So how do you end a book? We have been exposed to one of the most lengthy narratives for a person in the scriptures. David has been God’s focus that he wants us to pay close attention to. So how do end the account of David? How do you end a book? God’s answer is that he is going to close the life of David with a proclamation of the gospel. Open your copies of God’s word to 2 Samuel 24 and we are going to see the gospel proclaimed to us in the most unusual way as God closes the book on his servant, David.
God Against Israel (24:1)
The account opens with the anger of the Lord being kindled against Israel again. We are not told what Israel has done this time to spark the Lord’s anger. But this is not the first time as the writer tells us that Israel has done this “again.” Back in chapter 21 we saw that the anger of the Lord was on Israel and a famine was on the land for three years because of what Saul had done against the Gibeonites.
But the first verse seems very troubling. What is troubling is that the Lord incited David to take a census of the nation. How can we understand this scene? It is useful to note that 1 Chronicles 21 declares that Satan incited David to take a census of Israel. What we are seeing here is very similar to the picture that is revealed to us in the first two chapters of the book of Job. Who afflicted Job? The text tells us that Satan did (Job 1:12; 2:7) but at the same time the Lord takes responsibility (Job 2:3). In fact, the words God uses may be helpful to our understanding. Listen to what God told Satan about Job and what happened.
And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil? He still holds fast his integrity, although you incited me against him to destroy him without reason.” (Job 2:3 ESV)
Notice that the Lord says that he was incited against Job even though Satan did the work. So 1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24 are not in contradiction. We have a hard time with this. But I want us to see that the Lord even uses Satan to accomplish his purposes. Do not lose sight of verse 1 as we go through this account. Israel is worthy of judgment. The anger of the Lord is kindled by Israel. Israel has incited the Lord’s anger and now the Lord is going to use Satan to bring judgment. Does this mean that David does not have a choice? No, he has a choice to do right. He has a choice to not sin. Judas is the perfect parallel to what we see happening. Did the Lord uses Satan to accomplish his will through Judas? Yes. The Gospel of John tells us that Satan entered Judas’ heart. But did this mean that Judas lost all ability to choose what to do? Could Judas have been faithful and not betrayed Jesus? Yes. So God is at work, allowing Satan to work, and using opportunities to accomplish his purposes. God’s purpose here in 2 Samuel 24 is judge Israel for its sinning.
Trusting the Numbers (24:2-9)
So David calls for Joab to number the people of Israel. Listen to Joab’s response in verse 3.
But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” (2 Samuel 24:3 ESV)
Why would you delight in doing such a thing as numbering the people? I believe the implication is that David wants to see the numbers. David wants to hear how massive his army is in his kingdom. Joab understands that this is a mistake and challenges David. May the Lord multiply your troops 100 times over. But why would you delight in such a thing, David? What does it matter how many people you have, David? God is the reason why the numbers are large! God will fight for you! You do not need numbers! You do not need to take pleasure in the numbers. David, do not trust in the numbers. The problem of the census is trusting in the physical.
This is a great temptation for us as well. We like to trust in the numbers. We look at the bank account and trust in the numbers rather than the Lord who gave you that amount. We look at the numbers on the paycheck and trust in those numbers rather than the Lord who gave you that amount. We trust in retirement numbers. We trust in health numbers. We trust in the numbers rather than the Lord who in control of all of those numbers and can defy those numbers. One of the messages of this book is for us to see that we serve the Lord who does not care about the numbers.
All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD’S, and he will give all of you into our hands.” (1 Samuel 17:47 NIV)
It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” (1 Samuel 14:6 ESV)
Do not trust the numbers. Joab tells David to not care about the numbers. God will bless you without regard for the numbers. Do not take pride in the numbers. God does not care about the numbers. You are not the reason for the numbers. But David does not listen (24:4) and the people are counted.
Now I want us to see what happens with David. David’s heart struck him after numbering the people (24:10). David realizes that he has sinned and confesses his sin to the Lord. Listen to David’s words.
