And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.1 Chronicles 21:1. Satan stood up against Israel — Before the Lord and his tribunal, to accuse David and Israel, and to ask God’s permission to tempt David. Standing is the accuser’s posture before men’s tribunals; and consequently the Holy Scriptures (which use to speak of the things of God after the manner of men, to bring them down to our capacities) elsewhere represent Satan in this posture. See 1 Kings 22:21; Zechariah 3:1. In 2 Samuel 24:1, it is said, The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David, or rather, there was who moved David; namely, Satan, as is here stated, by God’s permission. The righteous judgments of God are to be observed and acknowledged even in the sins and unrighteousness of men. But we are sure God is not the author of sin, and that, strictly speaking, he tempts no man, James 1:13. That passage, therefore, must be explained by this. But of this particular, and of the contents of this whole chapter, and of the variations and seeming contradictions between this narrative and that in Samuel, see notes there.
And David said to Joab and to the rulers of the people, Go, number Israel from Beersheba even to Dan; and bring the number of them to me, that I may know it.
And Joab answered, The LORD make his people an hundred times so many more as they be: but, my lord the king, are they not all my lord's servants? why then doth my lord require this thing? why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?1 Chronicles 21:3. Why will he be — Or, why should this be; a cause of trespass — Or, an occasion of punishment; (Hebrew words, which signify sin, being often used for the punishment of sin,) to, or against Israel? — Why wilt thou provoke God by this sin to punish Israel? He speaks thus because God commonly punishes the people for the sins of their rulers, the people being for the most part guilty of their rulers’ sins, in one kind or other.
Nevertheless the king's word prevailed against Joab. Wherefore Joab departed, and went throughout all Israel, and came to Jerusalem.
And Joab gave the sum of the number of the people unto David. And all they of Israel were a thousand thousand and an hundred thousand men that drew sword: and Judah was four hundred threescore and ten thousand men that drew sword.
But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king's word was abominable to Joab.1 Chronicles 21:6. Levi and Benjamin counted he not — Partly for the following reason, and principally by God’s gracious providence to Levi, because they were devoted to his service; and to Benjamin, because they were the least of all the tribes, having been almost extinct, (Judges 21.,) and because God foresaw that they would be faithful to the house of David in the division of the tribes, and therefore he would not have them diminished. And Joab also presumed to leave these two tribes unnumbered, because he had specious pretences for it; for Levi, because they were no warriors, and the king’s command reached only of those that drew sword; and for Benjamin, because they, being so small a tribe, and bordering upon Jerusalem, might easily be numbered afterward.
And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel.1 Chronicles 21:7. God was displeased with this thing — Because it was done without any colour of necessity, and out of mere curiosity and ostentation, as David’s own conscience afterward told him, which therefore smote him, as is related 2 Samuel 24:10. Therefore he smote Israel — As is particularly related in the following verses. Undoubtedly God did this because Israel concurred with David in the act of numbering the people, and approved of it, as well as because of all their other sins.
And David said unto God, I have sinned greatly, because I have done this thing: but now, I beseech thee, do away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.1 Chronicles 21:8. I have done very foolishly — I see plainly, and acknowledge, that I have been very foolish in thinking to found my security on the number of my people, instead of depending solely on thy almighty power and sovereign help.
And the LORD spake unto Gad, David's seer, saying,
Go and tell David, saying, Thus saith the LORD, I offer thee three things: choose thee one of them, that I may do it unto thee.
So Gad came to David, and said unto him, Thus saith the LORD, Choose thee
Either three years' famine; or three months to be destroyed before thy foes, while that the sword of thine enemies overtaketh thee; or else three days the sword of the LORD, even the pestilence, in the land, and the angel of the LORD destroying throughout all the coasts of Israel. Now therefore advise thyself what word I shall bring again to him that sent me.1 Chronicles 21:12-13. Either three years of famine — In 2 Samuel 24:13, it is said the prophet propounded to David seven years of famine, concerning which see the note there. Let me fall now into the hand of the Lord — The pestilence is more properly called the hand, or sword of the Lord, than other common calamities. For they have visible causes, but none know whence this sudden destruction comes, unless immediately from the hand or stroke of God.
And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let me fall now into the hand of the LORD; for very great are his mercies: but let me not fall into the hand of man.
So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men.1 Chronicles 21:14. There fell of Israel — He was proud of the number of his people, but God took a course to make them fewer. Justly is that which we are proud of taken from us, or imbittered to us.
And God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it: and as he was destroying, the LORD beheld, and he repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed, It is enough, stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD stood by the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.1 Chronicles 21:15-16. God sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it, &c. — This seems to import that there were more angels than one employed to effect this destruction in different parts of the country: and that the angels, sent to Jerusalem, had begun to slay some of its inhabitants. The Lord beheld, and repented him of the evil — Probably because he beheld their serious repentance. David and the elders clothed in sackcloth — That is, in mourning garments; fell on their faces — Humbling themselves before God for their sins, and deprecating his wrath against the people.
And David lifted up his eyes, and saw the angel of the LORD stand between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem. Then David and the elders of Israel, who were clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces.
And David said unto God, Is it not I that commanded the people to be numbered? even I it is that have sinned and done evil indeed; but as for these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, O LORD my God, be on me, and on my father's house; but not on thy people, that they should be plagued.
Then the angel of the LORD commanded Gad to say to David, that David should go up, and set up an altar unto the LORD in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite.1 Chronicles 21:18. The angel commanded that David should go and set up an altar — This command was a blessed token of reconciliation. For if God had been pleased to kill him, he would not have commanded, because he would not have accepted, a sacrifice at his hands.
And David went up at the saying of Gad, which he spake in the name of the LORD.
And Ornan turned back, and saw the angel; and his four sons with him hid themselves. Now Ornan was threshing wheat.1 Chronicles 21:20. His four sons with him hid themselves — Because of the glory and majesty in which the angel appeared, which men’s weak natures are not able to bear; and from the fear of God’s vengeance, which now seemed to be coming to their family.
And as David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David, and went out of the threshingfloor, and bowed himself to David with his face to the ground.
Then David said to Ornan, Grant me the place of this threshingfloor, that I may build an altar therein unto the LORD: thou shalt grant it me for the full price: that the plague may be stayed from the people.
And Ornan said unto David, Take it to thee, and let my lord the king do that which is good in his eyes: lo, I give thee the oxen also for burnt offerings, and the threshing instruments for wood, and the wheat for the meat offering; I give it all.
And king David said to Ornan, Nay; but I will verily buy it for the full price: for I will not take that which is thine for the LORD, nor offer burnt offerings without cost.
So David gave to Ornan for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight.1 Chronicles 21:25. David gave six hundred shekels of gold, &c. — How this is reconciled with 2 Samuel 24:24, where it is said, David bought the thrashing-floor, &c, for fifty shekels of silver, see note there.
And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings, and called upon the LORD; and he answered him from heaven by fire upon the altar of burnt offering.1 Chronicles 21:26. He answered him from heaven by fire — Hebrew, by fire from heaven; which was a sign of God’s acceptance. The fire that might justly have fastened on the sinner, fastened upon the sacrifice and consumed it. Thus Christ was made sin and a curse for us, and it pleased the Lord to bruise him, that through him God might be to us, not a consuming fire, but a reconciled Father.
And the LORD commanded the angel; and he put up his sword again into the sheath thereof.
At that time when David saw that the LORD had answered him in the threshingfloor of Ornan the Jebusite, then he sacrificed there.1 Chronicles 21:28. Then he sacrificed there — When he perceived that his sacrifice offered there was acceptable to God, he proceeded to offer more sacrifices in that place, and did not go to Gibeon, as otherwise he should have done.
For the tabernacle of the LORD, which Moses made in the wilderness, and the altar of the burnt offering, were at that season in the high place at Gibeon.
But David could not go before it to inquire of God: for he was afraid because of the sword of the angel of the LORD.1 Chronicles 21:30. David could not go before it — Did not dare to go before the tabernacle, where the altar stood. To inquire of God — Hebrew, לדרשׁ, lidrosh, to seek God, or humbly to entreat his favour by prayer and sacrifice. For he was afraid because of the sword of the angel of the Lord — That is, when he saw the angel stand with his drawn sword over Jerusalem, he durst not go away to Gibeon, lest the angel in the mean time should destroy Jerusalem: for the prevention whereof he thought it proper to worship God in that place, which he had consecrated by his special presence and acceptance.