2 Samuel 24:5-10
And they passed over Jordan, and pitched in Aroer, on the right side of the city that lies in the middle of the river of Gad…
The taking of the census occupied over nine months; and during this time David remained insensible to his sin, and waited for the result. At length the work was finished (about wheat harvest), and the number given to the king; but, whilst he looked at the definite proof of the nation's increase, and at first, perhaps, felt elated at the thought of commanding an army of mere than a million soldiers (with something of the spirit of another monarch, Daniel 4:30), the same night" David's heart smote him; and he said unto Jehovah, I have sinned," etc.; "and David arose in the morning," etc. (ver. 11). What the remonstrance of Joab failed to effect was wrought by the operation of his own conscience. "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. 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 waits 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" (J. Leifchild). Conscience is of a threefold nature - a law, a judgment, a sentiment (1 Samuel 22:20-22). Observe, with respect to it -
I. THE CAUSES OF ITS CONTINUING LONG ASLEEP. These are summed up in "the deceitfulness of sin" (2 Samuel 12:5, 6). More especially:
1. The persistency of the influence under which sin is at first indulged; viz. the pleasing illusion (arising from partial views, strong passions, and self-will) that it is different from what it really is, and the agent better than he really is; which (even when the true standard of right is recognized) perverts the.moral judgment and deadens the moral emotion. "A concrete fact is presented in a partial aspect; conscience pronounces its judgment according to the representation made to it; this representation, or rather misrepresentation, is made, directly or indirectly by the influence of the rebellious will, the true seat of all moral evil" (McCosh). Hence evil is often deemed good, and self-glory the glory of God.
2. The assumption (arising from self-confidence) that what has been resolved upon is justifiable and right; and indisposition to review the grounds of the determination or to examine one's self so that a too favourable estimate of his character may be corrected.
3. The absorption of the mind in the pursuit of the object sought and in other occupations, preventing due consideration of the state of the heart. Alas! how many on this account "regard iniquity in their heart" with an easy conscience!
"Great crimes alarm the conscience; but she sleeps
While thoughtful man is plausibly amused."
(Cowper.) And Satan is so far from awaking him, that he draws the curtains close about him that no light nor noise in his conscience may break his rest (Gurnall). "If a man accustoms himself to slight or pass over the first motions to good, or shrinkings of conscience from evil, which originally are as natural to the heart as the appetites of hunger and thirst are to the stomach, conscience will by degrees grow dull and unconcerned, and, from not spying out motes, come at length to overlook beams; from carelessness it shall fall into a slumber; and from a slumber it shall settle into a deep and long sleep; till at last, perhaps, it sleeps itself into a lethargy, and that such a one that nothing but hell and judgment shall be able to awaken it" (South, Serm. 23.).
II. THE MEANS BY WHICH IT IS SUDDENLY AROUSED. In some cases the publication of the offence, the reprobation of society, the threatening of punishment; in others, serious consideration, deliberate reflection, deeper self-inspection (1 Samuel 24:5; Psalm 4:4), induced by:
1. The feeling of disappointment and dissatisfaction which commonly attends the attainment of an earthly end, or the accomplishment of a selfish purpose. David has 'the number of the people before him; yet, after all, he cannot "delight in this thing" (ver. 3). "All is vanity." Where shall the heart find rest (Psalm 116:17; Psalm 73:25)?
2. The occurrence of circumstances naturally adapted to fix attention on a particular subject and excite inquiry concerning the motives by which one is actuated: a pause in "life's fitful fever;" the necessity of contemplating - what next? and next? a sleepless night (Esther 6:1); "sleep that bringeth oft tidings of future hap" (Dante) - "a dream, a vision of the night" (Job 33:15). "David had made spiritual progress since the time when it required the parable of Nathan, and the prophetic announcement, 'Thou art the man,' to awaken him from his spiritual slumber. At this period of his life he examined himself and Weighed his own actions in private, especially at night time; and no sooner was the census of the men of war reported to him than, instead of being elated with self-confidence and puffed up with vain glory, 'his heart smote him,'" etc. (Wordsworth). "Night and sleep bring us times of revision or moral reflection, such as greatly promote the best uses of existence. Whatever wrong has been committed stalks into the mind with an appalling tread. All those highest thoughts and most piercing truths that most deeply concern the great problem of life will often come nigh to thoughtful men in the dusk of their evenings, and their hours of retirement to rest. The night is the judgment bar of the day. About all the reflection there is in the world is due, if not directly to the night, to the habit prepared and fashioned by it. Great thoughts and wonderfully distinct crowd in, stirring great convictions - all the more welcome to a good man; to the bad, how terrible! 'Thou hast visited me in the night,' says David; 'thou hast tried me;' and again, 'My reins instruct me in the night season.' What lessons of wisdom have every man's reins given him in the depths of the night! - things how high, how close to other worlds! reproofs how piercing in authority, how nearly Divine!" (Bushnell, 'Moral Uses of Dark Things').
3. The operation of Divine grace (in connection with a man's own thoughts), which visits the upright in heart, dispels every illusion, and strengthens every holy and God-ward aspiration. Did the Lord in judgment move David to number Israel? His judgment was founded on love, and his goodness led him to repentance.
III. THE EFFECT OF ITS RENEWED ACTIVITY. "And David said unto Jehovah, I have sinned greatly in that I have done," etc.
1. A right knowledge of himself and a correct judgment of his conduct.
2. A painful sense of his guilt and folly. In the truly penitent:
3. A humble confession before the Lord (1 Samuel 7:6); and:
4. Fervent prayer for forgiveness (2 Samuel 12:13).
Of the way of forgiveness and its own pacification, indeed, conscience is unable to declare anything; the knowledge thereof is afforded by the Word of God alone (ver. 18). Nevertheless, its awakening tests and manifests the character, and results in peace and righteousness, or in increased "hardness of heart," confirmed rebellion, remorse, and despair. The hour of its awakening comes to all; but it may come too late, when there is found "no place for repentance" (ver. 16). - D.
Parallel VersesKJV: And they passed over Jordan, and pitched in Aroer, on the right side of the city that lieth in the midst of the river of Gad, and toward Jazer: