Lots of good discussion in class today. I especially liked the way we’re finally getting away from talking about sin as if it’s something only “other people” do and are now talking about it as something that even good, faithful Mormons have to deal with.
Lesson 24: “Create in Me a Clean Heart”
2 Samuel 11-12
Purpose: To encourage class members to be chaste in thought and action and to repent of their sins.
Today’s lesson is based on a very familiar scriptural story, the downfall of King David. We’re going to read parts of that story directly from the Old Testament, to remind ourselves of just why it has become so familiar. The story is found in 2 Samuel, chapters 11-12.
Scripture Application and Discussion
1. David commits adultery with Bathsheba and arranges the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband.
Let’s read 2 Samuel 11:1:
1 And it came to pass, after the year was expired, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed the children of Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried still at Jerusalem.
In the ancient Near East, when the winter rains ended, there was a period of several months when every able-bodied man was needed to work in the fields. That meant that most military campaigns took place in the period of March through May.
In the earlier part of David’s reign, he led the armies in battle, he didn’t send them. What do you think about David’s “tarrying still at Jerusalem” while his general Joab led the army? (Try to elicit both positive and negative reasons – David trusted Joab’s leadership; he had other matters – perhaps diplomatic or domestic – to deal with; or, he was avoiding personal battle.)
2 ¶ And it came to pass in an eveningtide, that David arose from off his bed, and walked upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman washing herself; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon.
3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And one said, Is not this Bath-sheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?
How do you think Joseph, the son of Jacob, might have acted had he been in David’s position? What was David’s mistake here? What word would you use to describe his state of mind or his character or behavior at this point? (Write suggested word(s) on the board.)
4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came in unto him, and he lay with her; for she was purified from her uncleanness: and she returned unto her house.
Rather than fleeing temptation, as Joseph had, David acted on his temptations. What word would describe the state of his heart at this point? (Write on board.)
It may be a little reckless to speculate about this and to judge someone when we have so few facts, but let me ask you this: Is Bathsheba as guilty as David is? Why or why not?
The first consequence of their act is reported in verse 5:
5 And the woman conceived, and sent and told David, and said, I am with child.
Now David sends for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, who has been at war with David’s general Joab. David asks Uriah for news of the war. Is that really his purpose in sending for Uriah? What was his real purpose? What word can we add to our list here that describes the state of David’s heart at this point?
Uriah, however, would not go to his own house and enjoy home comforts that were not available to his comrades in the field. Instead, he slept with the king’s guard in the king’s own house, as if he were still on duty. Because of this, there was no possibility of passing off David’s child as Uriah’s, conceived during this furlough.
So David comes up with another plan:
14 ¶ And it came to pass in the morning, that David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.
15 And he wrote in the letter, saying, Set ye Uriah in the forefront of the hottest battle, and retire ye from him, that he may be smitten, and die.
What is in David’s heart now?
Joab does as David instructed, and Uriah the Hittite died in battle. We have a suggestion in this story that Joab is worried about David’s probable reaction to the news – Uriah wasn’t the only man who died unnecessarily when Joab sent them close enough to the enemy’s city wall that the enemy was able to kill several Israelites. Joab told his messenger that if David became angry at the loss of these men, the messenger was to appease David by saving the news of Uriah’s death to the very end of the story.
23 And the messenger said unto David, Surely the men prevailed against us, and came out unto us into the field, and we were upon them even unto the entering of the gate.
24 And the shooters shot from off the wall upon thy servants; and some of the king’s servants be dead, and thy servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.
25 Then David said unto the messenger, Thus shalt thou say unto Joab, Let not this thing displease thee, for the sword devoureth one as well as another: make thy battle more strong against the city, and overthrow it: and encourage thou him.
Sometimes the shock of hearing or seeing the consequences of our actions can make us realize how serious our sins are – have you ever been in a situation where you found yourself thinking, “What have I done?!” That consciousness of guilt is often the first step on the road to repentance. But was that David’s reaction? What word describes the state of his heart at this point?
Bathsheba’s reaction was somewhat different:
26 ¶ And when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband.
27 And when the mourning was past, David sent and fetched her to his house, and she became his wife, and bare him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.
