King David entrusted Joab to "number Israel and Juda" (2 Sam. 24:1), then (v. 10):

David's heart struck him, after the people were numbered: and David said to the Lord: I have sinned very much in what I have done: but I pray thee, O Lord, to take away the iniquity of thy servant, because I have done exceeding foolishly.

H. McKay, O.F.M., 1 and 2 Kings (1 and 2 Samuel), in A Catholic Commentary on Holy Scripture (Orchard et al. eds.), says (§ c 24:1–25):

we are not told why this normal act of administration was sinful. David may have intended merely compiling a register for the organization of military service, fresh taxation, and forced labour for his building schemes. However it was a common belief amongst ancient Semitic peoples that whoever knew the name of a person, the number of his possessions, herds, and household acquired a mysterious power over them; cf. RB [Revue Biblique] 53 (1946) 178. Hence David’s action implied that he had absolute rights over his people, whereas he was merely Yahweh’s representative in a strictly theocratic state.

Is this the only explanation as to why King David thought he sinned by doing a census? Do the Fathers or Doctors of the Church give other explanations?


2 Answers 2

  1. Pride

Some point to the prideful motive behind the census, suggesting that David's desire to know the full extent of his military strength and subjects reflected a lack of trust in God's protection and providence. They argue that David's action stemmed from a sense of self-reliance and a failure to acknowledge God as the ultimate source of strength and security.

TENTH says:

The parallel account in 1 Chronicles 21 says, “Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel.” The record in Chronicles places this right after a great victory over the Philistines, so the sin was probably related to a problem with pride and self-reliance. A census was preliminary to a draft of soldiers and a levying of taxes. It seems, therefore, that David’s intent was to increase the royal power in a way that contrasted with humble reliance on God. As Deuteronomy chapter 17 so strongly insists, the human kingship of Israel was to be noticeably dependent on God’s divine kingship. For Israel’s king to build up the same kind of power common to pagan kings was tantamount to repudiating God’s over-kingship. This seems to have been the nature of David’s sin so that God was angered and acted to nip it in the bud.

  1. Possibly includes Levites in the army

ligonier says:

It all started when David took a census. In the ancient world, rulers would take a census either to levy taxes or to draft an army, and the counting of men “who drew the sword” indicates that David had the latter purpose in mind. Joab warned David that such a census would be sinful, most likely because it reflected a reliance on human strength in the form of a large standing army. The text also tells us that Joab did not include Levi in the census, “for the king’s command was abhorrent to Joab” (21:6). The best explanation for this is that David asked Joab to include Levites in the army even though the law of God expressly ordered Israel to exclude Levites from a military census (Num. 1). So, it seems that David sinned because he was relying on military strength, not on the Lord, and was breaking God’s regulations for military eligibility.


Another possibility is suggested by Exodus 30:12: "When you take the census of the people of Israel, then each shall give a ransom of himself to the Lord when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them" (RSV).

This offers a reason why the whole people would be at fault if a census was taken and no "ransom" was offered or demanded, and the penalty actually suffered by David's people is also set out in advance.

  • @ Stephen Disraeli Best answer! Biblically stated reason. Ex. 30:12.
    – ray grant
    Commented Mar 7 at 22:44

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