The Main Things Are the Plain Things

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King David called for a census that he imagined would bring pleasure, but instead, it brought pain and God’s wrath. Seeking to intervene on behalf of his people, David built an altar, offered sacrifices, and asked that he alone would bear the punishment. While much remains unexplained in this passage, Alistair Begg points out that God’s sovereign plan is revealed in His mercy as well as His wrath. Ultimately, only Jesus’ intervention can save us from ourselves, our sin, and God’s wrath.


the following message by Alistair begg is made available by truth for life. For more information, visit us online at truth for life dot org two Samuel 24 and verse one again, the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel and he incited David against them saying go number Israel and Judah. So the king said to Job, the commander of the army who was with him, go through all the tribes of Israel from Dan to beersheba and number of the people that I may know the number of the people. But Job said to the king, May the Lord, your God add to the people 100 times as many as they are while the eyes of my Lord, the king still see it. But why does my Lord, the king delight in this thing? But the king’s word prevailed against joe ab and the commanders of the army. So Job and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel across the Jordan and began from a roar and from the city that is in the middle of the valley toward God and onto Jazeera. Then they came to Gilead and two in the land of the Hittites and they came to dan and from dan they went around to Sidon and came to the fortress of tire and to all the cities of the highlights and Canaanites and they went out to the Negev of Judah at beersheba. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and 20 days and job gave the some of the numbering of the people to the king in Israel, there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword and the men of Judah were 500,000. But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people and David said to the Lord, I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, oh Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant. For I have done very foolishly. And when David arose in the morning the word of the Lord came to the Prophet Gad, David’s seer saying, 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. So God came to David and told him and said to him, Shall three years of famine come to you in your land or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days pestilence in your land. Now consider and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me. Then, David said to God, I am in great distress, but his fall into the hand of the Lord for his mercy is great, but let me not fall into the hand of man. So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And they died of the people from Dan to Beersheba, men. And when the Angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the Angel who was working destruction among the people. It is enough. Now stay your hand. And the Angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Verona. The Jeb. Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the Angel who was striking the people and said behold I have sinned and I’ve done wickedly but these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house. And God came that day to David and said to him, go up, raised an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Arana, the Jeb aside. So David went up at God’s word as the Lord commanded, and when Arana looked down he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him and Arana went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. And Arana said, Why has my Lord? The king come to his servant. David said to buy the threshing floor from you in order to build an altar to the Lord, that the plague may be averted from the people. Then Arana said to David, Let my Lord. The king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this soaking arana gives to the king and Arana said to the king May the Lord your God except you. But the king said to Iran a no, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord. My God, that cost me nothing. So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for 50 shekels of silver and David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord responded to the plea for the land and the plague was averted from Israel. Amen. Well we turn to the bible and we turn to God and ask his help father. As we come once again to the bible, we look away from ourselves to you. We pray for help, clarity, brevity of expression, humble heart and not simply and increased knowledge of things, but if it please you, a divine encounter with you, the living God by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the truth of your word. For we ask it in jesus name. Amen. The main things are the plain things. I’m not sure that we have ever employed that as a title for a sermon. I didn’t check. So it may be, I know that I say it a lot and that has become something of a mantra. I think it is helpful for us to make sure that we can see the wood from the trees as it were. But I’ve chosen this morning to use it as the title for this particular sermon. The reason being that it just seems particularly fitting. And perhaps you will already have deduced this as you have listened. As I read this chapter, that it is a chapter that provides arguably more questions than it does answers. And if you have found in reading it, perhaps on your own, that you have not been stirred to say, wait a minute, why, how, what and so on, then perhaps you need to read it all over again. It’s good for us. It’s important for us to recognize that when we come to the bible, it is the bible that understands us more than that we ultimately understand the bible. And the hymn writer did a great service to us when he wrote that hymn. I know not why God’s wondrous grace, because it is so immense. Or I know not how the spirit moves, convincing men and women of sin, or I know not when the Lord will come at night or noon, clear. So there’s a lot that we