Tuesday, May 15, 2012


The Lord's anger burned against Israel again, and He stirred up David against them to say: ‘Go, count [the people of] Israel and Judah.’ ” (2 Samuel 24:1 HCSB)

Perhaps you have heard this quote from Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.”  My Mama would phrase it this way, “He got too big for his britches.” 

We see an example of this in David’s life.  As a young man, facing a giant named Goliath, he understood that if victory was to be won it would require the power of God.  As a king in mid-life, building and defending a nation, he recognized the Biblical principle that he needed to lean on the Lord.  In Psalm 20:7, he would declare, “Some take pride in chariots, and others in horses, but we take pride in the name of Yahweh our God.”  But, as an old monarch, David forgot that truth, and he allowed power to lead him to pride—placing the kingdom in peril.  He got too big for his britches.

We have parallel accounts of this incident in 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21.  Comparing the two, we get additional insight from each witness.  As with eyewitnesses in a courtroom, you might get slightly different testimony based on the unique perspective of the witness.  These are not contradictory, but complementary.  So, it is with these two accounts.  The differences in the details have been harmonized by Bible scholars.  You can read some additional notes at the end which address this in more detail, if you would care to do so.

But for now, there are a couple of verses from the different accounts which demand that we address them, because we need this complete picture.  In 2 Samuel 24, we are told that David’s destructive decision was God’s doing and in 1 Chronicles 21, that it was Satan who tempted him.  Which is right?  Both, of course!  These are two sides of the same coin.  Understanding this is theologically important.

God is sovereign.  He rules over all.  There is none who compare to Him.  The opposite of light is dark, for day there is night, cold and hot, love and hate, and so forth.  Our temptation might be to say for God, there is Satan as the opposite—but, that is to elevate the Devil to a status he does not merit!  In fact, we find that God even uses this Evil One as His means to accomplish His will at times.  This doesn’t mean God is the author of evil.  He is not and cannot.  James says, “No one undergoing a trial should say, ‘I am being tempted by God.’ For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn't tempt anyone.  But each person is tempted when he is drawn away and enticed by his own evil desires.  Then after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and when sin is fully grown, it gives birth to death.” (1:13-15)  So, although God is in control, it is Satan who does the tempting—and, David did not have to yield to temptation!  He made a choice.  David was not a puppet, but a creature of volitional capacity.  Furthermore, he was given a warning against this action.  Joab protested David’s decree.  But, David shrugged it off.

Why did David desire this census and what was wrong with it?

THE SIN (v.1-10)

We don’t find David seeking God’s will in prayer, nor find him searching God’s Word for direction. In pride he decided to act without God and believed he was accountable to no one.  A lack of accountability will get you into trouble.  So many stories of politicians, preachers, CEOs and coaches caught up in scandal have their roots in a lack of accountability.  The more powerful they became, the more private they became, and they lost perspective and prideful, they persuaded themselves that they were above the law.  Eventually, the collapse comes.  We can get too big for our britches.  There is a price to pay when we do.

THE SENTENCE (v.11-17)

70,000 Jews died.  David was proud of the numbers of soldiers under his command, so God reduced the size of his army—and reminded him who was in charge and where the source of power resided.  These have been challenging and chilling studies of David.  For the most part, examining his life has been a stimulating call to serving our God.  Then, there have been those episodes which have proven to be a sobering caution about sin against our God. While David was a man after God’s own heart, he was yet a man! He possessed all the frailties and failures common to the human condition. He fell at times—but he always got up.  We see that next.


Here’s what David did: “He built an altar to the Lord there and offered burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the Lord answered prayer on behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel ended.” (v.25).

God is just—He is also merciful—or there would be no hope for any of us!  David repented and God relented.  The promise is that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)  The King became a beggar, as David humbled himself before God.  He had been too big for his britches, but the garment of a mourner fit him perfectly.  If you have become too big for your britches, try putting on sackcloth.  It is tailor-made, stitched with grace and mercy, designed for the penitent.

If David could fail, then I am not immune—and neither are you.  All of us can get too big for our britches.  A safeguard is to maintain transparency and accountability.


As we have been reading the Bible through, I am sure if you were studying it intently, you may have run into some slightly different readings of number totals, etc. in Samuel and Chronicles, which may have raised a few questions in your mind.  Since these have been so slight and infrequent, I have not dealt with them, except when someone has personally asked me.  The reading for today contains several, so I thought it would be helpful to address this matter.

