The Angel Brings Judgment

God sent the angel to Jerusalem to destroy it, but as he was about to destroy it, the Lord saw, and he relented from the calamity” (1 Chron. 21:15a).

- 1 Chronicles 21

Continuing our look at how the angel of the Lord appears in Scripture, we come today to an interesting passage in which the angel of the Lord plays a key role. David’s census of Israel in 1 Chronicles 21 provides an opportunity for us to see the angel work in both judgment and redemption.

Before we look specifically at what the angel does in this passage, note that in 1 Chronicles 21:1 Satan incited David to take the census, while in the parallel account of this event in 2 Samuel 24 the Lord moved the king to count the people. This is no contradiction; rather, it reflects the way in which God uses secondary means to accomplish His purposes. Being perfect in holiness, it is impossible for the Lord to sin (James 1:12–18), but that does not mean He is unable to use evil and evildoers to accomplish His will. The Lord is the primary cause of all that happens in that He governs all things, but this sovereign providence establishes secondary causes through which His goals come to pass. God moved David to take a census (2 Sam. 24:1), which was not wrong in itself, but apparently the motivation that David had in taking the census was. The Lord was not the actual individual who tempted David to sin (even if He was testing him here); this “honor” belonged to the accuser (1 Chron. 21:1), the end result of which was the good of selecting the temple site (1 Chron. 21:2–30). In the same event, God’s intent was good but David’s was not.

Even though God is sovereign over all, He remains free of evil, as people who sin are fully culpable for their actions. For this reason, Yahweh sent a plague on His people to discipline David for his sin; He even sent the angel of the Lord to destroy Jerusalem (vv. 14–17). Even though the angel of the Lord is not here identified explicitly as a pre-incarnate manifestation of the Son of God, these activities of judgment are in keeping with Christ’s work, for He will bring the sword of judgment to bear upon creation on that final day (Matt. 10:34–39).

At the same time, Jesus will stay His hand against all those who serve the Father through faith alone in His name, evidenced by obedience to His will (John 3:17; James 2:14–26). This too is foreseen in today’s passage, for the angel of the Lord’s wrath is withheld when David confesses his sin and seeks mercy (1 Chron. 21:15–30).

Coram Deo

Our culture is accustomed to seeing Jesus as meek and mild; indeed, this is an accurate picture of Him. Yet it is not a full-orbed depiction, for He is also the great Judge to come who will execute God’s wrath upon the impenitent. When sharing the gospel, it is appropriate to warn people that if they will not take upon themselves the gentle yoke of Jesus, they will be subject to His holy wrath.

Passages for Further Study

Psalm 34:7
John 5:19–24
Acts 12
2 Timothy 4:1

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