2 Samuel 23:8-24:25
David was an incredible fighter. He also had three ‘mighty men’ in his army who were renowned for their fighting prowess. One of them, Josheb-Basshebeth, had killed eight hundred men with a spear in one battle. They were prepared to stand their ground and fight hordes of the enemy even when their fellow comrades had fled in fear
Kings have to be careful what they say in the earshot of particularly loyal subjects. David once rashly said during a war with the Philistines: ‘Oh that someone would get me a drink of water from the well near the gate of Bethlehem!’ (2 Sam.23:15). The three mighty men fought their way through Philistine battle lines to fetch it for him. David was horrified at the risks they had taken and wouldn’t drink it. This reminds me of when David wept for his dead son Absalom, disgracing his army who had risked their lives to defend his sovereignty. I personally think he should have been grateful for their efforts, drank the water and vowed not to be so irresponsible in the future. It’s probably not a good idea to disrespect men who can kill hundreds of soldiers in one battle.
Abishai, the brother of the army commander Joab, was chief of the three mighty men and had killed three hundred men in one skirmish. Both he and Joab were nephews of King David. Benaiah son of Jehoiada was a valiant fighter and and as famous as the three mighty men. He was put in charge of David’s bodyguard due to his great exploits. There were another thirty men in David’s personal army who were also renowned for their skill in battle and bravery.
In every thriving church there are usually two or three mighty men or women who greatly assist the pastor / priest in running the parish. We shouldn’t just take from our church community, we should seek to give and to donate our time, money and talents. Even if we don’t have time to be one of the three most renowned mighty men or women in our church we can loyally strive to be in the top thirty and hope for promotion to more responsibility.
God incited David to take a census of Israel and Judah and he entrusted this task to Joab (2 Sam.24:2). However, later in the Bible it said that Satan incited David to do this (1 Chron.21:1). However, Satan is not allowed to do anything without God’s mysterious permission and so they might have discussed putting David through a trial of his faith just as God permitted Satan to persecute Job (Job 1:12).
David’s army commander, Joab, was reluctant to conduct the census. Joab was cunning and ruthless and he could see that this would result in trouble, However, David over-ruled him. The census took nine months and twenty days. The count showed that Israel had many more fighting men than Judah (2 Sam.24:9).
David was then conscience stricken and realised he had done a very foolish thing. He confessed to God and asked for his guilt to be removed (2 Sam.24:10). He should have said to God: ‘I don’t need to count my soldiers because I rely on you for victory. You will win the battle for me no matter how great the opposition’. By counting the troops, it appeared that he intended to rely on his own military might rather than trust in God to deliver him.
God spoke to David through the prophet Gad and said there were three options as to how God should punish him for his lack of trust: three years of famine, three months of fleeing from his enemies or three days of plague. David left it up to the mercy of God as long as he did not ‘fall into the hands of men’ (2 Sam.24:14).
The Lord chose to send plague on Israel from that very morning and seventy thousand people died. When the angel striking down the people with plague was just about to strike Jerusalem, God stopped him. ‘God was grieved because of the calamity’ (2 Sam.24:16). David could actually see the plague angel at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite and said to God that he personally should be punished, rather than his subjects who were but sheep. David showed himself to be a good shepherd, prepared to die for his flock.
The prophet Gad told David to build an altar where the plague angel had stopped. David insisted on buying the threshing floor and oxen from Araunah, even though they were offered to him for free. David built the altar and sacrificed to the Lord, who then answered prayer on behalf of the land. The plague in Israel was stopped.
This is a very strange story. God was very angry at Israel for an undefined reason. He incited David to take a census or got Satan to do it and then offered a choice of three different punishments when the census was eventually completed. The only person who had immediately spotted this would not turn out well was David’s cunning and murderous army commander nephew, Joab.
If David had chosen to be pursued around the country for three months – which was one of the punishment options offered by God – that would probably have saved a lot of lives. However, in the end, David came out well offering him (and his family) as a sacrifice in place of his subjects. David proved himself to be a good shepherd offering himself up for his sheep.
