David was a man after God’s own heart. That simple old English construction has been misconstrued to fit so many different doctrines regarding personal holiness it boggles the mind. Any student of poetry would be glad to reassure you that this particular phrase clearly means one who has the affectionate approval of God. It isn’t a particularly hard construction to read. The problem arises because people are uncomfortable with the clear sins and hard punishments that are an integral part of the biography of David ben-Jesse the second king of Historical Israel.
These punishments and the sins that precipitated them make it difficult for people to accept that David was a man after God’s own heart, because he fails to exhibit the antiseptic, inhuman character of a Greek hero or a Roman Catholic “saint”. His humanness offends the delicate sensibilities of many readers and they find themselves revising the text to produce a man after their own hearts.
In making this simple error, they set their own standards above those of God. They exhibit the sort of hubris that places one’s own values and judgment ahead of that of the creator. God loved David because he was obedient and compassionate, and mostly because he had the sort of clear vision of God’s Character that is later called faith unto salvation. He trusted God and took God’s word to be so absolute that it stood as a law of nature. He saw the will of God as clearly and as inevitably as gravity or inertia.
That being the case, how could he have been subjected to such painful punishments? The wrath of God was poured out on him through the loss of protection for his family and kingdom. One of his children raped another; a third killed the former to avenge the later and all except Solomon were either killed or lost to depravity. God made David choose the method by which a huge segment of the population of Israel would be killed. David had to weigh life against life and decide between disaster and plague as the means of death.
Clearly some principal must be at work that doesn’t meet human expectations. If David was a godly man, how could God be so drastic toward David? The punishment involving the death of Israelis bears some close examination. What precipitated the pronouncement of death and how was it a punishment for David?
The Bible tells us that David was pleased with his prowess in battle. He had begun to buy into his own press. People had compared him to Saul saying, “Saul has killed his thousands, David his tens of thousands.” This accolade from the people began to go to his head and David felt the need to perform so that the people would not loose interest and quit praising him. Clearly, he was suffering from the same fears and frustration that an aging athlete faces when his body begins to loose the ability to perform on the field or track. David wanted greater touchdowns and homeruns in order to keep the fans happy.
In order to achieve this, he had begun to make plans for a census. What he wanted to do was create a selective service program so that men could be summoned and pressed into service whether they wanted military service or not. More than that it aided in taxation so that he could levy large sums and insure that every person be forced to pay. The census would give him the ability to identify philistine terrorists and insurgents, and it would allow him to begin conquering neighbors such as Edom and Amelek. With a census and conscription, David could create widows, paupers and an Empire. With a census, David could elevate himself to the halls of great emperors like Nebuchadnezzar.
Sounds fine for David. And by extension, the establishment of Levitical Faith in God through the conquered lands would spread the good news of the law and the prophets. Seems like everyone would win except Israel’s enemies, and the people of God would be protected. Their homeland would be secure. Does that not make sense? In point of fact David was building the foundation for a tyranny. God stopped him. The census was allowed to be taken because God will not impede free will, but the census was taken in opposition of many of the fundamental principles of the Law and the prophets. In essence, it was taken in opposition to God’s will.
In the law, there was provision for what is called a city of refuge. This has confused enough people that these cities are often overlooked and don’t enter into the curriculum of most Bible teachers. The purpose of the City of Refuge was to provide a place for the convicted to escape punishment. Now that sounds very alien to the modern Mind Especially the mind of the average American. The idea of an institution created by the Federal or Royal government, whose sole purpose is to thwart the execution of lawful punishments against enemies of the State or the Crown, seems ludicrous. Nevertheless, we have clear instructions to create them in the Received Text of the Canon. This is confusing, until we examine the premises that they are built on.
Fundamentally, Temporal (human) Authority is fallible. Governments and religious organizations make mistakes. They assume that their own suspicion of a subject is sufficient proof of guilt. This makes it incumbent on those authorities to demonstrate their lack of bias and just or fair application of rules and regulations under their purview.
In direct opposition to this principal, years of TV fantasies document the very real trend in Western culture from the presumption of innocence to the presumption of guilt. Any credible course on critical reasoning and logic, will point out the fact that you cannot prove a negative. When the accuser is given the presumption of authority, the accused is forced to prove a contra positive in order to vindicate him or her self.
In a world where the person on trial is guilty until they prove themselves innocent, there is no option but to shift the blame to someone else; Truth is overlooked and devalued; and the guilty go free while an innocent, who is unwilling and/or financially unable to find a victim to blame, is imprisoned or worse.
God is the very essence of Truth and of Justice. Real Godly Justice sets truth above the needs and beliefs of any interested party. Justice tempered with mercy seeks to punish and redeem the guilty, while rewarding and prospering the innocent. Veritasse et mercedes super omniea. Additionally Godly justice insures the anonymity and privacy of the subject who has not committed a crime. So how does this tie in with the Cities of Refuge where the guilty go free?
The truth is, the guilty don’t go free. A genuine believer has confidence on the competence of God to manage and influence his creation. If you have trust in the Character of God you have to concede that he is omnicompetent and that he breathes justice from every pore of his being. Knowing that, you have to accept that he would not allow the guilty to take advantage of an institution he established to thwart justice.You must accept there is a long term outcome that benefits the kingdom and all interested parties who are called of God and obedient to his will.
The city of Refuge allows God to protect the innocent who are falsely convicted. You may ask, “Since God is omnicompetent, shouldn’t he be able to just stop the conviction or hide the accused so that they can’t be punished?” But why stop there? Why wouldn’t God just stop the crime from happening in the first place? Why wouldn’t he just make the guilty confess? The why’s go on ad inifinitum.
The answer is fairly simple. The act of directly altering the course of every individual life so that bad things never happen would not only eliminate freewill, it would result in individuals who are too immature to be considered integrated, mature personalities.
God isn’t looking for small babies to spend eternity with. He wants companions and friends. He wants people who have worked out their own salvation with fear and trembling weighing the costs and choosing to pursue Godly living in spite of the costs. He wants love and obedience freely given not coerced, or offered out of fear of the alternative.
To directly interfere in a visible way with every bad decision made by the wheels of “justice” would obviate freewill but it also would prevent the operation of faith. Who would need to exercise any effort to believe in the character of God, if a voice from on high was directly influencing the outcome of every court case; if the falsely convicted simply disappeared on a regular basis; the courts would simply convict everyone without deliberation and leave it for God to sort out.
So, we revisit the census that David produced. How was it ungodly? It was motivated from pride and it was a means of increasing human control over the course of events. It would have made it nearly impossible for God to influence the wheels of Justice without demonstrated miracles. It would have made it necessary to cause people to disappear or alter their very person in order to protect the falsely accused from the execution of sentence. This census would have made it possible for David to begin consolidating the middle east under one authority in a way that would have prevented God from meting justice against Israel when she was in rebellion.
God’s answer was to apply a higher justice. He permanently altered the demographics of Israel by killing a significant segment of the population. In addition, He punished David by making David an active participant in the destruction of his new toy, this census. David had to agonize over the lives to be lost. He had to accept in a very personal way that those lives were lost through his own pride and he had to watch his dream of a grand empire collapse.
God insured his prerogative to determine justice and to thwart it at the expense of David’s pride. Yet, David was so in tune with the Holy Spirit, that he foresaw God’s next major move, namely the creation of a permanent temple to replace the tabernacle. This demonstrates that even those who are committed to and in tune with God’s will can fall prey to pride and other distractions that cause them to make decisions and judgments in opposition to God’s will. God deliver us from well-meaning, prideful fools.
In Service to our Lord,