Bible Study - David's Sin: The numbering of the people

Home >  Full Study List >  Bible Study - David's Sin: The numbering of the people

Bible Study Series: David, Shepherd, Servant, King 

1 Chronicles 21: David's Sin - The Numbering of the People

By Fraser Gordon

Sin of David - numbering the people

There are two accounts of David numbering the people. 2 Samuel 24.1 says that God was angry with Israel and moved David to number them. 1 Chronicles 21 says that Satan was behind the scenes and moved David to act in this way.

James 1.13 Let no one say when he is tempted, "I am tempted by God"; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone.

God never tempts man to sin against Him, however, at times He allows Satan to move against His children as He did with Job. This event happened late in David’s life; he had been walking with God a long time, which means we will always be in a battle. There will never be a time that our feet go up and we can relax in the Christian life. We are called to put on the whole armour of God, for our war is not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers in the heavenly places.

Satan moved David

1Chronicles 21:1  Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.

Satan’s attack was against God’s chosen nation of Israel. He used the king to bring offence to God. Satan moved David - the word moved means seduce, entice, persuade, provoke, or stimulate. Satan attacks all believers but especially leaders, pastors, and missionaries because if he can effectively attack them then an effect is felt upon the church and those seeking to win their communities for Christ.

Satan’s attack on David came in the form of a suggestion or thought into his mind about how big and great his army had become. We also see Satan’s thoughts and suggestions in the life of Peter.

Matthew 16:23  But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offence to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men." 

Here Jesus was informing His disciples that it was His calling to suffer, be killed, and be raised on the third day. Peter in his own wisdom took Jesus aside and began to rebuke Him. This is not for you, we won’t let it happen. Jesus looking straight past Peter spoke directly to Satan who had instigated the thought in Peter's mind (I always wonder how Peter must have taken this).

The Census

1Chronicles 21:2 So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people, "Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it." 3 And Joab answered, "May the Lord make His people a hundred times more than they are. But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why then does my lord require this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt in Israel?"

David ordered Joab to number his people but Joab didn’t feel right about it and questioned him.

Exodus 30:12  "When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them.

God told Moses to number the nation but every man was to give a ransom for himself. David wanted to know how big his army had become under him and how great it was. His sin was pride in numbers. He had forgotten that Israel was God’s nation and victory depended on God, not how big his army was. Gideon learnt this as God reduced his numbers to show that victory depends on God not the number of men we have.

This is also true for Pastors and leaders. Do not glory in the numbers, how big you have become, or glory in your ability. We must always remember John 15.5 He who abides in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for without Me you can do nothing.

1Chronicles 21:4 Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab. Therefore Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came to Jerusalem. 5 Then Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to David. All Israel had one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and Judah had four hundred and seventy thousand men who drew the sword. 6 But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king's word was abominable to Joab.

Joab returned after 9 months and twenty days (2 Samuel 24.8) with the number of all the fighting men, but he didn’t count Levi or Benjamin. Levi’s portion was the Lord; to serve Him before the people, and Benjamin by the end of the time of the Judges had become the least of all the tribes. We see that Joab hated this request from the king.

The Consequences

1Chronicles 21:7  And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He struck Israel.

This numbering of the army displeased the Lord and it had consequences for the nation. Sin has consequences and an effect on others, not just ourselves.

1Chronicles 21:8 So David said to God, "I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing; but now, I pray, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly." 

David had 9 months to think about this action and he finally realised that he had sinned. I love this about David that when sin is recognised he confesses it straight away and seeks forgiveness. He doesn't dismiss it, make excuses, or blame someone else, but seeks to keep a short account before God and be cleansed.

1Chronicles 21:9 And the Lord spoke to Gad, David's seer, saying, 10 "Go and tell David, saying, 'Thus says the Lord: "I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you." ' " 11 So Gad came to David and said to him, "Thus says the Lord: 'Choose for yourself, 12 either three years of famine, or three months to be defeated by your foes with the sword of your enemies overtaking you, or else for three days the sword of the Lord--the plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.' Now consider what answer I should take back to Him who sent me." 13 And 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."

David is given three choices by God, famine, defeat in war, or a plague. He choses door 3 which was the quickest form of discipline. David chose to fall into the hands of God not man, he had more confidence in God’s mercy for God loves those whom He disciplines; they are treated as sons of a loving father.

