God’s Will and Our Sin.
1 Chronicles 21-22, Colossians 4
Then David said, “Here shall be the house of the Lord God and her the altar of burnt offering for Israel.” – 1 Chronicles 22:1 ESV
David was enjoying tremendous success. God’s hand was on him and he was having a field day against his enemies. But then something went terribly wrong. When you compare the two accounts of this event found in 1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24, there appear to be some discrepancies. In the passage in 2 Samuel, we are told that God was angry with Israel, so he incited David to take a census. We are not told why this action was wrong. It could have been that David’s desire to take a census of the people was in order to determine the size of his army. He could have begun to believe that his recent victories were due to his incredible leadership and powerful army. Knowing exactly how many soldiers he had at his disposal would have given David great pride and appealed to his ego. Rather than trust God, he would have been tempted to trust in his army. David would learn an invaluable lesson through this experience and later write, “Now I know that the Lord saves his anointed; he will answer him from his holy heaven with the saving might of his right hand. Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:6-7 ESV). But at this point, David was trusting in his own military might.
Interestingly enough, in the 1 Chronicles passage, we get a different take on this scenario. It says that “Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel” (1 Chronicles 21:1 ESV). In both cases, David gave in to the temptation and ended up taking the census, against the advice of Joab, his military commander. While these two passages seem to be in conflict with one another, it is probably nothing more than a matter of perspective. Either way, God was in control. He was the one doing the enticing, but the chronicler makes it clear that God used the “adversary” to accomplish His will. God wanted David to learn a lesson he would never forget.
What does this passage reveal about God?
But there was something even greater going on behind the scenes. This whole chain of events appears to be nothing more than David’s unwitting obedience to the enticement of the enemy, but God was actually accomplishing His divine will through everything that happened. After David numbered the people, he immediately had second thoughts and realized what he had done. He admitted his guilt and asked God to take away his iniquity. But God was going to something even more significant. As a result of David’s sin, God gave him three options from which to choose his punishment. First, he could choose three years of famine in the land of Israel. Or he could choose option number two and settle for three months of devastation at the hands of his foes. And lastly, he could decide to let God bring pestilence on the land for three days. Not exactly great choices. But David decided to take his chances with God, because he believed that God would show him mercy.
God did bring pestilence and many died that day. On top of that, God was poised to destroy the city of Jerusalem, but “relented from the calamity” (1 Chronicles 21:15 ESV). He stayed the hand of the angel of the Lord, who happened to be standing on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. Then God commanded David to build an altar on the threshing floor – right where the angel of the Lord was standing with his sword drawn. So David bought the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite and “built an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering” (1 Chronicles 21:25-26 ESV). And then God commanded the angel of the Lord to put his sword back in his sheath. God provided the means by which the sins of David could be atoned for and His own divine wrath satisfied. It would be on this very spot that Solomon would build the temple. “Then Solomon began to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the Lord had appeared to David his father, at the place that David had appointed, on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite” (2 Chronicles 3:1 ESV).
What does this passage reveal about man?
Man’s sin is no match for God’s mercy and grace. David had angered God and there was nothing he could do to escape God’s holy anger and judgment. So God stepped in and stopped the destruction long enough to provide a means of atonement. In the midst of the devastation and destruction, God extended mercy and grace. He is the one who told the angel to stop right on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. He is the one who told David to build an altar there. He is the one who answered David with fire from heaven, consuming the offering and accepting David’s sacrifice. He is the one who forgave David’s sin and restored the people of Israel. David’s response was the begin an aggressive campaign to gather all the materials and develop the plans for the Temple. He knew God would not allow him to build it, but he would do all he could to make sure that it was a fitting structure for His gracious God.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
There are times when I think my sins are too much for God. I can easily convince myself that my screw-ups somehow mess up things for God. But this story reminds me that God is always working in ways of which I am ignorant and could not understand even if I knew about them. He is greater than my biggest spiritual failure. He can and does use me, oftentimes in spite of me. It is comforting to realize that I can’t out-sin God. I can’t screw up the plan of God. He is always interested in providing atonement, forgiveness, redemption, and restoration. He may let me experience some loss and go through some pain, but He will always lead me back to Himself. I must allow God to complete what He is doing in my life. When David arrived at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he was dressed in mourning clothes and pleading for God to turn His wrath fully on him instead of the people. He was willing to take full responsibility and complete blame for what had happened. But little did he know that this place of eminent destruction was going to become God’s place of atonement and forgiveness for generations to come. The words of Paul in Colossians 4:1 seem appropriate in this context: “Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving.” Prayer that God would keep me from presumptuous, prideful sin. Prayer to thank Him for His incredible, inexhaustible grace and mercy.
Father, You are amazing. My greatest sin is not match for Your powerful mercy and grace. When I screw up, You step in and provide atonement for my sins and restoration for my soul. You work behind the scenes in ways that I can’t see. You are always working, even using my sin to accomplish Your will. Never let me forget that. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men