The Census and the Temple Mount – 2 Samuel 24 / 1 Chronicles 21

As leader of God’s people and a linchpin in the Messianic line, King David was subjected to strong temptations and was a focus of Satan himself in order to disturb and disrupt God’s plans.

1 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?” 1 Chronicles 21:1-3 (NKJV)

David’s census of the people and the armies of Israel looks harmless on the surface of it.  Every nation takes a census, and every military needs to know how many soldiers are in its ranks.  So, what is the problem?

But here we see the temptation of Satan has played some role in instigating this action.  Even commander Joab, who normally was not a particularly religious person, was moved to discourage David from ordering this count of military strength, which was apparently in direct contradiction to God’s will.

But David insisted, so Joab went ahead and counted the fighting men.  There were 500,000 soldiers in Judah, the region around Jerusalem, and 800,000 elite soldiers in the rest of Israel.  This was quite a large army among a nation of probably seven million or more people.

Little did David know it, but after the death of his son, Solomon, there would be a civil war in Israel, and these two armies would end up fighting against one another.

When David received the count after nine months, he immediately realized that he had committed a great sin, and sought the Lord’s forgiveness.  But what was the sin that was so clear to David’s commander, and eventually to him, but not to us?

Perhaps it was pride, perhaps greed, perhaps claiming that his many blessing, including a mighty army, were coming from him rather than from God, taking all credit for himself? Was he planning some new military adventure all on his own initiative, without God’s leading? We do not know for sure.

David’s biggest contribution to mankind was his faith, as demonstrated so well through the many acts of divine deliverance, and his godly courage, strength, and kindness to others, all in response to God’s love for him.  God also spoke through David with divine prophecy and edifying words as he penned his Psalms, such valuable scripture for us to meditate on today. 

Was David getting off track by becoming obsessed with the size of his army, suddenly leaning on that power rather than the power of God for his strength?  A miser counts their money over and over and is always focused on gaining more.  Was David doing this with his armies, in direct defiance to the wishes of God?

It is not certain. But one thing we do know – when David defied the Lord in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah, judgment came down hard upon both him and Bathsheba.  Here, a prophet named Gad let David know that the entire nation would suffer and come under judgment for his actions.

While this seems unfair and uncharacteristic of God’s justice and loving nature that innocents suffer for David’s actions, God must have had His reasons – we do not know the full story.  And at the end of it all, God gave David a blessing that still impacts each one of us believers today.

13 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.”

14 So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it. As he was destroying, the Lord looked and relented of the disaster, and said to the angel who was destroying, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.  1 Chronicles 21:13-15 (NKJV)

26 And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on the Lord; and He answered him from heaven by fire on the altar of burnt offering. 27 So the Lord commanded the angel, and he returned his sword to its sheath. 1 Chronicles 21:26-27 (NKJV)

1 Then David said, “This is the house of the Lord God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel.” 1 Chronicles 22:1 (NKJV)

Out this the terrible experience with the deadly plague following David’s disobedient census, the Lord confirmed His relationship with both David and the nation with fire from heaven, completely consuming the sin offering for Israel.  In David’s life, he had probably never seen such a tangible demonstration of God’s power.  It confirmed the Lord’s forgiveness of David and Israel, giving His approval of their sin offering.

This fireball also confirmed God’s chosen location on Mount Moriah for the future Temple to be located and its sin offerings to be made.  Mount Moriah is the very place where God had led Abraham on a three-day journey with Isaac a thousand years earlier, and would be the place where, a thousand years later, His only begotten and greatly beloved Son, Jesus Christ, would offer Himself on a cross as a sin offering for us. By this, He gifted believers an eternal salvation with Him, made holy and pure by His own loving sacrifice at the Temple Mount.


Where am I experiencing greed or the desire for “ever more” of anything? Am I doing it for pride, or trying to replace or reduce my dependance upon God? This is part of a self check-up I need to take from time to time. 

Lord, show me the idols I have chosen that are getting in the way of my love for You.  Help me to separate myself from the things You detest, and to be more pleasing to You. Grant me a pure and righteous heart. We ask this in Jesus’ name, Amen.

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