A Step Too Far


Lord, help me remember there is cost to faithfully following the one who was crucified. I say, "Yes."


Read: 2 SAMUEL 24:1-17

[1] Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah." [2] So the king said to Joab and the army commanders with him, "Go throughout the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and enroll the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are." [3]But Joab replied to the king, "May the LORD your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?" [4] The king's word, however, overruled Joab and the army commanders; so they left the presence of the king to enroll the fighting men of Israel. [5] After crossing the Jordan, they camped near Aroer, south of the town in the gorge, and then went through Gad and on to Jazer. [6] They went to Gilead and the region of Tahtim Hodshi, and on to Dan Jaan and around toward Sidon. [7] Then they went toward the fortress of Tyre and all the towns of the Hivites and Canaanites. Finally, they went on to Beersheba in the Negev of Judah. [8] After they had gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. [9] Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand. [10] David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing." [11] Before David got up the next morning, the word of the LORD had come to Gad the prophet, David's seer: [12] "Go and tell David, 'This is what the LORD says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.'" [13] So Gad went to David and said to him, "Shall there come on you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me." [14] David said to Gad, "I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands." [15] So the LORD sent a plague on Israel from that morning until the end of the time designated, and seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. [16] When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the LORD was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. [17] When David saw the angel who was striking down the people, he said to the LORD, "I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Let your hand fall on me and my family." 


Reflect: What motivated David here?

The prophet Samuel had made it clear to Israel that kings come with health warnings attached (1 Sam. 8:10-18). "Strong leadership," whether in politics or in the church, can be a blessing and a danger. In this episode David comes close to becoming a toxic king. When he is settled and secure he commissions a census. This seemingly innocent action has the potential to centralize power and militarize the nation, upsetting the social order. Even Joab balks at the prospect (3).

To his credit, David recognizes what he has done and immediately regrets his action (10). Through David's repentance the nation will pull back from the brink. But the incident is not without cost. The prophet Gad gives three possible penances (13). David does not make a choice: he leaves the outcome to God. Walter Brueggemann comments, "At his best, David fears God the most; he also trusts God the most."

Paul warns us to take heed when we feel secure, lest we fall (1 Cor. 10:12). Sometimes it is when we feel most confident that we are most in danger of making a mistake.



When you take stock of your life, count on the strength of the God who promises to care for you.



Father, help me never to lose the sense of my smallness and of Your greatness.


Syndicated via Scripture Union


Terry Schneider