1 Chronicles 21: Lessons from David’s Census on God’s Plan for Salvation Through Jesus

Introduction: This chapter reveals several central themes regarding mankind’s sin and God’s plan for salvation through Jesus’s sacrifice. These include: (1) God’s testing to reveal mankind’s sin, (2) mankind’s universal sin, (3) mankind’s need for repentance, (4) mankind’s need for faith in God’s deliverance, (5) mankind’s need for mercy to avoid judgment, (6) mankind’s need for Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross, and (7) Jesus’ offer to both forgive sin and find His full fellowship.

First, at some point early during David’s reign, God’s anger burned against Israel for a presently unknown sin. God withdrew His hedge of protection and allowed Satan to test Israel with what appears to have been a military threat. God tested both David and the people to have them turn to Him to reveal their sins. But neither David nor the people turned to God for guidance. From this, God reveals that He tests believers’ hearts to show them their sins. Second, instead of seeking God’s counsel, David sinned by ordering a military census to show that his might and the might of Israel was greater than Satan’s apparent military threat. David showed that he was just as much of a sinner as the people who caused God’s anger to burn. From the failure of both the people and their leader, God reveals that all have sinned and rebelled against Him. Third, convicted by the Holy Spirit, David repented of his sins. Through David’s example, God reveals that the Holy Spirit convicts believers to bring them to repentance. Fourth, when given the choice between three terrible judgements, David picked a judgment that would place Israel at God’s mercy alone for deliverance. From David’s example, God reveals that He wants believers to place their faith in Him for their deliverance. Fifth, David cried out for mercy, and God showed His mercy by relenting from His full judgment. From these events, God shows that He is filled with compassion, mercy, and quick to forgive. Yet, like David, He wants you to appreciate your need for His mercy and pray as an intercessor for others. Sixth, God told David to build an altar at the place of Jesus’ future sacrifice. David then turned down a land owner’s offer to give him the land for free. David understood that deliverance was not possible without sacrifice. From this account, God reveals that mankind’s deliverance is only possible because of Jesus’ terrible sacrifice at the cross. Finally, after building the altar, David made a sacrifice for his sins and to find fellowship with God. Jesus ultimately fulfilled the need for sacrifices. Through His death, your sins can be forgiven. He also offers His fellowship to any who seek it.

1. God’s Testing: God Tests People’s Hearts to Show Them Their Sins. 1 Chr. 21:1-2.

  • God allows Satan to test Israel, and David responds through his flesh. For reasons that are not stated, Israel’s sins angered God and caused Him to withdraw His hedge of protection from Satan’s forces. Instead of turning to God, David took pride in his own strength and ordered a military census of the men who could fight: “1 Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, ‘Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number.’” (1 Chr. 21:1-2). In the related account in Second Samuel, the Bible reveals that “the anger of the Lord burned against Israel,” before Satan was allowed to attack it with outside military forces (2 Sam. 24:1-2). In a similar prior account, God’s anger burned against Israel because King Saul violated a vow that Joshua made hundreds of years earlier by killing the Gibeonites (2 Sam. 21:1-14). Here, Israel’s sin is not stated because David never asked God to reveal it. God reveals that He tested David by removing His hedge of protection and allowing Satan to challenge Israel, possibly through a military threat. Satan’s threat in turn motivated David to count his soldiers throughout the country (1 Chr. 21:1). Satan is the accuser of the brethren. He will use any opportunity to attack God’s people and then accuse them when they sin: “Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him.” (Zech. 3:1; Rev. 12:10). Sadly, David failed this test of faith. He did not consult God or follow His Word. As a result, both he and the entire nation of Israel would suffer.

  • David’s failure to pray for God’s guidance. David previously faced a famine because of Saul’s actions in killing the Gibeonites. David then waited three years before seeking God’s counsel: “Now there was a famine in the days of David for three years, year after year; and David sought the presence of the LORD. And the LORD said, ‘It is for Saul and his bloody house, because he put the Gibeonites to death.”’ (2 Sam. 21:1). David then failed to pray for God’s guidance on how to resolve the famine. He then allowed the Gibeonites to demand the sacrifice of seven innocent male descendants of Saul (2 Sam. 21:3-9). Here, unlike the three-year famine, David did not seek out God’s guidance as to the reasons for His anger. Thus, God never revealed it. Because David did not diagnose the spiritual cause of Israel’s problem, he responded to the problem with his flesh.

  • David ordered a census with the wrong motives and without following God’s Word. Conducting a census was not by itself unlawful. Moses took a census of the men of fighting age at the beginning of the Jews’ journey through the wilderness (Nu. 1:1-4). He then numbered the priests (Nu. 4:2, 22). He also took a census at the end of the Jews’ journey in the wilderness (Nu. 26:2). When done correctly, numbering was a sign of accountability and careful stewardship of God’s flock. The failure of most churches to keep track of their members is the equivalent of a shepherd failing to keep track of his sheep. Thus, David’s census was not by itself sinful. Instead, there were four parts to his sin. First, as set forth above, he failed to seek God’s guidance. Second, he responded to Satan’s military threat with pride by counting his soldiers: “David seems to be overly interested in his might, his ability to fight. He seems to have lost a sense of dependence on God. He may have been a great deal like King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, overly impressed with himself, his power, and his position. . . . Numbering Israel seems to produce a “knowledge” that David was forbidden to have, a knowledge of his greatness and military strength (compare Deuteronomy 17:14-20). He wanted to “see” his strength and power, and even though forbidden, it was what his heart desired.” (Robert L. (Bob) Deffinbaugh “22. Neiman Marcus Military, Kmart Christianity? (2 Samuel 24).1 “Now David’s numbering the people was the natural consequence of the condition of worldliness and pride into which he had allowed himself to fall.” (Ellicott’s commentary on 2 Sam. 24:1-2). Third, his actions showed a lack trust in God. “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the LORD will be exalted.” (Prov. 29:25). Fourth, even if David had ordered a census for a proper reason, he was still required under God’s law to pay a “ransom” to God for doing so. Failing to do so would cause a plague to fall upon Israel. “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, so that there will be no plague among them when you number them . . . Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and over, shall give the contribution to the LORD. The rich shall not pay more and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the LORD to make atonement for yourselves. You shall take the atonement money from the sons of Israel and shall give it for the service of the tent of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the sons of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.”’ (Ex. 30:12, 14-16). As one commentator explains: “The principle of Exodus 30:12 speaks to God’s ownership of His people. In the thinking of these ancient cultures, a man only had the right to count or number what belonged to him. Israel didn’t belong to David; Israel belonged to God. It was up to the Lord to command a counting, and if David counted he should only do it at God’s command and receiving ransom money to “atone” for the counting.” (David Guzik on 2 Samuel 24).2

  • Give thanks for God’s testing. Here, God “permitted Satan to tempt David. Satan was the active mover, while God only withdrew His supporting grace, and the great tempter prevailed against the king. (See Ex 7:13; 1 Sam. 26:19; 2 Sam. 16:10; Ps 105:25; Isa. 7:17, etc.).” (Jamieson-Fausett-Brown commentary on 2 Sam. 24:1). God cannot tempt you (Ja. 1:13-14). He does, however, test you: “I, the LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give to each man according to his ways, according to the results of his deeds.” (Jer. 17:10; 20:12). He tests you to show you where your heart is evil (Jer. 17:9). He also tests you to show you where your faith is lacking. When He tests you, rejoice in knowing that His testing is designed to build up your faith: “Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials,” (Jam. 1:2). David was a sinner. Yet, he invited God to search his heart to expose his sins (Ps. 139:23). His openness to learning from his sins is what made him a man after God’s heart (Acts 13:22). If you think you don’t have any sins, God’s truth is not in you (1 Jo. 1:8). Are you inviting His testing?

