(Posted 1-14-14 and revised 1-15-14)
So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men. [2 Samuel 24:15 ESV]
Of all of the Kings of Israel David carries the most renown. He was a truly sinful yet devoted servant of God, knowing God both intellectually and intimately. His arrogance and sinfulness are unabashedly displayed in Scripture. So, too, was His deep worship of God whom he served. His poetry in the Psalms reveal the depth of worship from his heart. He would sin boldly and repent openly. God used David and his family, and through his genealogical line gave us His Son while preparing Israel and the world to receive Messiah.
In the story found in the last chapter if 2 Samuel God is open about His determination to teach and discipline His people. “Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah'” [2 Samuel 24:1 ESV].
First Chronicles 22 tells us a slightly different story. It is one of the supposed contradictions in Scripture. “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” [1 Chronicles 21:1 ESV]. Satan stood against Israel before God just as he stood against Job before God. Listen to what God says to Satan after his first round of tormenting Job. And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” [Job 2:3 ESV] In all three verse, 2 Samuel, 1 Chronicles and Job, the word “incite” means to seduce or to persuade. God incited David to count the fighting men. Satan incited David to count the fighting men. Satan incited God to torment Job. We are faced with a conundrum.
How can God be manipulated by Satan? Why would God manufacture a reason to be angry with Israel by persuading David to sin? He didn’t need to manufacture a reason because Israel continually rebelled against Him. Before we question God’s motives, assigning Him a place as Tempter, let us remember He is God and not the author of sin or temptation. He is not manipulated by Satan but uses Satan’s lies to further His kingdom. How often in Isaiah 45 does He declare He is God and there is no other (see Isaiah 45: 5, 14, 18, 21, 22).
David knew Scripture and knew he was not allowed to count the fighting men. God instructed Moses and Aaron to count the fighting men, once after they left Egypt and again after their wandering in the desert when all the fighting men from the first census had died, except Joshua and Caleb. David’s reason for counting the fighting men was to feed his vanity not out of trust and obedience to God.
Remember this and stand firm, recall it to mind, you transgressors, remember the former things of old; for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose,’ calling a bird of prey from the east, the man of my counsel from a far country. I have spoken, and I will bring it to pass; I have purposed, and I will do it. “Listen to me, you stubborn of heart, you who are far from righteousness: I bring near my righteousness; it is not far off, and my salvation will not delay; I will put salvation in Zion, for Israel my glory.” [Isaiah 46:8-13 ESV]
We are His servants just as David was His servant. He is not our servant. So, when David decides to sin by numbering the people it is David’s sin, not God’s. The word “incite” means to move or provoke. God takes complete control placing David’s sin within His divine decree from eternity to eternity and says it will happen. But, it is still David’s sin, not God’s.
Even if we are tempted by Satan our sin is still our sin.
David ordered his Commander, Joab, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people” [2 Samuel 24:2 ESV]. David had been thinking, feeling, musing or pondering, perhaps in his old age, how strong he really was not how strong is his God. Joab, a strong and powerful man in his own right, saw quickly the folly of his king’s request. “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?” [2 Samuel 24:3 ESV]. David insisted, Joab obeyed and the fighting men were counted. And God’s wrath was kindled against Israel because of His anger against David’s lack of faith.
David, after the fighting men were numbered, knew exactly what he had done. “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'” [2 Samuel 24:10 ESV]. God gives David a choice of disciplines. This is unusual in Scripture, for God being God does not normally give choices nor ask what we want. Through the prophet Gad God delivers David’s options.
So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” [2 Samuel 24:13 ESV]
Shall everyone in the land be subjected to severe, lingering famine?
Shall everyone in the land be uprooted, their property destroyed, by an enemy?
Shall God inflict on those He has chosen a severe disease?
David’s choice reveals his heart. “Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man’” [2 Samuel 24:14 ESV]. God’s mercy is great. Let Him choose those who will suffer and die, and live. Let God’s active love toward His people, those who love Him because He first loved them, be shown and seen. Let Him chose to discipline or punish, to use His servants and perhaps differentiate between those who willingly serve Him and those who willfully hate Him. Let us fall into the mercy of God, for those who do not know God, and have not received His mercy will not, cannot fully, show mercy to other.
And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.” [2 Samuel 24:16-17 ESV]
We do not know if those who died because of the plague were people who hated God. We do know that all people are sinful and deserve death. We can also see David’s heart in begging for mercy for those facing God’s judgment.
David saw God, the angel of the Lord, a theophany of Jesus. God’s Son does not judge but does execute judgment. He comes to testify to the truth. Jesus responded to Pilate’s sarcastic statements of who He is at His illegal trial. “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world–to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” [John 18:37 ESV].
David, though he sinned grievously recognized his sin and realized the consequences of hi sin and repent quickly and completely. He never shirked accepting the responsibility for his actions though at times he had to be confronted by God using a prophet. God’s showed mercy to Israel and to David and his family and stopped the plague.
God showed mercy to all through His Son Jesus by placing upon His shoulders the sin of all. He received the punishment for our sin. The plague inflicted upon Israel because of David’ sin still killed 70,000 men. So too, are those who will die, be separated from God because of sin, even though Jesus died for their sin. There is more at work here than simple discipline and redemption. For, God has determined what He will do from eternity to eternity, for He is eternally God. God’s mercy is both immediate and eternal.