John MacArthur explains the variation in troop totals this way:

24:9 eight hundred thousand … five hundred thousand. First Chronicles 21:5 has “one million one hundred thousand” and “four hundred and seventy thousand,” respectively. A solution can be found in seeing the 1 Chronicles figure including all the available men of military age, whether battle seasoned or not. But the 2 Samuel figure could be 800,000 battle-seasoned soldiers with the additional 300,000 being of military age who were in reserve but never fought, or it could be the 288,000 in the standing army (1Ch 27:1–15) rounded off to 300,000. Either of these two contingents would make up the 1.1 million number of 1Ch 21. As far as Judah was concerned, the number in 2 Samuel is 30,000 more than the 1 Chronicles figure. First Chronicles makes it clear that the numbering was not completed by Joab, because he didn’t get to the census regarding Benjamin (or Levi) before David came under conviction about completing it all. Joab was glad to stop when he saw the king’s changed heart. Because of the procedure selected (see note on 24:5) the numbering of Benjamin would have been last, so their number was not included. In the record of 2 Samuel the figure for Judah included the already-known number of 30,000 troops from Benjamin, hence the total of 500,000. The Benjamites remained loyal to David and Judah.[1]

The difference in the names Araunah and Ornan is common in Scripture—where you will find numerous instances of the same person with two different names—such as Matthew and Levi, Simon and Peter, Saul and Paul.  Araunah was his given name, a man born in Canaan with a pagan heritage, he had converted at some point to the worship of the God of Israel and so took a Hebrew name, Ornan. [DLT]

What about the difference in the first option of judgment given in 2 Samuel 24:13 and 1 Chronicles 21:12?  See this note from MacArthur:

21:12 “Three years” here is correct; “7 years” in 2Sa 24:13 is most likely a copyist’s error, since it seems 3 years, 3 months, 3 days is the intent.[2]

The Bible was copied by hand down through the years—multiple copies being made.  Occasionally, as one would imagine, a number got transposed or a letter in a name was changed.  This was rare, and in comparing all those copies we are able to get back to the original perfect text almost completely—and where we still see a difference, it makes no difference in any doctrine.  As time marches on, this ancient Book demonstrates its reliability and accuracy again and again.  Things which once seemed contradictory have been harmonized through new discoveries in archaeology and this will continue to be the case. [DLT]

As to the remaining “difference” in the amounts David paid, this is easily explained from a close reading of the text:

24:24 cost me nothing. Sacrifice is an essential part of worship and service to God (see Mal 1:6–10; 2Co 8:1–5). fifty shekels. A little more than a pound of silver. First Chronicles 21:25 says David paid 600 shekels of gold. How is this discrepancy resolved? In the initial transaction, David either bought or leased the small threshing floor (usually 30 or 40 ft. square) and purchased the oxen. Fifty shekels of silver was appropriate. After that, 1Ch 21:25 says he bought “the site,” costing 180 times as much, and referring to the entire area of Mt. Moriah.[3]

A final thought from your pastor:

 These complementary accounts, far from disproving that the Bible is the Word of God, affirm it.  If the Bible were a mere human invention, over the centuries, manuscripts would have been changed to make all the accounts identical.  That is what editors do.  We would have collusion on the part of the witnesses.  Instead, the scribes were meticulous in copying what the text said rather than what they wanted it to say--such was their reverence for the Word and the God who inspired it.  These comparatively few variations have been mostly resolved, and as additional time passes, we are convinced that new discoveries will shed additional light.  I have studied the Bible for decades, and the more I read it through, and meditate on its message, the more certain I am of the Divine inspiration and preservation of the text.  You can be confident that the Scripture as inspired of God when the original authors penned it was perfect, and more than that—you can be confident that the Bible you hold in your hands is the Word of God.  We affirm what Jesus and His Apostles taught: “Your word is truth.” (John 17:17b).

If I have gleaned anything from today’s reading, I have learned this: I need to listen to God, rather than thinking I know more than He does.  I must reject Satan’s temptation to exalt myself—a thought that the Serpent plants in our minds, and has since the garden of Eden—to doubt, deny and disobey God’s Word, “you shall be as God” having the knowledge of good and evil (read Gen.3).  I do not sit in judgment on Him, but God judges me.  I must steadfastly refuse to accept the premise that I have everything figured out. 

Don’t get too big for your britches!  That is always disastrous, as David discovered.

[1] MacArthur, J. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible : New American Standard Bible. (2 Sa 24:9). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible : New American Standard Bible. (1 Ch 21:12). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] MacArthur, J. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible : New American Standard Bible. (2 Sa 24:24). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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