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II Samuel 24; I Chronicles 21-22; Psalm 30     Listen Podcast



The REAL story about the evil of the census (II Samuel 24:1-17; I Chronicles 21:1-17)

II Samuel 24
I Chronicles 21
1 Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.”
2 ¶ So the king said to Joab the commander of the army who was with him, “Now go throughout all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beersheba, and count the people, that I may know the number of the people.”
3 ¶ And Joab said to the king, “Now may the LORD your God add to the people a hundred times more than there are, and may the eyes of my lord the king see it. But why does my lord the king desire this thing?”
4 Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab and against the captains of the army. Therefore Joab and the captains of the army went out from the presence of the king to count the people of Israel.
5 ¶ And they crossed over the Jordan and camped in Aroer, on the right side of the town which is in the midst of the ravine of Gad, and toward Jazer.
6 Then they came to Gilead and to the land of Tahtim Hodshi; they came to Dan Jaan and around to Sidon;
7 and they came to the stronghold of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and the Canaanites. Then they went out to South Judah as far as Beersheba.
8 So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.
9 Then Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to the king. And there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men who drew the sword, and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.
10 ¶ And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”
11 ¶ Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying,
12 “Go and tell David, “Thus says the LORD: ‘I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.” ’ ”
13 So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.”
14 ¶ And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
15 ¶ So the LORD sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of the people died.
16 And when the angel stretched out His hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the destruction, and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
17 ¶ Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.”
1 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.
2 So David said to Joab and to the leaders of the people, “Go, number Israel from Beersheba to Dan, and bring the number of them to me that I may know it.”
3 ¶ And Joab answered, “May the LORD make His people a hundred times more than they are. But, my lord the king, are they not all my lord’s servants? Why then does my lord require this thing? Why should he be a cause of guilt in Israel?”
4 ¶ Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came to Jerusalem.
5 Then Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to David. All Israel had one million one hundred thousand men who drew the sword, and Judah had four hundred and seventy thousand men who drew the sword.
6 But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s word was abominable to Joab.
7 ¶ And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He struck Israel.
8 So David said to God, “I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing; but now, I pray, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”
9 ¶ Then the LORD spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying,
10 “Go and tell David, saying, “Thus says the LORD: ‘I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.” ’ ”
11 ¶ So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Choose for yourself,
12 either three years of famine, or three months to be defeated by your foes with the sword of your enemies overtaking you, or else for three days the sword of the LORD—the plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the territory of Israel.’ Now consider what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.”
13 ¶ And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are very great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
14 ¶ So the LORD sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell.
15 And God sent an angel to Jerusalem to destroy it. As he was destroying, the LORD looked and relented of the disaster, and said to the angel who was destroying, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
16 ¶ Then David lifted his eyes and saw the angel of the LORD standing between earth and heaven, having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem. So David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces.
17 And David said to God, “Was it not I who commanded the people to be numbered? I am the one who has sinned and done evil indeed; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house, but not against Your people that they should be plagued.”

So...David's experiencing success as King of Israel and decides that he would like to have an accurate census of Israel proper, from Dan (northern border) to Beersheba (southern border). That did not include those non Jews in occupied territories - just those Jewish men who were qualified to serve in David's army. What's the problem? What can possibly be the harm in getting a count?

How big was David's army?

The fighting-force numbers in II Samuel 24:9 differ from those of I Chronicles 21:5 as follows:

  • II Samuel 24:9: Israel - 800,000 and Judah - 500,000 for a total of 1,300,000
  • I Chronicles 21:5: Israel - 1,100,000 and Judah - 470,000 for a total of 1,570,000

This assessment of military strength included all male men 20 years of age and older (Numbers 1:3) who were healthy enough to fight. Since the census took nearly 10 months to complete, that number would have varied significantly during that period of time as men turned 20, and some of the older men's health began to fail. Therefore, both accounts obviously are compiled with round numbers given to David by Joab. It is logical to assume that the number for Judah in II Samuel was rounded up from perhaps the more-precise figure given in I Chronicles.

But what about the 300,000 difference between the given troop strengths of Israel? It is likely that I Chronicles includes the number for the regular army of 288,000 found in 1 Chronicles 27:1–15, which when rounded up, accounts for the additional 300,000. II Samuel only counts reserves.

Let's compare verse 1 from both passages:

II Samuel 24:1 Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, "Go, number Israel and Judah."
I Chronicles 21:1 Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel.

Notice in II Samuel that the LORD was angry with Israel already for some reason. It's easy to extrapolate from this passage that perhaps David and his people had become less dependent on God because of their prosperity - the prosperity documented in I Chronicles 22:18 (see below).

There's a bit more insight into this issue of the numbering of Israel found in I Chronicles 27:23-24 (see notes), "But David did not take the number of those twenty years old and under, because the LORD had said He would multiply Israel like the stars of the heavens. Joab the son of Zeruiah began a census, but he did not finish, for wrath came upon Israel because of this census; nor was the number recorded in the account of the chronicles of King David." Now...view these two verses in the light of two promises made to Abraham:

Genesis 15:5 (see notes) Then He brought him outside and said, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars if you are able to number them." And He said to him, "So shall your descendants be."
Genesis 22:17 (see notes) blessing I will bless you, and multiplying I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is on the seashore; and your descendants shall possess the gate of their enemies.

There's yet another consideration with regard to this census found in Exodus 30:11-16 (see notes):

11 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying:
12 “When you take the census of the children of Israel for their number, then every man shall give a ransom for himself to the LORD, when you number them, that there may be no plague among them when you number them.
13 This is what everyone among those who are numbered shall give: half a shekel according to the shekel of the sanctuary (a shekel is twenty gerahs). The half-shekel shall be an offering to the LORD.
14 Everyone included among those who are numbered, from twenty years old and above, shall give an offering to the LORD.
15 The rich shall not give more and the poor shall not give less than half a shekel, when you give an offering to the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.
16 And you shall take the atonement money of the children of Israel, and shall appoint it for the service of the tabernacle of meeting, that it may be a memorial for the children of Israel before the LORD, to make atonement for yourselves.

We aren't told why, but taking a count of the Tribes of Israel was something not to be taken lightly - so much so that an offering was to be required from each person counted. This offering accompanying the census was to prevent a "plague among them." There is no reference to such an offering accompanying David's census...and the result was a "plague among them."

Further evidence of the gravity of the situation with regard to counting the people is seen in Numbers 31:48-50 (see notes):

48 ¶ Then the officers who were over thousands of the army, the captains of thousands and captains of hundreds, came near to Moses;
49 and they said to Moses, “Your servants have taken a count of the men of war who are under our command, and not a man of us is missing.
50 Therefore we have brought an offering for the LORD, what every man found of ornaments of gold: armlets and bracelets and signet rings and earrings and necklaces, to make atonement for ourselves before the LORD.

Here again, an offering was required of each man of war. While that may not give us an answer sufficient to our level of curiosity on the matter, it does give us some insight into the issue. Apparently David's motivation and procedure here was unacceptable before God. Furthermore, after the plague is stopped at the threshing floor of Araunah (aka Ornan), David insists on paying the complete price for this future site of the temple. He sees it as a sacrifice (see below at II Samuel 24:18-25; I Chronicles 21:18-22:1). That would indicate that perhaps David finally understood a linkage between the counting of the people without an offering brings plague.

Also for our consideration, based upon I Chronicles 27:23-24 (see notes) in the light of God's promises to Abraham, it would appear to be possible that numbering Israel flew in the face of the Abrahamic Covenant of a seed so plentiful that it could not be numbered. The census does yield some really huge numbers for an Israeli fighting force - over 1.5 million soldiers (regular army plus national guard). To support this notion, we see the following statement by Solomon in I Kings 3:8 (see notes) during his conversation with God after taking over the throne, "And Your servant is in the midst of Your people whom You have chosen, a great people, too numerous to be numbered or counted." It is expressed similarly in the same account by Ezra in II Chronicles 1:9 (see notes), "Now, O LORD God, let Your promise to David my father be established, for You have made me king over a people like the dust of the earth in multitude." It would appear from Solomon's prayer to God there that he knew the people were not to be numbered...perhaps a lesson he learned from David's census experience here.

Incidentally, the "chronicles of king David" found in I Chronicles 27:24 is a reference to the log made as a record of the notable events and transactions in a king's reign. It is not a reference to the Book of Chronicles.

Here's a principle that existed from the Garden of Eden and still is God's mode of operation with his people. As in the Book of Job (see notes), God allows Satan to try his people. Incidentally, this is the first occasion in the Old Testament where the Hebrew word "satan" (our English word is transliterated exactly) is used as a proper name (without the definite article). Previously the word was used to describe an adversary. So here's the deal: God is angry with his people, so he allows Satan to tempt David into numbering his big ol' fighting force.

One more verse perhaps needs a conjecture; I Chronicles 21:6 says, "But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s word was abominable to Joab." You will recall that previously whenever the people were numbered, it was always for the purpose of determining the size of the fighting force. The Levites were never counted in that number (they didn't fight, Numbers 1:49-50, see notes). However, Levites are listed in the composition of David's army in I Chronicles 12 (see notes). The tabernacle itself was located in Jerusalem at this point in time, so there would have been a bigger concentration of Levites there; Jerusalem was located in Benjamin's territory. Joab reluctantly took David's census in the first place; this must be where Joab drew the line on the effort. So, though living in peace and prosperity, David is tempted by Satan to embark upon a nine-month task of assessing the strength of his fighting force. Perhaps this particular temptation was placed before the people of Israel because they were starting to feel self sufficient and proud of their personal accomplishments.

So, David, what's the secret of your military expertise - God on your side leading the way? David might have replied, "Naw...I think it's because I have a really big army. As a matter of fact, I wonder how big my national guard really is," David must have wondered. Even though Joab warns David that it's a really bad idea, what the king wants, the king gets. Just as we thought - David has a really big national guard. God isn't pleased though that David succumbed to the temptation of Satan.

God, through the prophet Gad, gives David a choice of three punishments for this transgression; none of them pleasant.

Behind door #3...a plague! But it's only for three days though - and it's from God rather than from David's enemies (that was door #2). The pestilence costs David 70,000 men, but falls short of the destruction of Jerusalem. As a matter of fact, the angel in charge of pestilence stops at the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite (spelled Araunah in II Samuel) as David pleads for mercy. This threshing floor becomes very important in Jewish history as it becomes the site of the Temple.

To put this incident into perspective, I'm reminded of James 1:14-15 (see notes), " But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" It started with temptation and ended with sin.

Is it sacrifice if it costs you nothing? (II Samuel 24:18-25; I Chronicles 21:18-22:1)

II Samuel 24
I Chronicles 21
18 ¶ And Gad came that day to David and said to him, “Go up, erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.”
19 So David, according to the word of Gad, went up as the LORD commanded.
20 Now Araunah looked, and saw the king and his servants coming toward him. So Araunah went out and bowed before the king with his face to the ground.
21 ¶ Then Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?” ¶ And David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you, to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.”
22 ¶ Now Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up whatever seems good to him. Look, here are oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing implements and the yokes of the oxen for wood.
23 All these, O king, Araunah has given to the king.” ¶ And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.”
24 ¶ Then the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will surely buy it from you for a price; nor will I offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God with that which costs me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.
25 And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD heeded the prayers for the land, and the plague was withdrawn from Israel.
18 ¶ Therefore, the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David that David should go and erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite.
19 So David went up at the word of Gad, which he had spoken in the name of the LORD.
20 Now Ornan turned and saw the angel; and his four sons who were with him hid themselves, but Ornan continued threshing wheat.
21 So David came to Ornan, and Ornan looked and saw David. And he went out from the threshing floor, and bowed before David with his face to the ground.
22 Then David said to Ornan, “Grant me the place of this threshing floor, that I may build an altar on it to the LORD. You shall grant it to me at the full price, that the plague may be withdrawn from the people.”
23 ¶ But Ornan said to David, “Take it to yourself, and let my lord the king do what is good in his eyes. Look, I also give you the oxen for burnt offerings, the threshing implements for wood, and the wheat for the grain offering; I give it all.”
24 ¶ Then King David said to Ornan, “No, but I will surely buy it for the full price, for I will not take what is yours for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings with that which costs me nothing.”
25 So David gave Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the place.
26 And David built there an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called on the LORD; and He answered him from heaven by fire on the altar of burnt offering.
27 ¶ So the LORD commanded the angel, and he returned his sword to its sheath.
28 ¶ At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there.
29 For the tabernacle of the LORD and the altar of the burnt offering, which Moses had made in the wilderness, were at that time at the high place in Gibeon.
30 But David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD.
22:1 Then David said, “This is the house of the LORD God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel.”

