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Grown-Up Bible Stories

Two Men, Two Scandals, Two Results

Their stories contain several parallels. Both started out as younger sons in agricultural families. Both cared for sheep. Both had trouble with older brothers. Both were men of God. Both knew hardship and luxury. Both rose from obscurity to great power and prominence. In fact, both became national rulers. Each was tempted to intimacy with another man’s wife. They responded to that temptation differently, and their stories end differently.

The first man was an early member of the founding family of Israel. He had to be--Israel was his father. (Israel was also known as Jacob.) Israel and his twelve sons made their careers with livestock, sheep to be precise. Living as nomads in Palestine before the Jewish nation had territorial claims, they traveled between grazing areas as the need—and likely the political situation—demanded. Joseph spent his early years as his father’s pet. His favored status ended abruptly when his jealous brothers sold him into foreign slavery.

There’s a lot more to the story. (See the last 14 chapters of Genesis or The Outcast.) But our present interest follows Joseph into Egypt. Here he became the slave of a high-ranking officer. Ironically, he also began a successful career. He became his boss’s household manager. He not only filled the butler-type role of managing a home, but he also looked after the guy’s private business interests. He did so well that his owner let him run things Joseph’s way. While it obviously wasn’t the career a boy from a wealthy, independent family would have chosen, for a slave it was pretty good.

Joseph did have one liability. He was a good-looking young man who worked in the home of a married couple. While things were good between Joseph and his boss, things became too good in the eyes of his boss’s wife. She suggested they have an affair.

Joseph had retained his faith through the tough days of familial rejection and the early days as a common slave. While some slaves might have seen their mistress’s desire as a command and enjoyed what pleasures they could get, Joseph did what a godly man must. He turned her down.

But he still worked in her home, and she didn’t give up easily. He found himself repeatedly refusing her secret advances. A good man would normally avoid being alone with a woman under such circumstances, but Joseph was a slave and obliged to be there. One day, she grabbed him and demanded more than a moral man could give.

Joseph could have taken her love as a badge of honor—after all not just any slave could prove more attractive than a prosperous royal official. He could have responded to the call of nature and had a very good time. Instead, he ran from the house.

It wasn’t his fault that the woman got mad and accused him of trying to corrupt her. The unavoidable scandal followed. Joseph wound up in jail. His job was gone. His reputation was wounded. All he had left was his moral integrity. Well, he had his integrity and his relationship with God.

Our ability to date Old Testament history is sometimes challenging. The Bible records historical events for their spiritual significance rather than to establish precise chronology. That doesn’t make the events any less historical, it only leaves the modern mind confused as it tries to place ancient happenings on a time line. A traditional approach to Biblical chronology places our next subject about 700 years after Joseph.

Like Joseph, David came from a farming family. Unlike Joseph, David wasn’t particularly his father, Jessie’s, pet. He became the family shepherd whose older brothers looked down on him. He was fortunate in that the feelings weren’t quite so intense as they had been in Joseph’s home. The house of Jesse remained one big happy family.

David, like Joseph, showed unusual talent. David’s talent lay along military lines. Life as a teenager protecting his sheep with primitive weapons turned David into a fierce fighter. He also developed a passionate faith in God and a deep loyalty to God’s people. This passion and loyalty lead David to his first volunteer military venture—you’ll remember the story of Goliath—and, as a result, a commission in the army.

In the meantime, God had directed a prophet to pronounce David the next king. While the news was exciting, it also meant trouble. His royal employer was willing to kill any potential competition. The next few years were very difficult for the young soldier. David became a fugitive who was forced to camp in the wilderness with a small army of supporters.

His rivals eventually died for unrelated reasons, and an admiring nation crowned David king. As with Joseph, there’s more to the story, but you’ll need to check it out in the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Samuel. (See also A Man for an Impossible Situation.)

David faced his temptation at a different point in life than did Joseph. He was an aging king when an attractive woman caught his attention. Actually, he was almost guilty of voyeurism. He’d retired to his rooftop patio and, from that vantage point, saw the woman bathing. The woman happened to be the wife of one of his most successful military heroes. Her husband was away at war. She was beautiful. David invited her over for the night.

David already had the multiple wives his culture allowed. He didn’t lack a woman to legitimately fill his needs. But he was a very important person and used to having what he wanted. Besides, she was beautiful. The great heroic king of God’s people, the prophet who sang praises to God, the man who had once been called a man after God’s own heart, became an adulterer. To cover his tracks, David was forced to order the woman’s husband into a lethal combat situation. He then married the new widow.

