David said to God, ‘Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? Lord my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.’

1 Chronicles 21:17 NIVUK

2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 tell the story of how David took a census of the fighting men in Israel and Judah and the subsequent punishment. The story has several interesting elements that raise questions like:
Who incited David to sin? 1 Samuel 24:1 says the Lord, 1 Chronicles 21:1 says Satan.
What was so wrong about taking a census? Commentators generally agree it was to do with pride and trust; David wanted to see how mighty HIS army was because he was trusting it’s military might rather than knowing they were all God’s people and it was God who fought for them. Whatever the “fault” it is clear from both accounts that Joab knew it was wrong and he challenged David over it.
Why was such a severe punishment inflicted? None of the three options (famine, fighting or plague) were a “good” option; they would all incur great cost. The only sure thing was that punishment was coming.
It is likely that this is not the first example you think of if someone asked you to name something David did wrong. Certainly David’s adultery and subsequent killing of Uriah would probably come to mind. You may even consider his various faults in his relationship with his son Absalom. There is enough in scripture to leave us in no doubt that David was not perfect and was guilty of great wrong. Yet I chose this example because it helpfully shows us the way David responds when confronted with his own sin, and it is an example we can all follow.
1. David is “guilt-stricken” (1 Samuel 24:10) and acknowledges that he has sinned. There are no excuses, denials or blame. David accepts that he chose to sin. We also must admit to our own sin, without making excuses or blaming someone else or the circumstances. We choose to sin and when we acknowledge this we are on the path to forgiveness and freedom.
2. David falls on God’s mercy. He does not run from God or attempt to hide from him. David comes to the Lord and admits he has sinned and ask for mercy and forgiveness. We, too, must learn to do likewise. (And the best thing is you can be sure God will have mercy and God will forgive you. Scripture promises us God’s forgiveness when we repent)
3. David responds with worship. Having received God’s mercy (note this doesn’t mean a lack or consequences or punishment) David builds an altar and makes sacrifices to worship the Lord. David’s worship is costly and public and like him, we too are called to respond to the mercy and forgiveness we receive from the Lord with public and costly worship. We are not to make token gestures but to lay down our whole lives in worship before the one who has shown us great mercy.

I hope that none of us commit adultery or murder or fail our families but I suspect we are all guilty of pride and placing trust somewhere other than in the Lord. In many ways it really doesn’t matter what our sin is, it is the very act of sinning (doing what we know to be wrong, or failing to do what we know to be right) that grieves our Lord. All sin needs to be acknowledged and repented of, it is always wise to run to the Lord, rather than from him, when we recognise our sin and our response to forgiveness for sins should always be worship. Let’s seek to be a group of people who are quick to acknowledge and repent of sin, let us encourage each other to be quick to seek the mercy of God when we sin and let us rejoice and celebrate over the forgiveness we have received. Our God is good.

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