But . . . wow. Words I wasn't expecting, something I should have noticed long ago.
Close to the end of David's reign, he instructed Joab to number the men of fighting age in Israel and Judah. Joab--hardly the man I would expect to get spiritual--warned David against the course. But David persisted. God decided to punish Israel, and gave David three options, leading to the showdown at the threshing floor where David insisted on paying for the land and materials to build an altar. God stopped the plague before it destroyed Jerusalem.
Okay. David was supposed to know better. Even Joab knew better.
Here is the kicker. Chapter 24 begins this way:
Once again God's anger blazed against Israel. He tested David by telling him, "Go and take a census of Israel and Judah." (2 Samuel 24:1, MSG)
Did you catch it? God told David take the census. Wait a minute. I had to check that out in a couple of other versions with a more precise translation.
King James says, "And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah." The NIV puts it this way: "Again, the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying 'Go and take a census of Israel and Judah.'"
The unnecessary, prideful, self-reliant, not-God-pleasing census happened at God's specific direction. It reminds me a little bit of God telling Abraham to sacrifice his son--only He didn't step in to stop David from the foolishness.
The Bible does say God was angry with Israel. Why isn't spelled out, but I can guess. They broke the covenant in some significant way, most probably with idol worship. God's anger wasn't directed at David himself; he was a tool in God's hands.
I can easily see David falling prey to the desire that James describes, "each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire." How many fighting men do we have, in all? Wasn't that a natural, nationalistic, patriotic, kingly thing for David to want to know?
God Himself had Moses number Israel at least twice. We're not told why it was wrong this time, but I can venture a guess. Knowing the size of the available army suggests a dependence on the strength of the army, and not on God. God could save Israel with an army of one--think about David and Goliath.
Whether God whispered the words into David's mind or simply opened the door, all the versions agree: God was nudging him in that direction.
Here is David's chance for an Abraham-like dialogue with God. Are you sure, God? You know I trust You to deliver us, whether by many or a few. Where was the daily review of God's ways that he wrote about in chapter 22? Did he think this was a new trick?
Whatever David's thought process, he jumped into it, insisted on it, in fact. And all of Israel suffered as a result.
Mostly, I am puzzled by God. Okay, I don't pretend to understand God. Who does? But why did God lead David this way? Why didn't God tell David that He wanted to punish Israel, and give him the choice of three punishments in the first place? He told Abraham he was going to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah. He told Moses he wanted to kill the entire nation and start over. Why didn't He give David the same opportunity to intercede for his people?
I'm not sure where to go with this. I start with this truth, plainly spoken in scripture: God doesn't tempt us to sin.
Second truth: God, however, did make sin a possibility by giving us free choice.
Measuring what I know of God from the Bible and comparing it to my experience, I can easily see David imagining God wanted him to do this.
And as a final, over-riding thought? God cannot be put in a box.