The plan more-or-less worked until one of David’s trusted advisers came to see him. Nathan was a prophet, a divine spokesman upon whom the king depended for Heaven-sent advice. The prophet told the story of a rich scoundrel who oppressed a poor man. David became thoroughly disgusted and ordered the scoundrel executed. Then the prophet said, “You’re the man.” [Quotations not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a Scripture reference.]

The execution never happened. Instead, David repented and regained his relationship with God. There was a scandal of sorts as the people discussed the actions of this formerly holy man, but David continued as a beloved king and a sincere follower of God.

Now, with the information we’ve covered so far, we might say that the guy who followed his bodily desires came out on top. Yes, he’d started a scandal, but he survived politically and even spiritually. He had a good relationship with his stolen wife, and one of her sons became heir to his throne.

Likewise, we might look back at Joseph in prison and shake our heads. Controlling his natural desires cost him more deprivation. Not only did he refuse a very tempting opportunity, he wound up leading the labor detail in jail. It must have seemed like doing what felt good really would have been the best option.

Only, let’s finish the stories. Joseph’s morality left him eligible to hear directly from God. This ongoing prophetic gift eventually brought him into contact with the Pharaoh of Egypt. It also led to his appointment as the second highest ruler in the nation. Joseph led Egypt through some very difficult times, was reconciled with his estranged family, married, had children and grandchildren, and died an old man who’d had a good life after all.

David had been a man of rare spiritual power and impressive earthly success prior to his affair. God spoke through him. His frequent military triumphs radiated supernatural power. He possessed a great reputation as a man of God. He had a large family. He was a popular monarch. Everything went his way. He committed adultery, and his life was never the same again.

Even as the prophet pronounced God’s forgiveness, he added that there would be strings attached. David deserved to die, and he wouldn’t, but. . . The son conceived by the adultery died shortly after birth. David’s family life deteriorated. No fewer than eleven instances of incest involving his children and some of his wives rose to trouble him. There was a murder in the family. One son initiated a coup that drove David into exile before his personal guards conquered the regular army and killed the rebellious son. Another son tried to preempt his choice of his successor by conspiring with some of his trusted officers. Yes, David died peacefully of old age, but he never quite regained what he’d had before he decided he deserved intimacy with a friend’s wife.


Two men faced scandal--one unfairly after behaving honorably, one by choosing pleasure over honor. One’s family came together. The other’s family fell apart. One man finished his life knowing his wildest dreams had more than come true and that he’d been greatly blessed by God. The other died knowing he’d failed to reach his own spiritual potential. It all stemmed from decisions each made about sensual pleasure.

We live in a world where sensual pleasure reigns supreme. Hollywood glamorizes it. Society allows most forms of fornication and adultery with hardly a blink. Churches have all but lost their voice regarding such issues. We’re well off and accustomed to having everything that makes us feel good. This mixture all but guarantees significant temptation. Those who yield often go on to success and popularity, but their choices remain the choices of death.

Even those who keep their bodies in check face temptations of the heart. People who aren’t tempted to steal others’ spouses, face temptations to grant their hands and eyes the maximum liberty social etiquette allows. Sometimes the temptation involves pornography. Sometimes failure involves privately rejoicing over immoral things. The results aren’t as visibly deadly as outright adultery, but spiritual failure and guilt remain the inevitable consequences. A heart can be defiled even when the body remains under control.

Defiled hearts are bad enough, but the situation worsens when the inner defilement gets acted out. Sometimes the immorality brings obvious disaster. The adulterer risks divorce, disease, violent death, and even Hell. Other forms of immorality, such as fornication between unmarried people, carry most of these hazards as well. Sometimes the results are less dramatic with forgiven sinners remaining weakened and shamed. But make no mistake; only those who overcome their natural desires and keep themselves either celibate or faithful to their spouses will really succeed when God has His final say.

Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but sooner or later, you will have to choose between what you know is right and what your body tells you it deserves. Make your choice carefully. The ramifications are a lot bigger than the heat of passion will allow you to believe.

Thou shalt not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)

But whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. (Proverbs 6:32)

Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery: But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust  after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart. (Jesus Christ in Matthew 5:27-28)

And he saith unto them, Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her. And if a woman shall put away her husband, and be married to another, she committeth adultery. (Mark 10:11-12)

Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

. . . keep thyself pure (1 Timothy 5:22)

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