Read: 1 Chronicles 19-21
Much of this narrative was covered in earlier posts David and Bathsheba and David’s Kingdom Reestablished; The Census from 2 Samuel. However, it’s interesting that the writer of Chronicles, presumably Ezra, chooses not to elaborate on Bathsheba or Absalom (in particular), but David’s Census–not that we need to discuss twice! (see 2 Samuel 24). Instead, we focus on events and people with a special emphasis on God’s compassion and grace. Have no doubt, sin is dealt with harshly and facts are not altered to create a friendlier narrative. The author simply leaves those details to another writer and draws us to learn how God cares and guides his people.
Chapter 19 recounts the foolish new king of the Ammonites, Hanun. Shaving the friendly envoys and cutting off “their garments at the buttocks” (1 Chronicles 19:4) was not a good plan! (This was covered in the David and Bathsheba back in January.)
Chapter 20 begins just like 2 Samuel 11: “In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war,…” but here we skip past the details of Bathsheba, Uriah and Nathan. Instead, we jump past that narrative and read about the super-heavy crown and plunder that resulted from victory at Rabbah (mostly due to Joab’s leadership).
Chapter 21: David’s Census
In 2 Samuel, this account is somewhat of an appendix to the narrative, provided at the very end. In Chronicles, this follows the chronological story of David’s rule (imagine that) which includes not only the horrible result of David’s sin, but the purchase of the land upon which the temple would be built later by Solomon.
The writer begins much differently here:
Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 1 Chronicles 21:1
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. 2 Samuel 24:1
Interesting. Diving in the details a bit reveals some difference in opinion about the translation of the verses. What is clear and consistent is that God did not ask David to take the census — this was something of his own doing. Perhaps this is revealing his humanity, some thread of insecurity or pride. Maybe he was still thinking about Hanun’s ridiculous reaction to his friendly gesture and decided that he would fight with numbers rather than on the battlefield, i.e., my army is bigger than your army, so save yourself some trouble–perhaps. Another thought, following the Chronicles translation, is consistent with the story of Job where it appears that God uses Satan for his purposes in the larger scheme. I really don’t know.
What we do read about in both accounts is Joab is not pleased with the task that he is given, but he does it anyway. He is loyal, but not happy. It took Joab 9 months and 23 days (2 Samuel 24:8) to complete the task:
In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah. 1 Chronicles 21:5
That’s a huge number of fighting men! But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin, because the king’s command was repulsive to him (1 Chronicles 21:6) and Joab was, after all, a hard-headed warrior.
God was not pleased and his punishment was severe. He gave David three options, none of which were good, but the third option relied completely on God’s compassion, so he choose that one:
I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands. 1 Chronicles 21:13
Some 70,000 died as a result of the plague that fell on Israel and David was deeply upset with his careless actions:
Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Lord my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people. 1 Chronicles 21:17
Not only does David boldly confess his sin, he cries out to God and reminds him that this is “your people” — not David’s.
Property Purchased from a Jebusite
The plagues stops and David is directed to build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite (1 Chronicles 21:18). David’s history with the Jebusites goes back a few chapters. In my mind, the requirement to humble himself before God is doubled by having to make a deal with Araunah, a notable non-Israelite, but David is faithful and complies, he buys the property. Ultimately, this becomes the site upon which the temple will be built.
It’s interesting how God uses those outside of Israel as instruments for his purpose. Nothing is beyond God, he is not constrained by any borders we construct.
The weight of the mantle of leadership is heavy. It’s a burden that crushes many who try to carry it themselves. The narrative here reminds me that my own perspective is easily thrown off track when I leave God out of the equation, when I forget (or refuse) to ask God first. In the previous chapters we saw David asking God for approval before taking steps, here we see David begging God for mercy because of his transgression against the nation (not just a few individuals).
Lord, help us to ask you first and, most importantly, give us ears to hear your answer, not the version we want to hear, but what you actually have to say.