1 Chronicles 21 – Where to Build the Temple
A. David commands a census to be taken.
1. (1-2) David is moved to take a census.
Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. 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.”
a. Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel: In 2 Samuel 24:1, it tells us that this was initially prompted because the anger of the Lord was aroused against Israel. So we see that Satan moved David yet the LORD expressly allowed it as a chastisement against David.
i. There is quite a gap in the historical record that the Chronicler passes over, including many family problems and a civil war. “His reasons for a gap of this length are not difficult to surmise: little of what transpired during those two decades would encourage a postexilic Judah, before whom Ezra was seeking to portray a piety that characterized David at his best.” (Payne)
ii. “For the first time in Scripture, the word ‘Satan’ appears without the definite article as a proper noun.” (Payne)
iii. “When Satan incites, he is interested merely in his own ends. He neither cares for righteous punishment nor looks for possible repentance, since they are as foreign to his nature as temptation to sin is to God’s.” (Selman)
b. Go, number Israel: 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.
i. 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 should receive ransom money to “atone” for the counting.
ii. “Numbering the hosts of Jehovah is not essentially or necessarily wrong; everything depends on the motive…. When it is born of pride, it is the subtlest of perils, inclining us to trust in the multitude of a host, and thus to cease to depend upon God.” (Morgan)
iii. “When we are moved to number the people, we may rest assured that the impulse is Divine or Satanic, and we may determine which by the motive. If the motive is service, it is God. If the motive is pride, it is Satanic.” (Morgan)
2. (3-4) Joab objects to the census.
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?” Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab. Therefore Joab departed and went throughout all Israel and came to Jerusalem.
a. Why then does my lord require this thing? Joab wasn’t afraid to speak to David when he thought the king was wrong. With the best interest of both David and Israel in mind, Joab tactfully asked David to reconsider this foolish desire to count the nation.
i. Joab also hints at the motive behind the counting – pride in David. The this thing that David desired was the increase of the nation, and he perhaps wanted to measure the size of his army to know if he had enough force to conquer a neighboring nation. “He did it out of curiosity and creature-confidence.” (Trapp)
ii. We gather from 2 Samuel 24 that this took place late in his reign. So late in his reign, David was tempted to take some of the glory for himself. He looked at how Israel had grown and prospered during his reign – it was remarkable indeed. The count was a way to take credit for himself. “The spirit of vainglory in numbers had taken possession of the people and the king, and there was a tendency to trust in numbers and forget God.” (Morgan)
b. Nevertheless the king’s word prevailed against Joab: 2 Samuel 24:4 tells us that it wasn’t only Joab who tried to tell David not to do this – the captains of the army also warned David not to count the soldiers in Israel. But David did so anyway.
3. (5-8) The census is made, and David is immediately sorry.
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. But he did not count Levi and Benjamin among them, for the king’s word was abominable to Joab. And God was displeased with this thing; therefore He struck Israel. 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.”
a. Joab gave the sum of the number of the people to the king: The results showed that there were 1,300,000 fighting men among the twelve tribes, reflecting an estimated total population of 6 million in Israel.
i. 2 Samuel 24:5-9 indicates that it took almost 10 months to complete the census. David should have called off this foolish census during the ten months, but he didn’t.
ii. The number given in 2 Samuel 24:5-9 is different than the sum arrived at here. “To attempt to reconcile them in every part is lost labour; better at once acknowledge what cannot be successfully denied, that although the original writers of the Old Testament wrote under the influence of the Divine Spirit, yet we are not told that the same influence descended on all copiers of their words, so as absolutely to prevent them from making mistakes.” (Clarke)
iii. But he did not count Levi and Benjamin: “The rabbis give the following reason for this: Joab, seeing that this would bring down destruction upon the people, purposed to save two tribes. Should David ask, Why have you not numbered the Levites? Joab purposed to say, Because the Levites are not reckoned among the children of Israel. Should he ask, Why have you not numbered Benjamin? he would answer, Benjamin has been already sufficiently punished, on account of the treatment of the woman at Gibeah: if, therefore, this tribe were to be again punished, who would remain?” (Clarke)
b. Therefore He struck Israel: God would strike Israel with a choice of judgments offered to David. Yet God had already struck Israel by deeply convicting the king of Israel with an acute sense of his sin.
c. I have sinned greatly: The man after God’s heart was not sinless, but he had a heart sensitive to sin when he did commit it. David kept a short account with God.
i. “The chief interest of this chapter for us lies in the revelation of the true character of David. His sins were the lapses and accidents of his life. This is not to condone them. It is, however, to emphasize that the habitual set of his life was far otherwise than these sins suggest, and the deepest truth concerning him is revealed, not by the failures, but by his action afterwards.” (Morgan)
d. Take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly: David now saw the pride and vainglory that prompted him to do such a foolish thing.
