1 Chronicles 21:1-22:1. Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number.”
7 But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel. 8 And 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 acted very foolishly.” 9 And the Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, 10 “Go and say to David, ‘Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you; choose one of them, that I may do it to you.’” 11 So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Choose what you will: 12 either three years of famine, or three months of devastation by your foes while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.” 13 Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
15 And God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 16 And David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, and in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. 17 And David said to God, “Was it not I who gave command to number the people? It is I who have sinned and done great evil. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand, O Lord my God, be against me and against my father’s house. But do not let the plague be on your people.”
18 Now the angel of the Lord had commanded Gad to say to David that David should go up and raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 19 So David went up at Gad’s word, which he had spoken in the name of the Lord. 20 Now Ornan was threshing wheat. He turned and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves. 21 As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David and went out from the threshing floor and paid homage to David with his face to the ground. 22 And David said to Ornan, “Give me the site of the threshing floor that I may build on it an altar to the Lord—give it to me at its full price—that the plague may be averted from the people.” 23 Then Ornan said to David, “Take it, and let my lord the king do what seems good to him. See, I give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for the wood and the wheat for a grain offering; I give it all.” 24 But King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the Lord what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” 25 So David paid Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site. 26 And David built there an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering. 27 Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.
22:1. Then David said, “Here shall be the house of the Lord God and here the altar of burnt offering for Israel.”
Advent is full of temptations.
When you’re waiting for God’s Messiah to arrive it is easy to lose sight of waiting for the arrival of your savior and to start looking at what you already have that can save you. And this is especially true when you’re winning at life. Like David was. If you read the preceding chapters of 1 Chronicles you find story after story of David conquering his enemies – the Ammonites, the Syrians, and of course those nasty Philistines.
If we already have what our hearts long for, then what are we waiting for?
And that is David’s (and our) problem. He can only see what he has in the present. And so he counts it. Satan tempts him to number his army. Something God told him not to do. He literally was counting on his military might as his status, security, and strength. Instead of counting on the God who made a covenant with him.
This is our same temptation isn’t it? We forget that we are waiting for something, actually someone, far greater than anything we already have. Even at Christmas time when we are supposed to be focused on God’s advent and our need for a savior, we do a whole lot of counting. We count presents under the tree. We count who is coming over on Christmas day. We count how much money we have left to spend. We count down the hours.
We long for more of the temporary. The earthly. But our hearts are made for something more. Something bigger. Our lives are joined to Christ’s. He is our desire. He is our greatest blessing. Not our “army.” Not whatever it is that gives you status, security, and strength today. Those things are meant to turn your heart to Jesus and his return. They are not meant to hold your heart captive.
David learns this the hard way.
God gives David a choice of three punishments for his sin: three years of famine, three months of being attacked by enemies, or three days of being attacked by the Angel of God. David chooses God – “I am in great distress. Let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is very great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
In what happens next we see the merging of God’s holiness and mercy. Every sin must be punished. But every sin can be forgiven. But only if there is a sacrifice. And so God, like he did with Abraham on this same mountain, stays the hand of the angel – but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity. And he said to the angel who was working destruction, “It is enough; now stay your hand.”
And then something fascinating happens. David turns from king to priest. He purchases the threshing floor of Ornan and offers sacrifices to the Lord there. The fire of God comes down consuming the sacrifice of David without consuming David himself.
David and Araunah making Offerings at the Altar, Lambert Jacobsz (1598-1636)
One thousand years later the Angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven will put his sword in his sheath and he will leave heaven to enter earth. Not to demand a sacrifice, but to BE the sacrifice. He will be crucified at this same place, the threshing floor of Ornan, outside of Jerusalem. The King of Kings will be threshed like wheat for us.
David’s heart was changed that day. He went from longing for the power of an army to longing for the presence of God – “Here shall be the house of the Lord God and here the altar of burnt offering for Israel.” David’s new advent focus is not army building but temple building. Look at how his heart has changed in the next chapter:
1 Chronicles 22:17-19. 17 David also commanded all the leaders of Israel to help Solomon his son, saying, 18 “Is not the Lord your God with you? And has he not given you peace on every side? For he has delivered the inhabitants of the land into my hand, and the land is subdued before the Lord and his people. 19 Now set your mind and heart to seek the Lord your God. Arise and build the sanctuary of the Lord God, so that the ark of the covenant of the Lord and the holy vessels of God may be brought into a house built for the name of the Lord.”
Even in waiting for the advent of the Lord, David could say is not the Lord your God with you? And all who are in Christ can answer with a glorious YES! He is not only with me but in me. He is my greatest status, my greatest security, my greatest strength. He is my army. My temple. My altar.
Now may we in our advent turn our focus from counting to building God’s temple, his church. Arise and build the sanctuary of the Lord God.
What have you been counting lately? What things are you counting on to bring you security, or status, or strength? How can you turn your attention this advent to building God’s church instead of building your own kingdom?