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2 Samuel 24:1-15.
it is impossible to form a right judgement respecting the character of the Jewish history, unless we consider it with reference to the Jewish dispensation. That dispensation was not only suited to the people and to the age for whose benefit it was established; it was also representative of a dispensation which was yet to come, being the shadow, but having little or nothing of the substance, of a real Church. In consequence of this all things that existed amongst the Jews, and happened to them, were representative of the spiritual states and their consequences, as characteristic of a higher and purer dispensation.
To understand the crime of David we must know what was represented by the people and by numbering them.
The people of Israel represented the spiritual Church. The twelve tribes of Israel, like the twelve apostles of the Lamb, represented all the graces and virtues, or all the principles of goodness and truth, which constitute the Church, considered under a spiritual idea; from which circumstance it was that the names of both were engraved on the walls and gates of the New Jerusalem. As the Church may exist in one individual mind as well as of an innumerable multitude, the people of Israel denote the numerous goods and truths which constitute the kingdom of the Lord in the regenerate mind.
To number, in the Word, signifies to know the nature and quality of the several parts and numerous particulars of which anything consists, and to dispose those parts and their particulars in just order, so as to form one perfect whole. The numbering of the sons of Israel, when done by Divine command, represented the disposition or arrangement of all the principles of goodness and truth in the regenerate mind, so that such a mind may be a form of heaven. This spiritual meaning of numbering, and the nature of the arrangement which it represents, are treated of frequently in the Scriptures. In the 4oth of Isaiah it is said that the Lord numbers the stars and calls them all by names. Numbering in this case means that He who created the host of heaven has disposed them in that perfect order which makes up the grandeur and beauty of the whole astral heavens, which are upheld by His power and directed in their courses by His wisdom. But when we regard the stars, which nightly declare the glory of God, as symbolizing the pure truths of His Word, which He sets in the heaven of a regenerate mind, and which spiritually declare His glory and manifest His power and goodness, the arrangement of these truths, and their preservation in a state of harmony and order, must be regarded as a result of Divine power, if not greater in itself, at least more important and beneficial to us, than the numbering and ordering of the stars. The truths of the Word are themselves the subjects of a Divine arrangement, by which their harmonious and united testimony to the love and wisdom of God is obtained, and by which their combined operation in the mind and life of the regenerate man is secured. Another instance of the spiritual sense of numbering occurs in the New Testament, where the Lord, speaking of the minuteness of the Divine circumspection, assures us that the very hairs of our heads are all numbered. This implies not only that the Divine knowledge, but also that the Divine circumspection, extends to the least of our states and circumstances., thoughts and affections. And it further teaches that in the mind of every true disciple the principles of goodness and truth are so arranged or co-ordinated, that the Divine government is exercised in a way which is adapted most fully to promote the soul's spiritual welfare.
The numbering of the children of Israel represented, therefore, the arrangement or ordination of all the principles of goodness and truth in the minds of the regenerate, by which the Lord is present with them and operates savingly in and by them.
Such a spiritual arrangement may be illustrated by the works as well as by the Word of God. In all the Divine works we find an arrangement existing according to certain laws, by which the Divine power is exercised and the Divine purpose is accomplished. Our planetary system is held together, and the motions of the planetary bodies are regulated, by certain fixed laws. The perfection of the human body, as an instrument of the soul and mind, and as capable of sensation and motion, is the result of the arrangement of its parts in such an order of mutual dependence and relation as fits them for united and harmonious action. Nor is the mind itself to be conceived of as existing and acting except as an organized form, constituted in an order suitable to its nature and necessary for the exercise of its faculties. The natural mind of man is formed to the image of the world; but the spiritual mind is formed to the image of heaven, and by re-creation, or regeneration, becomes a heaven. All the affections of good and perceptions of truth are arranged into such a form, or according to such an order, as makes the regenerate mind a heaven in miniature. For the heaven of angels is as one man, of which all the inhabitants are members, each occupying a place and exercising a function agreeable to his quality and his capacity for use; and it is in virtue of this perfect arrangement, which is produced and preserved by the laws of order, resulting from the Divine perfection, which is order itself, that heaven is under the perfect government of the Divine love and wisdom, and is preserved in a state of unity, harmony, and blessedness. In proportion as heavenly order is introduced into the regenerate mind the same happy results are experienced.
