Judgment For David’s Sin

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The writer did not state David’s motivation for taking a census of Israel except to say that Satan caused him to do so (v.11).  Unlike the census taken in the book of Numbers (Numbers 1:2) that God had ordered, it appears that this census was taken so David could take pride in the strength of his army. This suggests that he was beginning to trust more in military power than in God.

Satan moved David to take a census. Satan only tempted David with the idea, but David decided to act on the temptation. God also provided a way out through the counsel of Joab but David refused to take his advice and ordered the census to be taken. David’s census was not against God’s law, but his reason for the census was wrong as he took pride in his mighty army.

When David realized his sin he took full responsibility, admitted he was wrong and asked God to forgive him. The consequences of David’s sin, however had already caused severe damage as 70,000 people died by a plague. When David pled for mercy God responded by stopping the death angel before his mission was complete. God’s halting of the plague is one of the most dramatic scenes in the Old Testament.  The “sword of the Lord” in the hand of the angel (v. 12) had been slaying the people of Israel by the tens of thousands as the plague marched through the land.


David’s sin of putting confidence in military might alone was idolatry. To allow anything to take God’s place in my life is sinful and may cause disastrous consequences. God will always forgive my sins and will make the bitter consequences less severe, but the scars will remain.

I Chronicles 21:1-17 (English Standard Version)

Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, "Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number." But Joab said, "May the LORD add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord's servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?" But the king's word prevailed against Joab. So Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came back to Jerusalem. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword. But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab. But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. And David said to God, "I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have acted very foolishly." And the LORD spoke to Gad, David's seer, saying, "Go and say to David, 'Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you.'" So Gad came to David and said to him, "Thus says the LORD, 'Choose what you will: either three years of famine, or three months of devastation by your foes while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the LORD, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.' Now decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me." Then David said to Gad, "I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man." So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel, and 70,000 men of Israel fell. And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the LORD saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, "It is enough; now stay your hand." And the angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said to God, "Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O LORD my God, be against me and against my father's house. But do not let the plague be on your people."

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