The Main Things Are the Plain Things
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The Main Things Are the Plain Things

2 Samuel 24:1–25  (ID: 3560)

King David called for a census that he imagined would bring pleasure, but instead, it brought pain and God’s wrath. Seeking to intervene on behalf of his people, David built an altar, offered sacrifices, and asked that he alone would bear the punishment. While much remains unexplained in this passage, Alistair Begg points out that God’s sovereign plan is revealed in His mercy as well as His wrath. Ultimately, only Jesus’ intervention can save us from ourselves, our sin, and God’s wrath.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in 1 and 2 Samuel, Volume 9

Epilogue 2 Samuel 21:1–24:25 Series ID: 109019

Sermon Transcript: Print

Two Samuel 24:1:

“Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘Go, number Israel and Judah.’ So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, who was with him, ‘Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and number the people, that I may know the number of the people.’ But Joab said to the king, ‘May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are, while the eyes of my lord the king still see it, but why does my lord the king delight in this thing?’ But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army. So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to number the people of Israel. They crossed the Jordan and began from Aroer, and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer. Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites; and they came to Dan, and from Dan they went around to Sidon, and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beersheba. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. And Joab gave the sum of the numbering of the people to the king: in Israel there were 800,000 valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were 500,000.

“But David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And 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 done very foolishly.’ And when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, ‘Go and say to David, “Thus says the Lord, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.”’ So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, ‘Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me.’ Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man.’

“So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba 70,000 men. And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, ‘It is enough; now stay your hand.’ And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, ‘Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.’

“And Gad came that day to David and said to him, ‘Go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’ So David went up at Gad’s word, as the Lord commanded. And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. And Araunah said, ‘Why has my lord the king come to his servant?’ David said, ‘To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the Lord, that the plague may be averted from the people.’ Then Araunah said to David, ‘Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.’ And Araunah said to the king, ‘May the Lord your God accept you.’ But the king said to Araunah, ‘No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.’ So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the Lord and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the Lord responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.”


Well, we turn to the Bible, and we turn to God and ask his help:

Father, as we come once again to the Bible, we look away from ourselves to you. We pray for help, clarity, brevity of expression, a humble heart, and not simply an increased knowledge of things but, if it please you, a divine encounter with you, the living God, by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the truth of your Word. For we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

When we come to the Bible, it is the Bible that understands us more than that we ultimately understand the Bible.

The main things are the plain things. I’m not sure that we have ever employed that as a title for a sermon. I didn’t check, so it may be. I know that I say it a lot and that it has become something of a mantra. I think it is helpful for us to make sure that we can see the wood from the trees, as it were. But I’ve chosen this morning to use it as the title for this particular sermon, the reason being that it just seems particularly fitting. And perhaps you will already have deduced this as you have listened as I have read this chapter: that it is a chapter that provides arguably more questions than it does answers. And if you have found in reading it, perhaps on your own, that you have not been stirred to say, “Wait a minute: Why? How? What?” and so on, then perhaps you need to read it all over again.

It’s good for us, it’s important for us, to recognize that when we come to the Bible, it is the Bible that understands us more than that we ultimately understand the Bible. And the hymn writer did a great service to us when he wrote that hymn “I know not why God’s wondrous grace,” because it is so immense; or “I know not how the Spirit moves, convincing men [and women] of sin”; or “I know not when [the] Lord [will] come, at night or noonday [clear].”[1] So there’s a lot that we are unaware of and unable, ultimately, to fathom.

And if there were no other place in our study in 2 Samuel where that was to confront us, then certainly here we have it. This is the narrator’s conclusion of the story that he records in 2 Samuel. He does not provide us with the picture which comes later, in the second chapter of 1 Kings, with David on his deathbed, but rather, it concludes with a picture of David raising this altar according to the command of God and offering sacrifice. It’s a long chapter, and I debated much about whether we break it up or try and go and eat the entire passage. We’re going with the latter strategy. There are three sections to it: verses 1–9, the census; verses 10–17, the judgment; and verses 18–25, the altar.

The Census

First of all, then, the record of this census that I want you to observe three things concerning.

