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22. Neiman Marcus Military, Kmart Christianity? (2 Samuel 24)

David Comes to His Census131

Introduction

In the early years of our church, we did not have a church office. For that matter, we didn’t yet have a church building (we met first in an elementary school and then at a North Dallas hotel). For this and other reasons, my office was in a commercial executive suite. I had a small office, and a young woman who owned a secretarial service was stationed in a small lobby outside, where she made her living typing and copying for those who rented office space nearby. One day this young woman stopped me as I passed by her desk to tell me that one of the other tenants had spoken to her about her rates. He convinced her that since his was a “Christian ministry” he should get a discount. She told me that since she was giving his ministry a discount, she believed it was only fair to give our church the same discount.

I did not feel comfortable about this offer and told her I would like to think about it and discuss it with the elders of our church. We discussed the matter and concluded that it was not her obligation or responsibility to subsidize our church by reducing her income. So I went back to her and informed her that we wanted to be charged the normal rate, explaining that we did not believe she should sacrifice her income to support our church when she was not a member.

In our text, David has a golden opportunity for what I would call a “Kmart ministry.” God has instructed David through the prophet (or “seer”), Gad, to erect an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah. To do this, he would need to purchase this property. When David approached Araunah and told him he needed his property so he could build an altar and offer sacrifices to God, Araunah offered to give him this property, the two oxen he was using, and the threshing sledges drawn by the oxen. In other words, Araunah offered David everything he needed to offer a sacrifice to God free of charge. What a bargain! One would think David would be ecstatic. He could worship God at no charge, at Araunah’s expense. David refused. We will seek to learn to why, and the implications of David’s refusal for us.

It is obvious that 2 Samuel 24 is the concluding chapter of 1 and 2 Samuel (you will remember that 1 and 2 Samuel were originally one book in the Hebrew Old Testament). Here, the author is drawing the book to a close. He is making his final points as we come to the climax of the book. There are many lessons for us to learn here, so let us listen well, and look to the Spirit of God to make these lessons clear to us, as well as to work in and through us as He wills.

David Gets His Way
(24:1-9)132

1 Now again the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and it incited David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 2 The king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, “Go about now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and register the people, that I may know the number of the people.” 3 But Joab said to the king, “Now 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; but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” 4 Nevertheless, the king's word prevailed against Joab and against the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to register the people of Israel. 5 They crossed the Jordan and camped in Aroer, on the right side of the city that is in the middle of the valley of Gad and toward Jazer. 6 Then they came to Gilead and to the land of Tahtim-hodshi, and they came to Dan-jaan and around to Sidon, 7 and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and of the Canaanites, and they went out to the south of Judah, to Beersheba. 8 So when they had gone about through the whole land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. 9 And Joab gave the number of the registration of the people to the king; and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.

For some reason not indicated to us, God was very angry with Israel. Our text literally says that God’s nose burned. God was “hot” over Israel’s sin. All too often in the Old Testament, this expression of divine anger is employed.133 In each case, it is a serious sin that inflamed the righteous anger of God. Once again, God is angry with Israel, and He is determined to divinely discipline this stiff-necked people. He does so by utilizing David’s sin. Somehow David’s sin brings both guilt and punishment on the people. In focusing our attention on David and his sin, let us not forget that this incident takes place because of Israel’s sin.

Divinely incited,134 David decides to number the fighting men of Israel and Judah. Numbering is not necessarily wrong. Moses numbered the fighting men of Israel in preparation for battle (Numbers 1:1-4). Moses also numbered the Kohathites (Numbers 4:2) and the Gershonites (Numbers 4:22) for priestly service. Saul numbered the Israelites to defend the people of Jabesh-gilead by fighting the Ammonites (1 Samuel 11:8). David numbered those loyal to him in preparation for defending himself against an attack by his son, Absalom (2 Samuel 18:1).135 In none of these cases was numbering wrong.

It should be pointed out that the census which David required here does not appear to be a mere numbering of the Israelite warriors, a simple matter of counting heads. This census took nearly ten months to complete, and somehow it required the participation of the military commanders themselves. My understanding is that when the soldiers were numbered, they were also ranked. In other words, numbering the soldiers involved ordering and ranking them, so that they would be ready to fight.

We do see a word of warning related to numbering in the Book of Exodus:

12 “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them. 13 “This is what everyone who is numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (the shekel is twenty gerahs), half a shekel as a contribution to the LORD. 14 “Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD. 15 “The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves. 16 “You shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves” (Exodus 30:12-16).

It is clear from this text that there is something less than pious about having to number the military. It is an evil for which atonement must be made, and if it is not, a plague will come upon the nation.

I have agonized a great deal over this text, especially over what was so wrong with numbering the Israelites. It seems as though no reason is clearly given. Then I reflected on the fact that if no reason was given for God’s displeasure over this act of David’s, neither was there any explanation of David’s reasons for doing so. In virtually every other circumstance where some group was numbered, there was a very obvious reason for doing so. When soldiers were numbered, it was in preparation for battle. But we are not told of any battle in or near our text. It would seem that David’s only reason for numbering his men was to satisfy his own curiosity and to puff up his pride. David seems to be overly interested in his might, his ability to fight. He seems to have lost a sense of dependence on God. He may have been a great deal like King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, overly impressed with himself, his power, and his position.

There is a “feel” to this text which reminds me of the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Numbering Israel seems to produce a “knowledge” that David was forbidden to have, a knowledge of his greatness and military strength (compare Deuteronomy 17:14-20). He wanted to “see” his strength and power, and even though forbidden, it was what his heart desired.

While we may puzzle over the “sinfulness” of such an act, it did not seem to be such a difficult thing to recognize for David’s servants who led the armed forces. Joab (verse 3; cf. also 1 Chronicles 21:6) and the commanders of the army (verse 4) were opposed to numbering the fighting men of the nation. Even David was eventually conscience-stricken (verse 10), without the prophet Gad having to first confront or rebuke him (as Nathan had to do with regard to Bathsheba and Uriah – 2 Samuel 12). Numbering the fighting men of the nation was wrong, and no one in that day seemed to have a problem recognizing it.

Joab protested as strongly as he dared, without jeopardizing his safety and status. Nevertheless, David overruled him and the other commanders, insisting that a census be taken. Reluctantly and half-heartedly (see 1 Chronicles 21:6), Joab went about this abhorrent task. It was indeed a major undertaking. They crossed the Jordan, proceeded north, then west, and then southward, traveling about the nation in a counter-clockwise direction. When the mission was completed, the numbers were given to David. There were 800,000 valiant warriors in Israel and 500,000 seasoned fighters in Judah (verse 9).136

David Comes to His Census
(24:10-14)

10 Now David's heart troubled him after he had numbered the people. So 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 acted very foolishly.” 11 When David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying, 12 “Go and speak to David, 'Thus the LORD says, “I am offering you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you.””' 13 So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven 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 see what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.” 14 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the LORD for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (2 Samuel 24:10-14).

Without having to be rebuked, David recognizes his sin in numbering the fighting men of the nation. Having been smitten in his heart, David repents. He confesses how great his sin has been and acknowledges the foolishness of his actions (verse 10). This sense of guilt and his confession seems to have taken place during the night because when he awoke, the prophet137 Gad came to him with a word from the LORD. There was no debate or discussion about whether or not David had sinned. That was a given. The only matter to be decided was what punishment David would choose. David was given three options, all mentioned in Deuteronomy 28, as punishment for Israel’s failure to keep their covenant with God.138

David’s choices include a difference in the length of the penalty: three years of famine,139 three months of fleeing before their enemies, or three days of pestilence at the hand of God. David chooses the third option, not because it is the shortest time of suffering, but because it is God who administers this punishment more directly. David would rather suffer at the hand of God than at the hand of men.

Why is this? Why would David rather suffer at the hand of a holy and righteous God than at the hand of men? I believe it is because David knows that he will not suffer the wrath of God as an unbeliever, but as a son. The wrath is a terrifying thought:

15 Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man hid themselves in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains; 16 and they said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; 17 for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” (Revelation 6:15-17)

12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12-15).

David does not need to fear the wrath of God that falls upon an unbeliever. The discipline that he will experience should not and will not be taken lightly, but it is the discipline of a loving father, discipline meant to draw David near to Him:

7 It is for discipline that you endure; God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8 But if you are without discipline, of which all have become partakers, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9 Furthermore, we had earthly fathers to discipline us, and we respected them; shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live? 10 For they disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but He disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness. 11 All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness. 12 Therefore, strengthen the hands that are weak and the knees that are feeble, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that the limb which is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed (Hebrews 12:7-13).

