Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. (1 Chronicles 21:1)
David, an Old Testament type for Christ, may seem schizophrenic in his fluctuating portrayal as at once a man after God’s own heart, while also a lazy king who stayed home to have an affair while his troops went to war. His human failure and sin are starkly depicted by the scriptures. He was specifically chosen by God through the prophet Samuel, and specifically rebuked by God through prophets like Nathan and Gad. While his sin is recorded, so is his repentance (Psalm 51). In today’s verse, we see a Satanic anthropomorphism (a depiction of a spiritual being in human form) as God’s hand of favor is withdrawn from David and Satan is permitted access to the heart after God’s own heart.
What separated David from God on this occasion? God had promised to increase Israel, and He had done it. David pridefully decided to check up on God, ordering a census that was unnecessary except to produce a numerical bragging right. A census in itself was no sin, but one required to inflate the ego of the shepherd by the plenteousness of his flock produced only pride and our God will not stand with us in pride.
Let’s look at counting of sheep from both the perspective of the shepherd and the sheep. I often ask pastors (shepherds) how their Sunday service went. They typically begin — Well, we had a hundred and eleven people in attendance…. Factoid — shepherds count sheep. This is true in the grazing fields and it is equally true where sheep sit in pews. There are many valid reasons to count sheep. Shepherds need to know how much food and water they need, and they have to make sure the sheepfold is large enough to protect the sheep. Our Christian shepherds use the census of their flocks for all of these worthy purposes. Census information also has a darker side. Satan can use it to discourage or conversely to inflate shepherdic pride. More subtly, he uses it to keep shepherds distracted. They can become so prideful with the counting of attendees that they forget their holy purposes. They fail to discern and count those Jesus has saved, healed or delivered. They count the offering basket but overlook to work or the Presence among their own sheep. They sometimes connect with the accounting but fail to simply individually love as He loved. They can be so distracted by the counting that they interact with the ushers but fail to intercede in prayer for the needs of the people with whom God has entrusted them.
However, dear sheep, let’s not over focus on the splinter in our shepherd’s eyes. If we don’t want to been viewed or treated simply as attendees, we should not simply be attendees. Selfish attendance is a cancer in the modern church. As two friends walked out of church after a service on day the first one remarked, ” I didn’t really enjoy the worship that much today.” The second replied, “You weren’t supposed to, we weren’t worshipping you.” When we leave church with a heart full of criticism, it is time to turn our focus to our own hearts. Attending as music or sermon critics is likely not God’s call on our lives. We are either in the wrong place or we are doing the wrong thing. If you find yourself in this sentence, pray and seek God’s guidance.
I have also known a few Christians who love to be recognized for their regular attendance or other helps/works they perform at church services, but who have never shared the Gospel which saved them and have never laid their hands on a hurting brother or sister in loving prayer. Unless I have completely misunderstood 1 Corinthians Chapter 12, mere attendance is not a spiritual gift, and in fact, it may dilute faithful fellowship in Christ.
When you find it necessary to count, record and discuss the census of your efforts and wonderfulness in the Kingdom of God, it is a sure sign of spiritual trouble, and time for some prayerful repentance. Has God called for your census, or has Satan crept in to distract you with meaningless counting? What would your census look like if it had categories like, gossip, criticism, stinginess, or prayer, daily time in the word, a time spent apply His mercy in the life of another?
The Lord’s plan for David and for us is that we rest in the knowledge that His increase will come in all good things in His time, until ultimately —
After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could count, from every nation and all tribes and peoples and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, and palm branches were in their hands; (Rev 7:9)
Don’t waste His time counting the meaningless, and you can’t count the multitude, so leave that census to the Lord. Refocus, retool, repray and repent. Your life as a shepherd critic must end for your life to fulfill God’s holy purpose.