Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, "Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number.'' …God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1-7, NASB)
Why was God so angry when David numbered the fighting men of Israel? And why did He cause the people of Israel to suffer for David's sin, rather than David himself? Is there a mistake here? No, there is no mistake The account gives deep insights into the nature of sin and the true righteousness of grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ever since his youth, David was a warrior who fought the Lord’s battles. Although he had defeated many foes, there were still many potential adversaries who might rise up against him. Why shouldn’t he number his army? Why shouldn’t he count his strength, and ensure his preparedness for future conflict? Outwardly, David’s actions were blameless – but the Lord does not look on the outward appearance, but rather upon the heart.
What did the Lord see in David’s heart when he numbered Israel? The Bible says that David was moved by Satan. Satan is the prince of pride, and he tempted David through his pride. David forgot how the Lord had always fought his battles for him, and presumed instead that his success depended on the strength of his forces. How different David’s attitude had been in his youth, when he faced Goliath with a stone and a sling! At that time David had said, “The LORD saved me from the lion, and the bear, and he will deliver me also out of the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:36)
God had warned the Israelites not to forget Him and say in their hearts, "My power and the might of [my own] hand has gotten me this wealth" (Deut. 8:14). But this is exactly what David was saying to himself as he numbered Israel’s fighting men. This very same prideful self-sufficiency was also found in the hearts of the Pharisees who persecuted Jesus. Their ‘righteousness’ was founded on pride. The Pharisees trusted in their own strength of will, their own self-discipline, their own cultivated habits and abilities. They do not acknowledge that their own efforts at righteousness were futile without God’s empowering grace. In the same way, David would never have conquered except for God’s intervention.
Why then did God kill the Israelites for David’s sin? Because pride always kills the innocent. The pride of Adam brought death to all of humanity. The pride of Herod killed the infants of Bethlehem. The pride of the priests and Pharisees killed the Son of God. In all these cases the same pride is the cause, and results too are the same.
But is this fair, that the innocent suffer? It is more than fair, if we view the big picture. The sufferings of the innocent mirror the sufferings of Christ. They like Him were lambs led to the slaughter; and they shall specially share in Christ’s glory in the Resurrection (Romans 8:17).
Recall what Jesus said of the man born blind: His disciples asked Him, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus replied, “Neither, but that the glory of God might be shown through him.” Does this mean that God inflicted the man arbitrarily just so that He could heal him later? No – the cause of the blindness, the cause of every disease or affliction of every person innocent or guilty, is sin. The innocent man brought glory to God through his temporary sufferings, for his healing demonstrated redemption from sin.
David’s pride is no worse than ours. We too rely on ourselves rather than God, and ascribe our sucesses to our own ability rather than to His grace. Just as in David’s case our pride also kills the innocent. It kills our innocent children, when we profess a self-righteousness based on our own discipline and achievement, and we instruct them in the same. It kills dreams, it kills families, it kills businesses, it kills churches. It kills faith, when people see our behavior and reject Christ for the sake of our pride.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, I stand before You as a murderer. In my self-reliance, I have killed others. Through my pride, I have murdered the innocent. Your own blood is on my hands, because my pride of heart is equal to that of Your murderers. Lord, by Your Holy Spirit expose the wickednesses of my heart. Show me the awfulness of my sin, that I may despise it and earnestly repent. And most of all, Lord, raise me up by Your Spirit of Life, the same Spirit that raised You from death, so that empowered by Your Spirit I may put to death every vestige of pride within my heart. Thank You that Your blood applied to my heart through the power of Your Spirit is more than sufficient to wipe my heart clean of every trace of pride and self-will.
Copyright © 1998 CrossPollen
Last Revised: March 20, 1999
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