David was given a choice of three punishments for the sin of taking a census. I’m not even going to talk about why the census was sinful today, except to say that it probably had something to do with David’s vanity and pride. I am interested in God’s three options and David’s choice. At first glance they all look equally bad. But only one of the options is totally out of the hands of men. During three years of famine, David’s great power and influence might mean that he could conquer those who had food surpluses – or maybe not and thousands would die. He could take his chances for three months in battle with his human enemies or he could endure a short sharp blast of plague which would certainly mean casualties but at least David could anticipate the likely outcome. Ultimately, David trusted the Lord far more than men. So he would rather be punished solely by the Lord than fall victim to his enemies who he thought would punish him far more severely than God.
1 Chronicles 21:7-14 NLT
God was very displeased with the census, and he punished Israel for it. Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt for doing this foolish thing.” Then the Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer. This was the message: “Go and say to David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I will give you three choices. Choose one of these punishments, and I will inflict it on you.’” So Gad came to David and said, “These are the choices the Lord has given you. You may choose three years of famine, three months of destruction by the sword of your enemies, or three days of severe plague as the angel of the Lord brings devastation throughout the land of Israel. Decide what answer I should give the Lord who sent me.” “I’m in a desperate situation!” David replied to Gad. “But let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great. Do not let me fall into human hands.” So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel, and 70,000 people died as a result.
My goal is to follow David’s lead in his time of desperation. For most of his life he had been threatened by enemy after enemy. At this point he faced the Lord himself and a battle he could not win. Faced with this horrendous decision, David resorted to his faith. He chose to be punished by God alone and trusted that, although the consequences of his sin would be severe, The Lord would ultimately be more merciful than men. I find myself in a situation at the moment that has often felt pretty desperate. But I have given each problem to God as this time of crisis has unfolded. Each time, without fail, the Lord has more than met my need. I have been housed and fed, I have had my financial responsibilities seen to each month, I have been loved and cared for, and I have been encouraged in this project and pointed in the right direction each time I haven’t known where to turn. I have suffered a punishment for my actions on the one hand, but I have been held close and supported through it on the other hand. Justice and mercy in equal measure.
1 Chronicles 19:1-21:30, Romans 2:25-3:8, Psalms 11:1-7, Proverbs 19:10-12