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David and the Census


A.      A census is an event in which the people of a nation are counted.  There is nothing inherently evil about a census, and yet David’s census became the source of tremendous suffering for the people of Israel.

B.      Presently, let us consider the census of David and its consequences from 2Samuel 24 and 1Chronicles 21.



A.      Was it God or Satan who moved David to take the census of Israel?

                                                             1.      This question arises from an apparent conflict between the two different accounts of these events.

a.       "Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’” (2Sam. 24:1)

b.       "Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.” (1Chron. 21:1)

                                                             2.      In fact, there is no conflict, for the actions of both God and Satan can be reconciled together.

a.       We know that God does not tempt anyone to sin (Jas. 1:13-15), but He does permit Satan to do so.  The book of Job gives us insight into these workings of God and Satan.

i.         Notice that God brought Job to Satan’s attention and granted Satan permission to afflict Job (Job 1:8-12; 2:3-6).

ii.        Also notice that Job attributed his affliction to God, saying, "The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away…” (Job 1:21), and "Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10).  Yet Job did not sin in saying these things (Job 1:22).

iii.      Furthermore, Job 42:11 describes Job’s ordeal as "all the evil that the LORD had brought on him.”

b.       Applying this understanding, we can see that both accounts of David’s census are accurate and that there is no conflict.  They are simply two different perspectives on the underlying spiritual forces moving David.

B.      What was wrong with taking a census?

                                                             1.      We know that taking a census was not immoral, for God had twice ordered a numbering of the people of Israel under Moses – once at Sinai (Num. 1) and once in Moab (Num. 26).

                                                             2.      Consider a few possibilities that explain the sinfulness of David’s census.

a.       One possibility is that God did not order the census.  Although 2Samuel 24:1 says that the anger of the LORD "incited” or "moved” David to number the people, this does not necessarily mean that God gave David a direct commandment.  Instead, the saying "Go, number Israel and Judah” appears to be a way of describing the message of the spiritual forces that worked in David.

b.       It is also possible that this act of David was a sign of his own pride and dependence upon the strength of his armies in Israel (notice that Joab counted only "valiant men who drew the sword” in 2Sam. 24:9; 1Chron. 21:5).  Notice also 1Chronicles 27:23 – "But David did not count those twenty years of age and under, because the LORD had said He would multiply Israel as the stars of heaven.”

c.        Perhaps the best insight is given in Exodus 30:12 – "When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them.”  If David took the census without requiring a ransom payment, then it was this mistake that brought a plague upon the nation (see Ex. 30:11-16 for full context).

                                                             3.      Whatever the reason, the sinfulness of David’s census was recognized by Joab, David, and, most importantly, God.

a.       Joab immediately knew that the census was wrong and resisted (2Sam. 24:3; 1Chron. 21:3).  Joab even exempted the tribes of Levi and Benjamin because "the king’s commandment was abhorrent to Joab” (1Chron. 21:6).

b.       After the census was taken, "David’s heart troubled him,” he recognized his foolishness, and he sought forgiveness from God (2Sam. 24:10).

c.        According to 1Chronicles 21:7, "God was displeased this thing, so He struck Israel.”

C.      What was the punishment for David’s census?

                                                             1.      Through the prophet Gad, God offered David three choices of punishments.

a.       David had to choose seven years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies (a condition he knew all too well), or three days’ pestilence in the land (2Sam. 24:13).

b.       David choose the pestilence by saying, "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” (2Sam. 24:14).

                                                             2.      The plague that afflicted Israel because of the census was the worst Israel had ever suffered.

a.       After the rebellion of Korah, 14,700 Israelites had died (Num. 16:49), whereas 24,000 Israelites died from the plague that resulted from worshipping Baal-Peor (Num. 25:9).

b.       The plague of pestilence for David’s census killed 70,000 Israelites (2Sam. 24:15).

D.      How did David atone for his sin?

                                                             1.      David saw the LORD’s destroying angel at Jerusalem, and he interceded for Israel.

a.       God stopped the angel in Jerusalem at the threshing floor of Araunah (Ornan) the Jebusite (2Sam. 24:16; 1Chron. 21:15).   It was then that David saw the LORD’s angel standing with his sword drawn over Jerusalem (2Sam. 24:17; 1Chron. 21:16).

b.       Then David confessed to God, saying, "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” (2Sam. 24:17).

                                                             2.      Gad then directed David to build an altar to the LORD.

a.       The altar was to be built on the threshing floor of Araunah (2Sam. 24:18; 1Chron. 21:18).

b.       When David approached Araunah, Araunah offered the threshing floor, the oxen, and the wood without cost.  However, David insisted upon paying for it all (2Sam. 24:21-24; 1Chron. 21:20-25).

*Note: This place was Mount Moriah where Abraham had begun to sacrifice Isaac (Gen. 22:1-13) and where Solomon later built the temple (2Chron. 3:1).

c.        When David had acquired the place, he built the altar 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” (2Sam. 24:25; 1Chron. 21:26-30).



A.      Satan works in mysterious ways.

                                                             1.      There are many ways in which Satan might have afflicted Israel, but "Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel” (1Chron. 21:1).

                                                             2.      This example demonstrates how Satan can use a seemingly harmless thing to accomplish his wicked purposes.

a.       We must be alert to underlying motives in order to detect his evil schemes.

b.       Indeed, the Scripture warns us, "Be of sober spirit, be on the alert.  Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1Pet. 5:9).

B.      Sin can have unintended consequences.

                                                             1.      David did not foresee that his census would lead to the death of 70,000 Israelites.  His regret was later evident when he said, "These sheep, what have they done?”

                                                             2.      The selfishness of sin often prevents sinners from considering the harm they may do to others.  Sinners may consider their sin to be a "victimless crime,” but this is rarely the case.

C.      A evildoer should accept his punishment.

                                                             1.      David avoided the one choice of punishment that would have affected him directly.

a.       He did not want to flee from his foes or fall into the hand of man, so he chose an affliction for his people.

b.       Only after witnessing the suffering of his people did David finally invite the punishment of God to fall upon himself and his father’s house.

                                                             2.      Any person who will allow others to suffer for his wrongdoing only multiplies his own guilt.  Responsible persons should live by the law, "For each one shall bear his own load” (Gal. 6:5).

D.      Sacrifices must be worth something.

                                                             1.      David refused the gift of Araunah, saying, "I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing” (2Sam. 24:24).

                                                             2.      Truly, the value of a sacrifice is how much it costs the giver.  This is why Jesus valued a poor widow’s small contribution above all others, saying, "Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on” (Luke 21:3-4).




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