The Lord shows mercy to sinners and it is only appropriate for us to trust him alone for the mercy we need.
2 Samuel 24:1-17
24 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 enrol 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 enrol 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 towards Sidon. 7 Then they went towards 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.’
If we are looking for something unusually bad that brought this tough reaction from God, we are not going to find it. The reality is that Israel was rolling along with the usual sinful ways among the people. It is the sad reality that we are always in a position where God could be angry with us. So, we have here a scenario that could very justly happen to all of us at any time; unless we all stop sinning!
David commanded that a census be taken in Israel to learn the number of the people. No clear command is given in the Bible against this, but two things show why this would result in a strong judgement from God. Firstly, David was clearly looking to know the strength of his army. However, the strength of Israel was not in the numbers in the army but in the Lord. He must be trusted. Secondly, the Lord’s promise was that the abundance of Israel would be like the stars of the heavens. The I Chronicles parallel to this passage shows that David was all too aware of that promise. Israel’s numbers did not need to be quantified. That broad promise of the Lord is enough.
When convicted of his sin David was given the choices of punishment and wisely placed himself and his people in the hands of our compassionate Lord. The Lord shows that compassion by stepping in and calling on the angel to hold back as he came to destroy Jerusalem. Hope begins with the Lord.
Our focus can then turn to David the great King of Israel. His plea is that he was the one who had sinned and that the hand of God should be on him and not the sheep.
How blessed we are that the Lord Jesus Christ is our King who did not sin. Yet he has still called down the wrath that should be directed to us to fall on him at the cross. We are the ones who always deserved to be condemned. We fail to entrust ourselves to the Lord’s care. We are the ones who need the compassion of our Lord. Praise God it is ours in Christ.
Head: It is good to clear our heads of the confusing distractions and recognise that all our hope lies in Christ. He can be trusted to rule over our lives and he alone provides the mercy we so desperately need.
Heart: How great is the peaceful contentment we can enjoy as servants of the Lord Jesus. It stirs us to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul and mind.
Hands: With all the compassion and mercy the Lord has shown to us our next question must be, how can I show that compassion to others. Consider how your life would be different if you think of others, however annoying or hostile they may be, as sheep (vulnerable people) who desperately need the compassion of our Lord.
Prayer: Lord, I confess that I deserve to be condemned because all sin and deserve your condemnation. Thank you, that you have shown your amazing love to me when Jesus took the punishment and was condemned in my place. Help me to love you in return and look with compassion on others and seek to direct them to our Lord Jesus Christ. In Jesus name. Amen
A song to listen to: Man of Sorrows
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