are unaware of and unable ultimately to fathom. And if there were no other place in our study in 2nd Samuel, where that was to confront us, then certainly here we have it. This is the narrator’s conclusion of the story that he records in 2nd Samuel. He does not provide us with a picture which comes later in the second chapter of First Kings with David on his deathbed. But rather it concludes with a picture of David raising this altar according to the command of God and offering sacrifice. It’s a long chapter and I’ve debated much about whether we break it up or try and go and eat the entire passage. We’re going with the latter strategy. There are three sections to it versus 1 to 9. The census versus 10 to 17. The judgment and versus 18 to 25 the altar, first of all, then the record of this census that I want you to observe three things concerning. First of all that it was ordered by God. Look at verse one again, the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel and he incited David against them saying go and conduct a census. Go number Israel and Judah. Now the again of again, the anger of the Lord was kindled. Doesn’t actually answer the when question for us. It may well be that it is simply a reference to what we saw in chapter 21. Where God executes his judgment on the people there, his anger is expressed but were not told. Nor are we told why. Why does this take place? No explanation is given simply. The fact is stated without any reason and where there is no explanation. We ought to be on our guard against speculation. That is an important principle. That is very easy for us to ignore. And if it doesn’t happen as you’re listening to someone like myself speaking, you will often find that it happens when when you’re in small group bible study and the parts that are so straightforward tend to be set on the side and people spend an indeterminate amount of time speculating on that which the bible has chosen not to make clear. There is a reason why some things are explained and there’s a reason why other things are left unexplained. And the Westminster confession of course, helps us immensely with this when it writes and this is way back in what the 16th century or the 17th, not all things in scripture are equally plain in themselves or equally clear. That’s a fact. But all the things that are necessary to be known, believed and observed for salvation are clearly stated. So in other words, what is the main thing? The main thing is that Salvation belongs to the Lord. The main thing is that God is the savior of his people. There is nothing in the bible that is cloudy in relationship to that at all. Not everything is equally plain. Now, when it comes to this, it’s important for us to recognize too that God is under no obligation to explain himself. You remember as a child, the frustration you felt when you made a request. May I go to the cinema with so and so answer no question why answer. Don’t ask me why the answer is no very frustrating and yet the right approach. There was a reason clearly for God’s anger. God’s anger is always justifiable. But here it is unexplained. So what we do is we remind ourselves of what we know is true of God. For example, psalm 145 the Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. He is righteous in all his ways, always does the right thing and he’s always kind. So here you come up against something, an inexplicable piece of the Bible or an inexplicable inexplicable event in your own life. And you say, I don’t understand why this should be the way it is. And there doesn’t seem to be any obvious explanation for what is taking place. Remember this. The Lord is righteous in all his ways and he’s kind in all of his works. It remains puzzling though, doesn’t it? It’s puzzling that God would incite David to do this. Actually says he incites him. Now turn with me to first Chronicles, just for a moment. We’ve referred to the fact that Chronicles Chronicles passages are often parallel to what’s going on here in Second Samuel and in first Chronicles 21 verses one and two, which is parallel to this we read. Then satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel. So then David said to the commanders of Egypt and of Israel and to show up, go and do what is being said. So you see what is happening for us in reading this? Is that we are essentially taken if you like, behind the scenes that that we, as the readers now looking back from the vantage point of time, have a sort of panoramic view of what is taking place in a way that would not have been immediately obvious even to David as it was taking place. We now are realizing. And when you put for example, these two passages together, what we realized is that God chooses to use satan’s deceitful ideas and David’s own sinfulness in order to punish the people of Israel for their wickedness. It’s a bit like Job, isn’t it, where job is the satan comes and ask God, do I have your permission to do this to your servant job? It’s mysterious, isn’t it? The Lord had his purpose in what he incited David to do without compromising David’s responsibility for what he did. So, it is incited by God. It is this is the census. It is resisted by job is resisted by job. So the king said to Job the commander of the army and this is what I want you to do verse three. But Job said to the king, Hey, wait a minute. Now, if we were to imagine a job on the receiving end of this directive from the king. It wouldn’t be surprising if we find him saying essentially, where did you come up with this idea, King, where did this come from? And David would surely have claimed it as his own. He would have said, well, it’s my idea because it was his idea and fight later on. He’s the one who takes full responsibility for it. He says, I have done a foolish thing. He doesn’t say God, you gave me a really bad deal on this one. So if Job had asked him, he would have said, well, it’s me jobs. Resistance is interesting, isn’t it? We know job really well. We won’t go back to all that we know about him, but his resistance is I don’t think theological, it’s probably personal or if you like political, he would see things as a strategic commander, recognizing