In 2 Samuel 24, the author tells the story of God’s judgment against David’s sin in conducting a census of the Israelites. While the text does not explain why this action was sinful, the Lord knew David’s heart. The ESV study Bible explains it this way, “such an action could have been motivated by pride, trust in self, and lack of trust in the Lord,” all of which are sinful postures before the Lord. In any case, David realized he had acted foolishly, and begged the Lord’s forgiveness. In response, the Lord tells David to choose one of three judgments against him which will include all of Israel: three years of famine, three months of fleeing before the enemy or three days of pestilence. David chooses the last, “for his mercy is great…” (24:14)
Fast forward to the present. As we continue to experience the Coronavirus pandemic, my mind wanders to this true story again and again, wringing out the truths and comforts embedded therein.
First, there is sin. David’s heart, like each one of ours, tended toward self-exaltation instead of God-exaltation. Perhaps pride in the size of his army and a dependence on their ability to protect Israel instead of depending on the Lord. He might have delighted in his position as King of Israel, wishing to remind the nations around him as well as the Israelites themselves of his power and “supreme” influence. Perhaps he was just self-satisfied and wanted to bask in the security the army brought him, forgetting that only God held his safety in His hands.
In my life, God has used this time of powerlessness over my own circumstances to make me aware of some control issues I didn’t want to admit to. Watching the world shut down, businesses close and people die has made me realize how very little power I have over the circumstances and unexpected nature of reality. There have been people I haven’t been able to see, actions and reactions from people I love and respect with which I’ve disagreed and toilet paper I’ve been unable to buy – in short, things that I would normally be able to “control” have become impossible, pointing me to other areas of my life which I finally have to admit are totally out of my control.
One of the things about David which set him apart and did indeed make him a man after God’s own heart was his quick repentance. After the census numbers come in, “David’s heart struck him”, he confesses his sin to the Lord and spends the night praying in repentance. Is my own heart as quick to turn towards repentance after I sin? Do I push the niggling of the Holy Spirit from the edges of my heart and consciousness so that I don’t have to deal with the consequences of my own sin? This time of separation and a slowing of the busyness of life has made it impossible to run from the reality of my own sin of wanting control and too often manipulating (though I would never call it that!) in order to maintain the illusion of my own sovereign rule.
David’s choice of the plague is not only a punishment and judgment on David, but also a test of his wisdom. Because David knows the character of God, he chooses the third option because the Lord determines the extent of the plague Himself by sending the angel of death directly into Israel’s midst, but David also knows that the Lord’s mercy is great. And that is what gives him hope.
Getting back to our own time and place, while we do know that God sovereignly rules and all things come either from His hand or through His hand, we cannot, unlike David, know the reason why things happen as they do. There is no doubt that we live with the effects of the Fall daily, thus making things like devastating weather events, governmental corruption, human trafficking and even pandemics something that just happen. But we also know that God is always working and that everything that happens – EVERYTHING – is filtered through His hand and for our ultimate Good and His unending Glory.
A favorite verse of mine is Isaiah 55:10-13. In this verse rain and snow is seen as something which is necessary for the renewal and thriving of the earth. Without rain and snow, plants would not take root and sprout, soil would turn to desert and famine would overtake the earth. But it’s also true that rain and snow come down from dark clouds which block out the sun and, in our modern world, when they come with storms, can cause everything from power outages to severe property damage or even to loss of life.
The next verse, then, compares the rain and snow which water the earth to His Word, which shall (emphasis added) succeed in the thing for which He sent it. And what is the ultimate purpose which He sent His Word? The renewing of all things, the rejuvenation of all creation and the unimaginable joy of all the earth and everything in it, so much so that even the trees of the field shall clap their hands!
In 2 Samuel 24:16, there came a moment when the Lord said to the angel who was working destruction, “it is enough” and the plague stopped.
These last three months have been rainy and stormy months, metaphorically speaking. And since the storm has not yet ended, we have yet to see the seedlings start to sprout which the Lord has planted during this time. But we also know that there will come a moment when the Lord will say, “It is enough.”
And therein I draw my comfort and security. God is no less active today than in King David’s day. And since the Kingdom of God broke through into this reality at the Cross of Christ, it has continued to grow. This pandemic and all its ancillary effects will come to an end before too long, and on that day, we will get a glimpse of God’s Hand and we will even clap our hands with rejoicing! But even more, there will come another Day when this world will see no more thorns, but only cypress; no more brier, but only myrtle (Is 55:13), no more death, but only life….and the mountains and the hills shall break forth into singing and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands (Is 55:12)
Until that day, I’ll struggle with wanting to control the circumstances in my own life and even the decisions of other people in my life, because there’s still a part of me that thinks I know what is best. Instead, while the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain (Ps 2:1), may I, may we, not count ourselves among them, but rather rest secure in the knowledge that His Word SHALL be accomplished.
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