A great and terrible plague

When David counted

It occurred to me the other evening, or perhaps it was morning, evenings and mornings rapidly roll into one another, that after David had conducted a census of the people that there had been a plague, the proportions of which I could not remember. It is recorded for us in chapter 24 of the second book of Samuel. In the light of the pestilence that faces us I thought I should look it up.

David in conducting a census had done wrong, not because the census in itself was wrong but because David had succumbed to pride, pride in his own rule of Israel, and pride in Israel. He had forgotten the Lord. He understood this no sooner had the partial results of the census been delivered to him and he sought forgiveness. The prophet Gad came to him to offer him three things: famine for three years, war (and defeat in battle) for three months or plague for three days. David did not make a choice, but rather fell on the mercies of God and asked of Gad that he fall into the hands of the Lord rather than the hands of men. So the matter was settled and the land would suffer three days of plague. In three days seventy thousand men died. It is fair, I think, to assume that these were fighting men as the census was only of the number of them. The count had been around 1.2-1.5 million. In three days about one in twenty had died. That was quite some plague.

On the third day Gad instructed David to build in Jerusalem an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of a gentleman called Araunah. This David did. He paid a good price for the land and its equipment and offered there burnt offerings to the Lord. The Lord heard David’s prayer and at that time the plague was brought to an end. The destroying angel was told to restrain his hand and return his sword to its sheath.

We understand that the land which David bought would become the site of the temple which Solomon built. A thousand years later another sacrifice would be made on a nearby hill which would stem an even greater plague.

David had forgotten the Lord. In the pride he had in his achievements he turned away. The Lord is however merciful, and David was brought to repent, though it was not to be without no cost to his people. David threw himself upon the mercy of the Lord, and in obedience and reliance upon him offered an appropriate sacrifice. I am not one who looks into the book of Revelation and to say: Oh look, this is this and that is that. The trumpets sound, and the bowls are poured out. We live in a world where the trumpets sound each day – John Dunne put it:

Never send to know for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for thee.

Plague and pestilence are neither novel nor unexpected, but the severity of them may be. We are faced with a severe plague, perhaps not so severe, though we have only seen the beginnings of it yet, as the great plagues of history, and nothing yet like the pestilence that David saw, but do we hear the trumpet in the plague? Do we hear the warning? Or are we like David so proud of our own achievements that we forget the Lord? The trumpet is sounding, but we still are not woken up. We only need to look at how little notice many have taken of the warnings of our governments to see how little notice is taken of the trumpet sounding.

David’s sacrifice did not actually stem the plague in his day. It was the mercy of the Lord that brought it to an end. But David’s sacrifice did prefigure the sacrifice of the one who now sits upon his throne, the Lord himself our Jesus, the Messiah. I mentioned that above that that sacrifice would stem a greater plague, the plague that has a hundred percent mortality. It is this plague that causes us to forget him, that causes us not to want to know him, that causes so much destruction, despair, and damage in this world, in our own lives and in other people’s lives by what we do and say. It is sin. Jesus died at the hand of both Jew and Gentile for the sins of the world. That he rose from the dead confirms that his sacrifice was accepted and we, you and I, may have peace with God and eternal life in him. And more, we can look forward to a resurrection like his, where we shall receive bodies which do not suffer the weaknesses of our present bodies.

The pestilence is sounding its own trumpet to us. When it has passed there are many here today who may not be here then, but before then, will we hear the trumpet and look to the one who can stem the plague?

God can justly show mercy and provide forgiveness to sinners.

A cross word

The other day Coco was looking at a cross word which contained at least two quite interesting words. The first letter of snow leopard was the third letter of a sailing vessel. Now Coco does not often have occasion to use the word sloop, but it set him thinking about related words. Slope is one. Have you ever wondered why English spellings appear to be so difficult. If however you listen carefully then you may notice some subtle distinctions which account for the differences in spelling which we often find.

Sloop and slope have very pure vowel sounds. There is a very clear oo, a long o (Coco shall not go into the phonetics of this, but shall leave it to those who are far better qualified than he in those matters) and there is a short o. But what happens when you take the L away? We have two collections of letters which do not form proper English words at all: soop and sope. However, did you also notice that when you tried to say these two words you told yourself that the spelling was incorrect. The words make sense but only when spelt differently: soap and soup. Did you also notice a slight change in the pronunciation? Try it again.

With the one there is the impression in the short o of the sound of water sloshing around, which is quite appropriate given the purpose of the substance, so you have the very slight diphthong o-a: so-ap. In the second, and this perhaps reflects what we have lost but is still apparent in the social etiquettes of some societies, for example in Japan, the inevitable manner in which a so-up must be eaten or perhaps more properly be sucked up into the prandial orifice. Again there is a soft diphthong present, though not as soft as the o-a of soap, oo-u and so we say soo-up.

Now Coco is not saying that the diphthongs are strong, though perhaps in some English (the language he hastens to add not the country) dialects they may be stronger than in others, so perhaps in Brummie, Glaswegian or Liverpudlian some of these diphthongs will be more pronounced than elsewhere. Coco hesitates to mention Geordie as they are either unlikely to have a need of the one, would never dream of swallowing the other or have their own completely different words unknown south of Jarrow or north of Gosforth for the two.

Coco mentioned that there was an interesting association with the letter L, which with a little thought you will find elsewhere. The presence of L produces a pure vowel sound, If you misspell sloup and sloap you will hear it. The slight diphthongs disappear. Perhaps this is to do with the placement of the tongue, as you will recognise in words such as pool and tool. Indeed if you work though the alphabet, ignoring the vowels of course, you will quickly understand this. These words have very a very pure long o:

Boule – this is of course the French spelling of the word as it is imported. The French do not have the same orthography as the English. The correct English spelling is bool.


Drool – Coco has to introduce the r as we have no word dool.

The next word requires no introduction as it is wonderful, a cool and drool description of anyone who has managed to read thus far and not remember that it is now April: