Remember what we read in Exodus 30: “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the LORD when you number them, that there be no plague among them when
you number them” (Exodus 30:12). “The rich shall not give more, and the poor shall not give less, than the half shekel, when you give the LORD’s offering to make atonement for your lives” (Exodus 30:15).
In that reading we observed, “Apparently the taking of a census among the Israelites left them guilty after being counted. It may be that as they were counted, as they proudly declared where they were from or their family of origin, as they showed off their large families, as others eagerly calculated the number of possible soldiers to form a large army and proudly shared the final results, everyone was tempted to the sin of pride…leaving little or no glory for Yahweh, the One who gave them life, their families and military victory. Pharaoh was defeated because of pride; it’s better that the Israelites do not fall into the same sin… Nobody can boast; everyone has to pay the same amount in recognition that Yahweh gave them the life that allows them to be counted. That way their lives are rescued from the just punishment that pride deserves.”
Now in 1 Chronicles 21, David orders a census of the people: “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number” (1 Chronicles 21:2). Even Joab can tell that this is a sin!
First, notice that many more people die for this sin probably than for David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah and the divine judgment that it generated. Maybe the chronicler is right in describing only the sin of the census, highlighting it in all of David’s reign!
Second, notice that this event pinpoints the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, the place where the just wrath of God would be calmed by His mercy. David is right to say, “Here shall be the house of the LORD God and here the altar of burnt offering for Israel” (1 Chronicles 22:1). The temple would be built at this very place, a memorial to Yahweh’s grace in propitiating His just wrath against David’s pride, and at the same time a place where Israel could look for future manifestations of His grace that they will need daily.
Third, the recognition of Yahweh’s grace in His stopping of the
destruction of Jerusalem encourages David to prepare the materials for the temple and instruct Solomon in its building. Just as the prophets Haggai and Zechariah will do in the generation that returns from the exile, David here says, “Now set your mind and heart to seek the LORD your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, so that the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the LORD” (1 Chronicles 22:19). Though grace is not by works (Romans 11:6 and Ephesians 2:8-9, for
example), it motivates great works to announce it to many others and make it accessible to all listeners. Therefore King David, and also the chronicler, want their generations to fix their gaze on the place where Yahweh’s just wrath crosses with His mercy.