June 29, 2010 David Balzer

1 Chronicles 21:1-22:1: The Sin of Counting

Shane Warne. He’s just been suspended for a year for taking a diuretic. A tablet that removes fluid from your system. And it can be used to help people who are retaining fluid – swollen feet for example. And it can also be used to mask the presence of steroids.

And perhaps its LEAST important use is for cosmetic reasons. To make you LOOK BETTER. So body-builders, or s, might use it to look less puffy or bloated.

And then there’s Shane Warne. The night before his return to cricket after a dislocated shoulder, he took a diuretic tablet so he would LOOK his best.

And he’s just admitted to Ray Martin he’s taken ANOTHER tablet. This time the morning after he’d had a big night. And he wanted to LOOK good.

Puffy eyes? Take a tablet! Double chin? Take a tablet! Nothing to do with PERFORMANCE, at least if you believe Shane. Just VANITY and PRIDE. Too many years of living in the glare of public adoration. Too used to people overlooking his indiscretions because he played cricket.

It’s always a problem when people in the public eye start believing their own publicity. And that’s EXACTLY what King David seems to have done in this chapter today.

He’s a mighty warrior. And his army has gone from one success to another. Every nation around/ is running in fear. And David knows it’s all because GOD has been fighting for him. At least he STARTS OFF knowing that. Have a look back to chapter 14. v2.

(1 Chr 14:2 NIV)  And David KNEW/ that THE LORD had established him as king over Israel and that his kingdom had been highly exalted for the sake of his people Israel.

And whenever David goes into battle, he always asks God what he should do. And God gives him victory. Like v10 of Ch 14.

(1 Chr 14:10 NIV)  so David inquired of God: “Shall I go and attack the Philistines? Will YOU hand them over to me?” The LORD answered him, “Go, I will hand them over to you.”

And because David knows it’s all God’s doing, he gives God the credit. Flip over to Ch 18. More victories. And plenty of loot that went with it. Gold and silver and bronze. First, second and third place to David. But look at what David does. V11.

(1 Chr 18:11 NIV)  King David dedicated these articles TO THE LORD, as he had done with the silver and gold he had taken from all these nations: Edom and Moab, the Ammonites and the Philistines, and Amalek.

And just in case we haven’t got the message yet. The last part of v13. “The LORD gave David victory everywhere he went”

But in Ch 19 things start to change. Instead of David doing the fighting, he sends Joab – his commander–in-chief. And it’s JOAB who remembers the Lord. Look at v12 of Ch 19.

(1 Chr 19:12-14 NIV)  Joab said, “If the Arameans are too strong for me, then you are to rescue me; but if the Ammonites are too strong for you, then I will rescue you. {13} Be strong and let us fight bravely for our people and the cities of our God. THE LORD WILL DO WHAT IS GOOD IN HIS SIGHT.” {14} Then Joab and the troops with him advanced to fight the Arameans, and they fled before him.

And God helps Joab, and he wins. And even though by the end of the chapter David gets the glory, it’s really Joab who’s the one who’s remembered the Lord.

And we get another hint of things going wrong in Ch 20. Once again, Joab doing the dirty work. And David getting the glory. Look at v1.

(1 Chr 20:1-2 NIV)  In the spring, at the time when KINGS go off to war, JOAB led out the armed forces. He laid waste the land of the Ammonites and went to Rabbah and besieged it, BUT DAVID REMAINED IN JERUSALEM. Joab attacked Rabbah and left it in ruins. {2} David took the crown from the head of their king –its weight was found to be a talent of gold, and it was set with precious stones–and it was placed on David’s head.

Last time he gave the loot to God. Put it in the temple. But what does he do here? He puts the whopping great crown/ on HIS OWN head.

Perhaps David’s starting to believe his own publicity. Doing a “Warney”! Perhaps he’s thinking that HE deserves the credit. That HE’s the one who’s brought the victory. But he wasn’t even on the battle field. He stayed at home. Living it up in the palace.

