was he so absorbed in his work that he had no time for a long evening together every once in a while? Did Dalton not realize that his two beautiful children desperately needed more from their father than financial support? “You don’t really love me,” Liz said. Without waiting for Dalton’s reply, she walked out of the kitchen. And she was crying.
The scene Liz had made distracted Dalton from his work. He was furious. Why could she never seem to understand that providing for her was his way of showing love? What was wrong with her?
Dalton’s anger made ending the inappropriate phone message difficult. Prostitution was disgusting. He had absolutely no interest in hiring “girls who know how to have a good time.” Besides, Dalton was a Christian, in fact a deacon in the church. Infidelity was wrong, a sin. But would it hurt anything to just listen to the sensuous recording? It gave Dalton a tingle of perverse pleasure to know that he was doing something that would deeply hurt Liz. But he certainly would never tell her about it, nor did he ever intend to do something of this sort again.
The Ammonites, a people related to the Hebrews, inhabited a territory east of the Jordan. Fierce and aggressive, they were often in conflict with Israel. But Nahash king of Ammon and David king of Israel were friends. Then Nahash died.
David did the natural thing. He “sent by the hand of his servants to comfort” the new king of Ammon, Nahash’s son Hanun (2 Sam. 10:2). Although David’s intentions were completely honorable, Hanun’s advisers misconstrued the king of Israel’s motives. The Ammonite princes asked Hanun, “Do you think that David really honors your father because he has sent comforters to you? Has David not rather sent his servants to you to search the city, to spy it out, and to overthrow it?” (v. 3). King Hanun had failed to consider this possibility, but it did make perfect sense. David could enlarge his own territory by seizing the lands of Israel’s immediate neighbors.
And how clever of David to take advantage of a funeral to do some spying! The king of Israel had hit below the belt, but the king of Ammon could return the injury with interest. He “took David’s servants, shaved off half of their beards, cut off their garments in the middle, at their buttocks, and sent them away” (2 Sam. 10:4). Since a beard was a mark of manly dignity, the involuntary shave was just as embarrassing as the forcible removal of clothing. The ambassadors “were greatly ashamed. And the king said, ‘Wait at Jericho until your beards have grown, and then return’” (v. 5).
Hanun’s calculated act of humiliation incited war with Israel. When the Ammonites “saw that they had made themselves repulsive to David,” they hired soldiers from Aram to aid them in battle (2 Sam. 10:6). But the mercenaries were no match for David’s great warriors. Joab, Israel’s salty general, routed the Arameans and then prepared to give the Ammonites his full attention. Winter, however, was setting in. An assault on Rabbah, the Ammonite capital, could wait for better weather.
The following spring David sent Joab to resume the suspended Ammonite campaign. Rabbah was under siege. David, however, “remained at Jerusalem” (2 Sam. 11:1). One afternoon, strolling on the palace roof, “he saw a woman bathing, and the woman was very beautiful” (v. 2). This enticing spectacle instantly aroused David’s sexual desire.
American men cannot avoid seeing the beautiful feminine images constantly confronting them. Women expose themselves on TV commercials, magazine covers, billboards, and advertisement displays at the mall. Christian sisters in the church even foolishly wear revealing clothes to worship. Responding to visual stimulation with sexual desire is perfectly normal and healthy. The man aroused by sight is behaving as the Creator designed him. The lover in Solomon’s song says: “You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes” (S. of Sol. 4:9, NIV).
Apparently, David’s eyes landed on his bathing neighbor purely by chance. But this accident forced him to make a choice. Would the king turn away and try to think of something else? Or would he linger, drinking deep of sexual pleasure?
It was a forking-road moment. One choice would secure David’s steps on the path of life. “Let your fountain be blessed,” the Spirit said, “and rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love” (Prov. 5:18-19). The other choice would send David stumbling toward the smoldering gates of hell. The immoral woman “forsakes the companion of her youth, and forgets the covenant of her God. For her house leads down to death, and her paths to the dead; none who go to her return, nor do they regain the paths of life” (2:17-19).
Why is making the better choice so difficult? What makes a man on the palace roof so vulnerable to sexual temptation? Some sins feel completely wrong to a man of godly character. A typical Christian man feels disgust at the thought of stealing money from a church treasury or intentionally breaking an infant’s leg. But the sin of sexual immorality is different.
In a discussion about sexual conduct, Paul wrote that foods were “for the stomach and the stomach for foods” (1 Cor. 6:13). This line of reasoning, employed by some of the brothers in Corinth, implied that sexual relations with temple prostitutes were perfectly natural—as normal as eating. But Paul took issue with this. He explained that “every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body (v. 18). In other words, no matter how appealing sexual sin seemed, it would ultimately hurt the brother who indulged it.
