We tend to hoist those we admire onto a pedestal.
Athletes, artists, communicators. It's human nature to elevate those we respect. But when one of those heroes makes a tragic mistake, when they violate the trust they've earned, it knocks us for a loop.
So given our inclination to idolize, how do we prepare for the inevitable moments of disappointment? Today on Insight for Living, Chuck Swindoll walks us through a tragic failure. The real life story is recorded in 2 Samuel chapter 24. The hero was David. Chuck titled today's message, When the Godly are Foolish. If we ever wondered why it was said that David was a man after God's own heart, we have the perfect illustration recorded for us in 2 Samuel chapter 24.
Numerous times in our series we've seen David fail and probably, if you're like me, you've wondered why this would even be said of him. But admittedly, no one is perfect. There are times when even the godly act foolish. It's their response to their acts of foolishness which characterize them as having a heart that beats strongly after God's will and God's ways.
Or, on the other hand, one that is defiant and disobedient. That makes all the difference. So the story today reveals the strong sensitivity of David's conscience and how his heart was truly given to God. His response to his failure and his desire to be obedient to God is what caused David's resume to read that he was indeed a man after God's own heart. And so today I want to read this very moving story in 2 Samuel chapter 24 as it is recorded in the message.
So listen carefully. Once again God's anger blazed out against Israel. He tested David by telling him, go and take a census of Israel and Judah. So David gave orders to Joab and the army officers under him, canvas all the tribes of Israel from Dan to Beersheba and get a count of the population. I want to know the number, but Joab resisted the king. May your God multiply people by the hundreds right before the eyes of my master the king.
But why on earth would you do a thing like this? Nevertheless, the king insisted. And so Joab and the army of officers left the king to take a census of Israel. They canvassed the whole country and after nine months and 20 days arrived back in Jerusalem. Joab gave the results of the census to the king. 800,000 able-bodied fighting men in Israel.
In Judah, 500,000. But when it was all done, David was overwhelmed with guilt because he had counted the people, replacing trust with statistics. And David prayed to God, I have sinned badly in what I have just done. But now God, forgive my guilt.
I've been really stupid. When David got up the next morning, the word of God had already come to Gad the prophet, David's spiritual advisor. Go and give David this message.
God has spoken thus. There are three things I can do to you. Choose one out of the three and I'll see that it's done. Gad came to deliver the message. Do you want three years of famine in the land or three months of running from your enemies while they chase you down?
Or three days of an epidemic on the country? Think it over and make up your mind. What shall I tell the one who sent me? David told Gad, they're all terrible. But I'd rather be punished by God whose mercy is great than fall into human hands. So God let loose an epidemic from morning until suppertime. From Dan to Beersheba, 70,000 people died. But when the angel reached out over Jerusalem to destroy it, God felt the pain of the terror and told the angel who was spreading death among the people, enough's enough, pull back. The angel of God had just reached the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite. David looked up and saw the angel hovering between earth and sky, sword drawn and about to strike Jerusalem.
David and the elders bowed in prayer and covered themselves with rough burlap. When David saw the angel about to destroy the people, he prayed, Please, I'm the one who sinned. I, the shepherd, did the wrong. But these sheep, what did they do wrong?
Punish me and my family, not them. That same day, Gad came to David and said, Go and build an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David did what Gad told him, what God commanded.
Araunah looked up and saw David and his men coming his way. He met them bowing deeply, honoring the king and saying, Why has my master the king come to see me? To buy your threshing floor, said David, so I can build an altar to God here and put an end to this disaster. Oh, said Araunah, let my master the king take and sacrifice whatever he wants. Look, here's an ox for the burnt offering and threshing paddles and ox yokes for fuel. Araunah gives it all to the king and may God, your God, act in your favor. But the king said to Araunah, No, I've got to buy it from you for a good price. I'm not going to offer God, my God, sacrifices that are no sacrifice. So David bought the threshing floor and the ox, paying out 50 shekels of silver. He built an altar to God there and sacrificed burnt offerings and peace offerings.
