David Numbers the People


David Numbers the People

A Sermon by the Rev. James P. Cooper

Carmel Church – October 16, 2005

And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” (2SA 24:10)

David’s census of the people takes place near the end of his (tumultuous) life.

Born in Bethlehem of Judea



Warrior who killed Goliath, slew Ten Thousand Philistines



David orders Joab to “number” the people

Moses had numbered the people in the wilderness

But only because the Lord commanded him to.

David did this entirely on his own

Even Joab knows that it is wrong – and Joab is not known for his high moral standards.

But the king commands, so it is done.

Joab and the army travel from Dan to Beersheba

Throughout the whole country, from one extreme to the other.

After almost a year, they return with the numbers

800,000 soldiers in Israel

500,000 soldiers in Judah

It is at this point in the story that we hear that David recognizes his sin.

What makes him suddenly aware of his sin? We don’t know. But isn’t it often the case that we do things with all the best intentions, and only see the harm that we have caused through our “good deeds” when they are done? Like when you borrow something that is very special to a friend without their knowledge, and then lose it or break it?

The prophet Gad brings the message that David is to choose his own punishment.

The whole nation is to suffer a famine for 7 years, or David, himself, is to be pursued by his enemies for three months, or the people are to suffer a plague for three days.

David throws himself on the Lord’s mercy

The Lord chooses the smallest (shortest) punishment, the three day plague and stops the angel short of Jerusalem.

It is clear that the simple act of counting people, taking a census, is not a sin:

AE 453:2: Who does not know that there is no iniquity in numbering a people? Yet here the iniquity was so great that David, on account of it, was threatened with three punishments from which he was to choose one, and of the pestilence which he chose seventy thousand died. But there was a reason for this, namely, that “Israel and Judah” represented, and thence signified, the Lord’s kingdom in the heavens and on the earth, and “to number” signified to know their quality, and to arrange and dispose accordingly, and that this belongs to the Lord alone.

This is one of those places in the Word where the internal sense is deeply hidden within the internal sense. The connection is not obvious, as it is in a story where a wicked person gets caught and is punished. The only reason this incident is recorded in the Word is for the sake of what it represents, something that could only be known by revelation from heaven.

From “Dan to Beersheba ”

Since Dan is in the extreme north of the country, and Beersheba is the extreme southern boundary, “from Dan to Beersheba” is an idiom for “the whole country.”

AC 2723: The whole range of celestial and spiritual things taught by doctrine is meant in the internal sense where the land of Canaan is said to range from “Dan even to Beersheba”; for the land of Canaan means the Lord’s kingdom, also the Church, and therefore means the celestial and spiritual things taught by doctrine.…

To “Number”

AR 364: “To number,” in the spiritual sense, signifies to know the quality, because a “number” in the Word does not signify a number, but its quality (n. 10); for the Lord’s heaven consists of innumerable societies, and these societies are distinguished according to the varieties of affections in general; in like manner all in each society, are distinguished in particular. The Lord alone knows the quality of the affection of each individual, and disposes all in order according thereto. By “numbering,” the angels understand, to know this quality.

To judge the internal states of another

But even worse, to judge yourself

There are 3 dangers here

To believe that you are condemned for a single deed, or even a period of your life when you lived in error. It is mercifully provided that all our deeds are left behind with the natural body. Our eternal home is determined by the things that we do when we begin to express our ruling love while in the second state in the World of Spirits.

Another error is to believe that good is your own, when it is from the Lord, and related to it is a third error which is to believe that evil is your own, when it is from hell.

AC 10219:3: But so long as a man believes that he does all things of himself, both goods and evils, so long goods do not affect him, and evils adhere to him; but the moment that he acknowledges and believes that goods flow in from the Lord, and not from himself, and that evils are from hell, then goods affect him and evils do not adhere to him; and, moreover, in so far as goods affect him, so far evils are removed, thus he is purified and liberated from them. But so long as the state of man is such that he cannot perceive and be sensible of the influx of goods from the Lord, so long he does goods as from himself, and yet ought to acknowledge and believe that they are from the Lord. When this is the case, he also is liberated from evils; but in order that he may be liberated from evils this acknowledgement must be the confession of the heart itself, and not of the lips only.

Why was David’s punishment a plague that killed 70,000 people, most of whom were presumably innocent?

Again, the real meaning is deeply hidden in the internal sense and only available to us through revelation.

Every evil has its own punishment, and in this case we see that the plague is the only punishment that reverses the original sin and returns the king and thus the kingdom) to order. The punishment is appropriate because “to number” the people is to make judgements about them that only the Lord can make, thus taking something to self that belongs to the Lord. The punishment, the way to return to order, is to humble self, acknowledge that “numbering” is for the Lord alone to do, and that we are all under His government and Mercy.