Again, does it seem to you that Bathsheba’s guilt is the same as David’s? Why or why not?
2. David is told that he will be punished because of his sins.
“But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.” This is spelled out for us in the opening verses of chapter 12, when the Lord sends Nathan the prophet to speak to David. Nathan tells David a story:
1 And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.
2 The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
3 But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
4 And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
It is abundantly clear to us that Nathan is talking about David’s treatment of Uriah the Hittite, but David doesn’t seem to recognize that. He doesn’t even see that Nathan is telling a parable, but thinks he is reporting a straightforward event somewhere in the kingdom. David reacts:
5 And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
6 And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
Why do you suppose David is so quick to recognize wrongdoing when he thinks Nathan is talking about someone else? What does this indicate about the state of David’s heart? (Both that he is blind to his own sin, or at least hopes that it has passed unnoticed, but also that he is not entirely beyond feeling – he still has compassion for a wronged man, and is determined to make things right.)
7 ¶ And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
8 And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
9 Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.
All of David’s efforts to cover his sins by committing additional sins have come to naught – everything is exposed to the Lord. What might be the state of David’s heart now?
Nathan pronounces the Lord’s judgment upon David:
10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.
11 Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.
12 For thou didst it secretly: but I will ado this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.
At last, after all of this, David begins to show some remorse when he says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
3. A repentant David seeks forgiveness.
The Sunday School schedule this year allows us only one day to talk about the Book of Psalms, many of which are attributed to David. We’ll sneak in one more Psalm this week by looking at Psalm 51, which speaks of David’s sorrow when he begins to repent for what he has done to Bathsheba and Uriah.
1 Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me. …
After acknowledging his guilt in these verses, he asks the Lord to forgive him:
7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
8 Make me to hear joy and gladness; that the bones which thou hast broken may rejoice.
9 Hide thy face from my sins, and blot out all mine iniquities.
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.
12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.
“Create in me a clean heart, O, God.” I would like to spend the rest of our time discussing what this line means. We have compiled a list of traits that seemed to be in David’s heart at different stages of his sin. Is it enough – can we say that we have clean hearts – if these traits are absent from our hearts? Is cleanliness just an absence of dirt? Is virtue the mere absence of sin?
Imagine that you have been away from home on a business trip for a week. You’re finally coming home – tired from sleeping in strange beds, your suitcase filled with dirty clothes, and for a week having eaten in hotel coffee shops where the food tastes exactly the same as the food in every other hotel coffee shop. Is it enough – are you home – when you open the front door, if all you see is an empty room, “clean” in the sense that the floor is swept and there are no smudges on the walls? Is “home” merely the absence of the worst hotel room traits? Is a clean heart merely the absence of [traits listed on the board]? Even if those traits are absent, what must be present for you to really be at home, or to have a truly clean heart?
(Go down the list of traits on the board, and with each one ask whether a clean heart means merely the absence of that trait. What must be cultivated in its place? How can we cultivate that positive trait? What are the positive benefits of cultivating that positive trait, beyond the mere absence of the sinful trait? If the discussion goes this way, this may be useful:
Moral purity is not outdated. Admittedly, it is also not easy. But I submit that it is easier than the alternative. Virtuous men and women never worry about a surprise pregnancy or sexually transmitted disease. Never agonize over confessing unfaithfulness. Have no emptiness after a one-night stand. No pain in losing one’s family to infidelity. No haunting memories of indiscretions. (See Sheri L. Dew: The Power of Virtue)
What is there in your life right now – whether it is as serious as David’s sin or not – that would cause you to pray as David did, “Create in me a clean heart, O God”? What do you need to uproot from your life, or what do you need to instill in its place, to have that clean heart?
David’s repentance wasn’t easy. Neither is ours. But let’s keep in mind this statement by President Boyd K. Packer:
The discouraging idea that a mistake (or even a series of them) makes it everlastingly too late, does not come from the Lord. He has said that if we will repent, not only will He forgive us our transgressions, but He will forget them and remember our sins no more. … Repentance is like soap; it can wash sin away. Ground-in dirt may take the strong detergent of discipline to get the stains out, but out they will come. (Ensign, May 1989, 59).