Taking a census. David’s sin is my sin.

There is a lot going on in 1st Chronicles chapter 21.  I know that the story of David taking the census is full of meaning in terms of God fulfilling his promises (chapter 17) and establishing the location for the temple (vs 29).  I know that there is huge Christological significance in terms of David interceding for his people and God “staying the hand” of the “angel who was working destruction” (vs15).  This morning, however, in a very brief reflection, I want to focus in on one relatively small part of this story of David’s sin in this chapter and a modern-day equivalent of that sin that I saw in myself recently.

David’s sin here appears to be that he took a census. On the surface, this doesn’t appear to be a grave mistake. Joab reacts to this directive and counsels his king that it is a very bad idea.  He is overruled and the census proceeds.  Verse 7 tells us that “God was displeased with this thing and he struck Israel.”  In the next verse David admits “I have sinned greatly.” Hmmm.  It would seem that the king has the right to take a census of his people.  Where is the offense that God reacts so quickly and dramatically to? 

In taking a census, David is deliberately turning from faith in God and turning towards self-reliance. Constable notes that this is David, probably, wanting to institute a regular and permanent system of taxation.  This is David, wanting to quantify just how large and powerful his army is and how large his kingdom is.  This is David moving away from faith in God and relying on his own resources for both protection and income.  A more modern way of describing the heart behind what David was doing might be that this is David measuring the size of his platform, the size of his influence, his ability to make money and have a stable income.  This is David moving away from God as his provider and sustainer and moving into faith in himself to provide and sustain.  It is the natural tendency in all of us.    

Just after orienting myself to David’s sin in this chapter recently in my morning devotionals, I found myself opening up social media and I caught myself.  I had posted something online recently that I wanted people to react to.  I caught myself measuring “likes” and “comments.”  I caught my heart measuring my influence and measuring my ability to have meaning in what I had posted.  Make no mistake, I was taking a census.  I was not relying on God for my meaning and significance, I was measuring my own ability to create those things through my own actions.  In short, I wanted to have influence through what I posted.  I was well and thoroughly caught.  Social media really exists to encourage this type of behavior and, while I believe that we can still have a redemptive presence on social media, we all have to battle this tendency to self-promote.  I know I certainly do.  

I’ll finish with a quote from Francis Shaeffer that really expresses the heart of Jesus for us as we consider the size and influence of our lives and ministry. 

As there are no little people in God’s sight, so there are no little places. . . . Nowhere more than in America are Christians caught in the twentieth-century syndrome of size. Size will show success. If I am consecrated, there will necessarily be large quantities of people, dollars, etc.

This is not so.

Not only does God not say that size and spiritual power go together, but He even reverses this (especially in the teaching of Jesus) and tells us to be deliberately careful not to choose a place too big for us. We all tend to emphasize big works and big places, but all such emphasis is of the flesh. To think in such terms is simply to hearken back to the old, unconverted, egoist, self-centered Me. This attitude, taken from the world, is more dangerous to the Christian than fleshly amusement or practice. It is the flesh.
—Francis Schaeffer, No Little People (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1974), 18.

*note, for a deeper dive into how social media is influencing us, I recommend this article, or this recent podcast by Russell Moore.  For a deeper dive into how to tap into the gentle and lowly life of Jesus, I recommend this book, or this series of daily devotionals