And David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” (2 Samuel 24:10 ESV)
Do we see how David has been transformed? Last time David’s great sin was recorded, David was covering up his sin. David was doing everything he could to get away with what he had done. It took a prophet to come to him and to tell him a story to get David to see that he had greatly sinned against the Lord. This time David sins and David does not start trying to cover it up. This time David sins and it does not take a prophet to expose the sin to him. David’s heart exposes him. He knew what he had done was wrong and immediately prays for forgiveness. This is a man after God’s own heart. David has learned from his prior failure and immediately runs to the Lord when he sins. Listen again to what David admits: “I have done very foolishly.” This is what we have to admit.
Choose God (24:11-17)
The next day the prophet Gad comes to David with a message from the Lord. The consequences for sin must come. We have seen this many times in our study of 2 Samuel. Though forgiven, the consequences for sin must come. We need to accept the consequences for our sinning. So Gad comes with God’s word giving David a choice of the punishment for his sin. Do not forget verse 1 at this moment. Remember that Israel as incited the anger of the Lord. Israel must also receive judgment for their sinning. Three choices are given to David: three years of famine, three months of running from your enemies, or three days of pestilence. Look at David’s answer in verse 14.
It is better to fall into the hands of the Lord than the hands of people. Think about that faith for a moment. It would be better to be at the mercy of the Lord than the mercy of people. It would be better to be in God’s hands than in human hands. David understands that God’s mercy is great. David puts his life in God’s hands and the consequences in God’s hands. When we sin, let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great! God be merciful to me, the sinner (cf. Luke 18:13)! God, I am in your hands for the consequences of my sins.
As the judgment begins, the pestilence on Israel begins killing 70,000 people. Now God is going to tell this event backward so that we will see exactly what happened. Verse 16 tells us what happened. Jerusalem was going to be destroyed by this destroying angel. But the Lord relented from the calamity and says, “It is enough.” Why was this enough? Why did the Lord stop the plague? Why did the Lord stop the destruction? Why didn’t the Lord wipe out all the people for all of them are guilty of sinning? Why did the Lord relent? God is going to show us. Look at verse 17.
Verse 17 tells us that while the people were being struck by the plague, David is pleading on behalf of the people. David is interceding for his people, desiring the punishment to be on him rather than on the people. But why does the Lord listen to the pleading of David and relent? The rest of the paragraph tells us the answer.
The prophet sends one more message to David. Raise an altar to the Lord (24:18). In verse 21 we see David wanting to buy Araunah’s threshing floor so that the altar is being built there to avert the plague as the prophet said to do. Araunah tells David to just take the threshing floor and build the altar. But listen to David’s words in verse 24.
“No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” (2 Samuel 24:24 ESV)
With this, David buys the threshing floor, builds the altar and offers burnt offerings and peace offerings. Listen to the final words of the book. “So the Lord responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.” Why did the Lord relent from the plague that was striking the people because of their sins? Because the king made intercession, paid a price, and offered sacrifices to the Lord.
This is the gospel. How do end the life of David? You end his life story with the gospel. How do you end this book? You end this book with the gospel. You end the book with the hope of the gospel. This is a picture of our Lord Jesus who would rather suffer on our behalf than let us suffer the right condemnation for our sins. This is a picture of our king who will make intercession on our behalf, pay the ultimate price in giving his life, which would be offered for the people to be saved.
But think about the picture in on more way. Who told David how to make atonement for the people? God did. God send the prophet to David to tell David how to save the people from the plague (24:18). If God did not want Israel to be rescued, then he would not have sent a message to David on how to save the people from the judgment they deserved. How true are David’s words! His mercy is great! God did the exact same thing through Jesus. God himself declares the plan by which people can be saved from judgment and then saves the people through the offering of his Son. God wants to rescue his people. God’s mercy is great. Do not trust the numbers. Trust in the Lord. Trust in his love. Trust in his mercy. You have a Savior who intercedes for you today.