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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:His Mercy Is Great
Text:2 Samuel 24:1-25 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's faithfulness
 
Added:2023-09-27
Updated:2023-09-27
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Holy, Holy, Holy    
In Thy Heritage the Heathen
Lord, Like the Publican I Stand      
There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


“His Mercy Is Great”
2 Samuel 24:1-25
 
The passage before us has led to many questions over the centuries. One of the questions is why the Lord was angry with Israel. They were His chosen people. They had come through a tumultuous time as they experienced the repercussions of their king’s moral failures. But, nevertheless, the Lord was angry with them and the text here in 2 Samuel 24 doesn’t give us an exact reason why the anger of the Lord burned against Israel” (1).
 
S.G. De Graaf, in the second volume of his series, Promise and Deliverance, points out that God, being just, must bring punishment against Israel for their rejection of Him. Specifically, Israel rejected God’s covenant with them, which was established with David and his descendants after him…” (2 Sam 7:16). They rejected that covenant when they followed after Absalom (2 Sam. 15), and then later followed after Sheba (2 Sam. 20).
 
The promise God gave them concerning the Messiah – the eternal King, Jesus Christ – was based on the lineage of David. Consequently, when Israel rebelled against David they were rebelling against God. They were, in effect, saying, “We don’t care about Your promise to send a Redeemer through the line of David. We would rather follow after Absolom or Sheba. Let them be our king.”
 
God is merciful. God is loving, kind, gracious, and tender hearted. But He is also holy. He is just. He has a holy anger against sin and must punish it, both with temporal judgments in this life and eternal judgment in the life to come for those who do not repent and believe in Jesus with true saving faith. Consequently, God used David and his sin to bring punishment against the people of Israel. In verse 1 it says God incited David against them, saying, ‘Go and make a census of Israel and Judah.’”
 
Now we know from James 1:13 that When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone.” But God, being sovereign, often permits evil actions of others for His purposes. For instance, He used the malice of Joseph’s brothers to put Joseph in Egypt and thus save God’s people through one of the greatest famines the world has known. As Joseph said to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen. 50:20)
 
God, being sovereign, permits not only the actions of evil people, and then brings good from those actions, but God also uses the malice of the devil himself, and uses it for holy purposes. And that leads to a second question on this passage. In verse 1 it says God “incited David,” but in the parallel passage in 1 Chronicles 21:1 it says, Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.”  So understandably, many people have asked, “Who really incited David against Israel?  Was it God?  Or was it Satan?”  And the skeptic, of course, doesn’t ask a question, but makes a statement, saying, “Here’s more evidence of errors in the Bible!”
 
Far from being an error, the two passages together show us what we already know from other Scriptures: Our holy, sovereign God, who cannot be tempted by evil nor does he tempt anyone,” may for His own sovereign purposes allow Satan to bring temptation.   
 
We read of that many times in Scripture. Consider Job and all the troubles that shook his life. His so-called friends thought that it was because of some hidden sin in Job’s life, but in reality, it was due to Satan’s efforts to make Job curse God. Satan sought to destroy Job’s faith in God, and to destroy Job in the process. But God overruled it for good.
 
We frequently read in Scripture that although God allows the devil to bring pain and suffering into the lives of believers, God overrules it for good. For example, the Apostle Paul described how “there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me” (2 Cor. 12:7). Yet that thorn was a blessing to him in at least two ways. First, it kept him from conceit, as he acknowledged in 2 Corinthians 12:7. And, secondly, it led to the wonderful promise of the Lord, that His grace would be sufficient for Paul to deal with the thorn in his flesh which was sent by Satan.
 
In response to God’s promise, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”, Paul wrote: “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Cor. 12: 9, 10)
 
But nowhere do we see more clearly that the Lord brings good out of evil, and uses Satan for His own purposes, than we do at the cross of Calvary. Luke and John both describe how Satan entered into Judas Iscariot” (Luke 22:3; John 13:27). Satan must have thought that his crowning achievement was at hand. Jesus would be betrayed by one of his own disciples! But the kiss of betrayal led to the shed blood of Jesus Christ which alone cleanses us from our sin, and His shed blood sealed the defeat and eternal judgment of the evil one.
 
The answer to the question, then, “Who incited David?” is the devil did, but by God’s permissible decree. The Lord did so for His own holy and pure purposes in bringing temporal judgment on Israel for her disregard of His gracious covenant.
 
Pride Goes Before a Fall
 
But that also leads to a third question: “What was David’s sin in this census?” After all, is there anything wrong in numbering the population of a nation or her troops? 
 
There are a couple of answers to that question. One answer is that according to Exodus 30:12 when a census was taken a tax had to be exacted or a plague would come upon the people. There is no mention that David charged a tax with the census, so some say that was his sin.
 
Perhaps that was an unintended oversight, a sin of omission that reflects David's question of Psalm 19:12, "Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults."  But a more heinous sin is seen in the comparison of verse 1 and verse 10. In verse 1 David is told to take a census of Israel and Judah.” And, in verse 10 we read: “David was conscience-stricken after he had counted the fighting men, and he said to the LORD, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done. Now, O LORD, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.’”
 
