His Prevailing Intercession
2 Samuel 24
It is both interesting and instructive to note in how many different characters David is brought before us in 2 Samuel 24. First, as the proud and haughty one: which may be inferred from the opening "And" of the chapter (Following upon his remarkable victories, and the extension of his kingdom), and confirmed in Psalm 30:6, which refers to this very time, and will be considered by us in a later chapter. Second. the tempted one, as 1 Chronicles 21:1 more definitely shows. Third as the foolish one, deciding upon a military census when there was no need or divine commission For it. Fourth, the intractable one, when he stubbornly refused to yield unto the counsel of his officers or listen to their remonstrance (vv. 3, 4), determining to have his own way. The logical order in these downward steps is apparent on the surface.
Now on the other side, we behold him, fifth, as the penitent one, mourning over his sins and confessing the same to God (v. 10). Sixth, as the submissive one: not murmuring against the severity of God as he heard the terrible pronouncement of the prophet, but meekly bowing to the divine verdict. Seventh. the prudent one: preferring to fall into the hand of the Lord rather than into the hand of man. Eighth, as the believing and confident one: recognizing and owning the greatness of the divine mercies (v. 14). Ninth, as the chastened one: the judgment of God Falling upon his beloved subjects (v. 15), which he felt more keenly than had the rod descended upon himself and his own house. Tenth, as the intercessor before God: stepping into the breach and making supplication For his afflicted kingdom. Here, too, we may perceive clearly the logical sequence of these things.
It is, however, in this last character, as the intercessor before God, that we are now to specially consider David. But we shall miss one of the most striking points in connection therewith, and one of the most instructive and valuable lessons for our own hearts therein, if we fail to observe very particularly the order before us. It is not every believer who has power with God in prayer. Far from it; rather are there, alas, only few who can prevail with the Lord in their supplications on the behalf of others. Nor is the reason for this far to seek: they possess not the requisite qualifications. They do not have those marks which fitted David on this occasion. If we are walking contrary to the divine commandments (1 John 3:22), or there be un-mourned and unconfessed sin in our lives, then the Lord will not hear us (Ps. 66:18).
We sincerely trust the reader does not weary of our so often calling attention to the order of events in a narrative, for often lessons of fundamental importance are thereby inculcated. It is so in the case before us. It is by duly noting what preceded David’s prevailing intercession, that we learn how we may become successful supplicants on behalf of others. First, there must be a putting right of what in our own lives is displeasing to a holy God: by a genuine contrition for and humble acknowledgment to Him of our offences. Second, there must be entire submission beneath His chastening hand, meekly bowing to His righteous rod. Third, an implicit confidence in His wisdom, faithfulness, and goodness, so that we freely yield ourselves into His hands. Fourth, a real persuasion of the greatness of His mercies, laying hold thereof by faith and pleading the same before Him.
"So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men" (2 Sam. 24:16). First of all, let us note now exactly the punishment answered to the crime! Penitent though he was, yet David must be corrected; and as his offence had been a public one, so is the retribution. But it is indeed striking to see that the rod of God fell in the very place of His servant’s transgression. David had doted upon his thousands, and his thousands must be drastically reduced! God now numbered to the sword, those whom David had numbered to his self-complacency—one twentieth (cf. v. 9) being slain. Clearly, then, it was the pride of David against which this divine judgment was directed. "Whatever we idolize or grow proud of, God will generally take from us or else convert it into a cross" (Thomas Scott).
Yet it is also to be noted that God’s scourge fell immediately upon the people themselves, for it was against them Jehovah bad a controversy (v. 1). "A solemn time it must have been. Pestilence was walking in darkness, and destruction was wasting at noonday, The destroying angel was actively at work, and no man was able to withstand him. Throughout the length and breadth of the land death was claiming its victims. Who would next be struck no one could tell. No remedy availed to cure the sick. No intercession, however urgent, succeeded in preserving the life of a beloved one. All joy must have fled: all energy for ordinary pursuits must have been paralyzed. God was working, and in power. Of old He had laid bare His arm, and worked in power on behalf of Israel; now His hand was outstretched, but in this deadly way against them. Could any charge Him with injustice? No. They deserved the chastisement, though David’s act in numbering them was the proximate cause for this visitation. Helpless, how helpless were they all. Their only hope was in the mercy of God" (C. F. Stuart).
