David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Take a census of all the tribes of Israel – from Dan in the north to Beersheba in the south – so I may know how many people there are.” – 2 Samuel 24:2
2 Samuel 24:10 But after he had taken the census, David’s conscience began to bother him. And he said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt, LORD, for doing this foolish thing.”
What is an adult? Being an adult is defined by one word: responsibility. Taking personal responsibility is what separates a child from an adult. Children, when caught in a wrong, often look for someone or something else to blame. Also, there is that secret, or not so secret, hope and expectation that someone will come to the rescue and get them out of trouble.
Adults realize that they are completely responsible for themselves: their actions and the consequences thereof. Adults will readily admit when they are wrong and will attempt to make things right. Their credo is: “It is up to me.”
Spiritual adulthood is similar. A mature child of the King attempts to live by the Father’s standards, recognizes and acknowledges wrongdoing, agrees with the Father, and seeks forgiveness and cleansing. Their credo is: “It is up to me to seek and do and be all that the Father has for me.”
In the United States, a census is conducted every 10 years to determine the population and realign the delegates of the House of Representatives appropriately.
David decides to take a census. What could be wrong with that? Why was David’s conscience troubled? What raised a red flag? It has to do with his intentions and motives.
In ancient Israel, there was nothing illegal about taking a national census. It had been done before without arousing the attention and disapproval of the Father (Numbers 1, Numbers 26). The Torah laid down rules and guidelines for taking a census (Exodus 30:11–16). It was one of the means available to fund the work and pay the bills for the sacrificial system (Exodus 38:25-28). Later on, it was called a temple tax (Matthew 17:24–27).
However, this census was not to collect a temple tax. He wanted to know the size of his army. It was a military census. It determined that 1.3 million soldiers were available for battle (2 Samuel 24:2).
The Old Testament referred to a census as numbering the people. If you needed to go to war, it was the way to determine the size of your military forces. How many troops would be under your command? That seems like a good strategic move. What’s the problem?
Well, that all depends on Who the Commander-in-Chief is.
The Father, the Lord God Almighty, is the Commander of the armies of Israel. The kings of Israel were to walk in faith and depend upon the power and might of the Lord. The size of the military was immaterial. The Father would supply whatever was needed, not human soldiers.
But it was worse than that. David had a not-so-secret agenda. David was motivated by pride. His interest was not in glorifying the Father but rather in magnifying himself.
On the one hand, David demonstrated a blatant lack of trust in the dependability and leadership of the Father. On the other hand, it was a source of wrongful pride regarding the large number of troops under his command.
Napoleon lost the Battle of Waterloo on June 18, 1815. Rather than become a prisoner of the Bourbons, Prussians, or Austrians, he surrendered to the British. Why? He realized that the British would be harsh but just.
REFLECT & PRAY
Father You are just and merciful. I often find myself in desperate situations! I take full responsibility for my wrongful actions and surrender myself to You.
Trouble was brewing. Coming judgment was certain. The Father is faithful and just. He forgives our sins when we confess (1 John 1:9), but He does not remove the consequences. We reap what we sow. Yet, the Father often grants astonishing and wonderful mercy. He sent the prophet Gad to confront David.
2 Samuel 24:11-13
11 The next morning the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, who was David’s seer. This was the message:
12 “Go and say to David, ‘This is what the LORD says: I will give you three choices. Choose one of these punishments, and I will inflict it on you.’”
13 So Gad came to David and asked him, “Will you choose three years of famine throughout your land, three months of fleeing from your enemies, or three days of severe plague throughout your land? Think this over and decide what answer I should give the LORD who sent me.”
In essence, the Father allowed David to choose his own punishment. It was like the American TV show – Let’s Make a Deal which started in 1963.
Behind door number one – three years of famine throughout the land.
Behind door number two – three months of fleeing from enemies.
Behind door number three – three days of severe plague throughout the land.
David’s response revealed the heart of a mature child of God. David knew the Father intimately and trusted in His love, grace, kindness, and mercy.
2 Samuel 24:14 “I’m in a desperate situation!” David replied to Gad. “But let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great. Do not let me fall into human hands.”
David chooses punishment directly from the hands of God. It would be harsh, but it would be just. The justice of people is often unpredictable, capricious, and lacking mercy and grace.
The Father sent an angel of destruction and three days of plague began. People died. David was grieved and guilty. The angel was about to strike Jerusalem, and David pleaded with the Father on behalf of the people of the city.
2 Samuel 24:17 When David saw the angel, he said to the LORD, “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong! But these people are as innocent as sheep – what have they done? Let your anger fall against me and my family.”
David loved sheep. Both the four-footed woolly kind and the two-footed human variety. The best of David now rises to the top. David took full responsibility. He was the sinful party. He is the one who deserved to be punished. He was the one who ordered the census, not the people of Israel. He had not taken into consideration that his sinful act would have such devastating collateral damage.
He had acted like a selfish, supercilious king, now he was acting as a selfless shepherd. He asked that the Father punish him and his household rather than the innocent sheep of the house of Israel.
David was a man after the Father’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14). The Father responded in grace, lovingkindness, and mercy.
Ezekiel 18:32 I take no delight in the death of anyone, declares the sovereign LORD.
2 Samuel 24:16 But as the angel was preparing to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD relented and said to the death angel, “Stop! That is enough!”
David was so right about the Father and His loving and merciful heart. The Father issued a pardon, the sentence was reduced to pestilence already received. Further punishment was quashed, and the plague was over.
Before the story ends, we get one more glimpse into David’s heart and his sacrificial devotion to the Father. Gad told him to build an altar on the spot of land that was already owned by another. It was the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24:18).
Remember that David was king. As such he could pretty much take whatever he wanted. But David wanted to buy the threshing floor from Araunah. Araunah offered to give it to David free and clear. But David refused.
2 Samuel 24:24 “No, I insist on buying it, for I will not present burnt offerings to the LORD my God that have cost me nothing.”
Sacrifice by its very nature requires that a price be paid. Sacrifice involves cost, it is never free.
All adults know that.