CHECK your MOTIVE before taking any DECISION: "Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people, 'Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it.' And Joab answered, '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?' Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab." (1 Chron. 21:1-4)
King David was by now well established and well liked as a great leader of Israel. He enjoyed great successes on the battlefield, and this appears to have given him the impression that victory comes through human strength and military might even though it was God who gave him those victories. Now, David wanted to determine the strength of his army in order to prepare himself for other conflicts. This implied that David trusted more in his military strength than in God’s power, unlike what he had written in one of his psalms: "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God" (Psalms 20:7).
From the above passage, it appears that God allowed Satan to instigate David to take a census of his military forces, since this is what probably David already desired in his heart. Taking a census was generally not a wrong thing to do; since God Himself had previously ordered Moses to take two censuses in the past (see Ex. 30:11-16; Num. 1:2, 3; 26:2). However, in this case Satan seized upon the growing pride of David’s heart in order to incite him into taking a census just in order to be self-reliant. Ultimately, it was God who allowed David to carry out his plans against the protests of his military commander Joab so that David could be brought to a place of humility and reality later (v. 10).
David’s sin in numbering Israel was the product not only of his own fallen nature (vv. 8, 17) but also of the scheming of Satan, who opposed the people of Israel since they were the channel through which God would ultimately redeem humankind and display His glory. The attempts of Satan to oppose God’s plans, however, are futile, because in the infinite wisdom and mystery of God’s will, every event ultimately serves His purposes (Rom. 8:28). God was the ultimate arbiter of this episode, in that He was bringing punishment upon Israel, and Satan became an instrument to carry out God’s purposes for King David and Israel (see 1 Kings 22:19–23).
Through this census (this was one of seven major censuses mentioned in Scripture) David found 1,100,000 men eligible for military service in Israel and 470,000 men in Judah (v. 5), which was more than double the previous head count. Yet this census displeased God. David’s insistence on numbering Israel seemed innocent enough at first, but ultimately proved perilous to the nation (vv. 2–8). Let us always remember that Satan attacks leaders and that is why we should pray for them (see 1 Tim. 2:1). He appealed to David’s pride by encouraging him to find out the size of his kingdom. David was stubborn as well as proud, and his attitude got Israel into real trouble. From this tragic incident of David’s census, The Word in Life Study Bible has listed three important lessons for those who are in leadership roles:
- Follow the will of God. David’s census was not according to God’s will, and it resulted in grave consequences later (v. 7). Every leader should carefully consider whether his/her plans go with or against God’s will, particularly as it is revealed in Scripture.
- Listen when your advisors oppose you. David ignored the advice of Joab, the general of his army, who had recognized that David was going contrary to God’s will (v. 3). "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Prov. 11:14)
- Recognize that your choices affect others. David had committed the sin, but it was his people who came under God’s judgment, and this resulted in the deaths of 70,000 Israelites (v. 14).