One of the congregations that I have preached for in the past and that continues to provide support for BibleTalk.tv is the Canyon View Church of Christ in San Diego, California. I mentioned them because they also support and are involved in what is called Prison Ministry. They support and work with a brother named Carl Etchison, who works with inmates in the Houston prison system. Carl is involved in organizing various worship and devotional services as well ass conducts Bible studies, counseling and all the typical work that they do.
And like all other prison ministers, Carl believes that part of helping these people come out of the cycle of crime and imprisonment is to cultivate their spiritual lives. That's his objective. If they have a spiritual life, if they have faith, they won't fall back into the old habits and the old ways with the old people and then find themselves back in prison, and so this motivates his work. He understands that if there is no effort at rehabilitation, there will surely be a falling back into the old ways, so to speak.
The principle is not only a key in reforming people who have a pattern of criminal behavior, believe it or not it is also true in the lives of each one of us who deals with a pattern of sin in our lives as well. If there's no effort at rehabilitation from the sins that we commit, then we're doomed to repeat these over and over again to our own suffering and sorrow.
The Bible gives many examples of people sinning repeatedly against God and what happened to them. In I Chronicles 21 however, we have an episode where King David not only sins and is punished, but we have a description of the rehabilitation process that he went through that would make him a better and a wiser man.
Perhaps in reviewing this passage, we can learn not only how to deal with our sins on a day-to-day basis, but also how to stop repeating those things that we dearly would love to eliminate from our lives.
1Now after this it came about that David defeated the Philistines and subdued them and took Gath and its towns from the hand of the Philistines. 2He defeated Moab, and the Moabites became servants to David, bringing tribute. 3David also defeated Hadadezer king of Zobah as far as Hamath, as he went to establish his rule to the Euphrates River.
- I Chronicles 18:1-3
After David ascended to the throne, he pursued the goal of establishing his borders to the point where God had originally promised, and that is to the great river to the north. And that's what kings do, they establish their territory.
14So David reigned over all Israel; and he administered justice and righteousness for all his people. 15Joab the son of Zeruiah was over the army, and Jehoshaphat the son of Ahilud was recorder; 16and Zadok the son of Ahitub and Abimelech the son of Abiathar were priests, and Shavsha was secretary; 17and Benaiah the son of Jehoiada was over the Cherethites and the Pelethites, and the sons of David were chiefs at the king's side.
- I Chronicles 18:14-17
What we see is a kingdom that is at peace, prospering, well organized and functioning smoothly under the various officials, all beneath the sovereignty of God.
1Then Satan stood up against Israel and moved David to number Israel. 2So David said to Joab and to the princes of the people, "Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan, and bring me word that I may know their number." 3Joab said, "May the Lord add to His people a hundred times as many as they are! But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? Why does my lord seek this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt to Israel?" 4Nevertheless, the king's word prevailed against Joab. Therefore, Joab departed and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem. 5Joab gave the number of the census of all the people to David. And all Israel were 1,100,000 men who drew the sword; and Judah was 470,000 men who drew the sword. 6But he did not number Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king's command was abhorrent to Joab. 7God was displeased with this thing, so He struck Israel.
- I Chronicles 21:1-7
Nothing lasts forever and when a good thing is happening, you can be sure that Satan will oppose it or try to destroy it. In this situation, Satan successfully tempts David into ordering a census of the people. Now, there's nothing wrong in counting the population, it had been done before to prepare the nation for war (Numbers 24). However, in the time of peace a census for this king could only serve certain purposes.
- To prepare for taxing the people
- To establish a system for forced labor
- To satisfy the king's ego concerning the strength of his nation and his army.
Of course, in this nation, God provided for all the needs and forbade the forced enslavement of fellow Jews and received the glory the people. They were His people not the kings. God is the only one who knew their number.
That this action was wrong is seen by the resistance to do so of David's top officer Joab. Not only does he tell the king it is wrong, he warns him of the consequences and even tries to sabotage the plan by not counting, two of the tribes.