First of all, that it was ordered by God. Look at verse 1: “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, ‘[Go and conduct a census.] Go, number Israel and Judah.’” Now, the “again” of “Again the anger of the Lord was kindled” doesn’t actually answer the “When?” question for us. It may well be that it is simply a reference to what we saw in chapter 21, where God executes his judgment on the people there. His anger is expressed. But we’re not told.

Nor are we told why. Why does this take place? No explanation is given; simply the fact is stated without any reason. And where there is no explanation, we ought to be on our guard against speculation. That is an important principle that is very easy for us to ignore, and if it doesn’t happen as you’re listening to someone like myself speaking, you will often find that it happens when you’re in small-group Bible study. And the parts that are so straightforward tend to be set on the side, and people spend an indeterminate amount of time speculating on that which the Bible has chosen not to make clear.

There is a reason why some things are explained, and there’s a reason why other things are left unexplained. And the Westminster Confession, of course, helps us immensely with this when it writes—and this is way back in, what, the sixteenth century, or the seventeenth?—“Not all things in Scripture are equally plain in themselves or equally clear.” That’s a fact. “[But all the] things [that] are necessary to be known, believed and observed, for salvation, are … clearly stated.”[2] So in other words: What is the main thing? The main thing is that salvation belongs to the Lord. The main thing is that God is the Savior of his people. There is nothing in the Bible that is cloudy in relationship to that at all. Not everything is equally plain.

Now, when it comes to this, it’s important for us to recognize, too, that God is under no obligation to explain himself. You remember as a child the frustration you felt when you made a request, “May I go to the cinema with so-and-so?” Answer: “No.” Question: “Why?” Answer: “Don’t ask me why. The answer is no.” Very frustrating, and yet the right approach.

There was a reason, clearly, for God’s anger. God’s anger is always justifiable. But here it is unexplained. So what we do is we remind ourselves of what we know is true of God. For example, Psalm 145: “The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works.”[3] He’s “righteous in all his ways”—always does the right thing—and he’s always kind. So here you come up against something—an inexplicable piece of the Bible, or an inexplicable event in your own life—and you say, “I don’t understand why this should be the way it is,” and there doesn’t seem to be any obvious explanation for what is taking place. Remember this: “The Lord is righteous in all his ways,” and he’s “kind in all [of] his works.” It remains puzzling, though, doesn’t it? It’s puzzling that God would incite David to do this. It actually says he incites him.

The main thing is that God is the Savior of his people. There is nothing in the Bible that is cloudy in relationship to that at all.

Now, turn with me to 1 Chronicles just for a moment. We’ve referred to the fact that the Chronicles passages are often parallel to what’s going on here in 2 Samuel. And in 1 Chronicles 21:1–2, which is parallel to this, we read, “Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.” So then David said to the commanders of Israel and to Joab, “Go and do what is being said.”[4]

So you see, what is happening for us in reading this is that we are essentially taken, if you like, behind the scenes—that we as the readers now, looking back from the vantage point of time, have a sort of panoramic view of what is taking place in a way that would not have been immediately obvious even to David as it was taking place. We now are realizing. And when you put, for example, these two passages together, what we realize is that God chooses to use Satan’s deceitful ideas and David’s own sinfulness in order to punish the people of Israel for their wickedness. It’s a bit like Job, isn’t it? Where Satan comes and asks God, “Do I have your permission to do this to your servant Job”?[5] It’s mysterious, isn’t it? The Lord had his purpose in what he incited David to do without compromising David’s responsibility for what he did.

So, it is incited by God. (This is the census.) It is resisted by Joab. It’s resisted by Joab: “So the king said to Joab, the commander of the army, ‘This is what I want you to do.’” Verse 3: “But Joab said to the king, ‘Hey, wait a minute…’”

Now, if we were to imagine Joab on the receiving end of this directive from the king, it wouldn’t be surprising if we find him saying essentially, “Where did you come up with this idea, king? Where did this come from?” And David would surely have claimed it as his own. He would have said, “Well, it’s my idea.” Because it was his idea. In fact, later on, he’s the one who takes full responsibility for it. He says, “I have done a foolish thing.” He doesn’t say, “God, you gave me a really bad deal on this one.” So if Joab had asked him, he would have said, “Well, it’s me.”

