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2 Samuel 24:2 So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are

Joab probably knew this would inflate David’s pride, and cause him to trust in his army more than God, so he opposed the idea. But David insisted, so Joab obeyed. Nearly ten months later, Joab returned with the count. David had over a million able-bodied men who could handle a sword (2 Samuel 24:9). 

David should have been thrilled, but he was troubled. 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 (2 Samuel 24:10), he said.

During the time Joab was away, David likely wrestled with his conscience. Whenever he trusted God he was successful. Whenever he took his eyes off God, he failed. So why was David taking his eyes off God, and putting them on his army? When the numbers came back, David realized how faithful God had been, and how faithless he had been. I have sinned, he said. 

We also sin whenever we put our trust in anything else but God. Family, friends and doctors ought to be trustworthy—but our highest trust is not in them. The same is true for our government and military. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God (Psalm 20:7), wrote David. 

2 Samuel 24:11-12 Before David got up the next morning, the word of the Lord had come to Gad the prophet, David’s seer: Go and tell David, This is what the Lord says: I am giving you three options

God let David choose between three years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies, or three days of plague. Again we see that sin has consequences that repentance may not remove. None of the options David faced would be easy, and he was in deep distress (2 Samuel 24:14).

This is what happens whenever we have to face the consequences of our sin. Whoever steals from their employer, and is found out, goes through deep distress. Whoever cheats on their taxes, and is found out, goes through deep distress. Whoever has an affair, and is found out, goes through deep distress. Almost every day there is someone in the news who is going through deep distress because of what they have done. 

The best time to think about this is not after we sin, but before we sin. There is not much we can do after we sin, but if we think about deep distress before we sin, we might find the presence of mind to avoid it. [T]hrough the fear of the Lord evil is avoided (Proverbs 16:6), says Proverbs. 

David chose three days of plague, not only because it was brief, but because of God’s mercy. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great (2 Samuel 24:14), he said. When we consider all the evil we have done, and the little justice we have received, we will agree with David that God is merciful. The consequences may be severe, but they are always less than we deserve.

2 Samuel 24:15 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

This was not only due to David’s sin, but also to the people’s sin. God was angry at the nation (2 Samuel 24:1) and this would get their attention. When things are going well, we might pray a little less, give a little less, serve a little less, and sin a little more. But when tragedy strikes, we come back to the importance of knowing and serving God. It is not the way it ought to be, but often the way it is. 

2 Samuel 24:16-17 When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the Lord relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, Enough! Withdraw your hand. The angel of the Lord was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the Lord, I have sinned.

The plague was partially due to David’s sin, and he took responsibility. I, the shepherd, have done wrong (2 Samuel 24:17b), he said. David was a good shepherd most of the time, but in this case he was a bad shepherd, and the people suffered because of him.

This contrasts with Jesus Christ who is a good shepherd all the time. I am the good shepherd . . . . I lay down my life for the sheep (John 10:14-15), he said. Many of David’s sheep died because of his sin, but the good shepherd died for our sins, so we could live forever with him.

2 Samuel 24:18 On that day Gad went to David and said to him, Go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite

When David arrived, Arunah was already there, with oxen and wood for the sacrifice. He offered them to David free of charge, but David insisted on paying. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing (1 Samuel 24:14), he said. So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site (1 Chronicles 21:25). That was a great amount of money even for David, but the Lord accepted his sacrifice, and the plague stopped.

Sacrifice is important to God because it proves our commitment to him. It also proves God’s commitment to us. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement (Romans 3:25), wrote Paul. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy (Hebrews 10:14), says Hebrews. And, This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice (1 John 4:10), wrote John. Whatever we sacrifice for God is nothing compared to the sacrifice he made for us. 

Reflection and Review
How did David sin by taking a census?
Why does sin cause deep distress?
Why do we need the sacrifice of Christ?