2 Samuel 24:3 But Joab replied to the king, “May the Lord your God multiply the troops a hundred times over, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king want to do such a thing?”

4 The king’s word, however, overruled Joab and the army commanders; so they left the presence of the king to enroll the fighting men of Israel.

5 After crossing the Jordan, they camped near Aroer, south of the town in the gorge, and then went through Gad and on to Jazer. 6 They went to Gilead and the region of Tahtim Hodshi, and on to Dan Jaan and around toward Sidon. 7 Then they went toward the fortress of Tyre and all the towns of the Hivites and Canaanites. Finally, they went on to Beersheba in the Negev of Judah.

8 After they had gone through the entire land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.

9 Joab reported the number of the fighting men to the king: In Israel there were eight hundred thousand able-bodied men who could handle a sword, and in Judah five hundred thousand.

This is from Bible.org.

I have agonized a great deal over this text, especially over what was so wrong with numbering the Israelites. It seems as though no reason is clearly given. Then I reflected on the fact that if no reason was given for God’s displeasure over this act of David’s, neither was there any explanation of David’s reasons for doing so. In virtually every other circumstance where some group was numbered, there was a very obvious reason for doing so. When soldiers were numbered, it was in preparation for battle. But we are not told of any battle in or near our text. It would seem that David’s only reason for numbering his men was to satisfy his own curiosity and to puff up his pride. David seems to be overly interested in his might, his ability to fight. He seems to have lost a sense of dependence on God. He may have been a great deal like King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, overly impressed with himself, his power, and his position.

There is a “feel” to this text which reminds me of the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Numbering Israel seems to produce a “knowledge” that David was forbidden to have, a knowledge of his greatness and military strength (compare Deuteronomy 17:14-20). He wanted to “see” his strength and power, and even though forbidden, it was what his heart desired.

While we may puzzle over the “sinfulness” of such an act, it did not seem to be such a difficult thing to recognize for David’s servants who led the armed forces. Joab (verse 3; cf. also 1 Chronicles 21:6) and the commanders of the army (verse 4) were opposed to numbering the fighting men of the nation. Even David was eventually conscience-stricken (verse 10), without the prophet Gad having to first confront or rebuke him (as Nathan had to do with regard to Bathsheba and Uriah – 2 Samuel 12). Numbering the fighting men of the nation was wrong, and no one in that day seemed to have a problem recognizing it.

Joab protested as strongly as he dared, without jeopardizing his safety and status. Nevertheless, David overruled him and the other commanders, insisting that a census be taken. Reluctantly and half-heartedly (see 1 Chronicles 21:6), Joab went about this abhorrent task. It was indeed a major undertaking. They crossed the Jordan, proceeded north, then west, and then southward, traveling about the nation in a counter-clockwise direction. When the mission was completed, the numbers were given to David. There were 800,000 valiant warriors in Israel and 500,000 seasoned fighters in Judah (verse 9).

I wonder... could it have anything to do with the disruption of lives. It took Joab out from under David's feet. That way he wouldn't be a constant reminder of the rape of his daughter by one of his sons and the death of his two sons. Joab was gone for 10 months. But I doubt that was it.

It seems to me that these soldiers would have been chomping after being ranked and ready for a count. Then they had to go back to their regular life again. I remember what it was like when Daddy had to muster. It always affected everything.... Daddy had to get his dress uniform ready... etc., etc., etc. Things in the home change when the soldier is mustered.... should I tell you about the time my dad had his dress whites laid out on the bed and my sister's kitten decided that's where he wanted to do her business? Would that be a small example of how being mustered up for ranking and counting might be disruptive. I bet it was something much more important that.