The LORD spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying, "Take a census of all the congregation of the people of Israel."
Scripture is full of paradox. In today's verse, Moses is commanded to do something for which David is later punish: numbering the people of Israel (2 Samuel 24). Is God suffering from a split personality? Why is it right for Moses but wrong for David to number the people of Israel? And what's the big deal about a census anyway? The answer is, as usual found in the heart. To number the people is to make a gesture of sovereignty over them. It is proper for God to do this since he is, in fact, the God of Israel. Obviously, God was not curious about how many Israelites there were running around down there on earth. The very hairs of their head were numbered by him. But the command is given to Moses as a way of making clear that God is the King of Israel. David, in presuming to number Israel, is behaving like an oriental despot and claiming a sovereignty over Israel that is not his to claim. He rules by delegation from God, not absolutely. This is the case with every civil authority that has ever existed, including ours. Today, thank God that he's the one who's really in charge.