Sunday, April 1, 2012

1 Chronicles 21

Sunday, April 1st:
1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.”
3 But Joab replied, “May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”
4 The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. 5 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.
6 But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him.7 This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.
8 Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”
9 The LORD said to Gad, David’s seer, 10 “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’”
11 So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Take your choice: 12 three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the LORD—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”
13 David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.”
14 So the LORD sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. 15 And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
16 David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.
17 David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? LORD my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.”
18 Then the angel of the LORD ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 19 So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the LORD.
20 While Araunah was threshing wheat, he turned and saw the angel; his four sons who were with him hid themselves. 21 Then David approached, and when Araunah looked and saw him, he left the threshing floor and bowed down before David with his face to the ground.
22 David said to him, “Let me have the site of your threshing floor so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped. Sell it to me at the full price.”
23 Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.”
24 But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.”
25 So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site. 26 David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering.
27 Then the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. 28 At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, he offered sacrifices there. 29 The tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the high place at Gibeon. 30 But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD.

Points of Interest
‘Satan rose up against Israel‘--this is a surprise appearance. I guess now that all of David’s human enemies have been taken care of, a spiritual one appears. Satan is a powerfully evil spiritual being who is a genius at finding and exploiting character flaws, particularly through temptation and accusation; in fact, his name means, ‘Accuser.’
‘incited David to take a census’--it’s a little curious that this, of all things, is Satan’s nefarious plan. A census seems innocuous enough, boring even. I must be missing something, though, because Joab immediately recognizes the census as a foolish and reprehensible idea.
‘from Beersheba to Dan’--that is, from the far south to the northern tip.
‘May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over’--Joab points out that with David, it’s never been about the number of his troops, but about God’s support. Time and again, when he was running from Saul, when he faced Goliath, as far back as the lion and the bear in his shepherding days and as recently as Absalom’s rebellion, David has been outgunned, but with God’s help he has emerged victorious. Perhaps that’s why the census is such a bad idea. Having relied on God all this time, David now decides that he’d rather depend on the numbers of his army.
‘are they not all my lord’s subjects?’--counting them doesn’t change how many of them there are anyway.
‘Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering’--he doesn’t have the heart for the job and stops before he’s done.
‘Gad, David’s seer’--it seems like David has developed a personal staff as well as his government administration. Zadok and Abiathar are the national priests; Ira is David’s household priest (verse 26 from yesterday’s passage). Nathan is the national prophet; Gad is David’s personal prophet.
‘three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, or three days of the sword of the LORD’--by taking the census, David has said he’d rather rely on his numbers than God. God is now saying, ‘Well, let’s see how your numbers stack up against just one of the terrible things that can happen.’
‘Let me fall into the hands of the LORD’--just as after Uriah’s murder, even now, David trusts that God will ultimately prove merciful.
‘with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem’--David and his councilors come upon something truly terrifying: a huge destroying angel, with a drawn sword, apparently on his way to Jerusalem. What they don’t know is that God has just instructed him to stop. They catch sight of him just as he is about to sheath his sword, but it probably looks to them like he is drawing it instead.
‘I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong’--it does seem unfair that the people are paying for David’s mistake. However, if you’ll remember from the beginning of our story, before Saul, the people didn’t have kings, but were governed directly by God. Against God’s objections, they insisted that they wanted a king instead. I guess an unavoidable part of the whole monarchy package is that the lives of everyone hinge on the decisions of one man. Even with a pretty good king like David, that can sometimes come back to bite you, as it does in this instance.
‘let your hand fall on me and my family’--granting what I say above about the inevitable pitfalls of having a king, it’s still good to see David respond with humility, sorrow, and a desire to take the punishment for his actions on himself. All along, through his ups and downs, David’s saving grace has been that he’s a different sort of king. He’s generally humble before God, and he usually sees himself as the people’s servant rather than their master. With this census, he has momentarily forgotten both of those things. Upon seeing the suffering that results, he snaps back to his old self.
‘No, I insist on paying the full price’--out of deference to the king and in light of the emergency circumstances, Araunah is willing to cede his threshing floor to David as eminent domain. But David wants to be very certain here not to take advantage of one of his subjects. Assuming royal privilege is what has gotten into trouble in the first place, after all.
‘with fire from heaven’--by sending fire from heaven, God is dramatically demonstrating acceptance of David’s offering.
‘he put his sword back into its sheath’--I bet everyone breathed a big sigh of relief here.
‘at that time on the high place at Gibeon’--the tabernacle is the tent that represents God living among humans. It’s a little surprising to hear that the tabernacle is at Gibeon. Last we heard, the ark of the covenant was in Jerusalem; and the ark and the tabernacle should go as a set. Did the tabernacle and the ark somehow get separated? Is the ark on tour? Regardless, the reason it’s significant here is that offerings are only supposed to be sacrificed on the altar found in the tabernacle. But the official altar is too far away for David to get to it under the circumstances; you don’t want to keep an angel with drawn sword waiting. Still, breaking the normal rules must have been a bit unsettling. After all, last time they departed from the proper ritual, by carrying the ark on an oxcart, Uzzah ended up dead. In this case, however, it’s the sword-wielding angel himself who suggests the new altar.

