Last Lessons from Jesse's Son (II Samuel 24)
Crying for a King
Last Lessons from Jesse's Son
II Samuel 24:1-25
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation )
July 6th, 2014
I. Some Last Words
As all of us know, sometimes the final remarks of a well-know person can be remembered for years. We call these, “famous last words”. Well, this morning, God has given us the “last words” of the book of Samuel. Turn with me to II Samuel 24, the very last chapter of this amazing book.
Now even though this is the final chapter, this is not the final message in this series. Next week, we will finish our series with the “last words” of David, found in the opening verses of chapter 23. But this morning, let's dig into chapter 24.
II. The Passage: “May the LORD Your God Accept You” (24:1-25)
The helpful thing about this final chapter is that it breaks down nicely into three distinct, but related sections. Verses 1-9 focus on the issue of sin, the next eight verses, 10-17, deal with the sentence handed down by God, and the final verses, 18-25, focus on the sacrificial satisfaction that was made by David in light of the sin, and the subsequent sentence issued by God himself.
A. The Sin (24:1-9)
Let's begin this morning by looking at this first section related to the sin in question.
Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”  So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.”  But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?”  But the king's word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel.  They crossed the Jordan and began from Aroer, and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer.  Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites; and they came to Dan, and from Dan they went around to Sidon,  and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beersheba.  So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.  And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.
First of all, notice the first word of the first sentence: “again”. Now we've already talked on several occasions about how the final four chapters of II Samuel are a kind of composite conclusion to the entire Hebrew book, which includes both I and II Samuel. If you recall, the layout or structure of this conclusion looks something like this:
A. God's Judgment and David's Intercession: Famine (21:1-14)
B. David's Mightiest Men (21:15-22)
C. David's Song (22:1-51)
C. David's (Last) Song (23:1-7)
B. David's Mightiest Men (23:8-39)
A. God's Judgment and David's Intercession: Plague (24:1-25)
Now you can see from the two lines marked “A”, that there is a connection between the first half of chapter 21 and chapter 24. And indeed, if we go back to chapter 21, the first verse tells us:
Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year. And David sought the face of the LORD. And the LORD said, “There is bloodguilt on Saul and on his house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.” (21:1)
So in the same way, we read here in chapter 24 that a just God, the God of Israel, is angry with some injustice among his people. The exact reason for God's righteous anger is never revealed, but nevertheless, His anger IS always righteous. And so, just as judgment fell on the people in the form of a famine in chapter 21, in this chapter we must prepare ourselves for further judgment. But notice the means God will use against the people...verse 1...
Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
But how would a census of the people be a form of judgment against the people? Well, to answer that, we have to look both back and ahead. Looking back, we read this from the Law of Moses: The LORD said to Moses,  “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the LORD when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them.” (Exodus 30:11-12)
Based on this verse, the reality of judgment always seems to be hanging over the idea of census-taking. Why is that? Well looking ahead, listen to an interesting verse from I Chronicles 27. This is from verses 23 and 24...
David did not count those below twenty years of age, for the LORD had promised to make Israel as many as the stars of heaven.  Joab the son of Zeruiah began to count, but did not finish. Yet wrath came upon Israel for this, and the number was not entered in the chronicles of King David. (I Chronicles 27:23-24)
These verses actually give us some insight into verse 3 of our main passage. Look back at what we saw there: But Joab said to the king, “May the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?”
You see, to count the people of God was always a potential snare. Why? Because 1) it could be an expression of doubt that God would not fulfill His promise to Abraham, and 2) it could be an opportunity to boast in numbers in regard to military strength.
But was taking a census always wrong? No. As we see from Exodus 30, and Numbers 1, and Numbers 26, the administrative needs of the nation often required an accurate count of the people. But in those cases, God made clear the reason for a census. And in the case of Exodus 30, He even spelled out the specifics for a ransom, to avert judgment.
Here, in II Samuel 24, God simply and ominously says, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” And along with his team, Joab, much to his disliking, did just that. Over the course of almost ten months, they numbered the nation.
B. The Sentence (24:10-17)
Now keep that in mind as we look at the next section. Let me read verses 10-17...
