The danger of success: 2 Samuel 11-12

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Today’s reading: 2 Samuel 8-12.

Abraham Lincoln said,”Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” There’s something about success that threatens and tempts us. David suffered one of the greatest failures of his life not long after the high water mark of his kingship. He had survived the ten-year chase from King Saul, won over all Israel to become king, received God’s promise that his descendant would have an everlasting kingdom, and defeated his enemies to the north, south, east, and west. Then he caved in to temptation and brought disaster upon himself, his family, and an innocent man.

David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba began because he was in the wrong place. How many people today make the same mistake! We know where our temptation lives, but rather than avoid that spot, or make it inaccessible, we go there anyway. The Bible is clear that we should run from temptation, not linger with it. David should have been with his soldiers on the battlefield. Instead he was idling away the hours in the palace. The pursuit of our purpose protects us from sin, but David abandoned his purpose and pursued pleasure.

He fell into sin because he bit the baited hook of desire. James said, “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” David saw Bathsheba bathing and could have – should have – moved away where he could not see her. His desire, however, dragged him in and he was hooked. David could only blame himself. He made the choice to chase his lust.

David’s failure at its root was also a failure of faith. When we give in to temptation as he did, we’re telling God, “what you’ve given me isn’t good enough. There’s something better out there and I’m going to get it.” Lack of faith also caused him to reject the truth of God’s word that in sexual encounters “the two become one flesh.” When David united himself with Bathsheba, he was also uniting himself with her husband, Uriah. Remembering this fact can be one of the most powerful deterrents to sexual sin. If you consider committing adultery, you are dragging your spouse into the new sexual union as well as the spouse of your adulterous partner. David ignored Uriah’s union with Bathsheba. As a result, Uriah lost his life.

David’s success led to temptation which led to sin which brought calamity upon David and all those around him. Why?

  • He didn’t pursue his purpose.
  • He was idle.
  • He didn’t run from temptation.
  • He didn’t trust God’s provision for him, but wanted more.
  • He allowed his own desires to master him.

In the days and years to come David suffered greatly for his mistake. God forgave his sin, but the consequences of his actions remained. He learned firsthand that “sin takes us farther than we want to go, makes us stay longer than we want to stay, and costs us more than we want to pay.”

This was not an isolated sin. For some time, backsliding had been eating out David’s heart. The cankerworm takes its toll before the noble tree crashes to the ground. See Psalms 51:8. Joab and his brave soldiers were in the thick of a great conflict. Rabbah was being besieged and had not fallen. It was a time when kings went out to battle, but David tarried at home. It was a fatal lethargy. If the king had been in his place, this sin would never have besmirched his character. – F. B. Meyer

Image by Caroly Czifra on Flickr, CC by sa 2.0

 

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Taking matters into your own hands: Numbers 5

couple

Today’s reading: Numbers 5-6.

You’ve been wronged, or at least you think you have. How do you react? Do you take matters into your own hands, or do you give God a chance to act? What if the situation involves your husband or wife and your belief that they have been unfaithful?

Numbers 5 focuses on the problem of suspected adultery. A husband believes his wife has been unfaithful and wants something done about it. Perhaps the original problem was that jealous men were doing something, something violent, which led to the procedure described in chapter 5:

…if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure–or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure–then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt. The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. Numbers 5:14-16

The priest interviews the woman, and if she maintains her innocence she is given a drink of water with a curse on it. There are no poisons in the water, only words of a curse that will fall with sickness upon a guilty person and fall away harmlessly from the innocent. Before you say, “how weird,” think about what might have been going on as jealous men acted on their own without consulting God:

  • Continuing jealousy
  • Broken marriages
  • Enmity between one man and another, even when nothing wrong had happened
  • Violence against the supposedly guilty woman and the other man
  • All this even though there was no proof of adultery and at times complete innocence

On the other hand, look what happens when the people allow God to act:

  • Charges are not made hastily since there will be a public hearing with a cost (the grain offering)
  • Guilt or innocence is proven
  • Grounds for jealousy are removed when innocence is proven
  • Violence is circumvented by the trial
  • Marriages can be restored when innocence is proven, though it seems that this would only be the beginning of a long and difficult process

I’m not recommending this process for our disputes today, but God has laid down a principle we can follow. When we feel we have been wronged, don’t rush to judgement and punishment. First put the matter in God’s hands and give him a chance to act. He can reveal the truth, bring about contrition and confession, or initiate his own justice. His knowledge of the matter is perfect; ours is limited. His emotions are controlled; our passions are high. He cares about all the people in the situation; we may only care about our own hurt.  As for me, if I am ever wronged, I hope I will first put the matter into God’s hands rather than trying to solve it immediately by myself. There will still be time for me to act once God has finished.