Taking it Home
For you: One last time, we respond to the day’s reading with a psalm. If you need them, you can look to the note at the beginning of the week for suggestions about what to do with the psalm.
Psalm 38
1 LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your wrath.
2 Your arrows have pierced me,
and your hand has come down on me.
3 Because of your wrath there is no health in my body;
there is no soundness in my bones because of my sin.
4 My guilt has overwhelmed me
like a burden too heavy to bear.
5 My wounds fester and are loathsome
because of my sinful folly.
6 I am bowed down and brought very low;
all day long I go about mourning.
7 My back is filled with searing pain;
there is no health in my body.
8 I am feeble and utterly crushed;
I groan in anguish of heart.
9 All my longings lie open before you, Lord;
my sighing is not hidden from you.
10 My heart pounds, my strength fails me;
even the light has gone from my eyes.
11 My friends and companions avoid me because of my wounds;
my neighbors stay far away.
12 Those who want to kill me set their traps,
those who would harm me talk of my ruin;
all day long they scheme and lie.
13 I am like the deaf, who cannot hear,
like the mute, who cannot speak;
14 I have become like one who does not hear,
whose mouth can offer no reply.
15 LORD, I wait for you;
you will answer, Lord my God.
16 For I said, “Do not let them gloat
or exalt themselves over me when my feet slip.”
17 For I am about to fall,
and my pain is ever with me.
18 I confess my iniquity;
I am troubled by my sin.
19 Many have become my enemies without cause
those who hate me without reason are numerous.
20 Those who repay my good with evil
lodge accusations against me,
though I seek only to do what is good.
21 LORD, do not forsake me;
do not be far from me, my God.
22 Come quickly to help me,
my Lord and my Savior.
For your six: I’m impressed by David’s ability to stay in it. He is kind of like a marathon runner, who just keeps at it. In the face of his own mistakes, God’s punishment, and incredible pain and frustration, David just keeps pressing in and connecting with God...even when he might not be on the best of terms with God or at all like what God is doing. Pray that your six would have the same endurance to push through to connection with God. Pray for any ways that your six have been hurt by churches or people of faith or have had troubling experiences of God that make it hard for them. Ask that God would be with them through their struggles and questions and that he would reveal himself to them.
For our church: Pray that God would give our church the tenacity to plead before him, like David did. Pray that collectively as a church we would lift up large concerns and boldly ask God to come through for us, for our city, and for the world. Ask God to raise up people who feel specifically called to help lead our initiatives to pray together.
For families: It can be easy to want to rely on how things look in this world rather than exercising faith in what God can do. Talk with your family about things you each want to see happen, things that seem impossible based on the numbers or facts of this world. Then talk about some things God has come through on in the past that have seemed impossible. Pray together that God would give you the faith to believe for this thing you want regardless of how it might look on the outside.