II Samuel 24. The Census. A Most Difficult Lesson.

Key Notes: The census. God and the problem of evil. Is God good?

Census of the people of Israel was done several times during its history. The reason why this census, near the end of David’s life was controversial, in fact, dead wrong, is not obvious on the surface. That God was directly involved in doing the census makes it most difficult. We will learn much in the process of trying to unravel it.

24:1" Again the anger of God was kindled against Israel and He incited David to number the
people." “Satan stood up against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” (I Chron. 21:1)
24:2 David so ordered.
24:3 Joab objected. “May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are… but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?”  IChron.21:3 adds “Why should he (David) bring guilt upon Israel?”
24:4  David insisted.

24:5 Joab and the army commanders went east of Jordan up to Gilead and across to Phoenicia, and down to the cities of the Canaanites and into the Negev. IChron.21:6 adds that Joab did not include the tribes of Levi or Benjamin because he hated the whole idea.
24:9 There were 800,000 fighting men in Israel and 500,000 in Judah. IChron.27:24 says that this number was not entered into David’s chronicles.
24:10 Now David’s conscience was aroused and he confessed sin to the Lord.
24:11 Gad, David’s prophet, presented him with three punishment options:
            Three years of famine.
            Three months of war.
            Three days of pestilence.
24:14 David chose to fall under God’s hand rather than man’s. He chose pestilence.
24:15 70,000 died, all over the country.

24:16 When the angel of death approached Jerusalem God stopped the plague. The angel was standing on the threshing floor of Araunah.
24:17 David interceded for the people. The sin was his. The sheep had done nothing wrong.
24:18 God, through Gad the prophet, spoke to David and instructed him to make an altar on the threshing floor.
24:21 David asked Araunah to buy the threshing floor for an altar, and although Araunah would have given it freely, David refused to offer sacrifice that was not costly. He bought the threshing floor and oxen for 50 shekels of silver.
24:25 When the offering was made and prayers were said for the land, God stopped the plague.

"Again" God was angry. The first anger may be in II Sam.21 where God was angry because Saul had killed the Gibeonites, whom Joshua had sworn to protect hundreds of years before.
The two incidents are similar. In IISam.21 there was famine for three years and the seven sons of Saul are executed. In II Sam.24, 70,000 die of plague. At the end in both cases God heeded prayers for the land. But in this incident, no sin is described.

What do we know about census-taking?
Numbers 1–4 was the first census, done in the wilderness after escape from Egypt. A leader from each tribe numbered the males above 20 years of age that were capable of fighting. The tribe of Levi was excluded. The number was 603,550. The law said that there was to be a half-shekel ransom for each man numbered “…that there be no plague among them when you number them. “ (Ex.30:12).

A second census was taken in Num.26 after the plague brought on by Baal worship. The number was 601,730. The number at the time of this most-recent census was 1.3 million. That must represent a population greater than 5 million.

A much later census was taken after the Jews returned from the Exile (Ezra.2:2; Neh.7:5–66). That number was 42,360.

Clearly something was wrong with David’s census. Satan incited him. God was angry with Israel and allowed Satan to tempt David. Joab objected and did not complete the work. David’s conscience was smitten and he confessed sin. Josephus thought they had forgotten to collect the half-shekel ransom, but that is not mentioned at any point in the story. It may have contributed.

The main reason appears that David was acting out of pride. The hint we have is that at the end of the previous chapter (IISam.23) there is a list of David’s thirty-seven warrior-heroes. Israel was at peace, and David was able to luxuriate in the accomplishments of his regime and his power. His power was best demonstrated by his army. It is easy to glory in numbers. Israel had grown proud and complacent.

On two other occasions, David attributed his trials (not temptations) to God.
“If the Lord has incited you against me, may He accept an offering” . (ISam.26:19)
“If he is cursing because the Lord has said to him ‘Curse David’ then who shall say ‘Why have you done so?’” (IISam.16:10)

But on this occasion God incited David. We will take up the problem with some questions.