all that was involved in doing this in terms of time, in terms of money, in terms of the implications and so on. But he doesn’t seek to defend his resistance. Look at what he says. May the Lord, your God, add to the people 100 times as many as they are. In other words, he says, may you live to see the day when there will be 100 times as many people in your kingdom as there are now. And then he says to him, why does my Lord, the king delight in this thing? Why does he delight in this thing? And I think that verb there probably gives us a hint, at least a hint as to what somehow or another is going on in the heart of David in relationship to these things. Might be very, very hard for us to believe or to accept that this is the case. But it’s certainly worth pondering when you go back to the poem of chapter 22 and David’s great affirmations which you may remember when we read them together, he says, of God, you have given me, You have given me, you have equipped me. You have given me, you have delivered me and so on. He says, classically God brought me out into a broad place. He rescued me because he delighted in me. Well, has he forgotten this? Has he forgotten his own poem or has he chosen to ignore it? It’s a question, isn’t it? When you arrive, take missteps with God. When you or I come to a crossroads and decide to go our own way rather than God’s way. Have we forgotten or have we actually chosen to ignore what we know because of the pleasure we assume will be ours to enjoy in making the decision that we’re choosing to make here we find the king in the last lab. This is him moving now towards the end. He’s not quite in his dotage, but he’s very, very close to it. And presumably if we try and get underneath what we what we have conveyed to us in the text. The evil one, if you like, has come to sound in David’s ears. Maybe something like this. Hey, David, You were the choice of God. You’re the man after God’s own heart. You’re the man, aren’t you? What a great start. You had, man, that Goliath fellow came down. Just boom. You are the man, David now saying to himself, well, that’s actually quite true. And then the voice of the evil one says, But what a collapse with that! Barth Sheba your ia thing, David, You’re a walking contradiction. You’re partly truth and partly fiction. I got an idea for you, David. Why don’t you conduct a big survey of what you’ve got? He’ll burnish your image. It’ll build your self esteem. When all the numbers come back, you’ll be able to sit on your throne and look out and say, and to think I did all that. And may I say, instead of listening to the voice of caution which came from the lips of joe ab he chooses to listen To the voice of the Evil one. Let me just say something in passing as well. Neither age nor experience is a safeguard against pride. Neither age nor experience is a safeguard against pride. It was in the life of josiah when he was gloriously helped and had become strong, that he grew proud to his own destruction. We are never ever told to rejoice in our prosperity. We’re told to count it all joy when we face trials of various kinds. A w pink in a quaint statement says, the Fuller be our Cup of Joy. The steadier at the hand required to hold it. The fuller B the Cup of our Joy. The steadier the hand required to hold many of us would testify to the fact that that prosperity in whatever form it comes as a far harder challenge than that, which brings us to our knees. And here you have it in the life of the king, that one after God’s own heart and somehow or another in the great mystery of the purposes and providence of God. This is then taking place In jobs resistance. There was actually a way of escape, wasn’t there? You remember Paul says in first Corinthians 10, he will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that, which you were able. But he will with the temptation provide you with a way of escape. And here comes job of all people and says, why would you delight in such a thing? Why would you do this? So it is that when we force our way through the restraints that God puts to save us from our foolishness, we ought not to be surprised when we’re all broken up or if you like, if we push our way through the hedge, we are not to be surprised that there are a lot of tears left as a result of the thorns that we’ve had to negotiate where God has put a hedge of protection right in front of it saying, don’t do this. That’s the census. Now. In verse 10. The judgment three things Again, first of all, the confession of David’s lips. Although we have suggested that the problem may have been the imagined security of self reliance. We’re actually not aware of the details here. Again. We’re not given the details of why David felt as he felt. This is conjecture on our part. We’re saying it would seem that this is distinctly possible. But we can’t say so categorically. But what we do know in verse 10 is that he’s not hiding from the responsibility. David’s heart struck him after read number the people and David said, I have sinned greatly in what I have done. There’s no there’s no tom Sawyer here. There’s no the devil made me do it no masterfully and wonderfully. His conscience is not asleep. It’s a dreadful thing if your conscience goes to sleep. If your conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron, Where no longer are you able to feel the impact of sin. David has not reached that point. God has been merciful to him. And you will notice that the arrival of the prophet follows rather than precedes or provokes his confession. Earlier in our studies, we realized that it was the arrival of Nathan that brought these things about here. You will notice that the prophet arrives after his confession, not not before it, what he might have imagined to be a source of pleasure has proven to be the cause of pain. And so he says, oh Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant. I hope you realize what he’s saying there. I hope it immediately takes you back to second Samuel 12 where the word of the prophet Nathan to him is gloriously. The Lord has put away your inequity. You think that you are now in a position that is absolutely unresolvable. You think