Joab’s resistance is interesting, isn’t it? We know Joab really well. We won’t go back to all that we know about him. But his resistance is, I don’t think, theological. It’s probably personal—or, if you like, political. He would see things as a strategic commander, recognizing all that was involved in doing this in terms of time, in terms of money, in terms of the implications, and so on.

But he doesn’t seek to defend his resistance. Look at what he says: “May the Lord your God add to the people a hundred times as many as they are.” In other words, he says, “May you live to see the day when there will be a hundred times as many people in your kingdom as there are now.” And then he says to him, “Why does my lord the king delight in this thing?” Why does he “delight in this thing”? And I think that verb there probably gives us a hint—at least a hint—as to what somehow or another is going on in the heart of David in relationship to these things. It might be very, very hard for us to believe or to accept that this is the case, but it’s certainly worth pondering.

When you go back to the poem of chapter 22 and David’s great affirmations, which you may remember when we read them together—he says of God, “You have given me… You have given me… You have equipped me… You have given me… You have delivered me…” and so on. He says, classically, “[God] brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me.”[6] Well, has he forgotten this? Has he forgotten his own poem? Or has he chosen to ignore it? It’s a question, isn’t it? When you or I take missteps with God, when you or I come to a crossroads and decide to go our own way rather than God’s way, have we forgotten? Or have we actually chosen to ignore what we know because of the pleasure we assume will be ours to enjoy in making the decision that we’re choosing to make?

Here we find the king in the last lap. This is him moving now towards the end. He’s not quite in his dotage, but he’s very, very close to it. And presumably, if we try and get underneath what we have conveyed to us in the text, the Evil One, if you like, has come to sound in David’s ears. Maybe something like this: “Hey, David, you were the choice of God. You’re the man after God’s own heart.[7] You’re the man, aren’t you? What a great start you had. Man, that Goliath fellow came down, just boom. You are the man.” David now saying to himself, “Well, that’s actually quite true.” And then the voice of the Evil One says, “Well, what a collapse with that Bathsheba-Uriah thing. David, you’re ‘a walking contradiction’; you’re ‘partly truth and partly fiction.’[8] I got an idea for you, David: Why don’t you conduct a big survey of what you’ve got? It’ll burnish your image. It’ll build your self-esteem. When all the numbers come back, you’ll be able to sit on your throne and look out and say, ‘And to think I did all that. And may I say…’[9]” Instead of listening to the voice of caution, which came from the lips of Joab, he chooses to listen to the voice of the Evil One.

Let me just say something in passing as well: neither age nor experience is a safeguard against pride. Neither age nor experience is a safeguard against pride. It was, in the life of Uzziah, when he was gloriously helped and had become strong that he grew proud to his own destruction.[10] We’re never, ever told to rejoice in our prosperity. We’re told to count it all joy when we face trials of various kinds.[11] A. W. Pink, in a quaint statement, says, “The fuller be our cup of joy, the steadier the hand required to hold it.”[12] “The fuller be [the] cup of [our] joy, the steadier the hand required to hold it.” Many of us would testify to the fact that prosperity, in whatever form it comes, is a far harder challenge than that which brings us to our knees. And here you have it in the life of the king, the one after God’s own heart. And somehow or another, in the great mystery of the purposes and providence of God, this is then taking place.

In Joab’s resistance, there was actually a way of escape, wasn’t there? You remember Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10, “He will not suffer you to be tempted beyond that which you are able, but he will with the temptation provide you with a way of escape.”[13] And here comes Joab of all people and says, “Why would you delight in such a thing? Why would you do this?”

Prosperity, in whatever form it comes, is a far harder challenge than that which brings us to our knees.

And so it is that when we force our way through the restraints that God puts to save us from our foolishness, we ought not to be surprised when we’re all broken up. Or, if you like, if we push our way through the hedge, we ought not to be surprised that there are a lot of tears left as a result of the thorns that we’ve had to negotiate where God has put a hedge of protection right in front of us, saying, “Don’t do this.”

That’s the census.

The Judgment

Now, in verse 10, the judgment. Three things again.

First of all, the confession of David’s lips. Although we’ve suggested that the problem may have been the imagined security of self-reliance, we’re actually not aware of the details. Here again, we’re not given the details of why David felt as he felt. This is conjecture on our part. We’re saying it would seem that this is distinctly possible, but we can’t say so categorically.