2. Mankind’s Universal Sin: All Have Sinned and Rebelled Against God. 1 Chr. 21:3-6.

  • David overrules his generals and orders an improper census. Even though David’s generals advised him that his census was improper, David overruled them and ordered them to proceed: “Joab said, ‘May the Lord add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?’ Nevertheless, the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword. But he did not number Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.” (1 Chr. 21:3-6; 2 Sam. 24:3-9). The fact that Joab warned David against his course of actions may seem ironic because Joab repeatedly failed to follow God’s law. Joab previously committed murder when he killed a general named Abner after Abner switched sides in Israel’s civil war to support David (2 Sam. 3:6-11). Joab could not forgive Abner and was filled with vengeance because he killed Joab’s brother Asahel in battle (2 Sam. 2:18-24; 3:26-30). Joab later participated in Uriah’s murder and the coverup of his death (2 Sam. 11:14-25). He later again violated David’s orders and murdered his son Absalom after he was caught hanging by a tree (2 Sam. 18:11-15). Driven by jealousy, Joab later deceived and then murdered his rival Amasa (2 Sam. 20:8-10). He even once used a fake widow’s deception to trick David (2 Sam. 14:1-121). Thus, we can safely assume that Joab was not concerned with David’s failure to consult God, his pride, or his lack of trust in God. Instead, Joab knew that God’s law required that he and his commanders collect a ransom in accordance with each person’s wealth as part of the census (Ex. 30:12-16). Forcing people to pay money just to be counted would have been highly unpopular. Thus, we can assume that David told his commanders to proceed with the census without collecting any ransom. Even a wayward man like Joab knew that he was breaking God’s law by conducting this census.

  • Joab’s inability to fulfill David’s sinful request. Because David asked Joab to collect a census without paying a ransom, God ensured that the information collected was useless. The counting process dragged out over 9 months and 20 days (2 Sam. 24:8). In Chronicles, the Bible makes clear that Joab never really finished the count: “Joab the son of Zeruiah had begun to count them, but did not finish; and because of this, wrath came upon Israel, and the number was not included in the account of the chronicles of King David.” (1 Chr. 27:24). The number also did not include the Levites: “Joab utterly refused to number Levi, because this was a thing most distinctly prohibited (and further because it was not material to David’s presumable objects), was quite to be expected.” (Pulpit Commentary on 1 Chr. 21:5).3 More importantly, the numbers that he did collect were corrupted and conflicted. In 2 Samuel, Joab found that “there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.” (2 Sam. 24:9). Yet, in 1 Chronicles an entirely different number is recorded: “Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword.” (1 Chr. 21:5). Many scholars allege that one manuscript must have a Scrivener's error. Yet, the better explanation is that God confounded the illegal census by corrupting the count with incomplete and conflicting numbers. Thus, this discrepancy is not proof of alleged Bible errors. Instead, it shows God’s divide control. God’s can turn “knowledge into foolishness.” (Is. 44:25).

  • All of Israel was under God’s judgment. God’s anger burned against all of Israel for their sins even before David engaged in his own sins (2 Sam. 24:1). David showed that all have sinned, even God’s anointed leaders. The Bible is clear that everyone is a sinner. “Indeed, there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” (Ecc. 7:20; Ro. 3:23). Thus, all face judgment without a means to atone for sin.

  • Trust in God and not in human leaders. God’s point in revealing David’s many sins is to show that people cannot place their trust for salvation in human leaders. “Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps. 146:3). “It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in princes.” (Ps. 118:9). “O give us help against the adversary, for deliverance by man is in vain.” (Ps. 60:11). God’s righteousness and His desire that you lean on Him will appear foolish to the world. “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor. 1:18). “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” (1 Cor. 2:14). “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.” (Prov. 3:5). God was the Jews’ one true king. “The LORD shall reign forever and ever.” (Ex. 15:18). “The LORD is King forever and ever; . . .” (Ps. 10:16(a)). “The LORD sat as King at the flood; yes, the LORD sits as King forever.” (Ps. 29:10). “But the LORD is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King.” (Jer. 10:10(a)). God only allowed for earthy kings because the people lacked the patience to wait for the Messiah (Dt. 17:14-15). Today, people regularly become filled with hope in their favorite candidate or political party with each election. But these people cannot save you. Have you placed your hope in your elected leaders?

  • God values obedience more than sacrifice. Through Samuel, God reveals that He cares more for your obedience than your acts of piety for Him: “Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” (1 Sam. 15:22). “So Saul died for his trespass which he committed against the LORD, because of the word of the LORD which he did not keep; and also because he asked counsel of a medium, making inquiry of it,” (1 Ch. 10:13). Thus, God wanted David’s obedience more than He wanted David to use his God-given army for conquests.

