Religion: Studying 1 Chronicles: David and the Census

King David angers God with taking a censusAs I have continued reading through the books of Chronicles in the Old Testament, questions continue to arise. Having covered a recent question in a blog regarding David, the Ark of the Covenant, and the instantaneous death of Uzzah for reaching out and touching the Ark to stabilize it, I have one more question niggling away at me. In fact, it has niggled at me for years.

1 Chronicles 21 recaps the account first seen in 2 Samuel 24 when David stirs up God’s wrath in a major way. What had he done? He had taken a census. But why would something like that incite so much anger from Yahweh? It seems like such a trivial thing. Why would taking a census be a sin?

Let’s take a closer look into their culture and the Mosaic Law to see if we can make some sense out of this. 1 Chronicles 21:1 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.

There is much to learn from these few words. Satan rose up again the nation of Israel, and he used their king. Even David, a man after God’s own heart, had weaknesses and was susceptible to attack from the enemy. And Satan went right for his biggest weakness: pride.

Later in his life David’s head had swollen a bit from all of his victories, his success. By taking a census, it was as if he is taking the credit for his advancement over the decades, forgetting it was the Lord that lifted his head high above his enemies. God is not silent in this text.

Take a look at it.

If we cross back to 2 Samuel 24, we see that Israel already had incited God’s anger, so much so that He allows Satan to tempt David resulting in the census being taken and punishment upon the nation. The response of Joab in both texts reveals that taking a census was a bad idea. He tries to turn the king’s mind from this thing. David won’t listen to his counsel.

With the numbers given of soldiers in the army between Israel and Judah at 1,300,000, it is estimated that there would have been around 6,000,000 people in David’s kingdom at that time. The census was so precise, it took ten months to complete.

The instant the census was complete, David knew he had sinned, as reflected in 1 Chronicles 21:10. Three Days Plague for Taking the Census


Look at Exodus 30:12: When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them.

First, this passage is talking about the procedure used to take a census under God’s mandate; God did not mandate the census to be taken by David. In fact, with such a large number of soldiers, giving a ransom would have been quite a lengthy process requiring much organizing.

Second, David was taking ownership of the men counted in his kingdom. In antiquity, a man could only count what was his. But in actuality, Israel did not belong to David; Israel belonged to God. Severe pride was the sin at hand.

And God did not delay to deal with it.

Reading through to the end of the text, we see that David chose to fall into the hands of God, and that, in the end, Yahweh ultimately had mercy on David. But not before 70,000 men fell under pestilence.

David atones for his sin by building an altar and making sacrifice in the form of burnt offerings and peace offerings. First, the burnt offerings atoned for the sin; then, peace offerings put David back in commune and friendship with God.

That is the exact place where we want to be!

Written by Jori Sams



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