Saturday, October 02, 2010

About David's Census

It’s been a while since I threw a conundrum out there, so here is another one. Consider the following from 1 Chronicles 21:

2 And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know [it].

7 And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel.

We know that God’s actions are good and that God knows everything, including the identity of those who take censuses. So why would God punish Israel for the sin of the census above when it was David who took the census?

It is tempting to look at this series of events as one which makes sense only in light of the concept of collective guilt, or corporate guilt, or collective responsibility--specifically of the sort involved in the doctrines of Original Sin and the imputed righteousness of Christians (e.g., see Romans 5) or something like this.

Then again, is it so obvious that only corporate guilt can account for God’s eternal justice and goodness vis-à-vis the census at issue? Could it be that corporate guilt is not in play in 1 Chronicles 21 but rather a concept and reality of relative identity? Consider the parallel passage of 1 Chronicles 21, which is 2 Samuel 24. It is written:

10 And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly. 11 For when David was up in the morning, the word of the LORD came unto the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying, 12 Go and say unto David, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three [things]; choose thee one of them, that I may [do it] unto thee. 13 So Gad came to David, and told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me. 14 And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies [are] great: and let me not fall into the hand of man. {are great: or, are many} 15 So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men.
After thinking about the matter over the course of time, I am thinking that one must eventually conclude that the Scriptures are committed to what is precisely a concept of relative identity. I won’t address the matter in any detail right now, but for now suffice it to say that a purely linguistic or semiotic account of identity seems destined to fall apart at some point, and that after one is careful to distinguish linguistic and metaphysical accounts of identity the supposed transitivity rule of identity can rightly be called into question. With that said, if relative identity is real--that is, if A and B can be the same F but not the same G--then perhaps it’s not the modern-day Pelagians who have to hate 2 Samuel 24 and 1 Chronicles 21, but rather the Arianists, unitarians, or those of their ilk. ;)

If God wills, I will have more to say about collective responsibility and relative identity in the future. And I should, because the issues are of relevance not only to Christian orthodoxy but also to Christian apologetics....

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