David Numbering the People
2 Samuel 24:1-25
And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, 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.)

Parallel Verses
KJV: And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.

WEB: Again the anger of Yahweh was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, saying, "Go, number Israel and Judah."

A Sinful Census
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