And so we get to Ch 21. That’s what (Gordon/ Pam) read for us earlier. And if we’re feeling a bit nervous, then v1 doesn’t exactly help. Because Satan comes onto the scene, and he stirs up David to take a census.

Now we might think. Well, what’s so bad about a census? What’s wrong with counting the people? It’s hardly the worst sin in the world. You’d think Satan could have come up with something better than that!

Surely it’s just good governance to keep an accurate record of things. Make sure you provide enough for everyone. That’s what we have the census for in Australia. To help the government plan.

In fact, in Israel’s time / even God’s not against a census. In fact, the Book of Numbers begins with a command from God for Moses to take a census of the whole Israelite community.

So what’s so wrong about counting? There’s enough hints here/ to let us know there’s more going on than meets the eye. Because David gets JOAB to do it. His army chief. You see, David’s counting his ARMY. He’s checking out his muscles. Doing a Warney. Believing his own publicity.

And Joab sees the problem. V3.

(1 Chr 21:3 NIV)  “…Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?”

It’s Joab/ who hasn’t forgotten who’s REALLY behind Israel’s victories. It’s all God’s doing. But David’s forgotten it.

And so Joab does the job. But under protest. And he comes back with the figure. 1.1 million. An AWESOME army. One to be proud of. To glory in. But he doesn’t feel too happy about it. And neither does God. Look at 6.

(1 Chr 21:6-7 NIV)  But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. {7} This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.

God wants David to trust HIM ALONE. Not to put his trust in soldiers, or horses, or numbers. Because with God none of that matters. And David of ALL people should know that.

And somehow David realises his mistake. He realises his sin. And he confesses of his sin and his foolishness. And asks God to take away his guilt. That’s in v8.

And God agrees. His guilt WILL be taken away. But God can’t just OVERLOOK guilt. Pretend it’s not there. A penalty must be paid. Punishment must be executed. And he does something very unusual. He gives David a choice. Three options. Look at v11

(1 Chr 21:11-12 NIV)  So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Take your choice: {12} three YEARS of famine, three MONTHS of being swept away before YOUR ENEMIES, with THEIR swords overtaking you, or three DAYS of the sword of THE LORD–days of plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.”

What a choice! Three years at the mercy of the ELEMENTS. Three MONTHS at the mercy of MEN. Or three DAYS at the mercy of the LORD. Which would YOU choose?

For David, there’s no question. Look at v13.

(1 Chr 21:13 NIV)  David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.”

God is mighty. And God is holy. But he’s also MERCIFUL. And perhaps he will hold back his hand. Even just slightly. Not give the FULL weight of the punishment. That’s David’s hope.

And it’s exactly the same hope that those of us who are Christians have. We throw ourselves on the mercy of God. He is holy. And we’re sinful. We deserve punishment. Eternal separation from God. And yet he holds back his hand. He chooses to make us his children. Not because we deserve it. But because of his mercy. Because the of his Son has paid our penalty.

“Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great!”

And God is true to his word. 70, 000 men die by a plague. That’s justice. ThaT’s wrath. And as God’s angel is working his way through Jerusalem, his sword cuts a path through the people.

Then suddenly, for some reason, God notices it. Notices his people. Remembers his covenant.

And something happens. God’s white-hot justice, and honour for his name, are quenched. Hosed-down. Extinguished in the cool pool of his mercy. Look at v15.

(1 Chr 21:15 NIV)  And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.”

David’s confidence in God’s mercy has paid off. And v16 tells us that David looks out over Jerusalem. And sees the angel hovering there. Drawn sword raised over Jerusalem. Waiting for God’s command. A symbol of God’s JUSTICE. But also his MERCY because the sword has been stopped.

And David goes down to where the angel is waiting. And he buys the block of land from the guy who owns it. And he offers sacrifices to God there. He FINALLY remembers the Lord.

He recognises that God is the one who’s BROUGHT the punishment. God is the one who’s STOPPED the punishment. And God is the one who DESERVES his worship and gratitude.

And we can do the same. Recognise that God’s justice demands that punishment be BROUGHT. And the wonder of the gospel is that he’s brought that punishment on HIS SON, rather than US.