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all.
1845, “Retribution,” in The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems, Longfellow

Image by stuant63 on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

Bad Sex: Leviticus 18

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Today’s reading: Leviticus 16-18.

Leviticus gives us a list of forbidden sexual practices, but before we run through the list I want to look again at yesterday’s discussion about holiness and uncleanness. Remember that there were two large categories of holy things and common things, and that the common things were broken down into the clean and unclean. Clean things could become holy by sanctification, or unclean by pollution. The laws of Leviticus aimed to keep the holy and unclean apart. Many of the unclean things, including diseases, bodily discharges, mildew, and foods were natural, unavoidable, and involved no guilt.

That is not the case with today’s list of forbidden practices. God calls them wicked, perverted, and abominable. Those who perform these actions are guilty according to God and in later chapters he lays down the death penalty for many of them. The list includes:

  • Incest, though a broader view of incest than we usually think of, including spouses of near relatives
  • Adultery
  • Homosexuality
  • Bestiality

Child sacrifice is also on the list, and though not a sexual practice its inclusion indicates how serious God considers the other transgressions.

The main impact of the ban on incest is prevention of sexual abuse, a problem that is epidemic in our own culture. God tells the people that the land is defiled by the Canaanites who practice these things (this suggests they do it habitually), and that because they do these things he will throw the Canaanites out of the land. God warns the Israelites that the same fate awaits them if they commit these acts. Contrast the condemnation of these willful, voluntary actions with the unclean designation given to involuntary and unavoidable events such as menstruation and disease.

Adultery and anger: Ezekiel 23

couple

Today’s reading: Ezekiel 23-24.

The heart of the moral wrong of adultery is that a covenant, a sacred commitment, has been broken. The one-flesh union which set this relationship apart from all others has been torn asunder by one of the spouses and by a third party that has now entered into the oneness of the relationship. Dennis P. Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex

Let’s take the sin of adultery one level deeper. The heart of its wrongness lies in its betrayal of a covenant with God. Marriage for Christians reflects our marriage to God. When we break covenant with our spouse, we also break covenant with God. The hurt and loss which adultery cause personally are magnified at the spiritual level (see my post from Proverbs for more about the human aspect of adultery).

Now take the betrayal of adultery to the corporate or national level, and you have the situation in Israel and Judah in the years before Jerusalem’s fall. The LORD found Israel as an abandoned baby and raised her to beautiful womanhood (see Ezekiel 16). He had carried her through the desert out of her bondage in Egypt. He pledged himself to her in perpetual marriage only to see her reject him and commit adultery through her idolatry with all the surrounding nations. After centuries of forbearance his self-professed “jealous anger” could no longer be withheld. Israel, and then Judah, felt the full blast of his fury.

Then confront them with their detestable practices, for they have committed adultery and blood is on their hands. They committed adultery with their idols; they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them. They have also done this to me: At that same time they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my Sabbaths. On the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered my sanctuary and desecrated it. Ezekiel 23:36-39

Ezekiel’s message from the LORD contains some of the harshest words in the Old Testament. Noses and ears will be cut off, sons and daughters will fall to the sword, and those who are left will be consumed by fire. This must be one place where Jehovah earned his “God of wrath” reputation. Yet his wrath was justified:

  • The nation had broken covenant with him
  • rejected all his efforts at reconciliation
  • committed adultery by prostituting herself with every idol
  • and defiled the temple by practicing despicable, unholy actions there

God hates adultery, whether committed at a personal level in marriage or in our relationship with him. His anger was so great that he could not hold back judgment despite his love and affection for Israel. Ezekiel closes out his writings on the destruction of Jerusalem by giving a living sermon on the limits of affection. His wife dies suddenly and God tells him not to mourn publicly, though she was the delight of his eyes. When the exiles ask him why he isn’t mourning, he tells them that God is destroying Jerusalem as they speak, and they are not to mourn though the city was “the stronghold in which you take pride, the delight of your eyes, the object of your affection.” God could not mourn for Jerusalem because of its wickedness. He wants the exiles to experience that same emotion, to face up to their own share of shame, and begin the process of loving the LORD rather than his house.

