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Al Johns wrote:

Dear All,

I am currently reading the Bible using a reading guide and all is going well but I do have a question regarding 2 Samuel 24:1-17 concerning the census, the pestilence, and God's forgiveness.

I have read, re-read, and read it again and I cannot understand why God punishes the people so harshly for what, as far as I can tell, was His idea in the first place . . . seeing as how, at the start, it is God who's anger blazes against the Israelites and who then incites David to go and take a census of Israel and Judah.

To be blunt, I am confused!!

I am 48 and working in the Middle East, so a bit short on who I can ask.

Hoping you can help.

Thank you and God Bless


  { Why would God punish the people so harshly in 2 Samuel 24:1-17 for what was His Idea? }

John replied:

Dear Al,

The issue in your question is one of translation. It appears on the surface in English that God first compels David to do something and then punishes him for it.

Well, even though various translations of all sort say the same thing . . . in verse one, the context makes it clear that David repented. He knew he had done something wrong.

So let's first discuss what was wrong with what David did.

In numbering his forces, David showed a lack of faith in God to defend His people. David was also acting out of pride as King . . . almost as if to boast about his military power. So that's the sin.

Now let's deal with what God's punishment was.

The choices given David were all sins in which all of David's armies and natural strength would be useless against these things so there is an object lesson for both David, his court, and Israel.

Now let's go back and deal with verse one, having established why David's actions were an offense to God and that indeed it was a sin and further David knew it.

We know from all of Scripture that God never tells someone to commit a sin. He never condones it. He does however allow it and He does allow us to be tempted for sake of testing our faith.

So contextually speaking, that is precisely the case here. God put forth the proposition to David of counting his forces. Even though God, in His foreknowledge, knew what David would do, He was giving David the opportunity to respond properly by saying: Lord, I have no need to do this, as you are the strength of Israel as well as my strength. So for us not being able to grasp foreknowledge, let alone the mind of God, we sort of struggle to figure out, What is the point? Well, irrespective of David's response, it was God's intention to teach David and Israel who they rely on.

Now the Hebrew author of 2 Samuel chose to phrase things in such a manner that it appears that God is commanding or compelling David to sin but as I've explained, God was testing David.

  • Why?

Because he knew David's weakness and He knew this was the only way David would learn.

Finally, don't get caught up in the historicity of these punishments. Yes, it might have happened just as written but the Scriptures, although inspired, teaches us Salvation History. God doesn't put plagues on His children. He allows things to happen. He allows Satan to do things to us but really it's:

  • because our actions give Satan the opportunity, and
  • because we step outside of boundaries God has set up for us.

David knew full well, after everything he would be through, that he needed to rely on God. Here he was a simple shepherd. The youngest and weakest of his brothers yet God chose him to be King of Israel. In the process of preparing him, David was allowed to experience many trials and persecutions which he could have only withstood by the grace of God yet David had become prideful, just as Israel itself had become prideful. So God tested David, knowing he would fail, so that through his failure, he might learn and be a better King.

I hope this helps,

Under His Mercy,


Fr. Jonathan replied:

Hi, Al —

I would offer an outside the box answer:

How can you hope to understand why God does what He does?

Romano Guardini posits:

But I do not want a God who abides by the limits of my own thought and how is fashioned after my own depicting. I want the real God, and know that he must exceed the bounds of my thoughts.

(Prayers from Theology)

Fr. Jonathan

Al replied:

Dear All,

Thank you so much for the comprehensive reply. It is far more clear to me what exactly the message is, and I get it now.

Thank you for your time and knowledge. It is very much appreciated.

Yours in Christ,


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