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Counting Your Army

Weekly Devotionals

Counting Your Army

1 Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.”

3 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?”

4 The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. 5 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah.

6 But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. 7 This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.

8 Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.”

1 Chronicles 21:1-8

There’s this thing about sin that is like spilled milk. You can clean up almost all of it, all that is visible and all that you are aware of. But very often some of the milk spills into a small crack that you don’t see, that you’re not aware of. And over time you start to notice a putrescent odor. You don’t know what it is. You can’t quite find it. But then…you get used to it. Meanwhile bacteria is growing in this tiny crevice in your kitchen. Sin is like that. I wonder how many sins and how much of them are stuck in the crevices of our hearts?

King David had one, and it got exposed near the end of his life. For a long time, I’ve read this passage year after year asking the question, “What’s wrong with what David did by counting the number of fighting men in Israel?” Isn’t that a normal thing to do? Shouldn’t a king or a government be aware of how many people are in their army so that they can be prepared for war if it were ever to come? That’s wisdom isn’t it?

I’ve heard good and great and not-so-good explanations for why this was considered a sin for David. I’m not sure if this is a good one, but it dawned on me the other day that counting your army is about measuring your strength, your security and/or your worth…apart from God. I believe there is a type of counting that is harmless; but there is also counting that exposes the putrescence of our hearts. You can count your money. You can count your stocks. You can count how many people you’ve slept with. You can count how many likes you have on FB. You can count how many subscribers you have on your YouTube channel. You can count the number of people in your army or even members in your church. It’s all the same. It’s the temptation to measure your strength, your security and/or worth based on numbers. It’s a pride thing, and if we meditate on it a bit, we’ll see our insecurity in it; but worse yet, we might see that God is not enough for us after all. I need something more. This is why David’s command was so repulsive to Joab, the commander of the army. This is why David’s command was evil in the sight of God. This is why David said “I have sinned greatly by doing this.” And if this can happen David, who am I kidding if I don’t think it’s already happening in me?

What will it take for us to stop counting? Somehow, some way, we need to cultivate satisfaction with God, such that “It doesn’t matter how many ____ I have; it’s not important to me. It doesn’t define me, it doesn’t fulfill me, it doesn’t secure me. God is enough for me.” May this be our prayer.