2 Samuel 24:1-17
24 Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” 2 So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, “Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.” 3 But Joab replied to the king, “May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?” 4 The king’s word, however, overruled Joab and the army commanders; so they left the presence of the king to enroll the fighting men of Israel. 5 After crossing the Jordan, they camped near Aroer, south of the town in the gorge, and then went through Gad and on to Jazer. 6 They went to Gilead and the region of Tahtim Hodshi, and on to Dan Jaan and around toward Sidon. 7 Then they went toward the fortress of Tyre and all the towns of the Hivites and Canaanites. Finally, they went on to Beersheba in the Negev of Judah. 8 After they had gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. 9 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand. 10 David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” 11 Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer: 12 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’” 13 So Gad went to David and said to him, “Shall there come on you three[b] years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.” 14 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” 15 So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 17 When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family.”
This has to be one of the more challenging sections of scripture because it appears that God gets angry with David for doing what God told him to do: vs 1 says that He incited David against them saying “go and take a census of Israel and Judah” then in verse 10, it says that David was conscience stricken, and God asked him to choose a punishment.
It’s clearly not in the nature and character of God to tell someone to do something and then punish them for it, so I thought I’d go through a few possibilities of what might be going on here.
1) Something about the WAY David did the Census was not what God intended:
We see that David only counted the fighting men. God might have been angry with David for making calculations of his military strength, suggesting that David was trusting his own ability rather that God’s ability to protect the nation.
Its also possible that God was angry for not counting the women, children, elderly and disabled people who couldn’t fight. God’s love and care for the least of His people means that He wanted David to count them too.
2) David heard wrong:
The bible seems to suggest that David heard directly from God to take a census, but it’s possible that this was what David thought was the case. David’s men try to talk him out of the census, but it’s not until it’s all done that David realises he got it wrong.
In this passage, both possibilities above lead me to reflect on the importance of being careful when I have a word from God.
I need to use discernment to make sure I have the message right, and I need to depend on the wise counsel of the people that God has placed around me in interpreting any word from God properly.
Lord, let me hear your voice and let me do your will in all things.
Written by Ps Justin Ware