CRIME AND PUNISHMENT
With you is grace, Father, wide and free. I gladly confess to you that I am in need of your Holy Spirit to make me whole.
Read 2 SAMUEL 24:1-17
David Enrolls the Fighting Men
24 Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.”
2 So the king said to Joab and the army commanders[a] with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.”
3 But Joab replied to the king, “May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?”
4 The king’s word, however, overruled Joab and the army commanders; so they left the presence of the king to enroll the fighting men of Israel.
5 After crossing the Jordan, they camped near Aroer, south of the town in the gorge, and then went through Gad and on to Jazer. 6 They went to Gilead and the region of Tahtim Hodshi, and on to Dan Jaan and around toward Sidon. 7 Then they went toward the fortress of Tyre and all the towns of the Hivites and Canaanites. Finally, they went on to Beersheba in the Negev of Judah.
8 After they had gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.
9 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand.
10 David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”
11 Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer: 12 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’”
13 So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three[b] years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”
14 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”
15 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
17 When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd,[c] have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.”
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.’1
This chapter raises difficult questions! If it was God who ‘incited David’ (v 1) why was God so clearly annoyed with what he did? And what was so wrong with counting the people, when it had been done many times before without ill effect? In the parallel account in 1 Chronicles 21, it is Satan who incites David. Maybe our writer is emphasizing God’s ultimate sovereignty over all things. It is not clear what David thought God meant, but it is clear that, for some reason, what he actually did was wrong! Maybe God was challenging David to think more clearly about what the God he had been learning to know might really want. Micah 6:6–8 might assist our thinking here. Maybe the key is that David was supposed to count the whole people and he only counted ‘the fighting men’ (v 2), implying that it was the army, not God, on which David was depending to keep Israel safe. Militarism, with an excessive emphasis on armies and weapons, has been a real danger to many societies throughout history. It is interesting that at this point it was Joab who seems to have had a better understanding of God’s desires than David! Was David deliberately ignoring Joab’s advice because of their previous history?
The interrelationship between the community and its leaders here is clear. God was angry with Israel; David was the one taking sinful action, against advice, but as with Saul’s sin described in chapter 21, all Israel suffered because of this. Ironically, in this case, so many people died, presumably including many soldiers, that the census was no longer valid! The punishment, on David and on the people, was deserved, but the story ends with further evidence of God’s mercy, stressing the fact that we don’t always get what we fully deserve!
It is often said ‘a people get the leaders they deserve.’ How far do we think this is true? What should Christians in a democracy look for when they vote?
Holy God, I don’t want to cloak my sins as I come before you. Show me where I have wandered from your way. Have mercy on me, according to your great lovingkindness shown in Jesus.
1 Eph 2:8
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