David’s Sinful Census

II Samuel 24

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
July 2022

We have been studying the Book of II Samuel.   Today, we come to the final chapter of the book.   It has taken us a year to get to this point.  II Samuel is a book that deals with the reign of King David.

It deals with David’s successes and failures as king.  David lived a thousand years before the time of Christ.  He was Israel’s greatest king.  He ruled for forty years, so this book covers a forty-year period.

It also deals with one of the greatest covenants in the Bible, the Davidic Covenant.  David called it “an everlasting covenant.”  God promised David that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David and that he would have an eternal dynasty and an eternal kingdom.

Now, we come to the last chapter in the book.  It does not end on a positive note.  It does not end with something that is uplifting.  It ends with God being mad at His own people. It ends with David committing a great sin in his old age.

We will see some lessons for old saints in this chapter.  If you are an older believer in the faith, who has known Jesus for a long time, this chapter may speak directly to you.

There are two chapters in the Bible that tell this story.  This story is found in II Samuel 24 and I Chronicles 21.  You really need to read both chapters.  Each on adds important details to the text.

A Difficult Chapter

This is a difficult chapter.  It is a hard chapter.   It may completely change your view of God.   You may have to revise your theology after reading this chapter.   What happens in this chapter?

The nation sins.  God gets mad.  Satan tempts an old saint.  (We so not see that in II Samuel 24 but we do see it in I Chronicles).  David sins and God brings judgment on the nation.

Judgment comes in the form of sickness.  People get sick and they die.  A lot of them die.  What we see in this chapter seems to completely contradict what a lot of Christians believe.

The God of many Christians is not the God of II Samuel 24.  This God got angry.  In some churches, God never gets angry.  He is all love, but the first verse of the chapter says, “Again the ANGER of the Lord BURNED AGAINST ISRAEL” (II Samuel 21:1 NIV).

God would not be a real person if He never got angry.  The Bible says that God is slow to anger but He does get angry.

God does not get angry the way we get angry.  God does not sin when He gets angry.  Most of the time when we get angry, we sin.  God was not moody.  He was not temperamental.  He did not have a bad day.

Not only does God get angry; He gets angry ar BELIEVERS.  God gets angry at His own people.  He still does that today.  In this chapter, He is NOT mad at the Philistines.  He is mad at Israel, and this was not the first time this happened.  It says this happened AGAIN, so it must have happened before this.

Not only does God get angry at believers; He even makes some of them SICK.  You say, “I thought only Satan did that.  God does not make people sick.”  Notice what II Samuel 24:15 says.

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. (NIV)

We have had in our history many outbreaks of infectious disease.  The last one was COVID (2020), but we have had many more before that (e.g., polio, measles, HIV, AIDS, flu, diphtheria).  According to this chapter, some plagues actually come from God.

In this chapter, God sent a plague on His own people.  They got sick and died.  Some might say, “God did it but he did it through a demon.   Demons make people sick.”

There is only one problem.  II Samuel says that the being who did this was an angel, not a demon.  He is called an angel but he is not any angel. This angel is called “The Angel of the Lord” (II Samuel 24:16).

This angel was terrifying.  David was afraid of this angel.  We are not told that in II Samuel, but we are told that in I Chronicles.  But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the Lord. (I Chronicles 21:30 NIV).

This was an angel but not the kind of angels we like to talk about in church. This was not the nice guardian angels that protect us when we are in danger or are in trouble.  This was a Judgment Angel or a Destroyer Angel, like the Death Angel that went around and killed all the firstborn sons in Egypt (Exodus 12).

God spoke to a prophet in the chapter named Gad.  Gad received a word from the Lord.  Gad told David that he got to choose what his punishment would be.  It is the only time in the Bible where God let people choose their punishment.

It is like a parent telling a child to choose their switch.  All of the options were bad.  David could have three months of famine, three years of fleeing from enemies or three days of a deadly plague.  He chose the last one.

David repented.  David offered himself to die in the place of the people.  The prophet Gad told him to build an altar.  The altar was the same place where Solomon’s Temple was built and, according to Jewish tradition, where Abraham offered up Isaac on the altar

David bought the threshing floor from a Gentile.  His name is Araunah (II Samuel 24:18) or Ornan (I Chronicles 21:15).  David built an altar and offers a sacrifice to God on a hill outside of the city and the plague is averted.

God’s wrath is appeased by a sacrifice and people are saved from destruction.  It is a picture of what Jesus one day would do on Calvary.  It is a picture of the gospel.  The book ends with an answered prayer.

David’s Great Sin

What we want to do today is to look at this chapter practically.  We want to talk about David’s great sin and what it means for us today.

