Summary: In 2020 the U.S. conducted a Census - the same year of the pandemic. In wondering if there is a correlation between the census and the plague, I began searching the Scriptures, and I think you’ll be surprised as to what I found out.
I’ve entitled our message this morning, “The Census and the Plague.” This is the year of the United States 2020 Census. This is also the year of a global pandemic known as the Corona Virus and Covid 19; and I’ve been contemplating for quite some time the irony of how we actually had a pandemic during the last Census taken back in 2010. H1N1, or the Swine flu, “made headlines in 2009 when it was first discovered in humans and became a pandemic . . . The World Health Organization declared the H1N1 pandemic over in August 2010.”(1) In wondering if there is a correlation between the census and the plague, I began searching the Scriptures, and I think you’ll be surprised as to what I found out. So, let’s go ahead and get started with Exodus 30:11-16.
A Ransom for the Plague (Exodus 30:11-16)
11 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 12 “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them. 13 This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the LORD. 14 Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD. 15 The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves. 16 And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”
In verse 12, the Lord told His people that when they took a census they needed to pay a ransom price; otherwise, they would suffer a plague. So, why would the taking of a census result in God’s judgement?
Douglas Stuart, in The New American Commentary, says that “in the ancient world, as far as we know, a census was taken for one of only two purposes: 1.) to prepare for war, or 2.) to impose some sort of taxation. In ancient Israel there was technically only one purpose: to prepare for war. Because the Israelites had no right to go to war except for the taking and holding of the Promised Land by holy war as called explicitly by Yahweh through a prophet, and because they had no right to impose taxes beyond the contribution system revealed in the Law by God Himself, the taking of a census would constitute in most cases an act of direct covenant disobedience.”(2)
Verse 14 says, “Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the Lord.” The age of those who were to pay included any male from twenty-years-old and up. It is at the age of twenty that a Hebrew was considered to be full grown. At this age, they would be considered acceptable for military service.(3) So, if the primary motivation for taking a census was to assess potential military might, and to impose taxes, we see why the Lord added warnings . . . to this proceeding. After all, a great deal can go wrong when powerful men want to go to war, or get more money [from] the people. It is almost as if God was saying, ‘You can take this census, but you cannot do it independent of Me or My sovereign rule. It must not become an occasion for your own manipulation for wealth or power’.”(4)
Commentator Philip Ryken points out that a census carries with it the possibility of pride. He says, “Who has the right to take inventory? Only the person who owns whatever is being counted.” This means that only God, the rightful owner of all, could call for a count of the people. Ryken continues, “Whenever the Israelites took a census, they were in serious danger of forgetting this. After all, they were the ones doing the counting. Thus, they would be tempted to think that their great numbers were a credit to them rather than to God. And, although it was not a sin to take a census, it was a sin to rob God of His glory.”(5)
Perhaps, with this in mind, we can understand what happened in 1 Chronicles chapter 21. In verses 1-2 of this chapter, we read, “Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people, ‘Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it’.” Taking an unsanctioned census was considered a sin by God, because David was placing his trust in the number of soldiers he had instead of placing his confidence in the Lord’s power to fight for Israel; meaning that he trusted in people more than he trusted in God. We read in verse 14, that as a result of David’s actions, “The LORD sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell.”