Go, number Israel and Judah.I. THE SIN COMMITTED BY DAVID. It is possible that David dwelt with satisfaction upon the thought of his ample resources and numerous armies, and calculated that he was possessed of a power to repel aggression, and attempt fresh conquests. He may have forgotten that God alone, who had made him great, could preserve to him his greatness, and thence he may have longed to reckon up his forces, as though he could thence learn his security, or compute the extension of his kingdom. And let no man think that, because he occupies a private. station, he cannot sin after the exact mariner in which David sinned, who filled the throne of a flourishing empire. The very same offence may be committed in any rank of life, and is probably chargeable, in a degree, on most in this assembly. What! to take one or two instances — is not the proud man he who delights to count up his monies, and catalogue to himself his cargoes, and his stock, and his deposits, and his speculations — is he not doing precisely what David did when taking the stun of his forces? — ay, is it not with the very same feeling that he prepares the inventory; the feeling that his wealth is his security against disaster; that the having largo possessions will comparatively place him and his family beyond the reach of trouble? The wish to be independent of Gad is natural to us in our fallen condition. This rigidly virtuous man may be all the while pluming himself on his excellence, and employing the captain of his host in summing up the number of his righteous qualities and actions, that he may certify his power for winning immortality. There may be freedom from gross vices, with a growing strength of pride which puts more contempt on the crown of the Redeemer than an open violation of every moral precept.
II. THE PUNISHMENT INCURRED. No doubt there is something strange, which it is hard to reconcile with our received notions of justice, in the declared fact that sins are often visited on others than the perpetrators. Who will think that David escaped with impunity because the pestilence smote down his subjects and touched not himself? It is evident from his passionate imprecation — "Let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me and my father's house" — it is evident that the blow would have fallen more lightly had it fallen on himself and not on his subjects. In what manner should he be visited for his sin? So visited that the penalty may best indicate the offence it resists. Under what shape must vengeance come that it may touch him most closely, and most clearly prove .by what it is provoked? You will admit at once that, forasmuch as it was the thought of having many subjects by which David had been puffed up, the most suitable punishment was the destruction of thousands of those subjects; for this took away the source of exultation, and stripped the boastful king of the strength on which he vain-gloriously rested. Certainly this was adapting the penalty to the fault; for not only was David punished, but punished by an act of retributive justice, from which himself and others might learn what it was which had displeased the Almighty. But, perhaps you will say that it is not enough to show that the king was punished through the death of his subjects; you will say that this does not touch the point of the innocent being made to suffer for the guilty. We allow this; but it is of great importance to establish that David himself was not left unpunished. One of the chief objections which seem to lay against the justice of the crime being in one creature and judgment in another, arises from the supposition that the guilty escape while the innocent suffer. Now we do not believe that this is ever the case; it certainly was not in the instance now under review. We believe that those who are punished deserve all which they receive, though they have not committed the precise fault of which they bear the penalty. It is evident enough that David regarded himself as the sole-offending party, and had no suspicion that the penalty had any other end than that of his own chastisement. The exclamation, "Lord, I have sinned; I have clone wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done?" — this is sufficient proof that the king thought of no criminal but himself, and of no punishment but that of his own wickedness. But it is equally evident that David was mistaken herein, and that God had other ends in view, besides that of correcting the monarch for his pride. It was in order that there might be occasion for the punishment of His subjects that God allowed Satan to tempt the ruler. For it is this — "And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah." In the Book of Chronicles, where the instigation is ascribed to the devil, the people are actually spoken of as the objects aimed at through the king — "And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel." So that it is put beyond doubt that the people had moved the anger of the Lord before the king moved it by his worldly confidence and pride. And if David had not offended, and thus made an inlet for Divine vengeance, another occasion would have been found, and wrath would have come down on Israel. We are not, indeed, told what the precise and particular sin was by which, at this time more especially, the chosen people had moved the indignation of God. Possibly their frequent rebellions against David, their ingratitude, their fickleness, and their growing dissoluteness of manners, which is a too common attendant on national prosperity, exposed them to those judgments by which God is wont to chastise an erring community; buff it is of no importance that we ascertain what the offence was of which the penalty was the punishment. We are at least certain that the people were really smitten for their own sins, though apparently for the sins of David; and that, therefore, there can be no place for the objection, that the innocent were made to suffer for the guilty.
III. THE EXPIATION THAT WAS MADE ON THE THRESHING FLOOR OF ARAUNAH. So soon as the destroying angel had stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem, and, therefore, before any altar had been reared, or any burnt-offering presented, the Lord, we are told, "repented Him of the evil, and said to the angel — It is enough; stay now thine hand." We sufficiently gather from this, even if it were not on other accounts evident, that the plague was not stayed from any virtue in the sacrifice which was offered by David. Even had the sacrifice preceded the arrest of the pestilence, we should know that it could not of itself have procured it, whereas now that it follows, none can dream of ascribing to it a solitary energy. But though the burnt-offering would not of itself have been efficacious, it would not have been commanded had not the presenting it subserved some great end; we may believe, therefore, that it was as a type, figuring that expiatory sacrifice, by which the moral pestilence that had been let loose on the globe would be finally arrested, that the offering was required from the contrite and terrified king.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Homiletic Magazine.The boldness of the expression is startling. "He moved David against them." Can it be that Jehovah stirred up the king of His choice against the people of His choice, to conceive and execute a design which so speedily called down upon them a deadly punishment? Or can we smooth away the difficulty by recourse to the parallel account in the book of Chronicles, and read the text as the margin of our English version suggests — "Satan moved David against them?" Such an explanation is, I believe, untenable. If we had only the book of Samuel before us, we should not think of proposing it. The problem must be faced, that, in some sense or other, God is said to have moved David to this sin; while, on the other, hand, it was due to the instigation of Satan. Can we harmonise these divergent statements? We tread here on the skirts of that most mysterious problem, the relation of the Divine sovereignty to the human will. We approach here, also, and that still more closely, another problem wrapt in a thick cloud of mystery: the relation of the Divine will to the causation of evil. God never compels a man to sin. If that were possible, God would cease to be God; sin would cease to be sin. The moral consciousness of man revolts instinctively from such an idea. The teaching of Holy Scripture gives it no countenance whatsoever.
1. He purposely leads His saints into circumstances of trial, that their faith may be proved and tested, and coming forth from the furnace triumphantly, shine as a witness before the world.
2. God sees a man's heart turning aside from Him, and withdraws for a time His restraining grace and presence. He deserts the sinner who has deserted Him.
3. God is said to harden the hearts of men. But not until His mercy has been set at naught, not until His long-suffering has been defied to the uttermost, does He finally pronounce this sentence. Not until a Pharaoh has hardened his own heath against judgment after judgment, is God said to harden His heart. Not until a Saul has mocked His calling and despised repeated admonitions, does the Spirit of the Lord leave him, and an evil spirit from the Lord trouble him. Not until mercy has been tried and tried in vain is a judgment pronounced in this world. And who shall dare in any easel to say that it is final? But we not unnaturally ask, Why was David allowed to sin? There was, it seems, some national transgression which roused God's wrath and demanded punishment. Nor was this the first occasion of the kind. We read, "Again the Lord's anger was kindled against Israel." Once before they had been smitten with famine for the unexpiated sins of Saul and his bloody house: what the offence was now, we are not told. The king's sin was in some way the culmination and representative of the nation's sins. It was the final offence which filled up the cup of wrath, and the punishment smote the nation, and through the nation its ruler. A still more perplexing question meets us next.Wherein lay the guilt of David's Act? The answer must be that the motive which inspired the act was sinful.
1. He designed, say some, a development of the military power of the nation with a view to foreign conquest. He wished to organise the army, and visions of self-aggrandisement dazzled his brain.