3. Repentance: The Holy Spirit Convicts People to Cause Them to Repent. 1 Chr. 21:7-8.

  • The unlawful “census” brings David to his “senses”. Through his commanders, the Holy Spirit convicted David for taking an unlawful census and caused him to repent: “God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel. David said to God, ‘I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.’” (1 Chr. 21:7-8; 2 Sam. 24:10). Although David frequently sinned, he showed himself to be a man after God’s own heart by repenting when confronted with his sins. For example, he would later repent when the prophet Nathan confronted him regarding his adultery and murder: “Then David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the LORD.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘The LORD also has taken away your sin; you shall not die.”’ (2 Sam. 12:13). He also acknowledged his sins in his psalms for the entire country to sing: “I acknowledged my sin to You, and my iniquity I did not hide . . .” (Ps. 32:5). “For the choir director. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba. Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” (Ps. 51:1). When you sin, God also wants you to repent and return to Him: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matt. 3:2; 4:17; Mk. 1:15). “Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord;” (Acts 3:19).

  • If you confess your sins, Jesus will forgive you. During Old Testament times, when a believer became aware of sin involving their ears, mouth, hands, or eyes, the believer was required to make a “guilt” offering (Lev. 5:5). This was either a female lamb or a female goat (Lev. 5:6). If the person was poor, the sinner could offer two turtledoves or two young pigeons. (Lev. 5:7-10). If the person was extremely poor, the sinner could offer “the tenth of an ephah of fine flour.” (Lev. 5:11-13). Today, you do not need to make a physical sacrifice to be forgiven. Jesus did that for you on the cross. He further promises to forgive you if you will confess your sins: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 Jo. 1:9). Like David, will you confess your sins when the Holy Spirit reveals them to you?

  • If you conceal your guilt, you will not prosper and your sin will spread. Believers are also warned not to conceal sins: “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion.” (Prov. 28:13). “Yet you said, ‘I am innocent; surely His anger is turned away from me.’ Behold, I will enter into judgment with you because you say, ‘I have not sinned.”’ (Jer. 2:35). “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.” (1 Jo. 1:8). You must therefore repent of any sin. If not, your sins will spread and become worse.

  • Repentance must be sincere. Like David, Saul also repented. Yet, his repentance was meaningless to God because it was not sincere. The first time Samuel confronted him, he did not repent: “Samuel said to Saul, ‘You have acted foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the LORD your God, which He commanded you, for now the LORD would have established your kingdom over Israel forever.”’ (1 Sam. 13:13). The second time Samuel confronted him, Saul repented with the hopes that Samuel would restore his image before the people instead of God: “Then Saul said to Samuel, ‘I have sinned; I have indeed transgressed the command of the LORD and your words, because I feared the people and listened to their voice. . . Then he said, ‘I have sinned; but please honor me now before the elders of my people and before Israel, and go back with me, that I may worship the LORD your God.’” (1 Sa. 15:24, 30). Your repentance should include a change in behavior. Without a change in behavior, your repentance is also worthless.

4. Faith: God Wants People to Have Faith in Him for Deliverance. 1 Chr. 21:9-13.

  • Given the choice of three consequences for his sins, David puts his trust in God. Because God is just, He had to impose a punishment for David’s actions. Yet, as an act of grace and as a test, He allowed David to choose from three punishments: “The Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, 10 ‘Go and speak to David, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘I offer you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you.’’’ 11 So Gad came to David and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord, ‘Take for yourself 12 either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now, therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me.’ 13 David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man.’” (1 Chr. 21:9-13; 2 Sam. 24:11-14). The prophet Gad last spoke to David when he took refuge in Moab (1 Sam. 22:5). Thus, these events occurred early during David’s reign. The judgments were within the 40 progressive punishments that God lists in Deuteronomy 28. When leaders or a nation sins, God can use calamities to draw the leaders and the nation back to Him: “When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain, because they have sinned against You, and they pray toward this place and confess Your name and turn from their sin when You afflict them,” (1 Kgs. 8:35). David’s response showed his compassion for Israel and his willingness to return to God and place His trust in Him.

In response to the prophet Gad, David picked his punishment4

  • David’s reasons for selecting the three-day plague. God’s choice between three punishments tested David. His first choice was a seven-year famine. Yet, as king, David would not suffer from this punishment. This would also force Israel to become dependent upon the surrounding nations instead of God. His second choice was to spend three months fleeing from his enemies. This would cause the death of many innocent civilians while David would remain protected. This would also place Israel at the mercy of pagan foreign rulers instead of God. His final choice was a plague that would place David and his family at equal risk as the poor in being afflicted. This choice would also force David and Israel to place their trust in God for their deliverance. David responded without naming the punishment. Instead, he named the punishment by stating that he wanted to place his fate and the nation’s fate in the hands of their merciful God: “13 David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man.’” (1 Chr. 21:13; 2 Sam. 24:14). David passed God’s test by subjecting his own family to punishment and by placing his trust in God instead of men. In other words, if David’s original sin was trusting in the power of his army, he showed that he had turned from his sin by placing his full trust in God for the deliverance of both himself and the nation. God does everything for a reason (Ro. 8:28). Thus, we can assume that Israel’s original sin that drove God to anger was its dependence upon themselves instead of God.

