Wednesday, July 9, 2014

David's Census and the Draft (John W. Robbins)

The second objection [to Robbins' view of the draft and national service] does not dispute the perpetuity of the law, including its political applications, but attempts to show that there was in fact a draft in the Hebrew republic. These objectors cite verses such as this one from the first chapter of Numbers:
Take a census of the whole Israelite community by their clans and families, listing every man by name, one by one. You [Moses] and Aaron are to number by their divisions all the men in Israel twenty years old or more who are able to serve in the army.
The problem with this verse and those like it is that it says nothing about a draft; it refers only to a census of the people. The earliest censuses in the United States were taken in a similar fashion, by writing down only the names of the male adults. The Old Testament nowhere says that the men thus counted were drafted into the army. Nor is it logical to say that the phrase “who are able to serve in the army” must mean that the census was a preparation for a draft. Even if the census were a military action, the existence of a draft still would not follow. Those who deduce a draft from these verses have invented some new laws of logic.

What, then, is the purpose of the census if it is not a preparation for the draft? The answer is given in Numbers 26:53-54. Following a census-taking, “The Lord said to Moses, ‘The land is to be allotted to them as an inheritance based on the number of names. To a larger group give a larger inheritance, and to a smaller group a smaller one; each is to receive its inheritance according to the number of those listed.’ “ Another more speculative answer may be that the census was taken for the purpose of illustrating in macrocosm what Gideon’s experience illustrated in miniature: that God is not on the side of the larger divisions. God had the able-bodied men of Israel counted and then used only a tiny fraction of them in the battles to conquer the Promised Land. In Gideon’s case, out of over six hundred thousand able men, his army initially had only thirty-two thousand and ultimately only three hundred. But if one looks at all the other data in Scripture on the numbers of the Hebrew army, nowhere will he find any figure even remotely approaching six hundred thousand. To say that all the men in Numbers 1 were drafted is completely false. The census had nothing to do with a draft for there was no draft in the Hebrew republic.

There was, however, one census whose purpose was military. It could not have been for the conquering or dividing up of the land, for the land had already been conquered and divided. The account of this census is given in 1 Chronicles 21:
Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel..... but Joab replied [to David], “May the Lord multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel? .....” Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David..... 
But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. The command was also evil in the sight of God.

Of course it was evil in the sight of God. That is what Samuel had said in 1 Samuel 8. Joab recognized the evil; he found it repulsive. Joab believed in limited government. It is too bad that so many who claim the name of Christ do not share Joab’s apprehension of this truth. When the government considers registering men for the draft or national service, Christians must, like Joab, protest. “Are they not all Americans, are they not all innocent? Why does the government want to do this?”

John W. Robbins, "The Bible and the Draft," The Trinity Review, ed. John W. Robbins, May, June 1980 (2003): 5, 6. Retrieved July 9, 2014 from


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