2. It was the outcome of pride: pride at the growth of the nation. He wished to satisfy the foolish vanity of his heart; to know to the full over how vast a kingdom he ruled. It may be said that the sin of the people was in essence the same: that here on the very threshold of their national existence as a powerful kingdom, they were tempted by visions of worldly glory to forget that they were not to realise their vocation to the world in the guise of a conquering secular state, but as Jehovah's witness among the nations. It this was so, if already Israel was in peril of a virtual apostasy, no wonder that Jehovah's wrath was kindled. Vet in such a case wrath is in truth but another phase of love, chastisement is mercy in disguise. Judgment is mercy when it leads unto repentance. Wisely wrote St. of this fall of David: "Let us remember how that a certain man said in his prosperity, 'I shall never be moved.' But he was taught how rash were his words, as though he attributed to his own strength what was given him from on high. This we learn by his own confession, for he presently adds, "Lord, by Thy favour Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: Thou didst hide Thy face and I was troubled." He was deserted for a moment by his guide in healing Providence, lest in fatal pride he should himself desert that guide" ("Works," vol. 6. p. 530). Observe in this history: —
1. The hidden motive determines the character of the action.
2. If it was pride which was Israel's transgression and David's sin, mark how heinous an offence it is in the sight of God.
1. What was this act of David, which brought on the catastrophe and the pestilence, that was happily stayed there? At first sight, it seems almost impossible to explain the transaction; for up to this time it had never been considered a crime to take a census in Israel. Indeed, it was one of the requirements of the Hebrew law, that each tribe and each family in it, and all the persons in the households, should be enrolled openly and regularly. Except for these disastrous circumstances detailed afterwards, we should never have conjectured any wrong had been done: It was one of the most rational things in history, that the ruler of any great nation should wish to be exactly informed concerning the military resources of the people.
2. But now we ask again: what was the moral character of this act in numbering the people? How do we know that it was one of the most sinful that King David ever committed?(1) Even Joab, the unscrupulous warrior, pronounced it dangerously wicked from the start (verses 3, 4). Over-ruled by the king he went about his work reluctantly, and to the last he persisted in his protest by refusing to count the two tribes of Benjamin and Levi, "for the king's word was abominable to Joab."(2) Consider the origin of the suggestion (ver. 1, compared with 1 Chronicles 21:1).(3) But the strongest proof of the guilt of this action of David, is found in his own confessions. The census was scarcely completed, before the monarch seemed suddenly to become aware of his wickedness, and fell on his knees before God (ver. 10).
3. Still our question remains: what was there in the action of David that made it so guilty in the sight of God?(1) For one, I would just as soon say, "I do not know," as anything else. The story is silent almost altogether. The commentaries are full of nothing but conjecture.(2) But some things can be surmised, if that will furnish any help.For one thing, there must have been a pride of power moving the king: the language of Job (1 Chronicles 21:3), as he sternly expostulates, seems to touch on this; he intimates his hot contempt for a vanity so childish. Then, also, the greed of gain may have been in the heart of David: this may have been his first step towards the liberties of the people, a plan of augmenting the power of the crown. We feel safe in saying that distrust of God was in the wrong: he knew that Israel was not to be so strong because of a large standing army; many a prosperous year had rendered it sure that the nation's strength was in God. Then there was the possible lust of conquest: if David was thus appealing to the ambition of his people, his sin was greater, in that he was teaching them positive unbelief, also.
4. Now in the next place, we come to the dreadful punishment which this sin brought on; what was the course of it?(1) First of all, there came a revelation from heaven to awaken David's conscience.(2) Then there was a choice offered that would test the devotion of David's heart. For always the main question is, Does a penitent man retain his confidence in God, or is he wholly under the sway of selfishness, and fixed in disobedience?(3) Next, there was a humble selection made, which showed David's piety and unbroken faith, still held true in the midst of his perversity.(4) Then there was a sharp infliction of penalty (ver. 15.) Over that land went the wild wail of bereaved men and women and children, from Dan to Beersheba, where the census-gatherers had just been ordered to go by this presumptive monarch.
5. But was there to be no limit to this affliction? That leads us forward to our final question: what was it that arrested the hand of God, and brought relief to dying Israel?(1) Observe now the hopelessness of regrets after sin has been committed, and is rushing on (ver. 17). It is plain that David's heart is wrung with pity and indescribable anguish for the multitudes, who gasp and grow black and die, and make no sign. But he could not take back the sin he had set floating on the currents of God s providence; it was sweeping out in wider circles.(2) Observe also the uselessness of offering any vicarious atonement for sin as a release from its retributions. In his sad sincerity, David says: "Oh, spare these sheep l take me, and my house!" But this is not God's way (Psalm 49:7, 8). Paul said the same (Romans 9:3). So did Moses (Exodus 32:31-33).(3) Observe the availability of effectual prayer in arrest of God's judgment (ver. 16).
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Numbers 2:1, 2). But God had prepared the tribe of Judah, by His Providence, for this pre-eminence which He assigned to it: for you will find that the tribe of Judah was, in point of numbers, by far the most powerful of all. Its numbers were nearly double those of the greater part of the other tribes: the next tribe, that of Dan, does not come within twelve thousand of it. Then, when the tribes were settled in the promised land, the same design of God is apparent. Reuben, the actual first-born, has his portion assigned to him on the east side of Jordan, and so is removed out of the way. Simeon at once sunk to be the lowest tribe in point of influence; and, in fact, soon disappears altogether. Levi, by having the priesthood, could not have the civil and military preeminence; so the field is left, as it were, to Judah. Then he had by far the largest and the most compact portion of the promised land assigned to him. Such was the tribe. But what was the first family in this tribe? Beyond all doubt the family of Jesse. Throughout the whole history of the people the first was that from which David sprung. David's ancestors were the first family in point of blood of the first tribe of Israel. I believe that David, as a man of God, governed with a faithful and true heart, as the King of all Israel; but in the best of men there is a mixture of motives. In the most just line of human temporal policy there is that which is crooked and time-serving, and David, in this instance, gave way and succumbed to the temptation of the god of this world. He numbered the people for the purpose of ascertaining the strength on which he felt sure that his family could, under all circumstances, rely. David was right in his surmise. The census was taken, and the extra-ordinary fact came to light, that God had so increased and multiplied the tribe of Judah, that it was more than half as strong as all the rest of the tribes put together: for the single tribe of Judah showed 500,000 fighting men to the 800,000 of the other ten tribes. But the gratifictaion of family or party pride, as opposed to national exultation at the prosperity and numbers of God's people, was short-lived. With the sum of the numbers came the smiting of the heart — the precursor, in this case, of immediate and signal punishment.
1. The account of David's punishment is exceedingly instructive. God, to try what was in David's heart, gave to him the choice of three evils — the sword, famine, and pestilence; and David, by his choice, showed plainly that his heart was right with God. But another very instructive fact is that the moment David surrendered to God those private family feelings and partialities that had been the real root of the mischief, then God at once turned and remitted the punishment.
2. And now let us say something respecting the punishment which God inflicted. There seems, at first sight, a difficulty about the persons whom God intended to punish. Throughout the chapter, however, David appears to be the sinner, and the punishment is evidently directed against him, though it falls on his people. Then, with reference to the effect of the punishment, it was inflicted, as all God's punishments are, in far-seeing mercy. For, if future princes Of the House of David — Solomon and Rehoboam — had learnt the lesson which God intended them to learn, the disastrous rebellion in the time of Rehoboam, which entailed centuries of idolatry and civil war and its attendant miseries, would, humanly speaking, have been avoided.For the punishment inflicted by God was intended to show God's just displeasure at partial government. I must now, in conclusion, make two or three practical applications .of the foregoing remarks.
1. First of all, the Bible deserves to be well and carefully studied, as a book full of the deepest insight into human nature — fallen and crooked human nature.
