Now David’s heart troubled him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have acted very foolishly.” 2 Samuel 24:10 (NASB1995)
David understood and was ready to embrace God’s justice and, therefore, could quickly receive God’s mercy.
David had sinned by doing a census of Israel. David’s Seer, Nathan, gives David three options as a consequence for his sin. David appears to take the most severe but the shortest in duration. (2 Samuel 24:11-14 NASB).
David’s punishment commences, yet something curious seems to happen.
Most commentators believe that the pestilence ends the evening of the first day, not after three days as prescribed by Nathan. Why?
The answer may be in verse 17.
“Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking down the people and said, “Behold, it is I who have sinned, and it is I who have done wrong; but these sheep, what have they done? Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house.”
When God finds a person who understands justice and is willing to embrace it, God can shorten the consequence for their sin; not give them what they deserve, which is the definition of mercy.
Do you remember when Samuel rebuked Saul (1 Samuel 15:16-23 NASB)? When confronted with his disobedience, he blame-shifted instead of taking responsibility for his actions. Both Saul and David were imperfect men. The former refused to embrace justice and lost his kingdom; the latter accepted it, held on to his.
God rules the world with justice and mercy. Of course, general wisdom tells us to err on the side of mercy. However, that does not mean justice is excluded. If we form our theology exclusively on either of these virtues, we distort the character of God.
God is both just and merciful, which He demonstrated on the Cross. As Christians, if we dwell on justice at the exclusion of mercy we end up in legalism. On the other hand, mercy without justice will lead us into license or sloppy grace where anything goes.
Understanding and balancing justice and mercy in our lives will lead us into the knowledge of God.
The image used with permission by Microsoft.