Summary: This passage is perhaps one of the greatest texts on giving known to preachers... but it is also one of the most difficult, raising questions many of us would just as soon avoid.
OPEN: Back in 1995 (“Bits & Pieces” pamphlet) I read the following story:
Every February on George Washington’s birthday, the late newspaper columnist, Frederick C. Othman, used to visit the West Wing of the Smithsonian Institution, look at a certain statue there among the antique printing presses, then reprint this piece in his column as a tribute to governmental bungling....
"I regret to report that Father of his country looks as goose-pimply as ever - all 11 feet, 4 inches of him - with a sheet around his middle, a laurel wreath on his brow, and his bare toes in the breeze. I guess you might call this the result of one of Congress’s sorriest experiences with the arts.
"It began in 1833, when Horatio Greenough was paid $5000 to sculpt a heroic statue of George Washington for the Capitol’s rotunda. Horatio went to Florence, Italy, and emerged several years later with a 20 ton marble statue. When the longshoremen started to hoist the statue onto a boat, the rope broke and George sank in the mud. The U.S. Navy sent a battleship to Italy, fished George out and took him to New York. Because some railroad tunnels between there and New York weren’t big enough, they took him to New Orleans and forwarded him by devious routes, without tunnels, to Washington. This artistic enterprise by now had cost some $26,000.
"When the statue proved too heavy for the Rotunda, it was quickly moved to the Capitol lawn, where the unveiling came on George Washington’s birthday, 1843. The Navy band tootled, the lawmakers made speeches, the Speaker of the House pulled the string, and sure enough - there was George Washington, twice as big as life, scantily clad as a Roman Senator!
"Over Capitol Hill rose a horrified gasp. After weeks of bitter debate, Congress decided to build a wooden shed for $1600 to hide the statue. By 1908, the shed was so weather beaten – and the lawmakers so mortified, that they appropriated a final $5000 to tear it down and haul the semi naked Washington - in the dead of night - to the Smithsonian."
APPLY: Why did this Frederick Othman visit the Smithsonian every February… and then (every February) reprint this story about this statue?
Why? Because in Washington D.C., Othman was constantly exposed to governmental waste and incompetence – AND this story perfectly symbolized the emotions of anger and frustration he felt every time he was exposed to the bad judgment of elected officials.
I. II Samuel 24 tells us God was angry.
2 Samuel 24:1 tells us “Again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel…”
We’re not told exactly why God was so angry. At one time, I had thought it was because He had commanded Israel not to take a census (and that this was a direct violation of His will).
So I hunted throughout the law seeking for that command. It wasn’t there. In fact, the book of Numbers was dedicated to that very issue: taking a census of the people.
I examined the sermons and commentaries of others on this subject, and no one seemed to give me what I considered to be a satisfactory answer.
But then I got to thinking... why would God get mad at Israel? The more I thought about it, the it seemed that his anger had to do with pride. Pride in their own accomplishments and power.
The previous chapter (II Samuel 23) detailed the successes David’s army had had in battles with the Philistines and the Moabites and other enemies.
As I read this, it occurred to me that Israel may have begun to look to those victories.... that they may have begun to notice that whenever David went out with his armies, they just beat the tar out of them.... That as a result of their army’s successes, no one dared to stand up against them - and that any army that did was sent home with their tale tucked between their legs.
As a result Israel began to think they were pretty good. They began to think of themselves as unbeatable and invincible. And (I believe) they took their eyes off of God and forgot that it had been GOD who had delivered their enemies into their hands
A sinful attitude of pride began to settle in…
In Deuteronomy, God’s people were warned against this very sinful attitude:
"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the LORD your God for the good land he has given you. Be careful that you do not forget the LORD your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day.
Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery….