2 Samuel 24
“Go, number Israel and Judah..."
Context: In 2 Samuel, King David made decided to take a census. It seems logical and reasonable for a king to do so, and the punishment God exacted for David’s choice seems extreme and even harsh, especially when we read that God’s anger “incited David” (24:1) to take the census. The Chronicles account of this narrative, however, reads, “Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel” (1 Chr. 21). So, we might say, God allowed Satan to move against what He knew was in David’s heart (even the heart of all of Israel). He knew their hearts were full of that which is the epitome of rebellion. They had forgotten to give glory to whom glory is due.
God gave instructions on how and why to carry out a census many years earlier (Ex 30:11-16). Specifically, He instructed that it should be done in a manner that provided the opportunity for each individual to worship and acknowledge God. David’s census offered no such possibility. Joab (the commander of the army) knew David’s census was motivated out of something other than an opportunity to worship God for His faithfulness to Israel; his action was motivated out of pride. Joab’s words affirm just this: if you are concerned with numbers, may God give you an even larger army … only don’t count them in a way that brings delight to you and not to God (my translation 24:3).
David “delighted” in knowing the size of his army not for God’s glory, but his own. David (and all Israel who participated in the census) forgot to honor God for His “everlasting covenant” with the House of David and His promise to make His Kingdom grow (23:5). Instead, they attempted to steal God’s glory by taking pride in the size of David’s army. Pride was in David’s heart, and because he denied it when confronted by Joab, his sin would now be dealt with by God.
Primary Message: Dealing with sin when the Holy Spirit first convicts us of that sin often allows God to deal with it in a way that brings far less destruction to us and to those whose lives we affect. Nonetheless, when we call to Him in prayer, He is faithful to respond.
Even though God had always proven merciful to forgive David for his transgressions, when confronted by Joab, he still refused to acknowledge the sin in his heart. No matter what we name our sin, our words will not prevail for very long over the word of the Lord (4) – because He is sovereign. We may forget that truth from time to time and attempt to take ownership over different areas of our lives; however, God will always reveal His sovereignty in a way that will bring Him glory alone. Thankfully, He is merciful as well. The final verse of 2 Samuel reminds us of the message that runs throughout the book, “Thus the Lord was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel” (25b). Even when our sin is the most grievous – trying to usurp the authority of God Almighty - when we repent, He is faithful in forgiving and offering mercy.
Application: David’s heart, like all hearts that submit to temptation, was not filled with satisfaction after he sinned. Instead, we are told, his heart “smote” him (24:10); the pain he felt when he acknowledged he sinned against God’s Word destroyed him. David wasn’t satisfied with knowing the number of people in his kingdom or the number of men in his army - because glorifying self never brings fulfillment. We are called to reflect, not steal, the glory that belongs to God alone.
Though David prayed for a new heart (Ps 51:10), he continued to sin (this account followed his sin with Bathsheba). God is continually renewing our hearts, a process we call “sanctification.” Salvation is attained in an instant – that moment we acknowledge Christ as our Redeemer. However, sanctification is an ongoing process that requires honesty before God as we allow Him to continually reveal the layers of sin still hidden in our hearts. Just as justification is a choice to enter into union with Christ, sanctification is a personal choice to grow in that identity. Sanctification is the process of preparing us for the day when we stand before God wholly sanctified and a pure reflection of His glory. Are you preparing for that day and allowing God to sanctify your heart more each day?
Father, Thank you that you will create in me a clean heart. You will cut out, peel away, smooth down, and break my heart until it fully reflects the glory of its Creator. I pray I never stop acknowledging my need for you to chisel me into your image. Help me to continually allow you to reveal even more layers of sin abiding in my heart. Thank you for Christ, who, fully man, understands my temptations to sin and, fully God, stands before you on my behalf. Because of him, I can trust you to be a God of mercy who forgives me my transgressions here on earth as you “fit me for Heaven to live with Thee there.”* Amen
“Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” 2 Cor. 7:1
* Away in a Manger
What’s next: We don’t have to feel any shame when we discover we need the Creator to recreate our hearts. We can feel safe in allowing Him to reveal the layers of sin hidden in our hearts because He doesn’t rebuke our honesty. He only rebukes our accuser.