First Presbyterian Church
2 Samuel 24:15-25
July 27, 2014
It’s hard to believe we’ve come to the end. Today is my last Sunday in this pulpit as your pastor. I have been honored by the opportunity to serve our Lord Jesus Christ with you in Hastings. Anything that was done here during my tenure, including this building, needs to be credited to our Lord. You will continue to be in my thoughts and prayers. Remember that all we do is to be done to the glory of God. We are placed here on earth for a specific period of time; when we’re done it should be our hope that we’ve left the world a better place and have done what we can to prepare the next and future generations for their walk with God.
For the past two months we’ve been looking at some of the key passages concerning David, Israel’s greatest king. Today, we’ll look at one of his last major acts as a king. In the next chapter, which is the opening of First Kings, we learn that David is old and confined to bed. Hospice has been called in; his days of ruling are over. Our passage today is David’s last great adventure as a king, in which he is again reminded that God, not he, is in control. This last chapter in Second Samuel is complex and difficult. If you read it all and ponder it, you come away with the realization that we don’t fully understand God’s ways. Knowing our limitations is a sign of human wisdom.
David had made another blunder… He’d ordered a census of the people so that he might know how many soldiers he could put into battle. He’s thinking like a politician, like a military strategist. We don’t see anything wrong with this, do we? He’s being a realist. But deeper behind his decision is the lack of trust in God. He places his faith in human power—something we’re all tempted to do. Walking by faith is tough. We want the assurance that comes from having enough people or enough money or enough weapons and forget that in the Kingdom’s economy, God’s will trumps everything we might bring to a situation.
Since Israel is to depend upon God alone, and not human power, Israel is punished. The angel of pestilence descends. In three days 70,000 people die. But right before the angel consumes Jerusalem, David’s capital, God intervenes and the city is spared. Out of Thanksgiving, David acts by consecrating a piece of ground upon which Solomon will build his temple. David’s last public act in 2nd Samuel results in a place for the future generations to worship God. There is something noble about such an act, or remembering that in the end it isn’t about us, it’s about God. Read 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15.
For two days, David has been hearing reports of pestilence throughout his kingdom. Plumes of dust from the hooves of horses have been seen approaching Jerusalem from all directions—couriers rushing into the palace out of breath with the news of scores of people becoming mysteriously ill and dying. The numbers have begun to add up. 500 here; 1,000 there; 1,500 over yonder. The toll skyrockets. In all, some 70,000 people will die. The deaths begin on the outer-edge of the kingdom and moves closer and closer to Jerusalem… The great and powerful king stands helpless before the approaching doom. His Surgeon General doesn’t know what to do. His personal physician is at a loss. Even with the modern technology we have today, they’d still be at a loss for doctors can’t come up with a cure overnight. They can do nothing! David’s heart is heavy and further troubled by the realization that his sin is resulting in the death of so many.
The angel of pestilence ravaged Israel. But then, right as the angel is set to destroy Jerusalem, God steps in. We’re told the angel was at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. There are two important clues here. First, a Jebusite would have belonged to a people who were in what became Israel before the Hebrew conquest. The fact that a pagan owned this property links together Jerusalem’s past with its future role as Israel’s holy city.
Second, for whatever reason, threshing floors are often a place where a connection is made between earth and heaven. Maybe because these floors were where grain was beaten to separate the wheat from the chaff, it’s a place for purity. There are other references in the Old Testament to such interactions between the divine and humans at threshing floors. This threshing floor is located on a hill to the north of David’s city, perhaps at what we might call an industrial park today. The angel is on the very edge of Jerusalem when his destruction is halted. On this hill overlooking the hamlet, as Jerusalem was at the time, the angel just has to stretch out his arm and Jerusalem will experience God’s wrath. It’s as it was with Abraham with whom, when he was about to strike Isaac with the fatal stab, God holds back the hand of destruction. In both cases, with no moments to spare, God intervenes.
But God does intervene. God grabs the death angel’s hand and spares Jerusalem. David experiences the grace which can only come freely from an Almighty God. David is told by Gad, a prophet, that he should build an altar on the threshing floor. Much of the text I read involves the transaction for this piece of property. Araunah was glad to give David the property and the makings of a sacrifice, but David realizes that accepting such gifts wouldn’t make it a sacrifice. We saw David’s reaction last week to Nathan’s story. David was ready to wring the neck of the guy who decided to eat his neighbor’s pet lamb instead of butchering one of his own. To be a sacrifice, it has to cost something. David understands, so he pays liberally for the ability to make a sacrifice.
There’s a lot in this chapter that we struggle to understand. God is free to act (if you read the chapter in the entirety, you’ll learn that God planted the seed for the census in David’s mind and later punishes Israel for it). That we don’t understand and we just have to accept that God’s ways are not ours. But I think we do understand David’s struggles. He is concerned and like a good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for the sake of others. Furthermore, his insistence on paying a fair price for the ability to make a sacrifice is noble and reflects and understanding of what it means to offer our best to God. We’re not to offer God handouts (especially not hand-me-downs given to us by others). We’re to offer God our best, especially when we realize what God has done for us in Jesus Christ, whose sacrifice frees us to live as generous disciples. David knows, as Jesus will later state, “that everyone to whom much is given, much will be required.” Out of thanksgiving, David insists that he pay his own way even though he knows he (like us) can never repay God. However, he can show his gratitude and in doing so, David sets in motion events that will lead to the building of Solomon’s temple.
As this is my last sermon with you, I want to encourage you to remember to keep God first and foremost. This congregation has been especially blessed. Follow David’s example: don’t look for others to pick up the slack. I encourage you to continue to be a blessing to others.
Yesterday, I took a break from writing the sermon to walk around the church property. If you haven’t done this lately, I recommend it. The patches of wildflowers that were planted the year before we began building are all in bloom. Butterflies and bluebirds can be seen in flight. The paths have been recently mowed which made it all the more enjoyable and my thanks to all who have done the mowing and worked hard to make this place presentable. I am going to miss this place as well as I will miss you and will hold you in my heart and prayers. I thank you for graciously allowing me to serve as your Pastor and I thank everyone who had anything to do with Tuesday night. It was a memorable evening.
On this walk yesterday, I was reminded that there is beauty everywhere in this world in which our Heavenly Father created and declared good. Enjoy it and accept the blessings and moments of grace God has given us, but don’t hoard them, share them with others. And remember, that we’re all a little like David who could stray from the path, but be pulled back and in the end do the right thing. David was the man after God’s heart. He trusted the Lord even during his dark days. Whatever happened to us in the past—even the painful stuff—can be used by God for his good and work in the world.
Let’s put the past behind us and turn our lives over to Jesus, give and return thanks to God, and in all things trust in the Lord. Amen.
©2014 Jeff Garrison and First Presbyterian Church, Hastings, MI
 This is the last public act recorded in the Samuel/King narrative. Chronicles has some different stories such as David raising money for the temple.
 Genesis 22:11
 Luke 12:48
 Walter Brueggermann, First and Second Samuel: Interpretation, A Biblical Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, (Louisville: John Knox Press,1990), 356. See also 1 Samuel 13:14