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*Accursed for Numbering*
2 Samuel 24
In this chapter of our book, we study another dark incident in David’s life.
It is about a census David took of the men of Israel, and it tells us about the second of the two judgments (a pestilence) upon Israel which are recorded in the last few chapters of 2 Samuel (the first judgment, a famine, was examined in our previous chapter).
While our text starts out darkly, it does end up brighter.
Also the last part of our text informs us how the land was obtained where Solomon built the Temple.
The time when this incident occurred, like the time of the famine, is uncertain.
Most scholars favor a late date in David’s reign—a view with which we concur.
But the most we can say for certain is that the incident occurred at a time when Israel was at peace during David’s time as king.
We make this conclusion from the fact that Joab, David’s military chief, was able to be gone from Jerusalem for over nine months (v.
8) to oversee this census.
This would not be possible if Israel was threatened in any way by enemy nations at the time.
While this time of peace favors the census being taken in the last years of David’s reign, it does not exclude other times of peace during his reign.
To further study this numbering incident in David’s life, we will consider the command for the numbering (vv.
1–9), the consequences for the numbering (vv.
10–16), and the consecration after the numbering (vv.
“The king said to Joab the captain of the host . . .
Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people” (v.
To examine this command, we note the people in the command, the prompting of the command, the protesting of the command, and the performing of the command.
The People in the Command*
This command did not concern numbering all the people in Israel but only those who would comprise the military in case of war.
This was also the character of the two censuses Moses took of Israel as recorded in the book of Numbers.
Support is threefold in our text that David’s census here was a military census.
First, the/ definition/ of the word “number” supports a military census.
The first Hebrew word translated “number” in verse 2 is, according to R. P. Smith, a word that is used for a military census.
He says it “is distinctly the war-word . . .
It proves that the census was taken for military reasons.”
Second, the/ description/ of the people being numbered supports a military census.
When the totals are reported from the census, they are described as “valiant men that drew the sword” (v.
9) which also emphasizes this was a military census.
Third, the/ director /of the census supports a military census.
David employed Joab, his military chief, to oversee the census.
“The employment of Joab goes far to prove that what David wanted was an examination of the military resources of his kingdom” (R. P. Smith).
The Prompting of the Command*
There were a number of factors which prompted this command.
They can be summed up in a threefold way: the anger of God, the animosity of Satan, and the arrogance of David.
/The anger of the Lord/.
“Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah” (v. 1).
Anytime one reads of God’s anger, he needs to pay earnest attention.
We hear much about the love and grace of God, and ought to; but we need also to hear about the anger of God.
Learning about God’s anger will help us to appreciate and understand better the love and grace of God.
In this verse we note the reason for God’s anger, the repetition of God’s anger, and the retribution from God’s anger.
First, the/ reason/ for God’s anger.
Why would God be angry with Israel?
Anyone who reads the Bible, even if only casually, should not have difficulty answering that question.
The Israelites were habitually rebellious to God’s way.
They ignored His precepts and would not walk according to His commands.
They went after other gods and practiced putrid morals.
Their behavior was this way from the very beginning.
In Egypt, in the wilderness, during the period of the Judges, and on into the times of the kings, Israel was forever sinning against God.
Israel is not alone in making God angry.
The entire human race does the same thing.
Holiness is what makes God happy, but sin is what makes Him angry.
The next time you think lightly of some sin, remember the sin you think lightly of makes God angry and the anger of God is a very serious matter!
Woe be those who are the subject of God’s anger.
Second, the/ repetition/ of God’s anger.
Our text said God was angry with Israel “again.”
The repetition of God’s wrath reveals the repetition of man’s wickedness.
As we noted above, Israel sinned repeatedly.
This is illustrated well in statements made about Israel in the book of Judges.
Repeatedly we read in the book of Judges that Israel “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 2:11).
Four times in Judges, when it says they did evil in the sight of God, it says they did evil “again” (Judges 3:12, 4:1, 10:6, 13:1).
Because of their repeated evil, we not surprisingly read repeatedly in the book of Judges about the anger of the Lord being “hot against Israel” (2 Samuel 2:14, 2:20, 3:8, 6:39, and 10:7).
When the times of the kings came along, this situation did not change, for Israel continued to rebel against God, and so we read in our text, “again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.”
Those who foolishly complain that God does not love them enough need to look in the mirror and see their own sinfulness and be more concerned about the fact that they are continually making God angry because of their sin.
Our continual sinning justifies the statement in Scripture which says, “God is angry with the wicked every day” (Psalm 7:11).
Wise men know that mankind’s conduct gives God a lot more reasons to be angry with men than to love men.
In fact, when you duly consider how sinful mankind is, it is harder to understand why God would love us than why He would be angry with us.
It is harder to understand why God would say, “I loved Jacob” (Malachi 1:2) than it is to understand why God would say, “I hated Esau” (Malachi 1:3).
Third, the/ retribution/ from God’s anger.
Because God’s anger was “kindled against Israel” (v.
1), our text said “he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah” (Ibid.).
When God is angry, judgment will fall.
The means of judgment will vary, but the fact of judgment will not.
Here the means of judgment was to have David number the people which would be an evil thing to do and, therefore, would bring judgment upon Israel.
Right away some will wonder why did not God judge Israel for the sins He was angry about instead of causing them to sin more so He could judge them for those additional sins?
The answer is found in the book of Romans.
The last part of Romans 1 tells us that when men rebel against God again and again, God will give them up to more sin so their judgment will be more severe.
This truth is summed up in Romans 2:5 which says, “Thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Israel had rebelled repeatedly (“again”) and so God gives them up to more sin to make their judgment worse when He eventually brings the judgment upon them.
If you insist on a path of sin, God will give you up to your sinful desires in order to increase the severity of your judgment.
It is a terrible situation to be in, and the knowledge of this truth ought to cause every thinking soul to keep a very short account with God regarding their sins.
/The animosity of Satan/.
In the parallel account in Chronicles of this numbering of Israel by David, we are told that “Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked [instigated, excited, stirred up] David to number Israel, (1 Chronicles 21:1).
This text does not contradict our text in 1 Samuel.
Rather, it supplements it by showing how God “moved David” (v. 1) to number the people.
God is in control of all things.
Here He simply permitted Satan to do what Satan always wants to do to mankind—get them to sin.
God is not guilty of encouraging anyone to sin, but He brings judgment upon men by permitting men to go their evil way and to follow Satan when they continually reject God.
Satan’s actions here regarding David remind us that Satan never promotes righteousness.
His plan is only and always to encourage men to sin.
This is why Paul tells us, “Put on the whole armor of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11).
Never can we take off the armor in this life, for Satan is ever ready to attack us.
/The arrogance of David/.
David’s pride also prompted the numbering of the Israelite men.
That pride prompted this numbering is evident in two ways.
It is seen in David’s statement and it is seen in Joab’s statement.
David’s statement said he wanted to take the census “that I may know the number of the people” (v.
He wanted to know the number in order to feed his ego as to his great army—a problem all rulers have.
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