4. (9-12) David is allowed to choose the judgment.
Then the LORD spoke to Gad, David’s seer, saying, “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.”‘” So Gad came to David and said to him, “Thus says the LORD: ‘Choose for yourself, 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.”
a. I offer you three things: God used David’s sin and the resulting chastisement to reveal David’s heart and wisdom. His choice of the following three options would test David:
· Three years of famine: This would surely be the death of some in Israel, but the wealthy and resourceful would survive. Israel would have to depend on neighboring nations for food.
· Three months to be defeated by your foes: This would be the death of some in Israel, but mostly only of soldiers. Israel would have to contend with enemies among neighboring nations.
· For three days…the plague in the land: This would be the death of some in Israel, but anyone could be struck by this plague – rich or poor, influential or anonymous, royal or common.
i. “This was a great mercy: David must be whipped; but he may choose his own rod.” (Trapp)
b. Now consider what answer I should take back to Him who sent me: God wanted David to use the prophet as a mediator, and to answer to the prophet instead of directly to God.
5. (13) David chooses the three days of plague.
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.”
a. Please let me fall into the hand of the LORD: This meant that David chose the three days of plague. In the other two options, the king and his family could be insulated against the danger, but David knew that he had to expose himself to the chastisement of God.
i. “Had he chosen war, his own personal safety was in no danger, because there was already an ordinance preventing him from going to battle. Had he chosen famine, his own wealth would have secured his and his own family’s support. But he showed the greatness of his mind in choosing the pestilence, to the ravages of which himself and his household were exposed equally with the meanest of his subjects.” (Clarke)
b. Do not let me fall into the hand of man: This meant that David chose the three days of plague. In the other two options, Israel would either be at the mercy of neighbors (as in the famine) or attacked by enemies. David knew that God is far more merciful and gracious than man is.
B. The course of the plague
1. (14-15) The plague of destruction hits Israel severely.
So the LORD sent a plague upon Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell. 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.
a. Seventy thousand men of Israel fell: This was a great calamity upon Israel – a devastating plague striking this many in such a short period of time.
b. The LORD looked and relented of the disaster: This justified David’s wisdom in leaving himself in God’s hands. He could not trust man to relent from destruction.
2. (16-19) David’s intercession; and God’s instruction.
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. 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.” 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. So David went up at the word of Gad, which he had spoken in the name of the LORD.
a. Having in his hand a drawn sword stretched out over Jerusalem: At this point, God had relented from the severity of judgment, yet the threat was still imminent. So David and the elders humbled themselves before God and David repented.
b. Let Your hand, I pray, O LORD my God, be against me and my father’s house: Like a true shepherd, David asked that the punishment be upon him and his own household. Having another purpose to accomplish, God did not accept David’s offer.
c. Erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite: This is where David met the Angel of the LORD, and where God relented from the plague before it came upon Jerusalem. Now God wanted David to meet Him there in worship.
i. “Threshing floors were usually on a height, in order to catch every breeze; some area to the north of David’s city is indicated” (Baldwin)
ii. The threshing floor of Ornan had both a rich history and a rich future. 2 Chronicles 3:1 tells us that the threshing floor of Ornan was on Mount Moriah; the same hill where Abraham offered Isaac (Genesis 22:2), and the same set of hills where Jesus died on the cross (Genesis 22:14).
iii. “In fact, David’s altar was the only one in pre-exilic times which God explicitly commanded to be built.” (Selman)
iv. “The decision of God to establish his altar and temple at Moriah in Jerusalem has affected all history (cf. Revelation 11:1); for this mountain became the focus of the Holy City, where His Son was crucified. And it will continue to affect history; for from this ‘city he loves’, he will some day rule the nations of the earth (Isaiah 2:2-4).” (Payne)
3. (20-25) David buys the threshing floor of Ornan.
Now Ornan turned and saw the angel; and his four sons who were with him hid themselves, but Ornan continued threshing wheat. 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. 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.” 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.” 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.” So David gave Ornan six hundred shekels of gold by weight for the place.
a. Now Ornan turned and saw the angel; and his four sons who were with him hid themselves: “Partly because of the glory and majesty in which the angel appeared, which men’s weak and sinful natures are not able to bear; and partly for the fear of God’s vengeance, which was at this time riding circuit in the land, and now seemed to be coming to their family.” (Poole)
b. Grant me the place of this threshing floor…at full price: David wanted to transform this place where chaff was separated from wheat into a place of sacrifice and worship. It would remain a place of sacrifice and worship because this land purchased by David became the site of Solomon’s temple (1 Chronicles 21:28-22:5).
