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.…

One spot on earth there is, which, for four thousand years, has had more of human annals and human interest concentrated in it, by providential suggestion, than any other in she world. For a while, it was only a threshing-floor, owned by Araunah the Jebusite. This thrifty husbandman had selected an area on the top of Mount Moriah. We do not know that his imagination was ever awakened by the thought that here once was the thicket, in which the ram was caught that Abraham substituted for Isaac as a sacrifice. Nor, though Abraham saw the day of Christ afar off, and "was glad," have we any reason to think that Araunah's faith ever gained a glimpse of the fact that the cross on which Jesus Christ suffered, was to be planted there in the future ages. Today, that spot lies covered with a canopy of silk, underneath a Mohammedan dome in Jerusalem. Years have passed since the temple of Solomon disappeared in its ruins, though for generations its matchless splendour rendered the ridge of Moriah historic. Thus forty centuries of fame have made that floor one of the centres of the world. We are to visit it to-day in our studies, and it may be expected that question after question will seek an answer.

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.)

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."

In What Respect the Census was Sinful
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