MERCY IN JUDGMENT
Lord, make me more acutely aware of what offends You.
Read 2 SAMUEL 24:1–17
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 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 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, 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.
Which is harder for you to believe: that God is all-powerful or that he is all-loving?
As we read this puzzling story, we are troubled by what we are not told. Why does God incite David to count the people if it is wrong, and why is he subsequently angry with Israel (1)? One response is that the Old Testament, in establishing God’s ultimate sovereignty over events, sometimes traces all incidents back to the Lord without differentiating between secondary and primary causation (cf. 1 Sam. 2:25b). Nevertheless, people are held responsible for their actions even if God uses their sinfulness for his own purposes (cf. Isa. 10:5–7). Another consideration is that when a narrative omits details that we are interested in, perhaps the focus is elsewhere, and what we want to know is simply taken for granted. Thus, the reason for God’s wrath in today’s account is not given, but its legitimacy is assumed. We should not conclude that God is capricious and has no reason to be angry at all.
Again, we are not told why taking a census is wrong, but it is clear that the reason is obvious to David. When Joab, the morally challenged army commander, and the other army leaders can recognize it (3,4), how much more should the king! Perhaps the sin lies in assessing his army instead of assessing God’s power, since “the fighting men” are the ones counted (9). David’s response to his sin demonstrates the development of his character. This time he needs no prophetic confrontation, as in 2 Samuel 12:1–15, to recognize and acknowledge his sin (10). Unlike Saul, who confesses only to escape sin’s consequences (1 Sam. 15:30), David shows himself a true leader who wants to shoulder the punishment himself and grieves over its effect on the people (17). Above all, David has learned the depth of God’s compassion as he casts himself on God’s mercy even in judgment (14).
Pray for yourself or others that we may recognize God’s compassion even in his judgment.
Lord, grant me the grace to walk with You through circumstances that make no sense to me.