The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 73: The Last Years of David
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The overthrow of Absalom did not at once bring peace to the
kingdom. So large a part of the nation had joined in revolt
that David would not return to his capital and resume his
authority without an invitation from the tribes. In the confusion
that followed Absalom's defeat there was no prompt and decided
action to recall the king, and when at last Judah undertook to
bring back David, the jealousy of the other tribes was roused,
and a counterrevolution followed. This, however, was speedily
quelled, and peace returned to Israel.
The history of David affords one of the most impressive
testimonies ever given to the dangers that threaten the soul from
power and riches and worldly honor—those things that are most
eagerly desired among men. Few have ever passed through an
experience better adapted to prepare them for enduring such a
test. David's early life as a shepherd, with its lessons of humility,
of patient toil, and of tender care for his flocks; the communion
with nature in the solitude of the hills, developing his genius for
music and poetry, and directing his thoughts to the Creator; the
long discipline of his wilderness life, calling into exercise courage,
fortitude, patience, and faith in God, had been appointed by
the Lord as a preparation for the throne of Israel. David had
enjoyed precious experiences of the love of God, and had been richly
endowed with His Spirit; in the history of Saul he had seen the
utter worthlessness of mere human wisdom. And yet worldly
success and honor so weakened the character of David that he
was repeatedly overcome by the temper.
Intercourse with heathen peoples led to a desire to follow
their national customs and kindled ambition for worldly greatness.
As the people of Jehovah, Israel was to be honored; but as
pride and self-confidence increased, the Israelites were not content [p. 747] with this pre-eminence. They cared rather for their standing
among other nations. This spirit could not fail to invite
temptation. With a view to extending his conquests among
foreign nations, David determined to increase his army by requiring
military service from all who were of proper age. To effect
this, it became necessary to take a census of the population. It
was pride and ambition that prompted this action of the king.
The numbering of the people would show the contrast between
the weakness of the kingdom when David ascended the throne
and its strength and prosperity under his rule. This would tend
still further to foster the already too great self-confidence of both
king and people. The Scripture says, "Satan stood up against
Israel, and provoked David to number Israel." The prosperity
of Israel under David had been due to the blessing of God rather
than to the ability of her king or the strength of her armies. But
the increasing of the military resources of the kingdom would
give the impression to surrounding nations that Israel's trust was
in her armies, and not in the power of Jehovah.
Though the people of Israel were proud of their national
greatness, they did not look with favor upon David's plan for so
greatly extending the military service. The proposed enrollment
caused much dissatisfaction; consequently it was thought necessary
to employ the military officers in place of the priests and
magistrates, who had formerly taken the census. The object of
the undertaking was directly contrary to the principles of a
theocracy. Even Joab remonstrated, unscrupulous as he had
heretofore shown himself. He said, "The Lord make His people a
hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king,
are they not all my lord's servants? why then doth my lord
require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?
Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore
Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to
Jerusalem." The numbering was not finished when David was
convicted of his sin. Self-condemned, he "said unto God, I have
sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I
beseech Thee, do away the iniquity of Thy servant; for I have done
very foolishly." The next morning a message was brought to
David by the prophet Gad: "Thus saith the Lord, Choose thee
either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before [p. 748] thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee;
or else three days the sword of the Lord, even the pestilence, in
the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all
the coasts of Israel. Now therefore," said the prophet, "advise
thyself what word I shall bring again to Him that sent me."
The king's answer was, "I am in a great strait: let us fall now
into the hand of the Lord; for His mercies are great: and let me
not fall into the hand of man."
The land was smitten with pestilence, which destroyed seventy
thousand in Israel. The scourge had not yet entered the capital,
when "David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the Lord
stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword
in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the
elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their
faces." The king pleaded with God in behalf of Israel: "Is it
not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is
that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep,
what have they done? let Thine hand, I pray Thee, O Lord my
God, be on me, and on my father's house; but not on Thy people,
that they should be plagued."
The taking of the census had caused disaffection among the
people; yet they had themselves cherished the same sins that
prompted David's action. As the Lord through Absalom's sin
visited judgment upon David, so through David's error He punished
the sins of Israel.
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