God was moved by the prayers and that was the end of the disaster. You're listening to Insight for Living. To dig deeper into the Bible with Chuck Swindoll, be sure to download his Searching the Scriptures studies by going to insight.org slash studies. And now the message from Chuck titled, When the Godly are Foolish. When a spiritual leader wanders from the things of God, the consequences are often devastating. When men and women who claim to model the message of Christ defect from that, either by their actions or the very statements that fall from their lips, there's a devastating wake that occurs in the body of Christ. If this were a hypothetical situation, we really wouldn't have any business dealing with it.
But it seems as though it is becoming more and more common to hear of it. My heart broke last Thursday as I, over the phone, spoke with the wife of a man who has for many years modeled the message, both in pulpit and in writing and in various ministries here and abroad whose name would be instantly known if I were to declare it. And the burden of this wife is that for a number of years a man has lived a lie. And her greatest compelling desire is that the Lord do something to turn that life around. It's all she can do to stay quiet when her husband allegedly stands to preach the gospel knowing the lie of his life.
And her heart is, of course, broken over it. In a tape made by Dr. Alan Redpath some time ago in Texas, it was sent to me, and in the tape the man testifies that after leaving Moody Church, he himself slumped into a period of disillusionment in which he carried on a lifestyle that was absolutely unbefitting the things of the gospel, during which time he was miserable and others, of course, along with him. An awful tragic thing, but he feels now a thing of the past. In the summer of 1970, a famous preacher and so-called faith healer was found dead in a hotel in San Francisco.
The coroner's report read, acute alcoholism. And the news swept not only San Francisco but the world and left in its devastating wake a number of disillusioned followers of this man. The man who meant so much to me in my spiritual life was led to Christ by an evangelist that defected and died on Skid Row. The individual himself who discipled me recently divorced his wife. And the hurt and the heartache of that that I experienced is hard to put into words as I labored over just accepting that fact. When I was at a conference, Luis Palau had that as his major theme for all the pastors that were there, encouraging them to stand fast in the faith.
And then almost in back-to-back fashion for a full 20 minutes without naming names, just told of one experience after another in Scotland, in Wales, in South America, in North America, in Canada, in sections that would be immediately known if I were to, you know, people that all of us could put together right away. For example, an evangelist in South America right now living in compromise, and when that truth is revealed, in Luis' words, thousands will be affected by the man's hypocrisy. I am often haunted by the words of James 3, and I'll read them to you from the Amplified Bible, first verse. Not many of you should become teachers, brethren, for you know that we teachers will be judged by a higher standard and with greater severity than other people. Thus we assume the greater accountability and the more condemnation.
The Living Bible takes the last part of it. When we teachers who should know better do wrong, our punishment will be greater than it would be for others. There is, in fact, a tremendous standard leveled by God upon those who lead spiritually. Unfortunately, there are some who are mesmerized by the alleged glamour that accompanies spiritual leadership, thinking that is the synchronon of life, and once there, what a great place to be.
J. Oswald Sanders has a word in season in his book Spiritual Leadership. He has a chapter called The Cost of Leadership that makes this statement. No one need aspire to leadership in the work of God who is not prepared to pay a price greater than his contemporaries and colleagues are willing to pay.
True leadership always exacts a heavy toll on the whole man, and the more effective the leadership is, the higher the price to be paid. Now it would be wonderful if I could announce that as we grow older, we automatically grow up. And as we walk with the Lord longer than we are guaranteed immunity from sin, we will never be immune from its appeal, ever. Often those who fall the hardest are those who have walked the longest with God. Not until the rapture will we ever be what we ought to be and want to be, and in that, guaranteed, it will never change. There is no such thing as outgrowing sin. In 2 Samuel 24, we have a beautiful account of a tragedy, beautiful in that it is vivid so that none of us can ever forget it, but it is a tragedy in its content.
