Many banks and investment companies have a feature on their websites that provide a 360-degree snapshot of all your assets and liabilities. Subtract your liabilities from your assets and the resulting figure is your net worth.
David’s census of Israel seems to have had a similar intent. This was probably David’s attempt to calculate all the military resources at his disposal (v. 3). A census was not absolutely forbidden in Scripture. The Law of Moses prescribed that a ransom be paid to the Lord for each person counted (Ex. 30:12). The nature of David’s sin in this instance is not entirely clear. Did he count the people without collecting the required ransom? Or was it something else?
Certainly spiritual forces were in play as well. According to verse 1, Satan was the one who incited David to take this action. Interestingly, the account of this incident in 2 Samuel 24:1 says that the Lord was angry with Israel and “incited David against them.” God and Satan had different agendas. Satan’s intent was destruction. God’s aim was divine discipline.
As a result of his rash action, David was asked to make a terrible choice, and his decision led to a plague in which seventy thousand men died (vv. 12–14). If it had not been for God’s own merciful intervention, the plague would have destroyed Jerusalem.
The sight of the angel of the Lord positioned between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword extended over Jerusalem, prompted David to intercede for Israel and the plague was halted (v. 16). In a mysterious conjunction of judgment and mercy, the spot where the destroying angel ceased his terrible work also became the location of the temple David’s son Solomon would build.