Sin Makes You Stupid
This week, we looked at the story of David and Bathsheba, one of the most famous accounts of the effects of sin in the Bible. In the preceding chapter (2 Sam 10), David had sent his armies against the Ammonites, Israel’s neighbor to the east. Ammon and Israel had been fighting ever since Israel attempted to come into the Promised Land. After a brief period of peace, the Ammonites hired Syrian mercenaries to amass on Israel’s border, prompting David to send out his army.
This is one place we can be kinder than most to David – we shouldn’t necessarily look askance at David’s decision to stay behind in Jerusalem while his troops were at war (2 Sam 11.1-2). In fact, in a subsequent battle against the Philistines (2 Sam 21.15-17), David almost collapsed, prompting Joab, his military commander, to exhort him to stay at home and not come out to battle. As king, David was too valuable to lose in battle. Since he was getting older (maybe about 50?), it’s probably appropriate that David stayed behind.
But, while he stayed home, David saw Bathsheba bathing (ritually cleansing herself to mark the end of her menstrual cycle) and summoned her for an affair. Bathsheba then became pregnant. I keep wondering why Bathsheba didn’t warn David that she was likely to become pregnant. Was Bathsheba a willing accomplice or the victim of a grossly uneven power imbalance? No matter how we answer this, David comes out looking terrible.
We should realize David’s actions don’t come out of the blue – big sins rarely do. We often coddle and justify our behavior well before it results in something dramatic. For years, David had been building a harem. After his first wife Michal was taken from him, the Bible tells us that David took six different wives just while he was in Hebron (2 Sam 3). He then added nine more when he came to Jerusalem (2 Sam 5). These are only the ones we know about.
Not only did David feel a sense of entitlement (he was the king, after all), but Israel probably saw David’s growing harem as a sign of God’s favor. Only someone rich could afford a harem. Thus, David’s many wives and concubines were a sign of God’s blessing, or so David and the people thought.
The problem was that they conveniently forgot the instruction God had specifically left for future kings:
When you come to the land which the LORD your God gives you and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are round about me,’ you may indeed set as king over him whom the LORD your God will choose…[The King] shall not multiply wives for himself, lest his heart turn away; nor shall he greatly multiply for himself silver and gold (Deut 17.14-15, 17).
David’s actions were directly contrary to God’s instructions. Moreover, David also “forgot” another provision in the law, the penalty for adultery:
If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death (Lev 20.10).
David then tried to cover up his sin by getting Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband to sleep with her in order to hide David’s paternity. But, when this failed, David ordered Joab to organize Uriah’s death on the battlefield.
The big takeaway from this story is that sin can make you stupid. After all, this story represents one of the worst cover-ups in history. Think about how many people knew about what David did – the initial messengers that summoned Bathsheba, Bathsheba’s servants, the palace guards, the messengers that summoned Uriah, Joab, the soldiers that withdrew while fighting alongside Uriah and Uriah’s fellow mighty men. If the whole palace and a decent part of the army knew something was up, David failed spectacularly at his cover-up.
But this is what sin does. We can become so delusional that we see fit to justify almost any behavior. This is why we need a more stable standard to measure our actions against.
Yet the question this story raises is why didn’t God put David to death? This is what the law required. Moreover, Saul, David’s predecessor, was removed as king for offenses that were far less than David’s.
The only difference it seems to me is that David repented of his sin. And this brings up a very important thing to realize about repentance. We can be forgiven for almost any sin (the only exception I know of is the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit). All we have to do is ask for it. God, ever merciful, always stands ready to forgive us.
But, just because we’re forgiven does not mean that there aren’t on-going consequences for our sin that linger. As God explains to David, through the prophet Nathan:
the sword shall never depart from your house because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife…Behold I will raise up evil against you out of your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of the sun For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel and before the sun (2 Sam 12.10-12).
From this point on, David’s life was never the same. He would run from those trying to overthrow him for the rest of his life. This set in motion a process which culminated in the exile of both the northern and southern kingdoms in foreign lands, the ultimate ignominy for God’s chosen people. Indeed, all sin can be forgiven, but the consequences often remain.
Yet, Jesus willingly identified with David, and by extension all sinners, in his incarnation. In the book of Revelation, at his return, Jesus sits on David’s throne and rules as the promised Davidic king. Why would Jesus want to identify with a murderer and an adulterer?
Consider the first verse of the New Testament: “This is the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” The line leading to Jesus is full of prostitutes (Rahab), untouchables (Ruth) and adulterers (David). In short, Jesus comes in the flesh to identify with us as we really are. Or, as St. Paul wrote: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am the foremost of all” (1 Tim 1.15).
What Jesus asks is that we be honest enough with ourselves to realize our own wretchedness and our desperate need for forgiveness. He then asks us to go and do likewise for others, especially those who have hurt us. God has offered us an infinite well of forgiveness when we didn’t deserve it. Is there anyone in your life who could benefit from some undeserved kindness? To be most like Christ is to extend grace to others when they least deserve it.
Kevin Dodge is the author of several books on the spiritual life, including Confessions of a Bishop: A Guide to Augustine’s Confessions and Reading Dante: A Theological Paraphrase of the Inferno. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a ThM with Highest Honors from Dallas Theological Seminary.