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  The Cost Of DevotionThursday, May 23rd, 2024  
by Rev. Sterling Durgy

David was known as a man after God's own heart (Acts 13:22, I Samuel 13:14). David was also an impulsive man who committed some uncharacteristic, but nevertheless terrible sins. In the drama surrounding the story of Ornan's threshing floor, we begin with the worst of David's nature and end up with the best - for here David not only gives us an example of true repentance, he shows us what it means to be dedicated to God.

The incident involving Ornan's threshing floor is related in both II Samuel 24:1-25 and I Chronicles 21. In II Samuel, Ornan is called "Araunah." The name "Jebusite" comes from the fact that Jerusalem was also known "Jebus," and indicates that Ornan was a Canaanite rather than a Jew. The account in Chronicles gives us some details that the account in II Samuel does not.

It seems that God allowed David to be tempted by Satan, just as He did Job. The temptation was for David to substitute pride, specifically self-sufficiency, for dependence upon God. The form of the temptation was to get David to number his army. A census seems harmless enough, but when God is to give you victory in the field rather than the strength of your army, you are looking to the wrong place for strength (Exodus 14:14-15, Deuteronomy 3:21-22, 20:3-4, Joshua 10:25). Perhaps David was planning to launch out to expand his nation, or perhaps he was contemplating what kind of defense he could mount against a future foe. A census was a logical step for nations that did not know God - a blasphemous step for those that did unless God Himself directed that such a census be taken. Remembering one of David's better days, it was just dependency upon God that brought the defeat of Goliath, and that David was successfully tempted to forget (I Samuel 17:37, 45-49).

The completion of the census without David's repentance brought swift judgment from God. David was offered one of three terrible punishments, punishments for the nation because, as king, David spoke for all. David chose pestilence. In the midst of the pestilence, David asked if there was a way to spare the people of the nation from further punishment for his sin. God answered through a prophet named Gad. David was told to buy Ornan's threshing floor and to offer sacrifice upon it. David obeyed.

Ornan was a Jebusite who owned property in Jerusalem, the city David chose to be the capital of the Hebrew nation. Whether Ornan had a vision of the supernatural, or his fear of David's power as king caused him to tremble, is not entirely clear. In any case, once he knew that David wanted the threshing floor, he offered to give David both the threshing floor and animals to sacrifice. Here David answered, "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. So David gave Ornan 600 shekels of gold by weight for the site" (I Chronicles 21:24). God stopped the pestilence because of David's act of repentance, and the site David bought became the site upon which Solomon later built his Temple, the central point of worship for the Hebrew nation.

This history is important in establishing how the Temple came to be located. However, it is David's response that provides, perhaps, the greatest lesson to Christians of our own time. And that lesson is that truly honoring God requires real sacrifices. In other words, if we are not giving up things for God we are not truly honoring Him. Surely, when it came to Christ and the sacrifice required as atonement for our sins, God Himself provided the sacrifice as in Genesis 22:5-8,13 (I John 4:10), and, just as surely, we cannot give to God anything that He has not first given to us (Psalm 50). But there is no true relationship with God that does not include the relinquishing of things of value, in an intelligent manner, in honor to God.

Thus we have Jesus who, in the words of Paul, "although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Philippians 2:6-8). This same Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God in terms of the "pearl of great price" or a "treasure hidden in a field," whose value is so great that people go out and sell all that they have in order to buy it and make it theirs (Matthew 13:44-46).

The Old Testament ends with an indictment of the Hebrews, as a people, for cheating on their devotion to God -- for offering sacrifices that were not true sacrifices -- for making religion "cheap." We, to our great shame, have re-invented a cost-free religion that makes God into some kind of celestial, sure-thing slot machine -- pump in the money and out comes more -- you never lose, you never sacrifice, you only gain. Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive," but we have turned Christianity into a faith where the only true giver is God. Surely it is true that you "cannot out-give God," but the book of Hebrews shows us that it is not in this age that we fully receive that reward (Hebrews 11:39-40), as does the teaching of Christ (Luke 12:33-34).

In worship many go, not to "give worship," but to "get something out of the service." Many give a tithe because they can "do more on nine-tenths than they could on ten-tenths." When some say, "the only difference between Christians and non-Christians is that Christians know they are forgiven" they promote a religion that doesn't call upon us to repudiate, much less give-up, sin.

This is not a plea for us to sacrifice just for the sake of sacrifice, or for ascetic self-denial. Giving should be for a purpose that is God-honoring. Nor do we deny that salvation and the forgiveness of sin is a free gift from God. We cannot pay the cost of salvation, but we must pay the cost of devotion. True devotion involves real giving, whether it is time, service, energy, or money. This is true in friendship, marriage, family, and citizenship, and it is true with God.

First printed in The American Night Watch Newsletter, Volume IV, Part 2, February 1996.
Copyright 1999 Sterling M. Durgy. All Rights Reserved.
Permission is granted to reprint this article as long as the copyright is included, this statement is included, and the article is not sold to the recipients.

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