2 Samuel 24 (NRSV)
David’s Census of Israel and Judah
Again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them, saying, “Go, count the people of Israel and Judah.”
1 Chronicles 21:1 tells us, Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. Perhaps Satan moved David and is the “he” of 2 Samuel 24:1. Yet the Lord expressly allowed it as a chastisement against David.
2So the king said to Joab and the commanders of the army, who were with him, “Go through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan to Beer-sheba, and take a census of the people, so that I may know how many there are.”
This was dangerous because of a principle stated in Exodus 30:12: 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.
The principle of Exodus 30:12 speaks to God’s ownership of His people. In the thinking of these ancient cultures, a man only had the right to count or number what belonged to him. Israel didn’t belong to David; Israel belonged to God. It was up to the Lord to command a counting, and if David counted he should only do it at God’s command and receiving ransom money to “atone” for the counting.
3But Joab said to the king, “May the Lord your God increase the number of the people a hundredfold, while the eyes of my lord the king can still see it! But why does my lord the king want to do this?”
4But the king’s word prevailed against Joab and the commanders of the army.
Joab and the commanders of the army objected to the taking of the census. Why didn’t David listen?
So Joab and the commanders of the army went out from the presence of the king to take a census of the people of Israel.
5They crossed the Jordan, and began from Aroer and from the city that is in the middle of the valley, toward Gad and on to Jazer. 6Then they came to Gilead, and to Kadesh in the land of the Hittites; and they came to Dan, and from Dan they went around to Sidon, 7and came to the fortress of Tyre and to all the cities of the Hivites and Canaanites; and they went out to the Negeb of Judah at Beer-sheba.
8So when they had gone through all the land, they came back to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.
9Joab reported to the king the number of those who had been recorded: in Israel there were eight hundred thousand soldiers able to draw the sword, and those of Judah were five hundred thousand.
Judgment on David’s Sin
10But afterward, David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O Lord, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.”
What prompted David to recognize his pride and realize his sin now?
11When David rose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, 12“Go and say to David: Thus says the Lord: Three things I offer you; choose one of them, and I will do it to you.”
13So Gad came to David and told him; he asked him, “Shall three years of famine come to you on your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to the one who sent me.”
14Then David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into human hands.”
Here is one perspective on the choice David made: Behind Door # 1, Famine would affect mostly the poor people of the land; the wealthier could pay high prices for food and ride it out. The people of Israel would be at the mercy of their neighbors. Behind Door # 2, War would affect mostly the soldiers. Enemies would attack the land. Behind Door # 3, Pestilence would affect a broad section of the people, rich and poor alike. Since it would come from God and not from humans, David chose to rely on the mercy of God.
15So the Lord sent a pestilence on Israel from that morning until the appointed time; and seventy thousand of the people died, from Dan to Beer-sheba. 16But when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented concerning the evil, and said to the angel who was bringing destruction among the people, “It is enough; now stay your hand.” The angel of the Lord was then by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
17When David saw the angel who was destroying the people, he said to the Lord, “I alone have sinned, and I alone have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.”
David’s Altar on the Threshing-Floor
18That day Gad came to David and said to him, “Go up and erect an altar to the Lord on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.” 19Following Gad’s instructions, David went up, as the Lord had commanded. 20When Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming toward him; and Araunah went out and prostrated himself before the king with his face to the ground.
21Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”
David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you in order to build an altar to the Lord, so that the plague may be averted from the people.”
The threshing floor of Araunah had both rich history and a rich future. 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us that the threshing floor of Araunah was on Mount Moriah; the same hill where Abraham offered Isaac (Genesis 22:2), and where Solomon would build the temple (2 Chronicles 3:1). Many believe it is close to the same set of hills where Jesus died on the cross (Genesis 22:14).
22Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him; here are the oxen for the burnt offering, and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. 23All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God respond favorably to you.”
24But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy them from you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”
“He who has a religion that costs him nothing, has a religion that is worth nothing.“
–Adam Clarke (1762-1832), British Methodist theologian and Biblical scholar
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. 25David built there an altar to the Lord, and offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being. So the Lord answered his supplication for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.
THE END of 2 Samuel.
What are YOU taking away from 2 Samuel and the reign of David? Please share your ideas with us! Make a comment/reply below!
A song of worship for those of us who, like David, find our life in God alone! “God Reigns” by Todd Vaters.
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.