David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was also a man prone to mistakes. Big mistakes. And I have a feeling Solomon’s proverb above was due in part to what happened at times with his father. 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 are two accounts of the same story that give witness to David’s improprieties. During a peaceful period in Israel when David had triumphed over his enemies, he became extremely prideful and ordered Joab along with the other captains of his host to take a national census of the people. A national, justifiable census was only done when God ordered it.
This ungodly pride didn’t happen overnight with David. In the first verse of both chapters, Israel must have had some unresolved sins that came due for punishment so the Lord allowed Satan to tempt David using David’s pride to punish the whole nation with this prideful census. It was such an ungodly proposal that even a sinful murderer like David’s nephew Joab knew David’s motives were wrong. The scoundrel Joab witnessed through the years how God always provided the necessary amount of people for David and the nation to fulfill all their tasks, militarily and otherwise. Therefore, he knew no good could come of David’s census, which was obviously David’s attempt to boast in how many lives he felt he had preserved and in how big his army could potentially be. David forgot God’s warning in Deuteronomy 8:11-18 for Israel to remember their success would not come by their own power but by Jehovah’s.
So God used Joab and the captains to argue against David’s proposal because God always provides us a way out of our temptations (1 Corinthians 10:13). Nevertheless, David’s stubborn pride prevailed. How did it prevail? Most likely the rulers of the people mentioned in 1 Chronicles 21:2 sided with David and they outnumbered Joab with his captains of the host. They then went along with the orders, but only to a point. Joab was rightfully so angry, he in an act of civil disobedience refused to count the tribes of Levi and Benjamin.
David’s actions begged for God’s judgment. Even after he apologized and repented, God did not spare him from the consequences, so he sent a prophet to David to let him know the punishment. 70,000 men fell because of a disease from the angel of the Lord. Then God mercifully ordered the angel to stop as David and the elders wept in sackcloth. Some critics have accused God of killing 70,000 innocent men in this case. But maybe they died because they weren’t so innocent. Any of them could have chosen not to be counted in the census since the motive behind it was probably known.
Ultimately, David made a personal sacrifice by first buying the land of Ornan (Araunah) the Jebusite, where the angel stopped his killing, and sacrificing animals on a makeshift altar to show his repentance. God accepted the sacrifice with fire from heaven and all was forgiven. This site became so holy that it was used for Jerusalem’s temple when Solomon became king (2 Chron. 3:1). The shameful event that it represented was thus turned into one of Israel’s greatest triumphs after humility and repentance took place.
Many ministries have done similar things to what David did in this instance. They pride themselves in the number of members and/or followers, accolades and rewards/awards from others, the reach of their influence, and the amount of funds in their treasuries to glorify themselves, which has a way of causing the spiritual deaths or immaturity of many of their followers because of their false doctrines. If they repent like David and the elders did, the shameful acts of their ministries can be converted into glorious triumphs for Jehovah’s glory.
Harry A. Gaylord