April 30 | Daily Devotion

Lectio Continua: a continuous reading of every verse

Lectio Semi-continua: shorter reading selections from the passages

Lectio Divina

“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.’” ~2 Samuel 24:1

Second 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. So God sent Satan to tempt David to number the people, then He meted out punishment on the people because of David’s sin.[1]

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. While God is certainly not opposed to prudence or precaution, the king appeared to be motivated by an excessive version of one or the other. It seems David was driven by either sinful pride (“I want to see how powerful we are!”) or by lack of faith (“Do we have sufficient numbers for war?”). His agenda, whatever it was, offended God.

God’s plan and His reaction raises so many questions for modern readers. 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.

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 the biblical reality is we 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.

[1] It’s well worth noting here that God sometimes uses Satan for His own ends. For example, God allowed Satan to touch Job and his family with painful trials (Job 1) and to drive David to this unnecessary census. As Luther succinctly stated, “Even the devil is God’s devil.” In other words, while the devil roams the earth, God uses him when and where He will.

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.