that you have sinned yourself into oblivion as it were. He says, No, no, no, no. The Lord has put away your iniquity. That’s what the Lord does. And so essentially what David is saying is, Lord do what you do, Do what you do. You alone can forgive you alone, can cleanse you alone, can put a new spirit within me. I have done very foolishly. Sin is actually really stupid. Always doesn’t seem silly, doesn’t seem foolish. Seems like genius. Solomon. David’s son would later write, the way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man or a wise woman listens to advice. Listen to me Children. That’s why you have a mom and dad. In part you have only one mother in the whole world. Listen to her, listen to her. There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. Oh, Lord, he says, I’ve been a fool. Do for me, what only you can do? That’s his confession. And then there’s a decision that has to be made, verse 10 must have been quite a night. And in the morning the arrival of the prophet brings David face to face with the fact That the census was part of the out working of the anger of the Lord against Israel. It’s quite remarkable. And then you have these three opportunities. Three things I offer you verse 12, 3 years of famine. God says you want three years of famine. Would you like three months of being confronted by your foes or would you like three days of pestilence? Three years, three months, three days. Hertzberg. The commentator suggests that the shortening of the duration corresponds with an intensification of their content. And I think there is something in that when you see the impact of the plague. And so if your text is open in front of you, you will see there. So God came to David and told him and said to him these things, God tells David that God is waiting for an answer. I smiled to myself as I wrote that down in my notes because I said, the average american cannot get this right because when I hear you say God, you actually say God. So you got a real problem here about who’s on first. So God told him about God, you needn’t practice it now. But when you get home in front of a mirror. Alright, I have others for you. But we’ll save that for another sunday. And so you will notice from verse 14 that David decides against option to the foes. How do we know that? Because he says, well, I’d rather fall into the hands of God than hand into the fall in the hands of man. That was option two. Do you want that? No, he doesn’t want that. And he leaves God to decide, it would seem between number one and number three prefers to fall into the hand of the Lord rather than into the hand of man. Why? Because he knows who God is. The Lord. Your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant that he made with you. To Toronto Me Chapter four and the people of God have lived in the light of that. And David is living in the light of it too. It’s interesting why God chooses to involve David in this. I don’t really know of any other place where God gives you an option on what kind of punishment you would like for your sin. Perhaps it’s simply to show him and to remind us that David was unable to save his people from God’s judgment and as a result, he’s in great distress. The calamity is clear, his perplexity is obvious and the need for mercy is real. Now the progression is straightforward, isn’t it? In verse one. The anger of the Lord was kindled here. Now, the pestilence is sent by the Lord And the impact of the pestilence is described for us there incidentally, the 70,000 men. When we come to these numbers again, as we’ve said before, the word for 1000 was also used as a military unit. A military unit would involve people number between five or maybe 14 and so if that is the case, then the Number of men would actually be more like 700 rather than 70,000. It doesn’t actually matter. It’s not a main, a main and a plane thing. But it is an indication of the fact that the judgment of God was ostensible. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind about the fact that God had done it and what had happened. But the mystery in it again is that God we’re told prevented the plague from doing as much damage as it might have done. You’ll see that when it comes to Jerusalem and he stretched out his hand, the angel did toward Jerusalem to destroy it. And the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the Angel Enough’s enough, what was God doing here? Oh God was being God in wrath. He was remembering mercy. He was revealing that he is a merciful and a gracious God that he is slow to anger that he has no pleasure in the death and destruction that sin brings, that God has no pleasure in the death and destruction that sin brings and God’s promise And it was a real promise that he would not forsake his people, But he would preserve them for the sake of his name. You can read this back in first, Samuel chapter 12. For the Lord will not forsake the people for his great name’s sake, for his namesake. In other words, as he looks upon his people and he looks upon his place, and as he executes his judgment, he reaches out as a word to the angel, he says. And that’s enough. You can stop right there. Why? Because of the kind of God? Yes, for his name sake! For his name’s sake is always for his name’s sake. It’s not for your sake, or my sake. Or David’s sake is for his sake. David knows this, he wrote the 23rd psalm. The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want he makes me down to lie in pastures green. He leadeth me. The quiet waters pie my soul he doth restore again. And he and me to walk, Darth make within the paths of righteousness, even for his own namesake. So that God might be seen to be God in the execution of his judgments and in the dispensing of his mercy. So don’t stumble as we’ve fiddled with this before. Back in the earlier sections where we’ve come across the notion of God regretting or God relenting. The relenting of God mustn’t be understood in human terms. But neither should it be emptied of its force. It’s an accommodation to us. The pestilence, we’re told ended by God’s sovereign decision. It ended exactly as he planned it. The Lord’s mercy here did not depend