Ironically, the study will bounce back and forth in two chapters. 2 Samuel 24, which you should mark, and then put your finger in 1 Chronicles 21, because we will, in fact, go back and forth. As David, in the latter years of his life, in fact, commits a tragic sin that has an effect upon thousands of lives, we want to analyze the decision to start with that David made, and let me say to start with in the analysis that probably this event took place on the heels of a Philistine-Israeli war. The ancient enemy of Israel has been the Philistines. All the way through the study of David, and again in battle, they have slain the giants.
You might find it interesting in your own reading in 1 Chronicles 20, the latter part, to read about the brothers of Goliath who were also slain. They're weird guys. They're tall.
They've got too many fingers and toes and an interesting group. Well, anyway, the battle is waged and victory happens, and there's sort of the lull in that vulnerable moment after victory. That's when it's dangerous. We're not safe after victory.
We're vulnerable. Maybe in the backwash of a great memory of victory, David is caught in this trap, this mental trap that Satan places before him. Look at it generally in 2 Samuel 24.
Look at the decision that is made. Now again, the anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and it incited David against them. He was, we would say, ticked off. He was hassled by the nation. He was hassled by the circumstance. Perhaps in later years of his life, he became more of an impatient man, whatever, and in his impatience, he said, Go, number Israel and Judah. Now you'll notice he hears wise counsel, but it isn't heeded. The king said to Joab, the commander of the army who was with him, Go about now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, that's north to south, and register the people, that I may know the number of the people.
I want to know how many we have in this land. Kylan Dalitz suggests that his motive was to find out how many were fitted for war. He wanted to find out the strength of his army. Again, he was under the impression that there is safety in numbers.
Furthermore, at the heart of the problem is pride. He wants to see how big his land really is, how vast his kingdom. Now the counsel is in verse 3. Joab said to the king, Now may the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see. David, my desire is that God would multiply a hundred times as long as you're alive, the nation Israel.
Notice the question that is never answered. Why does my lord the king delight in this thing? Joab, in a rare moment, offers wise counsel, but he is outranked by the king.
If you have a boss, then you are outranked by the authority over you, and you have perhaps the freedom to dialogue. But in the final analysis, he says, This is the way it's going to be. And that's what happened to Joab. Joab said, Oh, I wish that the kingdom were greater than ever.
As long as you live, I wish it could be multiplied. But David, don't do this. Or he says literally, Why do you desire this? David's response is not even revealed.
I take it that he said to Joab, You do as I said. Now, when you turn specifically to 1 Chronicles 21, you get a little bit more insight in the decision. Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. That's a mind-boggling statement right there, that the enemy is directly responsible for impressing David's mind with this wayward thought. You know, the battle of our lives occurs in the mind. When the apostle Paul writes of Satan's work, he says, We are not ignorant of his devices. The word rendered devices in 2 Corinthians has in its root the term mind.
We are not ignorant of his ability to get into our minds, those thoughts. And that's exactly what happens in 1 Chronicles 21. He nudges David and he says, Why don't you number these people? Let's see how big the kingdom is.
Take a look at how vast your land is. The same thoughts are revealed in verses 2, 3, and 4. But notice verse 5 in the Chronicles passage. Joab gave the number, verse 4, I'm sorry, verse 4. The king's word prevailed, suggests something of an argument, and he won out. He prevailed against Joab, and therefore Joab departed and went through the land. Verse 5, He gave the number of the census of all the people to David. But verse 6, he didn't do a thorough job.
Joab, he's an independent cuss. He's going to do pretty much as he pleases in the final bottom line of it all, because the king's commandment was abhorrent to Joab. He didn't go along with it.
He didn't like it. I'm going to say more about it, but I think it bears watching how unaccountable David was. He had reached such a peerless position as the king of Israel, he answered to nobody.