But David's heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”  And when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying,  “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’”  So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.”  Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.” So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men.  And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.  Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father's house.”
Now, the natural question that arises when we hear David's confessions in both verse 10 and verse 17 is this: “Why would God incite David to do something God knew was sinful? And then punish the people for it?” This is in fact one of the most difficult passages in the Bible. Making sense of what we read here, along with a parallel account in I Chronicles 21, is no easy task. But I think all the clues we need are given to us in this passage. It's a just a matter of whether or not we will let the whole passage, and ultimately, the whole Bible, paint an accurate picture for us of what's happening here.
Was the census sinful? Yes. Did God incite David to take the census? Yes, but remember what David said many years earlier to Saul in the desert when he spared his life for a second time:
Now therefore let my lord the king hear the words of his servant. If it is the LORD who has stirred you up [same word as “incite”] against me, may he accept an offering... (1-26:19a)
David understood the reality that God can stir up human beings, especially human rulers, to serve as his agents of judgment. The Old Testament talks about kings like Nebuchadnezzar in this way, and Paul, in Romans 13, talks about the Roman authorities in this way. But in all of these cases, when a sinless God uses sinners for His purposes, it doesn't change the sinfulness of of their actions. God used Babylon to judge His people. But God also judged Babylon for their violence and greed.
You see, as the second half of Romans 1 makes clear, God's judgment is often expressed in the handing over or giving up of sinners to their desires. By His grace, God in so many cases restrains us. If He didn't, we would have wiped each other out a long time ago.
And I think this is what we see here: to judge Israel, God decided to give David up, to hand him over to the evil desires of his own heart. Isn't this what David acknowledges in verse 10: But David's heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”
Joab knew it from the 'get-go'. David eventually understood it. David's desire was wrong. He wanted to trust in, or maybe boast in, the size of his army. Of course, God knew this as well. And in order to accomplish His larger purpose, which included judgment of the people's sin, I think what he is saying in verse 1, “Fine, go...go number Israel and Judah.”
Interestingly, the parallel account in I Chronicles 21 tells us that “Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” Does that contradict II Samuel 24? No. Just as God can allow human rulers to carry out their desires for His larger purpose, He can and does allow Satan to carry out his plans. But as was the case with Job, God always has a plan, and amazingly, He, for now, permits evil in order to use it for a greater good.
So as we see from this middle part of II Samuel 24, God has handed down his sentence against David and the nation. But mercifully, He gives David a choice of judgments. Which one did David choose. Well, according to verse 14, the only choice he makes is not choosing option #2. He leaves it up to God whether #1 or #3 will fall on the people. As we see here judgment #3, a plague, ends up killing 70,000 people in a matter of days.
But David know this about God (v. 14): “his mercy is great”. And in light of that mercy, he intercedes for the people. Just as he was a faithful shepherd with his father's flocks all those years ago, he continues to care for the flock of God.
C. The Satisfaction (24:18-25)
And look at how God responds to David's plea for the people. Verses 18-25...
And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”  So David went up at Gad's word, as the LORD commanded. >>>
 And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground.  And Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people.”  Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood.  All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.”  But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.  And David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.
Just as Gad the prophet brought God's word of judgment in verse 13, he is also faithful to bring God's word of deliverance. God has heard David's plea. There is a way to stop the plague. As we see from verse 18, David must build an altar. But where? On a threshing floor, a 'grain processing area' belonging to a Jebusite man; an area just to the north of David's city. And after paying for the land and the cattle, David makes atonement for the sin which brought such a dreadful sentence. And as we learn from verse 21, God is satisfied by this offering, for the plague is averted. No one else will die.
III. Leaving the Book, Living Your Life
So one of the questions we can ask at this point is, “Why? Why end the book this way?” Kind of an interesting ending, right? Maybe it's simply to emphasize, as was the emphasis in chapter 21, that David is a faithful mediator for His people. But unlike chapter 21, David was instrumental in causing the problem, or at least compounding the problem. Maybe this chapter is a kind of transition to the book of Kings SINCE, as we discover in I Chronicles, the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite is the future site of Solomon's Temple. But neither Samuel nor Kings makes this connection.
