Christendom’s Crowning Sin
1 Chronicles 21
The Word of God is pre-eminently a book of divine principles and not a mere record of historical facts. In opening it therefore, we must remember that there is nothing haphazard either in God’s ways with men or His writings about men. We read in 1 Corinthians 10, “All these things happened unto them [Israel] for ensamples [types]: and they are written for our admonition.” Thus there is divine design both in the happenings and in the record of them.
The remarkable parallel between the history of God’s ways with Israel and His dealings with us is therefore due, not to mere coincidence, but to the interweaving and working out of these unchanging principles. For this reason this truly significant chapter is full of the most salutary instruction and timely warning. Note how it opens. “Satan stood up against Israel!” But if the chapter opens with Satan against Israel it closes with God for them.
Satan’s dark devices are always directed against God’s bright designs for the blessing of man in any dispensation. His unvarying tactics from the beginning seem to have been to bring God’s attributes, holiness and righteousness, into antagonism with His nature, love. In this way he has aimed at making it impossible for His love to express itself without doing violence to His holiness and righteousness.
What diabolical audacity is this that would attempt to impale the living God upon the horns of such a dilemma!
But how has Satan attempted to accomplish his aim? His plan of campaign is an old one. It dates as far back as Eden. He knew well that God had pronounced death to be the penalty of sin, and he thought that to involve man therein would render love powerless to bless, for God must either smite the sinner with His judgment or lose His character for justice!
In 1 Chronicles 21 Satan is seen once more as the adversary of God and His people. He stands up this time not against a creation, but against a nation concerning whose blessing God had bright intentions. He seems to have the same diabolical end in view in this case as at the first; namely, to make God’s blessing for them as righteously impossible as would be their escape from the just consequence of their sin. So it is written, “Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel.”
But why provoke David? He was the representative head of that nation, and to involve him in sin would be to involve the whole nation in its consequences.
David’s Sin—Why So Serious?
Here the question may be raised as to wherein lay the gravity of David’s action in causing the people to be numbered. Why should it be followed by such terrible results?
Satan’s antagonism is not always evidenced by leading men into sin such as would outrage ordinary morality. One of his most subtle and successful ways is to lead men astray on the vital question of sin, its consequences and its atonement. Any mistake on such a question must of necessity be fatal! In the simple act of counting there can be no wrong, but God had given explicit instructions, long years before, that when His people should be numbered, a ransom—an atonement—should be given for each in the form of half a shekel of silver. There must be no exemption and no difference. “The rich shall not give more, the poor shall not give less” (Ex. 30:11-15).
Nearly half a millennium had passed since the giving of these directions, yet during that time God had neither withdrawn nor modified His demands. Nor was He prepared to ignore or excuse its first violation. It must be either the ransom or the plague, the atonement or the judgment (Ex. 30:12).
Here, then, lies the gravity of David’s sin. Read 1 Chronicles 21 in the light of Exodus 30 and you will easily see that in this numbering of the people by David, the atonement which was the divinely demanded accompaniment was conspicuous by its absence. He had numbered as God’s people those who had never been ransomed. He had left out the atonement.
Hence it was, that on the very people whom God would fain have blessed there must fall in righteousness the plague penalty of Exodus 30:12. Otherwise God must lose His character for justice!
Surely this should speak with clarion voice in the ear of the professor of Christianity today! Is not David’s sin fast becoming the crowning sin of Christendom—the numbering as God’s people those who have never been ransomed?
In Exodus 30 and 1 Chronicles 21 God, as it were, declares, “I will not have reckoned as My people those who have never been ransomed!” Centuries have passed, but He has not changed His mind, and never will.
To be counted as God’s people they must stand before Him in all the value of the atonement! God has never deviated from or modified that principle to this day. It is true we are not redeemed with corruptible things as silver or gold . . . but with the precious blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 11:18); but if the means differ the principle abides.
If the omission of the atonement money in David’s day was attended by such terrible consequences, what must befall those who ignore the atoning blood of Christ?
A Creed Without the Atonement
In the light of this, what can be God’s thoughts of the Higher Critic and New Theologian who deliberately expunge from their creed the atoning blood, while the ear of the ultra-refined, kid-gloved, fashionable professor of Christianity is shocked by the bare mention of the blood of Christ!
“What did you think of the preacher tonight?” said a newly converted wife to her husband, whom she had persuaded to go with her to the gospel preaching. “Oh! he’s very earnest, no doubt, but he talks too much about the blood! It is so vulgar!”
What God calls precious the up-to-date professor pronounces vulgar!
It is left to the Rev. Dr. Popular of the twentieth century to foist upon us the greatest anomaly the world has ever known. A gospel without a vestige of gospel in it, a gospel devoid of the very kernel of the gospel, a gospel that leaves out the atoning blood, of Christ! O ye despisers of the blood, hear the word of the Lord! “It is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul” (Lev. 17:11).
To return to our chapter. The sin has been committed. The plague penalty strikes the people and they die in thousands. At last David owns his fault. See! He falls upon his knees and cries, “Do away the iniquity of Thy servant, for I have done very foolishly.” How terribly Satan’s device seems to have succeeded. Divine righteousness appears insensible to the yearnings of divine love and smites with the plague those whom God would fain have blessed.
It is true David confesses his sin, but his cry, “Do it away,” seems rather to betoken a desire to escape the consequences than any true repentance.
The Inevitable Penalty
God now sends His servant Gad to tell him that He has only one way of dealing with sin, and that is by unsparing judgment. The sin having been committed the penalty must follow. Yet David is allowed to select the form that the penalty shall take. Three years’ famine, three months to be destroyed by his enemies, or for three days the sword of the Lord.
David wisely casts himself on the mercy of God, saying, “Let me now fall into the hand of the Lord, for very great are His mercies.” Down came the stroke of divine judgment. The plague-stricken people fall in thousands before the sword of the Lord. But the angel of death had hardly entered the city of David when suddenly through divine mercy the hand of the destroyer is stayed, and God opens David’s eyes!
He sees the angel of judgment standing between earth and heaven having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem! The effect is instantaneous, and David and the elders of Israel, clothed in sackcloth, fall upon their faces before the Lord. How bitter is the cry that is wrung from David’s heart! “I it is that have sinned. . . . Let Thine hand . . . be on me.” This is the cry of penitence! Not only is there the confession of sin, but an acknowledgment of the justice of the penalty, so that if God had taken him at his word and smitten him be could only have said, “It is perfectly just!”
What a pathetic sight! How Satan seems to have triumphed! His evil designs have worked out with dreadful precision, and righteousness is seen smiting those whom love would have blessed. This is the hour of man’s extremity! This, too, is the moment of God’s opportunity. Satan may know something of divine attributes, but he little knows the resources of divine love!
There in the big, blessed heart of God, full of infinite love, we, like David, may find the source of the gospel of our salvation!
While David the penitent is crying in his distress, Gad the seer is on his way, as a true evangelist, to announce to him God’s provision for his salvation: and that message might truthfully have been couched in Elihu’s words to Job: “Deliver him . . . for I have found (what David failed to find) a ransom.”
Literally Gad’s message to David ran, “Set up an altar unto the Lord in the threshing-floor of Oman the Jebusite.”
How vividly are we reminded of Leviticus 17:11 in this gospel message to David! “The life of the flesh is in the blood: and I have given it to you upon the altar to make an atonement for your souls: for it is the blood that maketh an atonement for the soul.” What divine righteousness demands, divine love supplies!
The Crucial Question
There is no time to be lost! Judgment is only suspended in mercy! David rears his altar and offers his sacrifice. Now comes the crucial question. Will God accept it? If the offering is accepted the offerer is accepted with it and his salvation is secured.
He has not long to wait for the answer, for down comes the devouring fire of God's judgment upon the victim, and He commands the angel to sheathe his sword.
Righteousness is satisfied. Judgment is past and the sinner saved! David’s sin and God’s righteous judgment have met, not on David, as he confessed would have been just, but on a divinely given substitute. David might truthfully have said in his joy what we sometimes sing in ours:
“Accepted I am in the once offered Lamb,
It was God who Himself had devised the Man.”
How wonderfully all this foreshadows the victory of divine love for our salvation at Calvary. “There is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus; who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (1 Tim. 2:5-6).
Let us hold tenaciously, in the faith of our souls, to the precious atoning blood of Christ, and remember that when the despisers of the blood and their theories shall have perished for ever, our eternal theme shall be, “Unto Him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in His own blood, . . . to Him be glory and dominion for ever. Amen.”
Simple Testimony 1912