Is God good?
How does God’s providence work with respect to evil?
What are the consequences of believing that God is not good?
What are some solutions to the problem of evil?
What is the overall conclusion in this case? In general?

I. Is  God good? Seven times in the Psalms David says that God is good. There are many other quotations we could cite, but we choose these to assure ourselves that David knows that God is good.

“…good and upright is the Lord.” (Psa.25:8)
“…do good in Thy good pleasure unto Zion.” (Psa.51:18)
“Answer me, O Lord, for Your loving-kindness is good.” (Psa.69:16)
“Thou, O Lord, art good and forgiving, abounding in steadfast love….” (Psa.86:5)
“Because Thy steadfast love is good, deliver me.” (Psa.109:21)
”Let Thy good Spirit lead me on a level path.” (Psa.143:10)
“The Lord is good to all, and His compassion is over all that He has made.” (Psa.145:9)

II. How does God’s providence work with respect to evil? His program is flexible.

God prevents some people from doing evil:
“I also withheld thee (Abimelech) from sinning against me. “ (Gen.20:6)
“Keep back Thy servant also from presumptuous sins….” (Psa.19:13)

God does not always put obstacles in the way of the sinful disposition.
“God left him (Hezekiah), to try him that he  might know all that was in his heart.” (II Chron.32:31)
“So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.” (Psa.81:12)
“God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity.” (Rom.1:24–25

God overrules and redirects the acts of sinful men.
“You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive. “ (Gen.50:20)
“Against thy holy servant Jesus... Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel were gathered  together, to do what ever Thy plan had predestined to take place.” (Acts 4:27)

God determines the bounds of evil and effects of human actions.
“Behold all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.” (Job.1:12)
“He will not let you to be tempted beyond your strength but with the temptation will also provide the way to escape....” (ICor.10:13)

III. The sin of thinking that God is not good.
Eve’s temptation, the original temptation, was based on the premise that God was withholding good from her by preventing her from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and becoming like God.
If God is not good, then He does not exist. A case for atheism is made by those who say that God is not good.

If God does not love us, then we may ignore his laws and seize control of our own destinies.

Attributing evil to God is blasphemy. Saying that Jesus cast out demons by Satan is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, an unforgivable sin. Matt.12:22–32

Much sin is due to despair of God’s goodness and His Laws as in Eve’s temptation.
I might as well buy a term paper; I cannot pass otherwise.
I’m never going to get married. I might as well go to bed with anyone who will have me.
I can’t make my wife happy on this income. I’ll borrow from the petty cash fund at the office.
Getting drunk is the only way out of my misery.

IV Some solutions to the problem of evil.

A. God is all; all is God. Evil is an illusion. (Monism, Hinduism, Christian Science.)

B. God is real; evil is real. God is finite and in an eternal struggle with evil. (Dualism, Zoroastrianism.)

C. God is good. He created mankind with the authority to choose good. Mankind rebelled and was condemned to die. God came to our world and paid the penalty for our sin Himself. (Christian theism and the substitutionary atonement.)

V. An attempted resolution of IISam.24.
David and Israel were proud of their exploits and accomplishments. In a period of peace they sat back and reveled in their power, the prowess of their fighting men, and the mass of the army. Satan accused David [of pride]. God was angry. He delivered Israel over to demonstrate the sin of pride by numbering the people. Joab protested that David was out of line. David’s confession shows that the idea was in his mind and that he accurately reflected Israel’s spiritual state. The plague burned. It was stopped by repentance, confession and sacrifice.

Take-home message:
” Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him who glories glory in this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who practice steadfast love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these things I delight, says  the Lord.” (Jer. 9:23–24)

David said that he would not offer to God that which cost him nothing. We should not go into God’s house and present ourselves with empty hands. (Ex.23:15). Sacrifice is costly or it is not sacrifice.