Paradoxical as it seems, the God who is holy and righteous is also the God who is merciful and kind:

6 Then the LORD passed by in front of him and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; 7 who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and on the grandchildren to the third and fourth generations” (Exodus 34:6-7).

It is upon that kindness that David casts himself in our text. He knows that he is guilty before God and deserves to suffer at His hand. But he also knows that the hand of God is kinder than the hand of men. Think of this for a moment. David not only trusts in God for his salvation and for deliverance from his enemies, but for His chastening. There is no area of our lives that we should entrust to men instead of God.

Calamity and Compassion
(24:15-17)

15 So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning until the appointed time, and seventy thousand men of the people from Dan to Beersheba died. 16 When the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who destroyed the people, “It is enough! Now relax your hand!” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. 17 Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking down the people, and said, “Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Your hand be against me and against my father's house.”

The Lord was angry with Israel, and the pestilence which came to His people was justly deserved, not only because of David’s sin but because of Israel’s sin. How ironic that David seeks to learn how many Israelite warriors are at his disposal, and as a result of his finding out, the numbers are changed by 70,000 men. The plague comes upon every part of the nation. The destroying angel of the LORD seems almost to retrace the steps of those who numbered the nation. Now the angel approaches Jerusalem, ready to bring calamity there as well. David is enabled to see the angel of the LORD, with his sword lifted high, ready to slay many in Jerusalem. We have already been informed, however, that God had relented of bringing further calamity. David’s faith in God for judgment was well founded. God had poured out His wrath on His people, but now He took compassion on them. The angel of the LORD was standing by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite140 when he was ordered to halt.

David could not have known God’s purposes yet, and so he petitioned God in an attempt to halt the plague. He pled that God’s anger be satisfied by pouring out His wrath on him and on his father’s house (not unlike that which had occurred to Saul’s house in chapter 21). God had a better plan, which He will communicate to David through the prophet Gad in the concluding verses of this great book.

A Place of Sacrifice and Atonement
(24:18-25)

18 So Gad came to David that day and said to him, “Go up, erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19 David went up according to the word of Gad, just as the LORD had commanded. 20 Araunah looked down and saw the king and his servants crossing over toward him; and Araunah went out and bowed his face to the ground before the king. 21 Then Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” And David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be held back from the people.” 22 Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what is good in his sight. Look, the oxen for the burnt offering, the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. 23 “Everything, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” 24 However, the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price, for I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God which cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. 25 David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. Thus the LORD was moved by prayer for the land, and the plague was held back from Israel (2 Samuel 24:18-25).

Gad came to David with another solution – sacrifice. David was to erect an altar to the LORD right there on the threshing floor of Araunah. Immediately, it seems, David began to make his way up to the place where the angel of the LORD had been halted. Araunah and his four sons were there at the threshing floor, threshing wheat. He looked up to see the angel of the LORD and also David and all his servants making their way to where he was (1 Chronicles 21:20-21). It must have been a terrifying moment for Araunah (called Ornan in 1 Chronicles).

As I play a mental picture of our text, I am reminded of my roommate in college. He owned a 1953 Ford, which was literally on its last legs. Another friend was a new car dealer at the time, and he also sold used cars. My friend Jerry drove his 1953 Ford to Auburn, Washington, and looked at a 1959 Chevrolet. He was interested, but he didn’t want to let the salesman know it. After the salesman quoted his “best price” (including the trade-in he would allow for the Ford), Jerry told him he would think about it and get back to him. He got into his Ford and hit the starter; nothing happened. Calmly, he got out of the car, walked over to the salesman, and said, “I’ll take it.” This was no time to be driving a hard bargain. Jerry was in a difficult spot.

Araunah was not in a great negotiating position either. Here was the angel of the LORD, still in sight, and David was ascending with a number of his servants. Araunah was a foreigner who was lucky to be alive, let alone having land so near to David and the city of Jerusalem. He owned a prime piece of land and had just been told by David that he must have it. David told him to name his price. Araunah thought this was a good time to make David a deal he could not refuse. He offered to give David not only the land, but also his oxen and the threshing sledges, so that he could offer a sacrifice to the LORD.

