He never should have seen her that day. He should have been at war, but instead he was at home on his couch. While he lay in comfort, his men died with courage.
Against his better, more comfortable judgment, he decided to get a little exercise and take a walk. He strolled on the roof of his palace, struggling however he could to distract himself. When good kings would have gone to the battlefield—when even he himself, in previous years, would have led the fight—he had sent someone else.
As he looked out from the rooftop on all he was called to protect, he went to take another step and froze. From the angle where he was standing, he caught a glimpse of her bathing. She was beautiful—very beautiful, he thought.
In horrifying irony, her God-given beauty tested the selfish, lustful, impulsive inclinations inside of him. Having avoided faraway armies, he was ambushed at home by something even stronger. Temptation lined up in intimidating rows against him.
In an instant, he looked away, said a prayer for the unnamed woman, and went where he should have been all along: to war.
This Blessing Has Fallen
That chapter of David’s story, as you know, did not end that way. When he noticed Bathsheba, David lusted, inquired, took advantage of her, and impregnated her. Trying to cover his tracks, he deceived her husband and then had him murdered. His decisions, beginning in that vulnerable moment on the roof, wreaked havoc on him, others, and the whole nation.
But what if he had walked away and escaped temptation? He would have enjoyed the precious blessing of obeying God. He could have sung the words of another psalmist: “This blessing has fallen to me, that I have kept your precepts” (Psalm 119:56). This other poet knew that the strength, wisdom, and resolve to obey God ultimately comes from God. And he knew that nothing rivals the present joy of keeping heaven’s precepts, not to mention the joy to come.
The suffering of this other psalmist was intense, but the comfort he felt in God’s promises was stronger (Psalm 119:50). The opposition he faced was fierce, but not fierce enough to drown out his singing over God’s word (Psalm 119:53-54). When every earthly impulse would have had him run for safety, comfort, and convenience—or, in David’s case, for someone else’s wife—he instead gained a blessing greater than indulgence: obedience.
The Cost of Keeping Precepts
Obedience brings far deeper pleasure than sin, both now and in the long run. The blessing is not merely the absence of punishment, but the presence of favor. Obedience is not simply something we do for God, but something we do with God, as a way to experience more of him. “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:12-13).
We indeed work in obedience, often very hard, and over many years; but our hope is not in ourselves, but in God working in our obeying. All our efforts at obedience will be in vain unless we have the grace of God at work in us (1 Corinthians 15:10). We genuinely and desperately need him to lead us not into temptation but to deliver us from evil (Matthew 6:13). If we are to obey from the heart, God must move, which means every act of obedience, however ordinary in our eyes, is an astonishing blessing.
When Moses brought God’s demands to Pharaoh’s throne instead of cowering in fear and insecurity, God had given him a blessing. When Joshua marched around the high walls of Jericho instead of running from the battle or fighting his own way, God was moving in the walking and waiting. When Hannah, desiring a son, poured out her soul to the Lord instead of stewing in bitterness and longing, God not only heard her prayers, but blessed her in her praying. When Jeremiah preached repentance and endured hostility for forty years, with little fruit, instead of giving up and ignoring God’s call, a whole host of blessings had fallen along the way, sustaining and fulfilling him through incredible hardship. When the apostle Paul suffered being imprisoned unjustly, beaten regularly and ruthlessly, and even being stoned to the point of death, the blessing of allegiance to Christ was worth everything he suffered.
Each knew the pain and shame of giving in to temptation, and each enjoyed the unparalleled gift of obedience—of doing what God had called them to do, against extraordinary odds (in them and around them), because God was with them and for them.
Obedience Was His Sustenance
Jesus did not sin in any way, shape, or form. He never tasted the bitterness of disobedience. But he gives us more than an example of obedience; he shows us the deep and abiding joy of obeying God. He obeyed the Father not only because it was right, but because it was more satisfying.
Let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross (Hebrews 12:1-2).
When Jesus rejected every weight and sin, he did so gladly, not reluctantly. He did deny temptation, but based on his pursuit of joy, it was not “self-denial” as many typically think of it. He did what he had to in order to secure greater joy.
In John 4, when his disciples had noticed Jesus hadn’t eaten anything, and said, “Rabbi, eat” (v. 31), he replied, “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (vv. 32-34). He craved holiness even more than calories. Obedience was his sustenance.
And by his Spirit, he sustains us with the same. He says, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:10-11).
If we want to abide with God and experience the very joy of God, we obey God. If we really want the fullest happiness, we keep his commandments “from the heart” (Romans 6:17).
Far Sweeter Than Forgiveness
Forgiveness alone is not the sweetest gift God gives sinners. It is far better when he not only forgives our iniquity, but replaces it with Spirit-empowered conformity to Christ. Until obedience smells sweet to our hearts, we may find relief or comfort in the gospel, but we forfeit a greater blessing than relief.
When we climb out of bed to meet with God in his Word and prayer instead of claiming thirty extra minutes of sleep, God has given us a blessing already. When we refuse to indulge an illicit sexual desire by looking, clicking, or touching, a gift has fallen from heaven. When we confess sin to someone instead of hiding for another week, God has moved in us and for us. When we do not dishonor our brothers or sisters behind their back, but instead bless them and pray for them, God has delivered us from temptation with a fresh experience of his grace.
If we have done what God has told us to do, with the right heart, God has done it in us, and through us, and for us. In the moments we have obeyed him, he has blessed us.
Marshall Segal (@marshallsegal) is a writer and managing editor at DesiringGod.org. He’s the author of Not Yet Married: The Pursuit of Joy in Singleness & Dating (2017). This article is slightly adapted from DesiringGod.org. Used by permission.
Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.