Estimated reading time: 6 minutes
In 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21, we learn about a time when God was angry with Israel. King David was then tested, and for reasons unknown to us, he allowed darkness to take hold of him. With less than clear motives, he decided to conduct a census of the Israelites. There is much speculation as to why King David taking a census would’ve further angered God, but this much we know: up until this point in the Bible, the Israelites only conducted a census at God’s behest.
When King David asked Joab to execute this command, Joab pushed back. He asked King David why he desired such a thing (2 Samuel 24:3). In 1 Chronicles 21:3, we obtain a more detailed response. Joab said: “May the Lord make His people a hundred times more than they are. But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why then does my lord require this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt in Israel?”. In God’s grace, He tried to show King David what would come should he decide to continue, but King David did not heed the warning. The census took place, and Joab went along with it.
Who is Joab?
I must admit, however, that Joab was an interesting choice to be used as the voice of reason. Joab was David’s nephew, the son of his sister Zeruiah. (1 Chronicles 2). We learn about Joab primarily in the books of 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles. If we go in order of the books of the Bible, we gain insight to the temperament of Joab before we arrive at the census:
- In 2 Samuel 3, Joab murders Abner (King Saul’s nephew and at one point – commander of his army), because he killed Asahel – Joab’s brother. When King David found out, “…he said, My kingdom and I are guiltless before the LORD forever of the blood of Abner the son of Ner. Let it rest on the head of Joab and on all his father’s house; and let there never fail to be in the house of Joab one who has a discharge or is a leper, who leans on a staff or falls by the sword, or who lacks bread.” (verses 28 & 29). Note that King David counts on the Lord to hold Joab accountable. He gives no direct consequences to Joab’s actions.
- In 2 Samuel 11, King David asks Joab (who is now known to be willing to commit murder) to place Uriah at the front lines of a battle in a location where he will die. Previously, while Uriah was at battle, King David had an affair with his wife, and she became pregnant. He then sent for Uriah to come home, but Uriah refused to touch his wife out of respect for those still in combat. Unable to cover up the affair, King David conspires with Joab, and Uriah would end up unnecessarily dying during battle.
The Power of Choice
By the time we get to King David wanting to take a census, we know that Joab’s character is questionable – at best. In some ways, this works for King David because Joab has done what he has been asked to do, morals aside. Yet the fact that the feedback on the census came from Joab should’ve given King David pause. Only the Holy Spirit could move such a man to speak correctly on the guilt that would come to Israel by going against the Lord.
King David pushes Joab’s feedback aside and Joab agrees to do what he is told. What comes next is a lesson on the power of choice. It was King David’s choice to count the number of people under his rule. The punishment that would come was not because of God’s initial anger, but because of King David’s insistence on being disobedient. King David was then allowed to pick the punishment his nation would receive – resulting in over 70,000 men dead. Pay attention however, that there was no option for punishment that did not involve the people of Israel. As Joab stated earlier, the guilt would fall on the nation.
Too often, we’d like to think of our decisions in a vacuum, so that we feel more comfortable in our selfishness, fears, and ego. We don’t consider enough the impact our choices have on others. From the beginning of time, starting in the garden of Eden, we have been warned as to what happens when we only consider ourselves. Our actions will always have an impact on others. We just get to decide whether that’s for good, or for evil.
King David sees the destruction that he has caused, and how the most innocent have suffered. He then asks God to place the punishment on only him and his father’s house (2 Samuel 24:17). As he experiences conviction, King David is offered the chance to make atonement for the sins of the land – including his. A punishment had been given, but by the grace of God, it could also come to an end. Even now, we can forgive what has happened to us, and ask for forgiveness for the pain we have caused. The scars, however still remain, and it is not our place to force people to try to live as though they are not there. Not everything that is done, can be undone in this world.
Moreover, if we go back to the story of the census, we have to also consider the lessons to be learned from Joab. He too, was guilty for his part in the census. He knew it was wrong, but participated, nonetheless. Frequently, we are like Joab in this way. We know a situation is wrong or that someone has stepped out of line. We may or may not verbalize the issue, but we go along with it anyway. We might say – I wanted to remain neutral, I didn’t want to get involved, or I was just doing as I was told. And for a time, that will work. Nevertheless, it’s Joab’s ending that should be a serious reminder to all of us – that we reap what we sow.
The Price of Disobedience
Disobedience to God comes at a cost. Joab committed many sins. He did not immediately feel all of the repercussions of his actions, and so he kept going. Eventually, when King David was dying – he asked his son, Solomon to exact vengeance on Joab for his later sins. Joab would then flee to the tabernacle of the Lord in hopes of finding safety, but it was too late. Solomon still had Joab executed. (1 Kings 2)
Unfortunately, many of us are like Joab in this way. We keep committing hurtful sins because we aren’t feeling the immediate consequences of our decisions. Instead of considering this as God’s grace and stopping, we only want His mercy when we’re caught. Then, we fight as hard as we can against answering for our choices, while not giving enough energy to our relationship with God so we can stop making those choices.
Instead, let us learn from King David. He didn’t run to God as an escape. He acknowledged the pain that was caused, taking responsibility for his part in the situation. He blamed no one else, seeking to carry the burden himself. When offered the opportunity for restoration, he humbly took it. And this is how we stop the cycle of pain. We take responsibility for our decisions so that we can achieve genuine forgiveness and restoration. God is willing to help us make better what has been tarnished, but it’s always up to us to take the first step.
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