i. “So David bought ‘the site’ – hammaqom, which may have included the whole area of Mount Moriah – for 240 ounces of gold. This was worth about one hundred thousand dollars. Second Samuel 24:24 notes a much smaller amount, 20 ounces of silver, for the threshing floor itself.” (Payne)
c. Take it to yourself, and let my lord the king do what is good in his eyes: Ornan had a good, generous heart and wanted to give David anything he wanted.
i. “Had Araunah’s [Ornan’s] noble offer been accepted, it would have been Araunah’s sacrifice, not David’s; nor would it have answered the end of turning away the displeasure of the Most High.” (Clarke)
d. 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: David knew that it would not be a gift nor a sacrifice to the LORD if it did not cost him something. He didn’t look for the cheapest way possible to please God.
i. “He who has a religion that costs him nothing, has a religion that is worth nothing: nor will any man esteem the ordinances of God, if those ordinances cost him nothing.” (Clarke)
ii. “Where there is true, strong love to Jesus, it will cost us something. Love is the costliest of all undertakings…. But what shall we mind if we gain Christ? You cannot give up for Him without regaining everything you have renounced, but purified and transfigured.” (Meyer)
4. (26-27) God is satisfied and relents of the judgment.
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. So the LORD commanded the angel, and he returned his sword to its sheath.
a. And offered burnt offerings and peace offerings: This shows that David understood that the death of the 70,000 in Israel in the plague did not atone for his and Israel’s sin. Atonement could only be made through the blood of an approved substitute.
i. Burnt offerings were to atone for sin; peace offerings were to enjoy fellowship with God. This shows us from beginning to end, David’s life was marked by fellowship with God.
ii. “We finally see the man after God’s own heart turning the occasion of his sin and its punishment into an occasion of worship.” (Morgan)
iii. “Abraham taught the fact of the sacrifice, while to David the reason of that sacrifice of Christ was explained. He was sacrificed to stay the plague – the plague of sin, the punishment of our iniquities.” (Spurgeon)
b. He answered him from heaven by fire on the altar: God showed His acceptance of David’s sacrifice by consuming it with fire from heaven. The LORD honored David’s desire to be right with God and to fellowship with Him, by answering with Divine blessing from heaven. So it always is when God’s children draw near to their God and Father for cleansing and fellowship.
i. The sending of fire from heaven answered a question that had burned in the heart of David for a long time. For many years, he had wondered where God wanted the temple to be built, and he sought for that place, as shown in Psalm 132:1-5:
LORD, remember David
And all his afflictions;
How he swore to the LORD,
And vowed to the Mighty One of Jacob:
“Surely I will not go into the chamber of my house,
Or go up to the comfort of my bed;
I will not give sleep to my eyes
Or slumber to my eyelids,
Until I find a place for the LORD,
A dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob.”
ii. The fire on the altar from heaven confirmed the previous word of the prophet Gad that this was the place to build the altar and the temple. We see that God simply used Satan’s provocation at the opening of this chapter to lead to the answer of this important question for David and for the nation of Israel. There were certainly other purposes of God at work, but this was one of them.
5. (28-22:1) David decides to build the temple at the place where God showed mercy to Israel.
At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there. 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. But David could not go before it to inquire of God, for he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD. Then David said, “This is the house of the LORD God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel.”
a. When David saw that the LORD had answered him on the threshing floor of Ornan the Jebusite, he sacrificed there: David knew that there was something special about this threshing floor; he understood that God had sanctified the place Himself with fire from heaven.
i. “Having seen his prayers answered and his sacrifices accepted, the site had already become a ‘house of prayer’ and a ‘temple for sacrifices’ cf. 2 Chronicles 7:12; Isaiah 56:7).” (Selman)
ii. He sacrificed there: “Do not believe for a moment that visible grandeur is necessary to the place where God will meet with you. Go to your threshing floor and pray; aye, while the unmuzzled oxen take their rest, bow your knee and cry to the Lord of the harvest, and you shall meet with God there amongst the straw and the grain. Fear not to draw nigh to God in these streets, but consecrate all space to the Lord your God.” (Spurgeon)
b. This is the house of the LORD God, and this is the altar of burnt offering for Israel: David understood that the future temple should be built on this spot in Jerusalem. God had sanctified this humble threshing floor to Himself.
i. This is the house: “This is that very place foretold by Moses (Deuteronomy 12:11).” (Trapp)
ii. The character of Ornan’s threshing floor shows us something about where and how God wants to meet with men. Ornan’s threshing floor was:
· A simple, unadorned place – not like a fancy church at all.
· A place of ordinary work.
· A place bought with money.
· A place from where bread came from.
· A place where the justice of God was evident.
· A place where sin was confessed.
· A place where sacrifice was offered and accepted.