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QUESTION: Does 1 Kings 15:5 Contradict 1 Chronicles 21:6-7?

Note: The following question comes to me via The Question Box on our church website, http://www.Plymouth-church.com, where I answer questions.

I have a question about David. The Book of I Kings 15:5 says that “For David had done what was right in the eyes of the LORD and had not failed to keep any of the LORD’s commands all the days of his life except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.”  But in the book of I Chronicles 21:6-7 it says “But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel.”  Is there a contradiction between these verses?  Was the census David commanded a sin?

Here is an article that speaks of some other difficulties involved in the parallel accounts of David’s census in 1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24. It does not, however, address this question about David not committing sin except in the matter with Uriah the Hittite.

It is possible that the phrasing in 1 Kings 15:5, “David… had not failed to keep any of the LORD’S commands,” refers to the Ten Commandments. The matter with Uriah began with coveting another man’s wife, continued with adultery, and ended with murder. As John Wesley pointed out in his notes on 1 Kings 15:5, David’s sin with…

… Uriah’s wife was a designed and studied sin, long continued in, defended with a succession of other sins, presumptuous, and scandalous to his government, and to the true religion.”

It was no mere momentary mistake of judgment, or lapse into some sudden sin through an impetuous or presumptuous act, which he quickly repented of and turned from. Other impetuous acts of David were just as quickly resolved. The “man after God’s own heart” was not a man without sin. He was a man whose heart always led him back to God.
In the case of the census, he repented before God rebuked him through the prophet. The prophet Gad came to him to help determine the punishment, not to convict him of the sin. In the case of the sin with Bathsheba, David did not repent until the prophet, Nathan, came to him and said, “You are the man!”

What was the sin in the census? David did not disobey a command not to have a census. It was not the census itself, but the motivation for the census. David seems to have forgotten to trust God and was looking instead to his own military might – for this census was not a mere count of population, but of fighting men. He forgot the words of Psalm 44:6-7.

I do not trust in my bow, my sword does not bring me victory; but you give us victory over our enemies, you put our adversaries to shame.”

In ordering this census, David was not like the young boy who challenged Goliath in the name of the Lord of Hosts. He did repent with deep contrition, but God determined to punish him by a sentence of his own choosing. David chose for God to bring a three day plague on Israel rather than a years-long famine or a three-months of fleeing from his enemies. David looked to God’s mercy rather than to endure prolonged suffering for his people or to risk himself to the merciless hand of man.

Certainly, 1 Kings 15:5 does not mean that the only sin in David’s life was the one surrounding his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of Uriah. The deliberate, calculated nature of that sin marks it off as particularly heinous, and that seems to be the reason 1 Kings 15:5 singles out this single sin of David as an exception to his usual obedience to God.


One Response

  1. I am truly troubled by this scripture. David had many wives and concubines, didn’t discipline his kids, etc. His family suffered from his sins. Particularly, in Deut 17:1.7 God instructs that the King must not take many wives yet David did. But here, God Himself says that David had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands except in the one instance? The matter with Uriah no doubt occurred because David was used to having whatever woman he wanted. Sometimes the OT is so silent about sexual sin that it makes me wonder at our obsession with it. Personally, I’m dealing with a situation where my husband has abandoned his family yet people in my church say “divorce is forbidden, but if you get divorced, remarriage is definitely forbidden.” Then I read something like this passage and think “Really? Is what happens in my marriage the measuring stick that God will use to say whether I am faithful to Him or not?”

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