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A Prayer and Fasting Devotional

Notice how our story starts. 1 Chronicles 21:1-2 says: “Satan stood up against Israel and incited David to count [the people of] Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, ‘Go and count Israel from Beer-sheba to Dan and bring [a report] to me so I can know their number.'” After God has caused David to become successful in the eyes of both his enemies as well as the nation of Israel, Satan then comes and tempts David to take ownership of something that is not rightfully his. In other words, just as Satan tempted Adam and Eve in Genesis 3, he also successfully tempts David to distrust God by putting down the mantle of stewardship and putting on the mantle of ownership of the nation of Israel via a census and thereby denying the provision of God.

Nevertheless, notice God’s mercy through Joab, despite David’s sin in 1 Chronicles 21:3, “Joab replied, ‘May the Lord multiply the number of His people a hundred times over! My lord the king, aren’t they all my lord’s servants? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?” and verse 4 continues with the heavy and sobering words: “Yet the king’s order prevailed over Joab…” This is a solemn reminder that although God’s desire is always to extend grace and mercy into our lives, we often forsake His mercy in order to satisfy our own desires; this is why repentance is needed. Repentance is not just to restore a right relationship with God, we always have that in Christ, but it is the means by which we humbly admit our sins before God, much like David did in Psalm 51:4, “Against You - You alone - I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight. So You are right when You passed sentence; You are blameless when You judge…”

Through David’s repentance in 1 Chronicles 21, we witness five signs of what “true repentance” looks like:

1)    Responds Rightly: True repentance responds rightly to sin!

In verse 8, David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, in that I have done this thing. But now, please take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” Notice that David takes ownership of his sin before the Lord. He doesn’t blame anyone; he doesn’t blame Satan for tempting him (v.1), nor does he blame Joab for not being able to persuade him to turn from his sinful decision (v.3). He takes ownership for his sinful decision; true repentance causes us to be honest with God and ourselves. True repentance begets ownership.

2)    Recognition: True repentance pursues God’s mercy!

In verse 13, after God gives David three consequence options; namely, to suffer by nature, man, or God, David said to God: “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are very great…” Notice, even though David sinned against God, his preference was to suffer by the hand of God. In other words, he’d rather be disciplined under the hand of God than man. Unlike before, David now trusts in God’s mercy, despite his own sin. True repentance begets dependence upon God’s mercy.  

3)    Repentance: True repentance takes action!

In verse 16, the Bible says: “Then David and the elders, covered with sackcloth, fell on their faces.” True repentance is not just telling God about what you’ve done wrong but taking specific measures to turn away from sin in our lives. True repentance begets personal sacrifice.

4)    Reconcile: True repentance seeks appeasement with those you’ve sinned against!

In verse 17, David said to God: “I am the one who has sinned and done very wickedly, but these sheep, what have they done?...please let Your hand be against me and my father’s household, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.” Notice the change in David’s demeanor. The people he once proclaimed ownership over by demanding a census, he now identifies them as being God’s “sheep…Your people.” Those he once exploited, he now pleads for them. True repentance begets compassion.

5)    Restitution: True repentance will cost you something!

In verses 24, Ornan was willing to give King David the threshing floor for free, but David says: “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.” Notice, the change in David’s demeanor! As King of Israel, he once was willing to take advantage of God’s people by claiming ownership over them; however, he is no longer willing to do so. Instead, he relents of his previous behavior and humbles himself to pay “full price,” because he is not willing to “offer a burnt offering which cost [him] nothing.” True repentance begets denial of self. As you fast, this week, take initiative to deny yourself for the glory of God.      

James A. P. Fields, Jr.
Ministry Fellow at Princeton