Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Some thoughts from teaching Old Testament Lesson 24 “Create in Me a Clean Heart”

It has been some weeks since I taught this lesson, but I thought it might be a good idea to share some things from it.

Old Testament Lesson 24 “Create in Me a Clean Heart” covers the sad story in 2 Samuel 11-12 of David’s adultery with Bath-sheba, his conspiracy to have her husband murdered on the front lines, and then the exposure of his crimes by the prophet Nathan, and Psalm 51, which expresses his deep contrition and repentance.

I decided to approach the lesson a little bit differently by widening the scope a bit. We usually focus on just David and Bath-sheba, but I decided to compare his story with other stories in the scriptures of people who suffered similar temptation or who were in similar precarious circumstances. At first, I started thinking about the comparisons simply for my own learning, but after doing it (making a chart and making observations), I learned enough that I decided it would be worth it to have the class think these things through too.

So who are we comparing?

David & Bath-sheba in 2 Samuel 11
Amnon & Tamar in 2 Samuel 13
Corianton & Isabel in Alma 39 :2-4
Sarah/Abraham & Pharaoh in Genesis 12:11-20
Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (who I’ll call Mrs. Potiphar) in Genesis 39: 4-21

If you’re not familiar with any of these stories, I encourage you to take some time to go read them so you’ll have it fresh in your mind.
(Just as a quick note about a relationship, Amnon was a son of David through one wife, and Tamar was a daughter of David through a different wife. They were half-siblings, and a marriage between them would have been forbidden by the Law of Moses.)

Let’s make some charts!

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
Who is the aggressor-pursuer?
Corianton (went after Isabel)
(But also, Alma observes that Isabel did “steal away the hearts of many” so it could have been both were at fault in some way.
Mrs. Potiphar

Something we learn really quick from looking at this information here is that in 4 cases out of 5, the men were the aggressor. However, it must be noted that Isabel and Mrs. Potiphar show us that women may be predatory on occasion too.

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
Who had the power in the interactions?
David (he’s king)
They were about equal (they both were children of David)
Amnon had more physical strength.
This is unclear.

However, Corianton was a missionary, and he had spiritual authority.
Pharaoh (he’s king)
Mrs. Potiphar (she’s mistress of the household, while Joseph is a slave)

Looking at these comparisons, we can see that in 3 of the 5 interactions, there was a massive power imbalance in terms of social status and authority. The power that kings have over their subjects and that masters have over slaves contributes to temptation to misuse that power (which we in the church would label “unrighteous dominion”).  In the case of Corianton and Isabel, I note that he was a missionary (lots of moral authority) and she was a harlot (very little moral authority), so there was a great spiritual power-imbalance there that he may have taken advantage of. (I don’t say that he did; I just surmise that it is possible. People with very low self-esteem are easily taken advantage of.)

In short, power imbalances contribute to sexual temptation; Satan whispers to the person with the power that they can escape consequences or retaliation from the one they sin against or that their status isolates them from wider social consequences. Satan also tries to break down the resistance of the person without power by telling them they will be punished if they resist to keep their virtue.

We can see that Sarah and Joseph both still resisted, which shows us it is possible to resist even if you don’t have power.

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
Who had knowledge of the commandments?


A sad observation we make here is that just because both people know the commandments (like “Do not commit adultery”) does not necessarily make it easier. 1) It may lull both into a false sense of security as they both think, “Oh, I don’t need to worry about that because they know it’s wrong.” 2) The angst when trapped in a forbidden relationship can be even greater.

(Pharaoh is kind of a weird case. The fact that he had to be kept from knowing of Sarah’s marriage indicates that he knew he shouldn’t commit adultery…and he would kept the letter of it by arranging for Sarah to become single. But that meant he had a problem with other commandments…namely, murder.)

We can also observe something reassuring—if even just one person in the duo is committed to keeping the commandments, that commitment can save them both. Yes, even if the one committed to the commandments is not in a position of power.    But the case of Corianton shows us that being the only one who knows the commandments is not enough, if you’re not fully committed to keeping them.

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
Where did the temptation start?
David was at home, on the roof, looking out on the city at night.
At home, in the palace.
This was a long term thing.
Among the Zoramites, on the mission.
(following the lusts of his eyes)
As Abe and Sarah came into Egypt. Pharaoh heard a report from his servants about Sarah. (curiosity)
In Mrs. Potiphar’s house.
Over time as Joseph works for Potiphar.

In the cases of David, Amnon, and Mrs. Potiphar, the temptation came at home. (Note: Be careful who you let close to you.)

In the case of David in particular, in the evening he arose off his bed and walked on his roof. He was restless. Satan tries to take advantage of that. Also, this was at night, so after a long day, his resistance would have been lower. Satan will try to hit us with temptation at night when we’re tired. We also need to watch out for times when we’re hungry, thirsty, anxious, sad, bored, or lonely.

In the cases of Amnon and Mrs. Potiphar, there was a long time of association before the temptation hit. These can be really difficult to deal with because the person is already so embedded in one’s life that it’s hard to see how one can get free of them.  How would Amnon have gotten distance from his half-sister?  How would Mrs. Potiphar have gotten away from Joseph if he was such a good servant? (She couldn’t very well ask for him to be sold without a good reason.)

In the cases of David and Corianton, we see there is a temptation to go after the lusts of one’s eyes. Looking to lust creates problems.

