Part 3: Sex and “the other”: the anatomy of an affair.
ILL: A third-grade Sunday school teacher was uneasy about the day’s lesson: “You shall not commit adultery.” So she asked the kids, “Would someone please explain what adultery means?”
A young sage answered, “Adultery is when a kid lies about his age.”
Today, we wrap up our series on sex by taking a look at the story of David and Bathsheba. How did someone who was called “a man after God’s own heart” end up in an affair? And what was God’s response? It’s a story of sin, consequences and redemption.
How did I get here? How does anyone get to an affair? The answer is: one small compromise at a time.
ILL: Gordon McDonald was a well-known author, a respected pastor, and president of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship. Before speaking at a college commencement, he was asked privately if he had any weakness that Satan could use to bring him down. He replied, “All sorts of ways, I suppose; but I know there’s one way he wouldn’t get me. He’d never get me in the area of my personal relationships. That’s one place where I have no doubt that I’m as strong as you can get.”
It wasn’t long after that Gordon had an affair. His reflections on how he got there are penetrating. He writes: “A chain of seemingly innocent choices became destructive, and it was my fault. Choice by choice by choice, each easier to make, each becoming gradually darker. And then my world broke in the very area I had predicted I was safe.”
The lesson: anyone can fall, one small choice at a time. You are most vulnerable when you think you are invincible. Anyone can fall. (I should note that Gordon repented and is fully restored to his wife and family.)
Today, we’re going to look at a story in the Bible of a man who seemed invincible, a spiritual giant. David was known as a “man after God’s own heart.” Yet David had an affair that had huge consequences for the rest of his life. How did he get there? Here’s the story:
1. The anatomy of an affair: 2 Samuel 11:1-26
2 Samuel 11:1–5 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem. 2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and 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?” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
Let’s walk through the small choices that David made that resulted in a disastrous affair.
A. David was in the wrong place. 11:1
2 Samuel 11:1 In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
While it was not unheard of for a king to stay home and send his troops to battle, it was unusual, especially for David, who was a warrior and a man of action. So rather than being in battle with his men, David was home, napping. The fact that the author includes this detail seems significant. If David had been where he was supposed to be, none of what follows would have happened. You’ve all heard the proverb, “Idle time is the devil’s playground.” That seems to be the case in this story: David’s idleness made room for the affair to happen.
Many affairs start because we make room for them, because we put ourselves in places we shouldn’t be.
ILL: A friend of mine was traveling for business. Just before he left, he and his wife had an argument; he got on the plane in a foul mood, and got off still fuming. He checked in at his hotel, and went straight to the bar and ordered a couple drinks. Then, still unhappy with his wife and with his judgment dulled by alcohol, he invited an attractive woman in the bar to join him for dinner. You know where this story ends: in adultery and divorce. How did it start? One small choice: he was in the wrong place; he went to the bar looking for comfort for his pain.
Don’t put yourself in places where you are likely to be tempted! The work environment is a prime breeding ground for affairs, but you have to work. So set wise guidelines for yourself. Here are a few of my guidelines:
I won’t go to lunch with another woman alone. I know that many of you are in businesses where it may be unavoidable; I encourage you to be very careful; if possible, take a third person along.
I won’t ride alone in a car with another woman.
I won’t see women alone in my office after hours. As a precaution, we have installed little windows in the doors of all of our staff—we call it “safety glass.”
You might be thinking, “Wow, Pastor Joe must have a real problem or is really paranoid!” Yep! I’ve seen too many people and too many of my own friends fall out of pure carelessness. I don’t want to make room for an affair by being in the wrong place.
I shared some of my boundaries; you’ll have to set your own. I know of a man who when he travels, asks the hotel to remove the TV from his room; he knows that he is tempted to watch porn, and it’s safest if the TV is just gone. Or maybe you need to stay out of the bars. Set some boundaries; don’t make room for an affair to happen!
David was in the wrong place; but that by itself wasn’t a sin. What happened next was.
B. David looked. 11:2
2 Samuel 11:2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful,
David got up from a nap and took a walk on the roof of his palace—these roofs were flat and were used like we would use a deck or patio. Of course, the palace roof would be the highest in the city, and from it, David looked down and saw a woman bathing. She was very beautiful—these Hebrew words are used rarely and only of people of exceptional beauty. This woman was smokin’ hot! She was stunning, and she caught David’s eye. David looked.