I think the best way to understand the purpose of the final chapter of Samuel is that it points us back to David himself. All throughout the book Samuel, we have been learning lessons from the son of Jesse: lessons about courage, about perseverance, lessons about wisdom, lessons about faith. And I think this final chapter of the book is no exception. In fact, I think each section tell teaches the reader something very important about David. Amazingly, what God then does through His word, through His Holy Spirit, is use David's example to grow us in our own faith.
Let's finish with three last lessons from Jesse's son.
First, from the first section, verses 1-9, David reminds us that even God's chosen servants can struggle with trust misplaced.
Remember who David was. He was a man of incredible faith. His faith gave him courage to overcome the giant. He trusted that God would one day give him a throne even when, for many years, he slept in the dirt. And yet, even warriors of faith can can stumble.
David thought a census would give him peace of mind or some kind of reason to boast. But isn't this the man who wrote in Psalm 20:7...Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
You see, struggling with faith is part of the journey. So if you feel strong in faith, stay humble and stay focused. You WILL be tempted to put your faith in other things, including your own strength and goodness. But if you feel weak in faith, please know that all of God's chosen servants have struggled in that way. If you find yourself trusting in money or relationships or some other worldly answer, remember David. Remember it is common, but also remember it has consequences.
Second, from the middle section, verses 10-17, David reminds us that a right repentance is both blame-free and mercy-minded.
Just look again at David's confessions in verses 10 and 17. The language we find there is the language of a sincere repentance, right? But we all know that someone can use the right words and still lack the right heart. How do we know David is not playing to the cameras in order to get out of trouble? Well, I think verses 14 and 17 are indications that David's heart was truly sorry for what he had done.
Notice in verse 17 that David is not interested in blaming anyone else for his sin. Now, David does not understand that this is also part of God's judgment against the nation, but he doesn't do the “Well, yes, I was wrong, but so was she...so was he...so were they. Is anyone really perfect?” That is not a right repentance.
We also see that David's repentance is mercy-minded, that is, not only is he willing to accept God's consequences, but he does so (v. 14) with faith in God's mercy AND he is quick to express compassion for others. Pride wants to count people, but compassion wants to care for them. Do you see this kind of fruit in your repentance?
So David not only teaches us about our failures, but also about how to respond when we do fail. What a picture God has given us here.
Third, from the final section, verses 18-25, David reminds us that a true worshiper will give much to make much of God.
One of the most powerful verses in this chapter is what we read in David's response to Araunah's offer of the land and oxen. David replied (v. 24), “No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing.”
Do you see how that statement is a reversal of David's sin in the first section? Sinful census-TAKING is about exalting people, soldiers, and swords over God. Worship is about GIVING, sacrificing whatever we must in order to testify that God is exalted above all things. To give glory to God ultimately means giving everything to God.
Worship that is not in some way costly is suspicious. This is why Cain's sacrifice in Genesis 4 was rejected. This is why true worship is always more than just singing. What did God say through Paul? ...Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. (Romans 12:1)
Is your worship costly? Does your worship involve sacrifice...maybe of your time, maybe of your talents, maybe of your treasure, maybe of your likes and dislikes, of what is comfortable, and ultimately, a sacrifice of your will to the will of God? All of us are tempted with cheap sacrifices. We are enticed daily to do what is easy in order to feel like we've done our duty.
In the end, this end points us to another son, doesn't it...to Jesse's far-off son. A king who intercedes for His people? This points us to Jesus. A shepherd desperately concerned about rescuing God's sheep from God's wrath? This points us to Jesus. A sacrifice that averts judgment? This points us to Jesus. A location where one day God's name will dwell? A piece of land where one day a High Priest will make atonement for God's people? A threshing floor on which one day God will meet with man? This points us to Jesus. Didn't Jesus himself say in Matthew 12:6...I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
Brothers and sisters, let's take to heart these last lessons from Jesse's son, AND let's give thanks for the fact that even though God's wrath is always kindled by our sin, Jesus' sacrifice is always effective both to cover us and connect us back to our Creator. Could there be a better way to leave the book of Samuel?
other sermons in this series