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2 Samuel 20:2 [A]ll the men of Israel deserted David to follow Sheba son of Bikri. 

Absalom was so popular, that even though he was dead, a man named Sheba continued his revolt. If Sheba was not put down at once, he would surely divide the nation. This was an emergency that required immediate action, so David sent troops to eliminate Sheba before he could get organized.

Sheba fled to Abel Beth Maakah: a fortified city in northern Israel. There he was found by David’s troops, who began to batter down the city wall (2 Samuel 20:15). Then a woman inside spoke with David’s general, and offered to give him Sheba’s head, if he would agree to withdraw. David’s general agreed, and Sheba’s head was thrown over the wall. The city was saved, and so was the nation of Israel.

Division is a serious threat to nations, organizations and churches. There are frequently some who want to seize control that does not belong to them. Unless they are treated firmly the organization will be hurt. Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended (Proverbs 22:10), says Proverbs.

2 Samuel 21:15 David went down with his men to fight against the Philistines, and he became exhausted

David was still a warrior, but he was growing old. His strength was nearly gone when he was attacked by a massive Philistine who was heavily armed. It appeared that David’s life was over, when one of his men came to the rescue, and struck down the Philistine. Then David’s men swore to him, saying, Never again will you go out with us to battle, so that the lamp of Israel will not be extinguished (2 Samuel 21:17).

Part of the wisdom of age is knowing our limitations. If we pretend we are still in our prime, we will likely meet with injury or death. Instead of trying to prove ourselves, we should accept our limitations, and preserve our lives for additional service. David was able to serve God for many more years because he stopped going to war.

2 Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, Go and take a census of Israel and Judah

We are not told why the Lord was angry at Israel, but the nation was often in spiritual decline. Whenever this happened, God was known to afflict his people, to remind them of their need for him. Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I obey your word (Psalm 119:67), wrote the Psalmist. 

It is even less clear why God incited David to take a national census. If God was angry at the nation, why not send a plague? Instead, God incited David to take a census, then punished the nation for David’s sin. Since taking a census was not forbidden, David’s sin seems to be pride. He wanted to know the extent of his military power (2 Samuel 24:2), for his own glory.

Pride is more dangerous than many people think. When pride comes, then comes disgrace (Proverbs 11:2). Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18). Pride brings a person low (Proverbs 29:23). And, God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble (James 4:6). 

But here is something else to think about: if God does not tempt anyone to sin (James 1:13), why did he incite David to sin? In fact, a parallel account puts the blame on Satan. Satan . . . incited David to take a census (1 Chronicles 21:1), we read. David is clearly sinning, but who is to blame: God, David or Satan? 

The same problem occurs elsewhere. Moses and Aaron performed all these wonders before Pharaoh, but the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 11:10). Instead of softening Pharaoh’s heart, so he would obey, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so he would disobey. So who was to blame: God or Pharaoh?

Other examples could also be given (Joshua 11:20, 1 Kings 22:21-23, Ezekiel 14:9), but the clearest are Herod and Pontius Pilate, who conspired to crucify Jesus. This was a sin of the highest order, but they only did what [God’s] power and will had decided beforehand should happen (Acts 4:28), wrote Luke.

But if God decided beforehand what would happen, why were Herod and Pilate to blame? And why does God still blame us? For who is able to resist his will? (Romans 9:19), asked Paul. 

Along with the Trinity and the two natures of Christ, this is one of the great mysteries of the Bible. We serve a God who is sovereign over all things, including human sin, but in such a way that he is not the source or cause of sin (1 John 1:5). Unless this mystery is firmly held, we will think of God as partially evil, or not in control of the world he created. 

Reflection and Review
How should a church treat people who are divisive?
Why do some people ignore the physical limitations of age?
Why is God hard to understand?