And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah.2 Samuel 24:1. And again — After the former tokens of his anger, such as the three years’ famine, mentioned chap. 21. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel — For their sins, and on account of the following action of David. The anger of the Lord, it must be well observed, was not the cause of David’s sin, nor of the sins of the people; for God cannot be the author of sin; but David’s sin and the sins of Israel were the cause of God’s anger. And he moved David against them — The reader must observe that, as there is no nominative case before the verb here, in the original, to express who moved David, the most strict rendering of the clause would be, There was who moved David against them, &c. By our version, the reader is led to suppose that the Lord, mentioned in the foregoing part of the sentence, moved David to commit this sin of numbering the people. But this is not only quite contrary to the nature and attributes of God, but to what we are expressly told 1 Chronicles 21:1, where we learn that it was Satan, and not the Lord, that moved David to do this. Here then we have a very remarkable instance, which cannot be too much regarded, to warn us against building any particular doctrine, or belief, on certain particular, detached expressions or passages of Scripture, not in harmony with the general tenor of God’s oracles; especially such doctrines as are entirely opposite to the essential nature or attributes of God. For had not this fact of David’s numbering the people been related, through the care of divine providence, by another sacred writer, who entirely clears God from having any concern in moving David to sin, it might have been concluded from the passage before us that God impelled David to this act; and, consequently, that it is consistent with the nature and government of God to excite the human mind to sinful acts: than which there can scarce be any thing more impious imagined. And therefore we may plainly see from hence, that we are not to form our notions from particular passages or expressions of the Holy Scriptures, but from the general tenor of them.
For the king said to Joab the captain of the host, which was with him, Go now through all the tribes of Israel, from Dan even to Beersheba, and number ye the people, that I may know the number of the people.2 Samuel 24:2. From Dan even to Beer-sheba — From one end of the country to the other. For Dan was the utmost bound of it in the north, and Beer-sheba in the south. That I may know the number of the people — This expression shows David’s sin in this matter, that he numbered them, not by direction from God, but out of mere curiosity, and pride, and vain-glory; accompanied with a confidence in the numbers of his people. All which sins were so manifest, that not only God saw them, but even Joab and the captains of the host.
And Joab said unto the king, Now the LORD thy God add unto the people, how many soever they be, an hundredfold, and that the eyes of my lord the king may see it: but why doth my lord the king delight in this thing?2 Samuel 24:3-4. And Joab said, Now the Lord thy God add unto the people, &c. — Thus we see that this action of David was thought a very wrong step, even by Joab himself, who remonstrated against it, as apprehensive of the bad consequences that might attend it: and therefore Joab counted not Levi and Benjamin, (1 Chronicles 21:6,) because the king’s word was abominable to him. Probably we do not understand all the circumstances of this affair; but Joab’s sense of it, who was no scrupulous man, shows that David’s conduct in it was extremely imprudent, and might subject his people to very great inconveniences. Against Joab, and against the captains of the host — Who joined, it seems, with Joab to divert the king from his purpose; in which, however, he was fixed and immoveable.
Notwithstanding the king's word prevailed against Joab, and against the captains of the host. And Joab and the captains of the host went out from the presence of the king, to number the people of Israel.
And they passed over Jordan, and pitched in Aroer, on the right side of the city that lieth in the midst of the river of Gad, and toward Jazer:2 Samuel 24:5-7. They passed over Jordan — They went first into the eastern part of the country, and so by the northern coasts to the west, and then to the south. And pitched in Aroer — These words seem to import, that they pitched their tents in the field, and thither summoned the neighbouring towns to come unto them: which was very troublesome, and at last proved intolerably grievous. And to the land of Tahtim-hodshi — It is in vain to seek after this land, which is not mentioned in the book of Joshua, but, it is likely, was near to Gilead; and had been lately recovered, some think, from other people, and was now inhabited by the Israelites. And they came to — about Zidon — Not to the city of Zidon, for that was not in their power; but to the coast about it. And came to the strong hold of Tyre — To the territory near it. And to all the cities of the Hivites, &c. — Who lived in those north-west parts of the country. Even to Beer-sheba — On the south side.
Then they came to Gilead, and to the land of Tahtimhodshi; and they came to Danjaan, and about to Zidon,
And came to the strong hold of Tyre, and to all the cities of the Hivites, and of the Canaanites: and they went out to the south of Judah, even to Beersheba.
