2 Samuel 24:1-25

If you have read this chapter carefully you are probably scratching your head and asking, “If God asked David to take the census, then why does he get mad at him?” Part of the answer to that question can be found in the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21:1 where the author states that Satan rose against Israel and incited David to take the census. Here are a couple of points to keep in mind when trying to sort out this difficult passage.

2 Samuel tells us that God was angry with the Israelites…again. Whenever God was angry with the people it means that they were running off into sin again and were in need of punishment. We aren’t told exactly what the sin was, so that must not be the point of the chapter, but we can be sure that God’s actions toward them was justified.

  1. Satan was the one who actually tempted David to take the census. James tells us that God does not tempt people. (James 1:13)
  2. God was in control of allowing Satan to tempt David. This verse sounds a lot like the opening scene of Job when God allows Satan to mess with Job’s life. Why? In order to test Job. Here, too, we see God putting David and the nation to the test.
  3. David was the one who is ultimately responsible for having taken the census. Even his commander, Joab (who has not been a very noble character in the story), warned David to not do this sinful act. Yet, David persisted in taking a head count of all the fighting men.

In light of these points, we can conclude that God did not force David to sin, He simply allowed David an opportunity to choose God’s way or the world’s way in order to test David’s heart. David failed the test and then had to suffer the consequences.

I believe the purpose of chapter 24, in the scheme of the entire book, is to serve as a summary and a synopsis of the whole story of David’s life and why, even after sinning, David was considered a man after God’s own heart. From this summary we can also see a pattern for our own lives.

Every day we are faced with temptations that press our “self” buttons. For David it was the temptation to take stock in his powerful position and to take comfort in the fact that he was well-armed for battle. Each one of us has a different blind spot in which the enemy can attack and cause us to turn from God and worship the god of our own creation.

  1. No matter how much success has been experienced in the past regarding a yielded heart, no one is exempt from succumbing to temptation. David certainly proved this to be true. First he fell with Bathsheba, now we see him falling with the census. Be careful if you think that you have it under control because you, in your own strength, don’t. Only through daily submission to God’s protection and strength will you stand firm against sin.
  2. A godly heart cannot stay long in the camp of sin. In v. 10 the NIV states that David was “conscience-stricken” by what he had done. The literal translation of the Hebrew says that his heart hit him with a strong blow (the KJV says “David’s heart smote him”). Here is one of the marks of David that demonstrated that he had a heart after God’s own heart. Deep down inside, David knew that what he was doing was not right. When we are characterized by having a godly heart, the Holy Spirit will not allow us to remain in a sinful state. As soon as we commit an offense against God the Holy Spirit will bring it to our attention. A heart that is not seeking for God has become calloused to the Spirit and does not even notice when it has offended God.
  3. A godly heart is quick to confess sin, repent from it, and submit to whatever God’s response to that sin may be.
  4. Sin always brings consequences. David’s census-taking brought about an intense plague on the nation for three days. In our lives, even if the sin was a momentary slip in a life characterized by obedient following, there will still be consequences. One harsh word spoken will still sting and leave a mark. One unguarded moment will start a chain reaction that will have ripple effects through your community. Don’t fall into the “just-this-once” game of rationalization. It only takes once to unravel the whole deal.
  5. It always comes back to worship. The final word on David in 2 Samuel was that he built an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. At first glance it may seem that this was not that big of a deal, but there are two important aspects to this story that we must look at. First, this altar was built on the spot that the temple would be built by David’s son, Solomon. David was the first to establish the worship of God in a centralized place in Jerusalem. This act would impact the nation for millenium. Secondly, David summarizes the heart and soul of worship when he says, “I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” How many times do we give to God of our time, treasure, and talent out of the left-overs in our life. We work hard all week on our stuff, and then, if there is anything left we throw it to God, as we would throw the table scraps to the family pet. God doesn’t want that. God wants the BEST of ALL that we are. He wants our hearts.

David was a man after God’s own heart, not because he was perfect, but because he was authentically committed to worshipping God in all that He did. He was honest with God and with himself. When he had victory, He gave glory to God. When he messed up he admitted it, repented, and submitted to the authority and discipline of God.

As you move into today, ask yourself what aspect of your life needs to become more like David’s.

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