Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
And Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel.
1Ch 21:1-13. David Sins in Numbering the People.
1. Satan stood up against Israel—God, by withdrawing His grace at this time from David (see on 2Sa 24:1), permitted the tempter to prevail over him. As the result of this successful temptation was the entail of a heavy calamity as a punishment from God upon the people, it might be said that "Satan stood up against Israel."
number Israel—In the act of taking the census of a people, there is not only no evil, but much utility. But numbering Israel—that people who were to become as the stars for multitude, implying a distrust of the divine promise, was a sin; and though it had been done with impunity in the time of Moses, at that enumeration each of the people had contributed "half a shekel towards the building of the tabernacle," that there might be no plague among them when he numbered them (Ex 30:12). Hence the numbering of that people was in itself regarded as an undertaking by which the anger of God could be easily aroused; but when the arrangements were made by Moses for the taking of the census, God was not angry because the people were numbered for the express purpose of the tax for the sanctuary, and the money which was thus collected ("the atonement money," Ex 30:16) appeased Him. Everything depended, therefore, upon the design of the census [Bertheau]. The sin of David numbering the people consisted in its being either to gratify his pride to ascertain the number of warriors he could muster for some meditated plan of conquest; or, perhaps, more likely still, to institute a regular and permanent system of taxation, which he deemed necessary to provide an adequate establishment for the monarchy, but which was regarded as a tyrannical and oppressive exaction—an innovation on the liberty of the people—a departure from ancient usage unbecoming a king of Israel.
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?
3. why will he be a cause of trespass to Israel?—or bring an occasion of punishment on Israel. In Hebrew, the word "sin" is often used synonymously with the punishment of sin. In the course of Providence, the people frequently suffer for the misconduct of their rulers.
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.
5. Joab gave the sum of the number of the children of Israel—It amounted to one million one hundred thousand men in Israel, capable of bearing arms, inclusive of the three hundred thousand military (1Ch 27:1-9), which, being already enlisted in the royal service, were not reckoned (2Sa 24:9), and to four hundred seventy thousand men in Judah, omitting thirty thousand which formed an army of observation stationed on the Philistine frontier (2Sa 6:1). So large a population at this early period, considering the limited extent of the country and comparing it with the earlier census (Nu 26:1-65), is a striking proof of the fulfilment of the promise (Ge 15:5).
But Levi and Benjamin counted he not among them: for the king's word was abominable to Joab.
6. Levi and Benjamin counted he not—If this census was ordered with a view to the imposition of taxes, this alone would account for Levi, who were not warriors (1Ch 21:5), not being numbered (see on Nu 1:47-54). The population of Benjamin had been taken (see on 1Ch 7:6-11), and the register preserved in the archives of that tribe. This, however, was taken on another occasion, and by other agency than that of Joab. The non-numbering of these two tribes might have originated in the special and gracious providence of God, partly because Levi was devoted to His service, and Benjamin had become the least of all the tribes (Jud 21:1-25); and partly because God foresaw that they would remain faithful to the house of David in the division of the tribes, and therefore He would not have them diminished [Poole]. From the course followed in this survey (see on 2Sa 24:4-8), it would appear that Judah and Benjamin were the last tribes that were to be visited; and that, after the census in Judah had been finished, Joab, before entering on that of Benjamin, had to return to Jerusalem, where the king, now sensible of his great error, gave orders to stop all further proceedings in the business. Not only the remonstrance of Joab at the first, but his slow progress in the survey (2Sa 24:8) showed the strong repugnance and even horror of the old general at this unconstitutional measure.
And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel.
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.
And the LORD spake unto Gad, David's seer, saying,
9. the Lord spake unto Gad, David's seer—Although David was himself endowed with a prophetic gift, yet, in matters relating to himself or his kingdom, he was in the habit of consulting the Lord through the medium of the priests; and when he failed to do so, a prophet was sent on extraordinary occasions to admonish or chastise him. Gad, a private friend, was occasionally employed as the bearer of these prophetic messages.
