A Census & A Price

Written by cycleguy on July 15th, 2010

I have to admit that there have been some stories in the Bible that have stumped me from time to time.  Thanks to some help from those much smarter than me I generally figure out its meaning.  One that held me “under the water” for a period is found in I Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24: David taking the census.   I can understand the whole Bathsheba/Uriah thing with the adultery/murder/cover-up.  I think even the youngest or newest Bible reader/searcher can figure that one out.  But for the longest time I sort of figured “what can be so bad about taking a census to see how may people there are?”  Do you mind if I share some thoughts with you?

There are some significant changes and additions between the 2 Samuel passage and the I Chronicles passage.  While it seems to be just an appendage in 2 Samuel it becomes a pivotal story in I Chronicles.  Looking at that passage is like reading a “Who’s Who in War?”  and “What war is next?”  Then we find this account of David taking a census.  Significance?  Maybe none.  Maybe a lot.  I think the latter because it is between the wars and the preparation for building the Temple (which his son, Solomon, accomplishes).   But in my mind there is something much deeper.   We go from the sin of the census to the meaning of the Temple.  The Temple represented God’s presence but it was also the place of God’s mercy and forgiveness, where sin was atoned for on a daily basis.   Who needed it more at that time than David himself?  His grave sin of taking the census (motivated by pride maybe?) led to God giving 3 options to him and after David’s choice, a stunning outbreak of pestilence and death.  David needed that restoration and forgiveness symbolized by the Temple.

One other thing stands out to me: David’s response to Ornan’s offer of free land.   In verse 22 David said, “Give me the site of the threshing floor that I may build on it an altar to the Lord-give it to me at full price-that the plague may be averted from the people.” Two verses later he stated, “I will not not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” David would not sacrifice without it costing him something.  I am reminded of what Jesus said about paying the price.

Pride is an ugly thing with sometimes horrible consequences.   I/we need to ask ourselves if the price we have to pay is worth our holding onto our pride and “our way.”  We also need to remind ourselves about the mercy and forgiveness that comes in the presence of the Lord.  Do you find pride a difficulty you face?  Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share about this story?  I would welcome hearing them.

This post was inspired by my reading the passage from I Chronicles in the OneYear Bible this morning (Thursday).


27 Comments so far ↓

  1. jasonS says:

    I had wondered about these same passages before. I like where you went with it. I also found it interesting that 1 Chron. 21:1 says “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census…” As I asked God about this a few years ago, the understanding I got was that David was being harassed and rather than trusting God, he looked for earthly means to alleviate his difficulty. As we often find out, we grasp for solutions and sometimes we miss the opportunity to trust God and it costs us.

    Thanks for provoking my thoughts yet again, Bill.

  2. cycleguy says:

    Jason: thanks for the insight on that passage. I saw it but had no idea where to go with it. thanks for sharing your learning. We do often look elsewhere. Thanks for commenting.

  3. Ike says:

    Your post led me to Chronicles today…..it’s been awhile:( This doesn’t have much to do with your post…but I find it interesting that Chronicles does not record David’s sin! Why? When God forgives…He forgets.. and I’m sure rejoicing He does!!!!

    As far as me and “pride”….two tours of cancer and six figures of medical bills puts a damper to my pride. I have been humbled and broken….not a bad place to be:-)

  4. Michael says:

    As to the scriptures you are referring to I have been perplexed for with them as well. As to pride, that is something that I deal with. Growing up in sports and competition, I was taught to be prideful. I was taught to strive to be the best so I could get recognized. Since, I’ve literally received a heart transplant (Ez. 36) pride has no room. Thank you Bill for challenging us again.

  5. Zee says:

    to be honest, i never stumbled upon that story until today, and now i am confused too…

    the first verse of 2 Samuel 24 says that it was the Lord who caused David to make a census…

    Once again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he caused David to harm them by taking a census. “Go and count the people of Israel and Judah,” the Lord told him.

    but then, later, God presents three options of punishment for David to choose? O_O

    Seriously… maybe I am missing something (and this story definitely intrigued me so i am going to dig deeper), yet… God punishes Israel for something He told David to do?

