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The Anatomy of Temptation (II Samuel 11:1-5)

November 3, 2013 Speaker: Bryce Morgan Series: Crying for a King (Samuel)

Topic: II Samuel Passage: 2 Samuel 11:1–11:5

Crying for a King

The Anatomy of Temptation
II Samuel 11:1-5
November 3rd, 2013
(One Truth: Walk in Truth)


I. Loosely-Used Words

The great American writer Ernest Hemingway once remarked:

All our words from loose using have lost their edge.

Do your recognize that to be true? Do you believe that the way in which our culture uses words can rob those words of their power. If that's true, then it would stand to reason, the more important the ‘loosely-used’ word and its definition, the more disastrous the consequences for you and me. This about these examples in light of that idea:

With our new selection of desserts, you won’t be able to resist these tempting treats.

Join us next time to find out who will last on Temptation Island.

Here she comes now down the red carpet, looking like a real temptress in that outfit.

Reverend Dimmsdale was vexed concerning Hester Prynne and his ensuing struggle with temptation.

The word of course is “temptation”, and from these examples, we could probably conclude several things about that word: we might conclude that temptation is about as serious as sneaking a cupcake. Or we might conclude that temptation is the stuff of TV reality shows; something there to entertains us. Or we might conclude that temptation is simply about looking good, looking really good. Or we might conclude that temptation is an old-fashion term that belongs to a bygone era, one that we only read about in High School English class.

But if you are follower of Jesus Christ, then you know that none of these conclusions even comes close to addressing the seriousness of temptation. Okay, so why even mention them? Because the way in which our modern world thinks about temptation can cause us, even if only to a small degree, to minimize the serious nature of this threat. To understand temptation we need to reference God’s 'dictionary'.


II. The Passage: “But David Remained at Jerusalem” (11:1-5)

We are coming back this morning to our ongoing study in the books of Samuel, so turn over in your Bibles to II Samuel 11, and let's look together at verses 1-5. Now in order to understand the context of chapter 11, we need to take a quick peek at chapter 10. That chapter describes Israel's battle against both the Ammonites and the Syrians, who were the Ammonites' 'hired guns'. But this is what we read in in 10:13...

So Joab and the people who were with him drew near to battle against the Syrians, and they fled before him. [14] And when the Ammonites saw that the Syrians fled, they likewise fled before Abishai and entered the city [which was Rabbah, the Ammonite capital]. Then Joab returned from fighting against the Ammonites and came to Jerusalem.

So Israel defeated the Ammonites, but they did not take the city of Rabbah. The reason for this probably had to do with the time of year, which may have been just before winter; just before the rainy season. And of course, no army wants to be laying siege to a walled city during the rainy season. And thus, we read this in verse 1 of chapter 11...

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. [2] 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. [3] 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?” [4] 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. [5] And the woman conceived, and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

Now the first thing we need to point out about this passage is how shocking it is in light of everything we've read in Samuel up to this point. Is this really David, the “man after God's own heart”? Is this really, David, the one who waited on God for all those years; waiting for the throne; waiting for God to deal with Saul? Is this really David, the man who defeated his enemies, and took Jerusalem, and brought up the Ark, and led the people in worship? Is this really David, the man to whom God promised an eternal throne?

Even though before this point a couple of David's actions COULD be seen as questionable, we have never seen David in this light. But the writer is reminding us here that David is not God. He is a human being. Yes, he loves God. Yes, he has been faithful. But he is not immune to temptation. In the coming weeks and months, we will see how important this chapter is in terms of shaping the next nine or ten chapters. But this morning, I think God wants to teach us some important lessons about the subject of temptation.

What is temptation? How does God’s define temptation? And how can we stand firm in the face of it? Let me give you a definition of temptation that will hopefully stick with you and that we can work with as we go deeper into God’s word this morning.

Based on God’s word, we could say that temptation is a test of our trust in the truthfulness of God.

Every time you are tempted, your are being tested. And specifically, what is being tested is what you really believe, deep down inside, about God and His word. Every instance is like a moment suspended in time in which you are forced to make clear your allegiances.

Temptation is a test of our trust in the truthfulness of God. Now we’re going to unpack this definition more thoroughly as we move into our passage this morning, but I want you to keep it in mind.


III. The Slippery Slope

I think this passage is so helpful because not only do we read about David’s sin, but before that, we read about how David stepped onto and stumbled down the ‘slippery slope’ of temptation. Whether you realize it or not, temptation is a process. Now at certain times, temptation may seem more like a snake than a slope. It may seem to jump out and bite you without warning.

But temptation is always a process. The duration of temptation simply depends on how long we persevere or how quickly we succumb. And like trying to descend a muddy embankment or a sandy hill, once you get started down the slope of temptation, oftentimes the momentum makes it more and more difficult to stop.