The particulars of that order which is introduced into the mind by regeneration cannot be fully comprehended by the regenerate themselves, because its particulars do not come to their perception. It is possible, however, and even necessary for them to know the general spiritual arrangements of which they themselves are the subjects. To compare the mind with the body, the regenerate are in the order of heaven when love to the Lord constitutes the head, love to the neighbour the breast, the love of the world the lower extremities, and the self-love the feet. When this order exists, love to God and love to the neighbour rule, and the loves of self and of the world serve. This is heavenly order; for when the love of self and the love of the world are subordinated to the love of God and the neighbour, neither honour nor gain will be sought, nor even accepted, without the sanction of the laws of justice and equity, which are the laws of love and charity.
This order of the principles of the Church and of heaven in the human mind cannot be introduced at once, but is the work of time. Every unregenerate man is in a state of inverted order. In natural men the loves of self and of the world constitute the head, and love to God and love to the neighbour constitute the feet—for even natural men can be moral and religious when morality and religion serve to promote their natural ends. Man cannot be restored to the order of heaven but by degrees. He must first be brought to love his neighbour whom he has seen, before he can be brought to love God whom he has not seen. The first general effect of the order which is introduced into the minds of those who have entered on the regenerate life, is to exalt the love of the neighbour above the love of the world. The supremacy in the mind of love to God is a higher degree of order and of spiritual life. These two different ordinations of which the regenerate mind is the subject, were represented in two distinct numberings of the people of Israel by express Divine command. The first took place not long after the people had left Egypt, the second took place immediately previous to their entering the Promised Land. The desert in which the Israelites wandered forty years represented self-denial and spiritual temptation, taking up the cross daily. The numbering of the people at the beginning of their journey represented the institution of that spiritual order which prepares the mind for undergoing temptation, which is intellectual, or the arrangement of truths in the understanding; the second numbering represented that more perfect ordination which follows as the result of temptation, and which prepares the regenerate for entrance into heaven. This is that perfect order which relates more to the will, and in which love and charity rule. No one can undergo spiritual temptations while self-love and the love of the world have the dominion; for no one can resist evil from the love of evil. Satan cannot cast out Satan. Something of Divine order must be introduced to enable the mind to undergo temptation; and that order must consist in the love of the neighbour or the love of God being exalted above the love of self or of the world, if not in the will at least in the understanding.
But this is not all that is required for success in the spiritual life. It must be seen and acknowledged that all goodness and truth, and the true order in which they exist in the mind, are from the Lord alone. The necessity of this acknowledgement was represented in the law, delivered by the Lord to Moses, that in taking the sum of the children of Israel they should give every man a ransom for his soul to the Lord, half a shekel, after the shekel of the sanctuary, lest there should be a plague in numbering them (Exod 30:12, 13). The giving of this piece of silver represented the acknowledgement that all the good of charity and all the truths of faith, and their ordination and disposition in the mind, are from the Lord alone.
It will be seen, then, what was involved and represented in David's numbering the people. This numbering He did, not only without any Divine command or authority, but in compliance with a temptation to commit the crime of numbering Israel and Judah. The temptation is said to have come from God Himself—a form of expression which occurs in the Word, as being agreeable to appearance, the real truth being that God tempts no man, but that every man is tempted when he is drawn aside by his own lusts and enticed. In the First Book of Chronicles (1 Chron 21:1) it is said that Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number the people. David's numbering the people, regardless of the warning of Joab, represented the sin of which man is guilty when he claims for himself the authorship or the merit of the goodness and truth which he knows or possesses, and makes them subject to his own will and wisdom; in which case they cease to be good and true, for perverted order perverts those things whose order is perverted. And as the natural will and wisdom of man are opposed to the will and wisdom of God, to claim the gifts and assume the prerogative of God is to divide and destroy.
This evil might be illustrated by many examples, but may itself be detected under many different forms. It is this very principle which prompts the unbeliever daringly to impeach the moral government of God, as if it had imperfections which the wisdom of man could correct. It is the same principle which has given birth to those numerous and discordant arrangements of the truth of the Word by the authors of the various sectaries, each claiming the possession, in some instances the exclusive possession, of the truth of God, and the keys of the kingdom of heaven. But this evil does not lie at the door of infidelity and heresy only. Selfish and worldly loves are sufficiently powerful in the mind of even the true Christian disciple to lay him open to the temptation, at least, to commit this sin, by giving self-intelligence the right to interfere with the established order of the Divine arrangements and operations for the government of his mind and life. The consequences of yielding to such subtle insinuations are frequently set before us in the Sacred Word, and in a very striking manner in the present historical relation. And no doubt such admonitions and warnings are required, since they are so repeatedly given. No adversaries are so deceitful as those of our own minds. No treasures require more to be guarded than those of love and truth. No degradation is so great as that which is the result of apostasy.