It would have been a tempting offer for me. Here was the chance to have a “Kmart” ministry – a great ministry at the perfect price (nothing). Araunah must have been shocked by David’s response. He refused to accept Araunah’s generous offer of a prime piece of land.141 If David accepted this offer, his sacrifice would cost him nothing. How can one offer a “sacrifice” without making any sacrifices to do so? David purchased the land (I’m not sure about the oxen and the sledges) at full price, and then offered his sacrifices. When this sacrifice had been made, the Lord heard the entreaties of His people and stopped the plague.

Conclusion

This chapter is a part of the author’s conclusion to all of 1 and 2 Samuel. You might say it is the conclusion of the conclusion. In one sense, the book ends at the end of chapter 20. Chapters 21-24 serve as an epilogue to the book, bringing home the points which the author most desires us to grasp. The best way to grasp this epilogue and its message may be by means of a chart, as shown on the following page.

The core of the epilogue is made up of the two psalms of David, the first of which looks back on his deliverance from Saul and his enemies, and ahead to his reign as king, and the last of which looks back on his reign as the time of his departure draws near (22:1-51; 23:1-7). The theme of both of these songs is, “God is my salvation.” In spite of grave dangers and overwhelming odds against him, God delivered David from death and fulfilled His promise that he would become Israel’s king. Beyond this, David sees God as his future deliverer, when He sends the great king, Messiah, to accomplish his full and final salvation.

The second and fifth segments of the epilogue have to do with David’s “mighty men.” In 21:15-22, David has passed his prime, and a descendant of Goliath nearly overcomes him in battle. Abishai comes to David’s rescue, killing Ishbi-benob, the giant. Three other giants are mentioned, and in each case, one of David’s mighty men killed the “Goliath” (actually a Goliath offspring). In 23:8-39, two distinguished groups of mighty men are enumerated, the “three” and the “thirty.” These men trusted God and were instrumental in stunning victories over the enemies of Israel in spite of incredible odds against them. It was through these men that God often brought victory to David and to Israel.

The first and the last segments of the epilogue have to do with the sins of Israel’s first two kings. In 21:1-14, atonement is made for Saul’s sin of seeking to annihilate the Gibeonites, with whom the Israelites had entered into a covenant of protection. Seven of Saul’s “sons” were executed by the Gibeonites and thus the famine was removed in answer to the prayers of God’s people. In 24:1-25 (our text), we see the sin of David, which also brings the nation under divine discipline. It was only after the threshing floor of Araunah was purchased, an altar was built, and sacrifices were offered that God stopped the plague which came upon Israel for their sins and for David’s.

These three pairs of paragraphs serve as the conclusion of the book, and they underscore some very important lessons which the author wishes to leave with us as he concludes. Allow me to summarize them.

First, we are reminded, once again, of the faithfulness of God as the Savior of His people. First Samuel began with the plight of Hannah, who was unable to bear children. God “saved” her from barrenness and gave her not only Samuel, but other children as well. Her song is a “song of salvation” (1 Samuel 2). Beginning with Moses and Aaron, and throughout the period of the judges, God saved His people when they cried out to Him (1 Samuel 12:6-11). Then God saved Israel through Saul, and David, as they led the nation in battle against their enemies, especially the Philistines. God served as David’s Savior over and over again in his lifetime, and David came to look to a “son of David” to save him in the end. Samuel has much to say to us about the faithfulness of God as the Savior of His people, even when His people fail. No wonder David summarizes his life by worshipping God as His fortress, as His salvation.

Second, we see that while God is a faithful Savior, He often used men of courage and faith. David was prepared for his reign as Israel’s king by shepherding a small flock of his father's sheep. During this time, he learned to trust God and to act courageously to save the flock from bears and lions. His military career began with his confrontation of Goliath on the field of battle, against incredible odds. While Saul did not inspire such courage in his men, David’s courage inspired many others to fight with faith and boldness, even against unbelievable odds. These men made it possible for David to cease fighting when his strength began to fail. While God is a faithful Savior, He often delivers Israel through men of faith and courage, who trust Him as they fight the enemies of God. The sovereignty of God in the salvation of men did not hinder men’s faith and initiative; it inspired it.

