Here’s a question I wondered. (Still a little taken by it)
Why did God almost smite Jerusalem because David wanted to count his army?
[ref 1 Chronicles 21]
Counting your army is not an evil and dastardly deed.
With David, the issue of this particular order must then be the motivation behind it. Thinking back, the Lord gave him victory after victory even while he was friendless and running for his life. If he fears not having enough men, he has fallen far in trusting the Lord. Be that as it may, it doesn’t sound like Israel is in danger right before this happens because the narrative still shows David on a roll of victory. The alternative is that David is just feeling a little smug about his army and would like to know exactly how many men he commands.
The text in this immediate section does not make it explicit what the reason is: we only see David’s commander Joab being repulsed by the order, David then confessing that he has sinned greatly by this, and God giving David some extremely tough ultimatums. However, later in 1 Chronicles when David addresses his heir, Solomon, he says something that signals the heart-issue as an accurate interpretation:
And you, Solomon my son, know the God of your father and serve him with a whole heart and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever. – 1 Chronicles 28:9 (ESV)
I cannot help but see David giving this section of advice from past experience! He learned the hard way about acting out a plan that was hatched from thoughts and motivations evil in the Lord’s sight. Self-centered in pride or in fear.
Other scriptures like the famous Romans 12:1-2 make it clear too that a person’s way of thinking (our mind, a part of which actually is the ‘heart’ we commonly refer to) must not be shaped by the world’s ways but be transformed to God’s will.
With that, I feel like I want to type out David’s Prayer word by word (as opposed to copy+pasting it) from 1 Chronicles 29:10-18 (NIV)
… Praise be to you, O LORD,
God of our father Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting.
Yours, O LORD, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor,
for everything in heaven and earth is yours.
Yours, O LORD, is the kingdom;
you are exalted as head over all.
Wealth and honour come from you;
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks, and praise your glorious name.
But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. We are aliens and strangers in your sight as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you. O LORD, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to you.
[Note: The title of this post is a quote from the song ‘The Heart of Worship’ in case you wondered why it was so familiar.]