January 22, 2014

Mega Thanatos IV: David's Census - The Brutal Cost of Sin

In 2 Samuel 24:15-16 the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel…

2 Samuel 24:15-16 ~ “So the Lord sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite….”

What caused the Lord to send a plague that wipes out 70,000 men? In a word: Disobedience. Another word: Census. Three more words: Lack of faith. At the same time we see a repentant king and a king willing to put aside his will and ambition and allow God’s to supplant it and replace it. In this narrative we see that the true King is God and David is but a human prince of a small nation.

The real question that needs to be asked is: Why does God incite David (v.1) to conduct a census that shows distrust for God. It seems to make little sense and appears a bit contradictory. The answer is in verse 1 also. God’s anger burned against Israel. Why? Well, first the easy answer is that the reason the census is sin is that it shows a shift from faith in God to a faith in worldly military might. Instead of behaving like a man of God, David’s behavior is more akin to the Ancient Near Eastern kings. We see and hear echoes of Nebuchadnezzar and other later kings that will also be set in their places by a sovereign and omnipotent God.

As for why the inciting would take place we need to cross-reference a parallel passage to 2 Samuel 24 in 1 Chronicles 21:1.

1 Chronicles 21:1 ~ “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.

We see what appears to be a contradiction in the Biblical texts. In 2 Samuel it says God incites David. In 1 Chronicles it says Satan did it. Contradiction? Hardly. It is the act committed by the volitional will of a being(s) with freewill and the act is allowed by God. Not only is it allowed, God can draw out of it a good end just as he does with the evil in the actions of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 50:20). It is not only plausible but it is probable that God worked through the impetus of Satan or more specifically, He allowed Satan to do his dirty work by not prohibiting it or preventing it. A sovereign God controls everything…including Satan. As Martin Luther once said:
For where God built a church, there the Devil would also build a chapel...thus is the Devil ever God's ape. ~ Table Talk (1569)
That being said, the evil or sinful acts should never be attributed to God for He is holy. Secondly, we should see (1) the census takes nearly ten months and by the end of that time period David is pierced to the heart with regret or conscience-stricken (v.10). Of course it is too late by then and he is given three possible outcomes in terms of punishment. He chooses to put Himself at the mercies of God which seems the wisest of his options. God’s mercy looks like 70,000 dead. Surprisingly, the profound theological point does not seem to be the thousands of deaths but rather the recognition of the king’s error and a desire to repent. Here, in David’s behavior we see a prototype of a true believer who has “sinned greatly” yet sincerely wishes to repent and make amends. Unfortunately, our sins have penalties that are attached to them and just saying we’re sorry and going on our merry way is not always God’s protocol. Although we will be forgiven and be allowed to live, punishment very well might ensue in this life. To assume we won’t get punished in this life because we’ve been forgiven and then go on sinning is nothing more than being unrepentant and a horrible abuse of grace.

It is the old story of punishment that I used to get from my dad. When he knew that I knew I did wrong…he would make me chose between my punishments. Was I to be spanked with his belt, a horse switch or a stick? If I chose the stick and came back with a twig, he would chose the switch and the belt and I lost coming and going. It was a matter of picking my own poison. No matter what...it became an issue of double-jeopardy. The lesson to learn? Don’t do something stupid that requires chastisement and you might actually escape the double-jeopardy altogether.

Why did David chose the mercies of God? Because David is a man of God, he had learned over his lifetime to trust God in bad situations. Even though all the outcomes look dire and will end poorly, he knows deep down in his heart that God will chose the one that is of the most eternal benefit for all believers involved. We can learn a hearty lesson from this in our sufferings and trials which I have learned recently.

Sometimes there just will not be an easy way out of a situation and we will have to live with that fact. The good news is that no matter how bad it gets for the believer, God works all things to the good of those whom God loves. As much as people love hearing this at times…it never says that the good would come in this life nor would it be in the forms we expected. Nor does it say that we would first need to suffer through a fire to get to the good. God doesn’t promise a pleasant journey, only a pleasant destination for those who will believe.

We need to learn to trust God even when He looks like His face is set against us. Sometimes the lessons we need to learn will need to be extremely painful and costly so that it drives home the lesson that needs to be learned. In David’s case it cost 70,000 lives. 

One sin equaled 70,000 deaths and that total was considered mercy and forbearance by God. 

One Sin = 70,000 dead. Let that slowly sink in people....

Conversely in a mirror image, the inverse of this ratio shows the power of Jesus' death on the Cross and Resurrection. His one death atoned for ALL the sins of the world! Now that is power and forgiveness! 

1 Death of Jesus the Messiah = Forgiveness to those who believe in that death.

David's lesson was a lesson for all the people in the kingdom and those around it. As a matter of fact it is a sharp and pointed lesson for us now due to the magnitude of the death toll. No matter how you cut it, even one untimely death is too much but 70 thousand boggles the mind. Sin is astronomically costly in human life and should shock people to their senses. It should make us sit up and pay attention to the wrath, power and sovereignty of God. A wrath and eternal punishment that will befall all who do not seek repentance and believe the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

Our consciences should not be assaulted because of the death toll but rather the atrocious and costly nature of the sin against God that caused them. God is not punishing David without cause. David even admits he has sinned horribly. Sin is awful and most will never realize just how bad it is until they're suffering in eternal torment for it. They will live lives in godless denial and will reap the punishment of sin. Sin that would haunt this very same king until his own death right within his own family. Sin...sin that will cause the death of every person who ever lives. Sin...sin that will even cost the life of the Savior Jesus Christ who would later come to atone for it. 

The cost of sin is too high because of the very fact that it invokes the wrath of God.

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