2. Let us see how hateful division, party-spirit, partiality, or a spirit of schism, is in the sight of God.
3. Let us also learn from this, that those who have the right to the first social place may have this evil spirit, as well as those who have not.
(F. M. Sadler, M. A.)
(A. F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)
And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people.I. DAVID'S CONFESSION — "And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done." It is an unreserved confession. There are no excuses made by him for the sin he has committed. If we would confess our sins acceptably we must confess, as David did, without reserve — without any attempt to dissemble or to cloak them.
II. THE PETITION. "And now, I beseech Thee, O Lord! take away the iniquity of Thy servant." To "take away" means something more than to forgive. To "take away iniquity" is not only to pass it over, but to clear the soul of it; so that, though it should be sought for, it should not be found. And this is the Blessed Saviour's office. It is "the Lamb of God," and He alone, "that taketh away the sin of the world."
III. THE PLEA. For I have done foolishly." When we want to get a pardon from a fellow-creature, we are not apt to lay a stress upon the greatness of our fault, but to catch rather at something that may take a little from its guilt. "Take away," saith he, "I beseech Thee, the iniquity of Thy servants;" and why? what is the argument he brings to give weight to his petition? You might have thought he would have said, "for I did it in my haste; it was no intentional offence." But no; "Take away my iniquity," says he, "for I have done very foolishly." It reminds us of a similar petition in the 25th Psalm. Why, what could David mean, when he names the greatness of his sin as the ground on which he asks for pardon? His meaning probably was this: "My sin is great — I have acted very foolishly, and therefore Thou wilt shew the riches of Thy grace the more abundantly in taking my iniquity away." O! blessed be the God of our salvation that such an argument as this can be adopted! If the efficacy of the blood of Jesus had been limited — why then we should have been afraid to say to God, "My sin is great."
(A. Roberts, M. A.)
Now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.
Christians exhorted to consider what answer their ministers will have to return to God concerning themI. CHRISTIAN MINISTERS ARE THE MESSENGERS OF GOD, AND SENT ON AN IMPORTANT ERRAND.
1. They are sent of God.
2. They are sent on an important errand.
II. MINISTERS ARE TO RETURN AN ANSWER TO HIM THAT SENDETH THEM.
1. They are to return to their Master.
2. They are to answer as to their own fidelity.
3. They are likewise to return an answer concerning the reception which they themselves met with.
III. IT BECOMETH THE MEMBERS OF CHRISTIAN CHURCHES SERIOUSLY TO CONSIDER WHAT ANSWERS THEIR MINISTERS WILL HAVE TO RETURN CONCERNING THEM. Application.
1. This subject affords some useful instruction to Christian ministers. It should lead them to "magnify their office," as "the messengers of God." It should excite their warmest gratitude that they are employed under Christ, on the same errand which brought him into the world. Further, they may learn to deliver their message with all plainness, seriousness, and fidelity.
2. Christian people may derive some useful instruction from these particulars. Learn, then, to be thankful that messengers are sent to you on so kind and gracious an errand.
I am in a great strait; let me fall now into the hand of the Lord.
I. It presents us with A SIN INTO WHICH DAVID FELL at the close of his life, and a judgment denounced upon him in consequence of that sin by the Almighty. He was at peace in his kingdom; he had recovered from all the troubles of his house, and his victorious sword had been lifted up above the heads of all his enemies round about. The state of his affairs, after long agitation, had subsided into a condition of peace and serenity, calling loudly for thankfulness to God for His favours. But such seasons of temporal prosperity, alas! are not favourable to the preservation of humility and good principles. Through the weakness and corruption of our nature they are apt to soften and enervate, to secularise and pollute, and thereby to render us accessible to the most perilous temptations. If the prosperity of fools destroys them, the prosperity of good men often does them incalculable injury. David, therefore, though so wise and pious, is now off his guard. His conscience, however, which had been enlightened by Divine grace, soon awoke out of the slumber into which it had fallen, and unbraided him. "His heart smote him" for what he had done, before he was left to prove his weakness by any outward disaster. It was well for him that his own ways reproved him, and that' conscience sounded the first trumpet of alarm. This is characteristic of the regenerate. Thus Samson's heart smote him in the midst of the night for what he was doing, and he arose and carried away the gates of the city. Men who have no light of grace, no tenderness of conscience, must have their sin recalled to them by the circumstances which at once reveal its enormity and visit it with punishment; but the regenerate have an inward monitor that awaits not for these consequences to rouse its energy, but lights up the candle of the Lord within them, and will not let them rest after they have done amiss, till they have felt compunction and made confession. Their sin and their sorrow are near together. No circumstance can keep them long apart. Let us not wonder at a judgment so severe for a sin that appears to us so comparatively trifling. It is only to us that it seems trifling. We are apt to be more terrified at outward sins, and individual acts of atrocity between man and man; but sins of the heart and of the spirit committed against the majesty, and the purity, and the goodness of God, for which we feel but little conscious guilt, are surely of far greater enormity and more especially offensive to God. We are, moreover, to bring into account David's relation to God. He was a man after His own heart; he stood high in His favour: when he was a child, God loved him and brought him into covenant with him; adopted him into His family, made him most magnificent promises, and poured His favours upon him. And does the near relation in which a man stands to God and the surpassing favours which he has received, lessen his sin? Iris rather heightened in its enormity, aggravated in its guilt, by such considerations.
II. OBSERVE THE EVILS WHICH THE HISTORY REPRESENTS TO US AS PROPOSED TO THE KING'S CHOICE. They are three of the most dreadful that can befall a country or a nation. But yet in the permission of a choice among them, a singular test was presented of the return of David's heart to a proper sense of dependence and submission. Each of them is a terrific scourge, but united, as they sometimes are, and naturally may be, they form a three-fold plague, whose horrors are indescribable. But the one which David chose, brought him and his people more immediately into conflict with the sovereign hand of the Almighty than either of the others would have done. Nothing could be here ascribed to second causes. Against God directly and exclusively had David sinned, and from God's hand visibly and directly, and by sad preference, must come the punishment. If famine spread extensively among nations, affecting more countries than one at the same time, the condition of that which is its chief seat, or which, from other circumstances, is shut out from foreign aid, will soon become desperate. New and disgusting modes of supporting existence will be resorted to; the natural instincts will be overpowered; all feelings will be subdued before the cravings of hunger and the love of life. War, accompanied with defeat, is an equally dreadful calamity to a country that is the seat of it. The most diabolical passions of human nature are awakened and stimulated by war. But pestilence, in some respects, is yet a more dreadful calamity than either. It is more silent in its approach, and less horrible in its outward array; hut it is an evil preying upon the heart of a nation. It is the destruction of its soul and spirit. Other evils may be seen at a distance, and be guarded against; there valour may hope to defend, prudence to resin, flight to escape. But no place exempts from the attacks of this enemy; he gives no notice of his approach; his motion is silent and sure; he steals upon us in the dead of night, as well as in the day; triumphantly and secretly he rides upon the wings of the wind, and treacherously destroys us by the breezes which we court for refreshment, or the air which we inspire for life. We are not sensible of his presence till we feel his fangs, and are inevitably within his grasp. At one and the same moment he is heard of by us at the distance of leagues, and felt in our own bosoms. We are unconscious that the shaft has flown, or found its mark, till we feel its venom boiling through our veins.
III. But we have here THE CHOICE HE MADE, WITH THE REASONS OF IT. Let us attend to the wisdom and piety that dictated it and to the merciful relief afforded him under it, in consequence of it pleasing God.
1. But we may see in this preference the most exalted patriotism. David, though a king, was too much identified with his subjects to think of saving himself at their expense. If it must be a calamity, let it be one that shall involve me with them. I and my people will survive or perish together. Noble resolution, full of magnanimity, and demanding our admiration!