Men are wired to look at women. Ladies, just like you can’t see a cute baby without going, “Ohhh;” men can’t see an attractive woman without going, “Ohhh!” Men look. But there is a difference between a look that admires and a look that desires. It is one thing to look at a woman and appreciate her beauty; it’s another thing to look at her as a sexual object and begin to fantasize. Two different looks: you can look, or you can look, and David looked.
Matthew 5:27–28 You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Jesus makes it clear that adultery starts with the look—the look that desires, that lusts and fantasizes. Wrong acts start with wrong thoughts. We commit adultery with someone mentally long before we do physically. Your brain is the most powerful sex organ in your body! This is what makes pornography so powerful and so wrong. Allowing yourself to fantasize is what leads to action. Infidelity starts in the mind. That’s where the battle must be fought.
When David saw this beautiful naked body, rather than turning away, he stared…and then he began to lust, to desire, to want this woman. That look turned into a full-blown sexual fantasy.
Men look; but we don’t have to look lustfully. We can control our thoughts. Martin Luther said, “You can’t stop a bird from flying over your head, but you can stop it from building a nest in your hair.” Men look; a beautiful woman walking by is like the bird flying over our heads. But we don’t have to stare, and we don’t have to start fantasizing about sex; we don’t have to let the bird build a nest in our hair.
I have several ways of controlling my thoughts, not letting the bird nest.
I expose my thoughts to God. “Look at what I’m thinking right now.” Rather than trying to drive out the darkness, it’s better to turn on the light.
I pray. I may pray the Jesus prayer, or just call out His name, or pray for that woman, or thank God for my wife, or use a “trigger prayer” like Matthew 9:37-38.
I remind myself that this woman is someone’s wife and daughter. I don’t want men lusting after my wife and daughters.
David could have stopped right here. He could have won the mental battle and been fine. Instead, he took the next step.
C. David investigated. 11:3
2 Samuel 11:3 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?”
David crossed a line: he acted on his fantasy. He went online and googled this woman. He wants to know who she is, if she’s available, and willing. And his google search returned a result that should have stopped him dead in his tracks: this is a married woman!
Normally, people were introduced as “David, son of Jesse” or “Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam.” But the messenger adds one more phrase: “and the wife of Uriah.” I think the messenger knew what David was up to, and was warning him—certainly God was warning him: this is a married woman! A big red flashing light is going off here: NO! But David ignores it.
It gets worse. This woman is the daughter of Eliab, son of Ahithophel. Ahithophel (her grandfather) was one of David’s closest friends and most loyal advisors. Eliab (her father) is one of David’s Thirty Mighty Men, a leader in David’s army, and part of his personal bodyguard, one of his most trusted men. And Uriah (her husband) is also one of David’s Thirty Mighty Men. Every man in Bathsheba’s life was a trusted and loyal friend to David. This is why Bathsheba’s home was so close to the palace; David’s palace was surrounded by the homes of these Thirty Mighty Men.
So now David not only knows that the woman he wants is married, but also that she is the granddaughter, daughter, and wife of three of his most trusted friends. The Big Red Flashing “NO” is brighter than ever—and David ignores it. In a rush of hormonally-charged lust, David is willing to risk everything, even some of his closest friendships, to have sex with this woman.
David investigated. Today, I talk with more and more people whose affairs started on the internet. The internet has made it possible to investigate quickly and discreetly. An old flame resurfaces via Facebook; or we do a search and connect via email. Here’s the thing about investigation: like David, we do it discreetly, in secret. And anything you do in secret should set off an alarm! Danger! Danger!
You should never have secrets from your spouse. If you are secretly contacting someone, hiding it from your spouse, you’re way over the line. Go back, tell your spouse, end the secrecy. It’s almost impossible for affairs to start when we eliminate the secrecy and live in honest transparency.
Even though David is over the line, he still could have turned back—at this point, it was still no harm, no foul. But he takes the next step.
D. David sought her out. 11:4
2 Samuel 11:4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him
After investigating, David decides to pursue the relationship. He sends a messenger to get Bathsheba and bring her to the palace.
We don’t know what’s going on with Bathsheba. Did she resist? Did she object? Was she a willing party to this affair? Could she have refused the king if she wanted? We don’t know. In the story, David is clearly portrayed as the aggressor in this relationship. David sought her out.
I wonder if David rationalized it to himself. “I just want to get to know her. Nothing will happen. We’ll just talk.” But he’s deceiving himself.
