Why did King David number Israel?

King David Numbered Israel

About the act when David numbered Israel, the Bible tells us, “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1). Satan is here shown as the one who insinuated David to number Israel. In 2 Samuel 24:1, the parallel account, we read, “The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.” God is often said to do that which He does not prevent.

Pride Leads to Fall

The devil led King David to be proud in the prosperity of his kingdom and he was moved to take a census in Israel. God did not intervene, but allowed David’s wrong motive to be carried out. When the Lord permits a wrong deed to be carried out, it is often set forth as if this were by God, although it is in reality the work of the devil bringing harmful consequences.  

Although God is love (1 John 4:8), He does not force His ways upon those who are unwilling to obey Him. Thus, God’s wrath against sin is exercised in the taking away of His blessings from those who choose to make sin and thus receive its harmful consequences (Genesis 6:3).

The census was ordered for military reasons, a kind of registration for military purposes. The number reached was not the entire population, but only for the fighting men of the nation (1 Chronicles 22: 5). David thought that by increasing the number of his fighters, he will increase the greatness of Israel. By doing this, however, he was leading the neighboring nations to attribute Israel strength to the military power rather than to God.

God Is the Source of All Strength

Satan is constantly at war against God’s kingdom and is doing his utmost to stop God’s purposes and to bring trouble and distress among His chosen people. God had wonderfully blessed David and brought great prosperity to Israel. But Satan tried to make it appear that David’s success was due to his own powers and the military strength of the nation, and was trying to make David to depend upon human resources and strength rather than the blessings of the Almighty Creator.

David’s plan for the census troubled the nation. The people were not all united in wanting to extend the military service. So, David commanded the army to carry out the census, instead of the priests and the leaders of the tribes (Numbers 1:2–18; 26:1, 2).

Joab, David’s general, was among those that didn’t agree about the census and he tried to advice the king through a series of question to change his mind: “Now may the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times more than there are, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king desire this thing?” (2 Samuel 24:3).

God was displeased with the census and He struck Israel.  Since the Israelites were filled with the same spirit of pride that instigated David’s military census, the judgement was sent upon them as well as upon the king (2 Samuel 24:1).

So David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing; but now, I pray, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly” (1 Chronicles 21:8). David took the full blame for the order to make the census. He publicly confessed his sin, and assumed responsibility for God’s judgement. So, God heard and forgave, and the evil was stayed.

In His service,
BibleAsk Team

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