Today David takes a census of the people of Israel. In 2 Samuel 24 it says that the Lord moved David to take the census, but in 1 Chronicles 21 it says that Satan moved David to take the census:
- “Again the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah’” (2 Samuel 24:1).
- “Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel” (2 Chronicles 21:1).
Taking a census is not wrong, depending on the motive behind numbering the people. If you are taking a census at the direction of the Lord, then it is not a sin. God gave the Israelites instructions regarding a census during the Exodus Era when the Israelites were in the wilderness – “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them” (Exodus 30:12). But if you take a census out of pride and for your own personal glory and not the glory of the Lord, then it is a sin because the people belong to the Lord.
As G. Campbell Morgan said, “When we are moved to number the people, we may rest assured that the impulse is Divine or Satanic, and we may determine which by the motive. If the motive is service, it is God. If the motive is pride, it is Satanic.” Satan uses our own pride and selfish motives to draw us into sin. Later in the story, Jesus’ brother will explain how Satan is the one who tempts us, not the Lord – “Let no one say when he is tempted, ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (James 1:13-15).
The Bible does not say exactly why the Lord is angry at Israel at this time, but the Lord uses this census to bring judgment upon the rebellious Israelites. In the past we have seen the Lord use evil to accomplish His good purposes – remember the book of Job? So the Lord allows David to be tempted by Satan, and David caves into the temptation. When David orders his men to take the census, Joab and the captains of the army try to stop him, but David ignores their warnings. However, after the census, David is convicted of his sin – “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; but now, I pray, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.’”
The Lord sends the prophet Gad to David with three punishments to choose from: 1) seven years of famine, 2) three months of enemy attack, or 3) three days of plague. David responds, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
Therefore the Lord sends a plague that kills seventy thousand people. And when the angel of the Lord stretches out His hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord says “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” The Lord is merciful, and He is the One who will say enough of the plague. David knows of God’s great mercy, and that is why David chose to be left in the hands of the Lord instead of the hands of man.
David repents and asks the Lord to spare the people – “Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.” David isn’t perfect, but he does have a heart after the Lord. His heart reflects the heart of the perfect Man to come later in the story, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10).
The plague stops at the threshing floor of Araunah on Mount Moriah, the place where Abraham was willing to offer up his son Isaac, believing that the Lord could raise him from the dead (Genesis 22, Hebrews 11:19). Then Gad instructs David to go there and build an altar to the Lord. When Araunah offers his threshing floor and oxen to David at no cost, David responds, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God with that which costs me nothing.” This is the same response Abraham had when offered a burial spot for Sarah for free. Abraham insisted on paying the full price (Genesis 23). Abraham and David know that truly following the Lord always costs us something. Jesus will later teach that in order to follow Him, you must deny yourself, pick up His cross, and forfeit the things of the world (Matthew 16:24).
David will spend the remainder of his life gathering supplies for the house of the Lord, which his son Solomon will build on the threshing floor of Araunah on Mount Moriah, a thousand years after Abraham’s obedience on this same mountain. We end the reading with David giving godly advice to Solomon – “Now, my son, may the Lord be with you; and may you prosper, and build the house of the Lord your God, as He has said to you. Only may the Lord give you wisdom and understanding, and give you charge concerning Israel, that you may keep the law of the Lord your God. Then you will prosper, if you take care to fulfill the statutes and judgments with which the Lord charged Moses concerning Israel. Be strong and of good courage; do not fear nor be dismayed.”
Soon in the story, the Lord will give Solomon the wisdom his dad is desiring for him. Keep reading to see how Solomon stewards the gifts he receives from the Lord. (2 Samuel 24:1-9, 1 Chronicles 21:1-6, 2 Samuel 24:10-17, 1 Chronicles 21:7-17, 2 Samuel 24:18-25, 1 Chronicles 21:18-22:19)