Think how this happens today. You see someone attractive at work. You look. You let yourself wonder. You fantasize. Then you find out who they are, what floor they work on, where they go to lunch, what car they drive. You position yourself to bump into them, talk to them, get to know them. You arrange a “business lunch.” “Nothing will happen,” you tell yourself, but you know you’re skating on thin ice. At this point, you are four steps in and only one small step away from disaster.
Even at this point, David could have turned back. But he didn’t; he took the last step.
E. David slept with her. 11:4
2 Samuel 11:4-5 She came to him, and he slept with her. (She had purified herself from her uncleanness.) Then she went back home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David, saying, “I am pregnant.”
When it says, “she had purified herself from her uncleanness,” this meant that she was at least 7 days past the end of her monthly cycle. It indicated that she wasn’t pregnant when she went to David (she had just had a period). There was no doubt who fathered the baby.
At every step along the way, David could have turned back, but didn’t. Now he’s committed adultery. What started as an innocent stroll on veranda has ended in an affair. So what does he do next? Bathsheba-gate! Cover up!
F. David covers up his sin. 11:6-26
When David learns that Bathsheba is pregnant, he acts quickly to cover his sin. He brings Uriah home from the battlefield, gets a quick update on how the battle is going, and then sends Uriah home with a gift. He anticipates that Uriah, like any man who’s been away from his wife, will have sex with her; then when the baby is born, Uriah will assume that he fathered the child while on leave.
But Uriah was nobler than David, and refused to go home and sleep with his wife while his brothers were still on the battlefield. Instead he slept at the palace entrance, with the palace guard, indicating his loyalty to David. (The irony is thick.) When David heard this, he invited Uriah for dinner the next day, got him drunk and sent him home again. And even drunk, Uriah refused to go home.
David was forced to take more drastic measures. He sent Uriah back to the battle with a note for his commander, telling Joab to put Uriah in the front lines and then pull back so he would be killed. It was Uriah’s death sentence, sent by his own hand, signed by his friend and leader. Joab obeyed (I wonder how this affected him and his respect for David), and sent a report to David when the deed was done.
Bathsheba mourned the death of her husband, and then David took her as his wife.
To the sin of adultery, David has now added murder. One sin leads to another. Adultery leads to deceit, and when that fails, to murder. David has sinned and thinks he has gotten away with it. Not hardly.
2. The consequences of an affair: 2 Samuel 11:27-12:13
A. The Lord was displeased. 11:27-12:7
The last verse of 2 Samuel 11 finishes with these words, “But the Lord was displeased.” David thought he was home free, but the Lord was displeased. God knew what David had done—every small step from the veranda to the bedroom to the battlefield. And God was displeased.
God hates adultery. He hates what it does to people. It results in pain and destruction and broken relationships and death. God hates adultery.
Hebrews 13:4 Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
God will judge the adulterer. Please: don’t deceive yourself. Don’t think you can get away with it. Don’t think that God will just look the other way. God will judge the adulterer. There are consequences, and David was about to find out about them.
God was displeased, and He sent Nathan the prophet to visit David. Nathan told David a story about a rich man with huge herds and flocks, and his poor neighbor who had one lamb. That lamb was like a pet; it grew up with his children; it ate from their table; he cuddled it in his arms. He loved this lamb, and it was all he had. When a guest came to visit the rich man, rather than preparing a lamb from his huge flocks, he took the poor man’s lamb and killed it and prepared it for his guest.
How does that story make you feel? David was furious! “That man deserves to die!” he shouted. Then Nathan said, “You are that man.”
God calls David out. God exposes David’s sin. And then God told David of the consequences of his actions. God was displeased.
Adultery hurts so many people; it also hurts God. It breaks God’s heart. If you are a Christian, a follower of Jesus, someone who loves God, please remember that adultery displeases God. You are not only breaking the hearts of your spouse and family; you are breaking the heart of God.
Over the years, I have heard so many self-deceiving excuses from people committing adultery.
“God wants me to happy.” I hear this one all the time. It’s crazy! Think about it: do you think that you can do whatever makes you happy and God will approve? If committing adultery or murder makes you happy, do you really think God approves? No. God is displeased.
“God wants us together; we are so right for each other.” I’ve heard this one too. The first time, it was a couple in our church who left their spouses and children and ran off to do ministry together. I tracked them down in another town, and they told me this. I told them that they were deceived. God was displeased.