    I don’t get it…

  6. Zee says:

    *ahem*… and then I have read 1 Chronicles 21…

    Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the people of Israel.

    and later,

    God was very displeased with the census, and he punished Israel for it. 8 Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt for doing this foolish thing.”

    *utterly confused*

  7. Tom Raines says:

    I look forward to following this thread and looking into this as I have been fuzzy on why there was sin in taking the census. I do appreciate Jason’s message above that makes sense to me…thanks Bill

  8. cycleguy says:

    Ike: thank God we are forgiven and our sin forgotten. Yep, those types of things sure do humble us. Praying for you and your wife.

  9. cycleguy says:

    Michael: sure can understand the sports thing. Been there done that too. Pride is destructive and a new heart should take up that room. well put.

  10. cycleguy says:

    Zee: Utterly confused? Join the club. There are just some things I don’t and won’t understand, especially about God. I think Jason gives a pretty good idea in his comment. Sorry I opened a can of worms for you. 🙂

  11. cycleguy says:

    Tom: I look forward to hearing some thoughts about it also. I too appreciate what Jason said.

  12. Zee says:

    Sorry I opened a can of worms for you – actually i gotta thank you for that – now i can go fishin’ 😀

    i agree with what Jason said, but my main confusion is WHO told (or made) David take that census… gonna look into Hebrew tonight…

  13. cycleguy says:

    Zee: Fish away! Just come back with something. Hebrew? Yikes!! I feel really small now. 😀

  14. Zee says:

    Bill: *shrug* i like languages… and interlinear Bible helps 😀

    come back with something – i certainly will. not sure if it will make any sense, but i will try 🙂

  15. cycleguy says:

    Zee: I am sure you will come back with something worthwhile. We are counting on you (but there is no pressure). LOL

  16. Zee says:

    Bill: haha. my former teacher once recommended me for a job… “no pressure, but i highly recommended you.”… I’ve been working at the Chamber ever since 😀

  17. cycleguy says:

    Zee: he was right see? We will look forward to wise words from the “Zee woman.” (Again…no pressure). 😀

  18. Jaycee (E.A) says:

    I LOVE that scripture where David says that He won’t offer any sacrifice to God that costs him nothing. It blows my mind every single time. Although, I seem to have missed that part about him wanting to pay the FULL PRICE for the threshing floor, now that I think about it…when we get discounts for items we take those items for granted. WOW.

    Beautiful post.

  19. Jaycee (E.A) says:

    Hope u don’t mind, I love this message so much and would like to share it on my sidebar as a favorite post for the day.

  20. jeff harris says:

    I think the passages are about pride. Rather than trusting God to multiply his troops/people as promised David decided to take matters in his own hands and not rely on God. Not a good idea then or now.
    Oh my have I had battles with Pride. Let me count the ways. As a very successful, “Self made (LOL)”millionaire by the age of 30 I took all of the credit for all of the smart and brilliant things that I and I alone had accomplished. God was on a back burner as I was too busy with other things. While I was reaping the rewards of the world something was missing.
    A few years ago I retired from the venture capital world and have since spent all of the God given talent and abilities on dealing with issues of alleviating poverty.
    Nothing seems to be missing. I think this is where I am supposed to be. The rewards are no longer worldly things they are even better.
    I too was raised with the idea I needed to take care of myself. No one else is going to do it. Be all you can be. Work hard. Etc. Etc. Etc.
    I think being proud of things that get accomplished is OK as long as I and everyone knows it’s God and not me and giving thanks all along the way.

  21. Linda M says:

    Hi cycleguy,
    it says in the Scripture chapters you mention here that God was angry again with Israel.

    David was maybe left to his own wisdom and solutions? Being tempted by Satan he succumbed to measuring his strength by the number of the soldiers in his army. That was I believe how the other nations measured their strength. The one with the most soldiers and chariots wins.

    Was this when God left the tabernacle at Shiloh? David states that God says he is to build a temple and offer burnt offerings on the altar there at the Threshing Floor. God sends down fire to consume David’s burnt offering and peace offering just as he did with the offering of Moses in the desert Tabernacle. After David did this the plague stopped. God was satisfied.

    David performed the function of a priest at the Threshing Floor.
    Acts 15 talks about the raising up again of David’s tabernacle.
    Other Scriptures are
    Amos 9:11, Isaiah 16:5, 2 Samuel 6, Acts 15.

  22. cycleguy says:

    Jaycee: that struck me also. And I am honored that you would think it that good to highlight it. Thanks.

    Folks: you gotta hop over to Jaycee’s blog and read hers. She has some very good stuff.

  23. cycleguy says:

    Jeff: WOW! thanks for an awesome testimony. It is so cool to see someone with their feet on the ground and serving others and desiring to do what God wants them to do. I pray your life gets richer as you give yourself away.

  24. cycleguy says:

    Linda: I Chron.21 does tell us the ark and the altar of burnt offering were in Gibeon. Why God was angry with Israel we are not told. He was told to raise an altar for the Lord on the threshing floor. Thanks for the comment and Scripture.

  25. Michelle says:

    Ok, you drew me in. I decided to search it out and found something interesting. First of all, I have this book called “Suffering and the Sovereignty of God” by Piper and Justin Taylor. Great book, by the way. It really changed how I look at evil in the world, but I need good reminders so it gets to my heart. So if you don’t mind, I am going to quote something from page 46-47 of this book, chapter 2 written by Mark Talbot. “Indeed, some biblical passages, such as Isaiah 19:2, portray God as
    moving others to do evil: “I will stir up Egyptians against Egyptians, and they will fight, each against another and each against his neighbor, city against city, kingdom against kingdom” (see also 9:11). Second Samuel 24:1 states that “the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel” and so “he incited David against them” by inciting David to count the Israelites.25 Moreover, reading Job 1:6-12 prompts the conclusion that when God said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that
    there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who
    fears God and turns away from evil?” in verse 8, he was actually putting
    Job in Satan’s gunsights.
    I have belabored the Scriptures in order to drive home this point: as
    one of my students said rather wonderfully in responding to open theism,
    “Open theists are trying to let God off the hook for evil. But God
    doesn’t want to be let off the hook.” The verses that I have cited establish
    that Scripture repudiates the claim that God does evil while at the
    same time everywhere implying that God ordains any evil there is. To
    say that God “ordains” something is to say that he has planned and purposed
    and willed it from before the creation of the world—that is, from
    before time began.26 And whatever God has eternally planned and purposed
    and willed—whatever he has in that sense foreordained—
    inevitably takes place; to say that God has ordained (or foreordained)
    something is to say that he has determined that it will take place.27 As
    Isaiah puts it, “The LORD of hosts has sworn, ‘As I have planned, so shall
    it be, and as I have purposed, so shall it stand’. . . . For the LORD of hosts
    has purposed, and who will annul it?” (14:24, 27). Nothing—no evil
    thing or person or event or deed—falls outside God’s ordaining will.
    Nothing arises, exists, or endures independently of God’s will. So when
    even the worst of evils befall us, they do not ultimately come from anywhere
    other than God’s hand.
    Furthermore, he states in the bottom footnotes this “The parallel passage found at 1 Chronicles 21:1 tells us that it was Satan who incited David to commit
    this evil, which suggests that God incited David to this evil through permitting Satan to incite him.

    This makes sense. God did this to Job..Satan first had to ask permission before doing anything to Job and God let it happen. For me, even though evil is hard and it sucks and it is so difficult, I am comforted knowing that God ordained it for my good. Some people disagree with this view, but going through so much evil in my life and seeing people do such horrible things, this brings me tremendous comfort. I know God is doing good always for me and His eyes are never closed and there are no “oops” moments. Sorry I hijacked your comments.

  26. Michelle says:

    By the way, you can read this book online for free: http://www.desiringgod.org/media/pdf/books_bssg/books_bssg.pdf

    It’s really great and I need to re-read it. It’s been such an eye opener for me.

  27. cycleguy says:

    Michelle: Thanks for the heads up on the book and on this passage. Do not apologize for “hijacking” my comments. It was a good addition to what has been said.