Monday, January 14, 2013

David's Killer Census as a Paradigm for Applying Scripture

You know the passage that says taking a census is wrong.  Remember?  Right.  Nothing in the Bible says taking a census is wrong.  Yet David was wrong for taking a census in 1 Chronicles 21.  God killed 70,000 in Israel with pestilence because of David's census taking.   Other census were taken without such a punishment.  Other passages even allow for a census, and yet David's census was wrong.  How was he supposed to know?  We know it was a sin (vv. 1, 8, 17).  But what passage did he violate?  None.  Again, how was he supposed to know?

David was supposed to apply Scripture.  His census wasn't living by faith.  Chapters 18-20 recount the military victories that God gave David, showing God's protection in fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (1 Chronicles 17).  God defeated the foreign nations as a part of His promise.  And then David numbers the people (chapter 21).   We don't know the particulars of how David wasn't living by faith---it was either that he was taking undeserved credit, fearful for the future, or both.  It is assumed that David was to have known this was wrong.  We are responsible for applying Scripture.  We are to know that certain actions are not acting in faith or are acting in faith, even though the Bible doesn't say one way or another.

Was punishing David for something that the Bible doesn't and didn't forbid "exceeding that which is written"?   Was it adding to Scripture, thereby subtracting from the effectiveness of the Bible in David's life?  Obviously not.  The passage provides a paradigm for applying truth.  God has revealed truth.  He expects us to understand it and apply it.  Would God have killed 70,000 Israelites if it wasn't something that He knew David could apply?  Again, of course not.

One passage used by evangelicals to justify their lack of application is 1 Corinthians 4:6, where they will quote from the New American Standard Version, "learn not to exceed what is written," which the King James translates, "not to think of men above that which is written." The text there gives one particular point about our evaluation of men, making sure not to judge leaders outside of a scriptural evaluation.  There we go.  But that has become a proof text for only judging where the Bible has something specifically to say about it.  What occurs, of course, is that passage is ironically applied only in areas that fit favorably with an evangelical's church growth methods.

You can't judge music, because there is no play button in the Bible to tell us what is right music, so if you judge music you are "exceeding what is written."  If you judge art, you are exceeding what is written.  If you judge dress, you are exceeding what is written.  And so on.  But what was written about NOT numbering the people?  Nothing.  And yet God killed 70,000 people.  Obviously God wanted David to judge in an area about which nothing was written.  He was required to apply Scripture, to apply "living by faith" and "trusting God" to not numbering the people.

God won't usually kill 70,000 for not applying Scripture, but He does expect us to apply it.  We are responsible to do so, and we are not exceeding Scripture to do so.  We will give an account for applying the truths and the principles of Scripture.  We can know what they are.  We do know what they are.  We can play dumb.  We can say that Scripture is silent.  We can say that an application will exceed what is written.  But we really can know and do know and are responsible for the application.


Anonymous said...

I really appreciate this lesson.

Anonymous said...

Off the top of my head, I had read in Spurgeon's writings that the reason for the severe judgment was because the half shekel of silver was not collected from the men. This of course was a missed opportunity to picture and give "the sermon-lesson" on the LORD'S provided redemption.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Anonymous,

We could speculate that 70,000 were killed because David did not collect the tax, but that is an argument from silence. In other words, we don't know that David in fact did not require the tax. It doesn't say. We could assume that he did. Thanks for the comment. You are right that a tax is called for, I believe, in Numbers.

KJB1611 said...

David Cloud published this post on his mailing list:

that is a blessing. I am thankful for Bro. Cloud.

Lloyd said...

Interesting that I happen to be reading during my morning devo-tion, 2 Sam 24, which I noticed you did not mention. Verse one says that the LORD moved David against Israel because HIS anger was kindled against it. The LORD knew David's heart in that his pride would move him to act on his own even when Joab forwarned David not to do this. The LORD'S will of punishing Israel's sinful ways was going to be done through David. He was given three choices by the seer, Gad. Pestilence for three days is what David chose, yet the LORD GOD knew that is what he would choose, even though I wholly believe HE allowed David to make his own decision. Yet David their king was at fault for allowing Israel to go their sinful ways, as he did not take care of Amnon after he raped his sister Tama, which allowed the Absalom's debunkle. All goes back to David's grave sin of having Bath-sheba's husband, Uriah, killed in battle to cover his sin of adultry with Bath-sheba.

Jake Norton said...

Really not trying to be overcritical, but I have a couple of comments…

1) If God had more to say to us other than what’s in the bible, why didn’t He just put it in the bible?

2) Who’s to determine which passages require further application other than what God gave?

I would personally stray away from ever teaching something like this. First of all, you’d have to show me a much better example besides an OT passage like this one… show me a time where Paul emphasized anything but exactly what the scriptures say!! Second of all, the example given here doesn’t seem to work with the point being made. The claim that David was completely ignorant of this census being a bad idea, doesn’t line up with vs 1-3 in the text from 1 Chronicles 21 -- Satan provoked him (maybe he didn't know this), and even his own secondhand man warned him about the sin being forced upon his people.

On the surface, this seems very dangerous to me and opens up the door for a lot of false judgment to be brought into our churches. We need to be careful we’re not teaching for doctrine the commandments of men. The bible says that "sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4). So if it doesn't come from the Book, then we're not to judge it. That being said, there are plenty of passages in the bible about dress, music etc than we can draw judgment from. But I do disagree with the premise that God gave us a book that we're left to apply our own reasoning to. Now that may not be what you're trying to imply, but that seems to be the synopsis of what is being said here. If you’re going to make a case for this argument, I’d want to see a better example than this. Show me a time where Paul or Jesus implied that the scriptures leave out any necessary application for Christian living.

Like I said, I’m not trying to be overcritical but I don’t agree with what’s being taught here. Let me know if I’m overlooking something.


Kent Brandenburg said...

Hi Jake,

Let's start with this. Paul said, Let no filthy communication proceed from your mouth. What's filthy communication? Is it just the words "filthy communication"? Or "corrupt communication?"

Another. Paul said, "Pay the pastor" as an application of muzzle not the ox that treadeth not the corn." You see this in 1 Cor 9 and 1 Tim 5.

Here's something even broader. How did OT Israel know that the law, like Paul concluded, was intended to kill and be a schoolmaster to faith or find its end in Christ? Did they have a verse on that?

Every truth must be applied in some way, and we're attacking today the authority of Scripture by attacking its application. This is an attack on truth.

Anonymous said...

I remember reading that the devil tempted him and that counting people wasn't the sin, but pride was. I also that God was already angry with Israel but stopped the angel from destroying them. Don't know when it was stopped though.