  • God is faithful to deliver His people. Moses told the people never to forget that God was their true deliverer: “Moses said to the people, ‘Remember this day in which you went out from Egypt, from the house of slavery; for by a powerful hand the LORD brought you out from this place. And nothing leavened shall be eaten.”’ (Ex. 13:3). “And it shall serve as a sign to you on your hand, and as a reminder on your forehead, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth; for with a powerful hand the LORD brought you out of Egypt.” (Ex. 13:9). God later affirmed this because the people were prone to forget. “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Ex. 20:2). “Indeed, I brought you up from the land of Egypt and ransomed you from the house of slavery, and I sent before you Moses, Aaron and Miriam.” (Micah 6:4). “Therefore You delivered them into the hand of their oppressors who oppressed them, but when they cried to You in the time of their distress, You heard from heaven, and according to Your great compassion You gave them deliverers who delivered them from the hand of their oppressors.” (Neh. 9:27; Acts 13:30). David was not righteous because of his conduct. Instead, he was righteous because of his complete faith in God.

  • Be faithful because God is faithful to you. In response to God’s faithfulness, He wants you to be faithful as well. “for we walk by faith, not by sight—” (2 Cor. 5:7). “A faithful man will abound with blessings, . . .” (Prov. 28:20(a)). “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim. 1:5). “but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim. 3:9). Have you stayed faithful in your walk with Jesus in both good and bad times?

5. God’s Mercy: God Wants People to Know their Need for His Mercy. 1 Chr. 21:14-17.

  • God judges all of Israel but then prematurely ends the plague out of compassion. After David picked the punishment, God allowed 70,000 men across all of Israel to die in a plague. Yet, out of compassion, He then stopped the judgment: “14 So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel; 70,000 men of Israel fell. 15 And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw and was sorry over the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, ‘It is enough; now relax your hand.’ And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 16 Then David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces. 17 David said to God, ‘Is it not I who commanded to count the people? Indeed, I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done? O Lord my God, please let Your hand be against me and my father’s household, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.’” (1 Chr. 21:14-17; 2 Sam. 24:15-17). Seven is the number of God’s completeness. The 70,000 fallen men symbolized God’s complete judgment upon the source of Israel’s pride, its military. David pleaded emphatically for God’s mercy to spare the innocent and punish him for his sins (1 Chr. 21:17). God showed His mercy as He spared Jerusalem. He was more merciful than any invading army. Like David, He wants people to know their need for His mercy.

  • God is slow to anger and quick to forgive. David made his choice based upon his faith in God’s promises that He is slow to anger and quick to forgive. “Then the Lord passed by in front of him and proclaimed, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth; who keeps lovingkindness for thousands, who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin; yet He will by no means leave the guilty unpunished, . . .”’ (Ex. 34:6-7). “But You, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness and truth.” (Ps. 86:15; 103:8; 116:5). Jesus never changes (Heb. 13:8). He is slow to anger and quick to forgive because He wants all to come to repentance: “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet. 3:9). “Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Ro. 2:4). If God has delayed your judgment, repent without delay.

  • Know your need for God’s mercy. There is a temptation amongst many pastors to skip over verses that talk about God’s judgment. It is always uncomfortable to read about His judgment. Some might feel that His judgment is not a helpful topic when trying to create a seeker-friendly image. Likewise, for a casual believer looking for a motivational sermon to feel better about themselves, these verses do just the opposite. Yet, verses about God’s judgment are spread throughout the Bible. It is a sin of omission never to speak about them. If you never read about God’s judgment, you will never fully appreciate how much you need God’s mercy and the true value of Jesus’ sacrifice at the cross. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro. 6:23). “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matt. 25:46). “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (Jo. 3:36). “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned.” (Mk. 16:16). If you claim to know the value of God’s mercy, you should show it by living your life transformed as a living sacrifice to Jesus (Ro. 12:1-2).

