Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He stirred up David against them, saying, "Go, take a census of Israel and Judah."
I. THE DEVOTED LOVE OF CHRIST'S FAITHFUL SERVANTS TO HIMSELF.
1. They show sincere and practical regard to his every wish. They do not need explicit commands in detail, still less accompanying threatenings. Enough if they can ascertain what he desires; and their love for him and converse with him enable them to know his wishes without definite verbal revelations or laws. A large portion of the life of many modern Christians, especially in the departments of Christian zeal and benevolence, is founded on no express command, but springs from love and sympathy - from that participation of the Spirit of Christ which produces intuitive discernment of his will, and that devoted attachment which prompts to the gratification of his every wish.
2. They are ready to encounter danger in his service. The work of Christ makes at times great demands on love, zeal, and courage. It cannot be done without hazard; but his true-hearted friends are prepared to endure the toil and brave the peril. Not a few in our own day may be described as "men that have hazarded their lives for the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 15:26). This spirit of Christian heroism is not confined to the more hardy races, but among' the softer tribes of Polynesia and India, the knowledge, of Christ has produced a similar courage. Converted natives offer themselves for service in the most dangerous fields of missionary enterprise; and when some fall at the hand of savages, or through attacks of deadly diseases, others eagerly press forward to take the vacant places. The language of St. Paul is still the language of faithful Christians, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself," etc.; "I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die... for the Name of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 20:24; Acts 21:13).
3. They are sometimes moved to extraordinary manifestations of their regard. Like the three heroes whose exploit is here recorded. Like Mary in her lavish anointing of her Lord (John 12:3). Warm love prompts to generous deeds and gifts. There is need of these in the service of Christ; and if ardent love to him were more common, they would be more frequent. Love should, however, submit to the guidance of wisdom, lest it become wasteful or injurious. Our Lord will accept mistaken offerings, but it is well that the offerings should themselves be such as he can approve. One safeguard against mistake is the remembrance that he desires no display of love which is fantastic or useless, no self-denial or daring which answers no proportionate end in the advancement of his kingdom and the promotion of the good either of our own souls or of our fellow men. There is abundant room for all possible generosity, self-denial, and bravery in the practical service of Christ and man; to expend these in fruitless ways is to expose our works to condemnation, however good and acceptable may be our motives. We are to serve God with our reason as well as our feelings.
II. THE REASONABLENESS AND RIGHTNESS OF SUCH LOVE. Because of:
1. His self-sacrificing love for them. "The love of Christ constraineth us" (2 Corinthians 5:14) is their sufficient answer to any who allege that they are "beside themselves" (2 Corinthians 5:13). His love requires and justifies the utmost consecration to him of heart and life.
2. His injunctions. He claims from all who follow him that they should love him more than their nearest relations more than their own life (Matthew 10:37; Luke 14:26), and that, in serving him, they should be fearless of death (Luke 12:4).
4. The effects of such love. In purifying and ennobling the character of those who cherish it, and promoting through them the well being of mankind. It is love for all excellence, stimulates to its pursuit and greatly aids its attainment. It is the inspiration and support of the highest and most persistent benevolence; for he who is loved is the Incarnation of Divine holiness and love, and the great Friend and Benefactor of the human race, and the return he asks for his love to us is not a barren, sentimental devotion, but practical obedience (John 14:15, 21, 23), and especially a fruitful love to our brethren (John 15:12-14; 1 John 3:16-18), whom he teaches us to regard as being himself (Matthew 25:35-45). Love to Jesus Christ has been, and still is, the strongest motive-power in the world in favour of all godliness and goodness.
5. Its rewards. Love to Christ is not mercenary, and makes no stipulation for recompense. It is its own reward. Yet in the midst of a cold and unbelieving world it needs all supports. These are to be found in the assurance of the approval and affection of Christ himself, and of the Father (John 14:21, 23; John 16:27), and the prospect of sharing the glory and joy of Christ forever (John 17:24; 2 Timothy 4:8; Matthew 19:29; James 1:12; James 2:5). On the other hand, to be destitute of love to Christ is to be lost (1 Corinthians 16:22). - G.W.
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.)
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.)
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