When I was in middle school, I could do some very foolish things. Once, the history teacher left her room and all the students started egging me on to put her podium on top of her desk. (Not sure why everyone thought that would be funny. Probably just because she was very short and it would be incredibly difficult for her to get it down.) Needless to say, when she came back into the room, my friends who encouraged me to do this very quickly turned on me and let it be known I was the culprit. It was not my first visit to the principal’s office . . .

In 1 Chronicles 21:1-22:1, we can find wisdom in an equally foolish act of David. The main focus of verses 1-8 is that we should confess foolish things. In the story, “Satan” or an adversary of Israel incited David into a census. (Unlike the two clear examples of the Satan in the Old Testament, this one does not use the definite article, ha. While many translations translate it “Satan,” it is used in other parts of the Old Testament simply as an adversary, a human adversary. It could be either in this instance.) Joab gave David a wise warning. Why bring guilt on Israel by this act? Joab found it repulsive (v. 6) and God saw it as evil (v. 7). When forced to comply, Joab intentionally does not comply fully with the ordered census, not counting the Levites nor Benjamites. Yet, while Joab spoke of it as bringing guilt upon Israel, David comes to see it as his own personal guilt. In verse 8, David three times speaks in the first person (I sinned; my guilt; I did a foolish thing).

Are we willing to do what is right even if it means disobeying earthly leaders? Joab didn’t count Levi most likely because it was prohibited in the law. It is not clear why he didn’t count the tribe of Benjamin, though it might have been because the tabernacle was in Gibeon, a city in the Benjamite lands. Are you like Joab, willing to give wise counsel even when it might be unpopular to hear? Do you listen to wise counsel or ignore it the way David did? When you do a foolish thing, do you confess your error and take responsibility for your actions, like David finally does?

In verses 9-13, we see that we should trust in God’s mercy. The prophet Gad tells David that God will give him three options for punishment of his sin. None of the options are easy, as we are told that David is literally “tied up in knots” (v. 13, translated “deep distress” in the NIV). Once again, we see that David takes personal responsibility for the punishment. He says, let “me” fall into the hands of the LORD and not the hands of men. He asks God to punish him, because he knows that God’s “mercy is very great.” He knows God’s mercy is great, as the psalmist says (Ps 86:15-16).

David doesn’t want humans involved because they cannot be trusted. They might cause harm to Solomon and thus destroy the dynasty promised to David by God. War (fleeing before his enemies) could destroy his family, including Solomon. Famine could place the nation in the position of debtor to another nation who sold them food. This could leave Solomon in a weak position with having to re-develop the kingdom and owing debts to others. Plague was placing himself in God’s hands and hoping in the mercy of God to see them through. Do you pray for God’s mercy, for yourself as well as those who come after you? Do you have faith God will protect and defend you no matter the situation?

In verses 14-17, we see David intercede for others. God’s mercy did indeed prevail. Though 70,000 died, Jerusalem was spared. As the angel’s sword rises over Jerusalem, God cried out, “Enough!” His mercy seems to have cut short the plague of the angel (v. 15). We read immediately after (v. 16) that David and the elders were in sackcloth and face down in prayer. Perhaps they were already in this repentant posture of prayer and this led to God’s relenting. Perhaps their prayers were an act of contrition and thanksgiving following God’s mercy. I tend to think it is the former, but the text is not clear.

Yet again David confesses his sin and his alone (v. 17). “I ordered,” he says. “I sinned.” “I did wrong.” He asks God to punish him, the shepherd, and not his sheep. He even offers that God’s hand can fall on David and David’s family. That is, after all this, he offers God the option to rescind the covenant God made that his son Solomon would reign after him. He was willing to throw it all away if it would save his people. Do you intercede for others who suffer? Do you offer to suffer that others might live? Do you willingly share one another’s burdens?

In verses 18-24, we see that David sacrifices willingly. Gad told David to build an altar on the threshing floor where the angel had stopped his advance. David willingly obeyed this word (as opposed to his ignoring the counsel of Joab earlier in the story). David had to approach the angel and no doubt was well aware that he might be slain at any moment. The threshing floor belonged to Araunah. He and his sons saw the angel with the raised sword. Interestingly, we are told Araunah’s sons hide but Araunah himself continued to thresh (v. 20). Araunah was a Jebusite. His name may have meant “Lord,” and it is likely that he might have been the deposed king of Jerusalem. (The city had been a Jebusite stronghold before David conquered it and made it his capital.) Even if Araunah was not the deposed king, he may have no doubt viewed the angel as God finally bringing vengeance upon David and the Hebrews for the theft of their city and their lands. He certainly doesn’t seem put off by the angel’s advance.

In the story, it is only as David approaches that Araunah ceases his work and bows down to the approaching king (v. 21). When David asks to purchase the threshing floor, Araunah responds, “take it! for the king can do whatever pleases him.” He then offers the oxen for the offerings, the sledges for the sacrificial wood, and the wheat for grain offerings. Either Araunah is very generous to God or he is sarcastically saying, you’ve stolen everything else from us Jebusites, why not take the rest (v. 23)?! David sees the sacrificial offer of Araunah (whether made in good faith or with biting sarcasm) and realizes that true sacrifice is costly. So David insists on paying “full price” for the land. He says, “I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burn offering that costs me nothing” (v. 24). David then gives Araunah 600 shekels of gold, which would have been far more than the full price of the land. It is quite possible that David in this moment realizes the injury he has caused Araunah and the other Jebusites and is making restitution for the city of Jerusalem that he had earlier taken. Do you take the easy way when it is offered to you (like David could have done)? Are you like Araunah, offering your gifts and material possessions in service to others (even begrudgingly at times)? Do you sacrifice your own time and possessions to serve God and to serve others?

Finally, in 21:25-22:1, we learn that we should look for good in the midst of darkness. David bought the threshing floor. David built an altar. David burned sacrifices to God. He called on God and God answered him and accepted his offering. The angel then finally sheathed his sword. The crisis had now been averted. David then offered more sacrifices in response to the good fortune and mercy of God. We are told that David was concerned about the sword of the angel (that it might become unsheathed again) and that, because of this concern, David continued to make offerings at the threshing floor altar. David did this even though the tabernacle still stood in Gibeon, including the bronze altar on which David had been offering sacrifices even after moving the ark to Jerusalem.

David became convinced from the outworking of his foolish act that God had determined the location for the future temple. It was to be upon this threshing floor. Whether it was Satan or a human adversary who first incited David to count his fighting men, God had been able to turn it into something good. As Joseph had said in the book of Genesis, “You intended it to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (50:20). Satan intended evil that day, possibly the disruption or destruction of the Davidic covenant, but God brought about the “discovery” of the location for the future temple. Similarly, Satan intended evil to Jesus when he brought about the death of the Messiah on the cross, but God through the resurrection brought about salvation and made the cross into a symbol of hope. Have you called on God in faith? Do you go beyond expectations to worship God and to serve him? Do you see God at work even in the most difficult of times, turning evil to good? We can find wisdom even in the most foolish things we do, if we confess and give these things to God.

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“Finding Wisdom in a Foolish Thing” 1 Chronicles 21:1-22:1

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