He could do his thing at will, and when it came just to somebody like Joab, who was the commander of his army, he could even turn his fist against him and say, I said, do it, and he did it. An unaccountable life is a dangerous life. It's a precarious place to be, where you are not accountable to anyone else in authority, and that's the way David is. His word prevailed because he's the boss. I speak perhaps at this moment to some of you men or women who find yourselves in that trusted and precarious position of being unquestioned in your authority. Be very, very careful. In fact, my counsel to you is find a body of people with whom you can be accountable.
You need it. This carte blanche, loose style of freewheeling leadership is dangerous. Few are the people who can handle it.
Now, personally, I find a couple of things true in this decision revealed in these two places. First, David is out of touch with the Lord. You will not read a prayer. You will not read of seeking God's counsel, the searching of God's word, the law. In the life of David for this decision, he simply decided to do it.
The second thing I observe is that he was unaccountable to anyone around him. That is a dangerous spot to be in. Now, look at the consequences, and I'm glad to move on from this sinful decision to the consequences because it is in the consequences that I think some kind of curtailing, some kind of restraint is communicated to us, and some of us need that very much. Now, let's see. Verse 10 of chapter 24, 2 Samuel.
Go back there now. Now, David's heart troubled him. Thank the Lord for that. That's why he was a man after God's heart. It doesn't mean he was perfect, but it means that he had a sensitive heart for God. His heart troubled him. The Hebrew word is nakah, and it means, it's a severe word. It means to be attacked, to be assaulted.
On occasion, it has reference to a city that is destroyed or slaughtered. It's the idea of being wounded, crippled. In other words, down deep inside David's inner man, this was an aching reminder of God's displeasure in what he had done.
If there were any ability I would love to have, it would be the ability to incite that in people, but no man on earth can do it. When that happens, we are on our way to recovery, but many are the stubborn saints who knowingly step against God's will and run faster and faster, refusing to listen to the troubled heart down inside. Often those in greatest power are those who listen the least to that voice. David is such a sensitive man. It's troubling to him after he had numbered the people. In other words, he got the answers from Joab, and he looked at the report, and as he looked, perhaps the words of his counselor came home to haunt him, and he wondered, why have I done that?
All in the world that does is prompt my pride. David was troubled in his heart after he had numbered the people, and David admits those hard words, I have sinned greatly in what I have done, but now, O Lord, please take away the iniquity of thy servant, for I have acted very foolishly. At this critical juncture in David's story, we need to pause right here, but there's much more teaching ahead. Chuck Swindoll is helping us understand what to do when the godly are foolish. This is Insight for Living, and to learn more about this ministry, we invite you to visit us online at insightworld.org, and if you're looking for a recommended reading list to accommodate your busy schedule, we've set aside some great suggestions for every age and stage of life.
Right now is a wonderful time to update your reading list, and our website clearly illustrates a wide variety of great options. You can easily access this information by going to insight.org slash store, and then let me draw your attention to one of Chuck's most popular books because it'll help your entire family gain a better grasp of key theological truths, truths that are guiding lights in our walk with God. It's called Growing Deep in the Christian Life.
Some consider doctrine and theology sort of ho-hum subjects, but actually, they're anything but. In his authentic and refreshing style, Chuck helps us understand and embrace the key tenets of our Christian faith that bring joy and peace to our life. To purchase Chuck's book called Growing Deep in the Christian Life, go to insight.org slash store, or call us. If you're listening in the United States, call 800-772-8888. As a nonprofit ministry, Insight for Living is completely reliant upon the voluntary contributions from those who value Chuck's daily Bible teaching. So please, as God prompts you to give, follow his leading. If you're listening in the United States, you can call 800-772-8888. That's 800-772-8888.
Or online, go to insight.org. And thanks so much for your generous support. I'm Bill Meyer, urging you to join us when Chuck Swindoll continues to describe what to do when the godly are foolish, Monday on Insight for Living. The preceding message, When the Godly are Foolish, was copyrighted in 1978, 1988, 1997, and 2009, and the sound recording was copyrighted in 2009 by Charles R. Swindoll, Inc. All rights are reserved worldwide. Duplication of copyrighted material for commercial use is strictly prohibited.
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