A Christian man, having publicly acknowledged Jesus as Lord, is no longer free to make moral decisions based on what feels right to him at the moment of temptation. He is “bought at a price.” Purchased by the blood of the cross, a brother no longer belongs to himself. He is God’s man now. He is deeply committed to making choices that feel right to the Lord. “Flee sexual immorality,” Paul warns, and “glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:18, 20).
David stood on his palace roof more than 1000 years before the blood of Jesus spilled down the cross. Even then, though, a godly man understood that choosing what pleased the Lord was far better than yielding to sinful impulses. As a small boy, David had memorized the Ten Commandments, including the absolute prohibition against adultery. No doubt, David was equally familiar with Moses’ ringing challenge to Israel as the people prepared to enter the land of Canaan: “I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live; that you may love the LORD your God, that you may obey His voice, and that you may cling to Him, for He is your life” (Deut. 30:19-20).
Adding to the natural appeal of sexual temptation is a sense of entitlement. After a long, stressful day calling on business clients, a traveling sales representative “deserves” the pleasure of watching a pornographic movie in his motel room. If a wife nags so incessantly about the cluttered garage that her husband cannot even enjoy watching his favorite college team on ESPN, then he “deserves to get his fill of forbidden fruit on the Internet after she turns in for the night. If a woman rounds her figure with far too many heaping bowls of ice cream, then her health-conscious, athletic husband “deserves” to be in the arms of his slender administrative assistant. If a spouse with a childhood history of sexual abuse can only rarely give her body to her husband, then he “deserves” a fling from time to time. The excuses are as endless as the bottomless, smoking pit from which they arise.
What was David’s excuse? His wife Abigail, Nabal’s widow, “was a woman of good understanding and beautiful appearance” (1 Sam. 25:3). Surely, David’s other wives were equally attractive. Since the women in the royal harem had no power to refuse the king, David could gratify his desire for sexual intimacy whenever he pleased.
Probably, it was David’s powerful position that suggested a sense of entitlement. Leading the people of Israel was a heavy responsibility. No one else could shoulder the burden or even guess at its weight. The king needed, no, deserved a mini vacation. A frolic in bed with the bathing beauty seen from his roof would relieve stress.
News headlines and personal observations furnish countless examples of this power/entitlement connection. A governor or senator promoting family values ruins a promising political career by hiring a prostitute. An entrepreneur building his business on the strong foundation of hard work and personal integrity undermines his credibility by committing adultery with an attractive employee half his age. A preacher addressing overflow crowds every Sunday destroys his ministry by committing adultery with the church secretary. And why do powerful men yield to sexual sin or even seek it out? Because they are important. They deserve it.
Important David had to make his choice in half a second. Such a weighty decision cried out for more time. The king needed to meditate on the Scriptures, devote himself to prayer, and consider the grave consequences of sexual sin.
But the arousal of immoral sexual interest never gives a tempted man a few hours to read, think, and pray. Suppose that a high-powered NFL offense is lined up against a chubby high school team. The teenagers are at risk of serious injury. As soon as the ball is snapped, the professional athletes will smash across the line of scrimmage and trample on the weak defenders. The boys can escape harm only if the play is blown dead before it starts. A testosterone rush on the palace roof is a potent NFL offensive line. A wise man whistles the immoral “play” dead before it begins, but a foolish man waits until the ball is snapped and is then crushed under Satan’s feet.
Lack of time for reflection on the palace roof requires a man of God to make a prior commitment. Job says, “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1, NIV). This righteous man resolves to never let his eyes linger on the beauty of a girl who arouses immoral sexual interest. At the first inkling of forbidden pleasure, he always averts his gaze.
Apparently, David had failed to make this godly resolve. Walking on the palace roof, he accidentally saw a lovely girl bathing. Would he look away or let his eyes linger? David chose to feast his eyes on the forbidden fruit.
One sin led to another. The king “sent and inquired about the woman.” She was Bathsheba, “the wife of Uriah the Hittite” (2 Sam. 11:3). The army of Israel had an elite force of 37 tigerish soldiers. Uriah the Hittite belonged to this special unit (23:39). Committing adultery with Bathsheba would mean the betrayal of one of the king’s most loyal and valiant subjects. But lust was now blinding David’s eyes to the shame of his actions. The king “sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her” (11:4).
Several weeks later Bathsheba sent a desperate message to the king. She was pregnant. Uriah would come home after the Ammonite campaign and discover her infidelity. As David well knew, adultery was a capital offense. Moses wrote that “the man who commits adultery with another man’s wife, he who commits adultery with his neighbor’s wife, the adulterer and the adulteress, shall surely be put to death” (Lev. 20:10).
