In the Book of Numbers a census or count of those able to go to war was taken. “These are those that were numbered, which Moses and Aaron numbered, and the princes of Israel, being twelve men: each one was for the house of his fathers. So were all those that were numbered of the children of Israel, by the house of their fathers, from twenty years old and upward, all that were able to go forth to war in Israel; Even all they that were numbered were six hundred thousand and three thousand and five hundred and fifty.” (Numbers 1:44-46) A second census is in Numbers 26. God said, “Take the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, from twenty years old and upward, throughout their fathers' house, all that are able to go to war in Israel.” (Numbers 26:2) This counting of the people was about 38 years after the first numbering. The total in the count was, “six hundred thousand and a thousand seven hundred and thirty.” (Numbers 26:51) The first count was 603,550 and the second was 601,730.  The refusal of the people to trust God and their murmuring and complaining caused the Israelites to have to wander in the wilderness for 40 years. During the 40 years in the wilderness all but a few of that generation died. God does not tolerate sin. So, although the numbers are nearly the same the second is a new generation of people. The Levites were not numbered in either the first or second census, because the men of their tribe were not to go to war. “But the Levites were not numbered among the children of Israel; as the LORD commanded Moses.” (Numbers 2:33) There was no inheritance given to them among the children of Israel. “And the LORD spake unto Aaron, Thou shalt have no inheritance in their land, neither shalt thou have any part among them: I am thy part and thine inheritance among the children of Israel.” (Numbers 18:20) The two numberings of the people were right because God had commanded them.          

There is also a census or a numbering of the people in the books of 1 Chronicles and 2 Samuel. David numbered the people and it was a sin! But, why was it a sin for David to number the people when God had commanded that a census be taken before? We must also seriously consider why David ever decided to number Israel. God dealt very harshly with David about this matter. There were several involved in this strange event. King David was involved. Satan was involved as he provoked David. Joab, the captain of David’s army, was involved as he pleaded with David to not do this. Let us learn about this strange sin.  

The strange sin of David in numbering Israel: The first thing that we learn about this strange event is that it was Satan who provoked David to number Israel. “And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel. And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel? Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.” (1 Chronicles 21:1-4) Satan often provokes people today to take action that is contrary to the will of God. “Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.” Satan promotes religion that cannot be found in the Bible; he promotes manmade “righteousness” that does not meet God’s approval. Satan promotes the acceptance of ungodliness in daily living. Even as bloodthirsty as Joab was at times he knew that what David was doing was from the Devil and not from God. He asked David why he would cause Israel to trespass or sin! Joab thought that possibly he could spare David and the nation of Israel misery my not counting everyone so the Bible says, “Then Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to David. All Israel had one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and Judah had four hundred and seventy thousand men who drew the sword. But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king's word was abominable to Joab.” (1 Chronicles 21:5-6) The numbering of Israel's army was done because the adversary, Satan was tempting David.

God was displeased when David numbered Israel. David was trusting in the number of soldiers that he had instead of God. The result was that “God was displeased with this thing; therefore He struck Israel.” (1 Chronicles 21:7) It is hard to feel the need for God when you have a million men in your army. David was delighting in his own might, instead of trusting God. In Jeremiah 9:23-24 we read, “Thus saith the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the LORD which exercise loving kindness, judgment, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, saith the LORD.” When you are facing a giant and his army with a sling and five stones you know that you need God! (1 Samuel 17:45-47) After Satan proved David to number Israel, it caused so much death and misery, David learned his lesson. Later he wrote, “In thee O LORD, do I put my trust: let me never be put to confusion.” (Psalms 71:1)                                               

Lessons to be learned from the numbering of Israel: First, we learn that Satan is also around to provoke us to evil. He is our adversary. (1 Peter 5:8) Second, we learn that sin has horrible consequences. “And the LORD spake unto Gad, David's seer, saying, Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me.” (1 Chronicles 21:9-12) Third, even when we have sinned let us remember that God is merciful and desires our forgiveness. (1 Chronicles 21:13) Fourth, Let us not be guilty of the chronic sins of Israel, vanity, pride and idolatry. (1 Chronicles 21)  

Our lives must be lived to the glory and delight of God. Our delight must not be in the greatness of our nation, or in its power; but our delight must be in God. May we have the wisdom to understand truth and the courage to live our life for God! Let us never forget that we serve a God who both expects and deserves our obedience. To become a Christian you must hear the gospel (Romans 10:17), believe in Jesus as the Christ (Mark 16:16), repent of all sins (Acts 17:30), confess Christ as Lord (Matthew 10:32) and be baptized for remission of sins. (Acts 2:38) After baptism remain faithful to God. (Revelation 2:10) There are great blessings that come when we are faithful to God!

By Charles Box, Walnut Street Church of Christ, 306 Walnut Street, Greenville, Alabama 36037