Day 94—Pride and Census—“The Consuming Fire” 1 Chronicles 17:1 – 22:1
April 5, 2021, 11:42 PM

Day 94—Pride and Census—“The Consuming Fire” 1 Chronicles 17:1 – 22:1

A brief catch up for yesterday’s reading. (Easter is a tough day to find spare time!)

I was interested to read about the census that we had already read about in both 2 Samuel 24 and again in 1 Chronicles 21. Remember this is a re-telling of the same event, not a new telling of a separate event, and it is notable in several ways. First of all, Chronicles does not report on several events we might consider essential: David’s victory over Goliath; the murder of Uriah the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband; David’s friendship with Jonathan or any of Saul’s reign. We are David-centric in every way and David’s activities have been cleaned up to some extent so we see him as an ideal ruler rather than seeing his flaws.

So the census—in 2 Samuel it reads “Now the LORD’S anger was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying ‘Go number Israel and Judah’”, which David did, sending his commander Joab to count all the people of the land, a task which took over 9 months to complete, a task which Joab fought against.

The resulting ‘sin’ caused the death of 70,000 men in David’s kingdom because of the taking of the census.

In 1 Chronicles, a notable difference is that it reads “Satan stood up against Israel, and incited David to count the people of Israel,” (21: 1)  The result was the same. David has incredible remorse and the LORD determines a punishment, a pestilence that kills 70,000 men.

When we whitewash a picture, the portrayal of evil has to be clear, and in the Chronicles tale, Satan is the purveyor of the bad choice David made, but God is still the punisher of the sin.

But WHY?!? Why would a census cause such a price? First of all note that Joab, his commander, clearly saw the problems associated with a census in both episodes, and tried to warn David to prevent him from conducting the census in the first place, but David would not be dissuaded. Joab saw the sinfulness that David did not.

And here’s the reason a census would have been considered sinful: a census implies a need for knowledge about the amount of military power that a King possesses. A census also implies the possibility of raising taxes on the people. We have learned this ourselves by our own US census adventures from the past year. A census provides information about a population that the nation’s rulers may find useful, whether that ruler is David or a president of the US.

However, in David’s case, the taking of a census was probably the preliminary act to establishing a draft of soldiers and a levying of taxes, or a higher levy.  David’s interest in a census, which primarily counted military personnel, was to either be aware of, or even increase, his military power in a way that contrasted with maintaining a humble reliance on God. David’s sin, as with so many other rulers, is the sin of pride.

This would NEVER have occurred to me, I must tell you, even while it absolutely makes sense. A census is generally associated with an inventory of power and influence for a ruler in ancient times. A king needs to know how many soldiers he had who were old enough to fight in a war, but that knowledge implies that the king is somehow responsible for the victory and not God. Joab knew this and strongly discouraged David, and in 1 Chronicles, Joab will not count the tribes of Levi and Benjamin “for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab” (1 Chronicles 21: 6). We are not sure why this is the case—were they simply the last two tribes to be counted, and Joab determined that he was not going to do it? Was it because the Levites were a priestly class and perhaps would not be useful in a military count? Was Joab protecting the priests from having to serve in the military? Was Joab protecting the tribe of Benjamin as well, since they were the smallest tribe, and therefore increasing their military service would decrease their numbers even more? Or was Joab simply fed up? We don’t know.

But we know that David’s pride somehow caused him to do something that caused God’s anger to rise against David and the result is that the people of Israel were punished for the sin of their king. Rather than having robust military in which to take pride, David lost 70,000 men, most of who were probably eligible or who were already serving in David’s army.

We then see a couple of appearances by angels, one of whom helps David determine the site for the building of the temple, but these sword-bearing angels are terrifying to behold. We really need to re-boot the idea and image of angels from our scriptures because rarely do they have that guardian angel quality that we have come to love.

Pride goeth before the fall is the old saying, and there are more like that:

Pride will cost you everything but leave you with nothing.

Pride erects a little kingdom of its own, and acts as sovereign within it. (Hazlett)

Never let your pride keep something broken that your heart wants to fix.

David’s heart did break when he realized his sin, but once the census was completed, so was the sin, and David experienced consequences for that sin, as we all do, although thankfully not on the scale that David did!

When is it that we want to do things that build us up, rather than building up the kingdom of God? Ok, for me, that’s an everyday experience if I am honest, but Old Testament stories remind me that not everything I think I need to do is from God, or serves God, and I have to pay closer attention to the way I make decisions about even small things that run the risk of separating me even more from the will of God. One more quote about pride:

Pride will always be the longest distance between two people (or between a king and his God—my addition).

Be blessed and be a blessing to others,

ML

 



Comments

04-06-2021 at 11:14 AM
ML+
So glad, Susan! I knew I couldn't leave it without finding out more about it.
04-06-2021 at 10:31 AM
Susan Wilson
That whole census thing was very confusing! Thanks for shedding some light on that.
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