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In Chronicles, David took a census on the people of Israel. However, God became angry at this, and he proceeded to destory about 70,000 people in result.

1 Chronicles 21:1-16: 1Satan rose up against Israel and caused David to take a census of the people of Israel. 2So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Take a census of all the people of Israel—from Beersheba in the south to Dan in the north—and bring me a report so I may know how many there are.” 3But Joab replied, “May the Lord increase the number of his people a hundred times over! But why, my lord the king, do you want to do this? Are they not all your servants? Why must you cause Israel to sin?”

4But the king insisted that they take the census, so Joab traveled throughout all Israel to count the people. Then he returned to Jerusalem 5and reported the number of people to David. There were 1,100,000 warriors in all Israel who could handle a sword, and 470,000 in Judah. 6But Joab did not include the tribes of Levi and Benjamin in the census because he was so distressed at what the king had made him do.

Judgment for David’s Sin
7 God was very displeased with the census, and he punished Israel for it. 8Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by taking this census. Please forgive my guilt for doing this foolish thing.” 9Then the Lord spoke to Gad, David’s seer. This was the message: 10“Go and say to David, ‘This is what the Lord says: I will give you three choices. Choose one of these punishments, and I will inflict it on you.’”

11So Gad came to David and said, “These are the choices the Lord has given you. 12You may choose three years of famine, three months of destruction by the sword of your enemies, or three days of severe plague as the angel of the Lord brings devastation throughout the land of Israel. Decide what answer I should give the Lord who sent me.”

13“I’m in a desperate situation!” David replied to Gad. “But let me fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is very great. Do not let me fall into human hands.”

14So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel, and 70,000 people died as a result. 15And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But just as the angel was preparing to destroy it, the Lord relented and said to the death angel, “Stop! That is enough!” At that moment the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.

16David looked up and saw the angel of the Lord standing between heaven and earth with his sword drawn, reaching out over Jerusalem. So David and the leaders of Israel put on burlap to show their deep distress and fell face down on the ground.

In the bible, they do not state the reason for God doing this. What was so wrong about taking census of people of Israel?

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6 Answers 6

up vote 11 down vote accepted

You're right in that the Bible does not state why it was a sin, so we won't be able to cite verses to support any answer to this.

However, the one thing that is clear is that Satan provoked David to take the census. The Bible doesn't explain why this is, and the there are several theories, but no Biblical statement on the matter. Clearly, however, it was Satan that provoked David to take the census, and following Satan's leading is almost certainly a sin.

The explanations that I've heard on why it was bad had to do with the motivation of David's heart in the matter.

  • One theory is that he was taking the census to determine the might of his army, because he was counting on this, rather than God to provide military victory and strength. (I'm not sure I buy that one.)
  • Another says that it may have been pride. David wanted to know how mighty a kingdom he had. (Knowing how God hates pride, this is at least feasible to me.)

Unfortunately, the Scriptures don't give an answer, so in all honesty, I don't think this question is answerable in the usual sense.

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A third possibility: the census could have been related to a taxation program, (see Luke's account of the Savior's birth for a parallel,) which Samuel mentioned as one of the bad results of appointing a king in the first place. (1 Samuel 8: 15-17) –  Mason Wheeler Sep 30 '11 at 3:33
    
Mason Wheeler - You're right, of course. –  David Stratton Sep 30 '11 at 3:34
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Exodus 30:11-16 links the census to a half-shekel tax per person. Some Jewish commentators (Rashi, Ramban, etc.) say that David's problem could be that he didn't levy the tax ("atonement money" or "ransom") required by Law. –  James T Sep 30 '11 at 11:57
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@James Lol, you must be more resouceful then most of the bibical hermeneutics. Your opinion is unheard of, but makes kind of sense... –  Sȱɳɨȼ Ʈħe ǶḝÐɠḝħȱɠ Sep 30 '11 at 18:58
    
i think you should remove the almost from "following Satan's leading is almost certainly a sin." –  caseyr547 Jun 12 '13 at 13:27

I find a comparison with this same event as recorded in II Samuel 24 quite intriguing. Here it says that the anger of the LORD burned against Israel and it incited David against them, indicating that there were nationwide sins at that time and also that David's motive came out of anger.

The census taking must have been a glaring offense against God, because even Joab, who never seemed to be godly or moral warned David that it would bring sin against Israel and the 3 choices of punishment that came were all against Israel, not against David personally.

In II Samuel, this account comes late in David's reign, after the kingdome is secure militarily, just before the peaceful days of Solomon. Within the halls of power, however, it has been a very different story with the kings sons vying for the crown. During these times of striving the priests, prophets and people all chose sides and were fickle and many disloyal to David. I would suspect that may have been why the LORD and David were angry at Israel and why the LORD allowed satan to incite David. The guilt of the people may have been thier rebellion against David as they followed various ones of his rebellious sons while David was still on the throne Psalm 105:15 says, "Do not touch my annointed ones, and do My prophets no harm." David himself had quoted this Scripture as he fled from Saul and when he refused to kill the foolish, murderous king when he was right in his grasp. David paid such a high price to obey this principle he must have been grievously hurt, offended and angered by the disloyalty of the people and his sons, who tried to usurp his right to appoint Solomon king as directed by God.

