Following David’s census of Israel and Judah, David recognized his sin and his heart “condemned him.” He admitted his guilt before God and pleaded forgiveness. In response to David’s plea, the Lord sent word by the prophet Gad, who presented David with three options of punishment. David became distressed and said “Please let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man” (2 Sam. 24:14).
What an astonishing statement! Having experienced the Lord’s mercy throughout his life, David immediately acknowledges his only option—to fall humbly into the hand of the Lord. Indeed, David did understand that to fall into the hands of man meant death and widespread destruction. Yet he chose neither famine nor pestilence, but begged for God’s mercy.
Instead of acknowledging God’s justice in dealing with his sin, David delights in God’s mercy as he does throughout the Psalms: “For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations” (Ps. 100:5).
The question thus stands: Was God just in dealing with David’s sin? He did indeed punish David with pestilence, on account of which seventy thousand men died. However, after the Lord commanded the angel to cease from his destruction, David perceived what the Lord had done and asked that the punishment solely come upon himself and his father’s house. But David was saved. Although he certainly understood that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23; cf. Gen 2:17), he intimately knew that the Lord God of Israel was a God of mercy. Yet, in bestowing His mercy upon David and the nation, God chose not to display His justice. Rather, by His grace, in showing mercy, the Lord God did not justly recompense David according to his sin. The question thus becomes: Why did the Lord God kill only seventy thousand men and not wipe out the entire nation, including David himself?
Can we then say that there is injustice with God? Certainly not (Rom. 9:14). Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne (Ps. 89:14), for the Lord loves justice (Ps. 37:28). Nevertheless, in recognizing the mercy that He has demonstrated to His people, we should not be asking “Why does God punish us with such severity?” Rather, keeping in mind His unending mercy, we should be asking, “Why does He punish us so gently and with such love (Heb. 12:6)?”