on David’s prayer. It’s quite remarkable, isn’t it? You say? Well, did he not have to pray? Yes, of course he did. But the mercy of God and his decision to judge and his decision to refrain are in keeping with his eternal purpose. Well, the confession of David, the decision that he has to make and the intervention that he offers the Angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor. And David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people behold, I’ve sinned, I’ve done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house. Well, he surely didn’t think they were innocent, did he? Because the anger of the Lord had been kindled against them. But as he sees it, he recognizes that in in in his position of leadership, he would be prepared to bear the punishment in the place of them. But he couldn’t. No one can save one which brings us finally to the altar and versus 18 2 25 and God came that day to David and said to him, go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Iran on the site. So here’s a question that has an answer where? Well, there were told where it was. So David did at the command of the Lord. And then you have this amazing conversation that takes place between a Ronna and David himself. Why is my Lord the king here? David says, well, I can tell you exactly why I’m here. You will see it there. In verse 21, I’ve come to buy the threshing floor from you in order to build an altar to the Lord that the plague may be averted from the people. Apparently the news that the Lord had stopped the destruction and not yet filtered down to David, but we as readers know that although the altar and the sacrifice were important, they had not been the cause of the plague being stopped. It was stopped on the basis of the Lord’s Mercy. Not on the strength of David’s prayer. Even though it was given an answer to the prayer. And there’s another one for you to wake up at 3:00 AM and ponder it was stopped. According to the Lord’s Mercy. It didn’t depend on the prayer. And yet it was given an answer to the prayer, wow! There’s somebody got it over there in the, it’s kind of an interesting conversation, isn’t it? Those of you who are involved in business and sales probably enjoyed this. The idea of, well, no, let me give it to, you know, I don’t know. So on it goes on. And uh, I’ll give you the whole thing says Corona. David says, no, I want to pay the purchase price. And so we’re told the altar was built, the sacrifices were offered sacrifices of burnt offering and of the celebration that responds to the propitious story work of God. Let my Lord take the King and David built there an altar to the Lord verse 25 he offered burnt offerings which were propitiate Torrey offerings for atoning and peace offerings which were celebratory or offerings of thanksgiving. And so the Lord responded to the plea for the land and the plague was averted from Israel. And that’s really how it ends. It’s almost anticlimactic, isn’t it? The narrator, as I said at the beginning, doesn’t end the book with a picture of an ancient king struggling physically and mentally, we find out in first kings, but rather with his picture of David offering sacrifices an important moment, a historic moment. David somehow or another realizes that he is, that he’s part of a drama that is far bigger than himself. And in this moment in time, having experienced all that has preceded it here is the picture we have of him actually, what it provides us with should be no surprise at all because it gives us a sense of anticipation because on the threshing floor of Verona 1000 years previously. In that context, Abraham was told by God to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice there. They’re 1000 years before. On that occasion, the hand of God was stayed and a substitute a ram caught in the thicket, died in the place of the sun. An important place. The very place that 1000 years later, Solomon’s temple would be built the temple, the place where men and women could come before God meet God repent of their sin and be restored to a relationship with him. That temple was only a short distance from the spot that 1000 years later, the son of David, the good shepherd would lay down his life for the sheep. You see what David desired to do. He couldn’t do. He was the king after God’s own heart, but he was human. He was sinful. Well, maybe you could punish me and let them go. You can’t do that, David. But there is one who will do it. He was wounded for our transgressions. He was bruised for our inequities. The chastisement was upon him that brought us peace. There’s no one else, no one else who can save us from sin, save us from ourselves and save us from the wrath of God. Accept jesus, the son of David paul saul of Tarsus. He didn’t believe that he thought it was all a big nonsense. Some of you are here today. And perhaps that’s your perspective too. And then he met jesus and when he writes to timothy, he says, you know, there was shown to me Mercy Merci see he thought that with all of his background and his capacities and his intelligence and his religion, that somehow or another he was high up on the spectrum. Mhm. It was only when he was brought Law I was shown nursing all the love that drew Salvation plan. Oh the Grace that brought it down to man. O the mighty gulf that God did span at calvary Mercy. There was great and Grace was free and pardon there was multiplied to me. There my burdened soul found liberty at calvary. The whole story of the whole bible points us to jesus, The one in whom Mercy there’s more. Father, Thank you. Thank you for sending jesus. Thank you, jesus that you came. Holy Spirit. Won’t you tell us more about his lovely name? For? We ask it in his name. Amen. This message was brought to you from truth. For life where the learning is for living. To learn more about truth. For life with Alistair begg visit us online at Truth for life dot org

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Alistair Begg is the Senior Pastor of Cleveland's Parkside Church (located in Bainbridge, Geauga County, Ohio), a position he has had since 1983. He is the...

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