Reading: 1 Chronicles 21
God is on trial. The world is often quick to accuse God of injustice. Often the Bible is used as evidence against God, because the God of the Old Testament, it is often put forward, is not loving, according to the world's prosecution rhetoric. This trial of God is not new, indeed it is as old as history itself. It began in the Garden of Eden with the accusation of the age old serpent against God that God was lying in order to keep us from having “the good life.” (Genesis 3:4-5) 1 Chronicles 21 might help us see the serpent's lie and the truth about God and what He is like.
It begins with the age old serpent inciting David in an activity that will ultimately bring death (1 Chronicles 21:1). David tells Joab, his general, to go count the warriors in Israel. That doesn't seem to be a big problem, right? But Joab's response helps us see the problem.
But Joab replied, “May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord's subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?” (1 Chronicles 21:3)
David's decision to count the troops is an evidence that his trust is shifting. He had always been one to trust in the Lord, not the arm of the flesh (Psalm 56:1-4). But now he has his eyes on how big his army is. Joab recognizes this and appeals to David. However, as king, David prevails and the counting begins. We discover that Joab was disgusted with this activity, and God was too (1 Chronicles 21:6-7).
What is the problem with this shift of trust? Though written later, Jeremiah 17:5 summarizes a truth that was equally true in David's time, in fact, gets to the root of sin itself. To trust in the Lord brings life, to trust in the flesh brings death. This isn't an arbitrary decision from the Lord; rather it is the upholding of truth. If trusting in the flesh would actually end in life, then the flesh would have to be the source of life. Or, rather, God would be upholding the lie which we are insisting on believing. God cannot lie, and God cannot prop up a lie.
God's wrath is poured on Israel and David sees his sin and repents. God offers him a choice between three forms of judgment. (1 Chronicles 21:8-10) David's response is telling:
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.” (1 Chronicles 21:13)
David believed that God's mercy was greater than mans. There are a lot of people who think that they have a better idea of what love is than God does. A lot of people who presume to be more merciful than God. A lot in our day who would accuse God for killing these 70,000, but would defend to the death the right to take the life of innocent children in the womb to the tune of 55 million in our own nation. How can they possibly be so blind to the radical double standard. (Never mind that they have never given life to anyone, and God is the author of life. He is the only one with the right to give an take.)
David understood that he had rejected God, the author of life, in order to trust in man. He recognized the wretchedness of this action and understands just how deserving he was of death itself. But he knew that God's character is not limited to only justice, but is primarily holy love. His mercy is very great. David would much rather have fallen into the hands of the God of the Old Testament than to fall into the hands of men. (I dare say so would the Jews who were in Germany or Russia in the middle of the last century, and so would many babies today!)
As the account continues we discover that David understands that God extends mercy through a means of atonement, of dealing with man's guilt by a means of substitution. Sacrifices were given to demonstrate that God would deal with their sin by punishing their guilt on another. Of course, God never intended that animal sacrifices would be sufficient (Isaiah 1:11; Psalm 51:16). Those sacrifices were pointing to the reality that God would provide a means of atonement in which our guilt would be dealt with by a substitute, and were always pointing forward to the Lamb of God that would bear away the sins of the world.
God's love is a holy love. It isn't merely God saying, “it doesn't really matter, I was just kidding anyway when I said not to eat from the tree. I was just kidding when I said not to.... You won't really die.” Rather it is God saying, “I wasn't kidding. Death is necessary, but I will provide the answer, I will save you from death itself and give you life eternal.” It is God saying, “I will bear your death for you.” 1 Chronicles 21 looks to the ultimate sacrifice described in Isaiah 53:1-12. The world may think they have God on trial, but in reality, it is the world that is on trial, and needs a serious attorney (1 John 2:1-2).
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,