“King David said to Joab and the leaders of the army who were with him, “Tour all the tribes in Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba and register the people, that I may know their number.” Joab then reported to the king the number of people registered: in Israel, eight hundred thousand men fit for military service; in Judah, five hundred thousand.” (2 Samuel 24)
God considered the numbering of the people to be a grave sin. Because of David’s sin, “seventy thousand of the people from Dan to Beer-sheba died…As the angel of the Lord was on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, God stayed the judgment.
Seven Reasons Why God’s punishment was so Severe.
No commentary really knows. However, David Adler, in the Jewish Bible Quarterly, offers seven possibilities:
- David’s order to Joab to make certain Uriah, husband of Bathsheba, died in combat. But how many soldiers were complicit?
- David permits the execution of the seven descendants of Saul whom David handed over to the Gibeonites and the bodies were left unburied. Rabbis believed such “a king and a society which could allow such a shame and abomination to take place deserved to be punished.”
- The people deserved the punishment for failing to support David during the rebellion of rebellions of Absalom and Sheba ben Bichri.
- The sin was completely David’s fault for not relying on God.
- Both David and the people failed to follow God’s command to conquer the seven nations of Canaan – modern-day Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan(cf. Deut. 20:17).
- Failure to purchase the field of a Jebusite (aka the Temple Mount). Once purchased, God stays the judgment. (cf II Sam. 24:21; I Chr. 21:22)
- Leviticus 4:3 “If it is the anointed priest who has incurred guilt so that blame falls upon the people.”
people, he shall offer for the sin of which he is guilty a bull….” ADLER, J. J. David’s Last Sin: Was It the Census? Jewish Bible Quarterly, [s. l.], v. 23, n. 2, p. 91–95, 1995.
What Difference Does it Make?
When leaders sin, the leader and the people suffer.
Moses teaches this principle in the 3rd commandment. God is so passionate about sin and righteousness, He promises to visit the guilt upon the parents even to the next three or four generations. However, to the righteous, kindness to the thousandth generation (Exodus 20: 4-6). However, both Jeremiah and Ezekiel reject delayed punishment (Jeremiah 31:29-30; Ezekiel 18:1-4) saying when you sin, it’s only you that the pay the penalty.
Why the change in the commandment? One of the most famed Jewish scholar of the 19th century, Cassuto, believed Exodus 20 referred to the entire nation as a single entity throughout the ages. When God threatens punishment it to the nation (i.e. the nation and its leaders are so corrupt as a whole they are held accountable.” (Cassuto, Commentary on Exodus, 243).
Every nation makes choices. Israel, during the time of Jesus, failed to believe. God destroyed the temple loved by both the Jewish leaders and the people.
What happens to a country that consistently violates God’s commandments?
Ultimately, God will punish all the nations. Even today, every generation chooses to obey or disobey God. Joel 3:14 offers this telling prophecy about nations who have decisions to make: “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the Lord is near in the valley of decision.”
The good news for America is this: We have many “Abraham’s” who are pleading for God’s mercy on our behalf (cf. “If I find fifty righteous people in Sodom, I will spare the entire city for their sake” (cf. Genesis 18:26).
We are under a covering of God’s mercy but never forget we will all stand before God (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:10).