Let us see in this solemn incident a demonstration of how easily God can reduce the haughtiest of sinners; the "day of the Lord" (His acting in judgment) is ever upon those who are proud and lifted up (Isa. 2:12). Then how greatly are we indebted daily to His long-sufferance! Stout-hearted rebels, who carry themselves with such effrontery against the Most High, little realize how much they owe to His wondrous patience; but they shall yet discover there are limits even to that. Some one had pertinently pointed out that, "If the power of angels be so terrible—a single one smiting with death seventy thousand Israelites in a single day—what is that of the all-mighty Creator!" Rightly then does He ask "Can thine heart endure, or can thine hands be strong, in the day that I shall deal with thee?" (Ezek. 22:14).
"So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel From the morning even to the time appointed." This expression "the time appointed" can mean either the close of the third day or, as many think, the season of the evening sacrifice of the first day. The Hebrew may be literally rendered "till the time of appointed assembly," that is, the hour set apart for the meeting together of Israel for the evening worship. The renowned scholar Hengstenberg remarks as follows: "The calamity according to 2 Samuel 24: 16 lasted from morning till the time of meeting, by which we are to understand ‘the evening religious assembly’—compare 1 Kings 18:29, 36; 2 Kings 16:15." But altogether apart from the meaning of the Hebrew, there are two considerations which seem to require this rendering. First, because the phrase, "till the time appointed," stands in opposition to "from the morning." Second, from the statement in the next verse, "The Lord repented Him of the evil."
The last-quoted clause appears to us to plainly denote that He did not go to the Full length of the judgment announced. Yet even in that brief period there fell of Israel seventy thousand, in as many hours as Joab had taken months in numbering the people. But by the mercy of God the duration of the awful pestilence was contracted. Judgment is God’s "strange work," for He delighteth in mercy, yet His mercy never ignores the requirements of His holiness nor sets aside the demands of His justice. And most blessedly may we perceive here the meeting-place of these two grand sides of the divine character. It was the sweet savor of the evening sacrifice which stayed the desolating plague! What a wondrous foreshadowing was this—brought out still more plainly in what follows—of that which is set forth without veil or symbol in the New Testament. The Cross of Christ is where the varied attributes of God all shine forth in blended harmony.
"And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented Him of the evil" (v. 16). Let us first remove a misapprehension at this point. Enemies of the Truth have not been slow to seize upon this reference to the Lord’s repenting (and similar passages, such as Gen. 6:6; 1 Sam. 15:11, etc.), and have drawn the wicked inference that God is fickle, subject to changes of mind like the creature is. But nothing is more clearly revealed in Holy Writ than the immutability of God. "God is not a man, that He should lie; neither the son of man, that He should repent: hath He said, and shall He not do it?" (Num. 23:19); "But He is in one mind, and who can turn Him? and what His soul desireth, even that He doeth" (Job 23: 13); "For I am the Lord: I change not" (Mal. 3:6); "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning" (James 1:17). It is impossible For language to be more explicit, emphatic and unequivocal. If such definite declarations do not mean what they say and are not to be understood at their face value, then it is a waste of time to read the Bible.
Now it is quite obvious to any spiritual mind that the Scriptures cannot contradict themselves, and that there is perfect harmony (whether we can perceive it or no) between those verses which appear to conflict with each other. When we are unable to discern their complete accord then it is the part of wisdom to acknowledge our ignorance and wait upon God for fuller light. And while so doing, those passages which perplex us must be subordinated to others which are plain to us. Thus we may rest assured that those declarations which so positively affirm God’s immutability or unchangeableness are to be regarded absolutely without any qualification, whereas those which seem to speak of His changing His mind are to be taken relatively and figuratively. If some deem this a begging of the question, then we ask them. Does not the express declaration of 1 Samuel 15:29 oblige us to interpret 1 Samuel 15:11 in a non-natural sense? Certainly the Holy Spirit would not contradict Himself within the scope of two verses in the same chapter!