2. There was penitence also in this preference. Slight thoughts of his sin, in comparison with the sins of his people, would have dictated the choice of a calamity that might have left him free, while for them there was no possibility of escape. But he was too sensible of the guilt of his preposterous pride and presumption not to choose a judgment to which himself might be as liable as any of the inhabitants of the land.
3. Nor is the piety that led to this preference less evident and operative. There was piety in consulting by it the honour and interests of religion, which in either of the other calamities would have very much suffered. And there was piety in David's choice, from the confidence it evinced in the Divine compassion. He knew that God was provoked, but he could expect mercy from Him in that state, sooner than from man whom he had not injured at all. Conclusion:
1. In attempting some improvement, our desert of the judgments of the Almighty because of our secret sins first occurs to us. A judgment worse than war, pestilence, and famine awaits every such sinner. He stands exposed to wrath that will destroy both body and soul in hell.
2. There is a retributive Providence. The punishment of God's people often grows out of their sin, and that so conspicuously and so instructively as to convince them of it, and induce them to deplore and renounce it.
1. "Let me fall into the hands of God," for He is my Owner and Proprietor; to Him I unreservedly belong.
2. Because mercy is His darling attribute: He loves to glorify it in the forgiveness of the penitent.
3. Because he reads my heart. He has be held my secret groans, and prayers, and tears.
4. Because He mingles with the strokes of His rod the consolations of grace, and chastens as a Father.
5. For the design of His chastisements is merciful; they are intended not to destroy, but to benefit.
6. From reflecting on the advantages that myself, that thousands of the redeemed, have experienced from His chastisements. Let such be your language and your feelings when penetrated by a sense of guilt. Bend to that hand which supports while it smites.LESSONS:
1. This subject, in connection with the history of which our text is a part, teaches us that sin may be pardoned, and yet punished with temporal afflictions.
2. This subject should excite in us the tenderest love to God.
3. This subject teaches us where the soul may find a refuge from the unkindness and cruelties of men.
(H. Kollock, D. D.)
Homilist.David had learned from the history of his nation and his own personal experience the blessedness of all who put their trust in the living God. Let us notice a twofold train of thought, suggested by our text, peculiarly appropriate for the new year.
I. WHY FEAR MINGLES WITH OUR GREETING OF THE NEW YEAR.
1. We are confronted by sorrowful memories of the past. Frailties, failures, sins of omission and of commission, broken vows, ideals not reached, prayer restrained — "unprofitable servants"; we have fallen short of the glory of God.
2. Painful consciousness of present feebleness. No reserve of strength, imperfectly equipped, hands hanging down, knees feeble, heart faint, mind weary. We cannot pierce the impenetrable veil and see what battles we may have to fig]it, what storms we may have to encounter, what burdens we may have to bear, what sufferings to endure. Our only refuge is to fall into the hands of the Lord.
II. HOW FAITH MAY SUBDUE FEAR IN OUR GREETING OF THE NEW YEAR.
1. Faith in the unseen God. In His(1) Power; that is, He is able to do for us exceeding abundantly above all that we can ask or think.(2) Wisdom — to guide as well as guard amid the vicissitudes and mysteries of our earthly pilgrimage.(3) Faithfulness — that He will never leave nor forsake, never falsify His Word.(4) Goodness — To supply our ever returning wants, to withhold from us no good thing and. make all things work together for our good.(5) Mercy — to bear with our ingratitude and proneness to forget and wander from Him. Such faith in God stimulated and sustained the Old Testament heroes and New Testament saints; they all endured as seeing Him, who is invisible, realising His glorious and gracious presence ever with them.
III. FAITH IN THE UNSEEN WORLD. David felt that if desolation and death overtook him he would be safe if, when leaving this life, he fell "into the hand of the Lord." With home in view, pilgrimage will be cheered, the heart will be calmed and comforted. With the eternal God for our refuge and the eternal arms underneath us, "forward" may be our fearless watchword. Into the infinite, unfailing "hand of the Lord" let us commit ourselves.
(A. F. Kirkpatrick, M. A.)
(J. R. Macduff, D. D.)
So the Lord sent a pestilence.
Monday Club Sermons.It was time of peace and prosperity in Israel. King David's rule had been blessed, and the people dwelt in safety. In the midst of this happy quiet, David was moved to order a numbering of the people.
I. SIN OVERTAKEN BY JUDGMENT. What was the sin? Outwardly it was in the numbering already referred to. But what wrong could there be in taking a census? It is now found to be useful. It had before been done in Israel, and with Divine approval. The wrong could not have been in the census itself. The real sin, then, like all sin, was in the heart; and plainly its root was pride and vain-glory. King and people forgot their dependence upon God, and the allegiance due to him. The pestilence struck directly at the pride of people and ruler. It crippled their power. It thwarted military ambition. It smote that of which they were ready to boast into feebleness and death. Are we, of these later ages, to look upon like visitations, as of fire or famine or war or pestilence as judgments for sin, or corrections for moral transgression? Never are we to be in haste, or too confident, in interpreting Divine Providence. But when we are told that devouring flames consuming great cities, famine depopulating broad lands, and pestilence which walketh in darkness, and destruction which wasteth at noonday, mean wiser building, better agriculture, more careful drainage — just this and nothing more, at least nothing moral or spiritual — we are sure that one great part of the Divine purpose has been overlooked. Doubtless God does mean that the lower lessons should be learned. He does mean to correct neglect of maxims of prudence. He does so order His laws and dealings as to make us studious, watchful, and faithful in all that pertains to physical life.
II. JUDGMENT DEEPENING REPENTANCE. Our Saviour has taught us that the angels shall be God's ministers in the final judgment (Matthew 13:41.) Here we find that they are His messengers in present ills. It was as one of these had reached Jerusalem, and had outstretched his hand for its destruction, that tie became visible to the king. What true humility, what deep repentance is here! There is no syllable of complaint that the Divine stroke is too heavy. There is no word of personal justification; no shielding of self under another's fault. The sin was not all his; but he saw only his own. "My sin, my transgression!" Such was the language of his crushed, repentant heart. Such is the language of true repentance always — when its work is deep and thorough.
III. REPENTANCE MET BY MERCY. "The Lord repented Him of the evil." The words are startling, as applied to God. And yet they need not be obscure. Note three things with respect to this mercy: —
1. It followed upon the deepened repentance.
2. It came in connection with expiation.
3. Then it did not straightway remove all the consequences of the sin; but, as we may believe, did convert them into means of disciplinary good.One thing only is required from us as the condition of restored Divine favour. That is trusting repentance.
IV. A TRUSTFUL RECONSECRATION. Observe the prompt and cheerful obedience which now marked the king's conduct. No sooner did the Divine message reach him than he "went up as the Lord commanded" (v. 19). Nor did he find the way closed before him. Clearly the Lord, as He is wont to do with contrite souls, had gone before to prepare it. Observe, the Lord is now "the Lord my God!" Here is nearness, trust, love. There is no longer distance or aversion; but such peace as assured pardon always brings. Men who have had great deliverances felt to be from God have always delighted to make them occasions of fresh consecration. With all the more of humble, swelling joy will this be done when the deliverance is from what is seen to be the effect of personal sin — mercy arresting deserved judgment. In his description of the distress of Harold, the last of England's Saxon kings, on account of his false oath, the novelist, Bulwer, has said: "There are sometimes seasons in the life of man when darkness wraps the conscience as sudden night wraps the traveller in the desert, and the angel of the past with a flaming sword closes on him the gates of the future. Then faith flashes on him with a light from the cloud; then he clings to prayer as a drowning wretch to a plank; then that mysterious recognition of atonement smooths the frown on the past, and removes the flaming sword from the future. He who hath never known in himself, nor marked in another, such strange crises in human fate, cannot judge of the strength and weakness it bestows; but till he can so judge, the spiritual part of all history is to him a blank scroll — a sealed volume." There would seem to be many of whom this is true.Is there now any one of us to whom any part of the truth brought to view in this Scripture has not some application?
