Divine Disease – 2 Samuel 24

Introduction 

 

In a previous article I addressed the question “Is Covid-19 God’s Judgment?” In the first article I stated that God uses all circumstances, good and bad to accomplish His purpose. We should not consider every natural disaster a direct judgment from God; some are the result of living in a fallen world. There are incidents in the Bible when God brought about disasters as a form of judgement to discipline and restore His people. When He did, there was a purpose and valuable lessons that His people were to learn. One such event is the epidemic He brought upon Israel in 2 Samuel 24. 

 

The Cause of Judgment

 

We discover the cause of God’s judgment in the opening verses of the account. 24:1 begins with the phrase “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel and he incited David against them…” The use of the word “again” shows that God’s anger was rekindled against Israel for a previous sin. In chapter 21 God brought about a drought in the land of Israel for the sin that Saul committed violating Israel’s covenant with the Gibeonites. During his reign, Saul attacked and nearly annihilated the Gibeonites breaching a centuries old peace covenant made in Joshua 9:15. Justice needed to be rendered for the Gibeonites. Since Saul had been killed, a just settlement was that Saul’s family had to atone for the crime he committed. David turned over seven of Saul’s sons to the Gibeonites. After justice was executed, the land was restored. On this particular occasion Israel has sinned again. What that sin is, is not specified here. Perhaps it refers to the sin of chapter 21 or perhaps another grievous sin it is not clear.  

God needs to discipline His people for this sin and He incites David to take a census that divine judgement may take place. There is an apparent difficulty with the phrase that the Lord incited David. God cannot do evil, nor can He incite people to acts of evil so this seems to contradict the character of God. The parallel story in 1 Chronicles 21:1 states that it was Satan who incited David to take the census. Putting the two accounts together we can conclude that it was Satan who directly enticed David and it was God who allowed David to be enticed. Nothing happens outside of God’s control. In this case God allowed Satan to tempt David who was already filled with pride and had chosen to go against God’s command. 

Isaiah 45:7 states, “I form the Light and create darkness: I make well-being and create calamity: I am the Lord, who does all these things.” There are many places in the Bible where people rebel against God. In these cases, God allows calamity or evil to arise and run its course permitting the rebellious to suffer the consequences of their actions. God’s righteous character requires that He judge sin. His intention is to correct and restore His people from their wayward and destructive path. Here Israel had committed a great act of sin that violated God’s righteousness. David, the leader of his people leads them down a path of disobedience by taking a census of his fighting men.  

There is nothing wrong with taking a census. God ordered it several times as we see in the Book of Numbers 1:2, 4:2, & 26:2. When a census is taken, it must be done properly (Ex. 30:12-16) or else one of the penalties mentioned that will result is a plague. In the Old Testament law, when a census was taken, each man counted was to give “a ransom for his life to the Lord.” This means that each man counted was pledging to serve in the military when called upon. Also, each one counted in the census was required to pay a census tax. Perhaps David violated some aspect of the law when taking the census. Another possibility is that David took the census out of pride for boasting purposes or to build a false sense of security in his forces and not the Lord. I favor the later explanation. 

In 24:3 his general Joab, is troubled because he knew David was violating God’s law and tries to talk David out of the census. However, David’s command prevails and the commanders go throughout the land and number the people. According to verse 8, the numbering the people took nearly 10 months. 

The number from the census was an impressive 800,000 warriors from Israel and 500,000 from Judah. I believe it was pride that motivated David to do a census and the numbers brought him a sense of false security in his army and not in the Lord. This is a dangerous disposition for the leader of a nation. Pride has led leaders to disregard God’s sovereignty, His moral law and view themselves as supreme. It is easy for pride to create an over inflated ego in leaders and this is when poor and even disastrous decisions are made. History shows the results of arrogant and overconfident leaders. There have been aggressive conquests of territories inciting wars, oppressive taxes to support the buildings of monuments unto themselves, unjust treatment of minorities, and other injustices. When a nation’s leader rejects God, the nation meets its end. President Ronald Reagan stated at the Dallas Ecumenical Prayer Breakfast in 1984, “If we ever forget we are one nation under God, then we will be a nation gone under.” 

Mankind today has long rejected God and has placed their faith in our abilities and knowledge. As a result, we have reaped the horrible consequences of our misplaced faith and hope. One example is Communism. This philosophy was built on the premise that belief in God was the problem and sought to build a utopian society. Karl Marx stated, “Religion is the sign of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”. Instead of a utopia, this atheistic philosophy has killed over 100 million people and to this day, communist countries remain some of the poorest nations with the most oppressive regimes. 

Many scholars have given political, social, psychological and economic reasons why Communism has failed. I believe it begins with the founders’ rejection of God. This led to the wrong understanding of morality, human nature, and government. As a result, instead of a legacy of utopian societies, there is a legacy of atrocities and failed systems. 

I have worked under and watched leaders in organizations and businesses make foolish decisions. The disasters that followed could have been avoided if they would have heeded the warning of those around them. When we turn away from God and place our confidence in anything else, the results are usually adverse and sometimes disastrous. God disciplined His leader and nation to keep them from further danger.  

The lesson we learn is that pride develops when we come to believe we can do all things without God and we place our trust in ourselves and not in God. It is our fallen human nature that moves us away from trusting in God so we must constantly be reminded where our confidence ultimately lies. Calamities often remind us who is in control of all things and who we must place our hope and trust in. 

 

God’s Judgement

 

In verse 10, David realizes what he has violated God’s law and repents. However, the damage is done and the next day, God reveals His message to the prophet Gad. Three options are given to David: three years of famine, three months of fleeing, or three days of pestilence. David chose to fall on God’s mercy. Three days of pestilence come upon the nation killing 70,000 men. 

