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.…

In what, then, did the sin of David consist? It appears to me that the answer to this is exceedingly plain: it is an answer which we derive from the account itself; it is an answer, too, full of very deep and profitable instruction. David's command was, "Go, number Israel and Judah;" and when Job brought the sum to the king, it was divided under the two heads, Israel and Judah. Israel, i.e. the ten tribes (excluding Levi and Benjamin), numbering 800,000 men; and Judah, 500,000. Here, then, we see the secret of David's sin. He wanted to know, not so much the number of the whole people, as the number of Judah, the royal tribe — David's own tribe — compared with the rest of Israel. God had made him king over the whole people; and Satan tempted him to consider himself the king of the one tribe, so that he should endeavour to ascertain whether the tribe, upon whose strength and affections he could always rely, would not be a match for all the rest; and so he should be at ease in governing in the interest of his flesh and blood, rather than in the interest of all his people. David's sin, then, was not the sin of pride, but the sin of division and party, spirit. God, as far as we can judge from the Bible, Himself ordained the right of primogeniture, or the right of the first-born, and generally upheld it. God assigned to Judah this pre-eminence, when He expressly commanded that the standard of Judah should go the first before the tabernacle in the vanguard of the children of Israel (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.)

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."

David Numbering the People
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