Third, we see that while man is sinful, our sin never hinders God from accomplishing His saving work. If David is the best that history has to offer us, we see that this man is certainly not the Savior of mankind. The salvation that God promised through David’s seed would have to come through someone greater than David. David sinned, as we can clearly see. His sins may have been the exception, but they certainly disqualified him to be Israel’s Messiah. The amazing thing to observe from 1 and 2 Samuel is that while David sinned and many suffered thereby, God sovereignly chose to bring about great blessings through his failures. Two of Israel’s greatest blessings came about as a result of two of David’s greatest sins. David’s sin with Bathsheba resulted in the messianic line passing down through Bathsheba, and eventually this marriage produced the next king -- Solomon. David’s sin in numbering the Israelite warriors resulted in the purchase of the threshing floor of Araunah, which was the building site for the temple that was to be constructed under King Solomon. The salvation of the Gentiles was due, in part, to the rejection of Jesus Christ as Messiah by the Jews (see Romans 11). Our sin, while it offends a righteous God, does not tie God’s hands. God can use even our sin to accomplish His purposes and promises. Not only this, He even employs Satan to achieve His purposes (1 Chronicles 21:1f.).

Fourth, we see from this epilogue that no human king will ever be able to fulfill God’s promise of salvation. There must be one coming who is greater than David. Israel had rejected God as their king in 1 Samuel 8, when they demanded a king to “save” them from their enemies. God never really abdicated His place as Israel’s King, as Israel’s Savior. Through the line of David, God would someday provide a King for His people who would save them from their sins. He would be more than David, more than a man, and one who was without sin. He would be the Lord Jesus Christ, who came as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). He would come to live a sinless life and to die a sacrificial death in the place of the sinner. He would be “delivered from death” as God the Father raised Him from the dead. He would return as the King of Israel, triumphing over his enemies. Samuel simply whets our appetite for the coming “King,” who will save His people from their sins.

As we leave the Book of Samuel, our eyes are fixed on the person of Jesus Christ, who is to come to save His people as the “Son of David,” who will “sit on the throne of his father, David.” Our eyes are likewise fixed on a place, on a flat spot atop a mountain near Jerusalem. As I see the angel of the LORD standing there with uplifted arm, ready to smite Jerusalem with his sword, I cannot help but think back to Abraham, who also had his hand lifted up, ready to plunge the knife into his beloved son Isaac. It took place at the very same place, Mount Moriah. And both times God stayed the hand from taking the life, because He had a better sacrifice, One that would take away the sin of the world.

Yes, the temple was built on this very spot, on Mount Moriah. And it was there that sacrifices were offered which stayed the judging hand of God. But best of all it was on a hill not far away at all, Mount Calvary, where the hand of God came down upon His own beloved Son, and because of this sacrifice, men never need suffer the eternal wrath of God for their sins. It was because of His sacrificial death on that cross, and His resurrection from the dead – saved by the Father – that the offer of eternal salvation has come to us. Have you received this gift? Have you found God as your Savior, as your deliverer, as your fortress? If not, I urge you to accept His gift of salvation this very moment.

Our text has many other lessons to teach us, and I will merely mention some of them for you to consider. Let us be on guard against taking pride in that which God has accomplished in and through us. It would certainly seem that part of David’s problem in our passage was that of pride, pride in what he had done, rather than in what He (God) had done. Let us not seek to measure success or godliness merely in terms of numbers. In God’s eyes, success is seldom measured quantitatively. Let us also be warned that we can be tempted (by pride) to fall in those areas where we perceive ourselves to be the strongest.

Let us not rest on our laurels, looking back at past accomplishments, but let us press on to that which God has yet to accomplish in and through us, to His glory and praise (see Philippians 3).

Finally, let us learn from David that there is no worship without sacrifice. Ultimately, of course, our worship is based upon the sacrifice of our Lord Jesus Christ. But there is also a sense in which our worship should take place through our own sacrifice.

1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. 3 For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. 4 For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, 5 so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness (Romans 12:1-8).

9 Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited. 10 We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. 11 For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. 12 Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. 13 So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. 14 For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come. 15 Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name. 16 And do not neglect doing good and sharing, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you (Hebrews 13:9-17).

In virtually every evangelical church (not to mention the rest) that I know of, there is that faithful minority of sacrificial workers and givers, who support the many who do little or nothing at all. There are some who never teach a class, never serve, never give. And these are the “Kmart” Christians who look for the most benefits at the lowest cost. I would say to you that your worship is worth very little if you are not making any sacrifices of time, energy, and money.