Once the sin had been accomplished, God revealed the sin and showed His displeasure by bringing a plague upon the nation. If the sin was to number the people, then the punishment was to reduce that number through sickness and death.
In the balance of this chapter, we see how David deals with this sin and the process of rehabilitation that he goes through that would eventually enable him to finish his reign faithfully and effectively serving the Lord.
The 4 R's of Rehabilitation – vs. 8-30
In the account of this same story but in II Samuel, we read that David felt guilty about what was happening to the nation because of what he had done (II Samuel 24:10). This guilt led him to the first step in his process of rehabilitation from sin.
R#1 – Realization
David said to God, "I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly."
- I Chronicles 21:8
Note that the first thing that David does, after his troubled conscience moves him to examine his conduct, is to acknowledge his wrong doing. He not only acknowledges that what he has done is wrong without any excuses, no watering down, he also takes the full responsibility for it, and he admits the foolishness of what he had done. A king who has brought calamity on the people that he's charged with protecting. This is usually the hardest part of rehabilitation, recognizing and admitting our fault and our need to change.
R#2 – Repentance
9The Lord spoke to Gad, David's seer, saying, 10"Go and speak to David, saying, 'Thus says the Lord, "I offer you three things; choose for yourself one of them, which I will do to you."'" 11So Gad came to David and said to him, "Thus says the Lord, 'Take for yourself 12either three years of famine, or three months to be swept away before your foes, while the sword of your enemies overtakes you, or else three days of the sword of the Lord, even pestilence in the land, and the angel of the Lord destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.' Now, therefore, consider what answer I shall return to Him who sent me." 13David said to Gad, "I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man." 14So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel; 70,000 men of Israel fell.
- I Chronicles 21:9-14
Once he realizes what he has done and acknowledges it, God is ready to deal with him. He does so by revealing the consequences of his sin on the nation. In His mercy, He allows David to choose which of the three he's going to suffer. He can face the wrath of nature, he can face the wrath of his enemies or he can face the wrath of God Himself.
Of course all three things are controlled by God, but what is interesting is which David chose and why. He chooses to be dealt with directly by God, hoping that God's mercy will be upon him. In this we see David's repentance at work in a very real way. He showed that in the worst of circumstances, he was ready to trust in God.
His sin had been not to trust in God by measuring his own strength and power reflected in the number of people he ruled. His repentance was not simply to suffer the consequences of his sins (that's just punishment) - no his repentance or change was to go back and trust in God again. His mistrust of God led him to trust in himself. His repentance required him to return and place all of his trust in the Lord once again regardless of the pain. Let's face it, losing 70,000 men would decimate his army and feeling of security. He would truly have to trust in the Lord now.
Sometimes mistrust has to become trust; sometimes "giving in" has to give way to saying no; sometimes doing nothing must become a commitment to give and serve and be responsible for a change. Whatever the sin, in order to move away from its grip on us, there needs to be a change concerning it, otherwise we are doomed to repeat it over and over and over again.
R#3 – Restitution
15And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it; but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw and was sorry over the calamity, and said to the destroying angel, "It is enough; now relax your hand." And the angel of the Lord was standing by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 16Then David lifted up his eyes and saw the angel of the Lord standing between earth and heaven, with his drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces. 17David said to God, "Is it not I who commanded to count the people? Indeed, I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done? O Lord my God, please let Your hand be against me and my father's household, but not against Your people that they should be plagued."
- I Chronicles 21:15-17
David did not blame others for his sin, and this was very noble of him, but when you mess up, your nobility doesn't help the guy that you've ruined because of your sin. People died because of him, the nation became vulnerable because of his failure. David realized that there was a price to pay and he was not willing for others to pay the price.
A key moment in rehabilitation process is when you desire to pay for your mistake, when you want to do whatever it takes to make things right. In David's case, he saw that the only thing he could and should offer was his own life in exchange for the ones in danger of losing their lives. David learned two valuable lessons right here.
