2 Samuel 24 – David and the Census
A. David commands a census to be taken.
1. (1-2) David is moved to take a census.
Again the anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David against them to say, “Go, number Israel and Judah.” 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.”
a. The anger of the LORD was aroused against Israel, and He moved David: The translators of the New King James Version believe that “He” in this sentence applies to God, because they capitalize it. Yet 1 Chronicles 21:1 tells us, Now Satan stood up against Israel, and moved David to number Israel. The best explanation is that Satan prompted King David and is the “he” of 2 Samuel 24:1. Yet the LORD expressly allowed it as a chastisement against David.
i. “Now the ‘he’ there, we assume would be the Lord. But as we find out in 1 Chronicles, chapter one, it was Satan that moved David’s heart, to the numbering of the people. So God opened the door, and allowed Satan to move in and tempt David.” (Smith)
b. Go, number Israel and Judah: 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 receiving ransom money to “atone” for the counting.
2. (3-4) Joab objects to the census.
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?” 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.
a. Why does my lord the king desire this thing? Joab wasn’t afraid to speak to David when he thought the king was wrong. With the best interests of both David and Israel in mind, Joab tactfully asked David to reconsider this foolish desire to count the nation.
i. Joab also hinted at the motive behind the counting – pride in David. 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. 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 and against the captains of the army: 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. (5-9) The census is taken.
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. Then they came to Gilead and to the land of Tahtim Hodshi; they came to Dan Jaan and around to Sidon; 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. So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days. 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.
a. When they had gone through all the land: It took almost 10 months to complete the census. David should have called off this foolish census during the 10 months, but he didn’t.
b. 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 about 6 million in Israel.
i. “In the parallel place, 1 Chronicles 21:5, the sums are widely different: in Israel one million one hundred thousand, in Judah four hundred and seventy thousand. Neither of these sums is too great, but they cannot be both correct; and which is the true number is difficult to say.” (Clarke)
ii. “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)
B. David’s guilt and God’s punishment.
1. (10) David knows that he has done wrong in numbering the people.
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.”
a. David’s heart condemned him: The man after God’s heart was not sinless, but he had a heart sensitive to sin when it was committed. David kept a short account with God.
b. 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.
2. (11-13) David is allowed to choose his judgment.
Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, “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.’” 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.”
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 was to test David:
· Seven years of famine: This would surely be the death of some people in Israel, but the wealthy and resourceful would survive. Israel would have to depend on neighboring nations for food.
· Flee three months before your enemies: This would be the death of some in Israel, but mostly of them would be soldiers. Israel would have to contend with enemies among neighboring nations.
· Three days’ plague in your 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.
b. Now consider and see 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.
3. (14) David chooses the three days of plague.
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.”
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 was far more merciful and gracious than man.
4. (15-17) The plague of destruction hits Israel severely.
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. 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. 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.”
a. Seventy thousand men of the people died: This was a great calamity upon Israel – a devastating plague striking so many in such a short period of time.
b. The LORD relented from the destruction: This justified David’s wisdom in leaving himself in God’s hands. He could not trust man to relent from destruction.
c. Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against 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. David builds an altar.
1. (18-21) David is instructed to erect an altar on the threshing floor of Araunah.
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.” So David, according to the word of Gad, went up as the LORD commanded. 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. 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.”
a. Erect an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah 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 Araunah had both a 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 the same set of hills where Jesus died on the cross (Genesis 22:14).
b. To buy the threshing floor from you, to build an altar to the LORD: 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).
2. (22-24) Refusing the gift of Araunah, David buys the threshing floor.
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. All these, O king, Araunah has given to the king.” And Araunah said to the king, “May the LORD your God accept you.” 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.
a. Let my lord the king take and offer up whatever seems good to him: Araunah had a good, generous heart and wanted to give David anything he wanted.
i. “Had Araunah’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)
b. 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: David knew that it would not be a gift nor a sacrifice for 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)
3. (25) David’s altar and sacrifice.
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.
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 the beginning to the 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)
b. So the LORD heeded the prayers for the land: 1 Chronicles 21:26 tells us that God showed His acceptance of David’s sacrifice by consuming it with fire from heaven. God honored David’s desire to be right and to fellowship with God 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.