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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

2 Samuel 24

 

 

Verses 11-15

DISCOURSE: 328

DAVID NUMBERING THE PEOPLE

2 Samuel 24:11-15. When David was up in the morning, the word of the Lord came unto the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, Go and say unto David, Thus saith the Lord, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? Now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me. And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the Lord; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man. So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beer-sheba seventy thousand men.

SINS, punishments, humiliations, forgivenesses, succeed each other in a melancholy train throughout the Bible, even as clouds after rain in the material world. Even the most pious characters have their faults and blemishes, which call forth the divine chastisements on themselves and others. We have here an account of David numbering the people, and bringing a heavy judgment on the whole land. The history will lead us to notice,

I. The severity of God in punishing sin—

The sin which David committed was exceeding great—

[It had been enjoined by God, that the people never should be numbered without a half shekel being collected from every one of them as a tribute to the Lord, or, as it is called, “a ransom for his soul,” “that there might be no plague amongst them when they were numbered [Note: Exodus 30:12-14.].” Now as David never once mentioned this in the order that was given, and as this collection was not made in all the time that the census was taking, it seems that David greatly transgressed in this particular, and that the plague was sent among them on this account. But it is manifest that David was actuated by pride, in wishing to know the extent of the population he governed; and that he was indulging confidence in an arm of flesh, instead of trusting in God only. That he was faulty in these particulars was visible even to so wicked a man as Joab, who expostulated with him on the subject, and warned him that he was bringing guilt and punishment upon the whole nation [Note: 1 Chronicles 21:3.]. Now of all sins, these are the most hateful in the sight of God [Note: Jeremiah 17:5-6.]: and to persist in them so long, in opposition to such plain warnings as were delivered to him, was a very grievous offence.]

The punishment inflicted for it was proportionably severe—

[God sent a prophet to him, to offer him a choice of three judgments, of seven [Note: “Seven years of famine” should probably be read “three,” that being the number annexed to the other judgments, and it being expressly so represented in the parallel account. See 1 Chronicles 21:12.] years of famine, or three months of unsuccessful warfare, or three days of pestilence: a painful choice indeed! but David wisely preferred the falling into the hands of God, and not into the hands of man. The election being made, the judgment was immediately executed: and no less than seventy thousand men were slain by a destroying angel, before the expiration of the appointed time [Note: Some have taken occasion from this expression, which they say may signify the evening, to represent the pestilence as lasting only to the evening sacrifice of the same day, that is, only nine hours in all: but there is strong internal evidence in the history that it continued the whole three days.]. What now shall we think of sin? Is it so light a matter as the generality of men imagine? and are not they justly called “fools” who “make a mock at it?” The sins of the heart are considered as altogether venial: pride and self-confidence are scarcely numbered in the catalogue of sins: but behold in what light they are viewed by an holy God! O that we might learn, if not from God’s declarations, at least from his judgments, what an awful thing sin is, and with what tremendous punishment it will be visited!]

Next let us view,

II. The goodness of God in pardoning sin—

David and the elders of Israel humbled themselves before God—

[David had expressed, and that too in very energetic language, his shame and sorrow on account of his transgression: but God determined to punish his iniquity. On the execution of vengeance upon the land, the elders of Israel united with him in the deepest humiliation [Note: 1 Chronicles 21:16.]: and David, when he saw the angel standing over Jerusalem with a drawn sword in his hand, pleaded most earnestly with God, that the punishment might fall on him who had been the author of the sin, and not on the people who were innocent [Note: 1 Chronicles 21:17.]. This was a mark of true contrition. When the soul is not really abased before God, it will rather extenuate its guilt, or cast the blame upon others [Note: 1 Samuel 15:20-21.]; but when it has a just sense of its guilt, it will be willing to take shame to itself to the utmost extent of its deserts: and such a spirit will never be exercised in vain.]

Now therefore God removed the punishment, and pardoned the iniquity—

[Instantly did God command the angel to “stay his hand:” but at the same time a command was given to build an altar there, and to offer sacrifices to the offended Majesty of heaven. God from, the beginning had honoured his own institutions, and had taken all fit occasions of directing penitents to that great Sacrifice whereby alone the sins of men could be forgiven: and now he stopped the angel on the very spot where he had, many centuries before, arrested Abraham’s hand when sacrificing his son; and where, but a short time after, the temple itself was built; that temple in which all the sacrifices were offered, and in the services of which the death of Christ was so abundantly prefigured [Note: 2 Chronicles 3:1.]. Nay, on this occasion God was pleased to put peculiar honour on the sacrifice, in that he sent fire from heaven to consume it [Note: 1 Chronicles 21:26.]. Thus did he point out to David and to all Israel, thus also has he shewn to the whole world, that though penitence and prayer are indispensable requisites in those that shall be pardoned, it is the sacrifice of Christ only that avails for our acceptance with God — — —]

The history very particularly leads us to notice, in the next place,

III. The effect which the sins of individuals produce on the community—

It was in reality for Israel’s sin that this punishment was inflicted—

[”The anger of God, we are told, was kindled against Israel:” and on this account “he moved David against them, to say, Go, number Israel and Judah [Note: ver. 1.].” In the parallel place we are told, that “Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel [Note: 1 Chronicles 21:1.].” We are not to suppose that God himself actually tempted David; for we are expressly told, that “he doth not tempt any man [Note: James 1:13.]:” but he permitted Satan to tempt him; and we well know, that if God’s restraining hand be removed, Satan will prevail against the strongest of men, and “sift them as wheat.” But when David had thus voluntarily sinned, both he and his people were punished for their iniquity. In a word, for Israel’s sin he was left, and for his sin they were punished. In this dispensation there was nothing unworthy of the divine character; for both David and Israel justly deserved punishment, and might have been visited with God’s judgments independently of this sin: but by this dispensation God would shew us, that, in this world, communities should be dealt with as one body; the head being afflicted for the members, and the members for the head: that so all may be led to the utmost of their power to consult the welfare of the whole.]

Let us therefore be on our guard, lest we be instrumental to the destruction, rather than to the welfare, of each other—

[What evil may not a head of a family bring on the members; a ruler on his subjects; a minister on his people! or what may not they suffer through the misconduct of those over whom they are placed! Let this connexion be duly considered; and, whatever station we are called to fill, let us determine, through grace, that we will perform the duties of it, every joint supplying its utmost aid for the edification of the whole body [Note: Ephesians 4:16.]. And let us be more ready to take blame to ourselves, than to cast it on others. More particularly, let us watch and pray, that we enter not into temptation; and that Satan may not be permitted to get advantage against us. Thus shall we be blessings to the community, and to the Church of God; and shall through the great Sacrifice be accepted of God in the eternal world.]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on 2 Samuel 24:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/2-samuel-24.html. 1832.

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