When The Same Thing Isn’t The Same Thing: A Brief Reflection on 1st Chronicles 21

censusAtheists often claim that the Bible was written in order to keep the powerful in power and keep the oppressed in subjection to them. Yet if this is the case, then it doesn’t even come close to accomplishing this goal. The leaders of Israel, for instance, who sinned were not given a free pass to do whatever they pleased. They were judged, disciplined, and humbled by God. The ministers in the tabernacle were not given a free pass either, but were disciplined and punished by God for their failure to keep his law. The same can be said of the prophets and priests and kings of Israel, too.

Noah’s sin of drunkenness is not hidden from us by God, neither are Abraham’s lying and Moses’ murderer and anger. How, then, do the Scriptures oppress the common man and give a free pass to those in power?

They don’t.

Among the leaders who sinned grievously and did not get away with it, we may add King David. David’s sins of murder-by-proxy and adultery are well known to any semi-biblically literate person. David’s new conceived child, i.e. the fruit of his adultery, dies. His son Absalom openly defiles women and defies his father the king, later dying a shameful death.

What many readers of the Bible forget is that there is another sin for which David is disciplined, and one which seems to pale in significance to murder and adultery. The sin?

Taking a census.

In 1st Chronicles 21:1-7, we read:

Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to numberb Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the army, “Go, number Israel, from Beersheba to Dan, and bring me a report, that I may know their number.”  But Joab said, “May the Lord add to his people a hundred times as many as they are! Are they not, my lord the king, all of them my lord’s servants? Why then should my lord require this? Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” But the king’s word prevailed against Joab. So Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came back to Jerusalem. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to David. In all Israel there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword, and in Judah 470,000 who drew the sword. But he did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab.

But God was displeased with this thing, and he struck Israel.

According to the Law of God, David’s act of taking a census was illegitimate and, therefore, sin. We read in Exodus 30:11-12:

The Lord said to Moses,  “When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom for his life to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them.”

David, apparently, did not obey the law of God regarding taking a census of the Israelites. Consequently, the Lord struck the people of Israel with a plague.

Rather than being exempt from obeying the law of God, even the anointed king of Israel was subject to God’s authority. Even the king of Israel had to obey the Lord or be disciplined for his sin of disobedience. Even if the infraction of the law is seemingly insignificant.

Even when the majority of the book in which this narrative appears consists in the enumeration of the various people constitutive of the people of God.

The Same Thing Isn’t The Same Thing

As I read about the judgment brought upon Israel for David’s sin, I was struck by how David’s taking a list of the people of Israel was not very much different from the author of 1st Chronicles’ taking a list of the people comprising Israel in his day. As the chronicler enumerated the various families of Israel, identified their place in the nation (i.e. explains whether they are priests or soldiers, etc), so too David enumerated the various people of Israel.

To the casual reader, myself included in this, David’s actions seem to be pretty insignificant. But they weren’t, for several reasons.

  1. David’s role as king of Israel was to reflect God’s role as King of kings. By not doing what God does, i.e. by breaking God’s law, David was misrepresenting the Lord God. David was failing to properly represent Yahweh.
  2. David’s role as king of Israel was also to model faith and obedience to Yahweh, to lead by moral example. David’s disobedience was a bad example to Israel.
  3. David’s sin of not following the Law in its detail teaches us that God’s Word cannot be neglected without there being consequences. David either ignored or purposefully refused to obey a fraction of it. As a result, he and Israel were judged severely by God.

What this also teaches us is that obedience to God’s Law is either complete or non-existent. David’s census-taking was not “the same thing” as the census taking incorporated into the book of 1st Chronicles itself. And the point of differentiation is detail ignored by David but acknowledged and obeyed by the writer of the book.

The Absoluteness of Law and Grace

The “same thing” is not the same thing, in other words. Rather, behavior that appears to pass muster with us may very well be judged severely by God. The Law does not show partiality, after all. The Law allows for no exceptions to its demands.

Yet neither does the Gospel allow for exceptions to what it promises. And in 1st Chron 21:11-12 we read:

So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Choose what you will: either three years of famine, or three months of devastation by your foes while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, pestilence on the land, with the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.”

This is not the Gospel. That will come to view in a few verses. But for now, note the last judgment: “Three days of the sword of the Lord…” Three – not one or two or four or six but three – days.

Among the possible judgments of God, after which the judgment of God would cease and Israel would be reconciled to God, was a judgment lasting three days. After three days, the people of God would be restored to him. Their sins would be atoned for. He would no longer be angry with them for the sin of their representative.

This is the punishment David chooses.

