One of the most popular Bible characters to study (especially for children) is the Old Testament king named David. His story has it all: Adventure, drama, scandal, crime, and action.
We get inspired by how God moved David from a lowly shepherd to the King of Israel (2 Samuel 7:8), by his impossible aim with a sling against Goliath (1 Samuel 17), and by his group of heroes known as David’s “Mighty Men” — that sound like the original Justice League or Avengers (1 Chronicles 11).
Also, we cannot forget that his life was the story behind the “musical” in the Bible known as The Book of Psalms. For example, David wrote this song that worships God for his strength and intervention after he delivered him from the murderous hands of Saul:
The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold (Psalm 18:2, ESV).
David further describes God’s sovereign actions as “reeling and rocking” the earth, shooting out “fire,” and “thundering” in the heavens. Then in Psalm 18-19, he confidently confesses that he is blameless, pure, righteous, and perfect before God who has rewarded him for his “cleanness,” for keeping the “ways of the Lord” and not “wickedly departing” from God.
But something happened after these Psalms that caused him to penitently cry out:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin… Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight (Psalm 51:1-5).
What happened to change David’s tone so drastically? The Bible translators help us here with a short subtitle for Psalm 51 that reads: “A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba.”
This part of King David’s story is often left out of kids’ coloring books and downplayed in their stories (like in the Veggie Tales episode titled “King George and the Ducky) because of how uncomfortable it is.
In short, we read in 2 Samuel 11 that David lusted after another man’s wife, used his authority to bring her to him, essentially raped her, tried to hide his sin, and then took Bathsheba to be another one of his own wives after he arranged her husband’s death. For a life that started off so honorably, David’s story turned into a sad tale.
But why? How did David, a man after God’s own heart, fall so far into sin? In my study, I discovered the following three factors that led to his sinful downfall.
1. David No Longer Had to Struggle
Up to this point, David struggled through many difficulties in life. As an undersized and overlooked young man, he worked with obstinate sheep, fought off wild animals, stood up to the giant Goliath, battled wicked Philistines, and regularly escaped from a jealous King Saul.
Even when David first became king, he still had to make tough decisions and fight in battles. But after God would not allow him to build his temple and many of his enemies were conquered, David seemed to settle into a life of success.
He had a kingdom, wives, servants, and the authority that came with it all. He was at the top, life was easy, and he could go anywhere and do anything he wanted (and he did).
My dad once told me that Alexander the Great employed an advisor to follow him around and whisper in his ear: “You are Mortal. You are just a man.” He did this to remind Alexander of his weakness and to keep him from thinking that he was a “god” among men. While this story is probably apocryphal, it illustrates how easy it is to relax in our successes and achievements, which leads to bad decisions.
The struggle keeps us strong.
2. David Chose to Be Alone
Not only was David living in the luxuries of his position — he was alone. There is an old adage that says, “It gets lonely at the top.” It doesn’t have to be that way, but David chose to be by himself. Even though other kings were out at battle, he stayed back in Jerusalem. While his Mighty Men (including Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, and Eliam, her father) were away fighting, David was in his palace near their vulnerable wives and daughters.
It was no accident that David had no one around to know what he was doing or keep him accountable. Why should he? He was the king! But alone in the shadows was where he made the decisions that destroyed his life. Of course, God saw what David did and sent Nathan to call him out, but that was not until great damage had already been done.
3. David Planned to Fail
While I doubt that David drew up an elaborate scheme for his sin like a battle plan, it is clear from the text that it was not just a fleeting moment of weakness or a “crime of passion.” He planned to fail. Or at least he did not plan to succeed — and a failure to plan is a plan to fail.
David was alone at a time and place that he should not have been, he was not seeking God’s will, and he lost focus on the battle at hand. Because of that, when he stepped out onto his roof and saw Bathsheba bathing, he “...sent and inquired about the woman” (2 Samuel 11:2, ESV).
After he found out that she was the wife of one of his most trusted men, he made conscious choices to entertain impure thoughts, have her brought to his room, and follow through with his lusts.
This was not a complicit love affair, it was a king abusing his authority at a time that he would not get caught and consequences seemed unlikely to use a married woman for his sinful pleasure and then discard her in private. David knew what he was doing, and it was “evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Samuel 11:27).
Thankfully, David recognized what he had done after the prophet Nathan slyly rebuked him (2 Samuel 12), which led to repentance for his pride, adultery, and murder (as we saw in Psalm 51). God even continued to use him and his descendants for his glory.
Nevertheless, David still had to deal with the repercussions of fear, fighting, disappointment, death, and more. If you think the events so far would be uncomfortable to talk about, it only gets worse!
But the scary reality is that the wickedness that David fell into could happen to anyone. You do not have to scroll too far in your news feed to find stories of politicians, leaders, and even pastors that have given in to destructive sin. And it happens today for the same reasons it did for David.
What Does This Mean?
Because of our sinful natures, holiness is not automatic, purity takes work, and victory never comes by accident. So, to guard our lives against sin, we must keep the right perspective about who we are, keep struggling against our fallen nature, and not get complacent in our successes. We must saturate our minds with God’s Word and invite people in to hold us accountable and encourage us to do good works.
We must put practical plans in place to keep our minds, hearts, and bodies pure with prayer and Bible reading, giving others access to our lives, using filters and software like Covenant Eyes on our devices, scheduling checkpoints with an accountability partner, and putting up barriers to limit our exposure to whatever tempts us the most.
We are in a battle for our souls, and God wants us to live victoriously. That is why we see helpful truths in Scripture like these words from Paul to young Timothy:
...if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:21-23, ESV).
May we take to heart the instructions that Paul gave to the Romans:
...present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:13, ESV).
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Maudib
Robert Hampshire is a pastor, teacher, writer, and leader. He has been married to Rebecca since 2008 and has three children, Brooklyn, Bryson, and Abram. Robert attended North Greenville University in South Carolina for his undergraduate and Liberty University in Virginia for his Masters. He has served in a variety of roles as a worship pastor, youth pastor, family pastor, and most recently as the Lead Pastor and Planter of Village Church in Churchville, Virginia. He furthers his ministry through his blog site, Faithful Thinking. His life goal is to serve God and His Church by reaching the lost with the Gospel, making devoted disciples, equipping and empowering others to go further in their faith and calling, and leading a culture of multiplication for the glory of God. Find out more about him here.