If you are considering adultery, if you are taking these steps from the veranda to the bedroom, please know that you are breaking the heart of God. You are displeasing God, and there will be consequences.
B. David suffered the consequences the rest of his life. 12:7-12
After confronting David, saying “You are that man,” Nathan predicts the fallout from David’s sin.
2 Samuel 12:9–12 Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.’ 11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’ ”
All of this came true. From this point on, David’s family was wracked by violence and intrigue. In the next few chapters, David’s son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. Then David’s son Absalom avenged this rape by murdering Amnon, and fleeing for his life. After a few years in exile, Absalom returned and eventually led a coup, driving David into exile. Absalom slept with some of David’s wives on the very roof where David had stood and looked at Bathsheba, in public, “in broad daylight before all Israel.” In the battle that followed, many people died, including David’s son, Absalom. Ahithophel, Bathsheba’s grandfather, sided with Absalom in the rebellion—wonder why? He was another casualty. Two sons dead; a daughter raped; the kingdom in turmoil; friends dead. And these consequences continued for the rest of David’s life. All this for a sexual fling. Was it worth it?
There are consequences to adultery. When it comes to sin, we tend to magnify the pleasure and minimize the consequences. We need to do just the opposite: magnify the consequences and minimize the pleasure. Why? The pleasure is temporary, the consequences last a lifetime and beyond. Was it worth it?
ILL: Several years ago, I received a phone call from a lady. I officiated at her wedding twenty-five years ago. She called me to tell me that her husband was divorcing her. She had just found out that he has been unfaithful for years. She sobbed as she told me the details, and described how she and their four children felt.
“I’ve been married to him for 25 years. It feels like someone shot a cannonball through my chest.”
She told me that their son, an outstanding young athlete, is so angry at his father that he wants to change his last name. His baseball jersey has his name on the back above his number; he took scissors and cut his name out, and wears his jersey with a hole in the back, rather than wear his father’s name.
That man has lost his son’s affection and respect. Was it worth it? Adultery is so painful and destructive. One of the best exercises I ever did, years ago, was to make a list of all the consequences that would happen if I committed adultery. It was staggering. And it made me realize, nothing is worth this.
There are consequences to adultery, and they aren’t worth it.
Here’s the end of the story.
C. David repented and was forgiven. 12:13-14
2 Samuel 12:13–14 Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan replied, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. 14 But because by doing this you have shown utter contempt for the Lord, the son born to you will die.”
David confesses his sin; he repents and God forgives him. Notice two things.
First, David is forgiven, but he still suffers the consequences. He is forgiven, he won’t die, but he won’t escape the consequences either, starting with the death of the child he and Bathsheba conceived. If you repent from your adultery, God will forgive you, but you cannot avoid all the consequences. Some people think that they can sin, be forgiven and avoid all the consequences. It doesn’t work that way. If you speed and get a ticket, you can be truly sorry and repentant; you still pay the ticket. If you commit adultery, you can repent and be forgiven, but there are still consequences, as David experienced.
Finally, David is forgiven and God works redemptively in the middle of David’s mess. After Bathsheba’s child died, she and David conceived another child, a son named Solomon who succeeded David on the throne of Israel. Jump ahead to the first page of the New Testament, where Matthew gives the lineage of Jesus, a descendant of King David, through Solomon, “whose mother had been Uriah’s wife.” Out of David’s adulterous union with Uriah’s wife, God eventually brings the Messiah. This is redemption. God is able to take our sin and make something good out of it.
Sin, repentance, forgiveness, consequences, redemption.
What if you’ve failed? Adultery is serious sin, but it is not the unforgivable sin. You can be forgiven. And you may be able to rebuild your marriage and restore your family. If you have failed, admit it to God–don’t sugar coat it. And repent. Turn humbly to God and ask Him to forgive you. He will. And then go from there. I remind you of the words of Jesus to the woman caught in the act of adultery. “Where are your accusers?” He asked her. “Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Bow your heads with me. If you have committed adultery, I want you to imagine yourself standing before Jesus. He knows what you’ve done; you can’t hide it from Him. Tell Him you’re sorry. Then listen…hear Him say, “I don’t condemn you; I forgive you. Now leave your life of sin.” It’s time to start over and do it right.
If you’ve never committed adultery, I hope you’ll ask the Lord to help you to continue the straight life.