1 Chronicles 21

1 Chronicles 21 begins with these chilling words.  “Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel”.  Here we have a man after God’s heart tempted by the enemy.  What Satan is tempting here sounds pretty innocuous – just count the people.  But the principle of Exodus 30:12 speaks to God’s ownership of His people. In the thinking of these ancient cultures, a man only had the right to count or number what belonged to him. Israel didn’t belong to David; Israel belonged to God. It was up to the LORD to command a counting, and if David counted he should only do it at God’s command.

But David goes ahead and tells Joab, his commander of the army to “go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number”.  Joab pushes back.  Joab tactfully asked David to reconsider this foolish desire to count the nation. He questions why David would order this.  “Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel”?  But David presses on and Joab obediently goes and makes the count.  “In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword. But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering”.

The outcome is horrific.  “God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel”.  David figures out that he has sinned and confesses before God.  “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly”.  But the problem with sin is not removed with confession.  We can receive forgiveness, but often the fallout of that action results in an outcome that is not stopped.  In this case, David’s attempt to intercede merely stopped God’s total destruction.  There were still consequences to his sin.  And God gives him three options to choose from.

What a spot to be in.  God says pick one of these:

  • three years of famine
  • three months of devastation by your foes
  • three days of the sword of the Lord….with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel

Certainly no good choices here.  David has to pay a price for his sin, but he gets to pick his own punishment.  He chose the third option – three days of plague – “and 70,000 men of Israel fell”.  All because David chose to disobey God’s command not to count the people.  God was in the midst of destruction when David cries out and intercedes again.  “It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people”.  God has mercy and David builds an altar to give honor to His mercy at Ornan.  Obedience matters.  David learns a painful lesson here.

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