Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 6:12-19; Colossians 1:15-23; Psalm 130; 1 Chronicles 20-22
In 1 Chronicles 21 we are given the remarkable image of God being deeply grieved over the distress and destruction of Israel. The curtains are opened wide here into the heart of God. He is not a callous judge inflicting a just sentence. He is moved by the pain and terror caused by his own executioner. He does not rejoice in anyone’s pain. So, he calls off his punishment, and gives David a glimpse of what must have been a terrifying figure of an angel with outdrawn sword between heaven and earth.
The details of this story have been the source of much debate. The punishment seems excessively severe, especially for calling for a census. But in those days, a census was something very negative (Exodus 30:11-16; Acts 5:37). A ruler would count the people to decide how much to collect in taxes or how many people were available for forced labour or conscription into the army. None of these were good for the ordinary person. Hence, Joab tells David that this is wrong and will bring guilt on the nation (presumably because they will go along with David). His need to count the people reflects a lack of trust in God. He had to know how many men he could put in the field rather than relying on the knowledge that God would take care of him and Israel.
After conducting the census, David sees he was wrong. Given his choice of punishment, he prefers to fall into God’s merciful hands rather than those of men or Nature. He sees that no matter how many men with swords he can muster, they are no match for the sword of the Lord. They can do nothing other than depend on God’s mercy. God’s mercy and their repentance leads to God calling off his angel. This becomes a place for all sin to be atoned for as God tells David to build his altar here, which will be the site of the temple (1 Chronicles 22:1). The temple is to be a memorial to God’s mercy and compassion, not a way for Israel to earn God’s forgiveness.
Psalm 130 captures the expectant anticipation of God’s mercy that must have kept David in prayer while the angel brought death to Israel. The psalmist knows the depth of his sin, and the heights of God’s mercy. The Hebrew verb for watching is present is verse 3, translated as keeping record. God does not watch for sin, but like the night watchman waiting for dawn, the sinner eagerly watches for the Lord. He knows that God is faithful and merciful, so his soul waits, trusting in him.
As we face into uncertainty, knowing we have done wrong, our souls can trust in the Lord. As we suffer, we can be confident that God grieves with us and for us. We may have brought these circumstances upon ourselves, or they may have nothing to do with us (like the Israelites who suffered because of David’s sin). No matter what the cause, we can wait for the Lord rather than take matters into our own hands. We can trust him, knowing that he is merciful and loving.