2 Samuel 24:1-14
One of the wonderful things about the Bible is that it does not hide the weaknesses of its heroes. We learn from the lives of such men as David that the best of God’s people are at times weak and do sin grievously. But since we are all frail human beings, we have no right to point the finger, criticize or judge another for as someone once said, “There but for the grace of God, go I.”
A second wonderful thing about the Bible is the revelation of repentance. The word ‘repentance’ means ‘to turn around’, ‘to change one’s mind’. Ancient Rabbis taught that God created repentance before he created man. Isn’t that an amazing thought! Repentance is the pathway to forgiveness.
That does not mean that we should take repentance lightly, as if it were an ‘easy way out’ that makes us less sensitive to sin. Not at all. To repent is to have a sincere heart and mind change about what we have done; to face it squarely, call it what it is – sin, and with an act of our will, turn away from it and seek God’s help in avoiding it in the future.
When King David sinned by committing adultery and murder, he repented to the depths of his soul when the prophet Nathan confronted him. (2 Samuel 12) He was forgiven but at the same time, our decisions have consequences. As we saw earlier, the child which Bathsheva bore to him died. Later he suffered the heartbreak connected with his son Amnon. Then Absalom, another son, was killed.
Now we see yet another sin which David committed and would soon regret. It may seem curious to you at first, but bear with me. What was his sin? He counted the warriors of Israel.
Now you might quickly say, ‘What’s so bad about that?’
Israel at that time was not the democracy it is today. Israel was a theocracy, which means that God was truly the King and David served as His representative. Moreover the children of Israel were God’s people and their army was His army. David’s numbering of the warriors was as if he was telling God, “I’m not sure you have this under control. I want to know for myself how big my army is.”
We get some light that validates this interpretation from I Chronicles 21 which recounts the same event. In verse 1 we read, Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.
The Bible does not contradict itself; it explains itself. What Samuel didn’t write, the author of the Chronicles filled in. And, as we believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God, we ought to appreciate this lesson. 2 Samuel 24 is an occasion where God permitted Satan to tempt the king for remember, Satan is God’s tool. A reading of the book of Job makes that immensely clear.
However, there are three things all of us need to understand about haSatan (as he’s called in Hebrew). In tempting God’s people to sin, 1) he always goes too far and ends up being exposed; 2) when Satan is up to something, so is God; and 3) when Satan is up to something big, God is up to something much bigger.
Another thing to learn from this chapter is that sorrow follows sin, sooner or later. If you have any thought towards God, you will eventually regret what you did. Look at 2 Samuel 24:10 David was conscience-striken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.’
Recognizing his error, David doesn’t wallow in depression over his mistake. He turns quickly to the Lord. Realizing our failure and repenting quickly is a sign of spiritual maturity. The people most to be pitied are those who feel no sorrow for the evils they have done and at the final judgment it will be too late to repent.
David had learned well that God is gracious and merciful toward the sinner. In vs.14 he says: I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for His mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.’
Have you learned in life that God is often far more gracious with your sin than your fellowman? Have you learned that God is far more gracious towards you than you are to yourself? Repentance is a wonderful gift of God’s grace. It is He who grants us the ability and the strength to turn away from sin and turn towards Him. He is just, yes; but He is also merciful and compassionate for He knows better than we do that we are fragile beings, dependent on His care for our very life.