Second Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21 each tell the story of David sinning against God by taking a census of the Jewish nation. There has been much speculation regarding the exact problem with the census. The people had been counted many times before without any indication that it was a sin against God. From 1 Chronicles 21, we gather that the idea for this census was prompted by Satan. Perhaps David was exhibiting false, self-glorifying pride in himself, by figuring out just how many soldiers he commanded. Taxation amounts were also dependent on census numbers in ancient Israel. Maybe David was guilty of pride in self; maybe he was guilty of greed or oppression of the poor. That is all speculation; however, we do know that Joab counseled against taking the census. David ignored the advice of his most trusted advisor and took the census anyway. The Bible is not clear on just exactly what David’s guilt was, but it is clear that he was guilty and the Lord was very angry with him. The Bible is also clear that the Lord was angry with the whole nation.
The Lord sent Gad the prophet to David with a choice. The choice was gut-wrenching. The word of the Lord is sure. Punishment was inevitable and David would have the awful responsibility of choosing one of three terrible possibilities. 2 Samuel 24 gives the account, Thus the Lord says, “I am offering you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you.” So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? NASU
David considered his options and rightly discerned that the choices were all very costly and very painful. Seven years of famine would punish the whole nation for a very long time. Three months of fleeing from enemies would create death, destruction, and chaos. The results could be long term and they would be costly to not only him but the whole nation as well. Three days of pestilence or plague in the land could be very bad but it would certainly be short term compared to the other two choices.
David confesses to be in deep distress as he makes his decision. He wisely makes his decision based on something other than the length of the punishment. David’s answer is given in 2 Samuel 24:14, Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.” NASU Any advice or reasoning that suggests placing oneself at the mercy of man rather than the mercy of God is absolutely faulty reasoning. Be sure of this; sin will lead to famine, flight, or pestilence. One or more will come to you in this earthly life because of your sin. You likely will not get to choose which one, like David did. The most important consideration is this: One day, and who knows how soon, each and every one of us will fall into the hand of the Lord in an eternal sense. You will not get to choose your punishment. Learn from David; he is correct. God’s mercies are great, but only for those who trust in His plan of eternal life through trusting in Jesus Christ. Keep in mind that it is a free offer in the sense of you cannot do anything to earn it. It does however cost you everything in the sense that you must turn over your whole life to His control. Also remember that it is a limited time offer. If Christ returns first or death comes to you first, the offer is no longer valid. Do as David did, place yourself into the hand of the Lord; His mercies are great, great, great!