Summary: Here is an Old Testament text with a right now application on the sins of pride and self-sufficiency. How do you measure success?

The Sin of Numbering Israel

November 9, 2008

Dr. Russell K. Tardo

The text is found in 1 Chronicles, chapter 21, an Old Testament text with a New Testament application. This is the account of King David’s numbering of Israel. While this event occurred several thousand years ago in the reign of King David, I believe that ample correlation to the twenty-first century can be found.

1And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. 2And David said to Joab (the commander of his army) and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. 3And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel? (Joab knew this was wrong and he tried to discourage David from going through with his plan.) 4Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. 5And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword. 6But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king’s word was abominable to Joab. 7And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel. 8And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly. 9And the LORD spake unto Gad, David’s seer, saying, 10Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. 11So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee (David gets a unique opportunity to choose his own chastisement) 12Either three years’ famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me. 13And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let me fall now into the hand of the LORD; for very great are his mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man. (David told Gad that he would prefer to fall into the hands of God, but not into the hands of his enemies. In the hands of God there is mercy.) 14So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men. 15And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented (turned Himself) him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. [1 Chron. 21:1-15]

David was later instructed to set up an altar on the site of that threshing floor. (A threshing floor was always located on a hillside where there was an active wind. The winnowing process called for throwing the grain into the air so that the chaff was blown away by the wind while the heavier grain fell to the ground.) God instructed David, through Gad the seer, to erect an altar on the site of the threshing floor and offer sacrifice. When David followed God’s instructions, God sent fire from heaven and consumed the sacrifice. It was at that same location that Abraham built the altar on which to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Later, Solomon built the great temple on that very site.


First, Why did David choose to number Israel? Secondly, Why was it such a grievous sin?

We know that God regarded it to be a sin of such serious nature that He sent pestilence and destroyed 70,000 people. Not only does the Biblical text state that it was sin, but it also says that Satan provoked David. Whenever the devil comes and whispers something in your ear, you can be assured that it’s a bad idea. Anytime the devil offers suggestions or advice, you’d be wise to resist him. Whenever the devil shows up, it’s certainly not the time when good things are going to happen.

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