1 Chronicles 21

1 Chronicles 21 Devotional
By Pastor Lawrence

This account of David’s ill-advised census along with its ensuing consequences and the purchase of the land for the temple are all recorded in a parallel passage in 2 Samuel 24. However, the author states in that other instance that it was the Lord himself who incited David to number Israel rather than Satan because his anger was kindled against Israel. The last time we saw the anger of the Lord kindled against Israel was when Uzzah dared to touch the Ark of the Covenant when it began to fall off the ox cart on its way to Jerusalem. We are not told, though, the reason why the Lord’s anger was kindled against them in this particular situation, but, surely, it must have been something significant to merit the death of 70,000 men in Israel.

Of course, there really is no discrepancy between the two accounts on who provoked David to take the census. Because the devil is God’s devil, he can do nothing apart from the sovereign will of God, and even though he has malicious intentions in his temptations, the Lord can use those temptations both to try and to rebuke sinners leading them to a greater repentance and trust in the Lord for future purposes. But regardless of the temptation/trial provocateur, King David is still culpable for his sin given the fact that he knew better than to call for a census to determine his troop strength in battle readiness. In all previous accounts, it was the Lord himself who called for a census either for tax purposes, for the purpose of redemption, or for an accounting of soldiers ready for battle in war, such as in Numbers 1:1ff and Numbers 26:1ff, and that last accounting was to show that even with the divine punishment of the previous generation, the Lord had still maintained his original promises to Abraham in terms of the number of his descendants and the certainty of inheriting the land of Canaan.

It seems that this particular census was conducted by David entirely without consulting God and without listening to the counsel of his advisors. Instead of recognizing those redeemed by God through blood and setting apart the Levites away from the lines of battle, David seems to be putting his confidence in horses and chariots rather than trusting the deliverance of the Lord, which he would later repent of in Psalm 20:7. And as soon as David committed this error and gave into his sin of false security and pride, he was convicted in his heart and sought to repent of his sin, confessing it unto God and asking forgiveness.

But we must remember that it was not only David’s sin being confronted here but also the sins of Israel, which had incited the Lord in the first place. So let us not think in this particular occasion that the Lord was punishing an innocent party instead of the one originally incurring guilt. Both parties were guilty in this situation and the Lord was bringing about a divine punishment as a result. For even after David confessed his sin unto God, it was on the following day that Gad, the seer, brought unto him the difficult choice between three years of famine, three months of foreign invasion or three days of the Lord’s wrath.

It was not the allotted time of punishment that played the largest factor in David’s decision-making but rather the one who would be executing that judgment in the first place. Having many run-ins with human enemies in the past, David had no desire to entrust his life and the lives of his people to men but instead to trust in the Lord and his mercy. And although the death of seventy thousand people is in no sense any small collateral damage, it is still much less than would have occurred under the other two scenarios. And the Lord could have taken many more lives, for the angel had set his eyes upon the city of Jerusalem itself, but the Lord stayed his hand. It is interesting that Jerusalem was the next intended target given the fact that the city itself was David’s pride and joy, having captured it at the height of his glory. The Lord was ready to tear it down along with all of its inhabitants, but mercy triumphed over judgment, which seems to be a recurring theme in Scripture. And there is a good reason for the divine relenting in this particular situation, for the Lord was setting up a permanent abode to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem.

One of the territories in Jerusalem that was still in the hands of the Jebusites instead of Israel was the land of Ornan the Jebusite. Because the Lord had stayed his hand on his threshing floor, David sought to purchase the place of redemption and commemorate God’s mercy through the building of the temple on that same spot. Thus in lieu of paying the price of redemption for every firstborn male in Israel according to the original census, the Lord took a lesser number through the shedding of blood of those 70,000 men. In the future, though, the Lord would receive the substitution of the blood of the sacrificial animals offered in the way that God prescribes in a temple built in the way God commands and sprinkled on the Ark of the Covenant in the way that God demands.

David payed full price for this plot of land in the same manner that Abraham payed full price for his burial plot in the land of Canaan many years prior to ensure that there would be no doubt that it was indeed the land of Israel that could not be reclaimed by the unbelievers. Thus, even though these were some of the worst days in the history of Israel with such a large loss of life, it was also one of the best days in terms of God’s mercy and His provision for new mercies on every succeeding morning.
As this speaks somewhat to the bitter consequences of our own sins and failures, it also points us to Christ who has paid the punishment for those same sins and failures by dying in our place as God’s firstborn son. Because Christ has endured the eternal and infinite wrath of God in our place, we have a new and certain hope through faith in his blood that encourages us to approach our holy God, in the ways that he prescribes understanding that he has come to make his home with us and to dwell with us forever.