God used pestilence as judgement to humble David and Israel and bring them back to God so that they would turn away from a sinful path. God turns them from a destructive path to the path of life. Who knows what greater sin David may have led his nation into as he had turned from God and was now filled with pride and self-reliance? 

This section ends with David humbling himself, confessing his sin, and repenting (24:17). Often our first reaction when catastrophe strikes is to blame others and find ways to deflect responsibility to others. It takes tremendous courage and humility to examine oneself and confess one’s sin and accept responsibility. David’s response is a model of humility as he accepts full responsibility and repents. This is one of the reasons the Bible calls him a “man after God’s own heart.” David was not sinless, he was willing to repent when confronted with his sin.   

In the midst of our pandemic today, there are many who are looking for someone to blame. There is much blame to go around, but I believe it is time to end this. It is time to examine ourselves and see if there is sin we need to acknowledge and repent of. Not only do we need a time of personal reflection but also a time of reflecting as a nation.  

I hope this does not seem harsh or insensitive, but if this is a judgement of God, we should not be surprised for we have turned away from His law for quite some time. Our nation for decades has been going down a wrong and destructive path. The formula for our nation’s greatness is not difficult to unravel. It was the Christian principles that laid the foundation for the moral code upon which we built our constitution, laws, and government. The freedom we enjoy today are due to the moral law Code taught in the Bible. As our birth certificate states, 

 

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

 

Our founders built our nation of the premises that there are self-evident truths which include: there is a creator, He created all men, and He has established a universal absolute moral law. For decades we have been moving in the wrong direction. This is reflected in laws that were recently passed. 

 

  • Our nation changed the definition of marriage undermining God’s institution, the foundation of all societies. 
  • Our legalization of abortion has led to the slaughter of over 60 million children. 
  • Many want to remove prayer from our schools and public institutions. 
  • Many are seeking to remove God from our national symbols and oaths of public office. 
  • Belief in God and a universal moral law, often called natural law, was once an expectation for those running for public office is now seen by many as a strike against them. 

 

It is my hope that this calamity will humble us as individuals and cause us to examine our lives, our heart, our attitude, and our conduct. Then I hope our nation will turn from its course away from God and there will be a national repentance and turning to God. At this time of calamity, I do not hear the voices of the atheists. What message of hope can they offer? We see that Christianity offers the only message of true hope. We see a turning to God and Christ’s message of hope rising to the forefront as we face difficult times ahead. This is a hopeful sign. 

 

The Response

 

In 24:17-23, we see David’s response. He is ordered to build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. This is the site where it was believed that Jacob, the founder of the nation built an altar in Gen. 35. David offers to buy the threshing floor of Araunah but Araunah seeks to give the property to David for free. David refuses understanding that a faith that does not cost anything is not worth anything. David understood that there is a costly price for the atonement of sin. David offered sacrifices there on the altar he built and the plague came to an end. 

When God has to judge a nation, He does so because He is a righteous God and sin against Him must be judged. However, His justice is also consistent with His love and grace. His judgement is not motivated by pure anger or the desire for vengeance. It is done to discipline us and turn us from a destructive path and return us to the path of life. He often exposes our sin, false beliefs, and builds our character. When we respond with humility and repentance He can fulfill His will in our lives. In the end He uses even calamity to bring about His good purpose. 

One of my board members, Dr. Rick Bartosik, shared how the Hawaiians were prepared for the coming of the gospel. In the forty years between the first discovery of Hawaii by Capt. Cook in 1778 and the arrival of the missionaries in 1820, the population of native Hawaiians was decimated by diseases brought in by foreigners. They had no immunity and there were no antibiotics.  

The Hawaiians began to realize that the gods they prayed to were worthless; and just six months before the missionaries arrived they rejected the cruel and oppressive Kapu system (Hawaiian laws and regulations based on their religion), tore down their pagan temples, and burned their idols. Through suffering God providentially prepared their hearts to respond to the good news of the Gospel. When the missionaries arrived, the Hawaiian people, including the royalty, believed in Christ. Soon the largest church in the world was in Hawaii and Hawaii had one of the largest literary rates in the USA. 

Perhaps through this pandemic, the Lord is doing this again in many hearts today in our nation and the world. Many are realizing the frailty and uncertainty of life, and the emptiness of trying to live within a secular worldview. 

The lesson we learn is that where there is sin, the proper response is confession and repentance. God restores and in fact, wants to restore His people, but we must respond with humility, repentance, and seek him. Before the restoration comes the repentance. 2 Chron. 7:14 states, “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face, then will I hear from heaven and forgive their sin and heal their land.” The healing comes after there is a national humbling and turning to God. 

 

Conclusion

 

Through this story we learn that pride and turning away from God led David and the nation down a destructive path. Whatever sin was committed, it must have been serious enough that God needed to judge in a stern manner. God does not like to discipline His people, but when we sin, He must judge to vindicate His righteousness and turn us away from a destructive path. When people humble themselves and repent, God restores the land. There can be brighter days ahead when we respond as David did as individuals and a nation. 

It is my prayer that through this crisis, we will be a stronger church and nation because we turned from our sin and trusted God in greater ways than ever before. May our churches return to an uncompromising teaching of His word, stand against sin, and may each of us follow the call of discipleship. Let us pray our nation changes her course and instead of turning away from God, will turn to God and remain one nation under God. I see a hopeful future as many are realizing the emptiness of their ideologies and considering the Gospel of Christ the only truth that can stand in difficult times. 

 

© Evidence and Answers April 2020

 

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