We may, therefore, profitably consider the punishment which was brought upon Israel and Judah by the numbering of the people.
In no cases is it more necessary to consider the events of the Jewish history in connection with the Jewish dispensation, than in the infliction of those terrible punishments which followed their acts of disobedience. As punishments, these seem, in many instances, to bear no very perceptible connection with, or to bear no just proportion to, the sins they committed. Yet we cannot suppose that the Judge of all the earth acted capriciously on any of those occasions, however singular or severe some of His judgements may seem. He who is order itself cannot have acted independently of the law of cause and effect. The difference between the circumstances in which the Jews were placed and those in which we stand consists in this, that the effect followed the cause immediately and visibly; whereas natural effects from spiritual and moral causes are now gradually, and in many cases imperceptibly, developed. Although in the present instance the crime appears to have been David's, while the people only endured the punishment; yet the relation itself states that David's act was the result of an evil which existed amongst the Israelites as a nation. "Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah." And we may consider the anger of the Lord as having been kindled by their rebellion and insurrection against that authority which He, at their own urgent solicitation, established amongst them.
After the numbering of the people had been completed, Gad was commissioned to go to David and give him the choice of the punishment which should ensue: he might choose seven years of famine, or three months' flight before his enemies, or three days' pestilence. These punishments signified the effects of the evil which the numbering of the people represented. The three years of famine signifies that those who destroy Divine order, after it has been established in their minds, deprive themselves of all the good of love and the truth of faith; the three months' flight before enemies signifies that evils and falsities continually pursue them; and the three days' pestilence signifies that the remains of truth and goodness received from infancy perish. David chose the last. This undoubtedly was of the Divine Providence, to signify, in the first place, that with the Israelitish and Jewish nation, at the time our Lord came into the world, everything good and true was about to perish; and, secondly, and more interiorly, that the inversion of spiritual order in any human mind results in the total destruction of spiritual life, even of that which is acquired before man acts from liberty according to reason. The nature as well as the extent of the devastation is expressed representatively in the number of persons who died of the pestilence. Seven is a holy number, arid seventy is expressive of that of which holiness is predicated. The number ten not only exalts the idea of holiness, meant by the number seven, but is itself expressive of the holy principles that were in this case destroyed. This number, which is that of the commandments, is symbolical of all the principles of goodness and truth, the sum of which are love to God and love to man, on which hang all the law and the prophets. As the ten commandments are the laws of life, and are the duties first impressed upon the minds of the young, they signify also what remains and is preserved in the mind during advancing life. When the new spiritual life begins, these are the rudiments of the new state; and so important are they that no regenerative process could be commenced without them. In proportion to the quality and quantity of these remnants of heavenly things in the mind is the capacity and inclination to receive the principles of goodness and truth, and so to become spiritual.
When, on the other hand, the Church in general, or any of its members in particular, decline or fall away from a state of integrity, and invert the order on which the stability of the Church and the efficacy of religion depend, these remains of what is good and true become fewer and feebler, until they almost cease to exist. They are the first to live and the last to die. Were they entirely to cease, the human race would perish, or cease to exist as rational beings, and the very capacity of becoming spiritual would be destroyed. "Except the Lord of hosts had left to us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like Gomorrah." When, in a Church or a human being, this remnant becomes so small that no restoration to a state of true spiritual life can be effected, there is a judgement, which brings the Church to an end. Such a state in the Jewish Church is indicated by the Lord's anger being kindled against Israel, and His moving David to number the people. For what is called anger in God is the contrariety of the state of the Church to the Divine character and attributes; His moving David to number the people is the natural effect of this state, in the inversion of order; and the punishment of the crime is the destruction of the holy principles of goodness and truth, even to the very small remnant that would have saved Israel and Judah from becoming as Sodom and like Gomorrah. The seventy thousand that fell under the pestilence were taken away for some wise and merciful purpose even towards them; but it was at the same time a representative judgement, and the history of it is written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come.27 previous - next - BM Home - Full Page