David’s kingship would certainly protect him from the death penalty, but political position could never shield him from scandal. He was wildly popular with his subjects, who thought their king could do no wrong. Whatever David “did pleased all the people” (2 Sam. 3:36). If discovered, the indiscretion with Bathsheba would permanently taint his stellar reputation.
Blaming Uriah for Bathsheba’s pregnancy seemed the best way for David to escape the shame of his hypocrisy and abuse of power. Messengers hurried to Rabbah with orders for Israel’s general. Joab was to send Uriah the Hittite home to Jerusalem for a conference with the king. David graciously received the soldier, discussed the war effort, and then sent him home to spend the night with Bathsheba before rejoining the army.
But Uriah innocently foiled this cunning scheme. The soldier chose to sleep at the palace entrance with the king’s servants. The next day David asked, “Did you not come from a journey? Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah replied, “The ark and Israel and Judah are dwelling in tents, and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are encamped in the open fields. Shall I then go to my house to eat and drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do this thing” (2 Sam. 11:10-11). And he meant it.
Uriah’s incredible self-discipline highlights David’s moral weakness. The soldier has been away from home for months. His longing for sexual gratification is intense, and beautiful Bathsheba is tantalizingly close to the royal palace. Uriah has every right to be with his own wife. But since his warrior friends cannot enjoy the pleasures of home, loyalty to them compels Uriah to say a firm no to his sexual needs. The man indulging lust believes that he is powerless in the grip of desire, but he is lying to himself.
Uriah’s loyalty tempted David to sink even deeper into the muck of shame. The king invited his brave warrior for dinner. The royal table presented a feast of rich foods and wine. And David “made him drunk.” Once intoxicated, Uriah would surely forget his military comrades and go to his wife. But David had again miscalculated. That evening Uriah “went out to lie on his bed with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house” (2 Sam. 11:13).
Now David was desperate. The next morning he wrote a letter addressed to the commander of the army. “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle,” the king directed, “and retreat from him, that he may be struck down and die” (2 Sam. 11:15). A fighting machine, Uriah had been in hot battles many times before. But this conflict would be different. Without warning the other soldiers on the front lines were to retreat, leaving him hopelessly outnumbered by Ammonite warriors.
Suspecting nothing, loyal Uriah carried the hellish letter in his own hand and delivered it to Joab. Following the king’s written orders, the commander created a dangerous situation for his most valiant men by charging too close to Rabbah’s city wall. Expert archers answered with a flurry of arrows. Some of David’s men fell, “and Uriah the Hittite died also” (2 Sam. 11:17).
When Bathsheba learned that Uriah was dead, “she mourned for her husband” (2 Sam. 11:26). As soon as it was culturally appropriate, the king married the young woman and brought her home. Shortly thereafter, Bathsheba gave birth to their son.
At his office Dalton attempted to call and make a flight reservation. Wrong number. A recorded female voice offered the services of “girls who know how to have a good time.” Dalton was a Christian, a deacon in the church. He knew that listening to the sensuous voice was sinful.
Ordinarily, Dalton would have quickly ended the misdialed call and tried again to reach the airline. But today was different. He was angry with Liz. All she ever did was nag, nag, nag. It gave him a thrill of wicked pleasure to listen for a moment or so, to have a little secret that would deeply hurt Liz if she knew. Of course, she would never find out. After a minute or two, Dalton put down the phone. Looking again at the airline number, he recognized his dialing error. Mentally, Dalton made note of the phone-sex number–not that he would ever intentionally use it.
A month later, though, Dalton did call the number again. Liz’s insufferable behavior had pushed him into it. But making secret phone calls was risky. Dalton decided that Internet pornography was easier to hide and far more exciting.
Hiding from Liz naturally meant hiding from God too. Dalton began to lose interest in spiritual things. He had always led sincere prayers at the family table, but now his expressions of thanksgiving were mechanical. Reading the Bible made him feel uncomfortable, assembling for worship with the church was a chore, and his duties as a deacon were becoming a nuisance.
Noticing Dalton’s emotional and spiritual distance, Liz pursued him. She begged him to tell her what was wrong, to talk with the elders, to go with her to counseling. These attempts to reconnect (again perceived by Dalton as nagging) alienated him even more.
Summer, Dalton’s administrative assistant, listened sympathetically to all his marital complaints. Living with an abusive husband made her needy and vulnerable to Dalton’s attention. One Friday afternoon he took Summer to a nice restaurant for a “working lunch.” When Liz heard about their date, she was outraged. Dalton insisted that the encounter was completely innocent, just business. But that was a black lie. Two weeks later Dalton and Summer shared the same motel room on a business trip.