I Don't Have a Clue!

One of my teachers in college used to tell us never to “preach your doubts.” This is similar to warning trial lawyers never to ask questions in court that you don’t already know the answer to. Preachers aren't to raise issues or questions in a sermon for which they have no answers because that will just confuse and frustrate people. Maybe that's why some people think that preachers know everything about the Bible; we aren't allowed to bring up the multitude of questions for which we have no answers.

Does that same principle apply to blogs? Is it OK to raise questions in my blog that I don’t have answers for? Well, that is precisely what I'm going to do this morning. Because I don’t have a clue in what is going on in our daily Bible reading from 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21. Here’s my summary of the story—

David angers God by conducting a census of fighting age men. David finally realizes (too late) that this was a bad idea and repents and God offers David his choice of punishments—3 years of famine, three months of fleeing from enemies, or three days of plague. David chooses the plague and 70,000 people died… and David realizes he made the wrong choice.

The story ends with David offering sacrifices of repentance on the threshing floor he bought from Araunah, the site upon which Solomon would later build the Temple (2 Chr 3:1). So what’s the problem with this story? From my limited and perplexed perspective, there are plenty of questions here.

  • First, we aren't ever told why this census was such a horrible sin. Moses had been commanded to do that very thing in preparation for the conquest of Canaan (Exo 20:12). Maybe the census shows a lack of trust in God?  Later David resists another census because “the LORD had promised to make Israel as numerous as the stars in the sky” (1 Chron 27:23).  But we aren't told.
  • Second, who was it exactly that incited David to take this census? In 2 Samuel, the idea seems to come from God, “the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go and take a census of Israel and Judah” (24:1). In 1 Chronicles, the idea comes from Satan, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel” (21:1).  Sure, David made the decision, but did the temptation come from God or Satan?
  • Third, Joab (himself no spiritual giant) instantly knew that this census was a bad idea and tries to talk David out of the plan. OK, that a little our of character for him, but then why in 1 Chron 27:24, is it Joab that begins his own effort to count the fighting men?
  • Fourth, does the punishment fit the crime? David commits adultery and murders his faithful servant to cover up that sin, and the punishment was the death of a child and constant turmoil within David’s family. But here David counts his army and the punishment is 70,000 deaths of innocent and ignorant people? Maybe it’s just me, but something seems a little out of kilter there.

God is God and God is All-Sovereign. One of the fringe benefits in being God is that you don’t have to explain yourself to anyone.  Maybe the point of stories like this is to remove the fiction that we have allowed ourselves to buy into that we can reduce the Bible to neat and simple stories that fit nicely together with one another and with our theological understandings. God is too massive for us to understand, even in these stories that He has left for us. These stories speak to us of the One who lives in unapproachable light, and thus they sometimes jostle against one another in ways that don’t fully make sense to us. Should that surprise us? Or should it rather surprise us if those stories fit together too neatly and nicely so that we would wonder if they were really about God?