Is the God of the Old Testament…?
I was working on my CV today (I’m not applying for jobs, I just update it regularly), and I decided to count up my publications by category (books, articles, dictionary articles, book reviews). As the number grew, I suddenly thought, “Perhaps this isn’t a good thing for me spiritually…“
Then I thought of David and the census. I’ve been thinking about David and the Israelite monarchy a lot lately since last week I was at Logos Bible Software taping courses on 1, 2 Kings and 1, 2 Samuel. The book of 2 Samuel ends with a bizarre story where YHWH is angry at his people so he incited David to count the people (2 Sam. 24:1-17).
1 Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.” 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 Sam. 24:1-3)
In Chronicles it was Satan who incited David to count the people (1 Chron. 21:1). Did the biblical authors sometimes get confused between God and Satan? That’s not something you want to mix up.
The text of 2 Samuel 24 isn’t exactly clear what’s wrong with counting the people. After all, the book of Numbers does a lot of counting (hence the catchy title). But Joab clearly knows David shouldn’t do it. For David, it seems to be related to pride in the size and strength of his military.
Gideon, after all, had too many soldiers and had to whittle down his army to 300 which was still ample to defeat the Midianites (Judg. 7) since it was YHWH that was fighting for Israel. Just as Gideon needed to depend upon YHWH and not the size of his military, David should do the same. By counting the people under his control, David would know how large his forces would be. He would then be tempted to rely on his enormous standing army for victory in battle, and not on the God who had delivered him from Goliath, the Philistine giant (1 Sam. 17).
Tragically, for David the divine punishment was severe upon the people. But why did YHWH punish them, for something David did that he provoked David to do? Great question–any thoughts?
For me counting publications, book sales or speaking requests can lead to pride, arrogance and a lack of dependence upon the God who’s given me my gifts, experiences and abilities. As an act of penance, I decided to write a blog about the topic.
Next time I feel like counting, I’ll count my blessings. I may even name them one by one.
How do we “take a census” today? Why is census-taking unhelpful spiritually?