The prophet Gad told David he should go erect an altar to God there where the pestilence ceased - there on the threshing floor (a big outdoor open spot) that belonged to Ornan (aka Araunah) the Jebusite. You may recall that the Jebusites were the previous owners of Jerusalem before David came to town. Understand, David was not opposed to taking property, but this is different; it's the future site of God's Temple. If there is no price to pay, there is no sacrifice. Even though Araunah the Jebusite offers to donate the property, David insists that he pay for the site of his altar. After all, the welfare of all Israel is at stake here - no mistakes or shortcomings allowed.

So, how much did David pay for this property - 50 shekels of silver (II Samuel) or 600 shekels of gold (I Chronicles)? The I Chronicles text explicitly says that David bought "the site," which included the whole area of Mount Moriah. Samuel's account includes only the price for the oxen and the threshing floor. Both accounts are accurate.

A word of explanation is in order regarding the Tabernacle located at Gibeon. Prior to Gibeon, it had been located at Nob in I Samuel 22 (see notes). It was perhaps Saul who had the tabernacle moved to Gibeon after he massacred the priests there at Nob. While we see in I Chronicles 21:29 that sacrifices were still being made at the Tabernacle located in Gibeon, David had moved the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem to another tabernacle back in II Samuel 6; I Chronicles 13 (see notes). So, the tabernacle in Jerusalem contained the Ark of the Covenant at this point in time, while the priests were making sacrifices at the Tabernacle located in Gibeon.

Solomon! We have a really big project for you (I Chronicles 22:2-19)

2 So David commanded to gather the aliens who were in the land of Israel; and he appointed masons to cut hewn stones to build the house of God.
3 And David prepared iron in abundance for the nails of the doors of the gates and for the joints, and bronze in abundance beyond measure,
4 and cedar trees in abundance; for the Sidonians and those from Tyre brought much cedar wood to David.
5 ¶ Now David said, “Solomon my son is young and inexperienced, and the house to be built for the LORD must be exceedingly magnificent, famous and glorious throughout all countries. I will now make preparation for it.” So David made abundant preparations before his death.
6 ¶ Then he called for his son Solomon, and charged him to build a house for the LORD God of Israel.
7 And David said to Solomon: “My son, as for me, it was in my mind to build a house to the name of the LORD my God;
8 but the word of the LORD came to me, saying, “You have shed much blood and have made great wars; you shall not build a house for My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.
9 Behold, a son shall be born to you, who shall be a man of rest; and I will give him rest from all his enemies all around. His name shall be Solomon, for I will give peace and quietness to Israel in his days.
10 He shall build a house for My name, and he shall be My son, and I will be his Father; and I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever.’
11 Now, my son, may the LORD be with you; and may you prosper, and build the house of the LORD your God, as He has said to you.
12 Only may the LORD give you wisdom and understanding, and give you charge concerning Israel, that you may keep the law of the LORD your God.
13 Then you will prosper, if you take care to fulfill the statutes and judgments with which the LORD charged Moses concerning Israel. Be strong and of good courage; do not fear nor be dismayed.
14 Indeed I have taken much trouble to prepare for the house of the LORD one hundred thousand talents of gold and one million talents of silver, and bronze and iron beyond measure, for it is so abundant. I have prepared timber and stone also, and you may add to them.
15 Moreover there are workmen with you in abundance: woodsmen and stonecutters, and all types of skillful men for every kind of work.
16 Of gold and silver and bronze and iron there is no limit. Arise and begin working, and the LORD be with you.”
17 ¶ David also commanded all the leaders of Israel to help Solomon his son, saying,
18 “Is not the LORD your God with you? And has He not given you rest on every side? For He has given the inhabitants of the land into my hand, and the land is subdued before the LORD and before His people.
19 Now set your heart and your soul to seek the LORD your God. Therefore arise and build the sanctuary of the LORD God, to bring the ark of the covenant of the LORD and the holy articles of God into the house that is to be built for the name of the LORD.”

