How would you rate your five senses in terms of the lasting impression they have on you? I can remember the first time I tasted Peking Duck, but I can’t actually taste it without eating it again. I can remember the first time I heard Handel’s “Zadok the Priest,” but I can’t actually hear it without playing it again. But as for the things I’ve seen…
Visual memory lets us see things over and over again in our minds. We can call the images up in an instant. They are burned in. You can’t un-see things. And so, when we see something we like, or want, or covet…the images are constantly there to feed our imaginings. That’s what happened to King David.
He had time on his hands; he had sent his army off to fight, but he had lingered back in Jerusalem. Restless and idle, he paced about on the flat roof of his palace. And from that high vantage, casting his eyes down the steeply terraced rooftops of the town, he saw her. And he couldn’t un-see her.
It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful. And David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, “Is not this Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” (2 Samuel 11:2-3)
As the old song says: Just one look, that’s all it took. That image of Bathsheba naked and unawares was burned into his memory and it would torment him with illicit desire. That accidental glance became a stare and quickly turned into an obsession. David would go on to seduce her, even arranging for the murder of her husband so that he might have her for himself.
It sounds odd to say it this way nowadays, but David wasn’t short of wives. He wasn’t lonely or forlorn. He had brought wives with him to Jerusalem, including Ahinoam-the mother of his first-born, and beautiful Abigail-the widow of Nabal. But he was restless, and he let his eyes lead him away to disgrace. He lost his moral compass because of what his eyes had seen, and the aftershocks would eventually tear his family apart.
Is it any wonder that Paul, writing over a thousand years after David, would counsel the church at Corinth (and us) to nip wayward thinking in the bud? Countless images in magazines, up on hoardings and on screens bombard our eyes every day all day. And the advertisers know that the first glimpse is the one that seizes the will and plays on the mind. Let’s be careful what we gaze at, we can’t un-see it. But Paul tells us to “take every thought captive to obey Christ.”