So when they had gone through all the land, they came to Jerusalem at the end of nine months and twenty days.2 Samuel 24:8-9. When they had gone through all the land — But not numbered all the people, for the work grew so tedious that they omitted Levi and Benjamin. Joab gave up the number of the people — There are two returns left us of this numbering, (one here and the other 1 Chronicles 21,) which differ considerably from one another; especially in relation to the men of Israel; which, in the first, are returned but eight hundred thousand, but in the last, one million one hundred thousand. “But I think,” says Delaney, “a careful attendance to both the texts, and to the nature of the thing, will easily reconcile them. The matter appears to me thus: Joab, who resolved from the beginning, not to number the whole of the people, but who, at the same time, wished to show his own tribe in the best light, and make their number as considerable as he could, numbered every man among them, from twenty years old and upward, and so returned them to be five hundred thousand: but in Israel he only made a return of such men as were exercised and approved in arms: and therefore the number of persons above twenty years old is less in his return here than in Chronicles. In a word, here the whole of Judah is returned, and only the men of approved valour in Israel. In 1 Chronicles 21:5, the whole of Israel is expressly returned; but the particle all is not prefixed to those of Judah; and therefore possibly the men of tried valour in that tribe are only included in that return: and if so, the returns must of necessity be very different.” Perhaps, however, some mistake has been made in one of the texts by the copyists. In which case Houbigant prefers the smaller number.
And Joab gave up the sum of the number of the people unto the king: and there were in Israel eight hundred thousand valiant men that drew the sword; and the men of Judah were five hundred thousand men.
And David's heart smote him after that he had numbered the people. And David said unto the LORD, I have sinned greatly in that I have done: and now, I beseech thee, O LORD, take away the iniquity of thy servant; for I have done very foolishly.2 Samuel 24:10. David’s heart smote him — His conscience discerned his sin, and he was heartily sorry for it. That heart, which was so lately dilated with vanity, now shrunk into contrition and penitence. O Lord, take away the iniquity of thy servant — Or, the punishment of mine iniquity. Since he condemned himself and begged pardon, he hoped the punishment deserved might be remitted. But he was deceived; because not only himself but his people also had offended.
For when David was up in the morning, the word of the LORD came unto the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying,2 Samuel 24:11-13. For when David was up in the morning — The words thus translated give the reader to apprehend that David’s penitence was caused by Gad’s threat, which certainly was not the case. He was made sensible of his sin and made sorry for it before Gad came to him. They should here be rendered, And when David was up, &c., David’s seer — Gad is so called because he was David’s domestic prophet, by whom he consulted God in difficult cases, and received his directions and commands. I offer thee three things — To show him and the world that the vengeance he now came to denounce was no casual calamity, nor the effects of any natural cause, he gave him his choice of the three evils, one of which must be immediately inflicted upon him. Shall seven years of famine come unto thee — In 1 Chronicles 21:12, it is only three years of famine which is the reading of the LXX.; a reading, says Houbigant, which I prefer in this place, because the three years of famine answer to the three months’ flight before his enemies, and the three days’ pestilence. It is easy to suppose here, as in 2 Samuel 24:9, that a slight mistake has been made by the writer in transcribing the text. If this be not satisfactory to the reader, he may suppose, with Poole and others, that in Chronicles the sacred writer speaks exactly of those years of famine only which came for David’s sin: but that here he speaks comprehensively, including those three years of famine sent for Saul’s sin, chap. 21. And this sin of David’s being committed in the year next after them, was in a manner a year of famine; either because it was a sabbatical year, wherein they might not sow nor reap; or rather because, not being able to sow in the third year, on account of the excessive drought, they were not capable of reaping this fourth year. And three years more being added to these four, make up the seven here mentioned. So the meaning of the words is this: As thou hast already had four years of famine, shall three years more come? Now advise — That is, consider. The divine wisdom appears in the nature of the offer here made to David; he had sinned by placing his heart on human means of safety and security, instead of placing it on the divine protection. A trial was therefore made of him by this offer, how his heart now stood, and whether it would not fly to human means for safety. He had numbered his people, that he might rest in confidence by knowing the strength of his kingdom. Had not, therefore, his heart smote him, as mentioned 2 Samuel 24:10, and had he not seen the sin and folly of seeking safety in human strength, independent of the Almighty, he would, in all likelihood, have chosen to have tried his fortune with his enemies in war, as depending on the known strength, courage, and number of his people. Or he would have chosen famine, as depending on his great riches for obtaining a sufficient supply of food from other countries, though the famine should come into his land. But by humbly and confidently leaving it to God, to inflict either of those punishments which come more immediately from his own hand, and one of which, namely, the pestilence, he knew no human power or means could any ways guard against, and from which all his mighty men of war, or his own valour and wisdom, could not defend him, but he would lie equally exposed as the meanest subject; by such a submission or choice as this, David gave a public testimony, that he was again convinced that all human means or strength avails nothing, unless we have the help and protection of the Almighty; that all our confidence is vain, unless that which is placed in the Lord.
