In our study last week of 1Chronicles 18, 19, and 20, we observed the victories which God was granting to Israel under David's leadership. Unfortunately, there are times when victories from God can make us overconfident, and we begin to drift away from God. That is the case before us as we examine chapter 21.
The Chronicler tells us that satan stood up against Israel by moving David to number them. This is a loaded verse when you consider the questions it raises:
- Why does the parallel verse in 2Samuel say that the anger of the Lord incited David to do this? How did satan move David? And what was wrong with numbering the people anyway?
In 2Samuel 24, we read,
2Sam. 24:1 Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah."
This seems like a blatant contradiction when we compare it to the verse before us. Who did this, God or satan? The short answer is, "They both did."
You see, this is simply another instance of the spiritual world's "behind-the-scenes" events that we know take place. The book of Job gives us insight into this interplay between God and satan.
As you recall, the Lord and satan had a conversation about what a great guy Job was. God described him saying,
Job 1:8 "...there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, fearing God and turning away from evil."
But satan just said that Job feared God because of the many blessings he'd been given. He said,
Job 1:11-12 "But put forth Your hand now and touch all that he has; he will surely curse You to Your face." Then the LORD said to Satan, "Behold, all that he has is in your power, only do not put forth your hand on him." So Satan departed from the presence of the LORD.
The devil caused the loss of all of Job's property, and the death of his children.
The next time the Lord and satan had a conversation, God pointed out that Job hadn't stopped being good, saying,
Job 2:3 " ...there is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man fearing God and turning away from evil. And he still holds fast his integrity, although you incited Me against him to ruin him without cause."
Although satan had brought about Job's losses, it had been God who gave him permission to do so. Thus, the Lord said that He Himself had been incited against Job. And so we see that although the devil does his work, it is only as God allows him to. The devil is just accomplishing God's plan, and so God takes credit for it all (Col. 1:16).
In this case, God was going to use this to judge Israel, who had made the Lord angry with their sin (2Sam. 24:1).
When we read that satan moved David to number Israel, it begs the question, "How did satan move David to do anything?" Remember what John told us, that someone who is born of God,
1John 5:18 ...the evil one does not touch him.
And yet, we see that...
1John 5:19 ...the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
The devil cannot touch us, but the world is in his power. And so he uses the world to try and move us into doing his will.
Remember,when the devil wanted Eve to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowlege of good and evil, he deceived her by showing her how good the fruit looked, by questioning the truth of God's Word (Gen 3:1) and tempting her with the promise of being like God (Gen. 3:5).
When the devil wanted Jesus to do his will, he challenged Him to satisfy His hunger by turning stones into bread. He challenged Him to test the truth of the Word by jumping from the pinnacle of the temple. And, he offered Him all the kingdoms of the world if He would just worship him.
In both instances, satan was using three things of the world that is in his power:
1John 2:16 For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world.
The devil will use the desire of our flesh, our visual attraction to worldly things instead of the things of God, and our pride of life to try and move us.
Last question: What was so wrong about David desiring to number the people? The psalm that he penned about this event was Psalm 30 tells us what was going on in his head at the time:
Psa. 30:6 Now as for me, I said in my prosperity, "I will never be moved."
Back in chapter 17, David had been so humbled by the fact that God would make him king and bless him. Now, he's fallen into the "I will never be moved," category. After so many military victories, he's begun to think that he is something special. He has fallen into pride. He's thinking he's pretty big stuff, and wants to know just how many people over whom he is king.
As the proverb says,
Prov. 16:18 Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling.
David's nephew Yo-AWB was over the entire army. He had already proven himself to be loyal to David (2Sam. 12), and yet he can't help questioning this command of David's.
These are not David's people, they are God's. And God already knows how many of them there are. Yo-AWB knows that to do such a thing will "be a cause of guilt to all Israel."
But David didn't want to hear it, so Yo-AWB did his job. This is where David's sin became Yo-AWB's sin. Now some would argue, saying, "Yo-AWB had to do it. The command of the king is law, and it is not right to break the law!" True, we must submit ourselves to the authorities over us, whether they be kings, judges, or employers.
Titus 3:1 ...be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed
It is a sin to disobey. However, there is a time when obedience is sin. That is when obeying the command would cause you to personally sin. Then, insubordination is allowable, and civil disobedience is a requirement.
This is why Shad-RAK, May-SHAK, and Ab-ADE Neg-O refused to bow down to the the statue of Nebuchadnezzar. This is why, when the Council commanded Peter and John not to continue teaching in the name of Jesus, they responded,
Acts 5:29 ..."We must obey God rather than men."
There may be a time when your boss tells you to play with some numbers or lie to a customer. You must say, "No," even if it means losing your job. Jo-AWB should have said, "No," even if it meant losing his head.
2Samuel 24 tells us that it took nine months and twenty days to get back to Jerusalem. When Yo-AWB came back, he had not counted either the tribes of Levi or Benjamin, because David's order to count the people was a detestable abomination to him. It would seem that although he started out by obeying David, he hit a point where he said, "No, I'm not doing this anymore. This is completely wrong. I'll give him what I've done, but no more."
It would also seem that David came to this same conclusion, although a bit later. You see, there is a note in 2Samuel not included in 1Chronicles. When David was given these numbers from Yo-AWB, he didn't gloat pridefully over them. He began to realize what he had done.
2Sam. 24:10-11 Now David's heart troubled him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly." When David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David's seer...