The three days of judgment, however, are not placed upon the worthy recipients – i.e. Israel and their sinful representative – but upon an innocent animal slaughtered in their place, for their reconciliation, for their atonement.

We read in 1st Chron 21:26-27:

David built…an altar to the Lord and presented burnt offerings and peace offerings and called on the Lord, and the Lord answered him with fire from heaven upon the altar of burnt offering.  Then the Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath.

The judgment due to David and Israel, because of David’s sin, was atoned for by the death of a substitutionary sacrifice, an innocent burnt offering bearing the sins of many.

Concluding Remarks

The claim that Scripture was written to keep the oppressed in subjection to their oppressors is a lie fabricated out of ignorance or malevolent intentions. What is actually contained in the Bible is just judgment for all sinners, regardless of their position in life, regardless of their connection to God’s covenant people. Judgment falls on those who deserve it.

Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samson, David, and countless anointed leaders of God’s people were not exempt from God’s anger, displeasure, disciplinary action, and judgment.

Thankfully, however, Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Samson, David and all who would repent of their sin and believe in the Gospel will find that their sins have been placed upon another, a sacrifice who died, and after three days of being dead arose to newness of life – the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ the Son of God.

Contrary to the claims of some atheists, Scripture does not allow men of power to remain guiltless for their sins. Scripture does not allow men in power to believe that they are above God’s Law.

The Law is not a respecter of persons. And neither is the Gospel.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; but to all who receive him, who believe in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.

Soli Deo Gloria

-h.

Unbelief Isn’t Historically Conditioned – Carl F.H. Henry [An Excerpt]

henry[The following is an excerpt from Carl F.H. Henry’s brilliant God, Revelation, and AuthorityVol. 1.]

…the popular notion is preposterous that television or radio can mesh anyone directly and at once to the objective course and meaning of the external world of events. While viewers may indeed feel that they have a ringside seat on all facts and events, the camera severely limits the viewers’ field of vision; viewers are actually restricted, in fact, to what producers schedule and depict, and what program monitors select. What’s more, viewers do not even actually see what commentators and cameramen see, since each person’s sense impressions are of necessity his and his alone.

Liberty in reporting, in selecting and interpreting media content, varies widely from culture to culture. How totalitarian tyrants exploit the power of the media to enslave the masses by seizing control of radio, television and the press is well known. In communist countries the party line dictates what the public has a right to hear and see; the media are a tool for extending Marxism. No less aware of the media’s pervasive influence are free world entrepreneurs who enlist Madison Avenue to promote products, personalities or principles of varying merit or demerit. According to Burt Zollo some seventeen hundred public relations agencies and sixty thousand promotion specialists are engaged to establish the public image of corporations and executives in the United States and to stimulate sales (The Dollars and Sense of Public Relations, p. 2).

Fantastic myth-making possibilities hover over this technocratic world of magic whose creative imagination and artful visualization seem able to shape a new reality almost at will. Periodic warnings suggest the awesome possibility of manipulating entire masses of people by careful contrivance. Certain countercultural radicals have charged, for example, that a military-industrial complex controls the American media even though, in fact, the media have often and boldly challenged the military by critical and even unsympathetic reporting. Black revolutionaries for their part assert that Euro-American white cultural values saturate the media. Others suggest that so-called Western-white values are often insinuated so overpoweringly that the intelligent viewer is frequently turned off to other alternatives.

The crisis of word and truth is not, however, in all respects peculiar to contemporary technocratic civilization. Its backdrop is not to be found in the mass media per se, as if these sophisticated mechanical instruments of modern communication were uniquely and inherently evil. Not even the French Revolution, which some historians now isolate as the development that placed human history under the shadow of continual revolution, can adequately explain the ongoing plunge of man’s existence into endless crisis. Why is it that the magnificent civilizations fashioned by human endeavor throughout history have tumbled and collapsed one after another with apocalyptic suddenness? Is it not because, ever since man’s original fall and onward to the present, sin has plummeted human existence into an unbroken crisis of word and truth? A cosmic struggle between truth and falsehood, between good and evil, shadows the whole history of mankind. The Bible depicts it as a conflict between the authority of God and the claims of the Evil One. Measured by the yardstick of God’s holy purposes, all that man proudly designates as human culture is little but idolatry. God’s Word proffers no compliments whatever to man’s so-called historical progress; rather, it indicts man’s pseudoparadises as veritable towers of Babel that obscure and falsify God’s truth and Word.

