God was angry with the Israelites for what they were doing and it says He stirred up David to count the people of Israel.  Joab tried to stop him as he knew it was wicked but David proceeded.  The result was that David was punished, actually the whole nation of Israel and 70,000 died.

What’s up with that?!

First of all it was wicked for David to count his fighting men as it was an act of putting his faith in his military might and not the Lord.  This was  unacceptable.  It’s not overtly wrong to count your military numbers, but it is overtly wrong to put your faith in that military.  And that’s what David was doing.

Secondly if you do count them, a gift was to be given to the Lord (Ex 30:12-16).  It was to be a reminder to them that the Lord atones their lives.  We don’t see David doing this.

But didn’t “the LORD” stir up David to take the census of the fighting men?

Actually we read in 1 Chronicles 21:1 that it was “satan” who stood up against Israel and incited David to count the people.

So is this a contradiction?  Was it the Lord or was it satan?

The LORD is in the ultimate command.  But as we see in the book of Job (Job 1), satan is wanting to attack God’s people.  The Lord holds up his hand and says no.  But there are times that the Lord because of particular reasons allows satan to have his way.  In this case because Israel had been committing evil.

But what were they doing that God brought judgment?

We don’t know for sure, but look at their track record so far:

  • Many joined in Absalom’s rebellion against David (2 Sam 15:1-12)
  • They joined in Bichri’s rebellion (2 Sam 20:1-2))
  • Joab was a cold-blooded murderer (2 Sam 3:27; 18:14; 20:10)

The bottom line is that Israel was rebelling against God, David was enticed and added to that rebellion and God brought judgment on David and the people.  The Lord intervened and stopped the judgment out of mercy while David went to offer burnt offerings and sacrifices for their sin.

Once again, the relationship with the Lord was restored.  “Then the Lord answered prayer on behalf of the land” (2 Sam 24:25).

Israel was in a special covenant with Israel.  The violated it repeatedly and finally God had enough.  It was not a good season for Israel.  But the Lord relented, the people repented, and they moved forward together.