The emphasis in verse 10 on counting the fighting men and being conscious stricken leads most commentators to believe that David, as he counted the men, began to have a swelling of pride. This was his army! He was the commander-in-chief! What power he had at his disposal! Those type of thoughts – similar to Nebuchadnezzar’s boastful pride – centered on his army and himself, and not on the power of God.
 
It was his pride that marked the essence of David’s sin. His sin was a sin of proud self-reliance. The truth that he wrote in Psalm 20:7 must have eluded him. He had written there, Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”  How quickly he had forgotten what he had said when he was ready to fight Goliath: The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam. 17:37)
 
Instead of relying on the Lord, as he had done in the past, he seems to have fully focused on his fighting men as the source of his strength. And that is a sin problem that all of us can easily succumb to. We don’t count the number of troops in our army, but we count the number of dollars in the bank account, or mutual fund, or look at our job or spouse or any number of things and are tempted to put our trust in them for our security. When we do, we are doing the same thing as David, just in a different way. Instead of trusting in fighting men, we are finding something else or someone else besides God to be our source of strength and security. 
 
In Jeremiah 17:5 the LORD says:
 
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who depends on flesh for his strength
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
 
By contrast, Jeremiah 17:7 adds:
 
“But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
 He will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”
  (Jer. 17: 7, 8)
 
The Nation Affected by Her Leader's Sin
 
Another question that is frequently raised is, “If David sinned through his pride in counting the fighting men, why was all Israel affected? Is it fair that God would punish Israel because of David’s sin of military pride?”
 
As we have already seen, God punished Israel because they had deserted His chosen leader to follow after Absalom and then after Sheba. They had disregarded God’s covenant which was based on the Messiah coming from the line of David. As such they were guilty and deserved the temporal judgment of God.
 
And we should not be surprised that the nation suffered punishment because of the sin of her leader. That is a principle in government, and it is a principle born out in many Scriptures including Deuteronomy 8:19 where this warning was given to the Israelites: "If you ever forget the Lord your God and follow other gods and worship and bow down to them, I testify against you today that you will surely be destroyed. Like the nations the Lord destroyed before you, so you will be destroyed for not obeying the Lord your God." (Deut. 18:19, 20)
 
That was true not just in Old Testament times, but throughout history, and it is certainly true today. We have leaders, whether in our court system, or elected officials, or the president of the land who advocate and legislate laws that specifically oppose the law of God. Does God look the other way? Or is the principle of a nation suffering for the sins of her king still evident today?
 
That is yet another reason why it’s so important to pray for those whom God has placed in authority over us. Their decisions will either bring blessings on us as a people or their decisions will bring the holy, proper, and righteous wrath against this nation, as God gives it over, in the terminology of Romans 1, because it has rejected Him, His Word, and His Son.
 
In the Lord’s Hands
 
Through this incident we also learn that it is better to be in the hands of the Lord than of man. When David was given three choices of judgment, he made a wise decision. Verse 13 gives the background: So Gad went to David and said to him, ‘Shall there come upon you three years of famine in your land? Or three months of fleeing from your enemies while they pursue you? Or three days of plague in your land? Now then, think it over and decide how I should answer the one who sent me.’”
 
David replied, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the LORD, for His mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men.” (2 Sam. 24:14)
 
It is always better to be in the hands of the Lord than to be in the hands of men. Although as Hebrews 10:31 says, speaking about those who have rejected the Lord: “It is a dreadful thing to fall in the hand of the living God”, it is better for us who are believers to be in God’s hands than anywhere else. No human judgment can be perfectly righteous; human judgment is often tainted with malice. Human judgment cannot conceive the entire situation but God, in His omniscience, knows all the facts. Because of who God is, His judgment is perfectly holy. Abraham also recognized that in his great prayer of intercession, Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right…?” (Gen. 18:25)
 
God will judge the unbeliever with perfect righteousness and justice, something that man can never achieve. And for believers – for David and for those in Israel who repented and trusted in the Messiah yet to come – they found that God’s judgment is tempered with mercy. They saw in the shadows of the Old Testament what the New Testament clearly reveals: That Christ came to seek and to save what was lost. He did so through His perfect life, sacrificial death, and glorious resurrection as He bore the curse of our sin on the cross and rose again for our justification.
    
Through that lens of the gospel, recorded in both Testaments – indeed, in all of Scripture – we see another truth springing from this passage. We see that God’s judgment is tempered with mercy. Did you notice verse 16? When the angel stretched out his hand to destroy Jerusalem, the LORD was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was afflicting the people, ‘Enough! Withdraw your hand. The angel of the LORD was then at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite."
 
God is merciful to His people for the sake of Christ, our Mediator. When the Babylonians were overtaking Judah, and destroying Jerusalem as a temporal judgment against her sin, Habakkuk had prayed to the Lord: In wrath remember mercy.” That prayer of Habakkuk, offered centuries before the birth of Christ, was answered at Calvary. On the cross, Jesus bore the curse and the judgment of all sinners who have saving faith in Him alone, with godly sorrow for their sins. In the words of Colossians 2:13, 14: “…He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross.” 
 
