January 5, 2012 by greenhouse04
Do you count?
No, I don’t mean, do you matter, are you needed, should we care about your existence on this earth. I mean literally, do you count?
How many times throughout the week do you count something? The number of times you’ve showered, the number of pairs of socks that are left in your drawer, the number of times the dog has been outside (should he go out again soon?), the minutes before your children’s bedtime, the number of pounds you gained over Christmas. The number of things we consciously or unconsciously count are, well, too many to count.
But are there any times when we shouldn’t count? I mean, what’s wrong with keeping track of things? I believe that we can count too much.
You all know of the Old Testament’s King David. He wrote most of the Psalms, killed Goliath with one smooth stone (he first counted out five stones to be sure, though), was a shepherd before he was a king.
You may also know him for his big sin of adultery and murder – how he lusted after and took another man’s wife, got her pregnant; then to cover his deed, made sure her husband was killed on the battlefield.
This wasn’t his only sin. At one point, another sin caused his kingdom to face a devastating pestilence that killed 70,000 people. What was this sin? … the sin of counting. He took a census of his people, and it was sin. Seems like a pretty normal, even desirable thing for a king to do, right? We certainly take censuses – in fact, our nation just had one in 2010. There’s all sorts of good reasons to take censuses – they help our government know how to better create policies and departments to serve the population with roads, education, and other programs; it helps them divide voting districts more accurately; it helps them better calculate the amount of taxes they should get so they can go ahead and spend them; it helps us know how quickly Americans with European descent are being taken over by Americans with Middle Eastern or Hispanic descent (and start panicking about it); it enables us to compare how poor or obese or uneducated our state is in relation to yours, or how many homeless, drunk, or dependent our city has compared to yours; it gives us pride that while we have hundreds of thousands fewer people than China or India, we can still theoretically whoop them in a war; and on and on. (PLEASE NOTE that anything potentially offensive in this paragraph was said tongue-in-cheek!!)
Anyway, now perhaps you may have an inkling as to why King David’s census was a sin against God. The nation of Israel was to actually have only one King – God Himself. They were to trust Him completely, depend on Him to defend them from their enemies, and rely on Him for the prosperity and future of their nation. They were not to rely on numbers, strength, or wealth. David’s census revealed a proud, self-sufficient attitude, and God’s judgment was to remind David and Israel that they were dependent on Him, no matter what their numbers said.
You may think that God’s judgment was harsh, that a lot of innocent lives were taken unjustly because of one man’s sin. But David had ample warning about what he was doing and the consequences. In Exodus 30:12, the nation of Israel was told that if they took a census, each person must offer a bit of money to the Lord as a ransom for his life. If they didn’t do this, God would send a plague among the people. This ransom was to remind people that they are dependent on God for their prosperity and safety, not on their numbers or wealth.
As for one man’s sin affecting many innocent people, this phenomenon is a fact of the nature of sin, seen for the first time in all of mankind being profoundly affected by Adam’s sin. God also addresses it in the righteousness and sacrifice of one Man taking away the sin of many, though we don’t deserve this mercy.
So there are definitely times when it is sinful to count. Sometimes I think the practice of keeping count of church attendance can be sinful – a source of pride; or always calculating how much money one has in savings or assets can be sinful – a source of self-reliance.
But there are also times when we are told to count. In Psalm 90, the Psalmist asks God to “teach us to number our days.” Why? Because we are extremely temporal and He is eternal; our lives pass in a flash compared God’s lasting presence from generation to generation. Therefore, only He can establish the work of our hands.
In the end, whatever we do, we must be sure we are trusting in the One who has all things counted, even the hairs on our heads and the stars in the heavens.