- Sin causes death - The people died because of his sin.
- Only a life given up could pay for a life ruined by sin - a life for a life.
Again, a noble gesture on his part, but how could his one sinful life atone for the sin that had caused the destruction of so many other lives including his own? The desire to make restitution is so important in the process of rehabilitation because it humbles us and it forces us to accept mercy and grace in the knowledge that when it comes to sin, we don't have what it takes to make restitution.
It's also vitally important because it opens the door to the final step in complete rehabilitation.
R#4 – Restoration
18Then the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up and build an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite. 19So David went up at the word of Gad, which he spoke in the name of the Lord. 20Now Ornan turned back and saw the angel, and his four sons who were with him hid themselves. And Ornan was threshing wheat. 21As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out from the threshing floor and prostrated himself before David with his face to the ground. 22Then David said to Ornan, "Give me the site of this threshing floor, that I may build on it an altar to the Lord; for the full price you shall give it to me, that the plague may be restrained from the people." 23Ornan said to David, "Take it for yourself; and let my lord the king do what is good in his sight. See, I will give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for wood and the wheat for the grain offering; I will give it all." 24But King David said to Ornan, "No, but I will surely buy it for the full price; for I will not take what is yours for the Lord, or offer a burnt offering which costs me nothing." 25So David gave Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site. 26Then David built an altar to the Lord there and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. And he called to the Lord and He answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. 27The Lord commanded the angel, and he put his sword back in its sheath.
- I Chronicles 21:18-27
David's attempt to offer himself as restitution for the sin in order to save the people showed his sincere desire to be restored to God. Of course his method would not work. He was sinful and his sacrifice, even of himself, would not be pure and acceptable. God provided a way that would be possible for him to be restored. God told them, build an altar and offer a sacrifice to the Lord.
The story of his negotiations with Ornan demonstrates the sincerity of his faith and his desire to please the Lord. He refused to accept the site for free and built the altar himself.
Did the offering of the animals take away the sin? Did the burning of sacrifice make up for all those people who died? Of course not, God merely provided a way that David could demonstrate his repentance, a way where he could express his faith and his trust in God, a way that he could show his obedience and receive peace of mind and a clear conscience.
God provided a way for David to accomplish all of these things and this was no theoretical peace, no symbolic restoration of David to a right relationship with God. The angel did put up his sword, the plague was stopped. David was permitted to go ahead and plan for the building of a Temple, which his son would eventually complete. His rehabilitation was complete once he was restored to a right and peaceful relationship with God.
In the world they say you're truly rehabilitated once your debt to society has been paid, but the whole man (body and spirit) is not totally rehabilitated until he is at peace with God and nothing is left between them.
Each of us sins and causes a breach between ourselves and God, even if it doesn't cause the death of other people. And for many of us, this is a repeated pattern in our lives, we do the same things over and over again. In order to break free, we need to follow David's example of rehabilitation from sin.
- Realize that what we're doing is wrong. Own up to our sins and the damage they do in our lives and the possible damage that they can do in the lives of other people.
- Repent and make a real change. The only way to successfully repent is to decide every single day that you will not repeat that sin again. Even when you fail.
- Make restitution when you can. Deciding to make things right will show your mercy and bring you in line with God's mercy.
- Be restored. God made a way for David in an impossible situation and He can make a way for you.
Jesus Christ paid the price on the cross in order to pay the debt for all of David's sins. Even David sins were washed away by the blood of Christ. God had his eye on the cross when he forgave David his sin.
God opens up a way for every one of us to come to Him, not through the way of animal sacrifice and burnt peace offerings on an altar, but through the living way, Jesus Christ in the watery grave of baptism.
God offers baptism in Jesus' name as the way to demonstrate our faith and repentance, as the way to receive the forgiveness and the peace of mind today. This way is open for you now, begin your spiritual rehabilitation today.