We are all tempted. Lehi taught that there is a devil and that he “seeketh that all men might become miserable like unto himself” (2 Nephi 2:27). Alma identified Zeezrom’s combativeness as “a snare of the adversary, which he has laid to catch this people” (Alma 12:6). And King Benjamin warned his people, “beware lest there shall arise contentions among you, and ye list to obey the evil spirit, which was spoken of by my father Mosiah” (Mosiah 2:32).
Perhaps the most dramatic story of a person succumbing to temptation in the scriptures is King David. As Elder Anthony D. Perkins pointed out, even after experiencing miracles and living faithfully for decades, David “was still spiritually vulnerable” (“Beware Concerning Yourselves,” General Conference, October 2012). I’ve thought this week about his tragic series of crimes against Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah, and I’ve pondered how I can avoid being caught in a similar trap.
The principles I identified are echoed in the counsel given by Alma to his son Corianton, who had also committed a serious sin. Here are the principles I identified:
1. Avoid compromising situations.
There is perhaps a harbinger of trouble in the simple introduction to the story of David and Bathsheba: “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, and all Israel…but David tarried still at Jerusalem” (2 Samuel 11:1). Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed, “David’s fall, at least in part, was facilitated because he was not where duty lay” (“The Seventh Commandment: A Shield,” General Conference, October 2001).
Likewise, when Corianton got into trouble, his father pointed out that it began “when thou didst forsake the ministry and did go over into the land of Siron among the borders of the Lamanites” (Alma 39:3).
We are more vulnerable to temptation when we are not where we are supposed to be.
2. Choose friends who will challenge you.
I love this sentiment written by Agnes Callard, who teaches philosophy at the University of Chicago
I want friends who feel free to disagree with me, both publicly and privately; friends who will admonish me, gently but firmly…. I want friends whose minds are not tethered to my own in bonds of allegiance…. I want friends, not allies.“If I Get Canceled, Let Them Eat Me Alive,” New York Times, 21 June 2022
David had no such friends. Perhaps he couldn’t, because he was king. How many people facilitated his wrongdoing, including Joab, who simply followed David’s instructions to intentionally cause Uriah’s death? (See 2 Samuel 11:14-17.) How might things have been different if the people around him had been willing to question his decisions, and if he had been willing to listen?
Alma advised his son Corianton, “Counsel with your elder brothers in your undertakings…. And give heed to their counsel” (Alma 39:10).
Good friends can help us avoid mistakes by questioning our decisions and helping us confront issues we may be ignoring.
3. Think about the impact of your decisions on other people.
David’s plans to cover up his first sin were thwarted by a conscientious Uriah, who refused to go home while his friends and colleagues were still on the front lines of battle:
The ark, and Israel, and Judah, abide in tents; and my lord Joab, and the servants of my lord, are encamped in the open fields; shall I then go into mine house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? as thou livest, and as thy soul liveth, I will not do this thing.2 Samuel 11:11
This expression of selfless concern for the welfare of others could have been a wake-up call for David. But he was hyper-focused on himself: his own desires and his own reputation. So he went forward with his plan anyway.
Alma similarly urged Corianton to think about the impact of his actions on other people: “Behold, O my son, how great iniquity ye brought upon the Zoramites; for when they saw your conduct they would not believe in my words” (Alma 39:11).
We make better decisions when we consider and prioritize the welfare of other people.
4. Own your decisions.
When the prophet Nathan shared with David a fictional story that mirrored David’s own wrongdoing, David was angry with the main character and pronounced harsh judgement upon him. Nathan replied, “Thou art the man” (2 Samuel 12:7). That was perhaps the moment when David finally recognized his accountability for his actions. At that point, he said simply, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13). No excuses, no dissembling. Just a pure confession and a willingness to own his mistakes.
Alma also urged Corianton to take full responsibility for his errors: “Do not endeavor to excuse yourself in the least point because of your sins, by denying the justice of God; but do you let the justice of God, and his mercy, and his long-suffering have full sway in your heart; and let it bring you down to the dust in humility” (Alma 42:30).
We are more likely to make good decisions when we see ourselves in the driver’s seat: empowered and accountable for our actions.
Today, I will apply the lessons I have learned from David’s mistakes. I will stay in the path of duty, listen to advice from my friends, think about how my decisions will affect other people, and take responsibility for my actions.