Friday, December 16, 2011
That it all depends on motivation
During my Bible study, I'd found an episode in the history of King David somewhat confusing. He'd given instructions for a census to be taken (I Chronicles 21, 2 Samuel 24). This didn't go over very well at all with God. Even Joab, the army commander, who was certainly never known for his gentle, reflective spirit, tried to warn David not to do it. "Why should the king bring guilt on Israel?" David insisted that his instructions be carried out and he got himself and his people in deep trouble.
My initial response was ????? What on earth is wrong with taking a census? After all, we had one to fill out ourselves in Australia earlier this year. We do them all the time.
I thought of this incident again when I was reading an event from Nehemiah's life. Nehemiah was the Hebrew governor who'd been given permission to lead contingents back to their land from exile and rebuild the wall. "God put it into my heart to gather the nobles, the officials and the people in general to be registered." (Nehemiah 7:5)
OK, so why was King David rebuked and chastised for doing the same thing Governor Nehemiah was later instructed to do? I had to conclude that record taking and censuses themselves are not wrong. It must come down to the heart's motivation.
Although the Bible does not state this in words, we get the impression that David must have wanted to do this for his own security and ability to gloat. Knowing the details he sought would allow him to lord it over others, at least in his thoughts, to derive security and satisfaction from his underlings and the strength of earthly things. This seems a step out of character for this illustrious king with a heart for God, but God must have decided that David was veering out into a dangerous "King Saul" way of thinking, or even the way of his own older brothers. Perhaps He had to nip this attitude in the bud before it had a chance to take root and spring up. Nehemiah, on the other hand, must have had a thoroughly different motivation in his desire to take the census, purely for information and wise decision making.
The more I think over this and glean through other Biblical incidents, the more the heart attitude is shown to explain a lot. It shows why Abel's offering was found acceptable by God and Cain's was rejected. It had nothing to do with what each brother physically laid down, but with their hearts. Later, Eli the chief priest's sons made a mockery of the whole system of temple sacrifices, instantly forking out the best meat for themselves. Even though this meat was intended to become food for the priestly family all along, these greedy guys were approaching it all wrong.
As it was important then, how vital it still must be to keep our hearts right. Do I do innocuous looking things for the wrong reasons? For example, with David's and Nehemiah's censuses in mind, why do I sometimes take it into my head to look up Koorong book store's website to see where my own titles fit into their weekly sales ranks? Why do I need to know this information at all? Is it so that I can pat myself on the back and gloat? (If this is the reason, it has often backfired on me when I see that sales have crawled at particular times. Serves me right.)
I believe that our feelings are good gauges that our hearts might have veered off the right track. The presence of annoyance, resentment, self-pity and irritation, all those nasty 'counter-fruits' that make us feel bad and miserable are there to indicate that we've blundered into the wrong land. "Hey, these aren't native plants and fruits in the kingdom I want to get to. There's only love, joy, peace, patience etc. where I need to be.
So with all this in mind, let's keep guarding our motives and be prepared to do some serious weeding when the wrong seeds come up.