In the case of Pharaoh, just hearing a report of Sarah’s beauty was enough to stimulate his curiosity. The way he acted and the way the Lord warned Abraham to say Sarah was his sister makes you think that maybe Pharaoh had a habit of picking up women like this. (Of course, this is speculation about this story, but the lesson is still important and still valid: there are people who are habitually predatory, and the Lord has to give us extra help to escape them.)

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
Any spiritual problems beforehand?
David was not at battle when he should have been.
(neglecting duty)
Vexed with Tamar to the point of sickness
(not enough to do to keep his mind off her. Idle.)
Had been boasting in his own strength
Pharoah apparently always takes what he wants. (selfish)

Time on his hands? (idleness)

Idleness (since she had servants)

Here we infer that in at least 4 out of 5 cases, idleness was a major contributor to temptation. The saying seems to hold true that “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop,” so it is important to make sure to stay anxiously engaged in a good cause.

Now, let me be understood—we need moments of downtime to rest and re-create our strength. We have a day of rest every week, which is a big blessing.   But long-term idleness is not healthy. Satan will try to fill that long empty space any way he can, like throwing a bunch of burrs in an empty wool bag. To extend the metaphor, it’s easier to keep the burrs out if the wool bag is filled with pretty marbles. (I hope you get my crazy metaphor...)

I think it is also important to point out that while it might seem like boasting wouldn’t create a problem for Corianton, it is actually very serious. “For although a man may have many revelations, and have power to do many mighty works, yet if he boasts in his own strength, and sets at naught the counsels of God, and follows after the dictates of his own will and carnal desires, he must fall and incur the vengeance of a just God upon him.” (D&C 3:4) Boasting is a manifestation of pride, which of course takes a person out of the protection of the Spirit of the Lord.  This means that not only is it not wise to boast of spiritual strength, it also isn’t wise to assume one is out of reach of these temptations. Anyone is vulnerable.

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
What factors would have contributed to the difficulties for the one pursued?
Bath-sheba’s husband was not around. (He was at war.)
Tamar was not physically strong enough keep Amnon away.
Isabel probably had low self-esteem from previously lost virtue.
Sarah was a foreigner in a strange land.

She has to pretend she’s not married (but not by choice)
Joseph is a slave, has to obey orders.

He’s a foreigner.

Some lessons we can learn here is that there are various factors that contribute to vulnerability for the ones who are pursued. 1) When the spouse isn’t around. 2) Lack of physical strength to defend oneself. 3) Low self-esteem. 4) Anything that makes you look unmarried. 5) Being a foreigner. (Means you’re more dependent upon the kindness of others and that not understanding customs may cause you to not realize that personal boundaries are being intruded upon for nefarious purposes.)

The irony with Sarah was that having to pretend she wasn’t married was actually a measure given by revelation to keep her husband alive (see Abraham 2:22-25). However, as a rule, signaling that you are happily married is a great protection.

David & Bath-sheba
Amnon & Tamar
Corianton & Isabel
Sarah/Abe. & Pharaoh
Joseph & Mrs. Potiphar
What factors would have made it hard for the aggressor to avoid contact?
Could have avoided.

David was king and could have ordered Bath-sheba and Uriah sent elsewhere.
Tamar was Amnon’s half-sister. He’d see her all the time unless he got his father to send him on some distant royal project.
Corianton’s mission was to the Zoramites. Perhaps he could have gotten himself transferred?

Isabel stole the hearts of many, so she seems to have been deliberate about it.
Pharoah could avoid, but he takes Sarah into his house.

Eventually he ends up sending them away out of Egypt.
Joseph had been given responsibility over the whole house. 

Joseph helps by trying to avoid Mrs. Potiphar as best he can, but she also tries to defeat these measures.

Joseph is a good servant, so Mrs. Potiphar can’t get rid of him without good reason.

Here we see that nearly every one of the aggressors in these relationships could have done something to send away the person they were too interested in or gone somewhere else themselves. The problem was, by that time they were too ensnared and no longer wanted to.
In the cases of Pharaoh and Mrs. Potiphar, they finally bit the bullet and took steps. (Mrs. Potiphar, unfortunately had to perpetrate an injustice to get rid of Joseph.)

Let’s sum up some of the lessons from this comparison:
·      Power and status imbalances often contribute to temptation. However, resistance is still possible.
·      You must stay completely committed to the keeping the commandments to resist temptation.
·      Temptation often arises from long associations, at times of physiological-emotional weakness, with people who are physically attractive. (Or any combination thereof) Curiosity can also contribute.
·      Idleness, pride, and selfishness makes us extra vulnerable to temptation.  On the opposite side, being anxiously engaged in a good cause, staying humble, and cultivating unselfishness can protect us.
·      Some other protections from sexual temptation are: the presence of one’s spouse, signaling one’s married status, and self-confidence through virtue.
·      Avoiding contact is an important way to quench temptation, and sometimes heroic, unusual measures are called for.

Many times, our warnings consist of “Don’t be alone with a person of the opposite sex,” and the above shows us that sometimes things aren’t that simple. Joseph’s case shows that sometimes even that fails and you have to be ready to run and leave your dignity behind.

I have a testimony that the Lord will help us to keep our covenants if we are truly committed. He will deliver us in various ways—with warnings, with grace (enabling power), and with miracles If necessary.  If we have been sinned against, we can access Christ’s healing power.


Rozy Lass said...

Great analysis! Thanks for sharing.