We had family home evening at my brother’s home and several siblings came. One sister was deeply concerned about a sister-in-law who has advanced cancer, and what that family member might expect. We discussed pain medications and other medical options. My brother who is a doctor was encouraging with his certainty that the doctors could help her a great deal through the hard parts. Excessive worrying was probably counter-productive. Even so, the collective concern was profound.
That concern led me to say something about a scripture that came into my mind during our discussion. The passage is from my study in the Old Testament this past month. It comes from 2 Samuel 24 and also 1 Chronicles 21 which tell the same story. [Chronicles is the record written by the priests and Samuel and Kings are the records kept by the kings. This is the same pattern followed by the Nephites with their large and small plates.] The message comes from the account of David when he commanded the numbering of Israel. His census was displeasing to the Lord.
Why this was a sin I am not certain. No one seems to be. But the New International Version suggests some possibilities:
“It is evident that [David] was motivated either by pride in the size of the empire he had acquired or by reliance for his security on the size of the reserve of manpower he could muster in an emergency, or, more likely, both. The mere taking of a census was hardly sinful . . . but in this instance it represented an unwarranted glorying in and dependence on human power rather than the Lord” (NIV Study Bible, note on 2 Sam 24:1).
Perhaps David had forgotten the parting of the Red Sea and Gideon and the Moabites and Jonathan and his armour-bearer who defeated the Philistine army.
When David called for a census, Joab, his general, recognized that this would be a transgression, and said to him:
“The Lord make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my Lord the king, are they not all my Lord’s servants? why then doth my Lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?” (1 Chronicles 21:3).
But David demanded his census. Other verses indicate that this was a military census, born of the desire of David to know “the fighting men, so that I may know how many there are” (2 Samuel 24:2,4,9).
After the census, which took 9 months and 20 days (2 Samuel, 24:8) the military leaders who had done the counting reported that there were one million three hundred thousand men “who could handle a sword” (2 Sam 24:9).
“And David’s heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the Lord, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly” (2 Samuel 24:10).
It is not clear why David’s heart condemned him after the census. Something had happened to convince him that the numbering of his armed forces was a great displeasure to God.
On the morning after the counting was completed, “the word of the LORD came unto the prophet Gad, David’s seer” (2 Samuel 24:11).
Gad came to David with this message: “Thus saith the Lord, I offer thee three things; choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee. Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days’ pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me” (2 Samuel 24:12 – 13).
The insight I shared with my brothers and sisters at that Family Home Evening came from David’s response to these choices. None of them is attractive. They are all designed to bring pain and sorrow. David must choose between being afflicted by a famine, by his enemies, or by the Lord.
Given those alternatives, David chose the third. He said to Gad, “Let me fall now into the hand of the LORD; for very great are his mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man” (2 Chronicles 21:13).
2 Sam 24:14 changes the pronoun from ‘me’ to ‘us’: “Let us fall now into the hands of the Lord.” I am pleased by this more general application of the principle because the new pronoun is not limited to David. It invites me to make a similar decision. This is a difficult choice, but if I have to choose an affliction, let it come from the Lord, “for very great are his mercies.”
When King Jehosaphat learned that the combined armies of three nations were gathering to come against Israel, he fell into the hands of the Lord.
He gathered the people of Israel to the temple in Jerusalem for fasting and prayer, and reminded the Lord that “When evil cometh upon us, as the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we stand before this house, and in thy presence, (for thy name is in this house,) and cry unto thee in our affliction, then thou wilt hear and help (2 Chronicles 20:9).
In his prayer he told the Lord that his people had “no might against this great company that cometh against us; neither know we what to do: but our eyes are upon thee” (2 Chronicles 20:12).
He prayed with all Israel,, “O LORD God of our fathers, art not thou God in heaven? and rulest not thou over all the kingdoms of the heathen? and in thine hand is there not power and might, so that none is able to withstand thee?” (2 Chronicles 20:6).
This response to trials should not suggest that we do not have a duty to act in our own behalf—to have the surgeries and the chemotherapy and the radiation; to gather our armies and resources. It should suggest (I suspect that it was recorded in the scriptures to suggest) that when we come to the conclusion that there are no paths that will circumvent our pain and our difficulties, then we should allow ourselves to “fall . . . into the hands of the Lord, For very great are his mercies.”
Jehosaphat’s Israel fell into the hands of the Lord. They gathered their armies for the expected battle, but they “appointed singers unto the LORD, and that should praise the beauty of holiness, and they went out before the army, and to say, Praise the LORD; for his mercy endureth for ever” (2 Chronicles 20:21). Only people who felt safe in the hands of the Lord would send out the choir before the army.
David’s words have become my own. “Let me fall now into the hand of the LORD.” Five days less than one month after that Family Home Evening I found myself afflicted a second time with cancer, and I have engaged in a battle that has now lasted years. This affliction has given me many opportunities to feel, and even to say what David said.
During four episodes of chemo-therapy, and after eight surgeries and five regimens of radiation, I have finally said, “Let me fall now into the hands of the Lord with his manifold mercies.” If we have to place our lives and hopes and happiness in someone else’s hands, then we want to place them in the hands of the Lord, with his very great mercies.
We can do this with great confidence. Daniel said, “For we do not present our supplications before thee for our righteousness, but for thy great mercies (Daniel 9:18).