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
11, 12. Choose thee, &c.—To the three evils these correspond in beautiful agreement: three years, three months, three days [Bertheau]. (See on 2Sa 24:13).
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.
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.
13. let me fall now into the hand of the Lord … let me not fall into the hand of man—Experience had taught him that human passion and vengeance had no bounds, whereas our wise and gracious Father in heaven knows the kind, and regulates the extent, of chastisement which every one needs.
So the LORD sent pestilence upon Israel: and there fell of Israel seventy thousand men.
14, 15. So the Lord … sent an angel unto Jerusalem to destroy it—The infliction only of the pestilence is here noticed, without any account of its duration or its ravages, while a minute description is given of the visible appearance and menacing attitude of the destroying angel.
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.
15. stood by the threshing-floor of Ornan the Jebusite—Ornan was probably his Hebrew or Jewish, Araunah his Jebusite or Canaanitish, name. Whether he was the old king of Jebus, as that title is given to him (2Sa 24:23), or not, he had been converted to the worship of the true God, and was possessed both of property and influence.
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.
16. David and the elders … clothed in sackcloth, fell upon their faces—They appeared in the garb and assumed the attitude of humble penitents, confessing their sins, and deprecating the wrath of God.
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.
1Ch 21:18-30. He Builds an Altar.
18. the angel of the Lord commanded Gad to say—The order about the erection of an altar, as well as the indication of its site, is described (2Sa 24:18) as brought directly by Gad. Here we are informed of the quarter whence the prophet got his commission. It is only in the later stages of Israel's history that we find angels employed in communicating the divine will to the prophets.
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.
20, 21. Ornan was threshing wheat—If the census was entered upon in autumn, the beginning of the civil year, the nine and a half months it occupied would end at wheat harvest. The common way of threshing corn is by spreading it out on a high level area, and driving backwards and forwards upon it two oxen harnessed to a clumsy sledge with three rollers and some sharp spikes. The driver sits on his knees on the box, while another person is employed in drawing back the straw and separating it from the grain underneath. By this operation the chaff is very much chopped, and the grain threshed out.
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.
23. I give thee … the threshing instruments for wood—that is, to burn the sacrifice of the oxen. Very little real import—the haste and the value of the present offered—can be understood in this country. The offering was made for instant use. Ornan, hereby hoping to terminate the pestilence without a moment's delay, "gave all," oxen, the large threshing machine, and the wheat.
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.
25. David gave … for the place six hundred shekels of gold—At first he bought only the cattle and the threshing instruments, for which he paid fifty shekels of silver (2Sa 24:24); afterwards he purchased the whole property, Mount Moriah, on which the future temple stood. High in the center of the mountain platform rises a remarkable rock, now covered by the dome of "the Sakrah." It is irregular in its form, and measures about sixty feet in one direction and fifty feet in the other. It is the natural surface of Mount Moriah and is thought by many to be the rock of the threshing-floor of Araunah, selected by David, and continued by Solomon and Zerubbabel as "the unhewn stone" on which to build the altar [BARTLETT, Walks about Jerusalem; Stanley].
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.
26. David built there an altar—He went in procession with his leading men from the royal palace, down Mount Zion, and through the intervening city. Although he had plenty of space on his own property, he was commanded, under peremptory direction, to go a considerable distance from his home, up Mount Moriah, to erect an altar on premises which he had to buy. It was on or close to the spot where Abraham had offered up Isaac.
answered him by fire from heaven—(See Le 9:24; 1Ki 18:21-23; 2Ki 1:12; 2Ch 7:1).
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.
28. when David saw that the Lord had answered him …, he sacrificed there—or, "he continued to sacrifice there." Perceiving his sacrifice was acceptable, he proceeded to make additional offerings there, and seek favor by prayer and expiatory rites; for the dread of the menacing angel destroying Jerusalem while he was absent in the center of worship at Gibeon, especially reverence for the Divine Being, led him to continue his adorations in that place which God (2Ch 3:1) had hallowed by the tokens of His presence and gracious acceptance.
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.