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.” 1 Chronicles 21:17
David is one of the most discussed individuals in Scripture. He is supremely devoted to his God, enjoying a unique intimacy but then in the next chapter he throws it all away in a stunning display of arrogance. David does this multiple times. I suppose that is why we love him. He gives us hope in the midst of our unexplainable failures. 1 Chronicles 21 records the aftermath of one of those failures, namely the census.
On the surface, and from our vantage point thousands of years later, this may not seem like such a big deal. A census makes good administrative sense, right? It wasn’t just a census, though. It was a reckoning of military strength. David wanted to rest on his perceived power and not the God who granted it. Blinded by his need for numerical confirmation of his own greatness, David ignored the advice of his closest advisors and ordered the count.
In verse 8, David prays, “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.” David is given the choice of judgments to fall on Israel. He chooses three days of plague. Thousands die in a costly lesson on the consequences of misplaced faith.
The prayer in verse 17 comes after David sees the effects of his sin, especially on the multitude of innocent people whose lives are irreparably devastated. It is far more intense and wrenching than his earlier confession. It is after this second confession that God sends instructions to build an altar.
Confession enables worship.
Worship requires fellowship, and there can be no fellowship if sin exists. In verse 8 David asks for his sin to be dealt with. It is a sincere prayer, not unlike one we would pray, I would pray. But then David is allowed to see why sin is so horrible – innocent people suffer because of his sin. Innocent people suffer because of my sin.
It is in the midst of David’s anguish and brokenness over his sin that God invites him to worship. God invites David to worship at the very spot where the Temple will be built, on the same mountain where Abraham would have sacrificed Isaac, on the same mountain where Jesus would deal with sin once and for all.
David buys the ground and offers burnt and peace offerings, the ones offered in faith that God would take away the sin and restore fellowship. In verse 26, God answered with fire.
Confession enables worship, and worship brings about intimacy.
In this season of Advent take some time to consider the amazing gift of Jesus, who not only takes away our sins but restores our fellowship with God. Spend some quiet moments confessing the hurt inflicted on innocent people because of pride and a determination to find strength in ourselves. Then accept the invitation to worship the God who answers by fire, consuming the sin and purifying the sinner.