Updated: May 19, 2021
On Wednesday we read about Israel’s first king, Saul. Today we read a prayer said by David, Israel’s next king. David started life as the youngest son among several brothers and spent his youth as a shepherd where he learned many skills that would come in handy in later life. He was a skilled musician and became a skilled warrior and you might know him as the boy who killed the giant Goliath with just a stone and a slingshot.
But most importantly of all, David loved God. There are many examples in Scripture of David in prayer or worship and David acting in a way that really honoured God.
But when David got something wrong, he really did get it wrong.
In our reading today, David is at the end of his life and has achieved a great deal. Perhaps he is reflecting on his accomplishments and reviewing all that he has done. He is tempted, and gives in to the temptation to measure the size of his army.
The commander of David’s army, Joab, sees this for what it is, an act of vanity and powerful ambition. And Joab is not a religious man. He says that God can multiply the size of David’s army 1,000 times without David needing to count the numbers. But David is king and the king’s command over-rules all others.
So Joab heads out on a 9 month project to create a register of all members of the army. He travels throughout the land before fully completing the survey, he records 13 hundred thousand men in both Israel and Judah.
But pride is a sin. The size of David’s army is down to God, not David. David has taken his eyes off God and begun to focus on his own resources. And as soon as Joab reports back to David, David sees the error of his ways.
David prays “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” It is probable that it wasn’t only David who had sinned. I suspect that the whole nation was following David’s lead and had taken their eyes off God and taken pride in their abilities and their own resources.
David may have done a very foolish thing but he is wise enough to throw himself on the mercy of God. David is given three choices. The consequence of his sin may be either 3 years of famine on the land, three months of attack by David’s enemies or 3 days of plague.
David knows that men are wicked and does not want him or his people to fall into the hands of men. So, he chooses a plague. It is better to be in God’s fair hands, and 3 days is surely better than 3 months or 3 years.
Still, 70,000 people die in just a few days. Something I think we can all understand at the moment.
As the plague is taking its toll, David goes to a place outside the walls of Jerusalem called Mount Moriah. There is a threshing floor there and David wants to buy it from the owner. The owner offers it to the king for free but David knows that his prayer must be a sacrifice, it must cost him something. So he insists on purchasing the place, building an altar to God and offers prayers there.
God hears David’s prayers and sees David’s repentant heart and commands the angel afflicting people with the plague to stop before the 3 days are fully up.
It is worth noting that this place, this threshing floor is a place all about sacrifice.
Generations earlier, in this very spot, Abraham was prepared to offer his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice, giving up that which was most precious to him in order to receive all that God had for him. God intervened and commanded him to stop, saving Isaac by substituting a ram instead.
Here, in response to David’s sacrificial offering and repentant heart God intervenes and commands the angel to stop, saving many more people from dying because of sin.
This is also the place where David’s son builds the temple. For many generations to come, the people of Israel will come to this place to offer their own sacrifices in repentance for their sins.
All of this is symbolic of Jesus who made the ultimate sacrifice, giving his own life, substituting himself and accepting the consequences of our sin in our place.
Tonight, I’m going to be like David and confess my sins to God, confess the times that I have been prideful, selfishly ambitious and focussed on my own resources. Then I will give thanks for the sacrifice that Jesus made, that my sins are forgiven and that I no longer need to face the consequences of my sins.
Tomorrow we will read about David’s son, Solomon and the prayer in which he asks for wisdom.