One of the
most perplexing events in the Bible is found in II Samuel 24. Herein we find
that David appears to offend God by ordering Joab to take a census of Israel
and of his army in particular (V. 2). Joab tried to discourage David from
taking the census, but in vain. Finally Joab relents and fulfills the King’s
In V. 10 we find
that “David’s heart condemned him, after he had numbered the people.” In
fact he confessed his sin and begged for mercy: “I have sinned greatly in what
I have done; but now I pray, O Lord, take away the iniquity of your servant,
for I have done very foolishly” (V. 10).
But God did not forgo His
intended punishment for David. Instead, God sent Gad the Seer to explain to
him that his punishment was unavoidable, and that he would have three
punishments he could choose from:
years of famine on the land.
Three months of fleeing before his enemies.
days of plague in the land.
Wisely, David handed
himself over to God’s mercy and asked that his punishment would not entail
falling “into the hands of man” (V.14). Thus God “sent a plague upon
Israel from the morning till the appointed time” (V. 15). The result?
“Seventy-thousand men of the people died” (V. 15).
What if God had not
punished Israel for David’s sin? What if God had punished David instead of
Israel? After all, was it not David that sinned? Why punish the innocent?
perplexing and unfair of God, the truth reveals otherwise. II Samuel 24: 1
is the key that opens our understanding: “Again the anger of the Lord was
aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to
say, ‘Go number Israel and Judah.’” God was, therefore, angry at Israel.
Though the scriptures do not give us the details, God’s anger is invariably
related to moral deterioration and abandonment to sin. This is the
motivating factor for God’s decision to move David against them, that
I Chronicles 21:1
tells us that Satan was also manipulated by God to be involved in this
event, as he “stood up against Israel, and moved David to number
Israel.” Therefore, God inspired Satan to inspire David to do that which was
unacceptable before God: number Israel. David fell into the trap and the
result was the three punishments that, interestingly enough, would have been
a great punishment on the sinful nation, not on David.
What if God had not
punished Israel? What if God had severely punished David and had left Israel
Given the fact that
God was angry at Israel for their sins, the seventy thousands that were
killed by the great plague deserved to be killed. There cannot be
unrighteousness with God. The innocent cannot be punished, if they have not
sinned and had not deserved their punishment. The plague was a perfect way
to pick and choose among the people and to consequence the most degenerate.
If God punished
David directly, he would have not dealt with the focus of His anger. If He
had spared the sinners among Israel, they would have deteriorated and their
poison would have infected others. God’s mighty intervention reminded them
that He would not bear any degeneracy among a people who were to be Holy.
David was also reminded that God will intervene when and how he sees fit.
The event also
spotlights the nobility of David’s heart. By not being the recipient of the
punishment, David could have stood quietly by until the scourge was over.
Instead, he turned to God in prayer and said: “Was it not I who commanded
the people to be numbered? I am the one who had 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” (I Chronicles 21: 17). This prayer was clear evidence to God
that David was not selfish and calloused, that he was repentant, and that he
was willing to take responsibility for his actions. This was further proof
to God that David was clearly the right man for the job, and a man worthy of
being an ancestor to the Messiah.
Thus, by punishing
Israel in this most peculiar way, God proved, once again, His intolerance of
sin, His power to manipulate Satan’s mind, His just intervention against
unrepentant sinners, and His great wisdom in testing key figures, such as
David. Furthermore, by allowing this story to be included in the Bible
record, God has given scoffers, throughout the ages, an opportunity to
stumble, and believers an opportunity to exult at God’s justice and
IS GOD CRUEL?
Michael Caputo, 2013
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