1. Searching our own hearts, we should surely find some form of sin there — perhaps the very spirit which provoked the displeasure of God against Israel.
2. In His patience God may not as yet have made His displeasure felt by us in pains and ills seen to be traceable to it; and yet He may have sent sorrow, loss, hardships, intended to bring us to Himself; it is certain that He has faithfully forewarned us that for every unpardoned sin He will at some time bring us to judgment.
3. To escape in the evil day no way is offered, none is to be found, save the old way of humble, trusting repentance.
4. For those who thus come the door of His heart is wide open; expiation has already been provided; pardon will be instant and complete; and, while to life's end many painful effects of sin may remain, these, in their case, will be changed to means of good, to chastisements whereby He wilt perfect us in His own image and for His everlasting kingdom.
5. The proof of our repentance and trust and acceptance will appear in prompt obedience, childlike thought of God as our God, and a heart ready, nay, eager to serve in any, however costly, service He may appoint.
(Monday Club Sermons.)
1. In this lesson we have, first, an account of the judgment: "So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel; and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men." Here is judgment following repentance and confession. There are some sins which, though truly repented of and forgiven, still bring retributive consequences from which the transgressor cannot escape in this life. He must wear them as brands of condemnation set upon sin by Divine justice for his own and others' good. These consequences, while they come in just retribution, are also sent in mercy as God's barriers against the progress of sin. It is here affirmed that the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel. Plagues and pestilence have various national and physical causes. But it is equally plain that they are connected with the sins and follies of men. They are the penalties of violated law. In other words, they have a place in the righteous government of God, and so come to execute His will. Here the pestilence is attributed, instrumentally, to angelic agency.
2. This lesson furnishes an example of true penitence. Here is a case of genuine repentance which is accepted with God. David's confession was not extorted from him by the pressure of the Divine judgment. Before it came he saw his sin, and said unto the Lord, "I have sinned greatly in that I have done." Divine judgments are often, indeed, instrumental in arousing men to see the enormity of their guilt. They are used as goads to prick a dull and sleeping conscience. But true penitence is not the result of fear. It springs from seeing the hatefulness and wickedness of sin as done against the wisdom, justice, holiness and love of God. Sin is folly, and brings ruin to the transgressor, but its chief enormity lies in the fact that it is done against a God of holiness and love. So true confession is confession to God.
3. This lesson also shows us how saving mercy was obtained for Israel. The judgment of God was righteously destroying the people, and His mercy, though free, sovereign and ready to save, could not ignore His righteousness. There must be a way opened for its manifestation if Jerusalem is saved. This is secured through the Divine appointment. David is directed by Gad, a prophet of the Lord, to build an altar unto the Lord, that the plague might be stayed from the people. It was not by David's tears of penitence and confession of sin that the plague was stayed. In like manner, not our tears or prayers or confessions, but the blood of Christ shed for us, furnishes the only ground for the removal of the sentence of death which the broken law of God has passed upon us. He was made sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
4. This passage presents another feature of spiritual life worthy of attention. It is the spirit of generosity and unselfishness manifested by David in fulfilling the command of God. Here was royal liberality; and it is set down to his everlasting honour in the Word of God that he gave "like a king." He stands before us as a noble representative of those large-hearted, generous men who are ever ready, when the occasion demands, to sacrifice their private interests for the public good. And never did David make a better investment of his means than when he bought Araunah's threshing-floor. It was the building-lot for the temple which for a thousand years prefigured Christ, and so became a fountain of blessing to the nations. Money invested in such a cause is not lost, but laid up in store for the life to come.
(S. D. Niccolls, D. D.)
( M. Henry..)
And David spake unto the Lord when he saw the angel that smote the people.
(D. Hunter, D. D.)
Nay, but I will surely buy it of thee at a price.
I. THE REAL SPIRIT OF DAVID'S CONDUCT. We must keep in mind this fact, that David would not do what he might have done. It was not compliance with a hard necessity; it was not a reluctant submission to what could not well be helped: he might have acted otherwise without inflicting any injury or causing any offence. Araunah could well afford to make the gift, and he wished to make it. Had David accepted it, his offering would not have been at all deficient; in place and matter and instruments it would have been complete. He had a fine opportunity, as some would esteem it, of reconciling self-interest with godliness, prudence with principle; of doing a good thing for nothing: what would multitudes give for such an opportunity? Why, then, did David forego it? The answer is, that he felt that which would not have been represented by the acceptance of Araunah's present. He wished to sacrifice, did not wish another to do it. Acting otherwise, the materials of the sacrifice would have been the same, but the virtual offerer would have been different. It would have been no fit expression of David's spirit, no full gratification of the feelings that now filled his heart. An illustration may be taken from some of the old sacred buildings. You will find them "finished with the most circumstantial elegance and minuteness in those concealed portions which are excluded from public view, and which can only be inspected by laborious climbing or groping," a fact explained by saying, "that the whole carving and execution was considered as an act of solemn worship and adoration, in which the artist offered up his best faculties to the praise of the Creator." These men of "the dark ages," as we love in the pride of our compassion to call them, had in this a true and grand idea: what would they say of our veneered and gilded modern life, in which everything is for show and nothing from reality, everything for a purpose and nothing from a principle? Everything depends on the predominant principle and purpose. If a man's prime feeling be that of self, he will go to the easiest and most economic way to work and worship; if a man's prime feeling be that of God, he will rebuke all thoughts of cheapness and facility. In the first case, he will seek the largest possible results from the least possible expenditure; in the second, the expenditure will be itself the result. Now it is the end and essence of all religion to turn the mind from self to God; to give it absorbing views of the Divine beauty and glory; to fill it with Divine love and zeal; to make it feel honoured in honouring God, blessed in blessing Him; to make it feel that nothing is good enough or great enough for him: and when the mind is thus affected and thus possessed, it will understand and share the spirit of David's resolve, not to offer burnt-offerings unto the Lord God of that which doth cost nothing.
II. SEE HOW THIS SPIRIT WILL ACT AND MANIFEST ITSELF.
1. It will make our service, whatever it is, a living thing. What we do, even when it is the same that others do, will be animated by another and a loftier principle and passion. Whether it be worship or labour, it will be an end and not a means. It will not be the driving of a bargain with God, not compliance with terms and conditions of favour and recompense, but the pouring out of a loving and reverential heart; not the result of a careful calculation, but of sympathy with the goodness and glory of the Lord. A man thus inspired will no more think of inquiring the advantages, the probable gains of his deeds and his adoration, than he would think of the profitableness of gazing with admiration on a lovely landscape, or regaling his soul with the noble qualities of a hero or a martyr. But this spirit will not only affect what we do, not only make a reality of our service, but it will make us do more, far more, than would otherwise be possible. The language of the man who tools as David felt will be, What can I do to glorify God? what modes and methods of honouring him are within my power? There are two questions asked consciously or unconsciously by men in relation to religious service: one is, How little may we do? The other is, How much can we do? These questions involve different principles and ends. He who puts the first thinks only of safety; he who puts the second thinks only of duty: in the first it is interest that speaks; in the second it is gratitude, love, reverence, and zeal. And if these inspire us, we need not repeat David's act; there is no necessity to insist on making costly what might be without price. It would be easy to illustrate the operation of this spirit in connection with every department of human service. It must, for instance, influence the study of truth. We are satisfied with our religious faith; we have no doubt at all that the great and life-giving principles of the Gospel are understood and held by us; we can afford to look with profound pity on those who think otherwise, to commiserate the paucity or erroneousness of the articles of their creed. We have learned to distinguish between things necessary to be believed in ordered to salvation and things unnecessary; the first we maintain with rigorous fidelity, the last occasion us no concern: we meet every suggestion or solicitation to inquiry and examination, to deep and extended thought, with the response that it is not needful, a man may be saved without it. Is that the spirit of the text? Is that giving God our best? Far from it. Let us lose sight of the question of mere salvation, and be fired with a zeal for the honour of the God of truth; let us love truth for its own sake, and not for the sake only of the profit of believing it; and, whatever our present convictions, we shall bring to its pursuit and its contemplation our keenest investigations and finest thought, and, irrespective of all considerations of gain or safety, shall "follow on to know." It will influence us in connection with the more difficult and least popular morals. We are not only to do good, but not to let our "good be evil spoken of;" not only to avoid evil, but "the appearance of evil;" not only to work that we may not steal, but to work that we may "have to give;" not only to resist temptation, but to flee from its scenes and instruments; to forbid the impure and wrathful thought and desire, as well as the outward act; to be "without offence," to "think " upon whatsoever things are "lovely and of good report," to deny ourselves, to love our enemies; in one word, to be "imitators of God," and walk "even as Christ also walked."
