v. 1-4 Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go, number Israel and Judah." So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, "Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people." But Joab said to the king, "May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?" But the king's word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel.
v. 10 But David's heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the Lord, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly."
v. 22-24 Then Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king." And Araunah said to the king, "The Lord your God accept you." But the king said to Araunah, "No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.
There are three issues here in this chapter:
(1) Was David instigated by God or Satan (1 Chron. 21:1) to conduct the census?
(2) Why was David's census a sin, since census was done many times under Moses without any judgement (Num. 1:3; 26:1-2).
(3) How did David respond when he was convicted of his sin?
My personal reflections on each of the above issues are as follows:
- Who instigated David to conduct the census?: While 1 Chronicles 21:1 states, "Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel", 2 Sam 24:1 reveals that "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, 'Go, number Israel and Judah.'" Is there a discrepancy or contradiction in the two biblical narratives? Note that in both accounts, Israel had done something beforehand that triggered this incident: "Satan stood against Israel" (1 Chron. 1:1) and "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel." We could reconcile these two apparently contradicting texts by understanding them as two perspectives on the same event--Israel had sinned and David succumbed to the temptation to go along with it by taking up the census as a result of this sin against the Lord. Satan tempted David to conduct a census and the Lord used this act of David to bring about a judgment against Israel.
- Why was taking up a census a sin? Taking census for military purpose was a regular practice under Moses (Numbers 1:3; 26:1-2). The difference between Moses' census and David's is that Moses did it through the priests, making this a religious act while David did it through his military commanders, making this a military act. Some scholars suggest that David's census was an act of self-aggrandizement: he just wanted to feel good about his own greatness. This is implied in Joab's remonstration against the census: "May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?" And in 1 Chronicles 21:6-7, we have this further revelation: "But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king's command was repulsive to him. This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel." Despite Joab's propensity for ruthlessness, he was nevertheless one who was more attuned to the will of God. Some scholars even suggest that the census was a prelude to military aggression and expansion into adjacent countries not sanctioned by God, now that Israel had conquered all the lands that God had given to them. Israel's military success might have created a lust for domination against neighboring countries. Pride in Israel's military might (1.3 million strong) might have been the trigger for the Lord's anger against Israel and for allowing David to yield to this temptation to Satan to bring about an end to this national sin of pride.
- How did David respond to conviction of his sin? David's repentance was a sign of his willingness to acknowledge his sin when confronted with it. We are not told how David came to that realization, but he immediately confessed, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly." He then went on to purchase the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite in order to build an altar to offer burnt offerings to God. David's repentance comprises three steps: (1) confession - acknowledging that he had sinned; (2) cleansing - asking God to purify us from our iniquity; (3) consecration - rededicating ourselves by offering to God a "living sacrifice", symbolised by the burnt offering. David was a man under grace (read his psalms if you don't think so), yet he followed the path of repentance that is described in 1 John 1:9 & Rom. 12:1.
This story at the end of 2 Samuel reminds us of God's sovereignty over all - He is Lord over all, including Satan, sin, and evil. He can bring a greater good out of evil.
PRAYER: Father, how amazing is Your grace. In judgement, You have shown mercy. May we not take Your grace for granted. In Christ's name, Amen.