Not only did Christ make full atonement for us on the cross, but He also imputes His righteous record of perfect obedience to the life of everyone who by His grace and Spirit’s power has saving faith in Him alone. Consequently, when we truly believe in Christ with saving faith, not only are our sins forgiven – “nailed to the cross” – but in their place is the perfect record of our Savior so that we are presented before God’s throne, spotless and without blame, clothed in His righteousness.
    
Answered Prayer and the Temple of God
        
As the chapter closes, we see a third truth, namely that God hears and answers the prayers of His repentant people. Verse 25: David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. Then the LORD answered prayer in behalf of the land, and the plague on Israel was stopped.” 
 
The chapter closes along the same line as chapter 21:14. That verse describes how after the people dealt with the sin problem of Saul’s mistreatment of the Gibeonites, then God answered prayer in behalf of the land.” (2 Sam. 21:14) True, heartfelt prayer is always accompanied by action. And our actions reveal, to a large extent, what our prayer life is really like. We read of that truth many times over.
 
Consider the command given to Job to forgive Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. They had accused Job falsely and added to his misery. The Lord commanded them to make an offering and to have Job pray for them. He said, “My servant Job will pray for you, and I will accept his prayer and not deal with you according to your folly. You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 41:8)
 
After Job’s friends did what the Lord told them to do, we read that the LORD accepted Job’s prayer, and After Job had prayed for his friends, the LORD made him prosperous again and gave him twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10)
 
Prayers that are just on the lips are not accompanied by action – by a changed life. But true, heartfelt prayers, springing from God’s Spirit within us, calling out “Abba Father”, and mediated by Christ Himself, have power to change lives, as recorded in David’s life, and I trust and pray in your life, and mine too.
 
As the chapter closes, we read of another instance of God turning something grievous and hard – the temporal judgment and punishment of Israel – into a great blessing. Verse 24 describes how David purchased the threshing floor from Araunah making this statement: I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 
 
That statement alone should cause us to examine our giving. Is it just from the overflow of what God has given us? Is our giving just for a tax deduction at the end of the year? Or do we give abundantly and joyfully, echoing David’s words, I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing”?
 
But beyond challenging us to be faithful in giving, verse 24 points us to the importance of the temple. The threshing floor became the location of the temple. In 1 Chronicles 22:1, in the aftermath of all that has happened, David says, “The house of the LORD God is to be here, and also the altar of burnt offering for Israel.” And in the chapters that follow we read about the building of the temple, on that very plot where David bought the threshing floor from Araunah.
 
The significance is that the sacrifices made at the temple pointed to Christ. He is the only One who removes God’s wrath from us by His perfect sacrifice. None of the Old Testament sacrifices could bring atonement; only the shed blood of Jesus can bring salvation. The author of Hebrews brings that out in several passages, including Hebrews 9:13-14 where he writes: The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”
___
 
The passage before us has led to quite a few questions over the centuries: Why was God angry at Israel?  Who incited David to take the census of Israel, God or Satan?  Why was it wrong for David to undertake the census? 
 
But the passage answers more questions than it raises. And it answers the most important questions that can be asked. It points us beyond the sacrificial blood of bulls, goats, and heifers and points us directly to the shed blood of Jesus. 
 
By doing so it leads us to the most important questions that every individual must give an answer to: How are we cleansed from our sin? Is it by our works? Is it by our perceived obedience, or by our baptismal certificate, or membership in a church? Or is it by saving faith in Christ alone?
 
And, if it is by saving faith in Christ alone – the One who declared, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6) then we must ask ourselves, “Have I put my faith in Him who shed His precious blood for all who trust in Him?”  Is the goal of my life to live to the praise of His glorious grace? Is my focus truly on Him and His work and not on the material gifts He has given? So may it be, this day, and always! Amen.
 
 
sermon outline
 
David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands
of the LORD, for His mercy is great; but do not let me fall into the
hands of men.”  – 2 Samuel 24:12
 
                                 “His Mercy Is Great”
                                      2 Samuel 24:1-25
 
I. The Lord was angry with Israel because they forsook His covenant by
    following after Absalom (2 Sam. 15) and then Sheba (2 Sam. 20). 
    God, who cannot tempt anyone (James 1:13) is sovereign and uses
    all things for His holy purposes, including:
     1) Permitting Satan to tempt David (1, cf. 1 Chronicles 21:1)
 
 
     2) Allowing David to trust in his army instead of the Lord (1, 10;
         Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 20:7, 33:16-17)
 
 
     3) Punishing Israel through David’s sin of military pride (12, 15)
 
 
II. Through this incident we learn:
     1) It is better to be in the hands of the Lord than of man (14)
 
 
     2) God’s judgment is tempered with mercy (16; Habakkuk 3:2)
 
 
     3) God hears and answers the prayers of His repentant people (25) 
 
 
III. Application: The threshing floor was purchased by David (24) and
      became the location of the temple (1 Chronicles 21:28-22:1). Sacrifices
      were made there pointing to Christ, as the only One who removes
      God’s wrath from us by His perfect sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-14)
 
 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Ted Gray

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