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Paul J. Bucknell
Purpose: 2 Samuel 24:1-9 records David's great failure in inappropriately taking a census. Attention is given to how Satan used David's pride, reason the consequence was so great and lessons to learn about fighting temptation.
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The mention of Uriah (23:39) highlights David’s personal failure and sets the setting for 2 Samuel 24 where David’s failure to His people is revealed. David’s failure before Uriah had an impact on his family and name, but this reproach before God affected tens of thousands of families across Israel. Seventy-thousand Israelites died.
Through this dramatic and escalated episode, we discover a personal hope if we humbly come before the Lord seeking His mercy but also a long term hope in God’s promises for eternal life.
“Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” And the 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.”
But 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?” Nevertheless, 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....
So when they had gone about through the whole land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. And 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.” (2 Samuel 24:1-9).
Several lessons are found from these important verses.
David battled with his general over whether it was proper to take the census. Unfortunately, David won. “But nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab...” (24:4). The project took over 9 months to accomplish. The project took over 9 months to accomplish. David’s pride is seen on how he insisted on carrying out a wrong decision over a period of time.
The nameless king in this section (24:2-9) was without doubt David. Joab was Israel’s head general. In deference to David his name was not mentioned, but he surely battled with his general over whether taking a census was a wise decision to make. “But nevertheless, the monarch's word prevailed against Joab...” (24:4).
Reflection: Pride goeth before a fall. We see it all around us. Even David with a tender heart again hardened his heart before God. Those close to God need to be extra vigilant for Satan is extra crafty catching God’s people through pride. Was not Satan caught by it (Ezekiel 28)?
How does the anger of the Lord in 24:1 connect with David’s decision?
“Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.””( 2 Samuel 24:1).
It seems that it was the Lord that incited David to count the people but the ‘it’ here refers to Satan. Refer to 1 Chronicles 21:1, “Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.”
God does not tempt. Satan implants ideas in our mind so that we would follow his suggestions just as David did. We do not know the exact circumstances which God was upset with Israel, but we can draw several observations from the scriptures which apply to this situation.
God does not tempt
Satan is looking for opportunity to bring destruction
When God’s people disobey God, it provides an access door through which Satan can do his destructive work.
Satan does his destructive work through people who fall for his temptations.
People close to God are special targets for temptation.
What was wrong about taking a census?
There are many varying opinions what happened here. Let me mention a few.
(1) Some do not think that taking a census was the source of the problem. Other matters were. But didn’t Joab state taking the census as wrong?
(2) David should have waited for God to order the census. But Exodus 30:12 does not prohibit taking a census but only how one should do it. And why such a heavy penalty?
(3) We simply do not know what went wrong. Is it possible the waste of effort and time (9+ months) is the problem? Again, the punishment does not fit the crime.
(4) David had ill motives in counting the people. He wanted to see how great an army he had.
(5) The sin had to do with David’s pride of a big empire (the numbers would substantiate that).
All of these solutions do not account for the serious consequences that followed.
The problem was not taking a census, but how it was carried out. Remember how David earlier brought the ark into the city the wrong way and a few died (2 Sam 6:7). This time he took a census contrary to the scriptures and thousands died just as the Law warned.
“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, that there may be no plague among them when you number them” (Exodus 30:1).
The sin seems to be twofold.
(1) We see no hint of collecting money for the Lord as Exodus 30:12 requires for a ransom.
(2) By numbering the people it heightened God’s awareness of the people’s sin.
Without that offering, God’s anger broke out upon the people as predicted. The Lord clearly warned about the plague. Notice the consequences God threatened His people with in Jeremiah. God would send out His wrath like a fire because they tolerated evil.
“O house of David, thus says the LORD: “Administer justice every morning; And deliver the person who has been robbed from the power of his oppressor, that My wrath may not go forth like fire and burn with none to extinguish it, because of the evil of their deeds” (Jeremiah 21:12).
Reflection: One of man’s worse sins is to justify his evil. He thinks he is right even though the scriptures clearly decry the action as evil. When will we learn? We are such excuse makers.
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2 Samuel 24 | 2 Samuel 24:1-9 Census | 24:10-15 Consequences | 24:16-25 Mercy | Bible Study Questions
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Scriptures typically quoted from the New American Standard Bible unless noted:
(C) Copyright The Lockman Foundation 1988