26 May 2013

Do Modern Evangelicals Oppose the Census?

Religious 17 Comments

[UPDATE below.]

In my nightly reading I came across this passage in 1 Chronicles 21:

21 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. 2 So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it.”

3 And Joab answered, “May the Lord make His people a hundred times more than they are. But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why then does my lord require this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt in Israel?”

4 Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came to Jerusalem. 5 Then Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to David. All Israel had one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and Judah had four hundred and seventy thousand men who drew the sword. 6 But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s word was abominable to Joab.

7 And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He struck Israel. 8 So David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing; but now, I pray, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”

So this is interesting that Satan moved David to take a census of Israel, and that this was so self-evidently sinful that neither Joab nor the narrator even bothers spelling out the problem. I did some quick Google searching and think this explanation makes sense:

As to why God was angry at David, in those times, a man only had the right to count or number what belonged to him. Israel did not belong to David; Israel belonged to God. In Exodus 30:12 God told Moses, “When you take a census of the Israelites to count them, each one must pay the LORD a ransom for his life at the time he is counted. Then no plague will come on them when you number them.” It was up to God to command a census, and if David counted he should only do it at God’s command, receiving a ransom to “atone” for the counting. This is why God was angry again with Israel and is also why David was “conscience-stricken” after he counted Israel. David knew it was wrong and begged God to take away the guilt of his sin (2 Samuel 24:10).

Here’s my question: Do modern American evangelicals ever bring this up when it’s time for the US government to conduct another census? I’ve never heard this before.

I’ve heard a pastor saying Christians should never swear an oath (e.g. if testifying at a trial). But I’ve never heard any Christian preacher saying Americans shouldn’t participate in a the Census, or even saying that the government shouldn’t really be doing it. Did I just miss that commentary, or is it pretty rare?

UPDATE: I’m not sure exactly what is happening, but it seems some evangelicals are shocked that I would even suggest such a thing. First, I consider myself a born-again, Bible-believing Christian. Second, plenty of famous Christians have no problem saying that the OT forbids homosexual marriage, or even (less often) that America is suffering some type of national tragedy because of our pagan ways. So I’m simply asking, has anybody ever heard a Christian pastor at Census time, bring up the fact that it’s prideful or whatever? I have never heard such a thing, and I’m guessing from the comments neither has anybody else.

17 Responses to “Do Modern Evangelicals Oppose the Census?”

  1. Yosef says:

    So, Satan tricks David. David commands Joab to take a census. And God strikes (all of) Israel. Yeah, that makes sense. That should teach Israel not to let David sin again.

  2. Ken B says:

    Sounds more like god was peeved he didn’t get his cut.
    The count was OK in Genesis, as long as each countee ponied up.

    Doesn’t the prohibition on oaths trace back to Jesus though? That would be a good reason for the difference.

  3. GabbyD says:

    how can god command a census?

    • Ken B says:

      “Sit census.” Assuming a latin speaking god.

  4. RS says:

    First you have to clarify ‘evangelical’. If that means a born-again Christian who believes what God says is true, meaning God’s claim to have written the Bible via the pens of numerous authors over thousands of years, then yes, I am in that ‘camp’. Noticed I don’t like labels?

    Now, to actually answer your question. No, getting “counted” is a hair-splitting ‘rule’ or ‘law’ that trips people up, exactly as early Christians were experiencing. This is nowhere akin to ‘we want you to do such and such, which is illegal…’ understood? We’re talking about whether or not I can drink a beer level of discussion. This is precisely what Paul sought to address in many of his letters. ‘Saved’ people falling back into ‘don’t eat this’ and ‘don’t do that’ rules that were ruining lives. Why? The life of a ‘new person’, a ‘born again Christian’, is radically different than the OT. This is why ‘bad habits die hard’.

    Paul states that in OT times, God ‘gave the Law’ to Israel, not so they could save themselves, but to SHOW them they could NOT! Sadly for most this did not work, and though they were told many times in the OT about ‘the just shall live by faith’, that old “Law” thing just kept tripping them up. And the Jews regularly fell away from serving God, following His ways. The OT is like a looping video. Saved, rebel, punished, repent. Repeat.

    In Jesus’ time the Jewish leaders had established hundreds of laws, one of the greatest being ‘NO work’ on the Sabbath, which turned out to include miraculous healings by Jesus (even done right in their faces)! These ‘hard hearted’ “Pharisees” would beat up the People for not ‘being perfect’, yet gladly their money and praise (i.e. Good morning, Master!), and just as with today’s politicians, they did not obey the law themselves. Jesus called them ‘snakes and vipers’ to their face because of this (and they quickly decided to kill him). These Pharisees, as was their sect title, thought they could earn salvation by obeying in the written ‘law’, but they both failed the Law and also ignored their God who WROTE the law. Which is why Jesus said, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees…” and described their coming judgment.

    Today is the same. All other religions and many “Christian” sects follow the age-old, and actually very prideful, belief that justification before the Creator of all things can be earned by simply following rules, etc., such as attending church on Saturday only, not Sunday, or not drinking coffee, etc. Now if you get them alone and comfortable enough to be honest, EVERY person inwardly knows they are imperfect, make mistakes, etc. A really honest person will simply state, ‘Yea, I know I sin.’ But as they don’t know any other way, they keep trying OR give up and willfully push God out of their mind, easing their fear (temporarily at least).

    Paul said that Jesus’ death and resurrection did NOT replace the Law. What? That’s right, but Paul added, “Jesus ‘fulfilled’ all the Law’s requirements” for US. This is the simplicity and entire point of His death and resurrection. To save us from sin and the condemnation of the Law (which we could not perfectly fulfill). His death was the ‘one time, for all time’ payment for Man’s sin, and His resurrection was designed to clearly demonstrate that any person who knows Jesus will also rise from the physical dead, into a new body built for eternity, one that will ‘never decay’.

    Paul wrote over and over and over again in his letters, that the ‘born again’ Christian life is NOT about rules and regulations anymore, it’s not about keeping count (so to speak) but about learning to trust Jesus’ finished work on the cross (i.e. to ‘pay in full’ for all of our sins) and therefore work diligently to live for God BECAUSE we are saved. Because we are ‘sealed’ by the Holy Spirit who has ‘been put into your heart as a guarantee of salvation’. Because Jesus has promised that ‘no one can snatch you out of my hand’ and because Paul stated, “I am convinced that nothing above, below, no authority or power on earth or Heaven, no pain or trouble, nothing can separate us from God’s love”. Because Jesus said “I am going away to prepare a home for you. In my Father’s house there are many mansions. I will come back again and take you with me.”

    Is it easy? At first yea, and over time it gets harder and harder. I liken living with God like going to the gym daily. First it’s fun and exciting, meeting all those new people, envisioning that great body you’re going to get. And as time goes on, you get used to things, take ‘em for granted at times… Then you get tired, bored at times, dislike the routine, want to get out and party, feel the pleasures of life, eat whatever you like, etc.,

    BUT though you may quit going for a while, get real angry, have a bunch of troubles, whatever the case… when you make the effort to once again GET to the gym and get into that workout, you end up always being glad you went.

    So is it true? Is He real? I am one of many witnesses to the same experience, and yes, it is true. He is real. Is it worth the pain, effort, etc.? There is nothing more worthy. Nothing.

  5. guest says:

    I like how this page explains the issue, for the most part:

    Why did God punish King David for taking a CENSUS?

    This act of David in ordering a numbering of the people arose from pride and a self-glorifying spirit. It indicated a reliance on his part on an arm of flesh, an estimating of his power not by the divine favor but by the material resources of his kingdom. He thought of military achievement and of conquest, and forgot that he was God’s vice-regent. In all this he sinned against God.

    It’s kind of like how God told Abraham that he would be given a son through barren Sarah, but Abraham chose to not wait and had a son through their servant.

    The part of the interpretation above that I didn’t like was the over-emphasis on the motive of military strength. As I recall (I could be wrong), David was just sitting around and decided to take an inventory of the stuff God entrusted to him.