David explains to Solomon that he'll have to build the temple because God told David he couldn't do it - too much blood on his hands. One such occasion of excessive blood on his hands could be II Samuel 8:1-18 (see notes) when he executed some Moabite prisoners of war after their defeat. However, that doesn't prevent Dad from setting Solomon up for success in the project though. He gets all the people behind his boy and donates a massive amount of resources to the building of the temple. By 2006 exchange rates, David allocated $36 billion (yes, I said billion) in gold and another $4.2 billion in silver along with lots of other building materials. Even with the typical cost overruns, you can build a really nice temple for that amount of money.

By the way, as David recounts his "word of the LORD" in verses 8-10, he includes the provisions of the covenant known as "The Davidic Covenant" when he says in verse 10, "I will establish the throne of his kingdom over Israel forever." For additional scripture regarding God's covenant with David, click here.

It is important to note in this passage that David calls the leadership of Israel together to formally announce Solomon as his successor (verse 17) and to charge them to assist Solomon in the temple-building project. However, later on, Adonijah (Solomon's half brother) unsuccessfully attempts to hijack the throne before David even gasps for his last breath (I Kings 1:5-10, see notes).

There's an interesting aspect here that is not evident, except in the Hebrew language. David had been denied the opportunity to build the Temple because of blood on his hands. So, he turns the project over to his son, Solomon. It just so happens that Solomon's name is based on the familiar Hebrew word for "peace," which is "shalom." As a matter of fact, Solomon's name begins with the exact same three Hebrew letters that spell "shalom" with the additional Hebrew letter "he" added to the ending to turn the word into a name. It appears that David named his boy with the intention that he would fulfill the role of being the peaceful agent to whom would be given the privilege by God to build his Temple.

God is my strength (Psalm 30)

A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the house of David.
1 ¶ I will extol You, O LORD, for You have lifted me up,
And have not let my foes rejoice over me.
2 O LORD my God, I cried out to You,
And You healed me.
3 O LORD, You brought my soul up from the grave;
You have kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.
4 Sing praise to the LORD, you saints of His,
And give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name.
5 For His anger is but for a moment,
His favor is for life;
Weeping may endure for a night,
But joy comes in the morning.
6 Now in my prosperity I said,
“I shall never be moved.”
7 LORD, by Your favor You have made my mountain stand strong;
You hid Your face, and I was troubled.
8 I cried out to You, O LORD;
And to the LORD I made supplication:
9 “What profit is there in my blood,
When I go down to the pit?
Will the dust praise You?
Will it declare Your truth?
10 Hear, O LORD, and have mercy on me;
LORD, be my helper!”
11 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing;
You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,
12 To the end that my glory may sing praise to You and not be silent.
O LORD my God, I will give thanks to You forever.

The title to this Psalm says, "A Psalm. A Song at the dedication of the house of David." Israel certainly has a lot to be thankful for. This Psalm summarizes it nicely. While not specifically stated, the personal nature of the comments in this Psalm strongly suggests Davidic authorship.

This Psalm may be summarized as follows: