Early in my dad’s ministry, an older retired preacher gave him this piece of advice.
He looked at my dad and said, “Young man, don’t touch the glory!”
I recently thought about that statement when I was reading 1 Chronicles 21. Every now and then, I come across a story in the Old Testament that causes me to pause and wonder, “what was that about?”
Do you ever have that experience?
That was my experience when I read 1 Chronicles 21. It is the story of God’s great displeasure with David for taking a census of the people of Israel. God’s displeasure with David’s action resulted in the death of 70,000 men in Israel.
What was that about?
The passage begins by telling us that when David suggested taking this census, Joab, the commander of Israel’s army begged David not to go through with it. He said of David’s plan, “Why should it be a cause of guilt for Israel?” (v. 3) And in verse 6, he called David’s plan “abhorrent.” Joab knew that there was something terribly offensive to God in David’s request.
But David insisted and so Joab complied. Over nine months later (2 Samuel 24:8) the numbers were fully collected and there were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword in Israel and 470,000 such men in Judah.
What was so wrong with this ill-conceived census?
First, there were explicit instructions to follow whenever God ordered a census to be taken. Aside from the fact that God did not initiate this census, the protocols established for the taking of a census were disregarded by David (Exodus 30:12).
But perhaps more importantly was the motive David had in taking this census. His motive seemed to be connected to his military ambitions. Note, there were 1,100,000 who “drew the sword.” It seems to me that the motive of David’s actions had to do with his pride. His trust was in the strength of his army and not in the strength of his God.
“Young man, don’t touch the glory!”
The glory belongs to God. Our trust is in God. It reminds me of Psalm 20:7. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.”
Ironically, the judgment against David and the people of Israel was three days of pestilence in which 70,000 innocent men of Israel fell. Clearly, God’s power was on display in the short span of a few days.
However, God showed mercy when David humbled himself and repented. “It is I who have sinned and done great evil”, David confessed. He pleaded for God to relent of his judgment. God heard his prayer.
David built an altar where God relented of his judgment and we learn at the beginning of the next chapter, 1 Chronicles 22:1, that this was the site where the house of the LORD would be built. It was the eventual site of the Temple – the place where sacrifice for sin would be made.
This helps answer the question...“What was that about?”
The beauty of the placement of this story in 1 Chronicles is the reminder of the mercy and grace of God for sinners like you and me. In the very next chapter, we have the beginning of the story of the building of the Temple in Jerusalem.
Romans 6:23 tells us we all tend to want to “touch the glory.” “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” But then comes the mercy of God through Jesus. It is what causes us to want to cry out like Paul did three times in Ephesians 1.“To the praise of his glory and grace.”
All glory be to the Father, and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit.
Don’t touch the glory!