It’s a troublesome passage because I have heard Pastors say that God never brings disease – that’s the work of the devil. This text clearly shows that God brought this plague and an angel (not a demon) actively inflicted it. However, even when the devil does bring a disease (or incite someone to carry out an illicit census), God has allowed him to do it which is the same as doing it himself. Nothing happens in heaven or earth without God’s permission. He is all powerful. It’s all very mysterious but as God owns everything, has positive reasons for everything that happens and has good long-term plans, we just have to trust in his justice, wisdom and mercy. He is our refuge and our strength and will answer if we cry out to him.
Peter prayed for a paralytic to be healed: ‘Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and tidy up your mat’. This can be a model for our healing prayers. Jesus has the power and authority to heal, not us, and so we pray in his name. Peter’s command showed total faith in Jesus. The paralytic man had to choose to move in faith to grab his chance of being healed. He chose to get up immediately. This healing echoed Jesus healing a long-time invalid with a direct command (John 5:8).
Peter then went to bring a disciple named Tabitha back to life. He sent all the crying widows, who Tabitha had helped in her lifetime, out of her room and got down on his knees to pray before commanding her to get up. Jesus had resurrected a little girl with the words ‘Talitha koum!’ (Which means, ‘Little girl, I say to you, get up!)’ (Mark 5:41-42). Before Jesus did this he had put all the people who were weeping and wailing out of the room. We should also pray in an atmosphere of peace, not surrounded by distress, despair and unbelief.
A Roman centurion, Cornelius, then sent for Peter. Even though he was not a Jew, Cornelius (and his family) had a wonderful reputation for being devout, God-fearing and charitable (Acts 10:2). Cornelius had seen a vision of an angel about three in the afternoon. Three o’clock in the afternoon is a great time for a vision as it is the holy time when Jesus died. Conversely, three o’clock in the morning isn’t a holy time of day. If we wake up with a nightmare at three o’clock in the morning, the thoughts in our mind are likely to have come from the demonic dark side and we should pray until we regain peace. Even though Cornelius was a Roman Gentile the angel gave him fascinating news: ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God’ (Acts 10:4). This shows that people’s good needs and prayers can eventually attract God’s attention even before they are Christians.
Meanwhile, Peter had a vision in which God had said: ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’ (Acts 10:15). As he was wondering about the meaning of this vision, the men sent by Cornelius to fetch him arrived and the Holy Spirit told him to go with them: ‘For I have sent them’ (Acts 10:20).
The Holy Spirit was orchestrating Peter’s daily ministry. The Spirit had been with Cornelius for years until he now inspired him to send for Peter who would lead him, and his family to salvation. Cornelius would demonstrate to the disciples that you didn’t have to become a Jew first before you became a Christian. The Spirit also worked on Peter to ensure he would answer the call. Jesus said it was for our own good that he was going away because then the Holy Spirit would come to us. The Holy Spirit can work on everyone at the same time. When Jesus was incarnate, he could only be in one place at the same time (John 16:7). As born-again baptized Christians, we have the Holy Spirit living within us leading us to the truth and transforming us into the likeness of Christ.
The Psalmist called on God to remember his people. They were living in ruins and their enemies had destroyed God’s sanctuaries. No-one knew who long their agony would last as no prophets were left (Psalm 74:9).
We know that God continued to send leaders and prophets to rescue Israel but they were rejected and persecuted.
The great John the Baptist straddled the divide between the Old and New Testament and prophesied the arrival of our Saviour.
When we can’t feel God’s presence and guidance in our lives, we need to continue to pray. Praying in the Spirit is the ultimate reassurance that God is with us, working within us and through us and will never leave us.
God offered the ultimate gift to all who have faith and belief. He offered to the entire world eternal salvation through the sacrifice of his beloved son, Jesus Christ.
Image: Jules & Jenny from Lincoln, UK, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons