Ref: 2 Samuel 24 — This came up in a Bible study today and a great many people fail to understand the full context.
Recall that the Covenant of Moses was inherently tribal and feudal. God says that no one has any business poking around in your life who isn’t related by blood or covenant. A government that attempts to centralize certain things is evil. Normally David would have simply polled the chiefs of the Twelve Tribes for a mobilization count. It would be an estimate and David would accept their answer, and hold them to it if he needed to mobilize for war. Keep in mind that most smaller battles were fought with trained troops, but a full mobilization conscripts massive numbers of peasants who were far less trained. The trained professional warriors would command large formations in battle.
For David to take this kind of census violates the feudal trust of the tribal elders. It infringes on their rights, rights that everyone knew about and presumed you would know, so it wasn’t specifically recorded in the Bible. There was a second sin: A census typically meant a tax. Instead of taxing the nation through the elders, it was a direct tax on every individual man of military age. A great many were poor peasants who had no means to pay such a tax without serious hardship. It was typically a shekel, about two days’ wages. That was a huge amount for a peasant. Many of them went into debt to pay this.
So it was intrusive and stepped on the rights of the elders, and it was a painfully oppressive tax. It was a huge pain in the butt for everyone, not least the men assigned to take the census (which took nearly ten months), taking the whole nation away from more important work. David’s sin in choosing this caused the hedge of God’s protection to be removed from the nation. It was unilateral on David’s part; the people had no choice in the matter.