We need therefore to abandon the notion that modern science and its discoveries are the major obstacles to a living faith in the God of revelation and redemption. In earlier prescientific times, men negotiated their spiritual revolt just as vigorously and did so without invoking science and technology as a pretext. Oscar Cullmann writes with discernment: “We must reject the false notion that our separation from the biblical witnesses has been caused by the progress of modern science, so that today we cannot believe in salvation history because our world-view has changed. We must see clearly … that the most recent discoveries … in no way make faith in salvation history more difficult than it was for men during the days of early Christianity. This faith was just as difficult for men at that time and for philosophers of that age as it is for us, even though their philosophy was different from that of our age” (Salvation in History, pp. 319 f.). In other words, the modern crisis of truth and word is not something historically or culturally unique.

-h.

Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Universal Responsibility

new baby first picGod is Sovereign Over All Things

Like any other human reality, marriage, sex, and childbearing are under the Sovereign rule of God. It’s easy to forget this in our time, given the realities of contraceptive measures and, sadly, the  ever-reaching tentacles of the abortion industry in the US and abroad. Children are seen as a threat to the accomplishment of personal goals, a hindrance, a “punishment” (as one infamous person once characterized it).

A child will ruin your chances at creating your own destiny. That’s the message being rammed down our throats.

But is the message true?

Scripturally, men and women were created by God to be servants. God created Adam to “work the ground” and maintain it (Gen 2:15). He created Eve to assist in the tasks given to Adam (cf. Gen 2:18). God then gave Adam and Eve the following commands:

Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.
– Gen 1:28

In case you were wondering: By commanding our parents to be fruitful and multiply, God wasn’t commanding them to plant fruit trees and find the product of 2 and 2. He is commanding them to have sex and produce children, enough to fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over its sea, air, and land creatures.

These commands aren’t just for Adam and Eve, mind you. Rather, the commands are for all subsequent humans. Adam and Eve are real human persons, but they also stand in our place. Adam and Eve’s roles in the book of Genesis are demonstrative of the roles that all men and women have been created to play, as later didactic passages of Scripture make clear.

This is all to say: No, it isn’t the case that having children keeps one from fulfilling his destiny. In fact, it’s actually the other way around. To willfully not have children is to keep oneself from fulfilling one’s destiny.

[Incidentally, the fact that marriage and sexual reproduction are commanded by God presents an insurmountable problem for the Roman Catholic claims that Mary was simultaneously (a.) a perpetual virgin and (b.) absolutely free from any stain of original sin. For if Mary remained a virgin, then she sinned by not engaging in sexual intercourse with Joseph and bearing children as his helper/helpmeet. She could only remain sinless, therefore, by not remaining a virgin. And she could only remain a virgin by not remaining sinless.]

Children Are A Blessing

Among the many biblical beliefs that I mocked prior to my conversion, the claim that children are blessing was definitely present. I bought the lie that children stood in the way of truly being human, truly exercising one’s natural abilities in a way that best serves oneself and the world.

Yet what does the Scripture say?

Behold, children are a heritage from the Lord, the fruit of the womb a reward. Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the children of one’s youth. Blessed is the man who fills his quiver with them! He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate.
-Ps 127:3-5

Either these words are true, or they are not true. There is no third option. God himself states that children are a blessing from him, neither a burden nor a punishment nor a curse. A blessing.

For the Old Testament saints, the deliverance of a child and the deliverance of God’s people from slavery to sin, death, and the devil go hand in hand. Hence, the blessing is not merely physical, emotional, psychological, and societal. The blessing is also spiritual.

It was through the deliverance of a child from the womb that God took on human flesh to deliver us from sin. And the birth of every child should serve as a reminder of this fact. God himself became the greatest blessing, the greatest heritage, and the one through whom all who believe shall not be put to shame.

The Takeaway

Christ Jesus was the child who fulfilled Psalm 127:3-5 fully. However, Christians now can understand how much of a blessing our own children are, as they serve to remind us of what God did for us.

Not only this, but listen to the words of our Lord in the great commission.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit
-Matt 28:19

As Adam and Eve were called to produce children, cultivate the earth, and take dominion over the creatures of the earth, so Christians are called to be fruitful in works of righteousness, preaching the Gospel and making disciples (i.e. multiplying). We are to do this all over the world, destroying every argument and high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of Christ.

Our natural calling as men and women to be fruitful and multiply, then, serves as an analogy, a reminder, of our spiritual calling as children of God who have been born not of corruptible seed, but incorruptible seed, viz. the Word of God.

Some Concluding Remarks

 Given the relationship physical and spiritual fruitfulness and multiplication bear to one another, it is not surprising that the world also tells Christians to tread lightly when preaching the Gospel. The world states that the preaching of the Gospel is not a blessing but a burden. We are told that being a Christian, i.e. living in accordance with God’s commands and preaching the Gospel, hinders us from becoming truly human, or living truly meaningful lives.

