April 30 | Daily Devotion

April 30 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a complete reading of the passage

Lectio Semi-continua: a shorter reading of the passage

Lectio Divina

2 Samuel 24 recounts one of the most unusual stories in the life of David. We are told that the Lord was angry with Israel, but we are not told why. Some scholars have suggested that His anger burned because many Israelites supported Absalom and Sheba in their rebellions, but we can’t be sure. The story gets particularly interesting at the point when God sent Satan to tempt David to number the people. In turn, God meted out punishment on the people because of David’s sin.

God’s plan and His reaction raises so many questions for modern readers. It would be hard to give comprehensive answers in a daily devotional, but a few brief thoughts are in order. First, it is clear that God sometimes becomes angry with entire communities. The biblical record is replete with examples. Entire nations (see the prophets), cities (remember Sodom), and churches (see Rev. 2-3) felt His wrath. The concept of community sin runs counter to our Western notion of individualism, but denying reality only makes the consequences worse. We have a responsibility to our fellow man and to the communities in which we live because God holds entire groups of people accountable.

Second, God sometimes deals with communal sin in an unusual way. In this case, He punished the community through the failure of the leader. In order to “encourage” David to sin, he sent Satan to tempt him. The particular sin David commits is curious. A census isn’t wicked (God Himself often called for the people to be numbered); the sin was in David’s reason(s) for ordering it. The king seemed to be motivated either by sinful pride (“I want to see how powerful we are!”) or by lack of faith (“Do we have sufficient numbers for war?”). God is certainly not opposed to being prudent or taking precautions. In fact, Jesus encouraged his disciples to be exactly that when they went into the world to spread the Word (Luke 22:35-38). But David seemingly wasn’t motivated by either sentiment. His agenda really offended God.

Third, God sometimes uses Satan for His own ends. This story is a classic example, but others come to mind. God allowed Satan to touch Job and his family with painful trials, for example (Job 1). Consider also the unrepentant church member who is put out of the community after refusing to listen to the elders (1 Cor. 5:5). As Luther put it, “Even the devil is God’s devil.” In other words, while the devil roams the earth, God uses him when and where He will.

I must confess that I am often mystified by God’s ways when I read passages like this one. One of my mentors often said, “You will never understand God until you understand how different He is.” He works in the most unusual ways. However, even in this story, He is not randomly punishing innocent people. Clearly, the people had sinned in some way, even if we are not told how. Indeed, David himself may have been part of the problem. But perhaps the lesson here is not about God so much as it is about His people both ancient and modern. We all have a responsibility to the communities in which God has placed us: cities, neighborhoods, churches, workplaces, and schools. God will not ignore a failure to promote justice and mercy (whether as citizens our leaders) in the places where we do our living, playing, and worshipping. So let us be proactive both in advancing peace and welfare and in opposing evil in every way. Let us protect our communities so that God does not bring upon us the evil we deserve.

Perhaps now is the time to pray for your communities and to ask God to give you the wisdom and courage to do what is right. As the Irish statesman Edmund Burke famously noted: “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” May God use us to promote the welfare of our communities by doing good and calling others to do the same. And may God protect us from the Evil One.

Lectio Divina  is written by F. Lionel Young III, who serves as the Senior Pastor of  Calvary Church  in Valparaiso, Indiana. He is the author of  A New Kind of Missionary, a popular introduction to global Christianity.