WHAT IF GOD HAD PUNISHED DAVID
FOR TAKING THE CENSUS, INSTEAD OF ISRAEL?
One of the most perplexing events
in the Bible is found in II Samuel 24. Herein we find that David appears to
offend God by ordering Joab to take a census of Israel and of his army in
particular (V. 2). Joab tries to discourage David from taking the census, but in
vain. Finally Joab relents and fulfills the King’s wishes.
In V. 10 we find that “David’s heart condemned him, after he had numbered
the people.” In fact he confesses his sin and begs for mercy: “I have sinned
greatly in what I have done; but now I pray, O Lord, take away the iniquity of
your servant, for I have done very foolishly” (V. 10).
But God does not forgo His intended punishment for David. Instead, God
sends Gad the Seer to explain to him that his punishment was unavoidable and
that he would have three punishments he could choose from:
Seven years of
famine on the land.
Three months of
fleeing before your enemies.
Three days of
plague in the land.
Wisely, David hands himself over to God’s mercy and asks that his
punishment would not entail falling “into the hands of man” (V.14). Thus God
“sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time” (V.
15). The result? “Seventy-thousand men of the people died” (V. 15).
What if God had not punished Israel for David’s sin? What if God had
punished David instead of Israel? After all, was it not David that sinned? Why
punish the innocent?
Though seemingly perplexing and unfair of God, the truth reveals
otherwise. II Samuel 24: 1 is the key that opens our understanding: “Again the
anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel, and He moved David
against them to say, ‘Go number Israel and Judah.’” God was, therefore, angry
at Israel. Though the scriptures do not give us the details, God’s anger is
invariably related to moral deterioration and abandonment to sin. This is the
motivating factor for God’s decision to move David against them, that is
I Chronicles 21:1 tells us that Satan was also manipulated by God to be
involved in this event, as he “stood up against Israel, and moved David
to number Israel.” Therefore, God inspired Satan to inspire David to do that
which was unacceptable before God: number Israel. David fell into the trap and
the result was the three punishments that, interestingly enough, would have been
a great punishment on the sinful nation not on David.
What if God had not punished Israel? What if God had severely punished
David and had left Israel untouched?
Given the fact that God was angry at Israel for their sins, the seventy
thousands that were killed by the great plague deserved to be killed. There
cannot be unrighteousness with God. The innocent cannot be punished if they
have not sinned and had not deserved their punishment. The plague was a perfect
way to pick and choose among the people and consequence the most degenerate.
If God punished David directly he would have not dealt with the focus of
His anger. If He had spared the sinners among Israel, they would have
deteriorated and their poison would have infected others. God’s mighty
intervention reminded them that He would not bear any degeneracy among a people
who were to be Holy. David was also reminded that God will intervene when and
how he sees fit.
The event also spotlights the nobility of David’s heart. By not being the
recipient of the punishment, David could have stood quietly by until the scourge
was over. Instead, he turned to God in prayer and said: “Was it not I who
commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who had sinned and done evil
indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, O Lord my
God be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they
should be plagued” (I Chronicles 21: 17). This prayer clear evidence to God
that David was not selfish and calloused, that he was repentant, and that he was
willing to take responsibility for his actions. This was further proof to God
that David was clearly the right man for the job, and a man worthy of being an
ancestor to the Messiah.
Thus, by punishing Israel in this most peculiar way, God proved, once
again, His intolerance of sin, His power to manipulate Satan’s mind, His just
intervention against unrepentant sinners, and His great wisdom in testing key
figures, such as David. Furthermore, by allowing this story to be included in
the Bible record, God has given scoffers, throughout the ages, an opportunity to
stumble, and believers an opportunity to exult at God’s justice and brilliance.
IS GOD CRUEL? -- An In-Depth Analysis of God's Apparent
Acts of Cruelty in the Bible
CLICK ON TOPICS BELOW FOR A
Sodom and Gomorrah
Destruction of Canaanites
David's Punishment for the Census
Removal of Foreign Wives
Ananiah and Sapphira
Catastrophes of Last Days
LITERATURE FROM UCG.ORG
(No Follow up)
Why Does God Allow Suffering?
IS GOD CRUEL?