“Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercy is great….’ So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men.” (2 Samuel 24:14-15)
Towards the end of his life, David made a lot of mistakes. There was his infamous adultery with Bathsheba, which led to great unrest in his home. His children were a bit wild, and David’s failure to discipline them resulted in one of his sons murdering his brother and then seizing the throne. David was eventually able to retake the kingdom, but then one day he had a fateful idea. Wouldn’t it be great, he thought, if there was a census of all the people of Israel? Then he could know once and for all just how big his kingdom was. So he sent out his commanders, and they traveled through the land of Israel, counting all the men who were able to go to war. The result was an impressive 1,300,000. Things were looking good for David.
But there was a problem—God was not happy about David’s census. No one really knows why the census was wrong. Some people think that David was being greedy, because he knew that people had to pay a small tax on themselves whenever they were counted. Others speculate that he was arrogant, and seeing in writing how big his kingdom was appealed to his ego. But in the end, the reason doesn’t really matter; the point is, God didn’t like it. David had sinned—and he knew it. 2 Samuel 24:10 says that “David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people.” He immediately went to God, confessing his sin and begging for forgiveness. The next morning, God sent a prophet to David. He had three choices concerning the consequence of his sin: 1) three years of famine, 2) three months of running from his enemies, or 3) three days of disease in the land.
Talk about a hard choice! Any one of these would have serious detrimental effects. In the end, David chose the third option; it was better, he maintained, to fall into God’s hands than man’s. So a plague came, and 70,000 of David’s 1,300,000 men died. Israel was only spared from further destruction by God’s mercy in putting an early end to the disease.
It’s scary to think about how our sin can affect other people. We like to think that our sins really aren’t that big of a deal; after all, we’re the only ones who are actually hurt by them, right? And God will forgive us, anyway. But while the latter part is true, the first part is a big, fat lie. When you sin, everyone around you is affected by it, whether noticeably or not. For an example, say you’ve had a bad day at work. When you come home, your neighbor is playing extremely loud music, and you really want him to stop. But instead of asking nicely, you stomp over to his house and bang on his door, yelling at him to turn down the music or you’ll call the police. Your neighbor replies by throwing a baseball at you, which you dodge. But the ball sails through the air and crashes into your elderly neighbor’s window, breaking the poor old lady’s favorite vase and giving her cat a concussion. All that stemmed from your reaction to your less-than-ideal circumstances that day.
The English poet John Donne once wrote that no man is an island. Nowhere is that more applicable than sin. You were grumpy about your bad day; your neighbor’s cat was knocked out. David conducted a census; widespread death ensued. Sin is serious. Yes, God will forgive us, but there are still going to be consequences. We won’t be the only ones hurt by it; our friends and family will feel the effects, too. Sin. Is. Serious. We never need to forget that.