Community in Action August 7, 2020

Most of you know I am taking an on-line class about the prophets in the Hebrew Bible, we call the Old Testament. This class, like many others I have taken, explores the bible in its cultural context. The teachers are not only scholars in their subject matter, but also Christians always considering how the Hebrew Bible influences our Christan faith.

    Yesterday we studied the time when David chose to take a census of the people of Israel, see 2 Samuel 24. When I first read this passage I didn’t see why a census was an issue, but as we studied the cultural context I learned that normally a census is only taken for two reasons.

    The first is to raise taxes. People are identified in their communities so the King can be sure to collect taxes from each of them. Usually the taxes collected in Israel are contributions to the temple, the upkeep and funding for the workers there. Yet there is no indication that there is a greater need for the temple so the taxes collected would just go into the King’s treasury.

    The second reason to take a census is so the King would know how many men can be conscripted into the King’s army. At this time there is no immediate need for raising a larger army unless the King plans to start a campaign to conquer more land. Again this reason for a census would be to benefit the King, not for a greater defense or to follow a directive from God to increase Israel’s territory.

    Joab the chief commander of David’s army tries to dissuade him from taking this census, but David insists that a census be taken from the very north of Israel, where the tribe of Dan is located, all the way to the southern most point found at Beer-sheba.

    Joab, with the rest of the commanders of Israel, complete the census and tells David there are 1,300,000 men within the territory of Israel. David realizes his sin against God, not because of the counting of people, but because of his intentions to enlarge his kingdom unnecessarily.

    David is met by Gad the prophet who tells him because of his sin the people of Israel will suffer. David has three choices and chooses a three day pestilence as the punishment. People from Dan (farthest way north) to Beer-sheba (all the way south) start to die, mounting to 70,000 people total.

    David cries out to God admitting it is all his fault, the people shouldn’t have to pay for his sin and he wants to know what he must do stop the pestilence. God directs him to build an altar on a hill just north of the then city of David. This is where a threshing floor currently exists owned by a king of the former people David conquered, the Jebusites.

    The threshing floor is the place where people bring their grain to have the wheat separated from the chaff. This is also an illustration of what God does in times of judgment, he separates the good from the bad. It is at this place, which David purchases from Araunah the Jebusite, an altar is built, a sacrifice is made, and God averts the pestilence from Israel.

    There are so many questions this story brings up, but the first I have mentioned is that David chose to take a census even though he was counseled not to. He chose to feather his own nest at the expense of the people, through taxation and conscription, and later they suffered because of his bull headedness. David chose to move ahead to satisfy his wants without regard of his true calling as king. As the King, David was to provide for his people and protect them.

    Perhaps the primary lesson I learned from this story is our calling takes precedence over our flights of fancy to satisfy our capricious wants. There is nothing wrong with fulfilling our desires, but we must first ask if in doing so will it feed our ego over benefiting those around us. We are called to be a community which cares for each other and seeks the best for that community first and foremost.

    Let us continue to seek the greater good for our community by serving them well.

    Seeking to serve with you,

    Pastor Randy

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