1 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. 2 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.”
3 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 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, 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. Quite a large army among a nation of probably seven million or more people.
Little did David know, 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 commanders, but not to us?
Perhaps it was pride, perhaps greed, perhaps claiming the many blessings from God as coming from himself – we do not know for sure.
Here towards the end of his life, was David forgetting about God’s many gifts, blessings, and deliverances, and taking credit for himself? Was he planning some new military adventure all on his own, without God’s leading?
David’s biggest contribution to mankind was his faith, as demonstrated so well through many acts of divine deliverance, 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 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 of the wishes of God?
We do not know. But one thing we do know – when David defied the Lord in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah, judgement came down hard on him and Bathsheba. Here, the prophet Gad let David know that the entire nation would suffer and come under judgement for his actions.
While this seems very unfair and is uncharacteristic of God’s justice and loving nature, God must have had His reasons. Perhaps Israel had independently done something to require this action – we do not know the full story. And at the end of it all, God gave David a blessing that 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 David with fire from heaven consuming the sin offering for Israel. In David’s life, he had never seen such a tangible demonstration of God’s power. It confirmed His forgiveness of David and Israel, giving His approval for their sin offering.
This fireball also confirmed God’s chosen location on Mount Moriah for the Temple to be located and its offerings 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 for us, bringing to us an eternal salvation with Him.
Whenever I am starting to experience greed or the desire for “more” of anything, I remember the census of David. Am I doing it for pride? Am I trying to replace or reduce my dependance upon God? Am I installing a barrier within my relationship with God, something that He will need to remove to get us back to where we should be?
This is part of a 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. Amen.