AC 10219:4 That a “plague” denotes the penalty of evil, is evident without explication. There are three plagues which follow those who attribute to themselves the truths and goods of faith and love, or who believe that they merit heaven by their works; for they who attribute these to themselves believe also that of themselves they merit heaven. These three penalties are:

That they cannot receive anything of the good of love and the truth of faith.

That evils and falsities continually pursue them.

And that the truths and goods received from infancy perish.

These three penalties are signified by the three plagues which were proposed to David by the prophet Gad on account of numbering the people, which were: seven years of famine; a fleeing of three months before their enemies; and a pestilence of three days.

We are simply not equipped to judge our own inmost states, let alone those of others.

If we have too high an opinion of ourselves, if we believe that we are good, then we can’t get rid of our evils because we cannot see them in ourselves.

If we can’t get rid of evils, we can’t prepare for heaven

And what good we do have will be removed as we are prepared for hell

If we have too low an opinion of ourselves, if every time an evil thought flows in from hell we think it is our own, we will want to protect it and nurture it.

On the other hand, if we saw that, as is the truth, that evil and falsity are from hell, we would flee from them.

It would be really helpful if all evil thoughts were presented by some kind of fearsome demon, instead of popping up inside our own heads and pretending to be our own.

But, to protect our spiritual freedom, they are not – so we’ll just have to keep examining our own thoughts and comparing to what we know is true from the Word and do the best we can.

The balanced view of this whole situation is this:

We (human beings) are not all good (Humanism). It’s not safe for us to assume that if something sounds good or feels good or seems to come from within our own mind that it actually is good.

On the other hand, we are not all bad, either. (Calvinistic Predestination) It’s not right for us to assume that anything that sounds good or feels good or comes from any source other than the letter of scripture is evil and from the devil.

The Writings of the New Church give us a new view, a third choice. We are the ability (faculty) to choose freely in spiritual things.

Let us use the truths of the Word to help us choose wisely.

From Dan to Beersheeba

In the other world, after death, the Lord will examine our spiritual states, and bring them into order

Pestilence for three days

If we are good, our evils will be completely removed.

Angel Stopping at Jerusalem

The preservation of the core of good, the good character that will guide our life to eternity in heaven.

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. {2} “In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. {3} “And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. {4} “And where I go you know, and the way you know.” (John 14:1-4) AMEN.

First Lesson: 2SA 24:1-17

Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” So the king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, “Now go throughout all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and count the people, that I may know the number of the people.” And Joab said to the king, “Now may the LORD your God add to the people a hundredfold more than there are, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king desire this thing?” Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab and against the captains of the army. So Joab and the captains of the army went out from the presence of the king to count the people of Israel. And they crossed over the Jordan and camped in Aroer, on the right side of the town which is in the midst of the ravine of Gad, and toward Jazer. Then they came to Gilead and to the land of Tahtim Hodshi; they came to Dan Jaan and around to Sidon; And they came to the stronghold of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and the Canaanites. Then they went out to South Judah as far as Beersheba. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. Then Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to the king. And there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men. And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “Go and tell David, ‘Thus says the LORD: “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.” ‘ ” So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.” And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.” So the LORD sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of the people died. And when the angel stretched out His hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the destruction, and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “It is enough; now restrain Your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.” Amen.

Second Lesson: LUK 6:37-42

“Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” And He spoke a parable to them: “Can the blind lead the blind? Will they not both fall into the ditch? “A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher. “And why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not perceive the plank in your own eye? “Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me remove the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the plank that is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck that is in your brother’s eye. Amen.

Third Lesson: AC 10219 (port.)

AC 10219 That there be no plague in them in numbering them. That this signifies lest there be the penalty of evil in doing goods as from self, is evident from the signification of a “plague,” as being the penalty of evil; and from the signification of “numbering the sons of Israel,” as being to set in order and dispose the truths and goods of faith and love, thus to do them.

It is said “as from self,” because the goods which a man does he does as from himself, nor does he perceive otherwise until he is in faith from love. For goods flow in from the Lord and are received by man, and those which are received are at first felt no otherwise than as in himself and from himself; nor is it perceived that they are from the Lord until he comes into knowledge, and afterward into acknowledgement from faith. For before this he cannot reflect that anything flows in from the Divine; nor can he at all perceive this, that is, be sensible of it in himself, until he begins to will and to love that it be so.

[2] This is like the life itself in man, and his two interior faculties of life, which are the understanding and the will. Who before instruction does not believe that life is in himself, and thus that what he does from this life is of himself, and in like manner his understanding and will? although both his life in general, and his understanding and will, flow in; the truths of the understanding and the goods of the will out of heaven from the Lord, but the falsities of understanding and the evils of will from hell. For unless there are spirits and angels with man through whom this influx is effected, he cannot live a single moment, consequently neither can he think or will. Amen.



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