2 Samuel 24; Psalm 30

Recognition. Repentance. Responsibility.

“David’s conscience began to bother him. And he said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly and shouldn’t have taken the census. Please forgive me, LORD, for doing this foolish thing.'” ­– 2 Samuel 24:10 NLT

This is a fascinating passage and one that is full of confusing and seemingly contradictory content. It starts out with God angry at Israel. We’re not tol why, but He is upset enough that He takes action against them and He chooses to use David as a tool to accomplish His will. We are told that God “incited Dvaid against them.” I don’t think this means that David suddenly got angry with Israel and set out to harm them. But David made a decision, in the divine pan of God, that would bring harm to Israel. Over in 1 Chronicles 21, the companion passage to this one, we are told that “Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the Israelites” (1 Chronicles 21:1 NLT). So now it appears as if Satan is involved. But the word for Satan can also simply mean adversary. With that in mind, the New English Translation renders this verse “An adversary opposed Israel, inciting David to count how many warriors Israel had.” Whether Satan himself was involved or not, it would seem that David has tempted to take a census in order to find out just how many troops he had so that he could face a possible war with confidence. In essence, he was checking the balance on his checking account before making a significant purchase. So was this wrong? Was David sinning in taking a census? Even Jesus, in one of His parables, tells the story of a king who sat down and took stock of his troops before going to battle. “…what king, when he sets out to meet another king in battle, will not first sit down and consider whether he is strong enough with ten thousand men to encounter the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” (Luke 14:31 NASB).

So what is going on? God is angry with Israel. He determines to somehow use David to punish them. And David, in reaction to a possible threat of battle, finds himself tempted to take a census in order to determine just how many battle-ready soldiers he has. But consider this: David’s sin was not in taking the census. It was in failing to trust God. It’s obvious that David took the census to determine his military strength, and this was not necessarily sin. After all, we have other accounts in Scripture where God directed Moses to take a census of the people (cf. Exod. 30:11-12; Num. 1:1-2). So census taking was not the problem. It seems that David’s sin was placing confidence in the number of his soldiers rather than in the Lord. Now keep in mind, this is the same David who wrote the words, “Some nations boast of their armies and weapons, but we boast in the LORD our God” (Psalm 20:7 NLT). For whatever reason, at this point late in his reign, he finds himself doubting God and turning to an earthly source for his protection and confidence. God would use David’s decision to punish the people of Israel. David’s sin would have consequences on the entire nation.

The result is a plague sent from God that destroys 70,000 of the people. David is horrified and pleads to God. He recognizes his sin and takes responsibility for it. He repents. He even asks God to spare the people and pour out His wrath on him. “I am the one who has sinned and done wrong! But these people are innocent — what have they done? Let your anger fall against me and my family” (2 Samuel 24:17 NLT). God commands David to offer up a sacrifice as a payment for his sin. It required him to buy a piece of land where he could erect an altar to the Lord. When the land owner offers the land free of charge and all the animals to make the sacrifice at no cost, David refuses. “No, I insist on buying it, for I cannot present burnt offerings to the LORD my God that have cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24 NLT). David knew that his sacrifice had to be just that – a sacrifice. It had to cost him something. For his sacrifice to have value, it had to be worth something. A sacrifice that costs nothing is no sacrifice at all.

In his commentary on this passage, Dr. Thomas L. Constable says, “Whenever someone whom God has chosen for special blessing sins he or she becomes the target of God’s discipline, and he or she also becomes a channel of judgment to others. Only repentance will turn the situation around. When David agreed to obey God’s will revealed through Gad, he began at once to become a source of blessing again.” This reveals a lot about David and shows why he was considered a man after God’s own heart. While other men would have become angry at God over His punishment of Israel or simply allowed the people to continue to die as long as his own family was safe, David took responsibility for his role in the whole affair. He knew he was responsible for the well-being of the people as their shepherd. He also knew he was responsible for their suffering. He owned up to his role in the situation. He repented and made restitution. He restored his relationship with God and God relented.

What’s fascinating is that God would use His punishment of Israel to bring them future blessing. The very land that David bought to erect his altar to God would become the site on which Solomon’s temple would be built. Dr. Constable goes on to say, “Solomon’s temple became the centerpiece of Israel for
hundreds of years. It was the place where God met with His people and they worshipped Him corporately, the center of their spiritual and national life. Therefore the mention of the purchase of Araunah’s threshing floor was the first step in the building of the temple, the source of incalculable blessing to come (Genesis 23:3-16).

Isn’t that the way God works? He is angry with Israel over some sin they have committed. He uses the pride and self-sufficiency of their king to bring punishment on them. That same man, whom God had chosen to begin with, recognizes his sin and repents. He obediently listens to God and buys a tract of land in order to sacrifice to God, and God uses that very same land to have His temple constructed. Just coincidence? I don’t think so. God had a plan all along and He was working it to perfection. He can even use our sins and disobedience to accomplish His divine will. He can bring blessing out of our rebellion.

Father, You are always working Your will. Nothing I do can get in the way. My sins don’t diminish it, distract from it, or derail it. You even bring blessing out of our rebellion. You can turn our sin into opportunities to shower us with Your grace and mercy. The key is repentance. Keep me repentant Father. Don’t let me become hard of heart and stubborn in my response to sin. May I quickly recognize it, take ownership for it, then repent of it. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men