Posted by: Jack Brown | September 15, 2011

Could it be…

I always loved Dana Carvey’s Church Lady on Saturday Night Live. My favorite part of each sketch was when she would point out a disturbing reality in the life of her guest and then search for the name of the one to blame for such sinful behavior. After pretending to mull over the question for a moment, the answer was always the same:

“Could it be…SATAN?”

You ever wonder when Satan is first named in the Bible? You might think it was early on, like in the garden or some of that weird early history of humanity in the book of Genesis. But despite all the appearances of the “evil one” from the beginning, he doesn’t really get a name until well into Old Testament history–during the reign of David, to be exact. In 1 Chronicles 21:1 the Hebrew word satan appears for the first time without a definite article, giving it the ring of a proper name instead of “the adversary.” The verse goes like this:

“Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel.”

A few of us at Redeemer have spent a lot of time mulling over this story from 1 Chronicles 21 these past few months. It’s interesting to note that Satan’s first named appearance in the Old Testament comes when he convinces David that it’s time to number the men of Israel to get a sense of how strong they were as a nation. As the story continues, David’s ensuing census angers God, who offers David a choice of punishments for his lack of trust. God is offended that David places his trust in human strength instead of divine promise, and as a result God sends judgment for David’s sin.

There is such wealth in this passage for pastors and churches. We tend to obsess over numbers in our congregations: how many are in worship, how much are they giving, how many volunteers do we have, and as Yul Brynner would say, “et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.” And while it’s important to stay on top of such things, we can never place our trust in them. Our strength is not in our numbers, our strength rests on the promises of God. Imagine what church could be like if we trusted less in our many censuses* and learned to trust more in God Himself.

Of course, we don’t only do this in churches, do we? We can do it in our own lives, looking to the resources at our disposal as the means of our success or our failure. In the end this story of David is about the sin of self-sufficiency, something I am prone to quite often. And I’m thankful for the way God intervenes to pry my fingers loose, even though the process He uses to return my trust to its proper place is sometimes painful. It needs to be, because I need to be reminded how worthless it is to trust in my own strength and resources ahead of God’s provision and promises.

There is so much more in this story worth diving into, but it’s late and now I can’t get songs from The King and I out of my head. More on 1 Chronicles 21 later. But I’ll leave you with this question for now: next time you find yourself taking a census of your own resources, looking to them as the indicator of your success or your strength, you might want to ask yourself, “Who is enticing me to this behavior?”

Could it be…SATAN?

*”Censuses” is the correct plural. I looked it up. 🙂


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