David's sin may have stemmed from his departure from his prior practice of seeking the LORD before decisions. He did not ask the prophet first, either. This is a departure from the Theocratic rule that had characterized his kingdom before. Nonetheless,when the plague took effect, David's heart and the LORD'S relented in mercy and David, like Moses, interceeded for the sinful Israelites. Like Moses, he pled to take the sin on himself so the people could be spared.

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I don't know that I would go so far as some of the assertions in user4705's downvoted answer, but in support of the assertion that the promise of the multiplication of Israel, and that they would be impossible to number (Genesis 13:16, 15:5, 16:10), should factor into the understanding of this passage, please see:

1Ch 27:23-24 But David took not the number of them from twenty years old and under: because the LORD had said he would increase Israel like to the stars of the heavens. (24) Joab the son of Zeruiah began to number, but he finished not, because there fell wrath for it against Israel; neither was the number put in the account of the chronicles of king David.

Little known fact: 1 Samuel, 2 Samuel, 1 Kings, and 2 Kings used to be 1 Kings, 2 Kings, 3 Kings, 4 Kings. Actually the naming of these books has a varied history (see Wikipedia's article, "Books of Kings"). I mention this just to set forth that perhaps "the chronicles of king David" points to 2 Samuel. That the number was not recorded would indicate the number itself as being an offense. In 2 Samuel:

2Sa 24:9 And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.

But in 1 Chronicles:

1Ch 21:5 And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword.

Notice the discrepancy in numbers. Again, "neither was the number put..." Approximations seem to be the matter of course, and, again, the number itself seems to be the offense. Additionally:

Exo 30:12 When thou takest the sum of the children of Israel after their number, then shall they give every man a ransom for his soul unto the LORD, when thou numberest them; that there be no plague among them, when thou numberest them.

The Lord seems to have expected David to see past the explicit legality of the issue. Here in Exodus, beyond the explicit legality, we see, again, that numbering the people, and that alone without any mention of motive, is offensive. Which brings us again to the first passage quoted:

1Ch 27:23 But David took not the number of them from twenty years old and under: because the LORD had said he would increase Israel like to the stars of the heavens.

There are other places where explicit legality is not the only requirement: 2 Kings 13:14-19 (legally did the king do as he was asked?), Romans 14 (especially that last verse), and 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, to name some that I have seen. Also see John 17:19; Christ was a man, and could legally have experienced the pleasures of marriage and the blessings of earthly children, but thank the Lord that for our sakes He sanctified Himself.

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the census is an attack on the promise to Abraham to multiply his seed as the sand of the seashore and stars of heaven. It is a violation of the promise of God and a demonic counteraction to the blessings promised. I have seen that whenever this is done there is a migration of people out of the place that it is conducted or serious deaths that take place. Census is demonic and is not a kingdom thing. No where in the bible is there ever an accurate number concerning people it is always given as approximates like 5000 men besides women and children or in the case of angels one third of the stars of heaven or in the case of those saved a number that no man can number. census is simply wrong.

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-1 Not only is the tone provocative, but Ex. 30:11--mentioned in previous comments--assumes a census and one is commanded in Num. 1:2 ("listing every man by name, one by one"[NIV]--though listed counts are at 50 precision). –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 10 '13 at 0:42
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Welcome to the site! I'd invite you to read the help page, as well as these posts: What makes a good, supported answer? and What Christianity.StackExchange is (and more importantly, what it isn't) Your answer seems to be one about answering Truth, which isn't really what the site is about. –  David Stratton Jun 10 '13 at 1:30
    
@DavidStratton Thank you for providing a more helpful (and kinder) comment! I dislike downvoting in part because I find it difficult to provide a helpful comment (a helpful comment makes it more likely I can remove my downvote). Eventually I may learn to recognize and articulate the specific issues behind the "bad smell" of a post. Again, thank you; you are teaching more than just how to post good answers/questions. –  Paul A. Clayton Jun 10 '13 at 14:44

In Biblical times, censuses were taken for two basic reasons: taxation, and war. David took the census for one (or both of) those reasons, which was against the will of God.

Israel, at the time, was a fragile nation, having barely captured a capital (Jerusalem), thereby uniting north and south, and then driven out the Philistines, which threatened its western border. The country needed a period of peace and prosperity after these tremendous exertions.

Basically, David had won his earlier battles with an all-volunteer army. He told the people of Israel what he wanted to do (capture Jerusalem, drive out the Philistines), and through the grace of God, just enough of them volunteered for these projects. Later on, David wanted to conquer neighboring lands and peoples, which created two problems: 1) He would introduce foreign, non-believing people into Israel and 2) he would shed Israeli blood for this purpose. Worst of all, the purpose of the census was that David could DRAFT the soldiers he thought he'd need, instead of trusting God to give him "just enough" (along with God's power to "veto" certain projects by giving David "not enough").

But buoyed (and probably made overconfident) by his successes, David tried to push ahead and expand his kingdom for HIS wealth and glory (not God's). That was the sin.

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+1. Seems the most plausible answer to this question I have already read. –  Pavel Nov 16 '12 at 12:31

It was a bad thing because of David's motivation for doing it. He was afraid of his enemies instead of trusting that God would take care of him.

In Matthew 6:25 Jesus says: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life"

If you look at the battles that ancient Israel fought in, they won most often when all the odds were against them. God always demanded they put ALL their trust in Him and not in circumstance.

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