David foolishly calls for a census, and many Israelites pay the price with their lives (1 Chronicles 21:14). After David witnesses the destruction of the sheep of Israel and beholds this angel of death, he recognizes his guilt. In fact, David questions why the sheep should die when the shepherd is responsible for protecting them (1 Chronicles 21:17). When David asks to die to bear the punishment of his sins and thus abate God’s anger, God refuses his offer. He does not give His rationale for sparing David, but some speculate that God refuses David’s offer since He intends that only the Good Shepherd will lay down His life for His sheep. Others simply see God’s grace toward David.
Since we are not told God’s thought processes, we should only note that David is still commanded to offer sacrifices to atone for his sin; something else dies in David’s stead. As great as David is, he is not permitted by God to die to save Israel, and he cannot even atone for his own sins. As David’s reign dwindles to an end, we see how insufficient David is as king even while being a man after God’s own heart. Israel and the world need a better king.