Gad the seer had a message from God: Judgment was coming upon Israel. But unlike most judgments, David was being given a choice as to what their punishment would be. He could select from three years of famine, three months of being swept away by their foes, or three days under the judgment of God.
The writer of Hebrews said,
Heb. 10:31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.
And yet David demonstrated that he would rather fall into the hands of God than anything else. Because it is better to trust in God when He's angry than any man who is happy.
God's judgment was swift and severe. Seventy thousand men died from the pestilence. More would have died, but God's mercy prevailed. He stopped the destroying angel just short of Jerusalem.
David saw how close the angel was to destroying Jerusalem, and prayed a prayer of urgent intercession. "Wasn't it me who commanded to number the people, Lord? So please judge me, and not the people."
David believed that it had been his sin alone that caused the pestilence to plague the land. He didn't think it was right that everyone suffer for what he had done. But David didn't understand that God had been angered at all the sin of Israel (2Sam. 24:1).
Maybe it's because I'm getting older and have more years behind me now, but I have begun realize more than ever that we really hardly ever know the whole story. When something happens, we get our single perspective on it, and determine what is right and wrong based on that. We judge based on that, we pray based on that, and we believe it to be truth.
The problem is, we're seldom 100% right. And just as David was praying based on his limited knowledge, so too we are often praying based on our limited knowledge. Fortunately,
Rom. 8:26-27 ...the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
More and more my prayers are being directed by God instead of directing God. I have learned that because I do have limited knowledge, I need to be led by the Spirit in my prayer life. Very rarely anymore do I presume to tell the Lord what to do. I have found such delight in telling the Lord often,
Luke 22:42 "...not my will, but Yours be done."
David was commanded to build an altar to the Lord where the angel had stopped his massacre. The location was the threshing floor of Jebusite named Or-NAWN (also called Ar-av-NAW).
Or-NAWN had been threshing wheat when he turned around and saw the angel. While his sons ran away, he then turned to see the king and the elders of Israel coming up the hill to him. This was certainly a strange day!
King David told Or-NAWN that he needed to buy the threshing floor in order to build an altar, so that the plague would be restrained. Or-NAWN told David he could have it for free, as well as all the supplies and sacrifices he needed.
But David said, "I will not offer a sacrifice that costs me nothing," and paid him a huge amount of money: 50 shekels of silver for the threshing floor and oxen (2Sam. 24:24), and 600 shekels of gold for the entire site.
600 shekels of gold is equivalent to 15 pounds. In the past year (2003-2004), gold prices have fluctuated above and below $400 per ounce. So, by today's prices, David paid about $96,000 for this!
David's sacrifice was far from free, although it could have been, because he had a choice. Today, we have a choice as well. We can offer up ourselves in church for free, for there is no admission price. No one checks to see if you're putting money in the offering. You could go to church for the rest of your life, and it wouldn't cost you a dime.
On the other hand, you could also realize that worship is supposed to be expensive.
- Mary understood this when she anointed Jesus' feet with perfume that was worth well over $20,000 (John 12:3-5).
- Gideon understood this, when, in the time of terrible famine, he offered up to the Lord an entire goat, bread, and broth (Judges 6:19).
- The churches in Macedonia during Paul's day understood this as well. Paul told the Corinthians that...
2Cor. 8:2-3 ...their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord
This is how the churches were provided for - by the sacrificial giving of Christians. Interestingly, this is ultimately how the temple would be founded as well, for we're going to find out in 2Chronicles 3 that this 12 1/2 acre site David bought would eventually be called, "Temple Mount."
And so David knew that it's not sacrifice if it's not a sacrifice, and refused to offer the Lord something that cost him nothing.
David build the altar and offered the sacrifices to God. Amazingly, fire came down from heaven and consumed the offerings!
This was not unheard of, for it had happened before. Remember that when the tabernacle was constructed and Aaron made the offerings,
Lev. 9:24 Then fire came out from before the LORD and consumed the burnt offering and the portions of fat on the altar...
And when Elijah was up against the prophets of BAH-al, the fire of the Lord fell and consumed the offering (1Kings 18:38).
Later, when Solmon dedicates the temple, we will see that...
2Chr. 7:1 ...fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the LORD filled the house.
For this reason, many scholars believe that when Cain and Abel offered their sacrifices, that the way Cain realized that the Lord had no regard for his offering (Gen. 4:5) was that it was not consumed by fire from heaven.
But what happens when there is no sacrifice? Our God is still a consuming fire (Deut. 4:24), and there is no way to change that. That's why we see that during Korah's rebellion,
Num. 16:35 Fire also came forth from the LORD and consumed the two hundred and fifty men who were offering the incense.
Naw-DAWB and Ab-ee-HOO were also "fired" when they incurred God's wrath in Leviticus 10. It also happened in Sodom and Gormorrah (Gen. 19:24).
The Bible even ends with the prophetic reminder of this. When the nations gather against the Lord at the end of the Millennial Kingdom, surrounding the camp of the saints,
Rev. 20:9 ...fire came down from heaven and devoured them.
So we see that the fires of God's judgment will always consume one of two things: the sinner, or the sacrifice.
This is the provision that God has made: the substitutionary sacrifice can burn in place of us. This is in fact why Jesus suffered so greatly. Because, if He hadn't become our substitutionary sacrifice, then we ourselves would be consumed. In Luke 12, Jesus said,
Luke 12:49-50 "I have come to cast fire upon the earth; and how I wish it were already kindled! But I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is accomplished!"
Jesus endured that baptism into the fire, so that we would not have to.