He’s BROUGHT the punishment. (That’s his justice). But he’s also STOPPED the punishment. He DOESN’T treat us as our sins deserve. That was JESUS’ fate. That’s God’s MERCY. And that’s why he DESERVES our worship and gratitude.

And the final point in the story is in Ch 22 v1. This was the exact sight that David decided to build the temple on. Because it was there that God had stopped the hand of the angel.

Well, what’s all that got to do with us? What can we learn from David? David’s mistake was letting pride get in the way. It was PRIDE IN HIS ARMY that caused him to forget God.

And we’re just as guilty today of counting our army. Of trusting in our EARTHLY resources, rather than in God who can do his stuff WHATEVER our circumstances

At the most basic level, every day, each of us has dozens of decisions to make. A situation arises. And we choose how to respond. And MOSTLY we try to fix things ourselves.

We drive a little faster. Or argue a little harder. Or worry a little more. Our first port of call is always ourselves. (“How can I fix it?) Rather than taking it to God. (“What do YOU want me to do? How should I handle it?”)

Stop counting your army. Give it up to God.

You might think you DON’T count your army. But how many of you don’t feel that little bit more secure when you read the local paper. And notice how much the houses in your street are selling for? How many of you quickly do some sums. And work out what you’re worth?

Stop counting your army. Give it up to God.

Or we worry about the future. So we put a little bit more away in superannuation. Or buy that extra bundle of shares. Or have that extra medical procedure done.

It’s not that any of these things are necessarily WRONG. It’s putting your trust in them, rather than in God which is wrong. We might still do them, trusting that God will look after us THROUGH them.

Stop counting your army. Give it up to God.

And I think we do it/ when we compare ourselves to other people. Good old Sharon. She means well. But she’s just not as good as me at … teaching… welcoming … raising kids … budgetting … housework. Whatever it might be.

And we feel that little bit more smug and self-satisfied when we compare favourably to others. Don’t do it. Stop counting your army. Give it up to God.

And the flip side of that is when we take stock of our resources, and decide that we CAN’T do a particular job. “I know it’s really important to go door-knocking … or leading youth group … or talking to that new person. But it’s just not my gift. I never know what to say. I feel out of my depth. I’m sure God can use someone else.”

And he probably will. But it means YOU miss out on the chance of working with God. Because you’re too busy taking stock of your own feeble resources, and forgetting that God can help you to do ANYTHING.

It’s the mistake that those spiritual gifts questionaires make. A stack of questions to help you find out what your spiritual gifts are. So you’ll know how you can serve the church.

But I reckon it’s the wrong way of looking at things. In 1 Corinthians, Ch 12 lists a whole stack of gifts. And then Ch 14 focusses on tongues and prophecy. But what’s right in the middle of all that teaching about gifts? What’s CHAPTER 13 about? LOVE. “Now I will show you the most excellent way.”

Do you LOVE your brothers and sisters? Do they have a need? Try to meet that need! That’s what love does. It doesn’t count its army first. Decide it doesn’t have that particular gift. And wait back for someone ELSE to help. Love jumps right in. Gives it a go. And prays that God will do the equipping. Because God can do ANYTHING.

Stop counting your army. Give it up to God. RECOGNISE him, ASK him for help, GIVE him the glory.

And it was a lesson the Apostle Paul knew well. He knew his own weakness. He knew that it was ONLY by recognising his own inability that God could actually use him. Listen to 1 Corinthians 2:3.

(1 Cor 2:3-5 NIV)  I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. {4} My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, {5} so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power.

Paul recognised the foolishness of counting his armies. And the wisdom of trusting in God. The God who can do ANYTHING.

Let me finish with these words of Paul from Eph 3. There printed there in your news sheet. And may it be our prayer for each other. Eph 3:16

(Eph 3:16-21 NIV)  I pray that out of HIS GLORIOUS RICHES he may STRENGTHEN you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, {17} so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, {18} may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, {19} and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

{20} Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to HIS POWER THAT IS AT WORK WITHIN US, {21} to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.

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