  • Plea as an intercessor for God to help others. David’s plea was similar to Jonah’s plea when his disobedience caused the men in his boat to suffer: “He said to them, ‘Pick me up and throw me into the sea. Then the sea will become calm for you, for I know that on account of me this great storm has come upon you.”’ (Jo. 1:12). Abraham also pleaded with God as an intercessor to spare the innocent in Sodom and Gomorrah: “Abraham came near and said, ‘Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?”’ (Gen. 18:23). “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent or the righteous, for I will not acquit the guilty.” (Ex. 23:7). Some may claim that a just and loving God would never judge sinners. Yet, He would not be just if He did not judge evil. God’s promise of future judgment should be treated as a certainty for those who refuse to repent and accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. The horror of judgment should motivate believers everywhere to pray and fast for non-believers to repent and turn to Jesus. Your intercessory prayers should also plead for God’s mercy upon the nations.

6. Sacrifice: Deliverance is Only Possible Because of Jesus’ Sacrifice. 1 Chr. 21:18-25.

  • David pays the full cost to build an altar at Jesus’ future place of sacrifice. At a place where the prophet Gad told David to build an altar, David turned down a land owners’ offer to give him the land for free. David knew that deliverance could not come without sacrifice: “18 Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 19 So David went up at the word of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the Lord. 20 Now Ornan turned back and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves. And Ornan was threshing wheat. 21 As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out from the threshing floor and prostrated himself before David with his face to the ground. 22 Then David said to Ornan, ‘Give me the site of this threshing floor, that I may build on it an altar to the Lord; for the full price you shall give it to me, that the plague may be restrained from the people.’ 23 Ornan said to David, ‘Take it for yourself; and let my lord the king do what is good in his sight. See, I will give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for wood and the wheat for the grain offering; I will give it all.’ 24 But King David said to Ornan, ‘No, but I will surely buy it for the full price; for I will not take what is yours for the Lord, or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing.’ 25 So David gave Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site.” (1 Chr. 21:18-25; 2 Sam. 24:18-24). God does everything for a reason. He told Jacob, the founder of Israel to build an altar (Gen. 35:1). Here, He told the king through whom He formed His covenant to build a second altar for the future King of Kings. He told David to build an altar in the exact same spot on Mount Moriah where Solomon would build the Temple. “Then Solomon began to build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem on Mount Moriah, where the LORD had appeared to his father David, at the place that David had prepared on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.” (2 Chr. 3:1). Mount Moriah was also where Abraham offered up Isaac as a sacrifice (Gen. 22:2). Mount Moriah was also near where Jesus was sacrificed on the cross (Gen. 22:14). The Jebusite offered the land to David for free. Yet, David knew that his deliverance and the deliverance of Israel required sacrifice. Thus, he paid the full price for the land for Israel’s future sacrifices and Jesus’ sacrifice for the entire world. The price David selected was the established value of a field dedicated to the Lord for a Jubilee celebration, which symbolized redemption (Lev. 27:16, 20-21). God further picked a place for future sacrifices where wheat was separated from the chaff: “Now Ornan turned back and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves. And Ornan was threshing wheat. As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out from the threshing floor and prostrated himself before David with his face to the ground.” (1 Chr. 21:22-23). Jesus will also separate the wheat from the chaff based upon those who accept His sacrifice near this same place.

David purchased the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite to build an altar5

  • Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice to allow for your deliverance. Like David’s purchase of the place of the future Temple, your deliverance came with a price. This included Jesus’ suffering and death at the cross: “But He was pierced through for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the chastening for our well-being fell upon Him, and by His scourging we are healed.” (Is. 53:5). “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.” (1 Pet. 2:24). Do you give thanks for Jesus’ sacrifice for you at the cross?

  • Give thanks for Jesus’ mercy and grace. David knew that they did not deserve God’s mercy and grace. Thus, he offered Him songs of thanksgiving: “. . . To you I shall offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and call upon the name of the Lord, I shall pay my vows to the Lord.” (Ps. 116:1, 17-18). “ . . . I will render thank offerings to You. For you have delivered my soul from death.” (Ps. 56:12-13; 116:8). “. . . Let them also offer sacrifices of thanksgiving, and tell of His works with joyful singing.” (Ps. 107:1, 2, 22). “in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (1 Thess. 5:18). “always giving thanks for all things in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father;” (Eph. 5:20). Like David, no one deserved to have Jesus die on the cross for them. Like David, have you given thanks for Jesus’ mercy and grace in your life?