But what we do know in verse 10 is that he’s not hiding from the responsibility: “David’s heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said …, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I have done.’” There’s no Tom Sawyer here. There’s no “The devil made me do it.” No. Masterfully and wonderfully, his conscience is not asleep. It’s a dreadful thing if your conscience goes to sleep—if your conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron, where no longer are you able to feel the impact of sin. David has not reached that point. God has been merciful to him.

And you will notice that the arrival of the prophet follows rather than precedes or provokes his confession. Earlier in our studies, we realized that it was the arrival of Nathan that brought these things about. Here you will notice that the prophet arrives after his confession, not before it. What he might have imagined to be a source of pleasure has proven to be the cause of pain. And so he says, “O Lord, please take away the iniquity of your servant.” I hope you realize what he’s saying there. I hope it immediately takes you back to 2 Samuel 12, where the word of the prophet Nathan to him is, gloriously, “The Lord … has put away your [iniquity].”[14] “You think that you are now in a position that is absolutely unresolvable. You think that you have sinned yourself into oblivion, as it were.” He says, “No, no, no, no. The Lord has put away your iniquity. That’s what the Lord does.”

And so, essentially, what David is saying is “Lord, do what you do. Do what you do. You alone can forgive. You alone can cleanse. You alone can put a new spirit within me. I have done very foolishly.”

Sin is actually really stupid—always. Doesn’t seem silly. Doesn’t seem foolish. Seems like genius. Solomon, David’s son, would later write, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man,” or a wise woman, “listens to advice.”[15] Listen to me, children: that’s why you have a mom and dad, in part. You have only one mother in the whole world. Listen to her. Listen to her. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death.”[16] “O Lord,” he says. “I’ve been a fool. Do for me what only you can do.”

That’s his confession. And then there’s a decision that has to be made. Verse 10 must have been quite a night. And in the morning, the arrival of the prophet brings David face-to-face with the fact that the census was part of the outworking of the anger of the Lord against Israel. It’s quite remarkable. And then you have these three opportunities. “Three things I offer you”—verse 12. “Three years of famine?” God says. “Do you want three years of famine? Would you like three months of being confronted by your foes? Or would you like three days of pestilence?” Three years, three months, three days. Hertzberg, the commentator, suggests that “the shortening of the duration … corresponds with an intensification of their content.”[17] And I think there is something in that when you see the impact of the plague.

And so, if your text is open in front of you, you will see there, “So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him [these things].” Gad tells David that God is waiting for an answer. I smiled to myself as I wrote that down in my notes. Because I said, “The average American cannot get this right.” Because when I hear you say “God,” you actually say “Gad.” So you’ve got a real problem here about who’s on first. So Gad told him about God. You needn’t practice it now, but when you get home, in front of a mirror… All right? I have others for you, but we’ll save that for another Sunday.

And so you will notice from verse 14 that David decides against option two, the foes. How do we know that? Because he says, “Well, I’d rather fall into the hands of God than fall into the hands of men.” That was option two: “Do you want that?” No, he doesn’t want that. And he leaves God to decide, it would seem, between number one and number three—prefers to fall into the hand of the Lord rather than into the hand of man. Why? Because he knows who God is: “The Lord your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant [that he made with you]”—Deuteronomy chapter 4.[18] And the people of God have lived in the light of that, and David is living in the light of it too.

It’s interesting why God chooses to involve David in this. I don’t really know of any other place where God gives you an option on what kind of punishment you would like for your sin. Perhaps it’s simply to show him, and to remind us, that David was unable to save his people from God’s judgment. And as a result, he’s in great distress. The calamity is clear, his perplexity is obvious, and the need for mercy is real.

Now, the progression is straightforward, isn’t it? In verse 1, “the anger of the Lord was kindled.” Here, now, the pestilence is sent by the Lord, and the impact of the pestilence is described for us there. Incidentally, the seventy thousand men—when we come to these numbers, again, as we’ve said before, the word for a “thousand” was also used of a military unit. A military unit would involve a number between five or maybe fourteen. And so, if that is the case, then the number of men would actually be more like seven hundred rather than seventy thousand. It doesn’t actually matter; it’s not a main and a plain thing. But it is an indication of the fact that the judgment of God was ostensible. There was no doubt in anybody’s mind about the fact that God had done it and what had happened.