The Fact of the matter is that God often condescends to employ anthropomorphisms in His Word, that is, He graciously accommodates Himself to our limited capacities and speaks after the manner of men. Thus we read of Him being "wearied" (Isa. 42:24; Mal. 2:17), yet in another place we are told "the Creator fainteth not, neither is weary" (Isa 40:28). In Deuteronomy 32:27 Jehovah speaks as "fearing the wrath of the enemy," which is manifestly a figure of speech. Again, in Psalm 78:65 we read. "The Lord awaked as one out of sleep" yet we know full well that He never slumbers. In Isaiah 59:16 it is said that He "wondered," yet nothing can take Him by surprise. Jeremiah 7:13 pictures Him as "rising early," to denote His earnestness. And so we might go on. The "repenting" of the Lord in 2 Samuel 24:16 signifies no change of mind but intimates an alteration in His outward course—the cessation of His judgment.
"And when the angel stretched out His hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it. the Lord repented Him of the evil." Scripture is many-sided and it is only by carefully comparing one passage with another that we are enabled to obtain the full light up any given incident. Such is the case before us here. Above, we have called attention to the significant and blessed fact that the destructive plague upon Israel was stayed at the hour of the evening sacrifice. Now we would point out another and supplementary angle. Of old the Lord had declared concerning Israel. "If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they have trespassed against Me, and that also they have walked contrary unto Me; and that I also have walked contrary unto them . . . If then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity: then will I remember My covenant with Jacob. Isaac and Abraham" (Lev. 26:40-42). This was exactly what David had, in principle, done. He not only confessed his iniquity and humbled his heart (v. 10), but also bowed to God’s rod "accepting the punishment" (v. 14). So that it was now in covenant faithfulness Jehovah acted in causing the plague to cease!
"And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented Him of the evil." In the supplementary account supplied us in 1 Chronicles 21 we are told, "And 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" (v. 16). That "drawn sword" was the emblem of divine justice. How it reminds us of those solemn words of Jehovah, "Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the Man that is My Fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the Shepherd" (Zech, 13:7). And how striking the contrast between the two passages. There in Zechariah, the sword was, as it were, slumbering, and was called to "Awake." Why? because it was against the Holy One: there was nothing in Him personally with which the "sword" could find fault! But different far was it here with guilty Israel: the sword needed no awaking, but was drawn in the angel’s hand.
"And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord repented Him of the evil and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand" (v. 16). How blessedly this presents to us once more the precious truth, which is the sure ground of all our hopes, that with our God "mercy rejoiceth against judgment" (James 2:13). The whole system of Israel had exposed itself to the wrath of the Lord. He might have broken it at once as a vessel wherein was no pleasure. He might have taken away His vineyard from His unthankful and wicked husbandmen: but "mercy rejoiceth against judgment" in the heart of their God, and therefore He commanded the destroying angel to stay his hand. And why? God’s holiness had been satisfied, His justice had been appeased. "It is enough: stay now thine hand": how these words remind us of that blessed utterance of our Saviour’s, "It is finished"—proclaiming the glorious truth that all the claims of God are now fully met.
"And David spake unto the Lord when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let Thine hand, I pray Thee, be against me, and against my father’s house" (v. 17). The exact point at which this intercession occurred is made much plainer in 1 Chronicles 21. There we learn there were two distinct parts or stages to the divine judgment. First, we are told, "So the Lord sent pestilence upon Israel: and there were two distinct parts or stages to the divine judgment. accomplished by angelic agency as is clear from 2 Samuel 24, and it was terminated at the time of the evening sacrifice, and that, by the Covenant faithfulness of Jehovah. Second, "And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it" (v. 15)—a separate thing from the preceding. "And David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord . . . then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces. And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed" (vv. 16, 17). It was at that critical moment he stepped into the breach and made successful intercession.
First, let us notice that David did not here make the fatal mistake of supplicating the angel: no, he was better instructed than are the poor deluded Papists of our day. Second, observe that David did not throw the blame upon the Nation, but criminated himself. "Most people, when God’s judgments are abroad, charge others with being the cause of them, and care not who falls by them, so they can escape; but David’s penitent and public spirit was otherwise affected" (Matthew Henry). This is most beautiful and striking. David took the blame entirely upon himself: "Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed"—it was as though he could not paint his own faults in sufficiently dark colors. "As for these sheep, what have they done?" How dear were they to his heart! No charge would he prefer against them. "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" (v. 17): smite their shepherd, but spare the flock, O Lord.