There is a lot going on in the last chapter of 2 Samuel. David sins against the LORD despite Joab trying to persuade him not to take a census. When it is complete, David recognizes his sin and asks for forgiveness. The LORD gives David a choice for punishment. David’s punishment affects his people, not just him. (Others often share in consequences of our sin.) David throws himself on the mercy of the LORD, and receives it. He then gets closure by building an altar.
David does ask the LORD to let the punishment fall on him rather than others. I deeply respect this request. I also respect that David did not take for free the property and sacrifice offered to him, but rather paid a fair price for it. He did not take advantage of his position as king.
This chapter basically sums up David’s relationship with YHWH. What made him different from so many others? What made David a man after God’s own heart? I believe it was that when David sinned, he sought forgiveness and turned to YHWH and accepted consequences and changed his behavior. That is something for us all to model.
We also see YHWH’s mercy at play as he stops the pestilence before it if fully rolled out.
Of course, we could also ask…”why is it a sin to take a census?” “Was it YHWH who was angry that caused David to sin?”
If we cross reference with 1 Chronicles 21, we learn that it was Satan who rose up and incited David to conduct the census. It is likely that the sin here is not counting the people. There are other examples where the people were counted. Perhaps the sin here was pride growing within David and the people about their own might and power as a nation. Let us take care to avoid that trap (pride) that Satan sets for many of us.
Remember also that when sin occurs, and we repent, that does not mean we will not still experience consequences.
As perhaps a last thought, when David sinned with Bathsheba, there is no mention of Satan. That was just a sin motivated by David’s own sin nature. This event is different. This is an example of spiritual warfare in which Satan tempted or incited David to sin. We must be on guard for both.
The Census Taken
1Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2The king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, “Go about now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and register the people, that I may know the number of the people.” 3But Joab said to the king, “Now 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; but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” 4Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab and against the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to register the people of Israel. 5They crossed the Jordan and camped in Aroer, on the right side of the city that is in the middle of the valley of Gad and toward Jazer. 6Then they came to Gilead and to the land of Tahtim-hodshi, and they came to Dan-jaan and around to Sidon, 7and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and of the Canaanites, and they went out to the south of Judah, to Beersheba. 8So when they had gone about through the whole land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. 9And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.
10Now David’s heart troubled him after he had numbered the people. So 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 acted very foolishly.” 11When David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, 12“Go and speak to David, ‘Thus the LORD says, “I am offering you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you.”’” 13So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven 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 see what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.” 14Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the LORD for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
15So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time, and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough! Now relax your hand!” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 17Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking down the people, and said, “Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”
David Builds an Altar
18So Gad came to David that day and said to him, “Go up, erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19David went up according to the word of Gad, just as the LORD had commanded. 20Araunah looked down and saw the king and his servants crossing over toward him; and Araunah went out and bowed his face to the ground before the king. 21Then Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be held back from the people.” 22Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what is good in his sight. Look, the oxen for the burnt offering, the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. 23“Everything, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” 24However, the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. 25David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. Thus the LORD was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel.
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