3. This spirit will affect certain forms of religious profession. When the duty of a formal acknowledgment of Christ, art identification with His people, and the commemoration of His death in His Supper, are urged, the reply for substance is frequently made: "It is not absolutely necessary to join a church: you cannot maintain that only those who belong to religious societies will enter the kingdom of heaven. It may be very good and profitable as a rule, but I am left at liberty to do it or leave it alone as I think proper. You cannot pretend that there is no salvation out of the church." The answer to this is not far to seek. We suppose that there is no fixed and universal rule of necessity in such things. Necessity is not in the subject but in the man. We can conceive of great things not being necessary sometimes, and of very little things being necessary sometimes, on this ground. Is it necessary for a man to do, or safe to leave undone, what he knows to be according to the will of God? Is persistence in disobedience compatible with a state of spiritual security? But why talk at all of necessity? Necessity in relation to what? Your salvation? But, conceding what you assume, is that the only light in which to regard the Divine will? Is personal profit the only thing that gives that will power over your nature? Do you really mean that you will do only what you are obliged to do, that you care nothing for law and love, that you are indifferent to Maker's pleasure and a Saviour's grace, but that you do want to get to heaven?' Is that, the offering you make to God, an offering dictated by no sense of his claims and favours, no passion to serve Him worthily, but a mere calculation of spiritual profit?
4. This spirit will prompt us to labour to do good, and not to refuse even the more arduous and self-denying services of benevolence.
III. THE CONSIDERATIONS BY WHICH THE SPIRIT OF THE TEXT SHOULD BE EXCITED.
1. Consider what God is; how worthy of your utmost zeal and love and honour in Himself, in His ineffable perfections. How "glorious" He is "in holiness"; "how great is His goodness, how great is His beauty." To give to him the best is a necessary fruit of any true, however inadequate conception of His infinite worth.
2. Think, again, that every offering you make to God is already His own. The materials of service are His, the power to use them is His;. His are the outward instruments, and His the moral faculties.
3. But, lastly, remember that God does not offer to us that which cost him nothing.
(A. J. Morris.)
(W. Cadman, M. A)
1. The principle was the expression of the true feeling of the greatest, the devoutest, the most remarkable man of his day — a man whose many-sidedness of nature links him with the highest; a man whose influence has been felt in all ages, from his own till this, and in an ever-widening circle, in the ratio of the missionary zeal of the Church of Jesus Christ, for there is no religious poetry equal to David's psalms. It received the Divine endorsement. "The plague was stayed."
2. The principle applies to the minister's dedication, and preparation for his work. He should resolve, "Neither will I offer to the Lord my God of that which doth cost me nothing."
3. The principle further applies to intellectual and heart preparation for the work of the ministry.
4. Apply the principle to personal dedication. It will cost something to offer yourself to the Lord your God. If it cost nothing, the enjoyment of God's favour would be little esteemed. The dedication of the person to God involves the dedication of all that belongs to him.
1. Worship. For in our buildings, in our service of praise and prayer, preaching and hearing, we are to give our best in effort, in intelligence, in all things, facing and resisting every temptation to the contrary, with the words, "Shall I offer," etc.
2. Work — not to schemes only that are pleasant, and in times that are convenient and by proxies that are easily obtainable will the true worker for God devote himself.
3. Gifts. Not with careless gifts, almost covertly given, or the smallest coin doled out niggardly, can he give who says, "Shall I offer," etc.
4. Personal religion. There is meanness and ingratitude in the spirit that relegates all religious care to the leisure of Sunday, or of the sick-room, or the infirmities of old age. Why should we not offer to God that which costs nothing?Three questions may throw light upon it.
1. How far what costs you nothing is any benefit to yourself? Such may be of some benefit. But only what "costs something" calls out
(1) (2) 2. How far what costs you nothing has much influence upon the world? Sacrifice is the subtle and tremendous element needful in all great influence. In the home, in the Church, in the state, they only climb true thrones, and wear real crowns, who have the spirit of sacrifice. The Saviour Himself relied on that — "I, if I be lifted up. will draw all men unto me." So does the Eternal Father of men, for He has made "Christ," who is incarnate Sacrifice, "the power of God." 3. How far what costs you nothing is acceptable to God? Christ's praise of the poor widow's gift, God's acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ, sufficiently indicate the Divine estimate of self-denial. And since that service which costs us something has the pulses of reality, the glow of love, and the reflection of Christ, it surely is acceptable to God. (U. R. Thomas.)
(2) 2. How far what costs you nothing has much influence upon the world? Sacrifice is the subtle and tremendous element needful in all great influence. In the home, in the Church, in the state, they only climb true thrones, and wear real crowns, who have the spirit of sacrifice. The Saviour Himself relied on that — "I, if I be lifted up. will draw all men unto me." So does the Eternal Father of men, for He has made "Christ," who is incarnate Sacrifice, "the power of God." 3. How far what costs you nothing is acceptable to God? Christ's praise of the poor widow's gift, God's acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ, sufficiently indicate the Divine estimate of self-denial. And since that service which costs us something has the pulses of reality, the glow of love, and the reflection of Christ, it surely is acceptable to God. (U. R. Thomas.)
2. How far what costs you nothing has much influence upon the world? Sacrifice is the subtle and tremendous element needful in all great influence. In the home, in the Church, in the state, they only climb true thrones, and wear real crowns, who have the spirit of sacrifice. The Saviour Himself relied on that — "I, if I be lifted up. will draw all men unto me." So does the Eternal Father of men, for He has made "Christ," who is incarnate Sacrifice, "the power of God."
3. How far what costs you nothing is acceptable to God? Christ's praise of the poor widow's gift, God's acceptance of the sacrifice of Christ, sufficiently indicate the Divine estimate of self-denial. And since that service which costs us something has the pulses of reality, the glow of love, and the reflection of Christ, it surely is acceptable to God.
(U. R. Thomas.)
