The Problem With This King
What has 2 Samuel taught you about Jesus?
Chapters 21 to 24 are the epilogue to the books of 1 and 2 Samuel. David’s song in Chapter 22 accompanies Hannah’s song of 1 Samuel 2. While we’ve watched David ride into battles to defeat the enemy, the song describes a very animated YahWeh who rides on angel’s wings to victory. Chapters 21 to 23 describe a kingdom that is very optimistic in the eyes of the LORD. Sins paid for, boundaries established and the LORD Himself praised. David reflects on the blessings of his kingdom and concludes that God must be for him.
The final chapter now and we are reminded that the kingdom of David falls short of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
Read 2 Samuel 24
What did you see? (Observation)
- The LORD’s anger on David (1-9)
- How the LORD punished David (10-15)
- The mercy of the LORD (16-19)
- The cost of repentance (20-25)
The LORD’s anger against Israel (1-9)
“Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel…” We heard last of God’s anger against Israel in Chapter 21 and earlier in 6:7. His anger is not against David but against Israel and we are not given a reason why. Perhaps it is in connection to the growing troubles of Chapters 19 and 20. The reason is not important as we can trust that the LORD is righteous when he judges.
“…and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.” Before I tackle the theological trick of this Verse, let me observe that the separating of Israel and Judah in this perhaps suggests that it is the divisions forming in the nation who are not submitting to the king’s rule in truth that the LORD has issues with. I cannot press too firmly though. Now, the LORD’s anger is not against David but against Israel, but He will incite David to take the census which David will later regard as his own sin (V10). We need not believe that God spoke into David’s ear but that God allowed this willful plan of David’s to play out in order to discipline Israel. 1 Chronicles 21:1 tells us that it was Satan who gave David the thought. Job 1 comes to mind as we consider the persuasive power of Satan only being allowed to happen at the will of God. Rather than delivering David from temptation, God allows Satan to influence David in line with his plans to judge Israel. This interaction between God’s righteous will and the evil plans of Satan and men is not rare in the bible and must be included in our theology. Remember the story of Joseph and his brothers in Genesis and the story of Judas betraying Jesus? The census is not the initial problem but the story introduces us to the topic of God’s anger against Israel. The census and David’s sin in conducting it will be the means by which God punishes Israel. There is no simple cause and effect in this story but the idea of God’s plans and man’s agenda interweaving in layers of intricacy. A child does not die because it sinned nor their parent (necessarily) but that the child is part of a sinful world. God’s grand plan includes many small decisions that we take part in.
“…enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are.” A census is not inherently evil. God instructed Moses to count the people in Numbers because they were needed to enter the Promised Land and take it. David has no need to count his men. But Satan sowed a seed of thought to David, who took the bait and this plan will result in a portion of his people losing their life.
“The king’s word…overruled Joab…” In a rare switch of roles, Joab tries to change the king’s mind and think righteously. But the king’s mind was made up. No council of men was able to stop him from counting to see how strong his country was.
“…gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.” Verses 5 to 8 clearly describe a thorough work of counting. Note the slowness of God to teach His lesson. The names listed mark out the extremities of the land and some are notable from the time that Israel first entered the land to take it under God’s mighty hand.
“…In Israel there were 800,000…and in Judah 500,000.” Though Israel is the greater portion, Judah is quite strong. Together they make 1.3 million men. Just the fighting men of the nation were many. There were 600,000 that crossed the Jordan with Joshua. Add women and children and older men and priests to this list and the number is getting quite large. It is possible that the word ‘thousand’ may mean a military unit rather than 100×100. We won’t worry about details like that though. These names, the counting of the people and the reference to the Jordan ought to point us to the silliness of counting fighting men when the king ought to know that you only need one great God (1 Sam 14:6).
How the LORD punished David (10-15)
“David was conscience-stricken…’I have done a very foolish thing.’” David was conscience-stricken in 1 Samuel 24:5 when he cut a piece of Saul’s robe. The act had been done and his inner barometer of right and wrong had been pricked. Now, our consciences are not what will make us righteous before God but God has given us all an ability to gauge between right and wrong to a degree. Different people’s consciences have different measuring lines. Paul says in Romans 2 that everybody’s conscience will prove us guilty of sin – let alone the perfect judgement of God. Some people have very sensitive consciences but when they betray their own delicate laws, they are still in the wrong (see 1 Corinthians 8-10). Some people have a severely damaged conscience (see 1 Tim 1:19; Titus 1:15). Besides finding out what pleases the LORD (Ephesians 5:10), our agenda ought to strive for a clear conscience (Acts 24:16; 1 Peter 3:16). David didn’t need a prophet or seer to come and rebuke him. His conscience was pricked and this drove him to speak to God in repentance. The lesson is to never go against your own conscience.
“…take away the guilt of your servant.” David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah had been taken away and dealt with but not without consequences.
“…the word of the LORD had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer.” We were informed in 1 Samuel 9:9 that prophets were once called seers. 1 Samuel 22:5 mentioned Gad previously. He has been serving as David’s seer for many years now.
“Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.” David was given three bad options to choose from. All three involved the death of people in Israel and not isolated on David. Remember that God had intended from the beginning to bring judgment on Israel and this would be the means by which He did it. And it would fall on David to choose. I suppose that this is a ‘two birds with one stone’ kinda thing. Israel will be inflicted but David, who sinned by his pride and self-reliance, would now need to choose the infliction.
“Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” We may presume that David has made his choice by this answer but actually he does not make a choice out of the three. Rather, he allows God to decide. In famine, the starving will rely on the provision of men but God can still be merciful here. In battle, Israel may die at the hands of men but it is always God who delivers from battle. No, it seems that David is leaving even the choice of the three, not in his hands, a mere man, but in the hands of the merciful God. I am often reminded that God’s mercy is always greater than men. Any time we accuse God of being too harsh, let’s remember that he is always kinder than men can be.
“…and 70,000 of the people from Dan to Beersheba died.” This is a region mostly occupied by Judah (including the regions of Dan, Judah and Simeon). David had counted fighting men but the plague did not discriminate. It may have worked out to be a small percentage of the population but it was still 70,000 people.
The mercy of the LORD (16-19)
“…the LORD relented concerning the disaster…” This is the mercy of God as his falls short of complete destruction. The city of Jerusalem was saved. This was the location of the ark of the covenant. And the place where God had promised to David that his ‘house’ would stand forever (referring to David’s dynasty). The mercy of God and the promises of God are what hold back the wrath of God.
“…said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough!”” Again, as with the work of Satan inciting David to sin and God allowing that to happen, it is the work of those who God has sent (angel/messenger) that the destruction is delivered.
“The angel of the LORD…” Ge 16:7; 19:13; Ex 12:23; Ac 12:23.
“…I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep…Let your hand fall on me…” Even in David’s sin, he gives us future hope that one day there would be a Good Shepherd who will lay down His life for His sheep. John 10:11. This prayer of David’s seems to happen after the LORD relented but is quite possible that this is just David’s perspective of events. David’s prayer initiates instructions to David on what to do but we already know that the LORD has stopped the plague from running its full course (of 3 days). I suggest we have God’s perspective in Verse 16 and David’s perspective from Verse 17 on. What God saw and what David saw. Another element of the layers of how God works. He doesn’t simply sit back and wait for our prayers and pleas, nor does He ignore them.
“So David went up, as the LORD had commanded through Gad.” God shows His mercy in giving David instructions on what to do. God is able to provide ways for forgiveness.
The cost of repentance (20-25)
“May the LORD your God accept you.” This is the hope. But He won’t just accept David as he is. A sacrifice was asked for. The man named Araunah could not simply put all that was his onto this sinner and expect God to accept him. But Jesus would one day provide the sacrifice that is needed for the sinner without cost.
“…the threshing floor…” We know from 2 Chronicles 3:1 that Solomon would build the Temple of the LORD at Mount Moriah on this very land that David bought for the altar on this day. The end of 1-2 Samuel concludes with a rather lengthy description of how this land was acquired. It links clearly this story of David making atoning sacrifice for the sheep of Israel and the same place that Solomon would dedicate as the house of the LORD where all future sacrifices ought to take place.
“…I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” Of course, it doesn’t make sense for a sacrifice to not cost you anything. The point of the sacrifice is that it hurts you somewhat. The animal sacrifice required your best sheep and cattle, not the average or worst of the herd. But the bible teaches us that no amount of sacrifice is sufficient to pay for all our sins. We keep sinning and need to offer more and more sacrifices. Therefore, at just the right time, Christ Jesus came into the world as a sacrifice for sins – once for all – the righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God. The death of Christ has cost us nothing. And there is now no sacrifice left to give.
“Then the LORD answered his prayer…and the plague on Israel was stopped.” When David offered the right sacrifice in the right place then the wrath of God on Israel stopped. This coincided with the relenting of God earlier. God made way for sin to be forgiven, the price to be paid, and the wrath to be propitiated. I think we are now ready to offer a meaning to this story.
What did we learn? (Meaning)
On the Old Testament side of the cross, the relationship of God to Israel is still about blessings and curses. But when the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep, the wrath of God is stopped without a cost to the sheep. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. King David closes the books of 1 and 2 Samuel as a shepherd to the sheep of Israel who offered a sacrifice as prescribed by God to stop the plague on the people. Thank God that because of Jesus, the wrath of God is satisfied.
Now what? (Application)
Topic A: Conscience-stricken. Acts 24:16 and 1 Timothy 1:19 place listening to your conscience as a high priority. Some have shipwrecked their faith because they have ignored their conscience. The conscience is a kind of barometer of right and wrong. It does not trump God’s word but allows us to respond mentally to choose the right and reject the wrong. Our conscience is not the law. But failing to listen to our conscience leads to sin. We sharpen our conscience skills by learning from God’s word – sometimes sharpening it to say no to ungodliness, and sometimes to soften it because we learn to understand grace better. But we don’t abandon it. Our conscience is a gift of God as part of his design for us to choose between right and wrong. Coming to Jesus and receiving the Holy Spirit even allows us to say no to ungodliness in a way that people without the Spirit cannot. Titus 2:12.
Topic B: Now no condemnation. Romans 8:1 begins the wonderful celebratory Chapter with these words: therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… The cross of Christ has achieved for us something that the sacrificial system could never achieve. David was able to sing in Chapter 22 and 23 that he is right before God and yet in Chapter 24 was in need to offer sacrifice for himself and the land. Living on this side of the cross gives us such a freedom that has not been fully realised for thousands of years before. Sure, Jesus death also covered over the sins of those who feared God and walked with Him by faith in the Old Testament, but they were unable to sing: no condemnation now. Praise God for all that He has done for us in Christ!
Topic C: The wrath of God and the propitiation for sin. On the flip side of Topic B is this topic. Without a successful offering, the wrath of God is not satisfied. There remains for all who trust in their own righteousness (like David counting the strength of his army) condemnation. John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.”