1 Chronicles 21:1-7
Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number.” But Joab said, “May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab. So Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came back to Jerusalem. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword. But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab. But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel.
When I first read these verses I didn’t understand why God would be displeased with King David taking a census. I thought, what is wrong with knowing how many citizens you have to rule. Countries, including our country, take a census every so many years to determine population growth, changes in demographics, etc. Where is the sin it this?
Then, as I read it again, I realized David was getting the number of soldiers he had under his command. Okay, again what’s wrong with that? Eisenhower needed to know troop strength for both the Allies and the Axis. What commander wouldn’t want to know this? That is vital information for strategic and logistical planning.
I also wondered why David’s top commander bulked at this request. What did he know that David didn’t know? How did Joab know David was committing a sin?
And I thought, what sin is David committing, I wasn’t familiar with any commandment that read, thou shall not count how many people thou has.
The more I thought about it, I realized David had already fought and won his battles prior to requesting this census. David and Israel were secure at this point. David had met and defeated his enemies by the grace of God.
All these victories had gone to David’s head. The reason David was requesting a census wasn’t for any critical planning or war time strategies. It wasn’t to figure out the impact on the economy to feed and keep an army or the impact on society to return the soldiers to civilian life.
It was for one purpose. David wanted to know just how great he was. The census served one purpose for David, vanity.
Joab, David’s top commander knew this and he even played with the numbers to keep the count down. He saw David’s head beginning to swell and knew that if this continued David’ head would burst from pride and vanity.
Pride was the sin.
And in pride I believe you are breaking the first three commandments. For with pride you are not humbling yourself before God. You are giving yourself all the credit, you are making yourself a god. With pride you have put yourself before God and bowing down and worshipping yourself and having taken God’s name in vain. (Vain – conceited, narcissistic, self-obsessed, egocentric) You have given all the credit to yourself. You might have done it yourself, but you didn’t do it by yourself.
Now it makes sense to me why it says in verse 7: “But God was displeased with this thing.” And here, as throughout history, pride, putting yourselves before God, has taken down the powerful.
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