I. THE TRUE MOTIVE TO BENEVOLENCE, "offering unto the Lord." His offerings were gifts to the Lord; and our offerings, too, must be gifts to the Lord. There may be a sense in which we can give nothing to Him, and there are times in which He reminds us of His sublime and eternal independence of us. We give to each other what we may happen to need. God needs nothing. Into the infinite ocean of His nature no streams are ever Seen to run. Unlike the oceans of the earth, it is never supplied, but always supplies. Streams flow from it, but never to it. They flow with a ceaseless and unflagging volume and speed. They flow to angels and to men. They bear life, and strength, and wisdom, and grace, and love. These streams ere carrying to-day light to unnumbered worlds, health to unnumbered living things, comfort to unnumbered weary ones, hope to unnumbered despairing ones. A father gives to his son a plot of ground that he may turn it into a garden. He gives him the tools with which to prepare it. He gives him the seeds from which he is to raise the fruits and flowers. He gives him a home to live in. He gives him his daily food. At length, the father finds on his table the richest fruit and fairest flowers which the garden has produced as a loving acknowledgment from his son. What is this acknowledgment? It is a gift, and yet it is only a gift of what is his own. In this manner, and in this only, we can give to God. To offer to the Lord; this expression lies at the root of all true service. To the Lord was a sort of touchstone, which the Apostle carried with him everywhere, and by which he tested both his own doings and those of others. You know that in life everything depends upon the motive from which it springs. Man is what his motives are, and he is no better and no worse. The outward, visible deed we may perform, or the audible word we may speak, have no meaning to us, until we have first ascertained the motive which incited them. It is only too common to think of the giving of money as a lower branch of Christian duty. On the contrary, that giving may be the highest and most religious act of the godly man. Generosity may be one of their constitutional peculiarities. It is so with many, and it may be so with them. They were born with it. But there are others of a very different character, in whom the generous giving of their means would be the sublimest shape in which their religion could make itself manifest.
II. THE MEASURE OF CHRISTIAN LIBERALITY. "I will not offer unto the Lord of that which costs me nothing." This was but the negative form of David's noble principle. He meant that he would give to the Lord of that which cost him something. This principle, interpreted widely, and under the inspiration of a grateful love, would yield a sufficiency of means for carrying on without embarrassment every Christian agency in the world. The spirit of Christian liberality is evermore a spirit of self-denial. It is prompted and fed by the thought of Him who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor, that we through His poverty might be rich. The vital nerve which runs through it is one of gratitude for infinite mercy. And those whose Christianity has cost them the most are the men who will be faithful unto death. Will Luther, will Melanchthon, will Zwingle, will Calvin, will Latimer, will Knox, will Ridley, will Hooper, forsake the reformation? Nay; they will go for it to prison if needful, or even unto death, but they will not deny it. Having love as the impulse to our benevolence, its measure will be determined by the nature of the case which appeals for our help, and also by the means which God has placed at our disposal. Here is false measure! It is stamped with the words, "What have I given before?" This carries with it a double falsehood. It may be too heavy, or it may be too light. This weight will be condemned at the last day. There is another weight, stamped with the words, "How little can I give?" Of this weight I say nothing, nor of the man who uses it, except this, that he that soweth sparingly shall read also sparingly. Gratitude demands that we give to the Lord. Giving to the Lord is as Christian a work as prayer or the avoidance of sin. Giving must always be tending towards sacrifice and self-denial
(E. Mellor, D. D.)
i.e., your life, and if worthy, He will place it, a bright jewel, in the eternal crown. High destiny! Great end! How can I, thus conscious of the eternal plan, do else than present to Him my noblest and my best? I will not offer unto the Lord my God that which has cost me nothing.
(A. H. Powell, M. A.)
(W. G. Blaikie.)
(H. O. Mackey.)
(Anecdotes of the Old Testament.)
And David built an altar there unto the Lord.
1. At the beginning of the chapter it is said, "the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, go number Israel and Judah." In the parallel passage (1 Chronicles 21.) it is said "Satan provoked David to number Israel," i.e., (as Bishop Hall remarks) God did so by permission, Satan by suggestion; God as a judge, Satan as an enemy.
2. It has occurred to some as difficult to see exactly wherein David's sin consisted.(1) Distrust. God had said Israel should be as the dust of the earth, as the sand on the sea shore, and as the stars in the heavens — why count them then?(2) Pride. David thought no doubt he would appear more formidable by a display of numbers, like Hezekiah afterwards, he wished to make a display of his power.
3. Observe, again, "David's heart smote him after he had numbered the people; after, not before. Sin leaves a sting behind, though it may give a momentary gratification.
4. Remark David's sorrow and confession and guilt: "I have sinned and done very foolishly." Ah! here was grace; this was unnatural, it was supernatural; it was the very opposite of fallen nature to take all the blame to himself.
5. David was, on his repentance and acknowledgment, charged to rear an altar and to offer a sacrifice which was intended, no doubt, to represent that "without shedding of blood, there is no remission."
I. THE ALTAR AND SACRIFICE represent the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, the only sacrifice God will accept as an atonement for sin.
1. David offered "burnt-offerings and peace offerings." The burnt-offerings represent God's justice; the peace offerings represent God's mercy — a striking emblem of our great sacrifice I Here, in Jesus, "Mercy and truth meet together, righteousness and peace kiss each other." Here, God's justice is satisfied, and His mercy manifested. Here, we see God "a just God," and yet "a Saviour" — "just, and the Justifier of all who believe." Where shall we look for the great proofs of God's righteous displeasure against sin? The great proof is found in the sufferings of God's own Son. Again, where shall we look for the great proof of God's mercy? You remind me of the ark in which Noah and his family were saved, or of Zoar, where Lot found refuge? Yes; but the great proof of mercy is to be found in the same garden, and on the same cross where we found the other
1. In one sense, and that a very important sense, our acceptance with God cost us nothing — it is free. Nothing we can do is meritorious: salvation is God's free gift through Christ. This is the vital pulse of a sinner's hope — "By grace he is saved."
2. The other point is: our redemption cost God much. "Ye are bought with a price," said St. Paul to his Corinthian brethren; how great a price he did not say; he could not. "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." "God so loved." Who can say how much? There is no mercy out of Christ, and "no condemnation to them who are in Christ."
II. DAVID'S RESOLUTION AND CONDUCT on the occasion of God's mercy to him. David's conduct by no means implies he regarded his offering as meritorious. (Psalm 51:16, 17,) "For thou desirest not sacrifice, else would I give it; thou delightest not in burnt-offering; the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt act despise." It proved two things as regarded David's peculiar case, viz., sincerity and thankfulness. Sincerity — unlike the ruler mentioned in the Gospel, he wanted a religion which would cost him nothing, and therefore "he went away sorrowful." Thankfulness. David longed to show what he felt, like the leper (Luke 17.), he "returned to give glory to God." Oh! what a spring it would give to charity, to feel as David felt. Observe, in the parallel passage (1 Chronicles 21.) it is said, David bought the threshing-floor for 600 shekels of gold. We can reconcile the two accounts by merely supposing the author in the book of Samuel stated the price of the oxen, while the author in the book of Chronicles mentioned the price of the threshing floor. Let me now mention a few particulars which the Gospel claims as proofs of gratitude, and God's Word proposes as tests of sincerity.
1. Coming out of the world.
2. The Gospel demands the sacrifice of every known sin — not one, but all; not in part, but entirely.
3. The Gospel demands of us to deny self. "Of all idols," says one, "idol self is worshipped the longest."Let me close with a word or two of direct and personal application.
1. I address those who suppose, by offering to God what cost them much, thereby to merit heaven. Turn, my brethren, to 1 Corinthians 13:3. "Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing." This exactly meets your case.
2. To such as, Gallio like, "care for none of these things," I would say your case is an awful one. A religion which costs you nothing — which allows you to keep your sins — to be conformed to the world, and to indulge the flesh, is not of God.
(W. E. Ormsby, M. A.)
And the plague was stayed from Israel.
1. The great danger of prosperity, and the folly of coveting riches and honours as the chief good.
2. The deceitful nature and the terrible consequences of sin. David's heart smote him after, not before, he had numbered the people. This is Satan's method of dealing with his prey, and this is the way he succeeds in beguiling men to ruin. He blinds the eye to the guilt, until the evil deed is done. How deeply is this felt by the penitent, when brought to loathe himself for his iniquity! What a sting is left behind by sin, though it may have been committed with very little alarm, and with scarcely any sense of its malignant nature! What a picture is displayed in this history of sin's terrible consequences — the angel of God running to and fro through the land with the sword of vengeance, and slaying seventy thousand men in less than three days! How it exhibits the Almighty's resolve not to let iniquity go unpunished!
