David’s Census: Pride, Plague, and Prophecy

David’s Census
1st Chronicles 21:1 – 22:1Reading through Chronicles, you often come across details that are missing from the parallel accounts in Samuel and Kings. This episode in the later life of David is a good case in point.

21:1 “An adversary opposed Israel, inciting David to count how many warriors Israel had. 2 David told Joab and the leaders of the army, “Go, count the number of warriors from Beersheba to Dan. Then bring back a report to me so I may know how many we have.” 3 Joab replied, “May the Lord make his army a hundred times larger! My master, O king, do not all of them serve my master? Why does my master want to do this? Why bring judgment on Israel?” 4 But the king’s edict stood, despite Joab’s objections. So Joab left and traveled throughout Israel before returning to Jerusalem…” All quotes from the NET Bible

Some versions translate the instigator of verse 1 as “Satan”. This may well be, since the absence of the article in Hebrew usually means a person or group of persons is meant. Others, like the translators of NET, believe it was a neighboring country that was inciting David to military readiness. The military build-up and saber rattling, perhaps, of one of King David’s enemies probably distracted him from his usual reliance of God and prompted him to assess his military strength. The important issue here is not who the adversary is, but who David forgot about when he decided to number his men of war. Whether Satan in person or a mere adversarial enemy nation was behind it, David forgets that the LORD is his (and Israel’s) Strong Tower. So he sends Joab out to number all the men of war that Israel can muster, if need be.

This exhibits a lack of trust in the LORD, who then expresses His great displeasure with David. After repenting, David still has to face the consequences of what he did.

21:8 David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, please remove the guilt of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” 9 The Lord told Gad, David’s prophet, 10 “Go, tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: “I am offering you three forms of judgment from which to choose. Pick one of them.”‘”11 Gad went to David and told him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Pick one of these: 12 three years of famine, or three months being chased by your enemies and struck down by their swords, or three days being struck down by the Lord, during which a plague will invade the land and the Lord’s messenger will destroy throughout Israel’s territory.’ Now, decide what I should tell the one who sent me.” 13 David said to Gad, “I am very upset. I prefer to be attacked by the Lord, for his mercy is very great; I do not want to be attacked by men.” 14 So the Lord sent a plague through Israel, and seventy thousand Israelite men died.

God offers David the choice of famine, sword or plague. This seems to be God’s designated means of chastising those who are,or claim to be, His own (see Ezek. 6:11 – 12; Deut. 28: 21 – 26; 32:24 – 25; Isaiah 5:19; Jer. 14:12; Rev. 6:8. That last NT verse might be better understood by cross-referencing with the ones before). Even in judgment, David shows a trust in God. He would rather be chastened by Him than to fall into the hands of enemies. He knows that the lovingkindness of God is great and perhaps He will relent, at least partially (which He does do, in fact).

15 God sent a messenger to ravage Jerusalem. As he was doing so, the Lord watched and relented from his judgment. He told the messenger who was destroying, “That’s enough! Stop now!” The Lord’s messenger was standing near the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 16 David looked up and saw the Lord’s messenger standing between the earth and sky with his sword drawn and in his hand, stretched out over Jerusalem. David and the leaders, covered with sackcloth, threw themselves down with their faces to the ground. 17 David said to God, “Was I not the one who decided to number the army? I am the one who sinned and committed this awful deed! As for these sheep, what have they done? O Lord my God, attack me and my family, but remove the plague from your people!”

Some have seen a parallel here between David’s response and Christ’s praying on the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” If true, there is only the faintest similarity. A more likely connection to Christ is the fact that the avenging angel stops at the very place where the temple will be, where God will be propitiated by the offering of the Son. It is at this spot where David buys the land of sacrificial implements from Ornan (“Araunah” in Kings). This is where he makes his offering to God, and where he sees fire coming down from Heaven, showing that God’s wrath is appeased.

26 David built there an altar for the Lord and offered burnt sacrifices and tokens of peace. He called out to the Lord, and the Lord responded by sending fire from the sky and consuming the burnt sacrifice on the altar. 27 The Lord ordered the messenger to put his sword back into its sheath. 28 At that time, when David saw that the Lord responded to him at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there. 29 Now the Lord’s tabernacle, which Moses had made in the desert, and the altar for burnt sacrifices were at that time at the worship center in Gibeon. 30 But David could not go before it to seek God’s will, for he was afraid of the sword of the Lord’s messenger. 22:1 David then said, “This is the place where the temple of the Lord God will be, along with the altar for burnt sacrifices for Israel.

By all means, don’t stop at the end of the chapter! The next verse was unwisely separated from the previous section: David recognizes where the temple will be. He was already told that Solomon would build it. Now he knows where the site will be.

Points to consider:

1. David, perhaps feeling spiritually secure, still did not know all that was in his heart. Instead of trusting in God as his strong tower, he wanted visible assurances of his own strength. We can be sure that when we betray the same distrust in God’s promises and abilities, we likewise grieve the Spirit of God.

2. God’s saints can sometimes find God’s greater good even in times of disaster and judgment. It was during this plague that David discovered where the future Temple was to be sited.

3. Ornan, even after seeing the avenging angel in mid-air ready to strike, continued doing what he had been doing – plowing the field. Unlike his sons, who tried to hide themselves, he recognized that God is sovereign and does what He will. At any rate, there is no hiding from Him. Moreover, his conscience seems more clear than his sons’.

4. David & Ornan both saw the angel in the air. They went ahead and continued their selling of Ornan’s property (the future temple site) even though the angel was still poised to strike. Would you or I be able to do something sensibly with an overwhelming angel of God’s judgment plainly visible?

5. Who of any of us knows what great temptations and evil days lie ahead for us still? If we knew the evil days in advance, perhaps we would stay in bed. This is impossible, of course, so the better tack is to walk daily and humbly with our LORD, closely relying on Him to see us through the good days and the bad. If we walk in the Spirit we will not fulfill the desires of the flesh (Galatians 5:16). If we acknowledge Him in all that we do. He will direct our paths (Proverbs 3:6).

6. Familiarity breeds contempt. Sometimes we think we know God and withhold from Him the respect and obedience we should give. David probably didn’t need to hear any detailed reasoning from Gad as to whether or not he sinned. he knew he was guilty. Sometimes we bring judgments upon ourselves for treating the wonderful Lord of our salvation as “the man upstairs” or as “the good Lord”. Voltaire, on his deathbed was reported as saying, “God will forgive. It’s His job.” It is one thing that the unsaved have vapid notions of the Almighty. It is truly out of place, and a cause for chastisement when Christians slight the Eternal One and don’t give Him the glory He deserves.


About asterisktom

I breathe, therefore I blog.
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