Image by stuant63 on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

About adultery: Proverbs 5-6

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Today’s reading: Proverbs 4-6.

The heart of the moral wrong of adultery is that a covenant, a sacred commitment, has been broken. The one-flesh union which set this relationship apart from all others has been torn asunder by one of the spouses and by a third party that has now entered into the oneness of the relationship. Dennis P. Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex

The wisdom of Proverbs is not theoretical but practical. It means nothing if it isn’t practiced. God’s word hits the nitty-gritty of our wishes and wham! Choices must be made. One of those choices married couples must make is whether to remain faithful to their partner, or give in to the temptation of adultery. Proverbs leaves no doubt about the outcome for those who give in to the temptation:

Can a man scoop fire into his lap without his clothes being burned? Can a man walk on hot coals without his feet being scorched? So is he who sleeps with another man’s wife; no one who touches her will go unpunished. Proverbs 6:27-29

Many give in to the temptation in spite of the warning, so it’s worthwhile to consider why. Here’s my list, but I doubt it’s complete.

  • Passion overrules reason.
  • People don’t believe the warning.
  • People choose the immediate reward of pleasure and discount any future costs.
  • People are selfish.
  • People feel entitled.
  • People are lonely and seek connection by whatever means.

James put it this way:  “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed.” The desire comes first. It may be a desire for pleasure, for love, for excitement, or some other want, but the desire fuels the chase. Proverbs is honest about the enticement, the allure, of the adulterer. Her lips are like honey, her words smooth as oil, her beauty leads to lust, and her eyes are captivating. The writer is also detailed about the consequences of adultery.

  • It leads to spiritual or physical death.
  • Your wealth is lost to another.
  • Your health will suffer.
  • You will groan in regret.
  • You suffer disgrace and shame.
  • The offended spouse will seek revenge.

Fortunately, Proverbs offers advice on avoiding the trap of adultery. Putting distance between you and the temptation is the first step. “Do not go near the door of her house.” Finding love, satisfaction, and pleasure in your own spouse is equally important. “May you rejoice in the wife of your youth.” Finally, keep the wise counsel of God’s word, letting it direct you straight ahead through the minefield of temptations.

Sometimes we fail and give in to the lure of sin. If you have committed adultery and find yourself groaning in regret, the  good news is that God offers forgiveness. Turn away from your practice of adultery, turn back to God by confessing your sin to him, and by faith accept that Jesus has paid the penalty by his death on the cross. Jesus forgave the woman caught in adultery when everyone else wanted to stone her, but he also told her, “Go, and sin no more.”

“Man’s wickedness is now such that men are more ashamed of chastity than of lechery. Murderers, thieves, perjurers, false witnesses, plunderers and fraudsters are detested and hated by people generally, but whoever will sleep with his servant girl in brazen lechery is liked and admired for it, and people make light of the damage to his soul. And if any man has the nerve to say that he is chaste and faithful to his wife and this gets known, he is ashamed to mix with other men, whose behavior is not like his, for they will mock him and despise him and say he’s not a real man; for man’s wickedness is now of such proportions that no one is considered a man unless he is overcome by lechery, while one who overcomes lechery and stays chaste is considered unmanly.” Augustine

Image by Steve Mohundro on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

The danger of success: 2 Samuel 11-12

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Today’s reading: 2 Samuel 8-12.

Abraham Lincoln said,”Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” There’s something about success that threatens and tempts us. David suffered one of the greatest failures of his life not long after the high water mark of his kingship. He had survived the ten-year chase from King Saul, won over all Israel to become king, received God’s promise that his descendant would have an everlasting kingdom, and defeated his enemies to the north, south, east, and west. Then he caved in to temptation and brought disaster upon himself, his family, and an innocent man.