Most people who study the life of David or preach about him usually talk about David as a young man killing Goliath or a middle-aged man going after Bathsheba.  Very few speak of David as an old man.  In II Samuel 24 we see David as an old man.

What we see is that David blows it in his old age.  He commits a great sin.  He does something that is not only sinful; he did something that was stupid.  He said, “I have done a very foolish thing” (II Samuel 24:10 NIV).

What was David’s great sin?   He conducted a census.  The result of this census was seventy thousand dead Jews.

That is strange. Why would it be so deadly to count people, to number them.   We have one every ten years in our country, and no one drops dead. Why in the world would seventy thousand people die over a census?

What kind of God would kill seventy thousand people over one measly census?  David committed adultery and murder and seventy thousand did not die.

The answer is that seventy thousand people did NOT die because of one census.  God was already angry with the nation before David did this (II Samuel 24:1).

The nation had already sinned against God before this. Many in the nation supported Absalom and Sheba in their rebellion against David.  They fought against the Lord’s Anointed.

It was not a sin to conduct a census.  In some cases, God tells people to conduct a census.  We have a whole book of the Bible called the Book of Numbers.  If you like math, that must be your favorite book of the Bible, because it is called the Book of Numbers.

There are two censuses in the Book of Numbers.  There is one right after the Hebrews left Egypt (Numbers 1) and one almost forty years later right before they entered the Promised Land (Numbers 26).

It is not wrong to have a census, but a census then meant something different than it means today.  In the Ancient Near East, to number something signifies that it is yours and you own it.

The Jews were God’s chosen people.  Israel was a theocracy and God said that whenever they do a census, they were to pay a temple tax and they were to specifically do that to prevent a plague from taking place.  That may seem strange to us but that is what the Law of Moses said.

Then the Lord said to Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them. (Exodus 30:11-12 NIV)

America is not the chosen people.  God did not make a covenant with our nation like He did with Israel.

We are not under the Law.  These were specific rules given to Israel under the Law

We recognize that all things belong to God. You can count how many shoes you have and still acknowledge that it is all God’s.

We do not have the same command today, but we have the same temptation.  We are tempted to trust in other things rather than in God alone.

I Chronicles 21 tells us that what David told Joab to do was “EVIL in the sight of God” (I Chronicles 21:6 NIV).  It was also demonically inspired.  The one who incited David to do this was SATAN himself (I Chronicles 21:1).

Satan always tempts people to disobey what God says.  He did that in the Garden of Eden.  He still does that today.  All of David’s advisors told him not to do it.  Even Joab told him not to do it and he was not even a spiritual man.

It took nine to ten months to complete the census and I Chronicles 21 says that Joab did not even count everyone.

Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him (I Chronicles 21:6 NIV).  What does that say to us today?  Let’s quickly look at five practical applications from this story for today.

What David’s Sin Says to Us Today

1) Pride is still a problem

David’s big sin was pride.  It is still a big sin today.  It is something that God hates.  The world celebrates pride (Pride Month).  God hates it.  To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behavior and perverse speech (Proverbs 8:13 NIV).  How did David commit pride?

He was too proud to do what God told him to do in His Word.

He was too proud to listen to advise from all his military leaders

He was too proud to trust in God.  He wanted to trust in his military strength.  He had pride in his military. David does not just count his people; he counts his soldiers.

The king’s word, however, overruled Joab and the army commanders; so they left the presence of the king to enroll the FIGHTING MEN of Israel. (II Samuel 24:4 NIV)

Joab reported the number of the FIGHTING MEN to the king (II Samuel 24:9 NIV)

Is this a problem that we have today?  Some of the most arrogant people I have met have been in church.  Most of us have never committed adultery but we may struggle with pride.  God wants us to be humble, treating others better than ourselves.

Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7 NIV)

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength… We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. (Psalm 33:16, 20-21)

2) We make choices

David did not have to sin.  David chose to sin.  Sin was not inevitable.  David did not have to end his life with a big scandal.  That is the way some preachers go out, but you have many others who remain faithful to Christ serving him in their eighties and nineties.

God gives us all a choice.  In order to sin, David had to go against the Word.  He had to go against what Scripture taught and he had to go against what his own friends and advisers told him to do.

Satan tempted him.  He put thoughts in his head and in his mind.  Satan can do that but you do not have to listen to him.  The devil cannot make you do anything.

