1 Chronicles 21

The story of the census David took of the people and the punishment that came of it.

I remember the story from Samuel. It happens when David is very old. They have left out not only the Bathsheba/lust/murder incident, but many messy family dramas and a whole civil war, it’s really a ‘glory days’ book.

But this incident is a tragedy none the less.

In this telling, David’s urge to count the people is attributed to Satan. Clearly it’s meant to be seen as evil, but I still have to visit the commentary to understand why it is bad.

Counting implied ownership in the ancient world. It’s like David is saying they are his people, not God’s. And I get that.

David is about to die, and thinking about legacy, he wants to die knowing how big and powerful Israel has become, what a great king he’s been.

At the start of his reign, it was very much God is king, David the servant. It might seem like a subtle sin, but it is pride, the start of so much evil.

His sin is inevitable, his response is rare, and shows his godliness.

David’s pride evaporates when the prophet condemns him, he is repentant.

There is a basis in the old law for this being a sin that by justice should be punished with death. In Exodus, the counting of the people was accompanied by payment to God of a ransom for their life, acknowledging this idea that they are God’s to number. David hasn’t done that, and its a law he should know.

He gets from God a choice of punishment and to his credit he chooses the one which is most random, disease. His other two options, war and famine, disproportionately hit the poor and shield the rich. It’s the option most likely to hit him personally.

God loves those who die of the disease, I think he’s showing David they are his people. We believe death has no sting, that we go to a new more perfect earth. But pain is left behind.

Jesus told the parable of the rich fool who spends what turns out to be his last day on earth counting his wealth. His death is random, he’s not struck down because he counted his money. However, the fact that he could be struck at any time, the fact of death, whether today, tomorrow, or many years later, makes counting your wealth, indulging in greed and pride, a meaningless pastime, a wasted life.

What is the point of feeling like the great successful king and treating the people as your people, God is saying. None of it is actually in your control, you are not king.

David has the double pain not only of losing people to a plague, but of knowing that their years being cut short is highlighting the foolishness of his pride.

The place of his repentance and offering of a sacrifice to God to prevent further destruction is majorly significant.  God tells him to offer a sacrifice at this threshing floor, like a mill.  Its a place of transformation, crushing the wheat, throwing away what is not needed, producing flour for bread.

The commentary says its the first time God has named a geographical place for sacrifices.  Up til now, its been in the tabernacle, of no fixed address.  This location becomes the site of the temple, and also the site of Calvary.  The great preacher, Charles Spurgeon goes mental about it.

As an origin story for post-exile Jews, re-establishing the temple – the target market for chronicles – it is a key part of the book.

I love that each person’s story of God is linked to a time and a place. I think its increasingly important to view the church as an Australian church, Australia as a spiritual place, and within that, our localities as spiritual places. The different churches should unite in that, letting the ties to other countries, histories and traditions, which can divide the church, fade.

But also in this story, God’s love and justice are mysteriously on display. David’s weakness is a vehicle for God’s love and transformation beyond what even the original readers of Chronicles could imagine.

 

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