There’s a rather interesting story in 2 Samuel 24 about David putting on a census in Israel. It seems that the nation has turned it’s back against God (once again) so Yahweh asks David to “count” the people. David puts on a census, but later regrets it and feels shame.
The Lord burned with anger against Israel again, and he incited David against them: Go and count the people of Israel and Judah. 2 So the king said to Joab and the military commanders who were with him, “Go throughout all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people so I know how many people there are.” — 8 At the end of nine months and twenty days, after going through the entire country, they came back to Jerusalem. 9 Joab reported to the king the number of the people who had been counted: in Israel there were eight hundred thousand strong men who could handle a sword; in Judah the total was five hundred thousand men. 10 But after this David felt terrible that he had counted the people. David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, please take away the guilt of your servant because I have done something very foolish.”
On first reading, I was really confused. Why would David feel guilty for doing the exact thing Yahweh asked him to do? After further research, I learned about why God asked David to do it in the first place. Here’s an excerpt from Exodus.
11 The Lord spoke to Moses: 12 When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each of them should pay compensation for their life to the Lord when they are counted. Then no plague will descend on them when they are counted. 13 Every one who is counted should pay a half shekel according to the official shekel of the sanctuary. The half shekel is a gift offering to the Lord. 14 Every one who is counted, from 20 years old and above, should present a gift offering to the Lord.
This part is really important.
15 When you bring this gift offering to the Lord to pay compensation for your lives, the rich shouldn’t give more and the poor shouldn’t give less than the half shekel.16 Take the compensation money from the Israelites and use it to support the service of the meeting tent. It will serve for the Israelites as a reminder in the Lord’s presence of the compensation paid for your lives.
See, it’s not actually about the shekel. Sure, that’s the instruction that God gives Moses, but if what God wanted was more shekels, God would have told the rich people to cough it up. It’s about acknowledgment. Acknowledging and remembering whose we are. What I believe God is saying is that when you take the time to count the people, use it as an opportunity to acknowledge that you are my people. We have to assume this is where David missed the mark. David heard God, but he didn’t hear God. Even worse, David may have taken the opportunity to not just count the people, but count them as his own people. That’s why he feels a sense of shame.
Growing up my mom used to say to me all.the.time, count your blessings. And today, that phrase took on a new meaning for me. It’s not just about counting all the things that are going well in our life and being thankful for them. It’s about acknowledging the One, the source from which all goodness and blessing flow and counting ourselves as God’s own. Amen.