I do not say this to make you feel guilty, though you should feel guilty and repent of this sin of slothful stewardship and service. I say this for your own good. If you are not making any sacrifices, your worship is nearly worthless. If you want worthwhile worship, it is not by attending a church with a professional team of worship leaders and performers, it is by taking up the cross which God has given you, and sacrificing yourself in the service of worship. I am not angry as I say this, but I pity those whose worship costs them nothing. Let me close with words from the lips of the standard for all sacrifice:

“For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).

35 “Be dressed in readiness, and keep your lamps lit. 36 “Be like men who are waiting for their master when he returns from the wedding feast, so that they may immediately open the door to him when he comes and knocks. 37 “Blessed are those slaves whom the master will find on the alert when he comes; truly I say to you, that he will gird himself to serve, and have them recline at the table, and will come up and wait on them. 38 “Whether he comes in the second watch, or even in the third, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. 39 “But be sure of this, that if the head of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have allowed his house to be broken into. 40 “You too, be ready; for the Son of Man is coming at an hour that you do not expect.” 41 Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” 42 And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? 43 “Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. 44 “Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions” (Luke 12:35-44).


131 Most of my readers will probably recognize the name “Kmart.” This is a discount store used by those looking for low prices. Neiman Marcus is at the other end of the spectrum, catering to those who want the best and don’t care what it costs.

132 The reader should note the parallel text in 1 Chronicles 21. There are a number of differences between the two texts. You might even call some of them contradictions. There are solutions and explanations for each, but I will not make these a concern in this lesson.

133 This expression is used fairly often in the Bible, and when it is, it describes God’s anger due to some serious sin. See, for example, Exodus 4:14; Numbers 12:9; Deuteronomy 29:27; Joshua 7:1; Judges 2:14, 20; 10:7; 2 Samuel 6:7; 2 Chronicles 25:15.

134 We could get into a very lengthy discussion here, which I shall attempt to avoid. On the surface, one might conclude that God made David sin by numbering the Israelites. We know that God does not tempt men to sin (James 1:13-17), though He certainly does test us (Deuteronomy 8:2). Nevertheless, the author of our text wants us to know that God was behind David’s sin in the sense that it was certain to happen (as was the betrayal of our Lord by Judas). Just as God informed Moses that He would harden Pharaoh’s heart (Exodus 4:21) so that He could use his rebellion to glorify Himself (see Romans 9:14-18), so we are also told by Moses that Pharaoh hardened his own heart (Exodus 8:32). God purposed that David would number Israel. It was certain to happen, but God did not force David to sin. He gave David the opportunity and the freedom to make a sinful choice which He would employ for His own purposes (compare Genesis 50:20).

135 See also 1 Kings 20:15, 26-27; 2 Kings 3:6; 2 Chronicles 25:5.

136 As virtually all scholars point out, these numbers do not precisely agree with the numbers given in 1 Chronicles 21. There are various explanations, but in the final analysis we must trust God and wait until eternity (in all likelihood) for a satisfactory solution. One thing that both Samuel and Chronicles agree on is that after the census was taken, there were less warriors than before, due to the outpouring of God’s judgment.

137 Note that Gad is also called a “seer,” the earlier title for a prophet (see 1 Samuel 9:9).

138 For famine, see Deuteronomy 28:48; 32:24; for fleeing before one’s enemies, see Leviticus 26:17, 36. Plagues were the consequence for breaking covenant with God (Deuteronomy 28:21; cf. 1 Kings 8:31), but they were particularly linked to taking a census without making an atonement (Exodus 30:12-16).

139 The Hebrew text of 2 Samuel 24:13 reads “seven years of famine,” but the Greek translation of this text (the Septuagint) and the parallel text in 1 Chronicles 21:12 reads “three years of famine.” I am inclined to accept the “three year” option, especially since there seems to be some emphasis on the number three here: three years of famine; three months of defeat at the hand of their enemies; three days of pestilence at the hand of God.

140 We can easily tell that Araunah was not a Jew, but a Gentile. There are those who think that Araunah was actually the former king of the Jebusites, who was graciously allowed to live. It may well be that this was because he had come to faith in the God of Israel. Since he was a foreigner, he would have been able to sell his land since it was not his “inheritance.”

141 It would be difficult to underestimate the value of this land. It was view property, overlooking Jerusalem, the perfect property on which to build an altar, or a temple!