For those of you joining us for the first time in this series please click the links The Fear of the Lord (Part 1) The Fear of the Lord (Part 2) to review what we have covered so far. For those who have been following from the beginning, today I will be discussing the third account that I believe Holy Spirit led me to share, to highlight the importance of the Body of Christ and the nation at large coming into the fear of the Lord.
David Takes a Census
Yes, it’s King David again. For this third event we go to 1 Chronicles 21.
Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it.” And Joab answered, “May the Lord make His people a hundred times more than they are. But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why then does my lord require this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt in Israel?” Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came to Jerusalem. (1 Chron. 21:1-4)
But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s word was abominable to Joab. And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He struck Israel. So David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing; but now, I pray, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” Then the Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and tell David, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord: “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.‘ “ So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord: ‘Choose for yourself, either three years of famine, or three months to be defeated by your foes with the sword of your enemies overtaking you, or else for three days the sword of the Lord – the plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now consider what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.” And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.” So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell. (1 Chron. 21:6-14, emphasis mine)
Several pressing questions arise from the reading of this account and we will get to those shortly. Suffice it to say, David sinned against God and God brought swift punishment. It is interestingly relevant, as we are currently going through the COVID-19 pandemic, that one of the punishment options presented by God was a plague described by God Himself as “the sword of the Lord” and that it was the angel of the Lord who wielded the destruction that killed seventy thousand men. Nuff said.
So, the first obvious question is, what was so sinful about David taking a census that caused God’s wrath and displeasure to come against David and Israel? This is not stated explicitly in the passage. However, there are a few clues that can lead us to make some informed deductions. In Part 2 of this series, I noted that David never lost a battle. In fact, in the chapter preceding 1 Chronicles 21, we see David conquering Rabbah and, in another battle, destroying the Philistine giants. Could it be that David had become puffed up because of all his success? Before I answer this question, it would be insightful to ponder the purpose of conducting a census. My research revealed that, in David’s time, a census was conducted in preparation to draft soldiers and for the levying of taxes. Several writers note that it seemed David’s intent was to increase his royal power in a way that contrasted with humble reliance on God. Throughout the Old Testament, there was a continuous emphasis on “the human kingship of Israel being dependent on God’s divine kingship. For Israel’s king to build up the same kind of power common to pagan kings was tantamount to repudiating God’s kingship over Israel.” Other writers note that it could also have been a case of David forgetting that the people did not belong to him but to God and if God had required them to be counted He would have given that instruction. I tend to agree with the thoughts of these writers. In particular, I couldn’t help but note that this last point is supported by the words Joab used when trying to discourage David’s action.
And Joab answered, “May the Lord make His people a hundred times more than they are. But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants?………….(1 Chron. 21:3a, emphasis mine)
From all that has been said, there is strong evidence to support that David’s motivation for doing the census and the fact that God had not instructed him to do so were at the root of God’s anger. Let us remember that God is always interested in the condition of our hearts (1 Sam. 16:7). Further support that pride was at work in David’s heart was the fact that, despite Joab’s questioning David in an obvious attempt to dissuade him from pursuing this course of action, David refused to listen or even stop and ponder for a moment about the warning that was being sounded. This is how pride operates. When a spirit of pride is at work we become unteachable. The prideful person believes he/she knows more than anyone else and his/her way is the best way. It is so easy for pride to enter into our hearts. I noted in my series “The Many Faces of Pride” that pride is the cardinal sin. It was pride that caused Satan to be cast out of heaven and he tapped into Eve’s pride to cause the fall of mankind.
Isn’t it therefore interesting to observe in the beginning of this 1 Chronicles 21 passage that it was Satan himself who moved David to take the census. The parallel scripture in 2 Samuel 24 says,
Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” (2 Sam. 24:1)
We know that the Bible does not contradict itself when studied as the whole counsel of God. We note in the Book of Job, that Satan had to seek permission from God before he could oppose Job. In this instance, it is obvious that in saying that “the Lord moved David against the Israelites” this move was actually accomplished via temptation from Satan. It is also evident here that Israel was not in God’s good books. This fact was not so evident in 1 Chronicles 21:1. We don’t know what sin had been committed but God’s anger was definitely against Israel. Consequently, God fully intended to bring punishment on the nation and He knew that David’s vulnerability, because of pride, would cause him to yield to Satan’s temptation. In one action God achieved two objectives – the punishment of Israel and David’s recognition that his heart was not right.
And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; …………………………. (2 Sam. 24:10)
In the 1 Chronicles 21 account, it appeared that it was only after God had struck Israel that David acknowledged his sin. However, in the passage above it says that David’s own heart condemned him. In other words, his conscience was pricked and he acknowledged that he had sinned.
Having said all of this, what is the message to each of us individually and to the Body of Christ collectively? God does not allow a plague to come upon nations without a cause.
Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow, So a curse without cause shall not alight. (Prov. 26:2)
Like David, we need to do some serious soul searching. As we have seen from the three accounts I have shared, God is patient with us but there comes a point when He MUST in His righteousness administer judgment to bring things back into order. He must cause those who have rulership in the earth, who have become so full of pride and arrogance (including some church leaders), and who have forgotten that all authority is given by God, to recognize that there is One higher than them to whom they are indeed subject. It is God’s desire that we would willingly obey His commands and walk righteously. However, when we have been given opportunity time and time again to get our house in order there comes a time when rebellion must be met with draconian measures for the saving of ourselves from an even worse fate.
I end our discussion here for today. I know the attention span is short and I have already stretched you beyond your limit. Tomorrow, there is another perspective that I want to share regarding the way in which God meted out punishment to Israel, which has direct relevance to our own situation as we navigate our way through this COVID-19 crisis. Stay tuned.