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Life of David

Cost of Sacrifice

1 Chronicles 21

The episode in today's lesson is little remarked upon by commentators. It is a pity, for it is a rich passage at the end of the life of David.

(1 Chr 21 NIV) Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. {2} So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, "Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are." {3} But Joab replied, "May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord's subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?" {4} The king's word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. {5} Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah. {6} But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king's command was repulsive to him. {7} This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel. {8} Then David said to God, "I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing." {9} The LORD said to Gad, David's seer, {10} "Go and tell David, 'This is what the LORD says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.'" {11} So Gad went to David and said to him, "This is what the LORD says: 'Take your choice: {12} three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the LORD--days of plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel.' Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me." {13} David said to Gad, "I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into the hands of men." {14} So the LORD sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. {15} And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and was grieved because of the calamity and said to the angel who was destroying the people, "Enough! Withdraw your hand." The angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. {16} David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown. {17} David said to God, "Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I am the one who has sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? O LORD my God, let your hand fall upon me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people." {18} Then the angel of the LORD ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. {19} So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the LORD. {20} While Araunah was threshing wheat, he turned and saw the angel; his four sons who were with him hid themselves. {21} Then David approached, and when Araunah looked and saw him, he left the threshing floor and bowed down before David with his face to the ground. {22} David said to him, "Let me have the site of your threshing floor so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped. Sell it to me at the full price." {23} Araunah said to David, "Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this." {24} But King David replied to Araunah, "No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing." {25} So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site. {26} David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. {27} Then the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. {28} At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, he offered sacrifices there. {29} The tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the desert, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the high place at Gibeon. {30} But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD.


We begin with a look at the people in this passage.

David the sinner

It is not immediately clear from the passage exactly why taking such a census would be considered a sin. It is clear that Joab (who has never been too particular about righteousness) considers it such, even to the point of being repulsive. He clearly knows it's wrong, and tries to persuade David. There are two possibilities:

  • First, David is doing this without taxing the people the half shekel commanded by Moses.[1] That money was for atonement; so, somehow, God connects a census with sin.[2]
  • More likely it is this: David, by counting his warriors, is attempting to rely on his own strength. Joab has it right: it doesn't matter what the count of warriors is - they are all his anyway, and it is God who gives increase.
David, the repentant

The cycle of repentance is seen here:

  • David first sees the punishment of God. He does not call it "bad luck" or "movement in the stock market." He knows God's hand when he sees it.
  • He - and this time without prompting - repents. He confesses to God that he has done evil, and asks that it be remedied.
  • Wisely, when God offers him those three choices, David chooses to be punished at God's hands. Why? Because at God's hands he will be disciplined as a son, for God is merciful.
  • David is the sinner. Since the Atonement has not come, David the sinner must offer a sacrifice.

What motivates this man to want to give away land, oxen and wood?

  • It could be fear. The man has seen the angel of the Lord, and this could be, "Take whatever you want, I'm leaving."
  • It could also be that he is a generous man, and has made the connection with the plague on Israel. It would be a public work, of sorts.
  • Araunah is a Jebusite, one of the people who were conquered when David took the city. It could be that he's trying to curry favor with the king.

Whatever the reason, David rejects his offer. The "why" of this carries our lesson.

I will not offer a sacrifice that costs me nothing

My father put it this way: "If a man's principles don't cost him anything, they aren't worth very much." David here lays out the principle that governs sacrifice. It must be costly. In Old Testament Law it had to be a perfect, unblemished animal that was sacrificed - the kind that brings top payment. David understood that.

Example of sacrifice: the Temple gold

David, at the end of his life, provides a little gold for Solomon to use in constructing the Temple:

(1 Chr 29:3-4 NIV) Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this holy temple: {4} three thousand talents of gold (gold of Ophir) and seven thousand talents of refined silver, for the overlaying of the walls of the buildings,

That sounds like a lot of gold. But notice the phrase "over and above?" David has already contributed:

(1 Chr 22:14 NIV) "I have taken great pains to provide for the temple of the LORD a hundred thousand talents of gold, a million talents of silver, quantities of bronze and iron too great to be weighed, and wood and stone. And you may add to them.

Over a hundred thousand talents of gold! But what's a talent? At this time (it changes quite a bit later) a talent is about 75 pounds. I'll save you the math; at the rates current when this lesson was written, that's over $26 billion dollars in gold. To overlay the walls of the Temple. Over three thousand tons of gold. That's a sacrifice.

But sacrifice is not confined to the rich.

The widow's mite

(Mark 12:41-44 NIV) Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. {42} But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. {43} Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. {44} They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything--all she had to live on."

May I point out just three things in this very rich text?

  • First, note that Christ esteems her gift differently that we would. We see poverty and uselessness; He sees rich giving.
  • Second, this is a mark of love on her part.
  • It is also a mark of faith - that God would provide even after these coins were gone.
Sacrificial, devotional giving

May I give you the three defining characteristics of true sacrificial giving?

  • First, in the world's view, there is no practical purpose to it. The gold goes to line the walls of the Temple; the widow's coins were almost worthless.
  • Second, the cost to the giver is very great.
  • Third, the giver could have given less. It's a choice. Even the widow had two coins.

Lessons for us

Sacrificial giving is the Imitation of God
  • Look at those three characteristics, and examine the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. It is foolish in the world's view; it cost Jesus his very life - and he could have called down the angels of heaven. Such giving is an imitation of Christ himself.
  • Such giving cannot be motivated by fear, or by the compulsion of duty - but must spring from the love in the heart. "For God so loved the world…"
  • Sadly, for most of us, our giving is almost never sacrificial. We give out of our abundance; He gives all he has.
Why we give only out of our abundance

Whether rich or poor, we tend to give only out of our abundance, not sacrificially. Why is this?

  • Lack of faith. We just don't believe that if we sacrifice, God will provide.
  • Lack of love. So many of us have a business relationship with God. When you love someone, sacrifice is not hard. ("He ain't heavy, he's my brother.")
  • Lack of regard for God's majesty. We think he will not miss anything we could sacrifice, nor will he care. But the awesome God is sovereign, and cares very deeply.
  • Low estimate of his mercy. We think we have been forgiven little, and therefore we love little. We need to see the much we are forgiven.
K-Mart or Nordstroms Christianity?

Look at it this way: if it was your birthday present, would you rather the gift box say K-Mart or Nordstroms? How then do you think God values your leftovers? Indeed, just what do you bring to him?

  • "Oh, my gift would be so small it would be useless." Not to the Christ who praised the widow's mites.
  • "I don't think you know how much that would really cost me." That's why they call it a sacrifice.
  • The choice, as always, is yours. God compels no one, and I would not add to that. Just remember the example of the Cross - which tells you how God made his choice.

[1] Exodus 30:12-16

[2] Marjorie Seifert raised an interesting speculation about this: is it just a coincidence that Jesus was born in Bethlehem because of a census? Or is it related to the Atonement?

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