  • Out of gratitude, make your life a living sacrifice for Christ. Jesus eliminated the need for any further physical sacrifices with His death on the cross (Heb. 10:14). Yet, this hopefully did not eliminate your gratitude for your undeserved salvation. Without any sacrifice for Jesus, your faith is meaningless. Yet, instead of making physical sacrifices, you are called upon to make “spiritual sacrifices” to Him: “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5). This includes praising God in all that you do: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). This also includes presenting your body as a living sacrifice for God: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Ro. 12:1). Out of gratitude for His mercy and grace, are you offering Christ the best of your life?

7. Forgiveness and Fellowship: Jesus Offers Forgiveness and Fellowship. 1 Chr. 21:26-30.

  • David offers burnt and peace offerings at God’s appointed altar. After building an altar, David prompted God to withdraw His plague after David made both a burnt offering and a peace offering. “26 Then David built an altar to the Lord there and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. And he called to the Lord and He answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. 27 The Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back in its sheath. 28 At that time, when David saw that the Lord had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he offered sacrifice there. 29 For the tabernacle of the Lord, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were in the high place at Gibeon at that time. 30 But David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was terrified by the sword of the angel of the Lord.” (1 Chr. 21:26-30; 2 Sam. 24:25). Without a blood offering, there could be no forgiveness of sin (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). God approved of the sacrifices by consuming them with fire (1 Chr. 21:26). Yet, David could not approach God because he was a sinner (1 Chr. 21:30). Each of these offerings pointed to Jesus. He was judged for our sins at the cross. For those who believe, He came to both forgive sins and to offer mankind His full fellowship. Yet, without Him as our mediator, fellowship with God is impossible.

  • Only faith in Christ’s sacrifice at the cross can atone for your sins. The Bible is clear you can never atone for your own sins through your works or sacrifices. Only through faith in Jesus’ sacrifice is your salvation possible (Ro. 3:9-12; Gal. 2:16, 21; 3:23-24). If you confess and repent of “unrighteousness,” God is faithful to forgive you (1 Jo. 1:9; Jo. 15:3; 1 Cor. 6:11). Is there any area where you need to repent?

  • Jesus is the only mediator between mankind and God. Even with the altar, David was terrified to go before God (1 Chr. 21:30). David had incredible faith. Yet, even with his faith, he needed a mediator to allow him to appear before God. Jesus is the mediator between mankind and God (1 Tim. 2:5; Heb. 9:15; 12:24; 8:6).

David then built an altar to atone for his sins6

  • The Burnt Offering. True fellowship with God is impossible without a burnt offering of sinless blood to atone for a person’s sins. During Old Testament times, this was done through animals (Lev. 1; Heb. 9:22; Lev. 17:11). Jesus later gave His sinless blood to offer salvation to everyone (Rev. 7:9). Through Jesus’ death -- and not our own works -- we are made right or “justified” before God (2 Cor. 5:21; Rom. 3:25; Gal. 3:13; Mk. 14:24; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). “[T]he free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 6:23). “[W]e have now been justified by His blood.” (Rom. 5:8-10). Thus, you cannot find fellowship with God unless you accept that Jesus died for your sins.

  • The Peace or Shalom Offering. For those who want intimate fellowship with God, He offers to “dine” with the believer (Lev. 3:11, 16; Rev. 3:20). To have God’s Shalom peace, a believer must do seven things that are explained through the Old and New Testaments. These include: (1) a “daily” remembrance of Jesus’ sacrifice (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:13-15); (2) offering “spiritual sacrifices” for Jesus (1 Pet. 2:5); (3) using “talents” in proportion to which God has given them (Matt. 25:14-30); (4) giving the best of a person’s life and denying certain pleasures for God (Lev. 3:3, 9, 14, 16-17); (5) being pure by handing over to God control over the things which control your purity (Lev. 3:4, 10, 15); (6) being obedient to God’s instructions for your life and His Word (Lev. 26:3, 6); and (7) opening the door of your heart to Jesus by diligently searching Him out (Rev. 3:20; Ps. 119:2; Jer. 29:13). Finally, you should celebrate this fellowship by “dining” in communion with Jesus: “While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is My body.” (Matt. 26:26; 1 Cor. 11:24). Are you seeking out Jesus’ full peace and His fellowship?