In Second Samuel 24 we see David making another big mistake. Unless you take the time to study your Bible, this one will really throw you for a loop: “Once again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census” (Second Samuel 24:1, NLT).
Huh? God “caused David” to sin? Nope. Look at First Chronicles 21:1, which is another account of the same incident: “Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the people of Israel.” Put those two passages together and here’s what we learn: the Lord was displeased with Israel, but the “he” that “caused David to harm them by taking a census” wasn’t God – it was Satan. God allowed it, but He certainly didn’t author it.
David knew better than to call for the census. In those days it was considered rightful only for the owner of something to count it, whether that was people or animals or whatever. David didn’t own the people of Israel – God did; and it was God’s right alone to order a census. And He had not done so.
Joab, as usual, wasn’t afraid to speak the truth to David. So when David ordered him to handle the census-taking, “Joab replied to the king, ‘May the Lord your God let you live to see a hundred times as many people as there are now! But why, my lord the king, do you want to do this?” (II Samuel 24:3).
“A hundred times as many people as there are now!” In a subtle way, Joab was letting David know that he was well aware of what prompted David to demand a census: pride. David wanted to see just how big a bunch of folks he had under his rule. Pride, one of the most popular tools of the devil.
Joab couldn’t talk David out of it, so the count was taken. “But after he had taken the census, David’s conscience began to bother him. And he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt, Lord, for doing this foolish thing’” (II Samuel 24:10).
I’ve heard people jokingly say that it’s easier to go ahead and do something and then apologize later. When it comes to obeying or disobeying God, nothing is worth intentionally disobeying him. And nothing is exactly what your repentance is worth when you intentionally disobey him.
I mean, if you told your teenager he couldn’t take the car out but he did it anyway, apologizing after the fact would in no way convince you that he was sorry, would it? Why? Because you would know that his actions were intentional. And we all know that God’s a whole lot smarter than we are. No one has or ever will pull the wool over His eyes.
David, however, was truly guilt-ridden and knew he had messed up big-time. “The next morning the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, who was David’s seer. This was the message: ‘Go and say to David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I will give you three choices. Choose one of these punishments, and I will inflict it on you.’ So Gad came to David and asked him, ‘Will you choose three years of famine throughout your land, three months of fleeing from your enemies, or three days of severe plague throughout your land? Think this over and decide what answer I should give the Lord who sent me” (II Samuel 24:11-13).
Talk about your unpleasant options! Whatcha reckon David chose? What would you choose? The smartest choice is: don’t commit the sin in the first place. Tomorrow we’ll see how David responded.
Copyright © 2013
Judy Woodward Bates