But the mystery in it, again, is that God, we’re told, prevented the plague from doing as much damage as it might have done. You’ll see that when it comes to Jerusalem, and he “stretched out his hand”—the angel did—“toward Jerusalem to destroy it,” and “the Lord relented from the calamity and said to the angel …, ‘[Enough’s enough].’” What was God doing here? Well, God was being God. In wrath, he was remembering mercy. He was revealing that he is a merciful and a gracious God, that he is slow to anger, that he has no pleasure in the death and destruction that sin brings—that God has no pleasure in the death and destruction that sin brings.

And God’s promise—and it was a real promise: that he would not forsake his people, but he would preserve them for the sake of his name. You can read this back in 1 Samuel chapter 12: “For the Lord will not forsake [the] people, for his great name’s sake.”[19] For his name’s sake. In other words, as he looks upon his people and he looks upon his place, and as he executes his judgment, he reaches out, as it were, to the angel, and he says, “And that’s enough. You can stop right there.” Why? Because of the kind of God he is.

For his name’s sake. For his name’s sake. It’s always for his name’s sake! It’s not for your sake or my sake or David’s sake. It’s for his sake. David knows this. He wrote the Twenty-Third Psalm:

The Lord’s my shepherd; I’ll not want.
He makes me down to lie
In pastures green; he leadeth me
The quiet waters by.

My soul he doth restore again,
And me to walk doth make
Within the paths of righteousness,
[Even] for his own name’s sake.[20]

So that God might be seen to be God in the execution of his judgments and in the dispensing of his mercy.

So don’t stumble, as we’ve fiddled with this before, back in the earlier sections, where we’ve come across the notion of God regretting or God relenting. The relenting of God mustn’t be understood in human terms, but neither should it be emptied of its force. It’s an accommodation to us. The pestilence, we’re told, ended by God’s sovereign decision. It ended exactly as he planned it. The Lord’s mercy here did not depend on David’s prayer. It’s quite remarkable, isn’t it? You say, “Well, did he not have to pray?” Yes, of course he did. But the mercy of God and his decision to judge and his decision to refrain are in keeping with his eternal purpose.

Well, the confession of David, the decision that he has to make, and the intervention that he offers: “The angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor,” and “David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people …, ‘Behold, I have sinned, … I[’ve] done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father’s house.’” Well, he surely didn’t think they were innocent, did he? Because the anger of the Lord had been kindled against them. But as he sees it, he recognizes that in his position of leadership, he would be prepared to bear the punishment in the place of them. But he couldn’t. No one can, save one.

The Altar

Which brings us, finally, to the altar in verses 18–25: “And Gad came that day to David and said to him, ‘Go up, raise an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.’” So here’s a question that has an answer: Where? Well, there we’re told where it was. So David did at the command of the Lord, and then you have this amazing conversation that takes place between Araunah and David himself: “Why is my lord the king here?” and David says, “Well, I could tell you exactly why I’m here.” You will see it there in verse 21: “[I’ve come] to buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the Lord, that the plague may be averted from the people.”

Apparently, the news that the Lord had stopped the destruction had not yet filtered down to David. But we as readers know that although the altar and the sacrifice were important, they had not been the cause of the plague being stopped. It was stopped on the basis of the Lord’s mercy, not on the strength of David’s prayer—even though it was given in answer to the prayer! And there’s another one for you to wake up at three o’clock in the morning and ponder. It was stopped according to the Lord’s mercy, it didn’t depend on the prayer, and yet it was given in answer to the prayer. Wow! There, somebody got it, over there in the back.

It’s kind of an interesting conversation, isn’t it? Those of you who are involved in business and sales, you probably enjoyed this—the idea of “Well, no, let me give it to you”; “No, I don’t really…” And so it goes on. “And I’ll give you the whole thing,” says Araunah. David says, “No. I want to pay the purchase price.” And so we’re told the altar was built. The sacrifices were offered—sacrifices of the burnt offering and of the celebration that responds to the propitiatory work of God. “Let my lord the king take…” “And David built there an altar to the Lord”—verse 25—and he “offered burnt offerings,” which were propitiatory offerings for atoning, “and peace offerings,” which were celebratory, or offerings of thanksgiving. And “so the Lord responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.”