But is this so?

Not at all! Adam was a worker in a literal garden. Christians are all workers in the garden of God, i.e. his Church. Adam was commanded to have children. Christians are commanded to have disciples. Adam was told to fill the earth with his seed. Christians are commanded to make disciples all over the world.

We are children of Adam, born to procreate and take care of God’s creation. However, we are also children of God born-again to preach the Gospel and cultivate righteousness and holiness in ourselves and our brethren.

Soli Deo Gloria

-h.

[Btw, I’m having another baby. ;) ]

On Reading 1st Chronicles as a Dad

4065_ItDRvdbd-QMy Children and God’s Children: An Analogy

Like most parents, I often enumerate lists of information to my children throughout the day. Usually the lists contain commands, promises, and little stories demonstrating the commands and promises. But there are other lists, too, lists which are seemingly disconnected from any narrative structure and, therefore, any conclusive moral. My kids don’t mind the first kind of list, but the second makes them confused, cross-eyed, bored, discombobulated. Clark, my two-year-old, is understandably completely lost in such situations. Noah, my four-year-old, doesn’t know how to categorize the list, although he understands more words than Clark. And my eleven-year-old, Ayden, understands the vocabulary, the words, and the structure of the whole – he just doesn’t get it.

Intellectual maturity partly explains my sons’ different responses; moral maturity explains the other part. See, if I had been enumerating a list of furry animals to Clark, he would listen intently. If I had been enumerating a list of cartoon characters to Noah, he would listen intently as well. And if Ayden heard me enumerating weapons, cheat-codes, easter-eggs, and random video game trivia he would be all ears.

Being a stay-at-home dad, for the time being, has helped me to understand the differences between my sons. It has also helped me understand my own failures to dig deeply into 1st Chronicles. Part of the difficulty of reading the book, for me, is that I have a hard time following the genealogical record. The particular details are a little overwhelming for me at times, as my own detailed lists are sometimes overwhelming for Clark (my two year old). Like Noah (my four-year-old), categorizing the genealogies, in light of Scripture’s grand-narrative, is very difficult for me. Like Ayden (my eleven-year-old), I have hard time understanding the point of the genealogies. And like all three boys, I am a sinner who is only interested in hearing what is of direct interest to me, my desires, my goals, my concerns. My Father’s words, unless I view them as personally relevant, go in one ear and come out the other.

The Difficulty With Reading Scripture is Always Moral

I don’t deny “some things in [Scripture] are hard to understand…”[1] 1st Chronicles’ list of non-anglicizable Hebrew names challenges my unilingual mind. I also can’t fully grasp how the genealogy structure fits Scripture’s overall narratological structure or Gospel-focus. However, if I thought 1st was personally relevant, I would be studying more intently. Just as it is with my children, the difficulty in reading the lists of 1st Chronicles is not primarily intellectual – it’s moral.

If I, a sinful man, am pleased with my children’s desire to listen to what is partially incomprehensible to their little minds, then how much more is God pleased with his children when they pray for guidance in understanding his Word? If I, a sinful man, can see that the problem primarily intellectual but moral, seeing as my children want my words to serve their purposes only, then how much more clearly can God see our own moral failures to hear his Word? Scripture can be intellectually challenging, but the biggest challenge is that its main concern is not ourselves but God and his glory. A tough pill to swallow. I know. But once we have swallowed it, we can go on to repent and ask our Father to explain himself to us. We can repent of our self-centered ways of listening to Scripture.

All Scripture is Profitable

With all this in mind, it’s important to remember that God’s Word always does profit us. It is always relevant to our situations. It is always what we need. What I’ve learned from the analogy of my children, however, is that Scripture is first and foremost about God and his glory. It is about Christ and his blood shed for sinners. I am one of those sinners, implicit to the Gospel declaration; I am not the center of the story. The information I give to my kids, no matter how mundane, is never purposelessly given. I have a goal in mind, whether or not my children can see that goal, or whether or not they are concerned with reaching that goal.

“All Scripture,” says Paul, “is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”[2] 1st Chronicles is no exception to this declaration, not even the parts that are difficult for me or you to follow. The important thing to keep in mind when reading Scripture, then, is that it is God’s story about himself, his glory, his mercy, his grace, and his justice. And because Christ became the subject of God’s perfect justice, we Christians are now the implied subjects of his mercy and grace.

Soli Deo Gloria.

-h.


[1] 2nd Pet 3:16.

[2] 2nd Tim 3:16.