David’s adulterous affair with Bathsheba began because he was in the wrong place. How many people today make the same mistake! We know where our temptation lives, but rather than avoid that spot, or make it inaccessible, we go there anyway. The Bible is clear that we should run from temptation, not linger with it. David should have been with his soldiers on the battlefield. Instead he was idling away the hours in the palace. Kayode Crown says in his blog, Daily Meditation, that the pursuit of our purpose protects us from sin, and he’s right.

David fell into sin because he bit the baited hook of desire. James said, “each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” David saw Bathsheba bathing and could have, should have, moved away where he could not see her. His desire, however, dragged him in and he was hooked. David could only blame himself. He made the choice to chase his lust.

David’s failure at its root was also a failure of faith. When we give in to temptation as he did, we’re telling God, “what you’ve given me isn’t good enough. There’s something better out there and I’m going to get it.” Lack of faith also caused him to reject the truth of God’s word that in sexual encounters “the two become one flesh.” When David united himself with Bathsheba, he was also uniting himself with her husband, Uriah. Remembering this fact can be one of the most powerful deterrents to sexual sin. If you consider committing adultery, you are dragging your spouse into the new sexual union as well as the spouse of your adulterous partner. David ignored Uriah’s union with Bathsheba. As a result, Uriah lost his life.

David’s success led to temptation which led to sin which brought calamity upon David and all those around him. Why?

  • He didn’t pursue his purpose.
  • He was idle.
  • He didn’t run from temptation.
  • He didn’t trust God’s provision for him, but wanted more.
  • He allowed his own desires to master him.

In the days and years to come David suffered greatly for his mistake. God forgave his sin, but the consequences of his actions remained. He learned firsthand that “sin takes us farther than we want to go, makes us stay longer than we want to stay, and costs us more than we want to pay.”

Image by Caroly Czifra on Flickr, CC by sa 2.0

 

Taking matters into your own hands: Numbers 5

couple

Today’s reading: Numbers 5-6.

You’ve been wronged, or at least you think you have. How do you react? Do you take matters into your own hands, or do you give God a chance to act? What if the situation involves your husband or wife and your belief that they have been unfaithful?

Numbers 5 focuses on the problem of suspected adultery. A husband believes his wife has been unfaithful and wants something done about it. Perhaps the original problem was that jealous men were doing something, something violent, which led to the procedure described in chapter 5:

…if feelings of jealousy come over her husband and he suspects his wife and she is impure–or if he is jealous and suspects her even though she is not impure–then he is to take his wife to the priest. He must also take an offering of a tenth of an ephah of barley flour on her behalf. He must not pour oil on it or put incense on it, because it is a grain offering for jealousy, a reminder offering to draw attention to guilt. The priest shall bring her and have her stand before the LORD. Numbers 5:14-16

The priest interviews the woman, and if she maintains her innocence she is given a drink of water with a curse on it. There are no poisons in the water, only words of a curse that will fall with sickness upon a guilty person and fall away harmlessly from the innocent. Before you say, “how weird,” think about what might have been going on as jealous men acted on their own without consulting God:

  • Continuing jealousy
  • Broken marriages
  • Enmity between one man and another, even when nothing wrong had happened
  • Violence against the supposedly guilty woman and the other man
  • All this even though there was no proof of adultery and at times complete innocence

On the other hand, look what happens when the people allow God to act:

  • Charges are not made hastily since there will be a public hearing with a cost (the grain offering)
  • Guilt or innocence is proven
  • Grounds for jealousy are removed when innocence is proven
  • Violence is circumvented by the trial
  • Marriages can be restored when innocence is proven, though it seems that this would only be the beginning of a long and difficult process

I’m not recommending this process for our disputes today, but God has laid down a principle we can follow. When we feel we have been wronged, don’t rush to judgement and punishment. First put the matter in God’s hands and give him a chance to act. He can reveal the truth, bring about contrition and confession, or initiate his own justice. His knowledge of the matter is perfect; ours is limited. His emotions are controlled; our passions are high. He cares about all the people in the situation; we may only care about our own hurt.  As for me, if I am ever wronged, I hope I will first put the matter into God’s hands rather than trying to solve it immediately by myself. There will still be time for me to act once God has finished.

Though the mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; Though with patience he stands waiting, with exactness grinds he all.
1845, “Retribution,” in The Belfry of Bruges and Other Poems, Longfellow

Image by stuant63 on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0