1 Chronicles 21:1–13

Read the passage.

On the surface, the fact that David’s census angered the Lord is a bit strange. In Exodus 30, the Lord gives instructions on how to conduct a census, and in Numbers 1 and 26 He commands Moses to count the people. The purpose of all of these censuses was to see how large a fighting force Israel had. Perhaps David did not levy the half-shekel tax to atone for the people, or maybe he did and should not have because this generation had already been redeemed from God’s wrath. Despite his track record of military victories, perhaps David was trusting more in the strength of his army than in the Lord for future campaigns. We can only speculate.

At any rate, the top general Joab tries to dissuade David, but fails to do so. The fighting men of Israel are counted, except for the Levites as was according to the Lord’s instructions for a census, and except for the Benjaminites, which was not. The Lord’s anger comes against David, and he recognizes that he has acted sinfully. He cries out to the Lord for forgiveness. While it is clear that he is forgiven, the Lord also decrees that there will be consequences for Israel because of the sin of their king.

Interestingly, David gets to choose what the consequences will be. This appears to be a unique situation. I don’t recall anyone getting a similar choice in the form of their judgement. The closest thing is actually the inverse, where Solomon is granted his choice of blessing from the Lord.

The choices David is given are three years of famine in the land, three months of devastating invasion and pursuit before a violent death, or three days of pestilence. These are interesting choices, because David had already experienced two of them, except for actually being killed. Israel had already gone through a three-year famine recently (2 Samuel 21:1), and David had been fighting off invasions for his whole career. Not only that, but he had previously been on the run for his life from both King Saul and his own son Absalom.

David’s choice is to rely on the Lord’s mercy. He asks not to fall into the hands of men, which would be his certain death, but he lets the Lord choose either of the other two options. This may sound self-serving, because now the people will suffer David’s judgement, but they would have suffered the “devastation by your foes” as well. By asking for the Lord’s mercy, David is also seeking to save as many of his people as possible from these judgements.

You appoint our leaders; let them show us Your righteous ways.

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