Near the end of David’s reign as king of Israel, he ordered a census to be taken of all the fighting men in Israel. This action displeased God, who sent the seer Gad to inform David of His displeasure. God also did something that was unprecedented. He allowed David to choose which of three punishments would come upon Israel for this sin. David’s response is recorded in 2 Sam. 24:14, where the scripture says, “Then David said to Gad, ‘I am in great distress. Let us now fall into the hand of the Lord for His mercies are great, but do not let me fall into the hand of man.'” This choice resulted in 70,000 men of Israel dying as God sent three days of pestilence on Israel for David’s sin.
In the New Testament we find another instance in which the scripture speaks of falling into the hands of God. In Heb. 10:31 the scripture says, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” This statement is the exclamation point to the discussion which precedes it. In that discussion the writer of Hebrews warned that those Christians who chose to willfully sin after receiving the knowledge of the truth would face a terrifying expectation of judgment from God.
In both cases the scriptures speak of falling into the hands of God, but the perspective is very different in each case. In the first case, David seemed anxious to fall into God’s hands, even though he knew God was going to execute judgment against him. In the other case, the readers were warned that they should not want to fall into the hands of God. It is the same God in both instances, but what can explain the difference in the two situations?
In the first case, David was penitent about his sin, and he knew that his only hope was to commit himself into the hands of God. His confidence in doing so was based upon his trust in God’s mercy and grace. His confidence was well-placed because he had humbled himself before God with regard to his sin. He was trying to do what was right after having violated God’s will. For this reason, to fall into the hands of God was the most desirable option.
In the second case, however, the terror of falling into the hands of God is based upon an impenitent heart. In Heb. 10:26-27 the scripture says, “For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries.” Falling into the hands of God in this instance is terrifying because the one so falling is unbowed before God. The Christian who willfully persists in sinful behavior should be terrified because he has “trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace” (Heb. 10:29).
It is the same God in each case, and the same hands, but the state of one’s heart determines whether he can confidently fall into them, or be terrified to do so. If we are penitent about our sins, and if we humble ourselves before God in genuine remorse for our sins, He will forgive us (1 Jn. 1:5-10). We may suffer some temporal consequence of our sin, but our souls will be clean because we fell into the hands of God with a penitent heart. If we refuse to repent and humble ourselves, and if we have no genuine remorse for our sins, we need to be very afraid, for God will not allow the guilty to go unpunished (Ex. 34:7). We will all fall into the hands of God at judgment. What happens then depends on whether we have been forgiven or not.