1 Chronicles 21


Matthew Henry, in his commentary, gives us a useful summary of this chapter.

‘As this rehearsal makes no mention of David’s sin in the matter of Uriah, so neither of the troubles of his family that followed upon it, not a word of Absalom’s rebellion, or Sheba’s. But David’s sin, in numbering the people, is here related, because, in the atonement made for that sin, an intimation was given of the spot of ground on which the temple should be built. Here is, 1. David’s sin, in forcing Joab to number the people, 1 Chronicles 21:1-6. 2. David’s sorrow for what he had done, as soon as he perceived the sinfulness of it, 1 Chronicles 21:7-8. 3. The sad dilemma he was brought to, when it was put to him to choose how he would be punished for this sin, and what rod he would be beaten with, 1 Chronicles 21:9-13. 4. The woeful havoc which was made by the pestilence in the country, and the narrow escape which Jerusalem had from being laid waste by it, 1 Chronicles 21:14-17. 5. David’s repentance, and sacrifice, upon this occasion, and the staying of the plaque thereupon, 1 Chronicles 21:18-30. This awful story we met with, and meditated upon, 2 Samuel 4.’

David Counts The Fighting Men

‘Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel. So David said to Joab and the commanders of the troops, “Go and count the Israelites from Beersheba to Dan. Then report back to me so that I may know how many there are.” But Joab replied, “May the LORD multiply his troops a hundred times over. My lord the king, are they not all my lord’s subjects? Why does my lord want to do this? Why should he bring guilt on Israel?” The king’s word, however, overruled Joab; so Joab left and went throughout Israel and then came back to Jerusalem. Joab reported the number of the fighting men to David: In all Israel there were one million one hundred thousand men who could handle a sword, including four hundred and seventy thousand in Judah. But Joab did not include Levi and Benjamin in the numbering, because the king’s command was repulsive to him. This command was also evil in the sight of God; so he punished Israel. Then David said to God, “I have sinned greatly by doing this. Now, I beg you, take away the guilt of your servant. I have done a very foolish thing.” 1 Chronicles 21:1-8

The parallel passage to these verses is found in 2 Samuel 24:1-9. In Samuel’s account, we read that the Lord’s anger burned against Israel once again, 2 Samuel 24:1. We know when God’s anger is let loose, then the consequences for those on the receiving end wasn’t going to end well.

Notice also that 2 Samuel 24:1, tells us that God incited David against Israel, but here we read that Satan enticed him. We must be careful how we interpret this because if we are to understand this to mean that God incited David to do something sinful to punish Israel for some sin which isn’t mentioned.

However when we read, ‘Satan rose up against Israel and incited David to take a census of Israel’, along with what is written in 2 Samuel 24:1, we can understand that this means that God allowed Satan to tempt David as He allowed Satan to tempt Job, Job 1:8-12.

David tells Joab and the commanders of his army to take a census, Exodus 30:12, and count how many people there were among Israel and Judah, from Dan to Beersheba, Judges 20:1 / 1 Samuel 3:20 / 2 Samuel 3:20 /2 Samuel 17:11.

The reason for the counting of people was possibly a lack of faith in God, on David’s part, and so God was going to teach Israel not to trust in the strength of their army but to trust in God who was working through their army. God was angry with Israel because they didn’t trust that He was working in and through their army.

2 Samuel 24:1-9 tells us they began at Aroer, south of the town in the gorge, and then went through Gad and on to Jazer, these places are mentioned in Deuteronomy 2:36, they formed the southern boundary of the land taken by Israel from Sihon.

Joab found David’s commands repulsive, 2 Samuel 24:4, and although Joab and his men went almost everywhere in Israel, they didn’t fully obey David’s commands, because they left out the tribes of Levi and Benjamin from the census. It took almost 10 months to complete the census, 2 Samuel 24:5-9.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following.

‘To omit the Levites would be to follow the precedent recorded in Numbers 1:47-49. The omission of Benjamin must be ascribed to a determination on the part of Joab to frustrate the king’s intention, whereby he might hope to avert God’s wrath from the people.’

Clarke, in his commentary, says the following.

‘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.’

It appears that David came to his senses after he had counted the fighting men. He didn’t need to be rebuked and told he had sinned by a prophet as he did earlier with Nathan, 2 Samuel 12:7-14. He openly confesses his sin to God but he knows he has to pay the consequences for his actions, 2 Samuel 24:10-17.

‘The LORD said to Gad, David’s seer, “Go and tell David, ‘This is what the LORD says: I am giving you three options. Choose one of them for me to carry out against you.’” So Gad went to David and said to him, “This is what the LORD says: ‘Take your choice: three years of famine, three months of being swept away before your enemies, with their swords overtaking you, or three days of the sword of the LORD—days of plague in the land, with the angel of the LORD ravaging every part of Israel.’ Now then, decide how I should answer the one who sent me.” David said to Gad, “I am in deep distress. Let me fall into the hands of the LORD, for his mercy is very great; but do not let me fall into human hands.” 1 Chronicles 21:9-13

Notice God want David to use the prophet as a mediator, and to answer to the prophet instead of directly to God.

David’s seer, Gad, tells him he has three choices, either Israel as a nation could endure seven years of famine, or David himself could endure three months as a fugitive, or Israel could suffer three days of plagues, and so, he chooses the three days of plagues.

Barnes, in his commentary, says the following, concerning the angel of the Lord.

‘These words are not in Samuel, which puts the third alternative briefly. They prepare the way for the angelic appearance, 1 Chronicles 21:16, on which the author is about to lay so much stress.’

‘So the LORD sent a plague on Israel, and seventy thousand men of Israel fell dead. And God sent an angel to destroy Jerusalem. But as the angel was doing so, the LORD saw it and relented concerning the disaster and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “Enough! Withdraw your hand.” The angel of the LORD was then standing at the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. David looked up and saw the angel of the LORD standing between heaven and earth, with a drawn sword in his hand extended over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell facedown. David said to God, “Was it not I who ordered the fighting men to be counted? I, the shepherd, have sinned and done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done? LORD my God, let your hand fall on me and my family, but do not let this plague remain on your people.” 1 Chronicles 21:14-17

As a result of David’s sin and his choice, 70,000 people died and the plague came to end by God’s command when it reached Jerusalem at the threshing floor of Araunah, the Jebusite.

In His mercy, God stopped His judgment, however, the threat was still looming and so, David and the elders humbled themselves before God and David repented.

Notice David took full possibility for his own sinfulness, he asks God to let His hand fall on him and his family, instead of all the people.

David Builds An Altar

‘Then the angel of the LORD ordered Gad to tell David to go up and build an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. So David went up in obedience to the word that Gad had spoken in the name of the LORD. While Araunah was threshing wheat, he turned and saw the angel; his four sons who were with him hid themselves. Then David approached, and when Araunah looked and saw him, he left the threshing floor and bowed down before David with his face to the ground. David said to him, “Let me have the site of your threshing floor so I can build an altar to the LORD, that the plague on the people may be stopped. Sell it to me at the full price.” Araunah said to David, “Take it! Let my lord the king do whatever pleases him. Look, I will give the oxen for the burnt offerings, the threshing sledges for the wood, and the wheat for the grain offering. I will give all this.” But King David replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing.” So David paid Araunah six hundred shekels of gold for the site. David built an altar to the LORD there and sacrificed burnt offerings and fellowship offerings. He called on the LORD, and the LORD answered him with fire from heaven on the altar of burnt offering. Then the LORD spoke to the angel, and he put his sword back into its sheath. At that time, when David saw that the LORD had answered him on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, he offered sacrifices there. The tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses had made in the wilderness, and the altar of burnt offering were at that time on the high place at Gibeon. But David could not go before it to inquire of God, because he was afraid of the sword of the angel of the LORD.’ 1 Chronicles 21:18-30

Gad, David’s seer, told David to build an altar to the Lord, so David buys the threshing floor from Araunah, 2 Chronicles 3:1, as the place to build the altar, this is the very place where God stopped the plague, 2 Samuel 24:18-25. The altar was built in order to thank God for sparing the nation of Israel.

Although Araunah wanted to give his threshing floor to David for free, David insist on paying for it and he pays fifty shekels not only for the land but also for the oxen and the threshing sledges and ox yokes of wood.

David paid 600 shekels, this would be the price for the entire surrounding area. Some believe that this site is where the temple was going to be eventually built, 1 Chronicles 21:28-22:5.

After building the altar and sacrificing a burnt offering and fellowship offering, the Lord answered David’s prayer and stopped the plague completely. God demonstrated His acceptance of David’s sacrifice by consuming it with fire from heaven.

Selman, in his commentary, says the following.

‘Having seen his prayers answered and his sacrifices accepted, the site had already become a ‘house of prayer’ and a ‘temple for sacrifices’, 2 Chronicles 7:12 / Isaiah 56:7.’

It’s interesting to note that God, through Moses, said that this threshing floor would be the very spot in Jerusalem, where the future temple should be built, Deuteronomy 12:11.

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