1 Chron. 21:17
By George Slover
And David said to God, “Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has sinned and done evil indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.” (1 Chronicles 21:17)
The first verse of the chapter states: Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1) Joab, commander of Israel’s army, tried to dissuade David from bringing guilt upon the nation, but the king overruled him. Thus, God punished Israel. This led to David’s confession: “I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing; but now, I pray, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” (1 Chronicles 21:8)
God gave David three options for punishment: ‘either three years of famine, or three months to be defeated by your foes with the sword of your enemies overtaking you, or else for three days the sword of the LORD-the plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ (1 Chronicles 21:12) David’s reply led to the death of 70,000 men in Israel. Furthermore, David saw an angel ready to destroy Jerusalem. This is where David intercedes with the words spoken in verse 17.
David takes full and personal responsibility for this tragedy. He offers no excuses for his transgression and blames only himself. He submits himself as an object of punishment and wishes to relieve his people from the plague and suffering.
David’s confession is a full acknowledgment of his own offense. He frankly and freely owns all the sin that is his: “I am the one who has sinned”; these sheep, what have they done? “It’s my fault! Spare the people!” Like any one with character, David is willing to take the punishment for his personal sin.
In this confession, David also acknowledges God’s mercy (vs. 13) It is better to fall into the hands of God than the hands of men. In all his dealings God is just, but also full of mercy. David looks upon his sheep as guileless and innocent and pleads for God’s compassion to spare them.
What a pathetic scene! An angel who has smitten throughout Israel is passing by Jerusalem, his sword drawn! The king is clad in sackcloth prostrate before the Lord. When confession is offered in such an humble, self-renouncing position, it will surely prevail with God!
From Expository Files