1Chronicles 21:14 So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it. As he was destroying, the Lord looked and relented of the disaster, and said to the angel who was destroying, "It is enough; now restrain your hand." And the angel of the Lord stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 16 Then David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. So David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces.

The plague began and 70 thousand men died. Now David saw the angel of the Lord standing with a sword drawn over Jerusalem. Joshua, after crossing the Jordan and after the circumcision of Gilgal, led the nation of Israel into the promised land. He was then introduced to the angel of the Lord who also had a sword in His hand. This man had come to take over not take sides and Joshua removed his sandals like Moses had and worshipped Him.

1Chronicles 21:17  And David said to God, "Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has 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."

David saw how the plague and the destruction of Jerusalem was on all Israel because of his sin. He was the shepherd and they the sheep, his was the sin not theirs and like a true shepherd he asked God to punish him and his house, not the people of Israel.

The Sacrifice

1Chronicles 21:18  Therefore, the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David that David should go and erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.

The angel of the Lord instructed Gad that David should erect an altar on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 2 Chronicles 3.1 says that this spot was Mount Moriah, where Abraham was instructed by God to offer up his only son and where the angel of the Lord told him to withdraw his hand. It was also the place that Solomon would build the temple and where God sent His only son to be a sacrifice for sin.

1Chronicles 21:19 So David went up at the word of Gad, which he had spoken in the name of the Lord. 20 Now Ornan turned and saw the angel; and his four sons who were with him hid themselves, but Ornan continued threshing wheat. 21 Then David came to Ornan, and Ornan looked and saw David. And he went out from the threshing floor, and bowed before David with his face to the ground. 22 Then David said to Ornan, "Grant me the place of this threshing floor, that I may build an altar on it to the Lord. You shall grant it to me at the full price, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people." 23 And Ornan said to David, "Take it to yourself, and let my lord the king do what is good in his eyes. Look, I also give you the oxen for burnt offerings, the threshing implements for wood, and the wheat for the grain offering; I give it all." 24 Then King David said to Ornan, "No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the Lord, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing."

Ornan offered David a free gift of the land, the implements, and the offerings for worship but this would have been Ornan’s sacrifice not David’s. David had to pay full price for his sin. It had to cost him something. Jesus has paid for our sin, paid in full but it will still cost us something to humble ourselves and repent. This can not be paid by anyone else, it is our sin like David’s that needs to be cleansed.

1Ch 21:25 So David gave Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the place. 26 And David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on the Lord; and He answered him from heaven by fire on the altar of burnt offering.

Burnt offerings were to atone for sin and peace offerings were to enjoy fellowship. The Lord then answered David’s offerings with fire from heaven. Just like when Elijah built the altar and confronted the false prophets of Baal. Fire speaks of God’s wrath and judgement against sin. In the same way it was in this area that Jesus was offered up as the ultimate sin offering (Romans 4.25 & Isaiah 53.4-6). He was offered up and judged by God. The fire of God’s wrath fell upon Him as He was made sin and judged in our place (2 Corinthians 5.21).

1Chronicles 21:27  So the Lord commanded the angel, and he returned his sword to its sheath.

Judgement was made and the sacrifice atoned for the sin, so the sword went back in its sheath. Today, Jesus has made a full payment for sin, the veil between God and man is torn and man is called to come and receive life in the Son of God who died that He may give His eternal life to us. Now is the day of salvation, sin is judged and the sword is back in its sheath. However there will come a day at Christ’s second coming when the sword will once again be drawn from its sheath to execute judgement on the enemies of God (Revelation 19.11-15).

Satan sought to attack God, His people and cause David to sin. But God in His grace used this event to discipline His servant and to purchase the land where the greatest sacrifice for sin would be paid. It started with David’s pride and ended with sin judged and fellowship restored. In the same manner, the original sin was Satan’s pride and his greatest defeat was in this place when sin was judged on the person of Jesus Christ. Sin was judged and fellowship restored on the hills of Mount Moriah. What a wonderful God we serve!

1 Peter 1:18 knowing that you were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot. 20 He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you 21 who through Him believe in God, who raised Him from the dead and gave Him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.

God Bless Saints.