1. Neglecting to do What is Right (v. 1)

But how did David find himself on such an incline? I want you to notice something about verse 1. Everything in this verse, I believe is intended to point to one fact: David is not with his army. He is not leading his army.

Remember, it was standard practice in the ancient Near East for kings to lead their armies into battle. This is clear from I Samuel 8, where the people told Samuel, “…there shall be a king over us, that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (vs. 19, 20)

And David had done just that. And God had given him victory, again and again. Only two or three verses earlier, at the end of chapter 10, we read of David as conqueror. David did not always go out with the army. The verses from chapter 10 that we looked at earlier indicate that only Joab and Abishai went out againt Rabbah the first time. But when the writer highlights that spring is when “KINGS go out to battle”, he is trying to tell us something.

So where is David? He's remained in Jerusalem…he’s taken a day off. And while this is not described as sin, we go on to learn that this decision is like unlocking the door through which sin enters.

Maybe, like David, you’re beginning to feel comfortable in your Christian life. Maybe, since you have been victorious, and established, and blessed through your new life in Christ, maybe feel like you too can take a vacation from the battle. Maybe you aren’t even aware that there’s a battle going on. Maybe the joy and the zeal that you once knew when you first came to Christ has been replaced by a contentment with the routine, by being satisfied with the bare minimum of what will pass for being spiritual.

David’s example this morning is a warning. When we are not involved in the work of God, when we are not decidedly and deliberately pursuing Him with all our heart, we become sitting ducks for sin!

When you are engaged in the work to which God has called you, that is, in growing each day in the grace and knowledge of Christ, in loving and supporting and serving your brothers and sisters, in being salt and light in your family, in your neighborhood, in your classrooms, your workplace, when you are fighting the good fight, you won't necessarily avoid temptation altogether, but you will be better prepared when the enemy does attack.

If David were on the battlefield, his guard would have been up. Little does he know the real battlefield is in his heart. And as we see here, his guard is clearly not up. As we learn from David’s example, the first step onto the slippery slope, the first phase that leads us into doing what is wrong is neglecting to do what is right.


2. Looking to Fill that Vacuum

The next thing we discover in this passage is also revealing in regard to temptation.

While his men are risking their lives on the battlefield, and sleeping among the rocks and ravines of Ammonite territory, David has moved his bed to the palace roof and is lazily enjoying the warmer days of the Judean Springtime.

But instead of making the most of his time off, he is simply wasting his time. David almost seems bored in verse 2. Literally and spiritually, he is wandering. Not being engaged in the work of leaderhship, David, whether he realized it or not, was looking for something in which to engage. And when he saw a beautiful woman, bathing, the slope became that much more unstable and the momentum began to build.

You see, we are the kind of creatures that were created to be connected with something outside of ourselves. There is a longing inside of us, one that C.S. Lewis referred to when he wrote:

"If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world."

This is a longing that was designed to be satisfied by God. But when we are not satisfied with God, when we are not living Him, we will fill that vacuum with something, with anything.

Sometimes, we read this story, and we imagine that good king David was just minding his own business when all of a sudden the poor guy got an eyeful that just sent him over the edge. That woman shouldn’t have been bathing outside, in the shadow of the palace!

The truth is, David was in trouble long before he spotted the woman. You see, boredom and spiritual restlessness are two of temptations greatest allies. And when God is not our heart’s desire, something else will be. Someone once said, “Temptations come, as a general rule, when they are sought.”

Today, if you are honest with yourself and can admit that you are not engaged in the work to which God has called you, you need to be on our guard. You will be looking for something to fill the vacuum. I guarantee it.

As we learn again from David’s example, the second step down the slippery slope, the second phase that takes us toward sin is when something else takes the place of God in our hearts, when we are looking to fill the vacuum.

3. Flirting with the Deceitfulness of Sin…in Spite of the Truth

In verse 3 we learn of another phase of temptation, a stage that leads us right up to the moment of decision.

David, having neglected his work of leadership, having pursed the restlessness of his own heart, David has been confronted with an opportunity. But instead of looking away and throwing himself into the cold waters of the Jordan, David, in lust, begins to flirt with an enticing idea. He begins to flirt with sin.

But when David asked about the woman, and found out who she was, he should have stopped dead in his tracks. The answer he received should have ripped David out of the fog of deceit and yanked him back into the daylight of right and wrong.

Two words in the servants answer should have been especially sobering The first was “wife”. This woman was bound by covenant to another man. She was not and could not be David’s. If it wasn’t there before, the word adultery was now on the table and inescapable.

But the second key word in this answer is less obvious to us. It is the name Uriah. For David, this was not the name of a stranger; this was not simply the name of some unknown husband. From II Samuel 23:39 we know that Uriah was part of an elite group of mighty men called ‘The Thirty’, men who fought and had fought with David for years. Uriah was not a stranger. He was a friend. He was a loyal soldier.