    The same kind of arrogance was part of the account of Nebuchadnezzar (sp?).

  6. MG says:

    Assuming Evangelicals did care about reading nationally actionable injunctions into every little biblical passage, would not the subject passage be superceded (or at least sufficiently rendewred into “a gray area”) by Jesus’ “Render unto Caesar..” If ortohodox Jews don’t have a probem with something like the census, why would Christians?

  7. Matt M says:

    Then, as now, the primary reason for rulers to conduct a census is to make it easier for them to either tax or conscript those they rule over. Seems like plenty of reason to oppose it, regardless of your religion.

  8. knoxharrington says:

    The better question is this – how do we know that Saul, David and Solomon were real? Not so fast, you can’t go to the Bible to prove them up. That’s like going to the Justice League comics to prove the existence of Green Lantern. Where is the historical corroboration for these people? Where are the archaelogical remains of Solomon’s temple? I’ll save you the trouble – it’s all BS.

  9. Blackadder says:

    The better question is this – how do we know that Saul, David and Solomon were real?

    See here.

  10. knoxharrington says:

    “The Bronze and Iron Age remains of the City of David, the original urban core of Jerusalem identified with the reigns of David and Solomon, were investigated extensively in the 1970s and 1980s under the direction of Yigal Shiloh of the Hebrew University, but failed to discover significant evidence of occupation during the 10th century BCE, In 2005 Eilat Mazar reported the discovery of a Large Stone Structure which she claimed was David’s palace, but the site is contaminated and cannot be accurately dated.”

    Read your own source material. The paragraph prior to the one above engaged in interpolation to achieve a desired result. It also referred to the size as being relative to a small tribal area – hardly the grandiose size and importance given to it in the Bible accounts. If Solomon succeeded David and had a kingdom so wealthy and respected that he was called on by kings and queens (Sheba being one from memory) it would stand to reason that sufficient archaelogical data would be present to buttress the claim. If one sets out to find proof of Bible claims selection bias will yield results. For example, the chariot wheel in the Red Sea hoax is a perfect example. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2012/06/chariot-wheels-in-the-red-sea-hoax-persists.html Christians want to find proof and voila – proof. Only, it turns on on closer inspection to be BS.

  11. knoxharrington says:

    “The Books of Samuel, 1 Kings, and 1 Chronicles are the ONLY (emphasis added) sources of information on David, although the Tel Dan stele (dated c. 850–835 BCE) contains the phrase ביתדוד (bytdwd), read as “House of David”, which most scholars take as confirmation of the existence in the mid-9th century BCE of a Judean royal dynasty called the House of David.”

    There is also this little gem. It confirms that the only source of information for David is the Bible and then this object referred to as the Tel Dan stele dated to approximately 150 after David’s supposed reign ended. Hardly a contemporaneous record. The appeal to the majority in the confirmatory sentence is revealing. Which scholars? If I had to guess it is conservative evangelical scholars. My personal take is the Tel Dan stele is a sign for an all you can eat buffet like the Chinese restaurant down the street – the House of Hunan.

  12. Gamble says:

    Sorry Bob but most modern Pastors are agents of the State…

  13. Nick says:

    God had Samuel tell the people in 1 Samuel 8 that asking for a king was a rejection of His rule; most of our brethren, at least in the western churches, never pick up on that fact, either. They erroneously believe that God founded the state after the fall in Eden, a teaching which is found nowhere in the Bible. It was Nimrod, descended from the line of Ham, who rebelled against God and founded the first state at Babel (Genesis 10). The state was formed in rebellion to God’s order of rule by covenantal patriarchy and is inherently evil.

  14. mobile says:

    Isn’t the Book of Numbers just one long American Community Survey commissioned by God?

  15. Judith Z. Ware says:

    thus saith the Lord God of David thy father, I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears; See Gill on Isaiah 38:5 .

  16. Daniel Davis says:

    Apparently people can’t answer questions: no, I’ve not heard a sermon opposing censuses from this text.

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