David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man,” (21:13).
This chapter in David’s life is also conveyed in 2 Samuel 24, and I needed this reminder; to remember and consider again His Great Hand of Mercy.
As we peer into this time in his life, David caves under Satan’s stand and commands a census to number all the people.
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel…. 7 God was displeased with this thing , so He struck Israel.
So why was this so offensive to Holy God, to number Israel? Scripture does not expound, but Joab, the commander of David’s army, found it abhorrent.
But he did not number Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab, (21:6).
Consider this word, abhorrent, in the Hebrew, “8581. תָּעַב taʿaḇ: A verb meaning to abhor, to be abhorrent, to do abominably. This word expresses a strongly detestable activity or the logical response to such an activity. It is associated with…the condition of sinful people…the activity of idol worship…and the Lord’s opposition to sin,” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.
Something of David’s heart condition moved Joab to regard this action as willful opposition to the Lord. The issue at hand was not the mere act of commanding a census.
Scholars speculate since the focus was on the size of his army, David’s motivation in calling for a census could perhaps have stemmed from pride in his accomplishments, or self-reliance on his campaigns.
Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword, 24:5).
In other words, David’s call for a census stemmed from his sinful condition in opposition to the Lord, for we know God is most concerned with the heart of the matter.
“…for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart,” (1 Samuel 16:7).
“For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, 22 deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. 23 All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man,” (Mark 7:21-22)
As we reflect on the consequences of David’s action, it is also more than likely David’s decision to number the people proceeded from a heart defiled, perhaps a result of his independence and pride.
David understood that God, Holy God, must judge and punish sin; for when confronted by the prophet Gad, he did not argue his case as unjust. Rather than disputing the sentence, he turned to his only hope for mercy.
“I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man,” (21:1).
Consider His Great Hand of Mercy
- His Great Hand of Mercy pricks the consciences of His children.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 done very foolishly,” (21:8).
When confronted with the reality of impending judgment, God’s Great Hand of Mercy offered David a choice.
The Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, 10 “Go and speak to David, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, “I offer you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you,”’” (21:9-10).
Was this judgment in direct line with his offense, drawing David’s attention to his own choice to number the people? For David’s previous choice to number the people did not include God; David did not seek the Lord’s wisdom for his decision.
- His Great Hand of Mercy offers the opportunity to receive His discipline rather than face the consequences apart from His love.So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Take for yourself 12 either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now, therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me,” (21:11-12).
Three options offered. Thus says the Lord, “I offer you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you,” (21:10).
Three options offered, but two would factor man into David’s choice.
1) “either three years of famine…” (21:12).
It was customary to seek assistance from neighboring nations in times of famine (remember Joseph’s story in Egypt), placing David and his people in a position of reliance upon man.
2) “or three months to be swept away before your foes…” (21:12).
This option would place David directly under the judgment and attack of his enemy.
3) “or else three days of the sword of the Lord, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel,” (21:12).
This word, pestilence, can also be translated as plague.
“First Samuel 5–6 describes the plague on the Philistines as a punishment from God. The word is also used as the most dreaded threat of the Lord against His people (Lev. 26:25; Num. 14:12). The prophets use this word frequently to predict coming judgment and destruction,” Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance.
And while the third choice speaks of destruction throughout all the territory, it appears this choice would place David solely in the hands of his God to receive His punishment. solely administered by God Himself.
Perhaps part of God’s loving discipline filtered through His Great Hand of Mercy presented the opportunity to consider and choose God’s way this time.
How do we respond to His Great Hand of Mercy?
What a gift His Great Hand of Mercy has granted us, His very kind gift of repentance.
“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness, (1 John 1:9).
There is one major difference, however, in this narrative conveying David’s call for a census when comparing 1 Chronicles 21 to 2 Samuel 24.
Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel, (21:1).
Now again the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah,” (2 Samuel 24:14).
Wait! Is there some horrific error in God’s Word regarding who moved David? Of course not, for God is Sovereign; it is God alone Who declares the end from the beginning, and His purpose will be established.
“Remember the former things long past,
For I am God, and there is no other;
I am God, and there is no one like Me,
10 Declaring the end from the beginning,
And from ancient times things which have not been done,
Saying, ‘My purpose will be established,
And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’”; (Isaiah 46:9-10).
So how do we reconcile these two explanations regarding the impetus behind David’s action? It seems that something God did in His anger displeased David (as if we ever have a right to judge His activity). And in his response to the righteous anger of Holy God, David found himself face to face with a scheme of the enemy.
Put on the full armor of God, so that you will be able to stand firm against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places, (Ephesians 6:11-12).
Can’t you almost hear the voice of the enemy whispering in David’s ear the same words uttered to Eve in the garden? “Did God really say…?” (Genesis 3:1 NIV).
Sin is often birthed through one of the enemy’s most prolific schemes: doubt. Doubting His Word, doubting His goodness, doubting His faithfulness and ability. But ultimately it is our choice. Believe God in faith or react in doubt.
And ultimately in his struggle to number his army, it was to be David’s choice. Obey God, even when questioning His judgments, or succumb and be moved by the enemy.
When we are faced with the enemy’s schemes and the lure of going our own, we must take our stand in His Truth, and in humility take the way of escape offered to us by His Great Hand of Mercy.
Therefore, take up the full armor of God, so that you will be able to resist in the evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm, (Ephesians 6:13).
No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it, (1 Corinthians 10:13).
His way of escape is continuously available to us in His Holy Scriptures as His Holy Spirit enables us to place our faith in His Great Hand of Mercy each and every day. And as we consider His Great Hand of Mercy, may we be ruined for the ordinary and positioned in unwavering faith so that our whole selves become an offering to Him in gratitude, worship and awe!
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect, (Romans 12:1-2).