Not only was David entertaining the idea of defiling another man’s wife, he was also flirting with betrayal.

When we are not engaged in the work to which God has called us, when our heart’s are restless, our guard is down, and we’re looking for other gods to serve, we will be confronted with a moment of decision, a moment in which two things will happen. And these two things may happen very quickly…or the process may be more protracted. We will have both an opportunity to be deceived by sin as we entertain the idea of submitting to its lies, but…but…we will also be reminded of the truth.

This is what Paul spoke of in I Corinthians 10:13...“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.”

Whether we are tempted to lust, whether we are tempted to steal, whether we are tempted to lie, whether we are tempted to manipulate, whether we are tempted to fret, whether we are tempted to covet, whether we are tempted to judge, whether we are tempted to boast or tempted to fear or to pride, whatever the sin in question, God will provide a way out.

The third phase of temptation: we flirt with the deceitfulness of sin in spite of the truth.

David failed to be engage in the work of God, he failed to guard his ways from the effects of a wandering heart, and he toyed with the lies of sin in spite of being confronted with the truth. This is the anatomy of David’s temptation. And as we see in verse 4, having gone farther down that slippery slope, David finally took a tumble, head first, into sin's grip.

4. Minimizing and Masking Sin’s Consequences

Now, there is something else here. We also learn from verse 5 that if we are to stand firm in the face of temptation, we must look, not only to the anatomy of temptation, but also to the consequences of temptation’s victory.

We go onto read that a child was conceived from this moment of submitting to lust. Do you think David had a baby in mind when he gave in to temptation’s enticements? I don’t think so. You see, temptation always minimizes and masks sin’s consequences. That’s the deceitfulness of sin. Sin promises us comfort or pleasure, but obscures the consequences of our decision. But there are always consequences. Sometimes those consequences are painful, but temporary, But in some instances, there are consequences we have to live with for years to come.


IV. Finding a Firm Footing

Now at this point we need to look again at the definition of temptation we proposed out the outset. We said that temptation is a test of our trust in the truthfulness of God. In every phase of temptation, at every point down that slippery slope, you and I are being tested. Every instance is like a moment suspended in time in which you and I are forced to make clear our allegiances.

In a very short period of time, David descended that slippery slope, and went from not leading His people in battle to becoming sin’s prisoner of war. So how can we learn from David's failure here and stand firm in the face of temptation? Let me leave you this morning with a few related ideas that will hopefully help you to stand firm in the face of temptation.

First, feed your conscience with the word of God. In Psalm 119:11, right after he posed the question, “How can a young man keep his way pure”, David wrote, “ I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

When we spend time studying, meditating, and practicing the word of God, not only is our mind informed and our heart encourage, but our conscience is tutored as well. Learning and believing in the truth of God makes our conscience more sensitive.

Second, Fight to Win! David wrote, “I have hidden your word in my heart…that I might not sin against you.” Sometimes we get caught in patterns of sin, and can simply grow content in the fact that we are continuing to wrestle. We misuse the encouragements that others have given us when they say “at least you’re wrestling with sin. That’s a good sign.” Or we comfort ourselves by remembering that we’ll never be perfect in this world, and that we’ll always struggle with sin.

Those are true, but please don’t let those be excuses for not fighting to win. Yes, we will struggle, but the goal of the struggle is not the struggle itself….the goal is to win.

May we have the tenacity in our fight with sin that Jonathan Edwards expressed in his personal resolutions. In resolution number 56 he wrote, “Resolved, never to give over, nor in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions, however unsuccessful I may be.”

Third and finally, Rest in the Mercy of God, But Don’t Exploit It. In Psalm 51, the psalm traditionally connected with David’s repentance over his sin with Bathsheba, we read, “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” (1, 2)

David knew that God was a gracious God, a God abounding in lovingkindness. When we fail the tests that come our way we need to look to Christ and remember If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (I John 1:9)

But we should never use this mercy as a license to sin, we should never say, “Oh I can give into this temptation because I’ll still be forgiven later.” In every moment of repentance, we should be praying, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”

While many today, when they hear the word temptation, might think of a fudge brownie or reality TV, those of us who profess to walk by the word of God should think of something far more serious and far more threatening.

Not that being tempted is a sin. Jesus was tempted, wasn't He? We will continue to be tempted up until our last hour on this planet. It is yielding to temptation that causes us to sin. And so the danger of that outcome should cause us to be vigilant in our love for and obedience to God.

Temptation is a test of our trust, yours and mine, in the truthfulness of God.

May we praise God that ultimately, in all things, we stand and can stand firm because of the One who passed that test with flying colors; the one who stood firm on our behalf, the one who continues to stand on our behalf. Only by the grace that Jesus secured through His death on the cross, only by that grace can we stand firm when that slippery slope is calling.