16 David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown.
17 David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Lord my God, let Your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on Your people.”
18 Then the angel of the Lord ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 19 So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the Lord.
1 Chronicles 21:16-19
A dramatic beginning for today’s verses when David saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. What did David do for this to happen? David said Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? What was it about counting the fighting men that was so sinful and when did it occur? To discover the answers to these questions we need to first go back to the beginning of this chapter.
1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.”
3 But Joab replied, “May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”
1 Chronicles 21:1-3
Now a new question, why was Joab so opposed to David counting his fighting men and what does Satan have to do with this? Let’s look at these in reverse order. Satan? This is the first time he is mentioned by name in the Bible. Various commentaries tell us God permitted Satan to tempt David into counting his fighting men just a He permitted Satan to put Job through a number of tests and trails. So what was the problem with counting? If we go back to Exodus 30:11, the Lord is speaking to Moses and says When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the Lord a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them.
David disregarded Joab’s advice and made no payment and has his fighting men counted with no reference to God or paying a ransom for each man counted. God was not happy and through Gad gave David three choices on how punishment would come to Israel.
11 So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the Lord
says: ‘Take your choice: 12 three years of famine, three months of
being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the Lord–days of plague in the land, with the angel of the Lord ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”
1 Chronicles 21:11-12
David could not make up his mind quickly so God moved and a plague began where seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead (v14). That’s when David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. It is no wonder David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the Lord so that Jerusalem and his countrymen would be saved.
What to make of this? Perhaps we should be cautious, very cautious, about impulses to do certain things, especially when we have someone advise us not to do so and it is contrary to what God has said in the past.