3. The great and invaluable efficacy of the sacrifice of the death of Christ. The Almighty God, who is "angry with the wicked every day," and who has declared that all the nations that forget Him shall be turned into hell, has, nevertheless, made with them who believe in Christ, "a covenant well ordered in all things and sure," and, in that covenant, we have a Divine promise made, and the Divine veracity pledged, that they shall never perish, who rest their hopes on the offered propitiation.
4. The importance of promptitude in applying for mercy, and in deprecating the Divine wrath through the appointed sacrifice.
5. Finally, learn hence the duty of activity, liberality in the service of God, and for the benefit of your fellow sinners. It is a Scriptural precept — "Honour the Lord with thy substance." He who has a religion which costs him nothing has a religion that is worth nothing.
(H. Hughes, B. D.)
I. THE STRICT REGARD PAID BY THE ALMIGHTY TO THE CONDUCT OF HIS CREATURES. This is a consideration which ought ever to impress our minds. The want of it is one of the causes of the misconduct of men. All are not openly infidels; they do not deny a God; nor do they allow His existence, and deny His omniscience. All do not confine Him to His own heaven, and make it part of His greatness and grandeur to avert His eyes from earth. All do not make Him indifferent to sin. and say, with the unbelief of those of old, "The Lord shall not see, neither shall the God of Jacob regard it." But though we may not, say this, we may be influenced by the very principle from which it proceeds. All who sin forget God; act as though there were no God, or He had no omniscience, or that He is indifferent to their conduct. To awaken us to a consciousness of the regard he pays to our actions, to His ever-bending, ever-watchful eye, it is, that he has so often specially interposed to punish sin, and in a manner which could leave no doubt of His agency. For this, among other purposes, the histories in the Old Testament have been preserved; that observing the displays of His power and justice, we might "sanctify the Lord in our hearts," and that the whole earth might "tremble and keep silence before Him." Does any one suppose that because He is but an individual, one amidst the myriads of the human race, he shall pass in the crowd, and escape the notice of his Judge? Let him learn that David was an individual, yet his individual sin was noticed, dragged to light, reproved, and punished.
II. WE ARE INSTRUCTED BY THE HISTORY TO CONSIDER SIN AS AN EVIL FOLLOWED BY THE MOST DISASTROUS CONSEQUENCES. The pride, and forgetfulness of God, of which David and his people were guilty, might appear, if sins at all, sins of a very venial kind, the common infirmities of human nature; yet they were followed by the dreadful choice of evils, and with the destruction of seventy thousand persons. One of the most fatal habits of mind is to treat sin lightly or with 'indifference. It is exhibited as a mark of eminent folly. "Fools make a mock at sin."
III. THE HISTORY ALSO EXHIBITS TO US THE ONLY MEANS OF FORGIVENESS AND ESCAPE FROM PUNISHMENT. The altar was built unto the Lord: "David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings; so the Lord was entreated for the land, and the plague was stayed." In other words, sin was expiated by the intervention of a sacrifice. This is the doctrine of every book of Scripture, of every age, and of every nation. Let us, then, observe that the testimony of the Church of God, from every age, is that the anger of Him whom we have offended can only be propitiated, and that He only can be approached, by sacrifice. When man became a sinner, then an altar marked the place in which he worshipped, and his offering was a bloody sacrifice. When Noah left the ark, his first act was to erect an altar, to reconcile God to a world which bore so many marks of His wrath; and at the Smell of the sweet savour of the offerings, He gave the promise, "I will no more curse the ground for man's sake." When the first-born of Egypt fell beneath the stroke of the angel, it was the blood of the lamb sprinkled upon the door-posts that guarded in safety the offspring of Israel. When the plague broke forth against the rebels in the wilderness, Aaron ran between the living and the dead with his censer and incense, and the plague was stayed; but it was incense inflamed by fire from the altar of sacrifice. Thus, on ordinary occasions by stated, and on extraordinary displays of the Divine anger by extraordinary sacrifices, did the Church show forth the intended death of the true Sacrifice. This is our method of salvation: "We are saved by His blood," and it is important for us to know that, in this single doctrine of a substituted sacrifice, the whole method of our salvation is included. The manner in which sacrificial rites were performed illustrates even now the method of salvation. The offerer confessed the fact of his offence by bringing his victim; and he that believes in Christ, by assenting to this method of expiation, confesses the fact too: "I have sinned, and therefore I fly to Christ as my atonement." The offerer was prompted by the fear of punishment to slay his victim, and sprinkle the blood; so David in the text. If we are properly alarmed at our, danger, we shall haste to the only refuge of a Saviour's bleeding side. The sacrifice was the instrument of sanctification; it supposed a covenant with God; the sacrifice was eaten; the parties were made friends; and sin, which only could make them enemies, was renounced for ever. Thus, the appointment of sacrifices supposes the confession of sin; a salutary fear of the terrors of a holy God; a just apprehension of the desert of sin, death in its most painful forms; and a reliance and trust in God's appointed means of salvation, and the renunciation of all sin, and the recovery of His blessing and friendship. All these are taught you and enjoined upon you by the death of Christ; and on these terms we invite you to receive pardon and salvation.
IV. WE OBSERVE THAT THE ERECTION OF THIS ALTAR BY DAVID WAS A PUBLIC ACT, an act in which the public were interested; and in this respect it agreed with the practice of all ages. The building of an altar was ever a public act; the place was separate from common purposes; and it stood as a religious memorial for the instruction of mankind.
1. The erections themselves, and more especially the acts and observances of worship, are memorials of religious facts and doctrines. They keep a sense of God upon the minds of men; they turn She thoughts of the public, whether they will or not to serious subjects.
2. Our worship is public, and the places we erect are places of public resort.
3. Besides this, our places of worship are to be considered as the places where the Gospel, the good and glad tidings of salvation, are announced to men. They are the places of treaty and negotiation between God and man. Ministers are the ambassadors of God. Clothed with authority by Him, they enter His house, and a rebellious world is summoned to hear from them God's gracious terms of pardon, and His authoritative demand of submission.
4. They are houses of prayer, and remind us of our dependence upon God, and of His condescension to us. They are houses of shelter from the storms and cares of life; the places where we cast our care on Him, and prove that He careth for us; the place where He is known, eminently known, for a refuge.
V. THE ZEAL AND LIBERALITY WHICH GOOD MEN HAVE EVER DISCOVERED IN THE ERECTION OF HOUSES AND ALTARS TO GOD. The words of the text are an instance. When Araunah saw David coming, he went to meet him; and, when informed of the occasion — "to buy the threshing-floor, to build an altar to the Lord" — he spontaneously makes him the offer of his threshing-floor.
(C. S. Robinson, D. D.)
Century Bible.The last entry in the appendix to Samuel consists of a document which may be described as the charter of the most famous of the world's holy places. By the theophany here recorded the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite received a consecration which has made it holy ground not only for Judaism and Christianity, but for Islam as well. Upon this spot, we can scarcely doubt, stood the great altar of Solomon's temple. To-day, as all the world knows, the site is covered by the magnificent mosque, the Kubbet es-sahara, or Dome of the Rock, the most sacred of Mohammedan shrines after those of Mecca and Medina.
Aquinas; it was the pillar of Luthers soul, toiling for man; it was shapen into intellectual proportions and systematic symmetry by the iron logic of Calvin; it inspired the beautiful humility of Fenelon; fostered the devotion and self-sacrifice of Oberlin; flowed like molten metal into the rigid forms of Edwardss intellect, and kindled the deep and steady rapture of Wesleys heart... All the great enterprises of Christian history have been born from the influence, immediate or remote, which the vicarious theory of redemption has exercised upon the mind and heart of humanity.".