There’s no one else who can save us from sin, save us from ourselves, and save us from the wrath of God except Jesus, the Son of David.

And that’s really how it ends. It’s almost anticlimactic, isn’t it? The narrator, as I said at the beginning, doesn’t end the book with a picture of an ancient king struggling physically and mentally—we find that in 1 Kings—but rather with this picture of David offering sacrifices. An important moment. A historic moment. David somehow or another realizes that he’s part of a drama that is far bigger than himself. And in this moment in time, having experienced all that has preceded it, here is the picture we have of him.

Actually, what it provides us with should be no surprise at all, because it gives us a sense of anticipation. Because on the threshing floor of Araunah, a thousand years previously, in that context, Abraham was told by God to offer up Isaac as a sacrifice. There! There, a thousand years before! On that occasion, the hand of God was stayed, and a substitute, a ram caught in the thicket, died in the place of the son. An important place. The very place that, a thousand years later, Solomon’s Temple would be built. The temple: the place where men and women could come before God, meet God, repent of their sin, and be restored to a relationship with him. That temple was only a short distance from the spot that, a thousand years later, the Son of David, the Good Shepherd, would lay down his life for the sheep.

You see, what David desired to do he couldn’t do. He was the king after God’s own heart, but he was human. He was sinful. “Well, maybe you could punish me and let them go.” You can’t do that, David. But there is one who will do it. “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement … was upon him” that brought us peace.[21] There’s no one else—no one else who can save us from sin, save us from ourselves, and save us from the wrath of God—except Jesus, the Son of David.

Paul, Saul of Tarsus, he didn’t believe that. He thought it was all a big nonsense. Some of you are here today, and perhaps that’s your perspective too. And then he met Jesus. And when he writes to Timothy, he says, “You know, there was shown to me mercy.”[22] Mercy. See, he thought that with all of his background and his capacities and his intelligence and his religion, that somehow or another, he was high up on the spectrum. Uh-uh. It was only when he was brought low: “I was shown mercy.”

O the love that drew salvation’s plan!
O the grace that brought it down to man!
O the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary.

Mercy there was great, and grace was free,
[And] pardon there was multiplied to me,
[And] there my burdened soul found liberty
—At Calvary.[23]

The whole story of the whole Bible points us to Jesus, the one in whom mercy is more.

Father, thank you.

Thank you … for sending Jesus;
Thank you, Jesus, that you came;
Holy Spirit, won’t you [tell] us
More about his [lovely] name?[24]

For we ask it in his name. Amen.

[1] Daniel Webster Whittle, “I Know Not Why God’s Wondrous Grace” (1883).

[2] The Westminster Confession of Faith, Modern English Study Version, 1.7.

[3] Psalm 145:17 (ESV).

[4] 1 Chronicles 21:2 (paraphrased).

[5] Job 1:11–12; 2:5–6 (paraphrased).

[6] 2 Samuel 22:20 (ESV).

[7] See 1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22.

[8] Kris Kristofferson, “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33” (1971).

[9] Paul Anka, “My Way” (1968).

[10] See 2 Chronicles 26:16.

[11] See James 1:2.

[12] Arthur W. Pink, Studies in the Scriptures, vol. 10, 1939–1940 (Mulberry, IN: Sovereign Grace, 2010), 10:80.

[13] 1 Corinthians 10:13 (paraphrased).

[14] 2 Samuel 12:13 (ESV).

[15] Proverbs 12:15 (ESV).

[16] Proverbs 14:12 (NIV 1984).

[17] Hans Wilhelm Hertzberg, I and II Samuel: A Commentary (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1964), 413.

[18] Deuteronomy 4:31 (ESV).

[19] 1 Samuel 12:22 (ESV).

[20] Francis Rous, “The Lord’s My Shepherd” (1650).

[21] Isaiah 53:5 (KJV).

[22] 1 Timothy 1:16 (paraphrased).

[23] William R. Newell, “At Calvary” (1895).

[24] “Thank You, God, for Sending Jesus.”

Copyright © 2024, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.