(2 Sam 24:10) And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”
The U.S. Census counts every resident in the United States, and is required by the Constitution to take place every 10 years. "The actual enumeration shall be made within three years after the first meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent term of 10 years, in such manner as they shall by Law direct." (Article I, Section 2) The Census helps communities receive money in federal funds each year for things like: Hospitals, job training centers, schools, senior centers, bridges, tunnels and other-public works projects, and emergency services. The data collected by the census also help determine the number of seats a state has in the U.S. House of Representatives.
But a census is nothing new. The book of Numbers takes its name from the two censuses, the first one in chapter 1 at the beginning of Israel’s wanderings, and the second one in chapter 26 a generation later. (Numbers records over 2 ½ million people based upon these census figures). In order for the children of Israel to advance they must be organized and so the need for the census and the organizing of the tribes.
But one day David conducted an unauthorized census. He told his commander Joab to go throughout all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and count the people, that he might know the number of the people. Joab tried to talk him out of it but David persisted. When it was all over David's heart condemned him and he confessed his sin to the Lord. God spoke through the prophet Gad and gave David three choices of what the punishment would be. The Lord sent a plague among the people so David was led to sacrifice burnt offerings and peace offerings. The Lord heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.
So what was David's sin? David's sin was pride and ambition in counting the people so that he could glory in the size of his nation and army. Instead of placing his faith in the Lord he was putting his faith in the size of his army. It was a lack of trust in God and reliance on self. The Bible says to boast in the Lord: (Psa 34:2) My soul shall make its boast in the Lord . . . The Word warns us against putting our trust in anything but the Lord: (Psa 20:7) Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; But we will remember the name of the Lord our God.
It's easy to feel insecure and vulnerable in a world where a lot of things can go wrong. Maybe that's how David felt. He had all these nations around him and perhaps fear came upon him about being attacked. Or maybe the nation was growing in power and he wanted to see how many people there were as if they were money in the bank. That's what usually happens when we become prosperous. We become afraid of success being taken away from us or we put our ego in our prosperity and we like to know just how powerful we are.
People sure like to boast in numbers. How much money they have. How much their car cost. How many employees they have. But what if we had nothing? We would still have the Lord! (1 Sam 14:6) Then Jonathan said . . . nothing restrains the Lord from saving by many or by few.” Pastors can even be guilty of this as if church was all about bodies and bucks. I have learned to not count people in attendance because I can either boast or get bummed. People are more than just numbers . . . they are souls. And souls for whom Christ died. I like what someone told me one time . . . "Louie, we're in the book of Acts, not the book of Numbers!" How right he was and how right it is what Jesus said that all our hairs are numbered. Now that's something to boast about!