King David ordered a census of Israel and Judah, which made God angry. He did this to enroll men into the army. The problem was that the advantage of the Hebrews was never the size of their army but the size of their God.
David eventually sees the error of his ways and cries out to God for forgiveness. God responds in a fascinating way. He tells David to pick one of three options. The first choice is three years of famine, the second is three months of fleeing from their enemy, and finally, three weeks of plague from the hand of God.
In the following verse, David tells the prophet, “I am in deep distress. Let us fall into the hands of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” (2 Samuel 24:14 – NIV 2011)
God sends an angel to bring a plague on the land. For three days, something awful comes over the people of Israel and Judah, and 70,000 people die. But as the angel turns toward Jerusalem, the Lord says “Enough,” and he withdraws his hand of punishment.
This story is interesting in several ways, but I find David’s decision to be the most amazing. He chooses God’s wrath over the armies of his enemies because God is great in mercy. He understands that people are not very gracious. They can be mean and cruel. But God is far more gracious than any human can imagine. And David is correct in his decision; God relents from destroying Jerusalem and his people entirely in his overwhelming mercy.
One of the overarching themes of the Bible is that people who obey God have a tough life to live, but we also have a gracious God. One far more gracious and kind than you and I will ever be.