Why did God punish King David
for taking a CENSUS?
Q. The books of 1Samuel and 1Chronicles discuss King David and his taking of a census. Why was David punished by God for doing this? Is taking a census a SIN?
A. The taking of census is not a sin - but the REASON for doing it could be:
"And SATAN stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel." (1Chronicles 21:1, KJV, emphasis throughout)
Satan moved in spiritual warfare against the whole nation of Israel - not just the king. With his cunning ways the devil set out to entice David to sin by numbering his army - which David did!
"And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah." (2Samuel 24:1, KJV)
The above verse in the King James Version Bible tends to give a WRONG understanding to the reader. The 1Chronicles 21:1 KJV verse quoted earlier and the below scripture quote from the Young's Literal Translation Bible (YLT) offers a more accurate explanation of what transpired.
"And the anger of Jehovah addeth to burn against Israel, and an adversary [Satan] moveth David about them, saying, `Go, number Israel and Judah.' " (2Samuel 24:1, YLT)
It was SATAN that moved David to disobey God. David seems to have been prompted by a feeling of pride and ambitious curiosity. Because he did this to determine HIS power and to trust in it, it offended God. Of itself, taking a census is not unlawful.
Looking at the above verses we can know that there is an evil intent by their content. Anytime Satan is involved you can be sure he intends to get someone to sin! He put the thought in David's mind that if he knew the number of young men under his rule (meaning those fit for war) he could brag or boast how great a king he was - by the size of his army!
"And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why then doth my lord require this thing? WHY WILL HE BE A CAUSE OF TRESPASS TO ISRAEL?" (1Chronicles 21:2-3, emphasis added)
Joab was warning David NOT to number Israel and bring an occasion of punishment to the nation. In Hebrew, the word "sin" is often used synonymously with the punishment of sin. In the course of Providence, the people frequently suffer for the misconduct of their rulers.
The primary reason in the Old Testament for taking a census was to know the size of a nation's army and its ability to win wars against other people!
"And the LORD spake unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tabernacle of the congregation, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying, Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, after their families, by the house of their fathers, with the number of their names, every male by their polls from twenty years old and upward, all that are able to go forth to war in Israel: thou and Aaron shall number them by their armies . . ." (Numbers 1:1-4) "As the LORD commanded Moses, so he numbered them in the wilderness of Sinai." (Numbers 1:19)
Marble sculpture by
Michelangelo (1504 A.D.
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"Besides the numbering of the tribes mentioned in the history of the wanderings in the wilderness, we have an account of a general census of the whole nation from Dan to Beersheba, which David gave directions to Joab to make (1Chronicles 21:1). Joab very reluctantly began to carry out the king's command. This act of David in ordering a numbering of the people arose from pride and a self-glorifying spirit. It indicated a reliance on his part on an arm of flesh, an estimating of his power not by the divine favor but by the material resources of his kingdom. He thought of military achievement and of conquest, and forgot that he was God's vice-regent. In all this he sinned against God.
"While Joab was engaged in the census, David's heart smote him, and he became deeply conscious of his fault; and in profound humiliation he confessed, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done." The prophet Gad was sent to him to put before him three dreadful alternatives (2Samuel 24:13; for "seven years" in this verse, the LXX. and 1Chronicles 21:12 have "three years"), three of Jehovah's four sore judgments (Ezekiel 14:21). Two of these David had already experienced. He had fled for some months before Absalom, and had suffered three years' famine on account of the slaughter of the Gibeonites. In his "strait" David said, 'Let me fall into the hands of the Lord.'
"A pestilence broke out among the people, and in three days swept away 70,000. At David's intercession the plague was stayed, and at the threshing-floor of Araunah (q.v.), where the destroying angel was arrested in his progress, David erected an altar, and there offered up sacrifices to God (2Chronicles 3:1).The census, so far as completed, showed that there were at least 1,300,000 fighting men in the kingdom, indicating at that time a population of about six or seven millions in all."
Written by: Don Smith