Pride has a way of sneaking up on you. Towards the end of his reign David looks around and decides to assess his military might by counting each soldier. Scripture doesn't indicate David's motive for taking the census, but taking a count of his military men, however, would allow him to measure the size of his army with those of his enemies. Keeping count would also tempt him to place his trust in the size of his army instead of in the size of his God.
Keeping count enables people to measure themselves against others. Think about all the ways people use "keeping a tally" to bolster their pride or assess their success:
- Forbes 500 list of billionaires and millionaires
- Top 10 Best Sellers (authors and books)
- MVP in sporting categories
- High attendance days and 'love' offerings
- Church enrollment/baptisms
- Size of house, amount paid for possessions, amount of possessions
Evaluating his life is a good thing, but King David crosses the line when, instead of continued trust in the Living God, he begins to measure his success by his military might--this from the man who, years earlier, wrote, "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the Lord our God" (Psalm 20:7).
Joab's response provides a clue to David's motive, "But Joab replied to the king, "May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?" In the midst of his "glory days" perhaps David has forgotten that God exalted him as king when he was little in his own eyes. He now looks around and asks himself "Just how great have I become?" He thought tallying his military would give him a true picture of his greatness. At this point in David's life I am reminded of Paul's warning, "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
After David receives Joab's report, he realizes his sin of pride. 70,000 people lose their lives because of David's pride. Several lessons we can learn from this incident in David's life:
- Success can never be measured accurately by human power and might
- 'Numbered-centered' leaders often find their value or meaning in their numbers instead of in their relationship with Christ
- 'Number-centered' leaders are enslaved to the good opinion of others and will often do whatever is necessary, even if it violates their conscience, to keep up the appearance of doing well numerically
- Proud leaders hurt others as they build their own kingdom
- Keeping a tally on 'external' measurements shift our hearts and our focus away from the Lord to the results
- We will never know, this side of heaven, the truth about the ministry in which we are now involved
- Focusing on 'numbers' points to 'growing' pride
- Numerical growth is an inadequate indicator of spiritual growth
Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
2 Samuel 24; 1 Chronicles 21
- What happened that should have led King David to second-guess his decision?
- What keeps leaders from listening to sound counsel?
- What does this incident teach King David about himself and about God?
- Upon what basis does King David appeal to God as the angel descends upon Jerusalem?
- What does David's treatment of Araunah tell you about David?
- How does David's lack of initiative in the Tamar incident affect his relationship with his son Absalom?
- How does David's numbering the military and the subsequent plague affect his leadership capital?
- What characterizes David's flight from Jerusalem?
- What characterizes Ittai the Gittite relationship with King David?
- Who betrays David and how does David handle this betrayal?
Ask the Lord to make you sensitive to where you measure success by tallying.