1 Chronicles 21: Why Was a Census so Bad?
1 Chronicles 21 brings up one of the more complicated and admittedly confusing stories of Biblical history. Verse one sets a very interesting tone.
1Ch 21:1 And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
It is a bad idea to listen to Satan, so the obvious connotation here is that numbering the people or basically taking a census was some major sin.
You have to wonder why. That is the confusing and complicated part. We count things every day, and if you own a business, you certainly know your inventory. In a way, the people were the inventory of Israel. I don’t mean to dehumanize them, but if you are in charge of the country, it is good to know how many people you are ruling. There are many practical reasons that a king would want to know this.
However, in this case, God said that it was bad, and it was so bad that Satan himself was there trying to convince David to do it.
What is the problem?
We can get a little bit of an idea from the reaction that Joab had when David told him to go and count the people.
1Ch 21:3 And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?
Essentially, this sounds like he is asking why David would even bother. They are all his servants anyway, so what does he need to prove by counting them? If I am interpreting that right, then the problem is obvious.
David needed to count them because David wanted to know how great he was for having a nation with so many people. Maybe his interest was beyond administrative and practical. Perhaps pride was creeping in.
That would make sense, and God does have a history of not wanting his people to become proud. That would also explain the harsh reaction were 70,000 people died because of David’s sin.
Pro 16:18 Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.