To begin I’d like to point out a cool verse and then I’ll finish with a disturbing story:
I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing. – David (2 Samuel 24:24)
How could you sacrifice that which has cost you nothing? How is that even a sacrifice? Sacrifices cost. Period. I think there are many Christians in North America who would gladly take Araunah up on his offer. They would gladly let Araunah provide the sacrifice for them. They would even speak of it as a “blessing” from the Lord.
Oh that we would not be diluted by our own hubris!
Now on to the difficult stuff
In 2 Samuel 24 we are told an interesting story which scholars have had a difficult time reconciling. This story is most easily reconciled by someone whose theology holds to “omni-determinism”, but even most of them don’t like the story.
Keep in mind as we go through this that I am not working with a commentary or any study notes, and although I am aware that Chronicles tells a different version of the story (1 Chronicles 21), I will not be using it here except to say that verse one of the Chronicles account replaces the Samuel account of “God” with “Satan” – which only complicates things.
Verse one opens up with:
“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’.”
The story does not tell us why the Lord’s anger burned against Israel. No reason is given. None. What the story does tell us is that because the Lord was “again” angry with Israel, he incited David to take a census. The Lord did.
So David did as the Lord commanded. Then, when the census was taken…
David was conscience stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O Lord, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” – 2 Samuel 24:10
As a result of David’s sin,
The Lord sent a plaque on Israel… and seventy thousand of the people died. – 1 Samuel 24:15
That is a difficult passage for me to reconcile. Here is what seems to be happening: The Lord is angry with Israel (for whatever reason we are not told) and incites David to take a census, thus causing David to sin (“I have sinned greatly”) and giving the Lord opportunity to punish Israel.
Question, if Israel had done something to anger the Lord, why would the Lord need an additional reason to punish them? Why would he incite the opportunity? How is he absolved from sin? Isn’t it unjust to punish David for doing precisely as the Lord instructed?
But just when you think you’ve reached a new peak in “determinism” within the biblical narrative, the text unsettling throws an “openness” monkey wrench in the mix:
The Lord was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, ‘Enough. Withdraw your hand.” – 2 Samuel 24:16
If all things are determined in the finest of details, then how is it that the Lord “was grieved”? Such a statement cannot be “anthropomorphic” because it would add nothing to the narrative.
It seems then that the Lord was actually grieved over the destruction which the Lord commanded as a punishment for David’s sin which the Lord himself directly incited because the Lord was (for some mysterious reason) angry with Israel and needed an excuse to punish them because – apparently – whatever he was angry with them over was not punishable.
Talk about an unsettling story; and a theologian’s nightmare to be sure!