And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it. And Joab answered, The Lord make his people an hundred limes 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 (I Chron. 21:2-4a).
The numbering of the nation was to take place only prior to military action. They were numbered when the departed from Egypt in preparation for the invasion of Canaan (Ex. 12:37). Forty years later, they were numbered again, also in preparation for that invasion (Num. 26:51). This was holy war. The nation was numbered because it was a holy army. Only in preparation for holy war was the nation lawfully numbered. At that time, each male 20 years or older had to pay blood money – atonement money – to the priests (Ex. 30:12-16). This was not a civil tax, i.e., a “head tax,” which would have been paid to the State. It was an atonement payment.
David numbered the people despite the fact that no holy war was looming. Joab understood that David was breaking the law. David was attempting to assess his army’s strength. Why would the king need to do this except in his role as the senior military officer in command of Israel’s holy army? He wouldn’t. Joab recognized that this was some kind of military assessment by the civil government — an illegitimate act under the Mosaic system.
Joab warned David, who refused to listen. As a result, God brought a plague on the nation: 70,000 men died (II Sam. 24:15). This was appropriate; God had really been angry with Israel. “And the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah” (II Sam. 24:1).
The issue was David’s error of judgment. Joab recognized that David had told him to do something illegitimate. What should Joab have done? He did Warn David, but David ignored his warning. Then Joab went out and did what he knew was wrong.
Is It Time to Resign?
When a Christian is told to do something morally wrong, he should refuse. But Joab was not a man to refuse the king. He had already killed Uriah the Hittite, on the instructions of the king, in David’s stupid attempt to cover up David and Bathsheba’s adultery. (People could count to nine then, as today.) What was illegal numbering compared to becoming an accomplice to a murder? Answer: about 70,000 times worse, as it turned out.
Therefore, Joab should have resigned his commission. He could have announced: “I will not be a part of this. This is wrong. God will bring judgment against you or the nation.” He did as he had been told. Again. But Joab did save his own life. He had warned the king. God did not kill Joab during the plague. He received a reward for his partial honesty.
Down the military chain of command. No one resigned. They numbered the people. Then God brought the plague.
That fateful question – “Should I resign?” – is never easy to answer. When a person is told by a lawful authority to break the law, he has to make a decision. He asks: Is the law more important than the consequences of breaking it? He also asks: If I get caught, am I willing to bear the consequences? Some laws deserve to get broken on occasion. But what of God’s laws? This makes things far less subjective, less problematical. Men are to obey God, not other men (Acts 5:29).
(For the rest of my article, click the link.)