Israel has done something that raised the anger of the LORD (verse 11Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”). What it is, is not mentioned. It is about the LORD’s reaction to this. He holds David as the leader of His people responsible for this. Therefore He sets up David against the people. From 1 Chronicles we know that He uses Satan for this (1Chr 21:11Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel.). The books of 1 Chronicles and 2 Chronicles describe the history of God’s people as God loves to remember it. God wants to indicate the place where He wants to be served according to His counsel, and Satan wants to prevent this. We see there that God does reach His goal not despite, but through the sin of David. This is also the case with the Fall, which is used by God for the execution of His counsels. We cannot understand that, but it is so.
Here it is about the side of man. Satan cannot do anything without the permission or will of God. The temple is not mentioned here. It is more about God’s actions with David. It is about his responsibility. David’s heart is filled with the desire to know how great his army is. God is not the origin of sin, but desire in the heart of man (Jam 1:13-1413Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, and He Himself does not tempt anyone.14But each one is tempted when he is carried away and enticed by his own lust.). Sin is already in David’s heart and that is what God sees. God brings that sin to light, that David may judge it.
With his desire to know the power of his army, he takes the place of God. What he actually says with his command to register them is that he regards the land of God as his own land and sees his army as his own means of keeping it in possession. He has lost his dependence on God. He commits in principle the sin of the people when they said they wanted a king, just like the people around them (1Sam 8:19-2019Nevertheless, the people refused to listen to the voice of Samuel, and they said, “No, but there shall be a king over us,20that we also may be like all the nations, that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.”). Now the king wants to know the strength of his army, just like the kings of the nations around him.
Why is it wrong to count the people? Surely God has done so several times (Num 1:2-32“Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel, by their families, by their fathers’ households, according to the number of names, every male, head by head3from twenty years old and upward, whoever [is able to] go out to war in Israel, you and Aaron shall number them by their armies.; 26:1-41Then it came about after the plague, that the LORD spoke to Moses and to Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest, saying,2“Take a census of all the congregation of the sons of Israel from twenty years old and upward, by their fathers’ households, whoever is able to go out to war in Israel.”3So Moses and Eleazar the priest spoke with them in the plains of Moab by the Jordan at Jericho, saying,4“[Take a census of the people] from twenty years old and upward, as the LORD has commanded Moses.” Now the sons of Israel who came out of the land of Egypt [were]:)? We must think that with David it is about knowing the power of his army (verse 99And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.). He wants to know how strong he is and that depends on the number of soldiers he has. That is his mistake. He forgets that he depends on God’s power. It is serious if we start thinking in numbers to measure our strength. We can think for example of the number of those we meet with and the number of gifts. In the history of Gideon we see how God thinks about numbers (Jdg 7:22The LORD said to Gideon, “The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’). God always wants to prevent the flesh from praising itself (cf. 1Cor 1:27-2927but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong,28and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are,29so that no man may boast before God.).
With Nebuchadnezzar we see something similar when he pats himself on the back about “the Babylon the great”, of which he says: “Which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty” (Dan 4:28-3328“All [this] happened to Nebuchadnezzar the king.29Twelve months later he was walking on the [roof of] the royal palace of Babylon.30The king reflected and said, ‘Is this not Babylon the great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?’31While the word [was] in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven, [saying], ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: sovereignty has been removed from you,32and you will be driven away from mankind, and your dwelling place [will be] with the beasts of the field. You will be given grass to eat like cattle, and seven periods of time will pass over you until you recognize that the Most High is ruler over the realm of mankind and bestows it on whomever He wishes.’33Immediately the word concerning Nebuchadnezzar was fulfilled; and he was driven away from mankind and began eating grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven until his hair had grown like eagles’ [feathers] and his nails like birds’ [claws].). He is judged for this. With Herod we see the same thing. He moderates himself the honor to which only God is entitled and is killed for that (Acts 12:21-2321On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum and [began] delivering an address to them.22The people kept crying out, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”23And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.). God’s government is equal for everyone. He can never give His honor to another (Isa 42:88“I am the LORD, that is My name;
I will not give My glory to another,
Nor My praise to graven images.
; 48:1111“For My own sake, for My own sake, I will act;
For how can [My name] be profaned?
And My glory I will not give to another.). If the Lord wants to use us for the benefit of His people, let it be so that we are always aware that it is His people.
David commands Joab to register the people. Joab, however, objects to this. It seems that Joab here has a better assessment of this plan than David. He foresees that this command is not according to the will of the LORD. This is not because he wants to do the will of the LORD, but because he fears the anger of the LORD. He also speaks to David about “the LORD your God”. The LORD is the God of Da-vid. He himself has no relationship with Him.
This time David does not allow himself to be told by Joab and perseveres his will. We can ask ourselves whether we will be warned if we intend to do something about which other people are expressing their objections. Do we want to reconsider our plan for the Lord, even if those who warn us may have their own interests in mind? Despite the objections of Joab and the other army superiors, the country is counted. After “nine months and twenty days” David gets the result. All this time God has been patient with the sin David commits. However, David’s conscience does not awaken until after evil has been done.
If David gets the outcome, at least he knows on what he can trust. What is not described here, is that Joab did not get around completely (1Chr 21:66But he did not number Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.). He has not registered all the people. Remarkable is that in verse 99And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men. the distinction between Israel and Judah comes to the fore. Here again we see the reference to the division of the empire that is already present subcutaneously.