Go and say unto David, 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 told him, and said unto him, Shall seven years of famine come unto thee in thy land? or wilt thou flee three months before thine enemies, while they pursue thee? or that there be three days' pestilence in thy land? now advise, and see what answer I shall return to him that sent me.
And David said unto Gad, I am in a great strait: let us fall now into the hand of the LORD; for his mercies are great: and let me not fall into the hand of man.2 Samuel 24:14. Let us fall now into the hand of the Lord — Let us receive punishment from his immediate stroke, that is, by famine or pestilence, but chiefly by the latter. For though the sword and the famine be also from God’s hand, yet there is also the hand of man, or other creatures, in them. The reason of this choice was partly his confidence in God’s great goodness; partly, because the other judgments, especially the sword, would have been more dishonourable, not only to David, but also to God, and his people; and partly, because he, having sinned himself, thought it just to choose a plague, to which he was as obnoxious as his people; whereas, he had better defences for himself against the sword and famine than they had. And let me not fall, &c. — True, it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God! Fearful indeed for those who have, by their impenitence, shut themselves out from his mercy. But a penitent dares cast himself into God’s hand, knowing that his mercies are great.
So the LORD sent a pestilence upon Israel from the morning even to the time appointed: and there died of the people from Dan even to Beersheba seventy thousand men.2 Samuel 24:15. So the Lord sent a pestilence upon Israel — The event immediately answered to the choice; a plague instantly ensued. From the morning even to the time appointed — From that morning, in which Gad came to David, to the third day, the time appointed by God for the continuance of the plague. But not to the conclusion of that day, for we learn from the next verse that God, moved by the repentance of the king and his subjects, commanded the destroying angel to stay his hand, which plainly indicates that he had not fully accomplished the commission at first given him. There died of the people seventy thousand — “A calamity,” says Delaney, “which has no parallel in the whole compass of history.” It seems that the Hebrew nation were not only guilty, at this time, of many other sins, but were very culpable in regard to the numbering of the people, as well as David. They gloried, it is probable, in, and relied upon their numbers, and their own strength, instead of trusting in God and in his promises, for protection against, and victory over their enemies. And, therefore, it was with reason that they fell in this sad manner, to show them that all flesh is grass, and that their own strength and numbers availed nothing without God.
And when the angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD repented him of the evil, and said to the angel that destroyed the people, It is enough: stay now thine hand. And the angel of the LORD was by the threshingplace of Araunah the Jebusite.2 Samuel 24:16. The angel stretched out his hand upon Jerusalem — Which he had begun to smite, and in which he was proceeding to make a far greater slaughter. This angel appeared in the shape of a man, with a sword drawn in his hand, to convince the people more fully that this was no natural plague, but one inflicted by the immediate hand of God. The Lord repented him of the evil — That is, he in part recalled his sentence of the plague’s continuance for three whole days; and this he did upon David’s prayers and sacrifices, as appears from 2 Samuel 24:25, though these be mentioned afterward. This was on mount Moriah; in the very same place where Abraham, by a countermand from heaven, was stayed from slaying his son, this angel, by a like countermand, was stayed from destroying Jerusalem. It is for the sake of the great sacrifice, that our forfeited lives are preserved from the destroying angel.
And David spake unto the LORD when he saw the angel that smote the people, and said, Lo, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly: but these sheep, what have they done? let thine hand, I pray thee, be against me, and against my father's house.2 Samuel 24:17. These sheep, what have they done? — What? They have done many things amiss. Their rebellions and other vices had been many, and it was for their own sins, as well as for David’s, that this heavy judgment now befell them. The king, however, as became a penitent, is severe on his own faults, while he extenuates theirs. Let thy hand be against me — Herein David shows his piety and fatherly care of his people, and that he was a type of Christ; and against my father’s house — My nearest relations. These, probably, had either put David upon, or encouraged him in this action. And, besides, it was but fit that his family, who partook of his honour and happiness, should also partake in his sufferings, rather than those who were less related to him.
And Gad came that day to David, and said unto him, Go up, rear an altar unto the LORD in the threshingfloor of Araunah the Jebusite.2 Samuel 24:18. Gad came that day to David — By the express command of God, (2 Samuel 24:19; 1 Chronicles 21:18-19,) and said unto him, Go up — To mount Moriah; rear an altar in the thrashing-floor of Araunah — Which place God appointed for this work, in gracious condescension to, and compliance with, David’s fear of going to Gibeon, which is expressed 1 Chronicles 21:29-30; because this was the place where God, by his angel, appeared in a threatening posture, where therefore it was meet he should be appeased; and because God would hereby signify the translation of the tabernacle from Gibeon hither, and the erection of the temple here, 2 Chronicles 3:1.
And David, according to the saying of Gad, went up as the LORD commanded.
And Araunah looked, and saw the king and his servants coming on toward him: and Araunah went out, and bowed himself before the king on his face upon the ground.
And Araunah said, Wherefore is my lord the king come to his servant? And David said, To buy the threshingfloor of thee, to build an altar unto the LORD, that the plague may be stayed from the people.2 Samuel 24:21-22. Wherefore is my lord the king come? — Wherefore doth the king do me this honour, and give himself the trouble of coming to me? Behold, here be the oxen — Which were employed by him in his present work of thrashing. And instruments of the oxen — Their yokes, and the instruments which they drew after them, to beat and press out the corn.
And Araunah said unto David, Let my lord the king take and offer up what seemeth good unto him: behold, here be oxen for burnt sacrifice, and threshing instruments and other instruments of the oxen for wood.
All these things did Araunah, as a king, give unto the king. And Araunah said unto the king, The LORD thy God accept thee.2 Samuel 24:23. All these things did Araunah as a king — That is, with a royal bounty; give unto the king — He not only offered, but actually gave them; he resigned his right and property in them to David; though David, by his refusal, returned it to Araunah again. The words in the Hebrew are, these things gave Araunah the king unto the king. From whence some infer that, before the taking of Jerusalem, he was the king of the Jebusites; or a man of the greatest authority among them, like a king; or was descended from the blood royal of the Jebusites. But neither the Greek, nor the Syriac, nor the Arabic copies have the word king, nor had the Vulgate it, till the edition published by Sextus; nor was it in the Chaldee Paraphrast, in the time of Kimchi, who cites it thus: Araunah gave to the king what the king asked of him. The Lord thy God accept thee — He was a Jebusite by nation, but a sincere and hearty proselyte; which made him so liberal in his offers to God’s service, and the common good of God’s people.
And the king said unto Araunah, Nay; but I will surely buy it of thee at a price: neither will I offer burnt offerings unto the LORD my God of that which doth cost me nothing. So David bought the threshingfloor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver.2 Samuel 24:24. Neither will I offer that which doth cost me nothing — For this would be both dishonourable to God, as if I thought him not worthy of a costly sacrifice, and a disparagement to myself, as if I were unable or unwilling to offer a sacrifice of my own goods. David bought the thrashing-floor, &c., for fifty shekels of silver — In 1 Chronicles 21:25, he is said to give for the place six hundred shekels of gold by weight. Probably here he speaks of the price paid for the thrashing-floor, oxen, and instruments; and there for the whole place adjoining, on which the temple and its courts were built, which certainly was very much larger than this thrashing-floor, and probably had Araunah’s house, if not some other buildings, upon it.
And David built there an altar unto the LORD, and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD was intreated for the land, and the plague was stayed from Israel.2 Samuel 24:25. David offered burnt-offerings and peace-offerings — Burnt- offerings were, in effect, prayers to God, that he would remove this plague and peace-offerings were acknowledgments of God’s goodness, who had already given David hopes of this mercy. Delaney supposes that the ninety- first Psalm was written by David in commemoration of his deliverance from this calamity.
As the history of David is the principal subject of the two books of Samuel, and as his is a very distinguished character, we shall here, in the conclusion of our notes on these books, present our readers with a short sketch of it, drawn by a masterly hand, but, as we think, in rather too glowing colours. “David’s is a character which stands single, in the accounts of the world equally eminent and unrivalled. For, not to insist on his great personal accomplishments, such as beauty, stature, strength, swiftness, and eloquence, his character is sufficiently distinguished by the noblest qualities, endowments, and events. Exalted from an humble shepherd to a mighty monarch, without any tincture of pride, disdain, or envy. Quite otherwise: remarkably humble in exaltation; or, rather, humbled by it. Exalted, unenvied. Exalted himself, and equally exalting the state he ruled: raising it from contempt, poverty, and oppression, to wealth, dignity, and sway. A man experienced in every vicissitude of fortune and life, and equal to them all. Thoroughly tried in adversity, and tempted by success, yet still superior. Cruelly and unjustly persecuted, yet not provoked to revenge. In the saddest and most sudden reverse of fortune, depressed by nothing but the remembrance of guilt; and, in consequence of that, unhumbled to any thing but God.
“To sum up all; a true believer, and zealous adorer of God; teacher of his law and worship, and inspirer of his praise; a glorious example, a perpetual and inexhaustible fountain of true piety; a consummate and unequalled hero, a skilful and a fortunate captain; a steady patriot, a wise ruler, a faithful, a generous, and a magnanimous friend; and, what is yet rarer, a no less generous and magnanimous enemy; a true penitent, a divine musician, a sublime poet, and an inspired prophet. By birth, a peasant; by merit, a prince. In youth, a hero; in manhood, a monarch; in age, a saint.” — Delaney.