3) Sin is a lifelong struggle

Don’t expect to reach sinless perfection. Some churches teach that.  They teach that it is possible to be sinlessly perfect in this life.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. (I John 1:8 NIV)

If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (I John 1:10 NIV)

Serving God when you were younger is no guarantee that you will not act like a fool when you are older.  Even old Christians are not immune to sin.  They can sin.  They can commit big sins. David did.  Many other people in the Bible did.

Noah, the man who walked with God, the preacher of righteousness, after the Flood, was found naked, drunk and passed out in his tent.  He was over 600.  You can read about that in Genesis 9.

Moses sinned when he was over a hundred by striking a rock and taking some of God’s glory to himself and was not permitted to enter into the Promised Land.  You can read about that in Numbers 20.

Solomon worshiped idols in his old age and built temples to pagan gods.  For WHEN SOLOMON WAS OLD his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. (I Kings 11:4 ESV).

Many Christians start well but they do not finish well.  That is why the Apostle Paul said, “let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (I Corinthians 10:12 NIV).

4) We should make progress against sin

In the natural realm, we stop growing after a certain age.  Spiritually, we never stop growing.  We should continue to grow spiritually until we go to meet the Lord.  Growth is a part of life. Healthy things grow.

You should be able to look back on your life and see some progress.  If you are saved, if you are a child of God and you look back at how you were as a Christian twenty years ago and there is no change, we have a problem.  Have you made spiritual progress in your own life?

David did.  David was not the same man he was a few years ago.  When David sinned by committing adultery and murder, he had to be confronted by a prophet to his face.  Nathan the prophet had to confront him and say, “You are the man.”  He did not repent on his own.

This time.  David has the soldiers counted.  It takes nine months to complete.  As soon as it was done, we are told that David’s heart smote him.

And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. (II Samuel 24:10 KJV).  His conscience bothered him. Many people can sin and have no problem about it.

Many sin and their heart does not bother them.  They do not think they have done anything wrong.  When David sins, it bothers him.  He is spiritually sensitive.  He was not always that way.  This time, he did not need a prophet to rebuke him.  He rebuked himself.  His own conscience rebuked him.

When David committing adultery and murder, he sinned “I have sinned against the Lord” (II Samuel 7:13 NIV).  That is a rather weak response.

After conducting a sinful census, David said, “I have sinned GREATLY in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a VERY FOOLISH thing.” (II Samuel 24:10 NIV)

He did not have to wait a year later to repent.  As soon as it was done, he repented.  Does that describe you?  Are you spiritually sensitive?  Do you have a tender heart?

There are many other signs of spiritual growth here.  David is told to offer a sacrifice, but he does not want to do it for free.  He wants to pay for it.  He did not pay a cheap amount either. David did not believe in cheap religion.

The king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” (II Samuel 24:24 NIV)

David paid fifty pieces of silver (II Samuel 24:24)) and six hundred pieces of gold (I Chronicles 21:25).  Keep in mind, he paid not only for the animals and altar but for the whole land itself.

David also puts his faith in God rather than man.  When he was given three choices for punishment, he fell at the mercy of the judge.  He trusted God.

Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” (II Samuel 24:14 NIV).

5) We can expect our spiritual battles to change

This is very interesting.  The sins you struggle with when you are twenty may not be the same ones you struggle with when you are eighty or ninety.  Certain sins are associated with different stages of life. The Apostle Paul says to Timothy to flee youthful lusts (II Timothy 2:22 KJV).

Certain sins are associated with the youth.  What are some of the sins of youth?  Rebellion to authority, drugs, alcohol, violence, illicit sex.  Those can be a problem with older people, but they are especially a problem with young people.  As we get older, our sins may change.

David’s big sin in middle age was LUST.  It was a sin of the flesh.  David had a big sex scandal with Bathsheba in the Palace in Jerusalem.  He committed adultery with another man’s wife, and it resulted in the birth of a child.

David’s big sin in his old age was not lust but PRIDE.  It was a sin of the spirit, not the body.  It is an invisible sin.

Sins of the flesh are external (adultery, drunkenness).  Sins of the spirit are sins of the mind and thoughts.  They are internal (bitterness, unforgiveness).

The elderly are more tempted by sins of the spirit.  They are more tempted by pride.  They tend to be more “arrogant, prideful and judgmental.”[1]  They have lived longer.  They have had more experiences.  They know more things.  They have more accomplishments.  That can lead to pride.

This brings us to the end of the Book of II Samuel.  We have completed our study of the life of King David.  This study has been a blessing to me and, I trust, to you as well.  On August 14, we will begin a new study on the Book of Revelation.  We are looking forward to a study of the last book of the Bible.

[1] https://www.myplainview.com/opinion/editorials/article/Senior-Spotlight-Seniors-face-their-own-set-of-8393848.php

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