David was the second king of Israel, following Saul to the throne. As a young lad, he became beloved of the people when he defeated the giant Goliath and put the entire Philistine army to flight. After he became king, he continued to impress people with varied exploits and might very well have gone down as the greatest ruler in history were it not for a major character flaw: he was a womanizer! He had numerous wives and concubines, but they only seemed to whet his lustful appetite rather than satiate it.
One day in spring, as David walked around the roof of the palace he saw a woman bathing. Consumed with desire, he sent for her and then proceeded to consummate his desire. That might very well have been the end of this story, but a few weeks later the woman, whose name was Bathsheba, sent word to David that she was pregnant with his child.
David wasn't happy with the news. Bathsheba was a married woman and Uriah, her husband, was no common man. He was a high ranking soldier in David's army and commanded great respect among his compatriots. He was currently occupied with a siege on the capital city of the Ammonites, whom the Israelites had recently routed on the battlefield. (In earlier days, David would have led his army into battle himself, but it's an indication of how self-indulgent he had become, that he stayed back in Jerusalem.)
David knew there would be hell to pay if Uriah found out what had transpired, so he endeavored to make Uriah believe that he, himself, was the father of the spurious brood. He sent for the man on the pretense of enquiring how the war was going, then told him to go home to his wife. Uriah, however, did not think it was right that he enjoy the comforts of home while his fellow solders were enjoined in battle and spent the night in the barracks instead.
David was dismayed when he found out that Uriah hadn't gone home. He made Uriah remain in Jerusalem another day, and this time got him drunk. Even drunk Uriah showed he had more character than David as he once again slept in the barracks rather than go home to his wife. His principles would cost him his life.
In the morning David wrote a letter to his army commander and sent it with Uriah. In it he wrote, "Put Uriah in the front line where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die." Not realizing that he was carrying his own death warrant, Uriah handed the letter to his commander, who promptly put Uriah at a place where he knew he would face the maximum flak. Uriah died, and the only consoling grace in this entire sad story is that he died without finding out the dark deeds that had transpired.
What David had done was exceptionally evil in God's sight, more so because he was a shepherd of God's people. God sent the prophet Nathan to chastise David for "despising the word of the Lord" and to deliver a pronouncement of what was to follow. A remorseful David repented and was instantly forgiven by a merciful God. But he could not escape the consequences of his actions.
The story of David and Bathsheba typifies the consequences of sin and the various types of consequences that exist. The immediate consequences of sin are a loss of fellowship with God and the resultant separation can be extremely painful. Anyone who has ever had an intimate relationship with God will understand how unbearable it is to have the harmony in the relationship broken. "Restore to me the joy of your salvation," David begged God in the heart rending 51st psalm.
God answered David's prayer and restored him to salvation and fellowship just as he restores us when we turn to him in true repentance. But there are often future consequences as well, with shame, suffering and sorrow following us for the rest of our lives. David's reputation was forever tarnished by what he did. Even more seriously, five people died as a direct result of David's sin leading in untold misery for many others. Four were David's own children, including the child he had with Bathsheba.
And then, of course, there are the eternal consequences of sin. Paul puts it very succinctly in his first letter to the Corinthians. "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad," he writes.
While this illustrates the consequences to us personally, many of us don't realize how badly sin affects the world we live in and how greatly we are responsible for all the suffering we see in it. A beautiful story I heard recently might make this clear.
There was once a boy who was very naughty. His father despaired of him ever mending his ways until he struck upon an idea of how he might possibly change his son's heart. He called the lad to him and told him that every time the boy did something bad he would hammer a nail into the fence surrounding the house; every time the boy was good, he would take a nail out.
In a few weeks the fence was covered with nails. One day as the boy saw the fence, something finally moved inside him and he determined (like David, me and several others I know) to never do anything bad again. Barring a few falls from time to time, he was successful in his desire to change and very soon there were no more nails on the fence.
The boy went to his father unable to resist crowing about how there were no more nails in the fence. "I am very proud of you, son," his father said, "but I want you to look at something." He took the boy out and showed him the fence, scarred by the hundreds of holes the nails had made ...
The world we inhabit is like that fence, with nails hammered into it. If you have ever wondered why there is so much suffering and pain in the world, wonder no more. We cause it. Every time we sin we do the equivalent of hammering a solid nail into the world, and increase the misery in it. The only way we can stop the misery is by putting an end to sin, doing good, and then bringing healing to the world with love.
Let us do that. It is about time.
May the Spirit be with you.